“Hat Yai, 1979” by Sik Chuan Pua

Willow Springs 89

Found in Willow Springs 89

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Do you like this river, Superman? Mama comes here to wash our clothes. Today, Uncle came to our house. I have not seen him before.

-Go to the river. Swim there with the other children.

-I want to play with you, Mama.

-Come home when it’s dark.

I don’t like this river anymore. A ghost lives here at night. But we must go this way to reach the dump. Mahmood says poisonous snakes are there waiting for me.

You can tie up the snakes. I must find some tins and bottles. You can help me find them. I’ll sell them for 50¢. Mama will say, what a clever boy! Then I’ll buy two seeds and grow two banana trees. Mama will sell the bananas for $2. With $2, I can buy eight more seeds and grow eight trees. Mama will sell all the bananas. After one year, we’ll have enough money to pay a man to bring us to the land far, far away. Mama wants to go there.

If a ghost comes now, you’ll scare him with your laser ray, OK?

Last year, Mama took me to the city. We sat in the bus for two hours. In the city we met White Uncle. He came home with us. He bought us many lotus dumplings from the street stall.

Do you know White Uncle was very rich? His hair was gold. If he were poor he can cut it off and sell it. His eyes were not black like Mama’s or my eyes. His eyes were like the sea. White Uncle also had a funny smell. Like a lamb. He talked funny. I didn’t understand. Mama also didn’t understand. Mama nodded her head—like this—and said, yes OK.

I can say those words too, yes OK.

When White Uncle lived in our house, I slept in the small bed. Mama didn’t play with me. Mama only told me stories at night to help me sleep.

-In the land far away, they have big houses. Not like this one.

-Are the houses made from wood? I asked.

-No, they are stone houses built from a special blue marble.

-Are they three times bigger?

-They’re ten times bigger! Each house has twelve rooms.


-The carpets are so pretty they run across the floor like paintings.

-Do they have a cinema house? Like in the city?

Mama laughed.

-Many cinemas. Too many cinemas. Lots of Superman shows.

-What about a river?

-You can read the sky when you look at the river. There are no muddy rivers like ours.

-What about dogs?

-The dogs have shiny, beautiful coats like velvet. There are no smelly dogs with fleas scratching all day long. The dogs are so clever. They are trained to use the toilet.

-No, they’re not.

Mama smiled. She kissed me. Whoo. Whoo. She blew out the candle.

So dark.


Superman is more powerful than Batman, yes? You can fly and shoot laser rays from your eyes, yes? Batman has no superpowers. Batman throws the weapon, it smacks the bad guy and flies back to him.

-Say “Boomerang.”


White Uncle gave me a weapon. A Batman weapon.

-Say thank you, Mama said.

-Thank you, Uncle.

-Go play with the other children, Mama said.

I ran to the field. The old slide sat in the burning sun. Its ladder was broken. To get to the top, we climbed up the slide.

Crack crack crack! Mahmood and his younger brothers stomped on the snails crawling along the slide.

-What’s that? Mahmood asked.

I whistled, pretending I didn’t hear him. Mahmood followed me. I walked across the field. Weeds scratched my legs making red lines like glow worms.

-What are you looking for? Mahmood asked.

I picked up the tin with both hands. Mama said I’ll die if I got a sting from a rusty tin. I put it on top of the fence. I aimed the Batman weapon.


-Wah. Can we play? Please? Please? asked Mahmood’s brothers. They had never seen a Batman weapon before.

Suhaimi and Raja found more tins. They made a tin pyramid. Bang! All the tins fell. The crows on the trees flew away. Suhaimi and Raja cheered. They picked up the tins and built a taller pyramid. What fun!

But Mahmood acted like a spoilt baby. He squatted below the pyramid. He pretended rain clouds were coming.

-Let’s go home. It’ll rain soon.

-If you want to play, Mahmood, you must help arrange the tins.

-I don’t want to play with your stupid Batman weapon.

I let his brothers play with it. The three of us took turns. Mahmood started jumping up and down.

-If it hits me, I’ll break it, said Mahmood.

-Then go away. It’ll slice you in half.

It was my turn to throw the Batman weapon.

-I’ll stand anywhere I want.

Mahmood stomped on my toes and snatched the Batman weapon. He ran across the field towards the forest.


I chased him. I pulled his singlet. It tore. He struggled to break free. I pinched his ear.

-Ahhh, he cried.

He flung the Batman weapon. It flew higher and higher until it landed on Mount Everest.

-Heehaw, heehaw. Mahmood laughed like a donkey.

I punched his nose.

He cried.

Mount Everest was the tallest coconut tree in the field, too tall to climb. I shook it. The Batman weapon sat still. I looked for a pole to poke the tree. I didn’t find one. I became sad. Then scared.

What if White Uncle saw it?

I went home. I didn’t tell them I lost the Batman weapon.


I slept beside Mama in the big bed. I smelt the lamb smell. I missed my Batman weapon. Will White Uncle bring me another one next time?

-When is White Uncle coming back?

-Soon. He will bring us to the land far away. He comes from there.

The other uncles don’t give me presents. They always call me, hey, little boy. Sometimes they ordered me to pour them tea.

Mama would say go and play outside.


Mama was sick.

-Go away. Please!

Mahmood and his brothers didn’t let me play with them. I didn’t have my Batman weapon anymore. That’s when I called you, Superman. You have supersonic hearing. You heard me and came to play with me.

-Where’s White Uncle?

Mama whipped me with a cane. I wanted to cry but I didn’t. Then she whipped the air.




Mama whipped the vase, a present from White Uncle. It fell to the floor and smashed into many pieces. Mama called me a lazy boy. I wasn’t lazy. Mama was lazy. She got fat. She screamed she couldn’t go to the land far away because of me.

White Uncle! He saw the Batman weapon hanging from Mount Everest. I looked at the pieces of rainbow patterns on the floor. Afterwards, I swept them into a dustpan. I kept all the glass in a box. One day, I’ll invent a magic glue. Anything broken will become new again.


Last night, Mama was too sick. I was scared. I ran to the doctor’s house.

-Doctor, please! Come quickly.

Nenek Zurina had snow white hair. A bowl of hair had fallen out from the middle of her head. She wore a teeth and garlic necklace.

The doctor followed me home. I wanted to go into Mama’s room. She was crying.

-Fetch me a pail of hot water, Nenek Zurina said.

I lit the charcoal in the stove with a match. I boiled two pots of water.

I fell asleep near the bedroom door. I dreamt that Nenek Zurina left our house with a bundle. Pushing inside the bundle was the disease that made Mama sick.


Superman, are there ghosts?

Mahmood, Suhaimi, and Raja used to swim here. They liked to dive from the rocks.

-What are you all playing? I asked.

-Cat Catch Mouse. I’m the swimming cat, said Mahmood.

He threw a stone. It flew past my head. He was still angry I pulled his ear that time he stole the Batman weapon.

-Can I play?

Mahmood looked at me. He folded his arms like a gangster. His brothers paddled behind him. They splashed water at each other.

-You cannot play with us. You came from a rotten egg. We came from good eggs. My mama said so.

Mahmood was only one year older but he was so dumb.

-I didn’t come from an egg, stupid. Chickens come from eggs. Are you a chicken?

Suhaimi and Raja laughed. Mahmood’s face turned into a storm cloud.

-Then where did you come from?

I shook my head.

-Where do you think? My mama found me at the dump.

This is true, Superman. This is why I don’t have a papa. You came from another planet too. Your mama and papa found you in a field.

-Also cats can’t swim, I said.

-Yes, they can.

-No, they can’t.

-Yes! Yes! YES!

Mahmood swam to the bank. He was clumsy and slow like a water buffalo. He jumped into his wet sandals.

Flip flap flip flap flip flap flip flap

He ran home. Hah! I played Cat Chase Mouse with his brothers. I was the mouse that escaped each time.

Mahmood raced back, huffing and puffing. His tummy bounced up and down. He cuddled Comel, his pet. A white fat cat. Fat like Mahmood.

-Gentlemen, clear the river.

He tried to speak like a prime minister. With a deep voice. We climbed up the rocks. We squatted. Mahmood walked to the middle of the river.

-Gentlemen, I’m present here today to teach you a lesson. Watch and learn.

Mahmood lifted Comel and pointed her paw at me. He whispered to Comel. He stroked her. She shivered and meowed.

Was he that dumb?

He talked some more to Comel but before we could say No! No! Stop! Mahmood flipped Comel in the air like a magic trick. Comel spun and clawed. We yelled. She couldn’t catch hold of anything.

For a second Comel floated in the water.

-Haha. See, I told you. Haha, see, Comel can. . . .


The river washed Comel downstream. Mahmood screamed.

-Swim! Swim back up!

Now, Mahmood’s voice squeaked so high he sounded like a girl.

-Comel, swim back to me.

Mahmood waded downstream. He sobbed.

-What is Mahmood eating tonight? asked Suhaimi.

-Tonight, Mahmood will have Mama’s special cane pudding, said Raja.

-What else is on the menu? Let’s see. Mama will serve him cane soup, cane pie and cane cream. Mmmm, so yummy.

His brothers made smacking sounds. I turned away to hide my laughter. It wanted to blast out like a cannonball.

-You! You’re an evil boy. You killed Comel!

Mahmood spat at me. It hit me on the chin. He chased after Comel along the bank. His brothers followed him. Before he ran off, Mahmood gave me this warning.

-Comel will turn into a ghost. She’ll come back and haunt you. You killed her.

I’m not a bad person. If Mahmood listened to me, Comel wouldn’t have disappeared. I think Comel didn’t like him. When she reached the sea, she became a goldfish and swam away.


Are there ghosts, Superman?

We must hurry up. It’s getting dark. Please use your X-ray vision to find the tins and bottles. Tell me where to look.

What? Here?

I think so.

What’s over there? It’s . . . so white. It’s floating. What evil eyes. It has a long tail. Are those claws?

It’s flying to us.

Quick! I have a stick. I’ll beat it up.




Did it scare you?

Yes, you got scared, Superman. Scared of an old plastic bag. I won’t tell anybody.

Let’s put the tins in the plastic bag. Good. We must fill up the bag. I can sell them for 50¢. Just a few more.

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