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Thursday, 8 November 2018
Big trouble in little india
The earliest memory I could recall of my childhood was
me standing at the side of the pavement and watching a platoon of army boys
I remembered seeing them covered in mud and grime as
they walked past me.
They looked weary, tired and miserable. I remembered
clearly a couple of them winking at me, some waved, someone made a face at me,
and another waving for me to go back to wherever I popped out from.
I ran back to my dad’s drinks stall after that, happy
to be back within my comfort zone.
Most boys my age would have never got a chance to
enter a military camp, especially not on a daily basis.
My dad operates a drink stall in a canteen in a
military camp. The money isn’t fantastic but it puts food on the table.
He pulls a mean cup of traditional Nanyang coffee and
it’s aroma would fill the whole canteen when he makes a fresh brew.
I would run about the stall, monkeying around with the
used cups and saucers.
Sometimes I would run to the soldiers that bought
snacks and biscuits from my dad, hoping they would throw me a piece.
Sometimes they did. In case you are wondering, the
answer is no. My dad may own the stall, but I never get any free snacks from
the store. If I wanted anything, I had to pay for it.
I remember being bored most of the time.
I was the only kid around. My dad had gotten some
special permission from the camp for me to be in there with him. There’s no
other place I could be anyway. I only have him, and he only has me.
Behind the canteen is a small clearing with a cluster
of old trees. An old hammock was tied there together with some discarded
chairs. This is where the stall owners of the canteen would gather for a smoke
or a chat when the day is slow.
The western food uncle, the bee hoon auntie, or the
nasi lemak abang.
Thankfully it was a habit I did not pick up. An old
beach umbrella further complemented the foliage that the clearing had.
With the gentle breeze coming from the sea just beyond
the clearing of the trees, it is a really peaceful and serene place to zone
That spot is also my unofficial play area.
I kept a bag of marbles, some old toys and even broken
pieces of chalks. I knew where all the potholes are, which trees had cavities
big enough for me to hide my toys and pretend they are treasure.
Everyday was an adventure for me as I played on my
own. It did not bother me at all that I have no kids my age to play with in
there. I just felt really comfortable alone.
As I grew older, I would venture and explore deeper
into the forest. The idea of getting lost never occurred to me. Somehow I just
knew the place like the back of my hand.
I knew which shortcuts to take to the training and
deployment area where the trainees are.
I was spotted once by an officer. He was having a
smoke and he gestured me over.
Officer : Ah boy…. 2 cans of 100 plus… how long you
need to bring here ??
He gave me 2 $1 bill and I told him as soon as I can.
I ran back to my dad, pass him the money and off I
went back into the jungle.
I delivered the ice cold drink to the officer and he
shared a piece of his ration biscuit with me.
There, I just developed a new market for my dad.
Delivery on demand even before the concept took hold
in the country.
Things like this don’t happen often, most of the time I’m
alone, hitting spider webs with my stick or throwing grasshoppers I caught onto
the giant web that spans across 2 trees. Then there is the treasure hunt that I
play with myself.
You see, when the troops are gone after training, I
would scout the area for items that I can pick up and play. Buckles, water
bottles, sometimes a belt, pouches, half empty tubes of camouflage cream.
People leave all sorts of shit behind.
I picked up a magazine once. It was half buried in the
dirt. Probably dropped off a trainee’s pouch during their exercise.
I ran back and gave it to my dad who was shocked. He
immediately handed it to one of the regular officers that frequent our stall.
I don’t remember the officer’s name but I know him to
be always wearing his signature smile. His slightly pudgy figure reminds me of
a penguin but it’s his friendly demeanour and character that makes him so
approachable. He’s like a Santa Claus albeit in green.
He saw the magazine, he turned behind his back and
made sure no one is in the canteen before asking my dad to dispose of it.
I heard him say the matter is already closed. Let’s
not complicate things by making it appear again.
My dad understood his meaning immediately and I walked
with my dad to the same clearing he would have his smoke. We dug a hole and we
Dad : Never say a word… you understand….
He taught me that a honourable man’s word is worth its
weight in gold.
I was too young to understand what it means but I knew
I will take that secret to my grave.
Every time after that when I see this officer, he
would give me a knowing look and a playful wink, as if trying to tell me
there’s a little secret between us. I would smile cheekily, feeling happy to be
part of something that is bigger than the usual responsibilities given to me.
Exploring and picking up items will always be an
important part of my childhood. It’s my alone time, my precious memories.
Sometimes I will just lie down on the grass patch and
look up into the cloudy sky.
I would look up into the clouds and try to imagine how
my mother look like.
My dad never said anything about my mother before.
There are no pictures, no memories and no stories of
her from him.
He never shared an ounce of information about her with
me. He did not even show me their wedding photos.
When I asked him about it, he did not lose his temper,
he was always patient with his reply.
And his answer is always the same.
Dad : Mummy…. Is gone… she is no longer around….
Jeff : why are there no pictures or her ??
Dad : they are too painful a reminder for me…..i love
her… and she love you… with all her heart…. That’s all you need to know…
That was it.
I think every year during my birthday, I would ask him
the same question, and without fail, my dad would give me the same answer.
That was pretty much what I remembered for my early
By the time I was in secondary school, I came to
realise that my birthday, is also my mum’s anniversary. She died during
childbirth. She died while giving birth to me.
It hit me hard.
It dawned on me that I’m a murderer. I take away a
life when I was born.
Even before I learnt how to walk, I killed someone.
I killed my mother.
My dad accidentally blurted that out during one of our
Come on. As a teenager, we’re bound to have conflict
with out parents, I’m just like any other rebellious teen wannabe.
I never expected that war of words about me hanging
out in the arcade to turn out in such a manner.
A manner which left my dad in tears.
At 14 years old, I understood what heartache meant. I
When I saw the tears in my father’s eyes, it dawned on
me how hard things had been for him. For 14 years, he had to raise the child
that killed his wife.
I tried to put myself in his shoes and my heart ached
in a way I cannot describe.
The pain must be unbearable. I cannot imagine looking
at the very life that takes away someone I love.
Something snapped in me that day.
I don’t know what snapped but something broke. It
Perhaps it was one of the reason I do what I do for a
My dad apologised for the outburst that day, something
he has never done before throughout the years of bickering as father and son.
I sat down opposite my father that day and we just
looked at each other. I grew up more within that 30 minutes than I ever did the
past 14 years.
Not only did I grow up, I started to shut myself down.
I stopped hanging out with friends after school and chose to help my dad out at
his drinks stall. I became a lot more quieter, choosing to keep to myself.
Holidays, weekends, whenever I had free time, I would
be at his stall. Sometimes even right after school, I will head straight to the
canteen and do my homework at an empty table.
After I’m done, I would be by his side, tending to the
sporadic flow of customers.
It’s not as if we grew close because of this. We’re
close as father and son but there is always this invisible barrier between us.
A barrier between 2 men.
I learnt how to pull a good pot of coffee and tea. I
knew the prices of the items we sold by heart.
I knew all the officers and who the powers to be are
in the camp.
I knew how each of them liked their coffee, who has a
feud with who. Office politics and what naught, I see them up close and
personal when I was a teenager.
From the trainees’ gossip, I knew which are the
officers that they respect and which are the ones they hated.
The curses they threw in the canteen gave a pretty
good picture of their lives in the camp.
I watched many of those trainees pass out from a recruit
to NS men. Some of them coming back years later for their reservist.
They would call out to me ‘ Ah boy’ and place their
For the regular officers, I watched many climb the ranks,
getting promoted and taking on more responsibilities over the years. I grew old
with everyone of them. From a scrawny little kid, to a teenager waiting for my
O level results.
As a young adult, the soldiers and trainees no longer
call me ‘ ah boy’ . They call me ‘Kopi kia’ ,also known as coffee boy in dialect.
Yes, a 17 year old kopi kia.
It was during this period where the foundation for the
rest of my fuck up life was laid.
I remembered clearly it was during the peak of the
The current batch of trainee hated a officer to the
core. I’ve heard complaints and curses over the years but never like this.
This officer is a sadist from the gossips I’ve heard.
He takes pleasure in torturing the trainees. Injuries happen almost every day
and he would have others shoulder the blame.
Many of the soldiers have their weekends burnt for no
reasons at all. He fucked up the shared public phone that operated with
phonecards back then, depriving many of the chance to talk to their loved ones.
It’s easy to pass this off as the typical complaints
new recruits have but I am hearing the same things from regular officers and
They would huddle at their own table, lowering their
volume and looking over their shoulders as they talked about this captain.
Captain Kenneth. From the pictures the gossips painted
of this man, he sounded exactly like how a villain should be in the modern age.
His behaviour is very much dependent on his mood. The
things he made the trainees do has nothing to do with training them to be
soldiers, they were just meant as an amusement of sort to him. Kenneth is one
of those scholarly type, elitist mentality who thinks everyone is beneath him.
He would pick on trainees, finding fault when there is
none. Kenneth would deliberately drag the timing of the trainees during book
out days. Sometimes releasing them only when the sun has set while the rest of
the camp has left by lunch.
Insults and curses are never far from his mouth, he
even cursed loudly when he is in the canteen. He cuts the queue and demands a
fresh pot of coffee to be brewed when he is here.
It didn’t matter if the pot was brewed less than 5
minutes ago. He would demand my dad make a new one, if not, when the canteen
stall comes up for review, he says there’s a chance someone else might get the
I still remember the exact words he used till this
Kenneth : Everyone wants a stall in the camp you
know…. If you don’t want to operate…. Plenty more in the queue….
My dad just smiled and nod as he served him his drink.
Deep inside I knew he was boiling.
I wanted to throw him punch. Do you remember back when
you are 17 ?
Do you remember how hot blooded you are when it comes
to seemingly meaningless confrontations?
It’s the fucking hormones, we get riled up just from a
stare. Seeing how he put down my dad was really a test of my will.
I realised then it took a lot more control to hold
back a punch then to throw one.
I also noticed that Kenneth is a penny-pinching bitch.
He likes to chalk up his bill to be non- whole numbers. As in, $1.70, $3.10 , $
2.30. Then he would only pay the dollar value, saying that he would make up for
the rest the next time.
He never did.
A fucker to the max.
There is a couple of occasions he came in with a 50
dollar bill to get a cup of coffee.
My dad had no change and that was it. He got the drink
He would judge people by their education level. If you
are not up there with him, you are beneath him.
The bitching and complaints by the trainees went on
for a while until one day there were rumours that something happened.
Kenneth flew into a rage, coming into the canteen and
verbally abusing his subordinates.
It seems that there was a near miss accident and he
blamed his colleagues for it.
It appears as if one of the trainees attempted to turn
his weapon towards Kenneth during a life fire exercise.
Thankfully he was stopped in time.
Kenneth cursed and scolded the junior officers and
specialist alike at the canteen. I was shocked when I saw him slap one of them
across the face when he said something in reply.
The man being slapped is Owen.
I like Owen.
He is the opposite of Kenneth in terms of character.
Owen is a young lieutenant that just started his
career in the military a few years ago. He’s a tall and striking man. When he
speaks, there is charisma in his voice and with his 1.85m tall height and well-built
body, he looked exactly like the kind of man you would follow into war with.
A stark contrast with the thin and almost scrawny
Owen is a reasonable man and he is well liked by his
subordinates. He’s fucking fit as hell too.
I could not hear what he was saying to Kenneth but he
looked like he was trying to reason with him over some issues.
Kenneth : FUCK YOU UNDERSTAND !!! I don’t give a fuck…
this is on you !
Kenneth went on with his burst of curses while Owen
and his men looked on without a word. Then without warning, Kenneth started
hitting Owen for no reason at all, taking his anger out on him.
The rest of the men immediately went on to hold
Kenneth back. Despite his threats, they dragged him away from the canteen and
the eyes of common folks like us.
That very evening while I was packing up the stall
with my dad, I saw Owen talking to another 2 of the specialists. They talked
softly, looking around every now and then.
When I served them the last orders of the day, they
Something that has never happened before. I knew
something was up especially when they had to wait for me to leave before going
on. I quickly served them their drinks and collected the money before walking
I barely got halfway back to the stall when Owen
called out to me.
Owen : Jeff….. I need your help….
I looked at him and I did not know what to say.
Owen is a nice person. He is friendly with my dad and
he always helps us out by buying up whatever is left on the kueh and currypuff
tray at the end of the day when he drops by.
Now that he is asking me for help, I can’t possibly
say no can I ?
Jeff : my help ? what you need me to do ?
I don’t know what he is thinking but what can I
possibly do to help him ?
They are adults, they should have all the answers and
have everything figures out no ?
Owen smiled and he gestured for his men to leave the
table. They hesitated before getting up. They planned this together but it’s
obvious Owen wanted it to be on him if anything goes wrong.
If it did, he’s going to shoulder it all on himself.
Owen : I need you hide something for me…
Jeff : oh…
Owen : you know the back of the camp like your
backyard right… the clearing… the training areas….
Jeff : kind of… why ?
Owen was nice. He put it upfront that he’s not forcing
me to do it. He gave me the chance to say no.
Owen : You can say no Jeff… it’s your choice…. But if
you agree… you need to go through with it…. Till the end…. A lot of men…. And I
meant a lot…. Will be forever grateful to you…
I turned to look behind my back, my dad was nowhere to
be seen, probably headed back to the car to grab some stuff.
Jeff: ok… I’ll do it…
Owen smiled and gave my shoulder a squeeze.
Owen : We’re heading out to the field tomorrow night…
campsite 2… you know where is it ??
Campsite 2 is pretty close to the canteen. Within a 5
minutes walk through a shortcut from the back of the stall. The same place I
delivered the can drinks to the officer when I was young. The trainees however
do not have the luxury of taking that shortcut. It would be a good 5km walk for
them round the edge of the camp.
Jeff : yes…
Owen : the jungle trail… at the back… it leads
Jeff : I know… I take it quite often when I was
Owen : I’ll let you know again when to meet after we
deploy…tell no one… ok ?
I nodded and he gave me a brotherly tap on my
I honestly did not know what to expect when a couple
of days later Owen showed up with Kenneth in the middle of the day.
The trainees were deployed for training and Kenneth
wanted to come in for a cup of coffee.
Owen placed the order and he told me to take the
jungle path to the camp site immediately.
Owen : go all the way to the edge of the campsite….
There’s that old well, sealed up….
Jeff : ok… I know where is it…
Owen : my man left something there for you…
Jeff : what is it ??
Owen : Don’t ask.. take it… hide it…. Don’t say a
word… go… now…
I told my dad I needed to go to the toilet and I went
back out to the clearing behind the canteen.
Immediately I half jogged and ran up the dry forest path. It’s a well-used
route by the regulars to get back to camp. There were hardly any trees and shrubs
on the well trotted path.
I heard the scurry of some small animals as I went
into the thick secondary forest where the campsite is.
The well is right in front of me, barely 20m away.
I went right up and I cursed under my breath.
Jeff : fuck …..
It’s a weapon. A fucking M16 rifle.
I looked around the area, it was totally empty.
Someone left it there for me.
I was honestly freaked out as I thought about the
repercussions for this but I already promised Owen.
Fuck it, I tore a large leaf from a banana tree and I
used it to wrap the weapon. I’m not stupid, I’m not going to leave my
fingerprints on that shit.
Carrying that rifle, I half ran and jogged back close
to the clearing that I played when I was younger. My heart was racing, I
checked to make sure the place is clear before heading out.
I went to my favourite hiding spot, a hollowed out
section of a dead tree and i put it inside there. I pulled some leaves and
covered up the stump.
Then I ran as fast as I could back to the canteen
I washed my face with water and I went back to the
I was trying hard not to tremble as I watch Kenneth
cursing while Owen filled out a stack of documents.
They were well into their 2nd cup of drink.
I was drenched in perspiration.
Dad : Oei… you ok ??
Jeff : Yes… ok.. stomach ache…
Owen did not even look at me. Not even an eye contact.
10 minutes later, Kenneth and him got up and they’re
Just like that.
I was really afraid as the thought of going to jail
hit me. This must be the most fucked up shit I’ve done in my teenage years.
As I collected the used cups from the table I was hit
with the realisation of what just happened.
It dawned on me. It finally did.
Owen made me hide Kenneth’s weapon.
Losing that shit is going to unleash chaos upon the
It’s going fuck Kenneth’s career up good as well.
I did not have to wait long to witness the mayhem my
act plunged the entire camp into.
Everyone, and I meant every fucking person in that
camp has been activated to find that weapon.
From clerks to storemen , even drivers , everyone is
now out and about searching the camp for the missing weapon.
The canteen operators gathered and watched.
Everyone knew something was up.
Dad : must be something big going on….jia lat…
I kept quiet and said nothing.
The search never stopped.
I kept looking at the time.
The initial nervousness was gone. I don’t know why.
I was calm when I thought about what Owen said.
That a lot of men will be grateful for what I did. This
will fuck up Kenneth’s career, he will be gone.
My dad and I were just done cleaning up the stall that
day when a group of men entered the canteen.
Kenneth and Owen among them.
My heart skipped a beat when I saw them pause at the
entrance talking and gesturing about.
Something is wrong. I could feel it.
There was that tingling sensation in my stomach. I
knew it, I knew the cat is about to be let out of the bag.
I excused myself through the back of the stall. I knew
I had to protect myself.
I wasn’t really thinking when I went right out to the
smoking area in the clearing and I picked up the packet of cigarette left there
by the Nasi Lemak Abang. I grabbed one, lit it up with the lighter and took a
puff before I choked and coughed out the smoke.
I took a few more puffs before I threw it away.
I walked calmly back to the stall and continued my
By then Kenneth and Owen were right at the front of
our drinks stall.
Someone was talking to them. A trainee.
He was pointing in my direction.
I expected myself to panic, to freak out, to get down
on my knees and cry but no. I was surprisingly calm. I thought of all the times
Kenneth took advantage of my dad, the anger and resentment took hold.
I was afraid of course, but I was aroused as well.
Yes, I was aroused. I could feel blood rushing to my
groin as I relished that sick feeling.
That excitement. The anticipation.
Someone saw something. Someone saw me do something.
Someone saw me entering the forest and coming out.
If this were any other day, I doubt anyone would say
shit about a kid heading into the forest at the back of the camp, but this is
not any other day.
It’s a day where everyone’s day is fucked.
When you fucked up everyone’s day, when you messed up
their schedule, when you do something that causes inconvenience and pain to
others, people will talk. Everyone just wants their life to go back to normal.
Kenneth spoke first. His eyes bearing down on me as if
he already passed his judgement.
It was me. I was the one.
Kenneth : WE found something…. Behind…. Near the
clearing… where you all smoke…
The other stall holders came out, puzzled and unsure of
what’s going on.
Kenneth started scolding and cursing everyone present,
saying that whoever did this is going to face the full brunt of the law.
Kenneth : I will personally make sure you never see
the light of day….! Fucking Chee bye… you want to play right… you all want to
play with me !!
Kenneth went on to say that there is no way the
trainees did this, they never left the camp site. The hiding spot is well out
of their area of operations.
Kenneth held up a finger and shook it in a threatening
Kenneth : I know people are unhappy with me… want to
fuck with me right….right ??!!
He turned to look at Owen.
Kenneth : no one in company will have the balls to do
this Owen…. Unless they have …
Owen : what are you trying to say ??
Kenneth : I never said it was you…. Why are you so defensive??
Kenneth and Owen had a good 5 seconds of stare down
before he turned to my dad.
Kenneth : Uncle… someone told me…. He saw your son….
Running into the clearing…
My dad turned to look at me and I said nothing.
Dad : JEFF!! Is it you !!.... is it you !!!?
I kept quiet and said nothing. I directed my eyes from
my dad to Kenneth and I said nothing.
I may be quiet but the endorphins fired up in my head
like national day fireworks. It felt like I was high on drugs.
Staring Kenneth in his eye and remaining calm. It was
a feeling that beats me masturbating as a teenager.
Defiant to the core in front of someone I hated.
Kenneth : see… guilty right !!.. I’ll fucking make
sure he go to jail I tell you !!! ..
Dad : JEFF!!! JEFF!!! …. Answer me…. Why did you go
behind today !!! WHY!!!
I looked up at my father and realised everyone’s eyes
were on me including Owen.
It would be useless to deny. Someone saw me.
Jeff : Yes… I went behind today… but I did not have anything
to do this this…
Kenneth : WHY… why did you go behind the clearing then
Everyone waited for my answer and I calmly gave one.
Jeff : I smoked…
Dad : what !....
Jeff : I went behind to smoke…
I felt my dad’s hand slam home across my cheek as he
shouted at me.
Dad : you did what !!
Kenneth : don’t fucking lie to me Jeff….!... WHY did
you go behind today … I know someone put you up to this… you won’t do this on
your own….tell me who… tell me who… and I’ll let it all slide !!
Dad : JEFF !!!.. it’s you isn’t it… it’s you ????
I sniffed and held back my tears.
Jeff : No… It’s not me…
The blow hit harder this time round and I could taste
blood in my gums. I could see my father shaking as he pointed his trembling
finger at my face.
Dad : Jeff…. Jeff….. say properly…. Say properly….
I could see the tears in his eyes,tears of desperation. Desperate for answers.
Kenneth : Jeff… tell me… you can be honest with me…
tell me… who put you up to it…
Jeff : it’s not me…I really went behind to….
It was a really hard hit. The first time I felt
disoriented in my life.
When I looked at my dad, he was close to breaking down
He kept apologising to Kenneth, saying that I’m still
young. That I don’t know what is going on.
Dad : sorry… sorry …. Sorry Sir…. My son…. He’s still
young… he don’t know what is happening….
Jeff : It’s not me…
Before I could finish, my dad started hammering. He
He fucking punched me so that I would shut up.
I spit out blood onto the floor as I looked up
defiantly at him.
Dad : You fucking keep your mouth shut NOW!!!!
My dad broke down completely as he alternated between
begging Kenneth to forgive me while raining blows on me as the other people in
the canteen looked on.
It went on for about 2 minutes before I collapsed onto
the ground, sitting down as I took each blow without even a hint of pain.
There were tears in my eyes, they blurred my vision.
The blood tasted like raw iron and I could feel a long
cut in the inside of my cheek caused by my own teeth.
Kenneth : tell me Jeff… who….who put you up to it !!!
Dad : JEFF!! …JEFF!!!! Tell him… for fuck sake just
fucking tell him !!!
I sucked in a breath of air and I looked up at the
gathering of men.
Jeff : I didn’t do it…
Dad : aRHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!
My dad lost it and he picked up a mug from a nearby
table and hit me across the head as he cried. He broke down.
He completely broke down.
I touched the top right side of my head and I saw
blood on my fingers as my dad got on his knees. He begged.
He begged Kenneth to give me a chance.
Jeff : Why are you begging him for….….
Dad : shut up… you just fucking SHUT UP !!!!
Kenneth grabbed me by my shirt and he glared at me. He
put his nose close to my mouth and he took a sniff, then he grabbed my fingers
and he sniffed them too.
The smell of the cigarette I took.
Another officer I have never seen came up to me. He
did the same, smelling my breathe before nodding to the rest of the entourage
Kenneth took a deep breath before looking at me. The
look in his eyes.
The judgement has been passed.
He knows I’m guilty.
Kenneth : it’s you…. I know it’s you…..Tell me who the
fuck he is right now….!!! Or I’ll fucking make sure you spend the rest of your
Before he could finish his threat, another group of men
entered the canteen.
I saw a familiar smiling figure that I have not seen
That same officer that told my dad to get rid of the
magazine. Santa Claus in green.
He appeared with a few aides by his side and it was
obvious he’s some kind of big shot even though he was dressed in civilian
Everyone backed off and made way for him.
He said something to Kenneth then to Owen. Both men
walked away after that.
That same officer smiled at me and he pulled me aside.
Santa Claus in green : Ah boy…. I’ll only ask you
He flashed me his million dollar smile and told me it’s
ok to tell the truth.
Santa Claus in green: Is it you …..? if it is…. Who put you up to it ? haha… is ok… just be
honest…. I guarantee nothing will happen to you….
Jeff : It’s not me….. no one asked me to do anything…
Santa Claus in green : ok !... then it’s over… we’ll
close this… ok ?
A medic arrived, he gave me the once over and said I
should be fine. Just some minor cuts on my head and inside my lips.
I saw the Santa Claus in green talk to Owen before
putting his arm around Kenneth and pulling him to a corner of the canteen.
Whoever he is, he is capable of turning Kenneth into a
My dad refused to talk to me as he finished up
clearing the floor of the stall.
I could still feel many pairs of eyes on me and Owen
is not one of them.
10 minutes later, it was over.
The Santa Claus in green came over to me and told me
everything is fine.
He tells me not to say a word to anyone about what
happened inside the camp.
Santa Claus in green : Ah Boy…. Very simple…. Ok…
nothing happened…don’t say anything to anyone… don’t tell your friends…. Don’t
tell your girlfriend…. No one… can ? …. Can you promise me that ??
I hesitated for a few seconds before I nodded.
Santa Claus in green : I’m Ron… ok… can this be our
secret ? like back then ?
I nodded, a smile finally broke on my face as I found
myself lowering my guard against this man.
Ron nodded his head and I saw him wave to my dad from
where he sat, legs spread and palms resting on his knees like a boss.
Ron : alright then…. Ah Boy…. Sure you never take
anything right ??
I nodded and replied.
Jeff : I never took his rifle. ….
Ron smiled and nodded.
He got up, tapped me twice on my shoulder before giving
me a wink.
Ron : No one said it was a rifle….
The looked on my face betrayed me immediately and I
could not believe how stupid I was.
My throat felt dry and I knew the game is over.
I can try to explain myself, I can think of reasons,
but it was no use.
The look on Ron’s face told me everything.
That knowing smirk.
He knew if right from the start.
Still, he said nothing.
Turning away, he walked casually out of the canteen
with a swagger.
I went out to my dad’s car. He was sitting in it
waiting for me.
I got in and he did not say a word.
It was a good 45 minutes after the mess was sorted out
before anyone could leave the camp.
Even upon reaching home, my father did not say
anything to me.
I washed up and went to bed.
There is nothing more to say.
What I did not expect though was for Owen to show up
at our place.
At 11.30pm at night.
I remembered clearly that Owen knocked on the door for
a while before it jolted me awake.
When I came out of my room, my dad was up as well.
He opened the door and came face to face with Owen.
They exchanged a look for 2 seconds before my dad
turned and look at me.
Then without a word, my father went back to his room.
I walked to the door where Owen was and no words were
What can I say?
What can he say ?
He nodded at me, and extended his hand.
I took it and we shook hands as if we concluded some business
It felt good.
Like I close some big sale as a salesmen.
If only I knew at my tender age back then I did seal a
I did sell something that night.
I sold my soul, my conscience, and my life.
All to the devil.
A few weeks after the
incident, Kenneth is gone.
Vanished. Reassigned or
whatever fancy word people can come up with.
He is no longer around. The
word is he has been transferred away to another camp.
Some say he is being put on
No one really cares.
Peace finally returned to the
The breezy peaceful clearing
still stands and is still one of my favourite spot to hang out.
I’m old enough to drink in the
blink of an eye and my favourite part of the day would be to open up a beer and
just sit at the hammock after closing up the stall.
I completed my tertiary
education in a polytechnic while continuing to help out at my dad’s stall
whenever I could. I was pretty much the loner in school, someone who is there
but pretty much invisible.
People know I’m part of the
class of course but I’m not within the hip and happening group.
I’m not in the group of
rejects either. I just floated around and got my diploma with mediocre grades.
I enlisted at the age of 19 a
few months after graduation. I may have grown up in a military camp but I
always knew it was not the kind of life for me. I’m all about the get it over
and done with attitude.
It’s only 2.5 years. Just
serve and fuck off.
Unlike my peers though, I
never made it pass the basic military training in Pulau Tekong.
2 weeks in, my father passed
away. He suffered a heart attack in the same hammock he loved so much in the
clearing behind his stall. He passed away in his sleep.
I was given 2 weeks off to
attend to the wake and other necessary matters. I don’t even remember what the
fuck I did during that 2 weeks. Clearing out the stall, handing over to another
operator who is the cousin of the Nasi Lemak Abang.
Less than 10 people attend my
father’s wake. We kept to ourselves mostly and most of the visitors are people
from the canteen.
Owen was there too, a couple
of our neighbours who stayed in the same block in Bedok.
That was it.
I was all alone.
Life sure is full of
By the time I was back to
camp, it was too late for me to join in the training. My friends had moved on
ahead. I was considered a drop out and it was going to be a few months before I
could rejoin another batch of trainees.
I was transferred out to be a
storeman for a couple of weeks before someone paid me a visit.
He appeared out of the blue
dressed in jeans and a Polo T in front of my company line with my commanding
officer by his side.
He asked to speak with me
And he made me an offer.
Owen : Jeff…. Would you like
to work with me ? ….
Jeff : what do you mean ?
Owen : A job …. I’m offering
you a stable job… good pay…. Benefits…
I shook my head and told him I
Jeff : You want me to what….?
Pursue a career with the military ?? sorry … I’m… I’m really not a military
kind of guy…
Owen laughed and shook his
Owen : No…of course not…. I’m
no longer with the military by the way… I’m…working directly with the ….
Jeff : what’s the difference ?
Owen laughed and asked me to
think about it.
Owen : It’s not going to be a
walk in the park…… but what have you got to lose ? or is there someplace else
you rather be ?? The storeroom ? …. Taking stock of inventory??
There was a brief pause as I
looked at the blank wall behind Owen.
Jeff : Is it going to be
better than what I’m doing now ??
Owen : You mean as a storeman
?? hahah.. of course…
I nodded and I agreed right
Jeff : Alright…. I’ll do it…
Owen smiled and extended his
hand again to me.
The handshake from hell.
I fucked my life up bad that
I fucked it up so bad that it
was hard to even put it in words. I was young, naïve and ignorant. If that same
offer was made to me today, I would have told Owen to fuck off.
Anyway, I was pulled out of
the military and the next thing I knew, I was in another country, Malaysia.
There was a plane ride. A long
Another car ride before I
arrived in the middle of nowhere.
Then there was the jungle.
There is the training.
Physical, mental, educational.
There is no Rambo style kind
of Hollywood shit by the way. A routine, yes, learning, yes, knowledge
transfer, yes. Music blasting in the background while I crawl through mud while
it rained, no.
Lifting logs and doing
butterfly kicks on the beach, no.
It was like school. Secondary
There’s a classroom but there
is only me.
Me and the lecturer.
There is a timetable, there
are classes I needed to attend. I get to rest, to sleep, then I wake up and the
I was cut out from the rest of
the world for an entire year.
I could not even make a phone
call, not that I have anyone I needed to call.
There were no indication of
when I would graduate or finish whatever fuck Owen wanted me to do.
I lived and slept in fear
I was honestly scared. It’s
like being dumped in the middle of nowhere and having to figure out this shit
on my own.
I may not have much experience
in life but I have common sense.
Something that many lacked
It’s the things that were
taught to me that scares me.
I learnt the human anatomy the
same time I was taught how to use a knife. I learnt how to sever muscles and
arteries from flesh and bones.
I was taught how to perforate
a stomach if I ever need to dispose of something that has one.
What the fuck.
Why would I need to dispose of
anything with a stomach ?
I remembered the lady with
gold rim glasses saying gas in the stomach builds up during decomposition. Gas
fills up, it rises. Perforate all organs that gases can build up, no gas build
up, it won’t float.
I was taught what is the best
way to deprive someone of oxygen. I shit you not, that is the title on the
manual given to me.
The fucking titles they come
up with on my training manual. The person writing it sure has a sense of
I learnt how to shoot of
course, with a variety of weapons.
I learnt how to drive, to ride
a bike, to start a boat.
Then the Orang Asli came. The
indigenous people and oldest inhabitants of Peninsular Malaysia.
Jeff : are we going to like
hunt…. ? survive in the jungle or some shit ?
The trainer introduced himself
He gave me an raised eyebrow
and shook his head.
Shukri : yo brother…. Come
on…. Singapore got how much jungle for you to
hunt and survive ? … you hungry go supermarket buy food la…haha
Jeff : oh… hahah…
Shukri was there to teach me
how to take a life.
That of an animal.
He taught me how to do it
quickly, cleanly with respect.
Everytime I took a live, I
looked into the eyes of my subject.
I could feel the heartbeat of
the small quail in my palm increase when it saw Shukri demonstrated what I
needed to do to it’s friend.
Things like these messes with
your head. It fucks with your mind.
The fear that helpless quail
had while sitting in my palm.
Shukri waited for me to follow
suit and I did it swiftly, ending the life of that bird in a snap.
I’m not proud at all of what I
did but there was no point in prolonging the suffering.
I was taught to kill all
manners of livestock, from a cuddly rabbit to a full grown cattle.
Each time I ended the life of
a living thing, I knew at the back of my head it was a matter of time before I
graduate to something else.
This was what Owen wanted me
A nobody. Someone who had
nothing left to lose.
I was taught how to deal with
explosives by a Hungarian man call Yusuf.
I learnt how to rig up someone
simple with everyday household items. I learnt how to handle military grade
I was kept on a strict diet
and workout regime.
My body is not mine to
I cannot have 6 packs that are
too defined as if I’m some manhunt model.
I can’t have bulging biceps
that looked like I overdosed on steroids.
I’m just supposed to be 64Kg
and to look slim. I am strong, but I can’t look the part.
I’m supposed to look normal. It
doesn’t matter I can run 2.4km in 8 minutes flat. I can’t run at that speed,
I’m not supposed to run at that speed.
I had to attend chemistry
classes taught by a Israeli.
Everyday I get wacked like a
sandbag by a North Korean instructor who teaches me offensive moves.
Every evening I get wacked
again by a Indian guru teaching me defensive moves.
Some afternoons a thai
instructor will pop by and by the end of the session, it would be a struggle
just to stand upright.
I was taught how to read
people’s expressions and reactions by a Chinese man who turned out to be a
professor in some university.
I was cramped with information
but there were no test. Nothing.
No one came to make sure I
remembered everything that was taught.
There was no need for that.
9 months in and I could easily
work up a sweat while sparring with my instructors.
When Owen finally showed up
after about a year later, you could probably guessed the first words that came
out of my mouth.
Jeff : Fuck you Owen… fuck you !...
Owen : hahahaha…. Ouch….
Well…. Congrats on completing your basic training.
He offered me a hug and I gave
him the finger which he laughed it off.
I stepped foot back into
Singapore after a full year.
I felt disorientated and
It was then I realised I was
so comfortable being alone with the trainers that I started to feel
uncomfortable around other people.
I find it hard to believe I had
to learn how to integrate and blend in with people.
The flat my dad left behind
was kept in a immaculate condition. Everything was left exactly the way it was.
Owen made sure of that.
What about money ? I had
plenty of it.
Owen paid me and he paid me
well. There was no need for me to spend a single cent.
Back in Singapore, I was given
a range of roles to play and companies to work at. From logistics firm to a
driver to a hawker. I did it all, hopping from role to role, job to job in the
By the time I turned 23, I
could act like a fool. I can joke like a seasoned joker, I can even play the
role of a studious college kid.
I can even write erotic
literature on a sex forum.
I can be the young adult you
see going for an interview, or I can be the random guy walking pass you at the
I can be anyone. A student, a
boyfriend, a geek. Anyone.
I knew it was a matter of time
before I got my first project as they call it.
Fancy name for a fancy job.
You will always remember your
Unlike the fanfare of a
Hollywood style execution, What we do is actually more subtle.
Well, because this city
thrives on order.
Order maintained by the rule
The challenge is not to take a
life, but to do it without anyone knowing about it.
Who gives me the right to take
a life ?
Who gives Owen the right to
decide whose to take ?
A chicken and egg question
that is really hard to answer and I gave up trying to figure it out.
My first project was a man
call Malcom. Malcom Khoo.
So what exactly did Malcom
Khoo do ?
This is how the process goes.
Owen runs the company.
No one knows how many staff
like me exists except him.
He reports directly to the
powers to be, whoever the fuck that is.
When a target is identified,
Owen does not make the call alone to proceed.
A standalone audit department
goes through the materials and information gathered, gives the green light, and
a call comes to me. There, independent verification from a neutral party.
Once the audit department
gives the green light, it will be pushed over to me.
Malcom is a hot shot banking
executive working in town. At 30 years old, he has everything a guy would dream
off at that age.
A career, money, a convertible
and even a nice condominium in Marina Bay. He is the furniture in the most
happening clubs, popping champagne like no tomorrow.
His money is clean.
His character though, is not.
Malcom has a penchant for
girls that are old. Real old. He was the suspect in a rape case but was never
convicted. The victim was 68. She later committed suicide.
Another incident was a near
miss of a 51 year old. The woman was traumatised, but Malcom paid his way out.
Owen has people on Malcom ever
since. News like this would be hard to swallow even if published.
Not only does Malcom prey on
the random stranger on the street, he bought his way into a nursing home. Owen
has a collection of photos documenting Malcom paying off the nursing staff in
the nursing home late in the evening.
He would enter the home and
appear an hour later in the same manner an adult would pay for a hooker. He
preys on the helpless elderly. People who had difficulty even expressing
From the document dossier
given to me, I could see that Malcom’s computer is full of nude photos of
prominent models and bloggers as well. He does some freelance photography as a
hobby and he blackmailed several of his models after they agreed to a nude
All of them kept quiet for
fear of their photos being exposed on the net. So, he ends up fucking them for
free whenever he wants to.
The final nail in the coffin
for Malcom came in the form of a video.
It was a video of him forcing
himself while drunk on a 65 year old auntie collecting cardboards for a living.
The lady ran but Malcom went
All these are captured in
graphic detail via a camera phone. It’s shaky and blur but clear enough for
anyone who sees it to know what is going on. The person taking it laughing and
spurring Malcom on.
Malcom went to the house of
the Auntie and came into contact with her granddaughter who is only 12.
The rest is no longer
So with these information on
hand, it’s easy isn’t it. Pass it to the authorities, viola. They arrest him,
splash his face across the paper, spend shitload of tax payers money to convict
him, then spend more of our money to keep him fed, clothed and safe behind bars
for the next 2 decades.
Just lock him away and forget
about him while the rest of the victims live the rest of their life with the
trauma of Malcom’s deeds.
No , of course not. It’s not
that simple, it’s rarely that simple.
First, the person taking the
video is politically connected to someone in a neighbouring country. We can’t
touch him for geo political reasons. The big picture as they call it. The video
cannot see the light of day because that person is never on the scene if you
get my drift.
Second, people like Malcom, he
will never stop.
Malcom needs to go.
He needs to go quietly and
cleanly, like he never existed.
Owen : All the information is
all there…. Can you do it ?
Jeff : yes….
Owen : First time is always
the most memorable…. Do you need me to be there ?
Jeff : No…
Owen : How are you going to do
Jeff : Do I need to tell you
Owen : hahaha… as long as the
job gets done…. And don’t get caught… draw what you need from the storeroom. You
have 2 months.
I followed Malcom for a month
before making up my mind.
I didn’t even need anything
from the storeroom.
I simply waited for him to go
for his run. He likes to run at MacRitchie reservoir along the jungle trail on
Wednesday before his workday.
It was 6am on a weekday.
I watch his convertible pull
into the carpark and I did my own stretching. Time to loosen up the muscles.
I let him get a 3 minute
headstart before I started on the trail behind him.
I caught up with him in no
time and I could see him about 20 paces in front of me.
There was no one behind me, I
felt the rush of adrenaline as I opened up my steps and caught up to Malcom.
He did not even have time to
react. Using my shoulder I bump him to the left, causing him to tumble down the
side of the slope and into the edge of the water.
Malcom : hey !! arghhh!!!
He tumbled and rolled for a
few seconds, cursing out in the dark at me.
I paused and waited. That
would surely attract the attention of passer bys if anyone was there.
Malcom : hey !! fucker…. You …
fuck you !...
I checked the path to make
sure it’s clear before jumping off the track and made my way towards Malcom.
He was covered in dirt and he
was panting hard. Imagine running flat out and having to take a tumble.
He looked like he was about to
throw a punch at me but he never expected me to do what I did.
I ran at him and literally
lifted him up and before I tumbled with him together into the reservoir.
Malcom :earehghh !
I took a deep breath as I
clung onto Malcom like a koala from behind him and I relax my body, letting my
body weight drag him under water.
He struggled, slapping the
surface of the water as he tried to swim upwards for air, expanding what little
oxygen he had in his lungs.
Malcom wasted a good 5-6
seconds trying to swim with me attached to him like a leech. By the time he
realised his mistake, he tried to untangle himself from me but it was too late.
Panic set in. It was dark.
The water is cold. My legs
were wrapped around his waist while my hands held onto his head.
I closed my eyes and I could
feel the life in him slipping away.
His struggle got weaker. His
instinct made him grab at my legs around his body but it was no use. I was
wearing long running tights.
I could feel him going into
spasm as his lungs filled with water. His hands reached wildly behind his head
trying to get me and I just held on.
I could hold my breathe steady
for 120 to 130 seconds. The max I did was 148.
It was coming to a minute by
my count and Malcom was hardly moving by then.
I held my hold on him and
relaxed my body further, letting the current carry us out into the middle of
At the 2 minute mark, I gently
let go of Malcom and I surfaced for a breath of fresh air.
I looked at Malcom’s lifeless
body a few metres away from me before I swam towards the shore.
I checked to make sure the
coast was clear before I continued my run back to the car.
I got to my car, towelled
myself dry and drove back home.
I gave Owen a text to tell him
it’s done and the location.
He will handle the clean up
and the administrative work that follows.
In a couple of days, there
will be a small column in the papers about a jogger that lost his footing and
fell during his jog and drowned.
Public are reminded to be
vigilant when jogging along the dark paths of the park.
Autopsy, post mortem, paper
work, all these will be taken care of by Owen and his team behind the scenes.
Owen came to look for me after
my 1st project, offering me time off, a holiday. A time out session.
I was sent to talk to a shrink who work for the same company. I had to go
through evaluation by 2 separate doctors before I was certified fit to continue
Honestly, I was afraid. I felt
the fear like any others but I knew what kept me going. If I don’t do this,
more innocent people will get harm.
That is what I tell myself
every night before I go to sleep ever since I did my first project.
6 years on by 2013, I did 27
projects in all.
I was the best performing
employee in the company.
Top in terms of KPI.
I took the lives of 22 men and
I remember all their faces.
Every night before I sleep, I
would see those faces.
That look in their eyes. That
look of realisation of what is happening.
I know when my time is up, I
would see those faces again.
I can’t expect myself to go to
heaven having done the things I did right ?
Well, I still sleep at night,
in the same bedroom, on the same bed, in the same house my dad left me.
I have money, more than I can
ever spend stashed in different countries in the region.
I’m being paid 9k a month, and
this does not include the bonus for each project.
Bonus for project differs by
quite a bit. Criminals like Malcom are pretty low, terrorist pays pretty well,
overseas jobs goes for double the rate. You get the drift.
The arrangement with Owen has
worked well for me all these years. In fact I was thinking of retirement in a
Then the consolidation came.
Instructions came from the top
that Owen need to consolidate his operation. We can no longer operate the way
we do. Someone is crying for accountability, documentations, paperwork.
Long story short, Owen needed
to shift his operations from various locations around the island into 1
A 12 storey building located
in little india.
A building with a story of
That is where my story begins.
It all starts with the number 6.
Why 6 ?
In the centre of the lobby
lies a sculpture of that looked like the universal studio globe but it’s a lot
smaller with digital screen running across the axis of the globe. Text runs
from bottom up like the ticker tape of news channel.
The metal globe spins and I
could see my call-sign appearing on the digital screen.
Hibiki 6 2 7
Owen : Want to know what it
Jeff : Let me guess, 27
Jeff : What does the 6 mean ?
Owen : You’re number 6.
Jeff : What ?
Owen : yes…
Jeff : I thought I was the top
?? … didn’t you say I was the top ??
Owen gave me a raised eyebrow
Owen :I didn’t know you have such a big ego
Jeff : fuck you…
Owen : 1 to 5 retired.
I turned to look at Owen and
he immediately added.
Owen : It’s not what you
think…. They decided their time is up, they vanished…. In time to come…. I
guess you might do the same as well…
Owen gestured to the screen as
it changed to feature other call signs before changing to a stationary screen.
E 2 45
W 3 41
S 4 40
N 5 39
Jeff : what is this…. EWNS ?
The direction of a compass ?
Then the screen flashed again.
Jane 1 97
I blinked twice at the sign
and turned to look at Owen
Jeff : You got to be fucking
Owen shrugged his shoulders.
Owen : I don’t know man….
These are before my time…. my predecessors…
Jeff : What do you know about
Owen : You interested ?
Jeff : Of course… tell me….
Tell me everything…
Owen took a deep breath as he
gestured to the building still under renovation.
Owen : It all starts here….
When this was a old 2 storey shophouse… when Singapore first gain independence.
Jeff : They were pioneers ?...
of the company.
Owen : In a time when chaos
reign , we need people who dare to do what needs to be done…
In the same manner which the
expressways are currently laid out, the country was divided into 4 sections.
The CTE, central expressway
splits Singapore down the middle, separating the east and west the PIE, Pan
Island expressway separates the north and south.
Owen : the 4 pillars each took
a corner of the island. They did what needs to be done in a manner not too
different from what you are doing now.
Jeff : wow…. Fuck… and who the
fuck is Jane…. ??
Owen : Oh Jane…. Jane….. haha..
Owen took a deep breathe and told
me what he is about to tell me is what he heard from his predecessor.
Owen : Jane…. Is a woman of
focus, of extreme dedication …. She is the best the company ever had… she is
trained by the 4 pillars themselves.
Jeff : where is she now ??
Owen : How would I know,
probably a old woman by now maybe…. I took over this shit just after the
Kenneth fiasco. You’re my first recruit man…. Why ? … ahha.. you want to meet
her ?? hahahah
Jeff : Well… if she’s real… I
would love to…
He tapped me on my shoulder and
Owen : She’s a black widow….
No one knows how she looks like, she kills everyone that comes into contact
with her…. That 97 ? ….. I bet mostly are men… haha…. I’m glad she’s gone
though…. Don’t worry… you are still the best performing employee in the company
in my eyes…
I watched as Owen walk away to
talk to a contractor.
Well, sounds like a myth to me
after thinking about it.