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(Scroll down a bit to “a brilliant mind” posted on March 7, 2013, and read that first. This is an update to that post.)

Two years later, I caught up with the light, after a long, arduous run. Gasping for air, almost breathless, I marvelled at our proximity, hoping she didn’t notice the sweat brimming around my eyelids, pooling on my upper lip, and dripping from my hair. I could finally see this light up close and personal, and best of all, hold perfection in my hands. It threw everything else into shadows as we ravished each other’s presence, two lonely people brought together by the forge of circumstance.

Bathed in this warm and incandescent light, I was happy for a while. It shone through many cracks that I hadn’t seen before, brought to my eyes countless intricacies of this world that I hadn’t noticed in my blindness. All at once there were new lands to explore, and explore them we did, always with this light guiding me. Yet as we went on, still pushed relentlessly forward by the same tides of time, I started to see something different, something unsettling. This light… there was something strange to it. I couldn’t articulate what it was, but where was the perfection I thought it embodied? The closer I got, the more its warmth dissipated, and I was caught in the middle, like a mind adjusting between an optical illusion and reality. All too soon it felt cold and impersonal, like fluorescence.

When I resurfaced back to reality, I almost couldn’t see the light any more. I tried fighting, but that would mean sinking back into self-constructed fantasy. As a solace I told myself it was simply that we moved on to different wavelengths, and that’s why she started disappearing into invisibility. In the end I let go. I returned to blindness.


This was the fulcrum upon which his entire consciousness had hinged upon for the past couple of days. One flitting moment of eye contact was all it took to unravel his senses and dismantle the mask of rationality that he had always laboured to maintain on the surface, serving the dual function of blinding himself and others with the illusion of a solid stoicism that hid an unspeakable depth of turbulence within.

The truth was, it caught him by surprise right at the moment in which he had a pronounced vulnerability to shocks. Caught off balance, he stumbled and reeled, his mind on one hand screaming for support, yet on the other struggling to feign a calm indifference in front of her, this –

Examiner, physician, and above all, this female who more than anyone else resembled his ex, so much more than the best in the multitudes of feminine expression he saw around him every day.

He had always suspected something akin to a blind spot buried deep inside of him, a trigger which if pulled would unleash this unknown facet which he had always chosen to ignore, hesitated to acknowledge, and which he refused to get acquainted with.

Yet it was forced upon him with utter speed and reality – there was almost a violence to it – that stark Thursday afternoon, in the stark lighting of the clinical skills examination room, breathing in the stark air which had undoubtedly circulated between their lungs, touched upon their alveoli, and traversed their blood and bone with an unrivalled intimacy.

As though all nerves were under a prolonged hyperpolarization, as if struck dumb with lightning, her performed the task of that station, neck and thyroid examination, as if in a trance. Actions and the scripted running commentary were carried out robotically, without a real thought to the actual situation or what in the world he was really doing.

She, of course, took the liberty to point out his blatant mistakes. Such tactlessness and lack of flexibility with which he reflexively responded, those are his fatal shortcomings, all manifested within the short span of five minutes. In full bloom too, in front of the replica of a person that he… had yearned so much and so long to catch a glimpse of, yet at the same time had dreaded seeing.

It was with a bit of remorse, a bit of shame that he moved on when the bell signalled the transition to the next station. So much so that he couldn’t even will himself to look at her, nod a goodbye, or even signal a note of thanks as courtesy – for fear of what he would see in those big, dark eyes of hers.

For a few moments as Bruce Willis blasted brawny villains out of the screen, I did imagine her leaning on my shoulder, snuggling up beside me as we submerged ourselves in the hardcore gunfire of Die Hard 5. It was exhilarating. The distance between us felt almost solid; we knew how close we were, physically. For a couple more moments I even let my imagination take full flight (why not, Bruce Willis had just maneuvered an impossible escape involving a burning helicopter) where I would lean down, and our lips would meet. Gentle, but full of promise for better things to come. Wonderful explosions in the background. Nearly there – it would take so little. We were so aware of it, yet neither of us gave any indication, perhaps we were both too timid, or too engrossed in our own fantasies, knowing that reality would never get as vivid as the brilliant hues of our imagination.

Thus we stayed that way, with our heads cocked in our own comfortable angles, even though we knew that the best comfort comes from one another’s arms. Too quickly, the film had ended, Bruce Willis had succeeded, and we headed out into the stark sunlight, dreams evaporating into thin air together with our disappointed sighs.

The light was miles ahead, masked by the haze of academic traffic. It gave off a faint glow, with the vague emanating quality of a brilliance diffused by the smoke that lingered in the distance between us. In this perpetually dim city, perhaps anyone would be primed to be sensitive to any form of luminance. I could not help but be irresistibly drawn to this particular light. As I ran towards it, pushed relentlessly forward by the tides of time, there were indeed other flickers and flashes around me, but they were all fleeting. At most they constituted irritating stimulations to my retina, transient – and almost by definition – lacking substance. They were different by nature from the light I was running towards, which was constant, and steady. Despite the vagueness, it was always there. Always in front of me, and it had the comforting assurance of a richness that I could not resist.

We mellow with age. As we get older, the realities of life hit us in deeper and deeper ways, until we become beaten up into vapid, innocuous pulp, incapable of being or doing anything remarkably individual. A little bit of us dies every time we fall, a little more at each dead end – a life, intact and original in the beginning, accelerating into entropy as we step into adulthood. The brazen sharpness of youth gets blunted, giving way to the inexorable proceedings of conformation and ultimately subservience to a larger whole.

There is something I fear, that the thoughts and opinions I hold now will be slowly eroded as life washes over me. Slowly, we stop dreaming for and working towards a 3000 pound marlin, opting instead for 10 trout at a time. This is about the ideals we formulate during youth as a function of our environment, the ideals that we hold dear to us now, crystalizing into a gem that we carefully guard in our hearts. Nothing lasts forever, not even these ideals, which you think are so personal as to not be vulnerable to any external influence. But in the end they are all susceptible. Think about what you yearn for, deep down. The things that you care about the most. This pristine gem which you are so fond of may eventually lose its translucence, be gouged upon or even utterly destroyed. Circumstances change, and with that, so does our perception of this gem, as the conditions once favorable for its hatching cease to exist. When that happens, where we find ourselves in a different position as a different self (recall “No man steps into the same river twice”, Heraclitus), we may look at this little stone and declare it as a product of the vanity and folly of adolescence, discarding it into the landfill we are making of our lives.

At this moment, I dread these prospects. But fast forward 30 or 40 years. My older self will have ideals of her own, ideals that may be very different from mine (let’s treat me and her as separate identities), because they will be the product of an additional set of experience and circumstance. In retrospect, she may not lament the loss of insistence on her younger ideals, because she does not see them as ideals anymore.

Change of perspective. Objectively speaking, it may be a good thing, but nonetheless that’s what I fear.

The Fish and the Goat (1):

The Fish and the Goat (2)

There was nothing more tangible than physical reality. When it came down to the most basic echelon of perception, the minimum interaction with our surroundings required for survival, our senses could be trusted. The finite boundaries of our material environment did not conceal lies, and sometimes, all it took was a simple discrepancy of protons and electrons to produce juxtaposing worlds that cannot be more different.

She did not belong to the crude terrain that I had known all my life; neither would I call water my home.


Mountain goats were well-known for their solitary nature. Their propensity for habitats of high elevations atop mountain ranges complemented such an intrinsic need. It might seem ironic that the most open peaks, exposed to all, provided the best form of seclusion for me. There, strong winds perpetually whipped the landscape bare. It was this naked stoicism that leant perspective to priorities, and I was quite free from mundane concerns.

Yet to be free meant to drift and to dwell endlessly on issues of doubtful significance. Deep down, there was a feeling that life is unanchored and slipping off the edge of the world. An emptiness that simply could not be filled. Sometimes, perched atop a rocky outcrop, I wondered if there was something more beyond the expanse of jagged rocks that I saw before me, or if there was anything other than isolation that I could depend on when I…

Would I describe this feeling as loneliness?

It was this uncertainty and curiosity for things beyond my immediate horizon that led me to stray from my natural habitat. Perhaps at first, I had intended to search for a living companion, as opposed to the usual silence which I got as a response to relentless thought. And while I was stumbling over unfamiliar terrain, tripping over moss-covered rocks and being intimidated by little trickles of water, I did find someone more than a friend.

She was a fish.

It had been quite some time ago.

Now, I stood on the bank of a mountain lake, gazing into its pristine waters. There was a wake of fading ripples from the swish of her tail as she dived away, and I knew this was the last I would see of her. It was across this boundary between water and land where we first met. Our first conversations took place here, and I would not forget how easy she made it for me to let go of my reticence and still be myself. As we slowly built our friendship, I realized she might be what I had been looking for.

It was as if life before her was riddled with holes, and she filled them up with her wit, her charm, or just her mere presence. The nagging emptiness that had bothered me before disappeared. I became a different person with her – less insistent upon my beliefs which I previously thought were rock solid, I started breaking my rigid rules, started to experience more of life. I ventured out of the structure of my old habits, for the first time enjoying the thrill that comes with taking risks, living another type of freedom that I had not known – that of casual spontaneity. She was the proverbial lost piece of puzzle that completed a picture of life.

But then, just as we were on the verge of a budding romance, everything shattered. The puzzle pieces fell apart and I was left grappling with reality, realizing that perhaps the picture I had had a glimpse of was merely a flitting illusion, a product of circumstance.

The truth was, our physical separation was in itself a statement of mundane finality. Not only did it constitute immense barriers that took great pains to surmount, but our environments shaped us more than we wanted, or thought. Physical realities had repercussions far beyond the scope of what matter and energy could account for. Our environment made us different people.

Both of us had assumptions that were so ingrained in us that not for a moment in our lives had we ever stopped or questioned the objectivity or the extent of truth in them. As expected, this led to such a divergence of beliefs and trains of thought that it just became impossible to reach a simple consensus on many issues of life. Slowly, I felt that my life was being compromised and found myself wishing for routine and regularity once again, being tired of the unpredictability of her lifestyle which I conjectured into chaos and entropy. I was, so to say, drowning and slowly dying in her lake.

She probably felt the same way towards my inflexibility and slow, if not reluctant, responses to change.

I supposed that neither of us were wrong, but that didn’t make the both of us right, either.

She lived a rich life, in her lake of thousands of other friends and companions. I was unable to pay for that richness. It was a bare fact, and there was nothing I could do about it, and it did not matter how much I yearned in my heart to understand her more completely. Underneath the lake’s smooth surface, it hid wonders that I could not see and could never comprehend. And I had wanted so much to show her my world, the world that I came from. But our constraints could not be broken; we were trapped in them as long as we lived and it was futile trying to break free of them. That was why things ended the way they did.

A fish’s dream should stay in the water and a goat knows better than to get its hooves wet…

I gasped and choked, sputtering out of the broken surface of the water, heaving in huge breaths of fresh air. I had tried to breathe in the water that was her lifeline… the execution of such an exercise in futility stands as a mocking testimony to my blindness. The pain and disappointment in my heart might be intangible and metaphorical, but there was no denying the searing sensation throughout my entire airway and lungs.

Finite boundaries.

(Written March 2011)

Tyler missed death by a nanosecond as he took another step forward into the smoky haze and the floorboards behind him gave way, collapsing into the hungry fire below. “Great,” he thought, “an auto-extension.” Blazing flames leapt up from the cockloft beneath him, and Tyler quickly glanced at his partner, James, who was reporting the extended fire to the IC through the radio. Over the black smoke that was billowing out from the wide opening, he could hear instructions crackling through, heavy with static, “Unit 12-S to continue with primary—” Big burst of static— “3 victims confirmed present in area. No back-up in stan—” Dead signal.

For a split second Tyle rshared a look through the smoke with James, a look that conveyed grave mutual understanding. The heavy voice reverberated despite the roaring fire. They had to find three people quickly, on their own. Dispatching their vital back-up unit meant that there was insufficient manpower elsewhere. No one would be at their assistance. The fire was escalating.

“If anything happens we’re dead meat!” Tyler yelled, conducting a final axe handle sweep under a cupboard.

“No, red meat. This room’s clear. Let’s go!” —radio beep— “Reporting from Unit 12-S: No victims in A-side, now starting C-Side. Over.”

Outside in the hallway the situation was deteriorating quickly. The fire originally below them had auto-extended up from a number of rooms, and was advancing towards them in an erratic series of mighty leaps and bounds. Visibility was drastically reduced and time was running out.

“Let’s do one room each!”

“That’s against protocol! We have to stick together!”

“Do it! Three lives depend on us! Five minutes!”

Tyler forcefully pried open a door and quickly hinged a rope onto the knob to act as the anchor line. Low visibility, high heat upon entry— there was a definite risk of a flashover occurring. His eyes flickered around the room, his years of training kicking in, allowing him to analyze the scene with surgical precision. Punch hole in ceiling for vertical ventilation. Open windows for horizontal ventilation. Luckily, there was a window right beside the door— jammed, of course. “Every… damned thing… gets jammed… in… a fire,” Tyler swore, breath getting ragged. OK. He’d start with vertical ventilation.

He grabbed his TNT tool at the head, and, directing the pike pole of the other end towards the ceiling, gave it a sharp jab, and pulled down the plaster. Oxygen was starting to run low. Tyler felt the first symptoms of heat stress. He fumbled to force the adze end of his Halligan bar between the window and its frame, sweat filling up in his goggles, stinging his eyes. He repeatedly struck the Halligan with his TNT— God, when would this window open?

And suddenly, the window shattered of its own accord.

The sudden pressure differential that was caused by the abrupt opening produced an ensuing heat wave that almost knocked Tyler out of the building through the broken glass. As he took a difficult step back to steady himself, all of a sudden a thick ceiling beam crashed down onto him, catching fire, trapping him underneath with its dead weight across his gut.

There was no room for maneuver. Tyler tried to lift the beam off but it would not budge. Forget about the internal bleeding. The flames were slowly engulfing him, creeping up from his lower torso. He heard a shrill volley of high-pitched clicks. There was less than a quarter of oxygen left.

“James!” He yelled, voice as coarse as sandpaper. The fire was eating into him. There was no way James could hear him in another room. The radio was with James too.

Tyler felt his vision dimming. He felt a rising, painful heat in his groin. Sorry Martha, he thought about his wife, his beautiful Martha, I’d never get you a child after this. We’d have to adopt one instead. The flames were fading out. The TNT and Halligan slid from his hands. His head suddenly felt very light. Spasms shook through his muscular frame and he succumbed to a fit of seizures, foaming at the mouth. Darkness seeped in.

Do not go gentle into that good night… rage, rage against the dying of the light...” A distant voice welled up in his head.

Oh shut up Mr. Thomas… Tyler’s high school English Literature teacher prided himself on being a descendant of the Dylan Thomas— and so had forced Tyler’s class to memorise his each and every poem until everyone could recite at will.

“‘Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight, blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay.’ Tell me, Tyler, is that how you would want to die? You do know you’re risking this if you join the fire service, don’t you? Blinding sight, blaze like meteors. I advise you to consider your career path carefully.”

Tyler fumed at Mr. Thomas, who had the iciest, piercing blue eyes. Frail little Mr. Thomas, safe and warm in his baggy black turtleneck, had never been in a real fire before. He hadn’t felt what it was like to be truly afraid of death. He had never lost a loved one to a fire. So of course he, of all people, had the right to scorn Tyler and his ambition.

“Please, just go to college. An SAT score of 2100 can get you anywhere.” The class gave a collective gasp of surprise, and many heads turned towards Tyler, sitting at the back, Tyler, who was always invisible despite his hulking size.

“Don’t waste your life away by joining the fire service. It leads to nowhere. You know, be a professional or something. That should be the path for you. For everyone of you.” Mr. Thomas’ eyebrow twitched. He had a tic there, it always twitched, attracting even more attention to those blue eyes that seemed to bore right into you. “Now let’s go back to the villanelle— the second refrain, ‘rage, rage— ’”

Rage, Tyler! Rage against the dying of the light!

Tyler snapped awake. The light was intense, burning through his retinas. If he didn’t get the burning beam off him in time, his protective gear would soon catch fire. Then that would be the end. He twisted his head, cheek flat on the ground and, gritting his teeth, pushed against the floor to create leeway, but the beam was deadweight. Blinking away the sweat, he thought he saw a pair of eyes staring right back at him— piercing eyes that penetrated through the thick smoke—

No,” Tyler thought, “I would not die with blinding sight. I would not let innocent people die.” His gaze fell upon his TNT and Halligan. “Right there!” He grabbed the Halligan and forced it in the gap between the floor and the beam, levering it, pushing his feet, and simultaneously tugging on his anchor line. The beam had burned through to the metal core and had become significantly lighter. He gathered his last ounce of strength. One final push… and it was off!

Gingerly, Tyler righted himself up as a searing pain tore through his abdomen, ripping him apart. Blood rushed into his head and he felt like fainting again, but another shrill series of clicks jerked him back to the scene. He crawled slowly towards the person, who was having a hacking cough, and pulled him out from underneath the bed. Hoisting the bony, quivering body up on his shoulder, Tyler hurried out of the room and prodded back to one where a ladder company was situated at a window. James was there, escorting two wailing children onto a platform where they would descend to safety.

Tyler slid the man off and laid him flat on the ground, where he had stopped coughing and had slipped into unconsciousness. No pulse could be felt at the carotid artery and the man had ceased breathing.

“He’s under cardiac arrest!” Tyler yelled frantically, slicing through the man’s thick black turtleneck sweater with a carabiner blade. “We can’t wait for the ladder and the EMS. We must do CPR now!”

“Ok, let’s do it.” James extracted a barrier device to do mouth-to-mask resuscitation while Tyler placed his hands on his breastbone and began to do heart compressions as quickly as he could. He forced himself to keep pressing hard despite the pain and fatigue— this is professionalism. Every second counted in saving this man from the jaws of death. “Come on”, Tyler urged on in his mind, “Don’t die!”

The man’s eyebrows started to twitch. Good, that’s a sign of life. Tyler kept pushing harder. Just as the ladder returned, the man took a deep breath on his own— and opened his eyes.

The iciest, piercing blue eyes.

That bore right into you.

This will only get worse.
I will not concede that
I love you
And I say with certainty that
We were never meant to be
I was stupid to think
We can last forever
I felt as if
You have never loved me
And I’m wrong for thinking that
I could be the best for you
I am trying to show that
My studies
Are more important than
Now, I realize
Love is a waste of time
It’s not true that
I love you.

Now read this in reverse.


I hold a freezing star in my hands. It’s so cold that it’s burning, melting its own core and eating at our flames with relentless trickles. It’s fire and water in one, hot and cold. Blazing and pouring. A perfect yin and yang, a complete fusion of yin and yang— an absolute expanse of grayness, but just an equilibrium balanced at the wrong end.

It used to shine with a warm glow, so comforting to look at and to feel in my palm; it was the brightest and most beautiful thing in my world. It was an infallible guide in my darkest nights. Always this star, this one single star that gave me so much strength and hope day after day.

Perhaps I held it too tightly in my hands. Perhaps it did not like the touch of my coarse fingers. It turned cold, as if trying to get away from me. It stopped glowing, and instead became a shiny black mass, like a piece of coal, staining my hands, leaving dark streaks and imprints behind.

Perhaps mortals like me should not dream of owning stars, as if they could ever belong to us. Perhaps it was wrong of me to have picked this one out from the sky, that one night in spring. Someday, I would have to place it back, hide it deep into the endless sky, where I would never be able to find it again.

(At the boundary of two distinct worlds, I partially submerge myself in your element to get a glimpse of the universe that you come from. I cannot stay indefinitely, but the certainty of briefness is what makes the time we spend together, exploring each other’s worlds, so sweet. We both know that I would have to leave very soon.)


(to be continued… indefinitely)


is a playground for my unspeakable thoughts.

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