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Grandfather’s  Watch   by  Amos  Kwok         Two  young  men  stood  a  few  paces  apart,  offering  flyers.  Like  leaves  blowing   over  the  top  of  a  fast-­‐moving  car,  some  of  the  student  body  swerved  around  the   pair;  a  handful  of  the  first-­‐year  students  dutifully  took  the  proffered  flyers  and   glanced  at  them;  others  shook  their  heads  politely  and  walked  on.   When  the  slender  girl  with  the  grubby  orange  rucksack  appeared  around   the  corner,  Derek  snapped  out  of  his  stupor  and  stood  to  attention.   “There  she  is!  My  future  wife!”   Kai  followed  his  friend’s  line  of  sight.  The  girl  had  a  deliberate  gait  that   reminded  Kai  of  a  leopard.  She  had  earbuds  on  and  her  eyes  were  unfocused  as   she  concentrated  on  her  music.  In  her  arms  she  bore  a  clutch  of  files  and  books.   “That’s  your  future  wife?”  Kai  cocked  his  head,  trying  to  assess  if  she  were   pretty.  Derek  stepped  forward  to  intercept  her.  He  halted  her  advance  when  he   thrust  the  flyer  under  her  nose.   “Have  you  ever  wondered  if  the  theory  of  evolution  holds  up  to  scientific   scrutiny?”  Derek  sounded  like  a  salesman  demonstrating  magic  mops  at  a  mall.   The  girl  glanced  at  the  flyer  but  didn’t  take  it.  The  headline  in  red  screamed,   “Dinosaurs  and  the  Bible?”  Derek  applied  pressure  by  widening  his  grin.  She   pulled  out  one  earbud.     “Dinosaurs?  Seriously?”  She  walked  away,  re-­‐inserting  the  earbud  as  she   went.  Derek  stood  motionless  for  a  moment.  Behind  him,  Kai  imitated  the  sound   of  a  plane  diving  and  crashing  in  a  fireball.   “Are  you  hurt?”  Kai  asked.   “Just  my  pride.”   Kai  commiserated  with  his  best  friend.  “She  was  pretty  brutal.  You  sure  you   want  this  one  as  your  future  bride?”   Derek  shrugged  off  Kai’s  hand  on  his  shoulder.  “Bro,  no  worries.  She  loves   me.  She  just  doesn’t  know  it  yet.”  


Grandfather’s  Watch  

  Kai  shook  his  head.  “I  think  you  need  to  see  a  doctor.”   The  boys  continued  handing  out  flyers  until  the  stream  of  students  petered   out.  Between  them,  there  were  only  fifty  flyers  left.  Not  bad,  thought  Kai.  He  didn’t   think  they  could  have  handed  out  so  many.  Kai  certainly  didn’t  want  to  go  round   the  corner  and  peer  into  the  trash  bin  to  see  how  many  yellow  sheets  were  balled   up  in  there.  He  simply  trusted  that  a  decent  number  of  students  had  read  the  flyer   and  were  intrigued  enough  to  turn  up  for  the  screening  of  the  documentary.  Both   of  them  regrouped  with  the  rest  of  the  Christian  Fellowship  members  who  had   been  scattered  throughout  the  college  campus.  Each  one  had  returned  with   varying  numbers  of  yellow  flyers.  Their  leader  said  a  short  prayer  before   dismissing  them.   When  they  left  the  college,  Derek  forgot  about  the  documentary  and  began   talking  about  future  wife  strategy.  Kai  tried  to  picture  the  slender  girl’s  reaction   as  Derek  came  up  with  one  ridiculous  plan  after  another  to  engage  her  in   conversation.   “I  admire  the  way  you  handle  rejection.  If  she’d  given  me  such  a  frosty   reception,  I  would’ve  run  screaming  to  the  hills.”   Derek  wrapped  an  arm  around  Kai’s  neck.  “I  got  confidence  because  I  got   you.  I’m  counting  on  your  help  to  engineer  a  meeting!”   “You  don’t  even  know  her  name!”   Derek  wagged  a  finger  at  Kai.  “Do  not  despise  the  day  of  small  things.”     “Do  not  misquote  the  Bible!”  Kai  aimed  a  kick  but  Derek  jumped  away  in   time.  He  laughed  and  accelerated  down  the  sidewalk  as  Kai  ran  after  him,  trying   for  a  second  kick.  Both  of  them  stopped  in  front  of  the  MRT  station  to  exchange   goodbyes.  Derek  proceeded  to  the  bus  stop  while  Kai  ran  up  the  train  station   steps,  two  at  a  time.   On  the  platform  was  a  smattering  of  college  students.  He  dug  out  his  iPhone,   inserted  earbuds  into  it  and  robed  himself  in  music  as  he  waited  for  the  train.   There  were  never  many  passengers  in  the  late  afternoon.  Seats  were  available  but   Kai  chose  to  stand  in  the  middle  of  the  carriage.  His  eyes  ranged  over  the  other   passengers.  Uh-­‐oh.  It  was  the  girl  with  the  razor  attitude—Derek’s  future  wife.   She  was  seated  at  the  end  of  the  row  of  seats,  still  plugged  into  her  music.  Her   orange  rucksack  sat  on  her  lap.  What  to  do?  He  could  edge  his  way  into  the  next  

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Grandfather’s  Watch  

  carriage  to  avoid  her.  Or…  he  could  help  his  best  friend  by  boldly  asking  for  her   name.  As  he  debated  with  himself,  the  girl  stretched  her  neck  and  her  languid   gaze  fell  upon  him.  Her  eyes  widened  with  recognition.  She  snapped  her  head   away  and  Kai  was  relieved.  At  least  she  wasn’t  interested  in  delivering  another   tongue-­‐lashing.  Yikes!  She  was  turning  back  to  look  at  him.  She  stood  up,  put   away  her  earbuds  and  slung  on  the  straps  of  her  rucksack  before  making  her  way   over  to  him.   “Hello.”   Kai  flinched  but  kept  his  feet  from  bolting.  “Hi.”  He  plucked  out  his  earbuds   and  took  half  a  step  backward,  shifting  slightly  so  that  the  carriage’s  grab  pole   became  a  shield  for  him.   “Can  I  ask  you  a  question?”   He  kept  a  straight  face.  “I  had  one  too  but  it  broke.”  He  saw  that  he  had   confused  her;  then  she  grinned  when  she  realized  he  had  attempted  a  joke.   “That’s  pretty  bad.”   “Really?  You  should  hear  my  other  joke.  It  makes  this  one  sound  good.”  Even   as  the  words  spilled  from  of  his  mouth,  Kai  mentally  kicked  himself.  What   nonsense  was  he  sprouting?   “Do  you  really  believe  that  God  created  the  heavens  and  the  earth  in  six   literal  days?”     Her  question  was  unexpected.  “That’s  a  little  personal,”  he  said  slowly,   “We’ve  only  just  met.”   From  her  skirt  pocket,  she  produced  a  folded  square  of  yellow  paper.  It  was   the  flyer.   “But  you  didn’t  take  one,”  he  said  in  surprise.   “One  of  your  other  friends,  she  was  pretty  persistent.”  She  unfolded  the   flyer.  “So,  earth.  Literally  made  in  six  days?”   Kai  cleared  his  throat  and  turned  over  several  responses  in  his  mind.  “If  God   didn’t,  then  he  would  be  a  liar  won’t  he?”   “I’ve  heard  some  people  claim  that  with  God,  a  thousand  years  is  like  a  day.   So  when  the  Bible  says  six  days,  it’s  not  necessarily  six  literal  days.  It  could  be   eons.”  

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  Kai  was  astonished.  He  wondered  if  she  were  a  Christian.  “I’ve  heard  that   too.  But  that’s  not  right.  Just  because  one  verse  says  that  time  is  different  from   God’s  perspective,  doesn’t  mean  each  day  of  creation  was  a  thousand  years.  In   Exodus,  God  tells  the  nation  of  Israel  that  they  have  to  observe  the  Sabbath,  the   seventh  day  of  the  week,  as  a  day  of  rest.  God  wanted  it  to  be  a  remembrance  of   how  he  had  made  the  world  in  six  days.  He  said  since  he  made  the  world  in  six   days  and  rested  on  the  seventh,  his  people  should  do  the  same.  Work  six  and  rest   one.  I  don’t  know  about  you,  but  if  my  work  week  were  six  thousand  years  long,   I’d  be  pretty  miffed.”   A  laugh  lit  her  face.  The  serious  lines  around  her  eyes  melted  away.  “I  like   that  answer.”   She  fingered  the  flyer  in  her  hand.  “So  evolution  is  out  for  you?”   “That’s  correct.”   “I  knew  it  always  sucked.  I  didn’t  really  appreciate  evolving  from  an  ape.”   Kai  was  surprised  by  her  comment.  “You  don’t  believe  in  evolution?”   “Two  words:  Leucochloridium  paradoxum.”   Kai  raised  both  hands.  “I  give  up.  Try  English.”   She  pulled  out  her  phone.  “What’s  your  number?  I’ll  text  you.”   He  dictated  his  number  and  she  tapped  it  out  on  her  phone  screen.  He   noticed  there  were  tattoos  on  the  back  of  her  left-­‐hand  fingers.  No,  not  tattoos.   More  like  scars.   “My  stop,”  she  said  as  the  train  pulled  into  a  station.   He  suddenly  realised  he’d  forgotten  his  task.  “You  didn’t  tell  me  your  name!”   She  half  turned  around  and  made  a  phone  gesture  with  a  hand.  As  the  train   pulled  away,  Kai  watched  her  walk  towards  the  exit.  When  she  was  out  of  sight,   he  pulled  out  his  iPhone  and  read  her  message.   Leucochloridium  paradoxum.  Sophie.     #     During  first  period  the  next  day,  Kai  scanned  the  back  rows  of  the  sloping   lecture  theatre.  He  spotted  Derek  and  sprinted  up  the  steps  to  his  friend,   dropping  into  the  seat  next  to  his.  Derek  was  doodling  on  a  writing  pad.  Kai  pulled  


Grandfather’s  Watch  

  it  over,  plucked  the  pen  from  his  friend’s  hand  and  starting  sketching.  He  drew  a   snail  with  grossly  swollen  eyestalks.  Kai  dug  into  Derek’s  pencil  case,  took  up   three  highlighters  in  different  colours  and  carefully  added  coloured  strips  to  the   eyestalks.   Derek  watched  with  knitted  brow  and  pursed  lips.  “What  is  that?  A  nuclear-­‐ powered  snail?”   “Zombie  snail.”   Derek  squinted  at  the  drawing.  “Is  that  a  new  movie?”   “Your  future  wife  is  into  zombie  snails.”  Kai  folded  his  arms  and  leaned  back   in  the  plastic  chair.  It  creaked  dangerously.  It  took  a  few  seconds  for  Derek  to   catch  on  to  what  Kai  was  referring  to.   “Wah!  You  came  to  my  rescue!  I  knew  you  would!  You  met  her?  You  talked   to  her?”   Despite  Derek’s  cajoling,  Kai  related  yesterday’s  train  incident  at  a  leisurely   pace.  He  explained  how  Sophie  had  mentioned  a  parasite  named  Leucochloridium   paradoxum.  He  had  searched  online  and  saw  a  video  showing  the  parasite   infecting  snails.  It  made  the  snails’  eyestalks  swell  and  pulsate  with  colour.  The   parasite  also  took  control  of  the  snails’  minds  and  caused  them  to  move  into   exposed  areas  where  birds—thinking  the  swollen  eyestalks  were  caterpillars— would  swoop  down  and  bite  off  the  poor  snails’  eyestalks.  Now  in  the  bird’s   digestive  tract,  the  parasite  would  spawn  eggs  and  these  would  exit  via  bird   droppings.  Snails  would  come  by  for  lunch  and  the  cycle  would  repeat  itself.   Kai  supplied  all  the  details  except  for  one.  He  didn’t  let  on  that  he  had   Sophie’s  phone  number.  Something  made  him  keep  that  private.  What  was  it?  He   didn’t  want  Derek  to  harass  her?  Perhaps.  Or  was  it  that  he  wanted  to  keep  her  to   himself?  No,  she  was…  unusual.  But  Kai  had  shared  enough  details  to  leave  Derek   spellbound.  As  the  economics  lecture  started,  Derek  didn’t  take  notes.  Instead,  out   came  his  smartphone  and  he  gawked  at  a  video  of  zombie  snails  on  YouTube.  For   the  rest  of  the  day,  Kai  didn’t  see  much  of  Derek.  He  was  making  circuits  of  the   college  after  each  period,  hoping  to  run  into  Sophie.  Kai  had  never  seen  his  friend   so  excited.   At  the  end  of  the  school  day,  Derek  came  back  crestfallen.     Kai  felt  awful  that  he  was  secretly  pleased.  “I  guess  you  didn’t  find  her.”  

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Grandfather’s  Watch  

  Derek  shook  his  head.  “Actually  I  did.  In  the  canteen.  I  said  to  her,  ‘Sophie  I   love  zombie  snails  too!’  and  she  jumped  up  so  hard,  she  knocked  over  the  can  of   Coke  she  was  drinking.  And  she  left.  Without  a  word.  She  didn’t  even  pick  up  her   can.”   Kai  bit  his  lip,  suppressing  a  laugh.  “I’m  sorry.  I  didn’t  think  she  would  react   that  way.  Then  again…  we  hardly  know  anything  about  her.”  He  was  confused  to   find  Derek  grinning.   “She’s  mad  at  me.  But  that’s  great!  Yesterday,  I  was  a  nobody  in  her  eyes.   Today,  she’s  angry  with  me.  In  my  book,  that’s  progress!  Oh,  my  future  wife.  Soon   we  will  be  together.”   Kai  guffawed.     #     Kai  enjoyed  walking  through  Watten  Estate.  The  old  houses  and  giant  trees   made  it  feel  he  was  in  another  world.  The  best  time  for  a  stroll  was  in  the  cool  of   the  evening  when  kids  were  out  riding  bikes  and  older  folks  had  dogs  on  leashes.   It  was  harder  to  enjoy  the  area’s  charm  when  the  sun  blazed  and  the  humidity   was  high.  Sweat  was  soaking  his  shirt,  especially  his  back  that  was  pressed  down   by  the  haversack  loaded  with  video  equipment.  He  looked  forward  to  the  dim   coolness  of  his  grandfather’s  house  and  a  glass  of  iced  lemon  tea.  When  the  curve   of  the  road  straightened,  Kai  surveyed  the  two-­‐storey  house  that  was  ahead  of   him.  Built  in  the  1960s,  Grandpa  had  never  renovated  his  home.  It  retained  its   stucco  walls  and  windows  with  wavy  grilles.  For  Kai,  the  house  bore  Grandpa’s   character:  quirky,  timeless  and  steadfast.  Setting  down  his  haversack,  he  pulled   out  his  video  camera  and  recorded  footage,  getting  an  establishing  shot  of  the   house  before  walking  along  the  street  to  get  a  slow  panning  shot.  As  he  stepped   off  the  kerb,  a  bicycle  raced  by,  nearly  clipping  the  camera.  Kai  stumbled   backward.  The  girl  on  the  bike  didn’t  notice  him  and  turned  the  corner  without   even  glancing  back.  Kai  rubbed  his  butt,  wincing  as  he  got  to  his  feet.  The  video   camera  had  landed  on  him  and  was  safe.  It  was  still  recording.  He  stopped  it,   rewound,  and  viewing  the  small  monitor,  saw  the  cyclist  zip  past.  Too  fast.  He  


Grandfather’s  Watch  

  fumbled  with  the  rewind  button.  Paused  at  the  exact  moment.  He  now  saw   shoulder-­‐length  hair  streaming  behind  the  curve  of  an  apple-­‐shaped  face.  Sophie.   He  jammed  the  video  camera  back  in  the  haversack  and  started  to  jog  in  the   direction  that  Sophie  had  sped  off.  At  the  junction,  he  turned  right  but  couldn’t  see   any  sign  of  her  or  her  bike.  He  picked  up  speed  but  the  haversack’s  weight  started   to  cut  into  his  shoulders.  The  rows  of  terrace  houses  opened  up  on  the  right  to   reveal  a  small  park.  There!  He  spotted  her  bike  leaning  against  a  Yellow  Flame   tree.  Kai  leaned  against  the  tree  to  catch  his  breath,  eyes  scanning  the  park.  He   heard  the  creak  of  the  swing  but  couldn’t  see  it.  He  rounded  the  tree,  crunching  on   yellow,  tissue-­‐like  petals  on  the  ground.  At  the  end  of  the  park  Sophie  sat  on  the   swing,  eyes  closed,  ears  plugged  with  earbuds.  She  was  dressed  in  a  black  tee   shirt  and  denim  cut  offs  and  her  bare  legs  stretched  out  as  she  swung  herself  like   a  pendulum.   I’m  dripping  in  sweat.  I  probably  stink.  But  I  need  to  apologise.  Kai  mopped   his  face,  screwed  up  his  courage  and  approached  her  one  quiet  step  at  a  time,  like   a  hunter  approaching  a  deer.  When  his  shadow  fell  over  her,  Sophie  sensed  the   change  in  light  and  flicked  open  her  eyes.  They  widened  with  anger  and  she  leapt   to  her  feet.  Kai  realised  she  didn’t  have  shoes  on.  She  stalked  away  in  her  bare   feet.   “Sophie!”   She  didn’t  head  for  her  bike  but  sprinted  away  in  the  opposite  direction.  Her   long  legs  pumped  hard  as  her  hands  moved  up  and  down  like  a  seasoned   runner’s.  Kai  chased  her  but  with  a  heavy  haversack,  it  was  impossible  to  catch   up.  He  gave  up  and  rested  hands  on  knees  to  catch  his  breath.  He  fumbled  for  his   iPhone  and  tapped  on  it  rapidly.  He  waited  for  a  response,  got  none,  so  made  his   way  back  to  Sophie’s  bike  and  freed  himself  from  the  burden  on  his  back.  He  sat   down  on  a  buttress  root  to  wait.   Kai  was  wondering  how  to  keep  Sophie’s  bike  safe  when  he  heard  a  crunch   of  leaves.  It  was  Sophie.  There  was  blood  on  her  left  foot,  spreading  out  from  her   small  toe.  He  pointed  at  the  toe  but  she  ignored  it.  Instead,  she  held  out  her  phone   at  arm’s  length,  showing  him  its  screen:  I  was  just  in  the  area.  I  saw  you.  I  know  I’ve   made  a  mistake.  I  want  to  apologise.  Kai.   “Go  ahead.”  She  stood  in  front  of  him,  arms  akimbo.  

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  Kai  felt  that  decorum  required  him  to  stand  when  apologising.  “I’m  sorry   about  the  zombie  snails.  I  didn’t  mean  to  tease  you  or  make  fun  of  you.  I  just   shared  with  Derek  because  he  was  interested  in  you.  I  thought  it  would  help   break  the  ice  between  you  two.  I’m  truly  sorry.”   If  she  had  heard  him,  she  didn’t  acknowledge  his  words.  Like  a  man  not   wanting  to  spook  a  cat,  Kai  gingerly  reached  for  his  wallet  and  pulled  out  a   plaster.  “For  your  toe.  A  peace  offering.”   She  accepted  the  plaster.  Sitting  on  a  buttress  root,  she  brushed  the  dirt   from  her  toe  before  applying  the  adhesive  bandage.     As  she  took  care  of  her  wound,  Kai  studied  her  surreptitiously.  Her  hair— tied  up  in  school—was  hanging  loose  about  her  head,  matted  to  her  skin  in  some   places  because  of  perspiration.  She  wore  no  earrings,  nor  a  necklace,  but  had  a   watch  hanging  loose  around  her  wrist.  It  was  an  old-­‐fashioned  man’s  watch,  with   Roman  numerals  on  a  big  white  face  and  a  chrome  metal  strap  too  large  for  her.  It   was  more  like  a  bracelet  on  her  arm.  How  odd.   “You’re  a  jerk,”  she  finally  told  him.  “And  that  friend  of  yours  is  a  bigger  jerk.   Our  conversation  on  the  train  was  private.  I  didn’t  think  you’d  blab  so  easily.”   “I  made  a  mistake.  Derek  is  interested  in  you.  I  was  trying  to…  make  an   introduction.”  He  knew  he  was  trying  to  save  himself  while  effectively  killing  any   chance  that  Derek  had  of  befriending  her.  He  felt  like  Brutus.  Kai  waited  for  her  to   react  but  she  remained  seated.  Very  carefully,  he  sat  down  on  the  buttress  root,   an  arm’s  length  from  her.   Sophie  picked  up  a  yellow  flower  and  then  another  to  build  a  pile.   Kai  broke  the  silence.  “Can  I  ask  you  a  question?”   Her  face  was  deadpan  when  she  replied,  “I  had  one  too  but  it  broke.”   He  chortled,  nearly  tipping  over.  The  corner  of  her  mouth  quirked  up.  “If   you’re  asking  where  my  shoes  are,  I  didn’t  put  them  on.”   “Do  you  often  leave  your  house  without  your  shoes?”   She  shrugged  and  didn’t  answer.  Instead  she  said,  “Leucochloridium   paradoxum.  What  do  you  think  of  them?”   Kai  wasn’t  sure  where  she  was  taking  the  conversation,  but  replied,  “For  me,   seeing  something  like  that,  it  just  makes  me  go,  wow,  there  has  to  be  a  creator,  a  

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  master  designer.  There  is  no  way  evolution  can  explain  something  as  bizarre  as   that.”   Sophie  nodded.  “I  think  so  too.  It  goes  beyond  symbiosis.  These  are  three   separate  creatures,  locked  in  a  weird  relationship.  This  cannot  occur  naturally.”   Kai  was  impressed  that  she  had  linked  this  microcosm  with  an  almighty   Creator.   Sophie  continued,  “I  think  it’s  amazing  this  world  God  created,  from  the   smallest  microbe  to  the  largest  galaxy.  Anyone  who  can  look  at  the  universe  and   think  it  all  happened  by  chance  is  crazy.”   Kai  perked  up.  “So  does  this  mean  you  are…”   “A  Christian?”  she  asked.  She  nodded  and  added,  “My  whole  family  is.  Since  I   was  young.  Why’re  you  smiling?”   Kai  pretended  he  was  wiping  his  mouth.  “I,  well,  I’m  glad  to  hear  you’re  a   Christian.”   “What’s  to  be  glad  about?  It’s  just  a  way  to  explain  the  world.”  Sophie  picked   up  a  stick  and  poked  at  a  trail  of  ants  moving  along  the  roots  of  the  tree.  The   ants—panicked  at  the  disruption—exploded  into  action.  They  scrambled  in  every   direction,  trying  to  re-­‐establish  a  route.   Kai  watched  her.  Just  a  way  to  explain  the  world?  He  pursed  his  lips,  unsure   what  she  meant.   Sophie  looked  up.  “I’m  thirsty.”   Kai  got  to  his  feet.  “There’s  a  coffeeshop  nearby.”     “You  know  your  way  around  here.”   “My  grandfather  lives  round  the  corner.”   “Visiting?”   “I’m  shooting  a  documentary  of  him.  For  posterity.”   She  raised  an  eyebrow.  “Intriguing.  Can  I  come  watch?”   He  paused  to  consider.  She  raised  her  other  eyebrow,  then  the  first  one   again.  She  moved  them  so  effortlessly,  her  brows  seemed  like  they  had  a  life  of   their  own.  Kai  was  so  amazed,  he  laughed.   “I  promise  I’ll  be  quiet.”   “With  my  Grandpa,  you  won’t  have  a  chance  to  talk.”  

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  “Great!  Must  be  some  Grandpa.”  She  flexed  her  injured  foot  and  tested  her   weight  on  it.   “Do  you  always  ride  a  bike  barefoot?”   She  pulled  her  bike  up.  ���I  just  needed  to  get  out  of  that  mad  house.  Didn’t   have  time  for  shoes.”  She  wheeled  her  bike  down  the  street  with  Kai  keeping  pace   beside  her.   At  the  coffeeshop,  Kai  ordered  drinks.  When  they  arrived,  he  popped  open   the  cans  of  100  Plus  and  poured  the  drink  over  the  ice  in  the  plastic  cups.  Sophie   sipped  her  straw  greedily.   “Can  I  ask  you  a  question?”   “You  just  did.  Your  question  limit  for  the  day  is  up,”  said  Sophie.  She  tapped   her  empty  cup  and  Kai  dutifully  refilled  it.   “When  did  you  become  a  Christian?”   Sophie  sat  back  in  her  chair.  “Are  you  obsessed  with  this?  First  you’re  giving   out  flyers  in  college.  Then  you’re  quizzing  me  about  my  faith.  Some  people  would   think  you’re  a  religious  nut.”   “I’m  a  budding  documentary  maker.  Here,  let’s  pretend  you’re  my   interviewee.”  Kai  dug  out  his  video  camera  and  set  it  on  top  of  the  drink  can.  He   turned  it  on  and  pressed  the  record  button.  Sophie  blocked  the  lens  with  a  hand.   “Humour  me,”  he  said.  “I  really  would  like  to  know.”   She  held  up  her  index  finger.  “The  price  for  my  interview  is  one  more  can  of   100  Plus.”   Kai  nodded.  “Sure.  One  more  can  of  100  Plus.”   Sophie  shot  up  a  second  finger.  “Two!”   “One  can,”  said  Kai  firmly.  “Please  start.”   Sophie  wriggled  her  eyebrows.  Again  he  was  impressed  by  how  expressive   they  were.  She  cleared  her  throat  and  brushed  a  lock  of  hair  from  her  eye.   “I  guess  it  started  with  my  Ah  Gong.  He  became  a  Christian  just  before  his   death.  My  mother  was  in  university  then.  He  convinced  her  to  be  a  Christian  and   after  he  died,  she  kept  on  going  to  church.  She  met  my  dad  in  church  and  now  I   attend  regularly.  Can  I  have  my  100  Plus  now?”  Sophie  snatched  up  the  video   camera  and  turned  it  off.  

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  Kai  ordered  more  drinks  as  Sophie  watched  herself  on  the  tiny  video  screen.   When  she  was  done,  she  asked  him,  “What  about  you?”   Kai  thought  for  a  moment.  “I  put  my  trust  in  Jesus  when  I  was  10  years  old.”   “Your  parents  aren’t  Christians?”   Kai  shook  his  head.  “They  are.  But  obviously  I  wasn’t  born  a  Christian.”   Sophie  frowned  and  he  explained.  “I  became  a  Christian  when  my  Grandpa   explained  to  me  about  the  Passover.”   Sophie  stopped  sipping  on  her  drink.  “Passover?  You  mean  Moses  and  the   ten  plagues?  What’s  that  got  to  do  with  being  a  Christian?”   “Everything.”  Kai  watched  Sophie’s  bemused  expression  for  a  moment.  “Let   me  explain.”  Kai  began  recounting  the  story  of  the  last  plague  that  God  sent  on   Egypt.    God  said  that  everyone  in  the  land  was  under  his  judgment,  that  the   firstborn  of  each  family  was  under  the  sentence  of  death.  But  because  God  was   merciful,  he  provided  a  means  of  escape.   God  said  to  take  an  innocent  male  lamb  and  have  it  killed.  The  blood  of  the   lamb  was  to  be  spread  on  the  doorposts  of  the  house.  And  the  family,  especially   the  firstborn  child,  was  to  hide  behind  the  bloodied  door.  When  God  came  to   judge,  every  time  he  saw  the  blood  on  the  door,  he  would  pass  over  the  house  and   the  firstborn  would  live  because  there  was  already  a  death.  God’s  judgment  had   come  to  rest  on  the  slain  lamb.  Thus  the  firstborn  didn’t  have  to  die  because  death   had  already  come  to  the  house.  The  lamb  had  died  in  the  firstborn’s  place.   Sophie  wore  a  blank  look.  “I  don’t  see  what  this  has  to  do  with  you  becoming   a  Christian.”   Kai  raised  his  straw  like  a  pointer.  “Answer  this:  if  an  Israelite  family  trusted   what  God  said  and  followed  his  instructions,  what  would  happen?”   “They  would  be  safe.”   Kai  nodded.  “Exactly.  What  if  the  family  didn’t  believe?  What  would  they   do?”   Sophie  pulled  on  her  hair  as  she  thought.  “I  guess  they  would  ignore  what   God  said.”   “And  what  would  happen?”   “God  would  kill  the  firstborn.”   “Yes!  Do  you  see  it?”  

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Grandfather’s  Watch  

  Sophie  shook  her  head.  “No,  I  don’t.”   Kai  explained.  “We  are  all  under  the  sentence  of  death  because  of  our  sin.   God  is  offering  us  a  way  to  escape.  He  says  he  will  give  us  a  lamb  who  will  die  in   our  place,  like  how  the  Passover  lamb  died  in  the  place  of  the  firstborn.”   Sophie’s  eyes  widened.  “Jesus  is  that  lamb.”   Kai  smiled.  “Yes.  God  says,  anyone  who  accepts  what  Jesus  did  on  the  cross   for  himself,  God  will  let  judgment  pass  over  him.”  Kai  flew  an  arm  over  his  head  to   emphasise  his  point.  “When  I  trusted  God  to  count  Jesus’  death  as  payment  for  my   sin,  I  became  a  Christian.”   Sophie  was  silent.  With  her  straw,  she  stirred  the  ice  cubes  in  her  cup.  Kai   watched  her.  She  leaned  forward  and  sucked  a  sliver  of  ice  into  the  length  of  her   straw.  She  swiveled  in  her  seat,  puffed  her  cheeks  and  blew  hard.  The  sliver  of  ice   hit  the  jowl  of  the  man  sitting  at  the  next  table.  He  had  his  head  bowed  over  a   large  plate  of  chicken  rice  and  jerked  up,  glaring  in  their  direction.  That’s  when   Kai  discovered  Sophie’s  straw  in  front  of  him.  The  man  rose  to  his  full  height.  He   was  thickset  with  sinewy  arms.  Kai  was  alarmed.  Sophie  pushed  back  her  chair,   ready  to  bolt.   “What  you  trying  to  do?”  barked  the  man.  He  placed  one  meaty  hand  on  his   hip  in  a  menacing  pose.   Sophie  looked  at  Kai,  innocent  and  wide-­‐eyed.   Kai  stood  up  to  placate  the  man.  “I’m  sorry!  It  was  an  accident.  I…  was  trying   to  show  off  and  it  went  wrong.  I  didn’t  mean  to  hit  you.”   “Stupid  boy.  Trying  to  impress  your  girlfriend  is  it?”  He  raised  a  thick  fist   and  Kai  closed  his  eyes.  But  the  blow  did  not  fall.  Instead  the  man  growled,  “You   better  watch  it.”  The  man  glared  at  Kai  once  more  before  returning  to  his  table.   Sophie  grabbed  Kai’s  arm.  “Let’s  go!”   Kai  was  shaking  as  they  left  the  coffeeshop.  Sophie  held  onto  his  arm  and  led   him  away.  He  followed,  feeling  bewildered  by  Sophie’s  behaviour.  The  girl  was   completely  unpredictable.   “I  think  I  get  it  now,”  she  said.  “You  were  my  innocent  substitute,  taking  the   rap  for  me.  You  took  the  punishment,  I  was  saved.”   Kai  stopped  walking  and  marvelled  at  her.  “You  used  me  as  a  live  visual   aid?”  

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Grandfather’s  Watch  

  Sophie  covered  up  a  laugh  with  the  back  of  a  hand.  “I’m  sorry.  Are  you   mad?”   “I  almost  got  killed.”   “You  didn’t.  Shall  we  go  on?”   Kai  pointed  at  the  corner  terrace  where  he  had  been  filming  earlier.  “We’re   here.”  He  unlatched  the  gate.  He  had  keys  that  he  used  to  unlock  the  main  door.   Inside,  he  was  greeted  by  his  Grandpa’s  maid.  Surnati’s  eyes  were  full  of  questions   as  she  gave  Sophie  the  once  over.  Kai  simply  greeted  her,  smiled  disarmingly  and   led  the  way  through  the  house.  Walking  through  Grandpa’s  house  was  like  going   back  in  time.  Ornately  carved  furniture,  framed  sepia  photos  of  happy-­‐looking   people,  vases  adorned  with  flowers,  and  an  old  vinyl  record  player  that  had  seen   better  days  adorned  the  house.   “He  collects  antiques?”  Sophie  stopped  to  look  at  the  record  player.   “Not  antiques.  Memories.”   Sophie  turned  at  the  sound  of  the  gruff  voice  and  saw  a  lean  man  enter  the   living  room.  He  had  a  rickety  frame  and  a  balding  head.  His  movements  were  slow   but  he  had  sharp  eyes  that  were  trained  on  Kai  and  Sophie.   “Who’s  this?  Your  girlfriend?”   “Grandpa,  this  is  my  friend,  Sophie.”  Kai  nudged  her  forward  and  she  found   herself  gripping  a  spindly  hand.   “She’s  here  to  help?”   “She  wanted  to  meet  you.”   Grandpa  peered  at  her.  “It’s  not  every  day  that  a  pretty  young  girl  wants  to   meet  a  walking  skeleton  like  me.”   “Kai  said  he  was  making  a  documentary  about  you.”   Grandpa  shot  Kai  a  look.  “Did  he?  Documentary?  More  like  recording  the   ramblings  of  an  old  man.”  Grandpa  waved  them  over  to  the  living  room  where   Surnati  was  setting  down  a  tray  of  drinks.  “Shall  we  set  up  and  continue?”   Sophie  sat  on  an  armchair  while  Grandpa  made  himself  comfortable  on  the   settee.  He  warmed  up  his  voice  by  sipping  from  a  porcelain  cup  of  hot  Chinese  tea.   As  Kai  set  up,  Grandpa  spoke.   “I’m  an  old  man.  I’m  going  to  die  soon.  I  wanted  to  leave  my  family  my  life   story  and  my  thoughts.  My  testimony.”  

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Grandfather’s  Watch  

  “You’re  a  Christian  too?”   “Yes.  Thanks  to  Methodist  missionaries.”   “Were  your  parents  Christians?”   Grandpa  shook  his  head.  “I  was  the  first  in  the  family.  A  friend  invited  me  to   his  church  along  Kampong  Kapor  Road.  I  went  along  because  I  thought  it  was  fun.   There  I  met  the  most  amazing  Bible  teacher.  He  knew  the  Scriptures  inside  and   out.  He  explained  how  God  created  Adam  perfect.  But  then  Adam  rebelled  against   God  and  that  was  sin.  This  rebellion  broke  the  relationship  between  God  and   Adam.  It  caused  sin  to  enter  the  world  and  ruin  everything.  When  I  learnt  that  all   of  Adam’s  descendants,  including  me,  inherited  Adam’s  sin  nature,  I  was  scared   out  of  my  wits.   “Because  of  sin,  everyone  was  separated  from  God.  And  sin  was  like  a  debt   that  had  to  be  settled.  Death  was  the  necessary  payment.  Then  came  the  good   news!  God  himself,  because  he  loved  us  so  much,  came  to  the  world  as  the  man   Jesus.”   Sophie  cut  in.  “And  Jesus  died  on  man’s  behalf.”   Grandpa  slapped  the  coffee  table  in  excitement.  “Aha!  You  understand!”   Sophie  pushed  herself  back  into  her  seat,  backing  off  from  Grandpa’s   enthusiasm.  “No.  I  mean  yes,  I  do.  My  parents  have  been  going  to  church  my   whole  life.”     Grandpa  frowned.  “If  I  spend  time  in  a  hospital,  it  doesn’t  make  me  a  doctor.   Not  even  a  nurse.”   Sophie  said,  “I  don’t  follow.”   “Just  because  a  person  spends  a  lot  of  time  in  church,  it  doesn’t  make  him ��or   her  a  Christian.  And  just  because  your  parents  are  Christians  doesn’t  make  you   one.  You  become  one  by  putting  your  trust  in  God.”   While  Grandpa  talked,  Kai  set  up  the  equipment.  He  pulled  out  a  tripod  and   set  it  up  at  the  right  height.  He  affixed  the  video  camera  and  then  set  up  reflectors   and  angled  soft  light  onto  Grandpa.  Finally  he  checked  the  white  balance  on  his   camera.   “Grandpa,  I’m  ready.”   Grandpa  patted  Sophie’s  hand.  “Good.  Let’s  begin.”  

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Grandfather’s  Watch  

  Kai  handed  Sophie  a  boom  pole  and  mike.  He  propped  one  end  on  the   armchair  she  was  sitting  on  and  explained  to  her  how  to  hold  the  mike  above   Grandpa’s  head,  out  of  the  camera’s  frame.  Then  Kai  put  on  headphones  and   signalled  to  Grandpa  that  the  camera  was  rolling.   Grandpa  cleared  his  throat  and  looked  directly  at  the  camera.  Kai  motioned   with  his  left  hand  and  Grandpa,  reading  the  cue,  looked  toward  the  direction  Kai   was  pointing  at,  as  if  he  were  talking  to  an  interviewer  who  was  off-­‐camera.   Sophie  saw  how  focused  Kai  was  in  his  dual  role  of  director  and  cameraman.  She   steadied  her  arms  to  get  the  boom  mike  in  a  comfortable  position  and  listened  to   Grandpa  speak.   “Twenty  years  ago,  I  received  news  that  an  old  classmate  of  mine  was  dying   of  cancer.  He  had  been  a  friend  of  mine,  someone  with  whom  I  got  along.  His   name  was  Cheong  Tze—Ow!”   Sophie  had  dropped  the  boom  mike  and  it  bopped  Grandpa  on  the  head.   “I’m  so  sorry!  It  slipped.”  Sophie  leapt  over  the  coffee  table  and  tried  to   massage  Grandpa’s  balding  scalp.   “I’m  fine!”  Grandpa  shooed  off  Sophie’s  hand  but  he  cocked  his  head  up  to   study  her  face.  “You  know…  you  look  familiar.”   Kai  handed  Grandpa  his  cup  of  Chinese  tea.  “Very  funny  Grandpa.  Don’t  flirt   with  her,  please.”   Grandpa  took  a  swipe  at  Kai  but  he  pulled  back  quickly.   “I  would  remember  you  if  I’d  met  you  before,”  said  Sophie.   Grandpa  rubbed  his  head.  “I  don’t  know…  I  think  I  know  you.”   “Well,  you  do  know  me  now,”  said  Sophie.  “I’m  the  clumsy  mike  girl.”   “You  mean  boom  operator.”  Kai  held  out  the  mike  for  her.  “Grandpa,  let’s  do   that  take  again.”   Grandpa  nodded  and  Kai  started  recording.   “I  went  to  visit  Cheong  Tze  at  his  home.  He  was  distraught.  Lung  cancer.   Fourth  stage.  There  was  nothing  that  the  doctors  could  do.  Even  though  we  deny   it,  every  man  knows  he  is  mortal.  Last  time  I  checked,  life  was  one  hundred   percent  fatal.  But  Cheong  Tze  was  so  scared.  He  feared  death  because  he  didn’t   know  what  would  happen  when  he  died.  Like  most  people,  he  had  avoided  

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Grandfather’s  Watch  

  thinking  about  it  and  focused  instead  on  living  life.  But  now  he  had  no  choice.   Death  was  confronting  him.  What  frightened  him  was  that  he  had  no  information.   “So  I  told  him,  if  he  would  let  me,  I  could  give  him  that  information.  I  offered   to  show  him  a  book  that  explained  about  life  and  death  and  what  happens  after   that.  He  said  he  was  willing  to  listen.  Over  the  next  few  weeks,  I  showed  him  the   Bible.  Each  time  I  went  to  visit  him,  I  explained  the  gospel  to  him,  bit  by  bit.  He   listened;  he  asked  a  lot  of  questions.  In  the  end,  he  told  me  that  he  put  his  trust  in   Jesus  as  his  Saviour.  He  said  it  was  the  happiest  day  of  his  life;  the  fear  of  death   was  gone.  He  knew  where  he  would  spend  eternity.  He  told  me,  ‘That  thief  on  the   cross,  that’s  me.’”   Grandpa  fell  silent  and  looked  towards  Sophie.  Her  arms,  holding  aloft  the   boom  pole  were  trembling.  Kai  stopped  recording  and  called  out  to  her  but  she   didn’t  seem  to  have  heard.  He  took  the  boom  from  her  and  she  dropped  back  into   the  armchair,  lost  in  thought.       #     The  darkened  lecture  theatre  was  half-­‐filled  with  students  attending  the   Christian  Fellowship  film  screening.  Some  of  them  sat  upright,  watching  the   screen  flash  with  colour.  Others  were  leaning  back,  uninterested.  A  few  were   asleep.  At  the  back,  manning  the  projector,  Kai  monitored  the  computer  playing   the  DVD.  Beside  him,  Derek  was  scanning  the  faces  lit  by  the  light  of  the   documentary.  As  the  narrator’s  voice  explained  about  carbon  dating,  Derek   spotted  someone  familiar  and  jabbed  Kai  in  the  ribs.   “Look!  I  see  her.  Sophie.  She’s  actually  here.  How  cool  is  that?”   Kai  glowered  at  Derek  as  he  rubbed  his  side.  He  followed  Derek’s   outstretched  finger  and  saw  Sophie.  She  had  a  notepad  opened  on  the  folding   table  and  was  scribbling  with  a  ballpoint  pen.   Derek  spoke  in  a  fierce  whisper.  “She’s  been  avoiding  me.  If  I  walk  towards   her  in  the  canteen,  she  runs  the  other  way.  If  I  see  her  studying  in  the  library,  she   packs  her  books  and  leaves.  It’s  so  obvious  she  hates  me!  I  need  your  help.  You   seem  to  have  some  connection  with  her.  Have  you  talked  to  her?”  


Grandfather’s  Watch  

  Kai  cringed.  He  knew  that  sooner  or  later  Derek  would  ask  that  question.  He   wished  it  were  later.  “Yeah,  I’ve  spoken  to  her.”   Derek’s  voice  rose  above  a  whisper.  “Really?  When?  Were  you  talking  about   me?”  Several  heads  turned  to  glare  at  Derek.  There  was  an  angry  shush  from  a  girl   nearby.  Derek  pulled  his  seat  closer  to  Kai’s.  “Did  you  talk  about  me?”  he  asked   more  urgently.   “No,  I  was  explaining  the  gospel  to  her.”   “You  were?”  More  heads  turned  to  glare.  Kai  cuffed  his  friend  on  the  back  of   the  head.  Derek  grabbed  his  arm  and  led  him  out  the  back  door.  From  the   coolness  of  the  lecture  theatre  they  emerged  into  the  muggy  afternoon  heat.  Kai   blinked  in  the  light.   “When  were  you  sharing  the  gospel  with  Sophie?”   Kai  decided  to  be  vague.  “A  few  days  ago.”   Derek  clapped  his  own  forehead.  “And  you  didn’t  tell  me?  I  could’ve  helped.  I   could’ve  talked  to  her  too.”   How  to  explain  the  complicated  situation?  And  Sophie  had  been  incensed   when  he  had  shared  with  Derek  about  the  zombie  snails.  She  would  spew  more   fury  than  Vesuvius  if  Kai  were  to  share  about  how  Sophie  had  spent  an  afternoon   with  him.   Derek  looked  askance  at  his  friend.  “Kai,  is  there  something  I  should  know?”   Kai  tried  to  sound  innocent.  “Erm,  Xanthan  gum  is  made  from  the  lining  of   bacteria?”   Derek  cuffed  him  on  the  head.  “About  Sophie!  Are  you  trying  to  steal  my   future  wife?”   Kai  raised  his  arms  to  defend  himself.  “Derek!  No!  Stop  it.”  Kai  sidestepped   quickly  and  grabbed  his  friend’s  arm,  pinning  it  behind  Derek’s  back  in  a  half   nelson.   Derek  puffed  and  struggled  but  couldn’t  free  himself.  “I  just  want  to  know   what’s  going  on,”  he  said  through  gritted  teeth.   “Calm  down.  If  I  knew  what  was  going  on  in  Sophie’s  head,  I’d  tell  you,”  said   Kai.  “Really,  I  would.  Stop  struggling.”   Derek  went  limp.  Kai  held  on  to  him  for  a  moment  longer  before  letting  go.   The  two  best  friends  eyed  each  other  warily.  

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Grandfather’s  Watch  

  “I  trust  you,”  said  Derek  in  warning  tone.   “You  shouldn’t.”  Kai  steeled  himself  for  another  blow.  Derek  screwed  up  his   face  like  he’d  been  punched.   The  door  behind  them  opened  and  students  began  streaming  out.  Derek   wheeled  around  and  pushed  past  them  and  re-­‐entered  the  lecture  theatre  with   Kai  following  behind.  The  place  had  emptied  out  quickly,  save  for  a  cluster  of   students  near  the  front  who  were  still  discussing  the  documentary  in  earnest.   Sophie  was  still  at  her  seat,  writing  in  her  notebook.  Kai  made  a  grab  for  Derek   but  his  friend  was  already  weaving  through  the  seats  towards  her.  Instead,  Kai   moved  to  the  computer  and  ejected  the  DVD  and  began  shutting  down  the  AV   equipment.  He  did  his  tasks  mechanically  for  his  eyes  were  trained  on  Derek   talking  to  Sophie.  Derek  was  putting  on  his  best  smile.  Kai  could  tell  by  how   Sophie’s  body  stiffened  that  this  wasn’t  a  conversation  she  was  enjoying.  Before   long,  she  shut  her  notebook  and  rose  to  her  feet.  Derek  stood  up  too,  trying  to   keep  her  engaged  but  she  said  something  and  tore  herself  away  from  him.  She   glanced  around  for  a  means  of  escape  and  saw  Kai  at  the  back  of  the  room.   Stuffing  her  notebook  into  her  rucksack,  she  came  over.  Behind  her,  Derek  stared   straight  at  Kai  and  made  a  gesture  with  his  hands:  she’s  yours.   Kai  made  to  move  towards  Derek  but  Sophie  blocked  his  path.  She  glared  at   him.   Kai’s  words  stumbled  out  of  his  mouth.  “I  just  told  Derek  that  I  had  a   conversation  with  you  about  the  Bible.  That’s  it.  I  didn’t  share  anything  more  with   him.”   She  snarled  and  opened  her  mouth  to  say  something  but  changed  her  mind.   She  left.  At  that  moment,  his  pocket  buzzed.  Kai  vacillated  between  chasing  after   her  and  answering.  He  pulled  out  his  iPhone  from  his  trouser  pocket.   “Mum?”   “It’s  Grandpa.  He  had  a  bad  fall  and  he’s  at  Mount  E.  Can  you  come  over   now?”   “I’ll  be  right  there.”  He  hung  up  and  packed  his  things  in  a  hurry.  Where  was   Derek?  He  saw  his  friend  chatting  with  another  girl.  She  was  coy  but  all  smiles  as   Derek  spoke.  His  friend  glanced  up  and  caught  Kai’s  eye.  He  mouthed  three  words   that  made  Kai  roll  his  eyes:  my  future  wife.  

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Grandfather’s  Watch  

  Kai  waved  goodbye  and  burst  out  of  the  lecture  theatre,  threaded  his  way   through  milling  students  and  then  out  of  the  college  grounds.  As  he  half-­‐jogged   toward  the  MRT  station,  he  saw  the  now  familiar  orange  rucksack  ahead  of  him.   Sophie  showed  no  surprise  when  he  caught  up  with  her.   “I’m  really  sorry  to  make  you  angry  again.  I  couldn’t  lie  to  Derek.  But  I  didn’t   share  any  personal  details  with  him.  He  just  happens  to  have  a  crush  on  you  okay?   Or  had.  It  seems  the  malady  has  passed…  Anyway,  I’ve  got  to  go.  Grandpa  fell  and   he’s ��in  the  hospital.”  He  hurried  on,  hoping  that  she  would  accept  his  apology.   He  ran  toward  the  train  station  but  sensed  someone  chasing  him.  It  was   Sophie.   “I’m  coming  with  you.”   Neither  of  them  said  more  but  entered  the  station  to  wait  for  the  train.  Kai   shared  the  meager  details  he  had.  During  the  ride,  they  stood  on  opposite  sides  of   the  door,  letting  other  passengers  come  between  them  as  they  boarded  or  exited.   Sophie  fiddled  with  her  wristwatch.   When  they  got  out  at  Orchard  station,  they  fell  in  step  together.  The  street   was  crowded  with  a  sea  of  photo-­‐snapping  tourists  and  Christmas  decorations.   Gaudy  twinkling  lights  wrapped  around  real  and  fake  trees;  shopping  bags   bulging  with  presents  hanging  off  the  arms  of  merry  shoppers;  and  the  waft  of   buttered  popcorn,  cinnamon,  gingerbread  cookies  and  freshly  brewed  coffee  from   food  stalls  lining  the  street  assaulted  them.  Sophie  stuck  close  to  Kai  as  they   fought  their  way  to  the  slope  that  led  to  the  hospital.  He  found  his  way  to  the  bank   of  elevators  and  slipped  into  the  silence  of  the  lift.  Sophie  simply  gazed  at  him   without  a  word.  When  they  exited  at  the  right  floor,  Kai  led  Sophie  past  people   talking  in  quiet  whispers  along  the  corridor.  He  spotted  his  mother  coming  out  of   a  toilet  and  called  out  to  her.  She  turned,  acknowledged  him  and  explained  what   had  happened.     “Grandpa  was  on  a  ladder,  reaching  for  a  photo  album  in  a  cupboard.  Surnati   was  holding  the  ladder  steady.  He  slipped.  The  doctors  said  he’s  broken  a  hip.”   Kai’s  mother  noticed  Sophie  for  the  first  time.  She  glanced  at  her,  then  back  at  Kai   and  then  back  at  Sophie  again.  The  way  Kai’s  mother  examined  her,  Sophie  felt   exposed.   Kai  sensed  the  awkwardness.  “Mum,  this  is  my  friend.”  

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Grandfather’s  Watch  

  “Hi  Auntie,  I’m  Sophie.”   “Oh!  You’re  Sophie.  I  was  wondering,  Sophie?  What  Sophie?  Who’s  this   Sophie?  Grandpa  was  talking  about  you.”   “Me?”   “Yes,  both  of  you  better  come  with  me.”  She  encircled  an  arm  around  Sophie   and  herded  her  down  the  corridor.  Kai  wondered  what  Grandpa  had  said  about   her.  Grandpa  was  lying  on  the  bed  when  they  entered  the  room.  His  eyes  were   closed,  his  face  ashen.     “Ah  Pa,”  said  Kai’s  mother  gently  into  his  ear,  “Kai  and  Sophie  are  here.”   Grandpa  stirred,  tried  to  open  his  eyes  but  couldn’t.  The  three  of  them   watched  him  for  a  minute.   Kai’s  mother  explained  what  the  doctor  had  said.  “The  X-­‐ray  showed  a   fracture.  The  doctors  are  deciding  if  he  needs  surgery  or  not.  Right  now  they’ve   set  the  bone  and  are  just  helping  him  manage  the  pain.”  Sophie  reached  out  and   stroked  the  back  of  Grandpa’s  left  hand.  His  skin  felt  like  leather.   Sophie  leaned  over  him.  “It’s  Sophie.  You  wanted  to  see  me?”   His  head  twitched  his  head  just  a  fraction  but  otherwise  didn’t  respond.   Kai’s  mother  touched  Sophie  on  the  shoulder.  “Let  him  sleep.”   Sophie  pulled  back,  unsure  what  to  do  next.   “Have  you  two  eaten  yet?  Why  don’t  you  two  go  have  dinner?  Maybe   Grandpa  will  be  awake  when  you  come  up.”   “Okay  Mum.”  Kai  gently  steered  Sophie  toward  the  door.  “We’ll  be  back   soon.”   At  the  hospital  cafeteria,  the  white  fluorescent  lights  made  the  place  look   sterile.  Kai  squinted  in  order  to  read  the  signage  over  each  food  stall.   “You  hungry?  What  do  you  want  to  eat?”   She  shrugged.  “You  choose.  Anything’s  fine.”   She  wanted  him  to  decide?  He  had  no  clue  what  she  liked.  Better  pick   something  safe.  He  led  her  to  the  char  siew  rice  stall  and  when  she  didn’t  object,   ordered  two  plates  and  asked  for  more  gravy.  Kai  pulled  out  a  tray,  still  wet  from   being  washed.  Sophie  picked  up  forks  and  spoons.  She  stood  them  on  their  ends   and  measured  them.  She  returned  both  forks  and  rummaged  in  the  container  for   new  ones.  Kai  was  bemused.  She  pulled  out  two  new  forks,  measured  them  

20  


Grandfather’s  Watch  

  against  the  spoons  and  returned  those  as  well.  She  pulled  out  two  more  and  was   finally  satisfied.  She  noticed  Kai’s  confusion.   “I  can’t  eat  unless  the  forks  and  spoon  match.”   “I  see.”   “Food’s  here.”   Kai  picked  up  the  tray  of  food  and  led  the  way  to  an  empty  table.  He  passed   her  a  plate  of  char  siew  rice  and  she  handed  him  a  matched  set  of  cutlery.  He   studied  them.   “Trust  me.  You  eat  better  with  matched  cutlery.”   He  bowed  his  head  and  said  grace  before  spooning  the  first  gravy-­‐soaked   mouthful  of  rice  and  meat  into  his  mouth.  When  he  looked  up,  Sophie  was   chewing  slowly,  her  eyes  unfocused.  Kai  wondered  what  was  going  through  her   mind.  This  girl  was  an  enigma.  She  was  insane  with  short  bouts  of  sanity.  He   didn’t  know  what  she  would  say  from  one  moment  to  the  next.  But  he  wanted  to   stick  around  to  find  out.  He  glanced  at  her  vintage  wristwatch.  It  really  didn’t  suit   her  slim  wrist.   “It  was  my  Ah  Gong’s.”  Sophie  saw  that  Kai  was  scrutinizing  her  watch.  She   extended  her  arm  to  let  him  have  a  closer  look.   “It  still  runs?”   “It’s  a  self-­‐winding  watch.  It  converts  my  wrist  energy  into  electrical  energy.   It  doesn’t  need  batteries.”   “Your  Ah  Gong  gave  it  to  you?”   “I  didn’t  know  him.  He  died  three  years  before  I  was  born.  He  left  his  watch   for  his  first  grandchild.  That’s  me.”   “Is  that  why  you’re  so  interested  in  my  Grandpa?  Because  you  didn’t  know   yours?”   Sophie  shrugged.  “I  don’t  know.  I  guess.  Did  your  Grandpa  teach  you  the   Bible?”   “When  I  was  young,  I  would  spend  Sunday  afternoons  with  him,”  Kai   replied.  “He  taught  me  the  Bible.  It  started  with  picture  Bible  books.  Now  every   year  he  gives  me  a  different  English  translation  of  the  Bible.”   “Why?”   “So  that  I  can  read  the  Bible  with  fresh  eyes.”  

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Grandfather’s  Watch  

  Sophie  showed  Kai  her  phone.  “Why  not  use  a  Bible  app?  It’s  free.”   “I  have  an  app  too.  But  Grandpa  taught  me  to  underline  each  new  Bible  all   over  again.  I  learn  something  new  with  each  new  Bible.”   Sophie  arranged  the  rice  on  her  plate  into  a  hill.  “Can  I  ask  you  something?”   “Go  ahead.”   “Your  Grandpa  said  that  just  because  I  go  to  church,  and  just  because  my   parents  are  Christians,  it  doesn’t  make  me  a  Christian  by  default.”   Kai  nodded.  He  waited  for  her  question.  It  never  came.   Instead,  Sophie  sighed.  “Whenever  we  had  to  fill  in  school  forms,  I’ve  put   down  Christianity  as  my  religion.  But  what  your  Grandpa  shared  is  so  different   from  what  I  understood  Christianity  to  be.”   “I  see.  And  you’re  confused?”   “You  keep  talking  about  trusting  in  what  God  did  for  us.  If  I  trust  him,  that   makes  me  a  Christian?”   “Yes,  but  trust  God  for  what?  That’s  the  question.”   “Trust  that  Jesus  paid  the  death  penalty  for  my  sin.”   Kai  said,  “Not  just  a  death  penalty.  It’s  an  eternal  separation  from  God.  An   eternal  separation  from  everything  that  is  good.”   Sophie  put  down  her  cutlery.  “God  demands  an  eternal  separation  because  I   am  sinful?”   Kai  nodded  cautiously.  “I’m  sinful  too.  Everyone  is  sinful.  We  all  have  a  sin   nature  that  separates  us  from  God.”   Sophie  leaned  back  in  her  chair  and  raked  her  fingers  through  her  hair.  She   tied  it  in  a  bun  and  then  released  it.  Kai  could  see  she  was  thinking  hard.   Sophie  said,  “I  get  how  a  Holy  God  would  hate  sin.  I’m  not  saying  I’m  a  saint   or  anything,  but  I’m  not  a  mass  murderer.  I  know  I’m  not  perfect.  I’m  mean  to  my   mum.  I  hate  my  brother,  but  I’m  nice  to  you,  sometimes.  Why  would  God  reject   me?”   Kai  cast  his  eyes  about  for  inspiration.  Then  he  pointed  with  his  fork  at  a   bowl  of  soup  someone  had  left  on  the  next  table.  “Look  at  that  bowl,”  he  said.  “It’s   a  big  bowl.  Imagine  it’s  the  best  soup  in  the  world.  Now  imagine  my  char  siew   gravy  here  is  poison.”   “You’re  right.  It  does  taste  pretty  vile.”  

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Grandfather’s  Watch  

  “Very  funny.”  Kai  picked  up  the  bowl  of  soup  and  brought  it  to  their  table.   “What’re  you  doing?”   “Picture  this:  Char  siew  gravy  equals  poison.  I  put  in  a  small  amount  like  so.”   Kai  dropped  a  little  gravy  into  the  clear  soup  and  stirred  it  in.  “Would  you  drink   this  now?”   “Asking  the  obvious,  aren’t  you?”   “Well,  would  you?”   “No.”   “Why?”   Sophie  gestured  at  the  bowl.  “The  whole  thing  is  poisoned.”   “Right.  Even  though  it’s  just  a  teeny  bit  of  poison,  the  whole  bowl  is  ruined.  I   wouldn’t  drink  any  of  it,  at  any  time.  Even  a  little  sin  ruins  the  whole  relationship   and  God  wants  to  be  separated  from  sin  forever.  He  is  too  pure  to  be  around  sin.   Even  tiny  sin.”   “I  see  your  point.”   Kai  felt  prompted  to  elaborate.  “That’s  why  God  came  as  Jesus.  Just  like  the   lamb  without  blemish,  Jesus  was  sinless.  He  paid  the  death  penalty  for  us.  Once   the  penalty  is  paid  for,  our  sin  is  wiped  clean.  It’s  gone.  There  are  no  more   barriers  preventing  us  from  being  a  child  of  God.  And  this  relationship  is  for   eternity.  It  extends  beyond  this  lifetime.”   Sophie  repeated  Kai’s  words.  “A  relationship  for  eternity.”   Kai  tapped  his  chest.  “When  I  took  Jesus  at  his  word,  God  adopted  me  into   his  family.  I  became  a  child  of  God.  He  became  my  father.”   “Adopted?”  asked  Sophie.   Kai  nodded.  “That’s  how  the  Bible  describes  it.  God  adopted  me  because  I   trusted  in  what  he  did  for  me  to  clear  my  sin.”   “He  died  for  me  then?”   “Yes.”   “So  I’m  saved?”  asked  Sophie.   “Only  if  you  take  God  at  his  word.”   “Don’t  I  pray  or  do  anything?”  

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Grandfather’s  Watch  

  Kai  shook  his  head.  “No.  The  Bible  just  says  to  believe.  In  other  words:  trust.   In  other  words,  take  God  at  his  word.  That’s  it.  We  can’t  do  anything  but  accept   what  Jesus  did  for  us.”   “That’s  too  easy.”  Sophie  crossed  her  arms.   “I’m  afraid  it  is.”   “There  must  be  more  to  it.”   “I’m  afraid  there  isn’t.”   Sophie  narrowed  her  eyes  at  him.  Kai  didn’t  flinch  under  her  steady  gaze.   She  turned  aside  and  stared  out  the  window.  Kai  noticed  her  hands  resting  on  the   table’s  edge.  He  noted  the  scars  on  her  fingers.  They  were  filled  with  ink.  He   became  aware  that  the  scars  weren’t  random  lines.  From  across  the  table,  they   looked  like  a  series  of  characters:  0—A—9—7.  He  permutated  them  in  his  head   but  failed  to  fathom  what  they  could  mean.   Sophie  stood  up.  “It’s  time  we  went  up  to  see  your  Grandpa.”  Kai  examined   her  face  but  couldn’t  read  her  emotions.  Her  face  was  veiled.     #     Kai’s  mother  stood  up  from  the  chair  beside  Grandpa’s  bed  when  Kai  and   Sophie  entered  the  room.   “Grandpa’s  still  asleep.  Keep  an  eye  on  him  while  I  go  downstairs  for  a  bite   to  eat.”  Kai  sat  down  on  the  chair  beside  Grandpa’s  bed.  Sophie  chose  to  stand.   They  had  watched  Grandpa  for  a  quarter  of  an  hour  when  he  stirred.  His  eyes   fluttered  open  and  he  smacked  dry  lips.  His  vision  was  groggy;  he  didn’t  seem  to   recognise  either  Kai  or  Sophie.  Kai  brought  a  glass  of  water  with  a  straw  and   Grandpa  sipped  gratefully.  The  liquid  appeared  to  clear  his  mind  for  he  regarded   his  grandson  warmly.   “Kai,”  he  croaked.     “Grandpa,  you  scared  everyone.  A  little  dramatic  for  an  80-­‐year-­‐old,  don’t   you  think?”   “I  was  searching  for  the  photos  from  Cheong  Tze’s  funeral.”   Kai  was  puzzled.  “Why?”  


Grandfather’s  Watch  

  Grandpa  gave  him  a  wan  smile.  “I  was  looking  for  photos  of  his  daughter.   Did  you  bring  your  girlfriend?”   “Grandpa…”  Kai  began.   “I’m  here,”  cut  in  Sophie.   “Pei  Geok…  That’s  her  name.”   Kai  took  Grandpa’s  hand.  “No  Grandpa,  her  name  is  Sophie.”   Sophie  looked  as  if  someone  had  splashed  her  face  with  cold  water.  “That’s…   my  mother’s  name.  You  do  know  who  I  am,  don’t  you.”   Kai  was  nonplussed.  “How  is  this  possible?  You  just  met  two  weeks  ago.”   Grandpa  tried  to  sit  up  and  winced  in  pain.  Kai  operated  the  controls  to  raise   the  bed  a  little  higher.  Grandpa  motioned  to  Sophie  and  she  inched  forward  to   lean  against  the  bed  railing.   “Remarkable.  You  look  just  like  your  mother  in  the  photos  from  the  funerals.   I’ll  never  forget  her  face.  Striking.”   “Family  curse  I  guess.”   Kai  cut  in.  “Sophie,  you  know  my  Grandpa?”   Sophie  shook  her  head.  “Not  exactly.  But  Cheong  Tze—the  friend  your   Grandpa  talked  about  in  the  video—was  my  Ah  Gong.”   “Your  Ah  Gong?”  said  Kai  stupidly.   Grandpa  said  to  Sophie,  “When  I  saw  you,  a  memory  stirred.  That’s  why  I   was  up  on  the  ladder  looking  for  the  funeral  photos.  I’m  so  glad  God  allowed  me   to  meet  Cheong  Tze’s  granddaughter.  How’re  your  parents?”   “They’re  okay,  I  guess.”  Sophie  shrugged.  “But  I  want  to  hear  about  my  Ah   Gong.”   Grandpa  leaned  back  against  the  pillow.  “Once  Cheong  Tze  became  a   Christian,  he  tried  his  best  to  explain  the  good  news  to  your  mum.  I  remember   talking  to  her  several  times  as  well  but  because  Cheong  Tze  was  dying,  she  wasn’t   paying  attention.  I’m  glad  to  hear  she’s  attending  church.”   Sophie  nodded  half-­‐heartedly.  “Apparently,  that  isn’t  enough.”   Grandpa  angled  his  head  to  see  Sophie  better.  “You’re  right.  Being  a  believer   is  easier  than  going  to  church.”  Grandpa  motioned  for  more  water.  Kai  put  the   straw  between  his  lips.  After  he  sipped,  Grandpa  continued.  “When  your  

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Grandfather’s  Watch  

  grandfather  died,  I  was  asked  to  speak  at  his  funeral.  I  shared  the  gospel  and  I   talked  about  his  favourite  Bible  verse.”   This  piqued  Sophie’s  interest.  “What’s  the  verse?”   “John  chapter  six,  verse  forty.”   It  was  as  if  a  bolt  of  lightning  had  struck  Sophie.  She  jerked  up,  eyes   widening.  Slowly,  she  drew  her  left  hand  up.  Turning  the  palm  toward  herself,  she   showed  the  back  of  her  fingers  to  Ah  Gong.  Kai  could  see  the  scars  right  side  up   for  the  first  time.  He  realized  he  had  misread  the  scars  for  they  were  previously   upside  down  to  him.  Now  he  could  read  them,  starting  with  her  pinkie:  J—6—4— 0.  John  6:40.   “I  never  knew,”  she  said.   “You  tattooed  yourself?”  asked  Grandpa.   She  looked  embarrassed.  “With  a  pen.  I  was  angry,  suicidal.  Mad.”  She   rubbed  the  scars  with  her  other  hand.  “My  parents  drove  me  mad.”   “What  made  you  tattoo  that  verse  on  your  fingers?”  asked  Kai.   “I  felt  it  was  some  kind  of  message  that  Ah  Gong  left  for  me.  I  just  never   knew  it  was  from  the  Bible.”  Sophie  undid  the  clasp  of  her  wristwatch  and   showed  Kai  and  Grandpa  the  underside.  Engraved  along  the  edge  of  the  watch   was  J640.   Sophie  fingered  the  watch  lovingly.  “My  mum  didn’t  know  about  the   inscription.  She  just  gave  me  the  watch  as  a  Christmas  gift  when  I  was  ten.  Said  it   was  an  heirloom  from  Ah  Gong.  I  refused  to  wear  it  at  first.  I  thought  it  was  the   ugliest  thing  on  earth.  Later  I  just  put  it  on  to  be  different.  Then  I  discovered  the   inscription.  One  day,  when  I  was  super  depressed  from  hearing  my  parents   scream  at  each  other,  I  carved  the  J  and  640  on  the  back  of  my  fingers.  I  bled  and   bled.  After  it  stopped,  the  ink  stayed  in  the  scars.”  Sophie’s  eyes  gleamed  with   tears.  She  turned  aside,  raking  the  back  of  her  hand  over  her  wet  eyes.     Grandpa  took  Sophie’s  scarred  hand  into  his  own.  “Your  Ah  Gong  was   leaving  a  message  for  you.  Listen  to  him.”  He  let  go  of  her  fingers  and  leaned  back.   “I  need…  to  rest.”   “Okay,  Grandpa.  We’ll  let  you  rest.”  Kai  reached  over,  took  his  grandfather’s   hand  and  gave  it  a  gentle  squeeze.      

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Grandfather’s  Watch  

  #     Sophie  hooked  her  thumbs  into  the  straps  of  her  rucksack  as  Kai  walked  her   to  the  lifts.   “I’m  just  amazed  that  our  grandfathers  knew  each  other.  We  could  have   been  childhood  friends,”  said  Kai.   “You  wouldn’t  have  liked  me  as  a  kid.  I  was  awful.”  Sophie  fiddled  with  the   screen  of  her  phone  and  presented  it  to  Kai.  It  was  the  Bible  app.   “Show  me  the  verse,”  she  said.   Kai  worked  the  screen,  showing  where  the  book  of  John  was  in  the  New   Testament.  He  brought  up  chapter  six  and  scrolled  down  to  verse  forty.  Sophie   watched  every  flick  and  poke  of  his  finger.   “There.  John  6:40.  Jesus  said,  ‘For  this  is  the  will  of  my  Father,  that  everyone   who  looks  on  the  Son  and  believes  in  him  should  have  eternal  life,  and  I  will  raise   him  up  on  the  last  day.’  People  asked  Jesus  what  they  could  do  to  gain  eternal  life.   Jesus’  answer  was:  ‘Believe  in  me.’  That  was  it.  If  they  believed,  then  when  they   died,  they  would  spend  an  eternity  with  God  in  heaven.  It  would  be  the  perfect   life.”   Sophie’s  eyes  blurred  with  tears.  “I  don’t  think  I  can  have  enough  faith.”   Kai  shook  his  head.  “It’s  not  about  how  much  faith  you  have.  It’s  about  who   you  have  faith  in.”  The  lift  arrived  and  they  stepped  in.  Thankfully,  there  was  no   one  else.  Sophie  didn’t  bother  mopping  her  face.  Her  eyes  and  nose  leaked.  She   looked  a  mess.   Seeing  that  she  was  listening  intently,  Kai  continued.  “Imagine  two  men.  Guy   A  weighs  100kg.  He’s  about  to  jump  onto  a  paper  screen.  He  believes  with  all  his   heart  that  the  paper  screen  will  hold  his  weight  up.   “Then  there’s  Guy  B.  He  weighs  50kg.  He’s  about  to  jump  onto  a  wooden   platform  made  of  tembusu  planks  as  thick  as  his  thigh.  He  doesn’t  have  that  much   faith  that  the  thick  platform  will  hold  him  up  but  he  jumps  anyway.  Which  man   will  be  safe  and  who  will  fall?  Guy  A  with  his  supreme  confidence  in  the  wrong   thing  or  Guy  B  with  his  weak  faith  in  the  right  object?”   “Guy  B.”  


Grandfather’s  Watch  

  “That’s  right.  Faith—even  weak  faith—in  the  right  object  saves.  Jesus  saves   you.  You  just  have  to  trust  him.  Accept  what  he  did  for  you.  When  you  accept,  his   death  becomes  your  payment.”   The  lift  doors  opened.  They  stepped  out  and  walked  into  the  night.  The  air   was  cooling  fast  and  there  was  the  smell  of  coming  rain  in  the  breeze.   Sophie  studied  the  screen  of  her  phone,  her  face  lit  by  its  glow.  Kai  stood   behind  her,  letting  her  have  some  space.  He  was  praying,  muttering  silently  to   God  for  her  understanding.   She  put  away  her  phone  and  gave  Kai  a  lopsided  smile.  “I’ve  to  go.”  Sophie   proceeded  to  walk  towards  Orchard  Road.  The  street  was  ablaze  with  lights,  the   trees  over  the  road  festooned  with  Christmas  trimming.  It  looked  as  if  she  were   walking  into  a  river  of  light.  Kai  watched  her  until  all  he  could  see  was  her  orange   rucksack.  Then  she  was  swallowed  up  in  the  flood  of  pedestrians.  A  tide  of   emotions  welled  up  in  him.  He  attempted  to  sort  through  them,  holding  them  up   to  a  mental  flashlight.  Yes,  he  did  like  her.  She  was  quirky,  filled  with  randomness,   but  she  was  a  deep  thinker.  The  scars  on  her  fingers,  her  man’s  wristwatch,  the   way  her  hair  fell  around  her  shoulders,  her  cut-­‐up  toe,  the  curve  of  her  apple-­‐ shaped  face;  all  these  stood  out  in  his  mind.  She  had  a  fickle  temper  that  radiated   fury;  but  she  was  aware  that  her  family  life  was  part  of  the  cause.  What  made  his   heart  tremble  most  was  her  desire  for  the  knowledge  of  God.  More  than  anything,   he  wanted  her  to  understand.   His  iPhone  beeped  in  his  pocket.  A  text  message  had  arrived.  Kai  checked  it.     You  gave  me  lots  to  think  about.   Kai  hit  “reply”  and  was  choosing  his  words  carefully  when  a  second  message   arrived.   I  knew  someone  created  that  parasite.  Had  to  be.  That  was  not  an  accident.   She  was  referring  to  Leucochloridium  paradoxum  again.  He  was  about  to   type  out  that  he  agreed  with  her  wholeheartedly  when  a  third  message  showed   up  on  screen.   Thank  your  Grandpa.  Tell  him  I  will  visit  again.   This  time,  Kai  waited.  The  pre-­‐storm  wind  was  picking  up.  He  hoped  she  had   an  umbrella  with  her.  His  phone  buzzed  several  times  in  quick  succession.   So  many  questions  still  in  my  mind.  

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Grandfather’s  Watch  

  I  tried  to  be  a  better  person.  Too  hard.  Too  fake.   But  you  have  made  my  heart  leap.   Someone  more  capable,  doing  for  me  what  I  cannot.   A  lamb!  Imagine  that.   I  like  the  sound  of  that.   This  will  be  a  different  Christmas.   Finally,  he  knew  how  to  respond.  He  tapped  his  message  and  hit  the  send   button.  The  iPhone  made  its  electronic  bubble  sound  and  he  saw  that  his  message   had  flown  over  to  her.   The  lamb  is  the  best  Christmas  present.   She  responded.   J640.   Kai  smiled.  He  didn’t  know  how  it  would  be  like  the  next  time  he  was  with   her.  He  just  knew  he  wanted  a  next  time.  Just  take  God  at  his  word,  he  whispered   to  her.               ENDS   ©  2012  Amos  Kwok  

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Grandfather's Watch