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One: Milestones & Beginnings

A NUS Literary Society Publication


Masthead Joan Theng Editor-in-Chief Isaac Tan Executive Editor

Cover art: Molten Suburbia by Jonathan Koh


One: Milestones & Beginnings Editor’s Letter 25/250 Challenge Reaching the end of a search for – Michelle Peh The 25th Hour Bryan Chong Commencement Annabeth Leow Twenty-five words Ray Chan Aubade Anurak Saelaow

Life Beyond Happily After Loh Soon Hui Maturity Leoson Huay Beginning of End Prasatt s/o Arumugam Oh Pretty, What a Pity Rachael Anne Goh Grandma Huynh Khan Ngoc Han Between Two Milestones Chua Xin Rong


Before We Begin Lee Zhi Xin A Make-Believe Dream Denys Tan Coma Jerrold Yam The End Is Just A New Beginning Mabel Chan Beginnings Isaac Tan

A Bold Play That Goes To The HEART Of The Matter Isaac Tan The Stavitch And Starship Justin Tan Eighteen Lee Zhi Xin Milestone and Beginnings Jovita Wong Awakening Amanda Ho

Submission Guidelines


Editor’s Letter When I was asked to write this, I was hard-pressed to come up with something that I both wanted to say and was expected to say as an editor, and that for days, resulted in a series of nervy backand-forths in my typing, which I assume tested the patience of the Executive Editor, Isaac, who has compiled all the works included in this issue, and who has every reason to be pissed with my long silence. Many questions stifled my progress. How do I strike a balance between expressing the humility I instinctively felt was appropriate for a fledgling initiative in a field that has long been esteemed as an element of – God forbid! – high culture, and the audacity or healthy irreverence usually required to produce anything of quality? How to have a sense of ambition and yet be all too aware of a pantheon that includes Harper’s, Granta, and The Paris Review, which have featured the likes of Faulkner, Calvino and Borges, without being paralysed by the kind of smallness even Woolf felt after reading Proust? Most of all, how, you may ask, will we source for quality works in a field so niche, in a country so small, on top of its being plagued by a cultural cringe palpable enough to warrant desperate buzzwords like “support local talent”? A few days ago when I was on the train home with a friend studying abroad who had just returned on term break, she told me, “You need to get away from here”, a paraphrase of what I knew to be her bleaker meaning: there is nothing here.


Watching the sterile architecture that zipped past us – blocks of flats reeking of an almost grotesque utility, all too neat, too angular, liveable but lifeless – I, fresh from reading Proust and full of frustrated escapism, couldn’t help but agree with her and dreamily lamented to myself the lack of an Illiers-Combray, a place in here that dripped enough magic to have inspired something as magnificent as Swann’s Way. But that sense of futility was quickly dispelled by my memory of what Proust himself had said - “…genius consist[s] in reflecting power and not in the intrinsic quality of the scene reflected”. Or, as a non-literary but nonetheless creative individual has put it: I think that traveling happens truly in your mind: it is a way of thinking, of looking at things. People think that traveling is taking an eight-hour flight to some far-flung destination. For me, it’s taking a car and turning off where you have never gone before, or maybe looking at something you like in a new way. Traveling means opening your eyes.” Dries Van Noten In a word, there is never nothing. Every particular experience, no matter how banal, carries within it something special that needs only to be perceived and disinterred from the inertia of its surface. We (or I) often seek inspiration elsewhere, preferring histories richer, older, and above all not our own, restless from a search that always consists in taking flight, away from because disillusioned by the seemingly unpromising first scraps of a creative tradition which to be fair, is only in its teething. Often crabby from frustrated wanderlust, and despite a shelf full of foreign literature – with regrettably, almost nary a local work – taunting at my hypocrisy in writing this, I still have a small but insistent idealism about this place, believing that its dry spells stem more from potentials never realised than talents never had.


But that is our aim - to put aside excessively neurotic concerns about quality that the spectre of our literary idols may compel us to cower in the face of, so that we might come into our own, to in some way enrich a culture whose barrenness we bemoan but don’t feel like doing anything about, and above all, simply to get something started, so that the magazine will eventually take a life of its own as contributors come and go, being ultimately a dynamic outlet for better things to come, chronicling inspired works from the student body of NUS as well as outside of it. And so for now at least, as a timely commemoration of the society’s 50th anniversary, the works selected from the entries of the 25/50 Challenge, memorialise the storied imaginings of individuals, each exploring differently the vast mindscape of creative possibility that lies dormant in – one can hope – every one of us. One may have a blazing hearth in one’s soul and yet no one ever came to sit by it. Passers-by see only a wisp of smoke from the chimney and continue on their way. — Vincent Van Gogh With that, we believe that this first issue of Symbal is merely the beginning of a gathering of more and more people to sit by those blazing hearths. Joan Theng Editor-in-Chief 6th January 2012


25/250 Challenge The task: twenty-five words in verse exactly or approximately two hundred and fifty words in prose on the theme of Milestones & Beginnings. The result: sixteen literary works that gives us a peek into the minds of the writers who wrote them. The works are written by students of NUS unless indicated otherwise.


reaching the end of a search for: – dawn the smoke climbs, shifting serpent-like; knifing (gunmetal-grey) clouds. gold shades of infinity dance through with success hidden in the fringes this is: a new – Michelle Peh


The 25th Hour the snores of fitful sleepers do not hesitate. tick. tick. resound the clocks that mark the twenty-fifth and zeroth hour of each new midnight day.

Bryan Cheong Raffles Institution


Commencement The hall is much too cold. My joints hurt. I feel too old, for eighteen. I fell here, scraping my knees on rough carpet, on the first day. The skin scabbed over, was shed in time.

Six years of scabbing over; I am surprised I do not have a carapace by now. Things I do not have: Sunrise on Tioman, where the beach gave way to froth, a perfect Kodak moment for best friends forever and star jumps. Rollercoasters, ice cream at the movies, conversations lubricated by frappucinos, fraught with banality and dancing to a tired K-pop beat. Things I have: Scrambling through wet sand in borrowed slippers as the noon burned salty bodies and melted away violence for the nonce. Bus rides, fried sweet potato, over-warm water on short jaunts into the rainforest, the threads of philosophical arguments holding bodies together. Things I do not have, did not ever have: That elusive creature Normal. Things I have, nunc et semper: You.

When we leave this hall, it will be a departure for the rest of our lives. Ten pages of paper in a fake leather folio will set us in motion through that excruciating game: a dog-and-pony show, a rat race, metaphors that remind us we are beasts of burden. I am not a number. You are not a number. For now we have this thought to comfort us, and then – a camera flash pops, my cue nudges me. Forward unto the waiting dignitary’s handshake. Exit stage right. Annabeth Leow NUS High School


Twenty-Five Words twenty-five words for a beginning startles much, ripples stone one loses ink at fifteenth and then scrambles to find words, before the end-gine cuts (blank) Ray Chan (Nom De Plume)


Aubade I wake to the undrawn curtain, the chewed pulp of words drying against the tongue. Outside the sun calls my name like a distant lover.

Anurak Saelaow Raffles Institution


Life Beyond Happily Ever After Dearest, Happily Ever After wasn't the end. It's a quarter after one. I should sleep, but peace has eluded me ever since our last parting. The emptiness of the room weighs heavily on my heart, and the silence is loud. This space we've built to house our dreams and hopes for marriage feels drab; for none of our tasteful furnishings animated our home like the sparkle of your laughter did. Tonight, I passed over the furnishings in favor of the photographs. They were minute and many, each glossy frame encapsulating a memory from the days of our courtship. In your absence, these Kodak prints have gained an overlarge significance, as if to compensate for all that time spent in sight but out of mind. I looked at them all in turn, flitting in and out of the past. 26/06. The gilted frame next to the telephone held the first photo we shared after becoming an official couple. We were standing side by side among friends, very much in love and so self-conscious about it. 25/12. Orchard Road. Our first serious argument ruined Christmas that year, but we couldn't have left this out of our story. 24/09. Our marital photograph. We smiled widely, a vision of perfect happiness. I still recall your words from that day, “This is our Happily Ever After.� But Happily Ever After wasn't the end of all milestones. We'll make this work. Tomorrow will be the start of the rest of our lives, post conflict. Together. Loh Soon Hui


Maturity Slips of paper Slowly Leading you into adulthood. Numbers, formalities Addresses The name of your college and Dollar signs phasing out cheerful Letters to Friends. Leoson Huay Serving National Service


Beginning of End Fresh out of fifty, I awoke sniffing, wondering where this odor of decay came from. I found it creeping, fouly from beneath my age-worn skin. Prasatt s/o Arumugam


Oh Pretty, What A Pity Tokyo locals celebrate first year milestone of Nightfall phenomenon 2006/12/04 The Asahi Shinda

Nightfall. When night falls, the soft rustling of the dusk veil, come to relieve daylight of its torturous role, can be heard through the walls by the lonely. Extraordinary people do not hear it because their hearts are too full. The slightest of sounds may, let me correct myself, will slide down their ears to their chests and cause their hearts to brim over. Before they know it tears are spilling from their eyes. This very humane and natural response will only serve to elicit bewilderment and incomprehension from them. Thus, only the ordinary and alone. Only the lonely can afford to hear nightfall. Nine miles north from where the veil falls, a distinct shadow where a woman should be rests along the shores of a beach. If you hide behind some wiry bushes or peer from a cliff long enough, the moon will reveal through darts of light the woman to whom the shadow belongs. Just as she is revealed, a small crash of waves washes over her feet. ‘Aiko. Aiko, come on. Listen’ the woman whispers, musically dissonant with the light crashing laughter of the waves. She lies on the beach for a reason. There are no walls that impair her hearing, no thick air that blocks her mind. Aiko is alone on the beach with no unnatural distraction and she starts to cry from frustration. You see, Aiko is an extraordinary. Rachael Anne Goh


Grandma Grandma reached home on a sunny afternoon. She pushed her scooter to the front yard, picked up her green basket and hurried to her room, still wearing her purple velvet hat. I could see her whimsical smile. - Grandma’s home. - But she’s dead. - Oh yeah! Then why is she here? -Perhaps she wants to visit home. I walked closer to her room and watched her. That was my dream shortly after grandma passed away. She collapsed as she was walking to the tour bus to head home. She died a happy person. No suffering. For her and the people she left behind. Just suddenly. She left. Grandma was rarely at home. The scooter gave her a lot of freedom. People thought perhaps mom would not feel so sad. But there are many words left unsaid and many things left undone. Mom could only ask why. One year on, I still cannot understand how a person whose images are so vivid in my mind and heart no longer exists. It is a peculiar feeling to be walking around when the origin of life has vanished. But we just have to do one of the hardest things we ever do. To continue living without grandma. Because grandma lived.

Huynh Khan Ngoc Han


Between Two Milestones stretching across sun-warmed stone with a sibilant sigh, ignoring the shadow spreading black, feathered wings across the sky. now, we live; for, soon, we die. Chua Xin Rong


Before we begin I am too wild for you, I think, myself with my lustful thoughts and itch to write, hungering after extremity far up on the shore where the waves never lap. I show you ochre, cobalt, plum and orchid; eggshell, cornsilk, cream and lace; you smile or don’t smile but never say yes or no. I sit beside you wanting you to be the sea but you return me a pond glassy with my reflection. How do I start knowing you, when I can only know movement? Where do I even begin? One day we stood in a room full of blinking clocks, every clock a different minute, twelve simultaneous hours. Time washed past us, past and present congealing thickly. There was no sound but our heads creaking left, right, a metronome keeping rhythm for the clocks. The room was dark with possibility; the room shone bright with time; the room tossed back and forth on various timelines; the room paused still with us inside. And all the second hands struck twelve as we chose that time to lift our heads, eyes a slit, stomachs squeezed with laughter as we lumbered out of the room: This is art! This is art! and for that second, perhaps I didn’t need to make sense of you to begin.

Lee Zhi Xin


A Make-Believe Dream It had been the night before, and in a sense it was still was, for sleep never intervened to make the distinction. As he walked around the house, making sure everything was in order (yes, the stove was off, so he would not return to an inheritance of Too Much Charcoal), I noticed that he trembled violently in spurts. Was it the cold, or the fear? He would not say, but the latter was palatable in every sense. It certainly was tangible, yet it also spurred him on, for it gave the proceedings an air of fecklessness, one that he reveled in. The packing had been completed hours ago, and his sole companion sat in a corner; all zipped up and only half-full. It struck me then how little one really needs to survive on the road. He opened the curtains and together we peered out of the window, ostensibly to get a gauge of the weather at five A.M. Secretly, I hoped that in that act, some excuse would be found to reverse his course. It looked ominous, though promising by most standards if one wanted to stumble upon a corpse (or become one). Still he left, for he had already set his mind on it. I watched him from the porch: the part of him who dared not follow in his dream of taking off on a journey, alone. Denys Tan


Coma Voices steeling your grief in oaths, consciousness

tipping like errant snow, accelerating into legacies of courage as your eyelids are freed, shouting back our love. Jerrold Yam Serving National Service


The End Is Just A New Beginning To Karen I don’t know why I specifically mention you in my note. It’s not as if there’s anyone else in the house to see it. But really, I felt I should leave a reassurance so you don’t think I just decided to leave you on a whim. This is going to be the beginning of my new life, so I’m rather happy about it. It’s one of those times in your life, you know, when you feel you’ve got to put down the unpleasant memories and start anew. I just thought you should know that I saw Cain the other day. I think he’s gotten married again. I feel light suddenly. The thought of beginning afresh is intoxicating. It’s been in my mind for a week now, bet you didn’t know that. When I start my life over, I’m going to use the Atkins diet earlier. Study hard and get into law school. Not hook up with the first guy I meet. Can you imagine me not being fat? I’ve been shamelessly playing with Photoshop, indulging my fantasies. I realize I can be quite fetching if I shed 40 kg. Do you think Cain would have stayed then? Please don’t regard this as the end. The end of one life is the beginning of another, isn’t it? And when you see me again I’ll be confident about myself. I’d like to be cremated, please. I don’t want to start a new life with the same image. Time to go. Mabel Chan


Beginnings There is no such thing, for it is done. What is left are Cycles of times past; Beginnings shed light anew, on well learnt wisdoms. Isaac Tan


A Bold Play That Goes To The HEART Of The Matter A Review by Isaac Tan Mata Hati Teater Ekematra Drama Centre Blackbox 15-18 December 2011 The spirited imagination of the human mind often leads us to push boundaries and construct alternative scenarios as part of our cognitive endeavours. When the need to explore the “what ifs” of society meets the endless possibilities that theatre could provide, we get a play that is daring, insightful and chillingly honest. Mata Hati, the latest offering by Dr. Robin Loon (Assistant Professor from the English Language and Literature (Theatre Studies) Department), poses a simple question: What if a well respected Malay politician in Singapore gets embroiled in a sex scandal? With all the hype that one had experienced in the General and Presidential elections, it is understandable that one would expect the play to be tiresome. Mata Hati is anything but tiresome. In the course of raising questions about gender roles, sex, race and politics (which makes it deliciously taboo), the trajectory of the play brings us closer to uncovering Amir’s (the Malay politician) humanity; his aspirations and beliefs. The various confrontations and interactions between Amir and the other characters, which ranged from his daughter to his subordinates and close friend, reveals various facets of Amir’s personality and thoughts as we sympathise with his struggles to rise up through the political ranks while being shocked at his audacity in engaging in sexual escapades even during a holiday with his own family.


As Amir continues to unravel, we are being led into a paradox of having an initial illusion that we are getting closer to knowing him but one would soon realise that Amir becomes an increasingly complex character as he gradually reveals some of his motives. Though some would say that it was an overly ambitious script that did not dwell enough on the various issues, I personally feel that it is an interesting reflection of how the externalities of politics and the internalities of one’s beliefs and aspirations are so intertwined that it is hard to differentiate between them. As for the cast, they certainly tackled the rather complicated script well. Johari Aziz nailed the character of Amir with his measured performance despite of the episodic scenes which sometimes demand an abrupt change of intensity in terms of emotional quality. Eleanor Tan brought about much tension to the play as Mrs. Rebecca Tan, the civil servant posted to assist Amir, as she taunts him about the end of his career and brushes him off in the name of bureaucratic necessity. Eleanor played it viciously well so much so that it compelled an audience member to say “I hate you, Mrs. Tan” during the post-show dialogue. Anwar Hadi gave a credible performance as Amir’s close friend. The strong chemistry between Amir and his character resulted in a great performance as their interactions gave the audience an insight into who Amir was before rising to prominence as a politician. Tan Shou Chen did not pale in comparison as the much abused assistant while Isabella Chiam, who plays a journalist interviewing Amir (who also happens to be a Chinese immigrant), does show that prejudice is not only limited to people of a different race. And Shaza Ishak, playing Amir’s daughter, rails against her father for being irresponsible and paternalism as a whole. While the exchanges between father and daughter are poignant, Shaza could have reined in her outburst slightly as as part of it was lost on the audience.


Unlike the typical storyline in which a complex character gradually unravels upon confrontation and retrospection, Mata Hati bucks the trend as it ends with Amir being incredibly distraught but still managing to hold it together and not revealing the innermost reasons for his actions. With no resolution in sight, what new light does this play contribute to our national discourse about race, politics, sexuality and gender? Truth be told, nothing much as it voices out what has been said or should have been said. Yet, its biggest takeaway is that while our society has several problems that need to be addressed, in the grand scheme of things, it all boils down to what we truly believe and stand for which would influence the political and social dynamics of our society. It is only after a harsh and honest self-reflection that we could attempt to address the bigger issues that affect our society. True to its title, Mata Hati certainly gives insight into the heart of the matter with regards to the questions it raises. Intrigued by what I saw, I wrote to Dr. Loon to find out more about his inspiration for the play to which he graciously gave this email interview. 1. What inspired you to write this play? RL: After watching CHARGED last Dec, I spoke to the director of the play who is also the Artistic Director of Teater Ekamatra, Zizi Azah, about how I would like to follow on from CHARGED and NADIRAH with a piece on Sex and the Malay Politician. Zizi was enthusiastic about the premise and the idea and we decided on the collaboration. Another reason is that I really like the courage and commitment Teater Ekamatra has shown in the past 2 years and would like to be part of it. 2. What were some of the challenges you faced in writing this play? RL: The biggest challenge is to reach back into history and create a character who is a unique product of a specific time. I conducted thorough research with the help of my research assistant, former TS grad Muhd Ridzal, and tried to piece together a climate of the times. I was also very aware of the problems and responsibilities of a Chinese writer writing a play about a Malay Politician but as I forged on, with a lot of chat with Zizi, I found many of those problems to be more preemptive than real.


3. What were some of the insights you have gained in writing and researching for this play? RL: I discovered a different perspective on race relations after ploughing the research in relation to power and politics. Race relations in Singapore is even more complicated when it is enmeshed with realpolitik. The play is a conjecture created from the classic 'what if' scenario backed by the research. 4. Mata Hati raises several political and social questions about our society. In your opinion, what is at the heart of this play? RL: While I do not want to essentialise anything about humanity, the core of the play is actually about the corrosive nature of power and how that problematises race relations in Singapore. 5. As a professor, you have mentored several batches of students that would form the ranks of a new breed of professionals in the theatre industry. What are your hopes for the local theatre industry in years to come? RL: My biggest hope is that we will be able to talk about issues that matter to us in an open, frank and creative way. And this means that the authorities need to trust that the artists will deal with the issues in a responsible manner. I hope that the Arts will become far less regulated. 6. Finally, are there any pearls of wisdom that you could impart to aspiring writers or actors? RL: Three words: train, research, practice.


THE SAVITCH AND THE STARSHIP Amid the wide rolling verdure of the Iaran plains the swarthy clan of Narecc have made a discovery. For a week they have tramped toward it; for a week they have whispered, speculated, stewed along in thinly-veiled disquiet; they have thirsted and hungered as their stores dwindled and their canteens drained. But now – as they at length draw nigh – a ghastly silence settles over this august and mighty company of twenty-eight. Men and women, tribal elders, children, clutching infants… the bedraggled ensemble shares but one hushed consensus, one overwhelming mental narrative: The God-thing is immense. They’d descried it first, seven nights ago in a blue tropical moon; seen a star flicker deep red and begin (barely perceptibly, at first) to grow. The sages squabbled all evening over its import, the women dawdled over their chores; the babes grew restless and could not be induced to sleep. From his liqueur-slumber the Chieftain was roused; he burst, livid and bellowing, from the stygian recesses of his hut. Fortunately for the goat that strayed into his path, he’d emerged into a world swept awash in a crimson glow. He looked to the horizon… and saw the star fall. Though it was steeped in flame its heart was lunar pale – soft, solemn, heartrendingly pure. It made no sound when it settled, though the hills thither were bathed for a time in searing white. Presently the earth trembled, as if Mother Terra had caught a chill traversing her cold, black void. There came a curious squall of furnace-heat, so fleeting that the Chieftain put it down to the spirits he had quaffed… and then darkness rallied once more, save for a fell incandescence, black-red as lambs’ blood, pervading the lands where the star lay dying.


The Chieftain was great and sagacious and clairvoyant; he marked that the thing was no star, but a gift from the gods, a saviour of their race, a deliverer borne of faith and ritual and sacrifice. Perhaps it would confer deathlessness; perhaps it would make him a King of men. He would do well to reach it, ere it went out forever… The clan of Narecc crests the last rise. They look up, and it is all they can do not to cower. It is dark as night in the shadow of the titan; it is disagreeably hot as well, and there is a reek of brimstone that makes their eyes water. But the men are doughty; they raise their spears, tighten their loincloths, stand in a line before their women. The little pot-bellied despot steps to the fore, clears his throat, opens his ample mouth… but the words will not come, and there is silence. His people are thoroughly cowed, they can do little but stare. The God-thing is a black wall a half-mile before them. No end to the hulk is discernible; it stretches interminably to either side, it is so lofty that craning one’s neck is not enough to take it all in. Its mighty surface is wrought of matter akin to gleaming obsidian, trellised and carved into a confounding grid of canyons, ridges, gorges, ovoid plateaux; the whole is interspersed with what look to be battlements, towers, ramparts, entire citadels. The clansmen stare at the fires that roar and rage and do battle across the boundless vertical plain of the behemoth’s hide; they stare at the smoke which shrouds it, the pinprick lights of amber – thousands, tens of thousands of them – that smoulder on in the gloom as if pupils of coal. As there is no question that the gods own this leviathan, there is likewise no question that it is dead. Its surface is pocked and scarred, ravaged by rents and fissures that gape as wide as valleys and plunge yet deeper, into realms of abyssal pitch… The clan of Narecc stares, and struggles to come to terms with the scale of it all. Their Chieftain, though, is of sterner stuff. He brandishes a finger and points to the right. Everyone snaps to it, and walks.


An afternoon’s march, and the rightmost bound of the God-thing is in sight. In this region the titan is vaguely cylindrical in form, tapering subtly as the last of it looms into view. By degrees they approach its very end – keeping a wary distance – and peer around the corner. What greets them is beyond what the lesser souls among them can bear. It is, nonetheless, precisely what the Chieftain seeks. There is a feral light in his eyes as he drives his people forth; he cuffs the children, jabs at the men, hisses abuse to all. They fear him, he sees – as they should. He has earned it. He lets them off only when they are huddled in terror a mere hundred feet before what he has already dubbed the Celestial Portal. For the God-thing’s retral quarter, it seems, is far from solid. A vast, open maw yawns in hideous, infernal majesty before them. It is fully a quarter-mile across; greater than three or four hundred yards down its throat, though, no light will intrude. Therein lurks a black with a life of its own, an agent more sinister than simple lightlessness. What they can see of it is lined with innumerable rows of charred teeth, each the height of a man. The rows file and spiral on into the bowels of the God-thing; there is no end to them, no telling of their design. Bass groans issue from the depths, deep and sonorous and mournful… they put the Chieftain in mind of the colossus said to dwell beneath Cavetown. And so Narecc quails before Doom incarnate. An infant whimpers, the women sob, the men cast their palms at the sky and ululate. The hogs snort and root and tug at their leashes, the hounds yelp… and the Chieftain stands as tall as his stature will permit. None of them, though, can know how small they truly are. They are specks lost amid the might of creation; they do not figure in the grand scheme of things.


The Chieftain trots forward, and does not look back. His reign is ending, and he wants a legacy. Upon these plains his days are numbered; he can feel it in his bones, can see it in the rheum of his eyes. He does not wish to die like those afore him, he does not want a stately pyre or a maiden to be torched with. Whatever awaits him in that Portal will herald a new age, an epoch of his ushering. Beginnings are endings by extension, and he will not miss this world when there is a new one to be had. Mother Terra has room for only so many souls – why wait for her to terminate his? The Chieftain is now twenty yards into the leviathan’s maw. His friends and minions stare wild-eyed at each other; they plead and wail and beckon at his retreating back. Then he vanishes behind a tooth, and they scramble to follow. Justin Tan


Eighteen How did everyone grow so tall, look so old suddenly? Leaving me behind, still a child. There is something about this world of theirs that keeps it in a photo, faces as big as a fingerprint

smiling, smiling away. Somehow it feels they’re not the ones trapped in a photo but I, unmoving, managing only a shot of hands, faces, feet in their flurry of movement. Lee Zhi Xin


Milestones & Beginnings Jill had never known anything else other than the race track. As far as she knew, since the beginning of her life, it was the very sole purpose of her existence. Like other professional racers, she was housed near the race track and had her own personal trainer, Mac. The life she lived as a racer was no doubt demanding, yet it thrilled her in many ways and she owed it to Mac, who had put her to race and had given her the chance to do what she was born to do. For that, she loved Mac dearly. Such was her life: the days consisting of endless rounds on the oval race track, pounding on the packed dirt under the sun, working against other racers. The nights where she dropped abruptly into the blissful abyss of deep sleep, burnt from the exhaustion of the day but raring to go the very next day. She had learnt that money was important to Mac and she was indispensible to him as a source of income. He worked her excessively hard and she reciprocated with such boundless, explosive energy summoned from the very core of her being and fuelled by her instinct and passion to run. Such passion for racing intensified when Mac showed—on rare occasions—some form of real affection towards her. Such times made her happier than the hollow praises she received when she clocked unprecedented timings and won him lofty sums of money. Those were the times where Mac was distracted by the roaring applause around the stadium, the trophy he was holding on her behalf and the prize money in the form of a large cheque. It made Jill sad to watch him counting money after a race while she waited patiently by his side for her drink of vitamin and glucose. But on the rare occasion when Mac caressed her head with his hand and


murmured low sweet words to her, she felt genuine affection and it strengthened her determination to do better to bring his hand back to her head once more in that gentle, sincere caress. Jill could see her life laid out in front of her—endless days galloping on the packed dirt of the race track; sprinting, chasing and winning. At least, that was what Jill imagined doing for the rest of her life with Mac. Yet fate, like life on the race track, was often cruel. The pain began deep in her joints which left her twitching in her sleep for nights on end, panting in silent agony. In the daytime it eased off and she was able to race, running as she did before. Nevertheless, the gnawing pain seeped gradually into the daytime as well, until an inevitable limp appeared in her lope as she went through her rounds on the race track. Mac’s mood worsened as her condition declined. His rising panic mirrored hers as the pain worsened. She began to taste the sting of his hand more frequently than the gentle caresses. The word “faster” haunted her, ringing in her ears even as Mac screamed the order mercilessly, day after day. Mac drove her harder and harder in his desperation. The deafening roar of applause from the crowds grew to be associated with other champions as she never progressed beyond the preliminary rounds. Still, Jill wasn’t trained to give up. With fiery optimism she tore through each race, allowing the thrill of running to numb her pain. But Jill could not battle the pain. One day Jill collapsed in a heap on the hard ground of the race track amidst a warm-up as the bone in her foreleg snapped under the strain of running. The other race dogs shot past her in a cloud of dust and wind. Jill’s instincts screamed in fury, but the pain of her broken bone screamed louder.


Jill felt Mac’s hands on her collar, pulling her to her up and leading her out of the race track where she fell, limp, to the ground. He squatted over her in silent contemplation while she whimpered in agony. Jill stared up into his eyes, searching for comfort. She found only cold resignation. People in white coats came to look at Jill in her kennel. Jill welcomed them because they lessened her pain with sharp needles. Sometimes Mac came with them and they held conversations in front of her kennel while she thumped her tail happily at Mac. “Your Greyhound has been overworked and underfed, Mr. Macgregor. I hope you realize that it is inhumane to drive them over their limits and that her injury has reached such a state due to your negligence.”

“I just want to know, can she race again?” Most of all, Jill loved the times when Mac visited her alone, though such times were rare, and though each time he came alone, he gazed at her and said nothing. “The test results are out, Mr. Macgregor; the dog has canine osteosarcoma.” “What is that? Is it curable?” “It is a form of bone cancer that affects mainly giant breeds. Due to her highly vigorous racing life, Jill is especially prone to it even though she is barely six years old. Broken bones are common in dogs with canine osteosarcoma due to the gradual replacement of normal bone with tumorous bone. I would recommend an amputation followed by a chemotherapy to


prevent metastasis. However, there isn’t a hundred percent guarantee of-” “Forget it. I cannot keep her.” Long sentences made no sense to Jill. She was used to short commands from Mac. Nevertheless, she was happy to hear Mac’s voice. Feeling the pain dim after her injection, she limped over to the door of her kennel to get a better look at Mac. There she sat on her haunches, gazing up at him, awaiting a familiar command from him. He did not turn his eyes to her. “She loves you a lot, Mr. Macgregor. She runs for you. Why don’t you consider amputating her affected leg and finding a home for her retirement…” “Look, you must understand that I race Greyhounds for a living. They cannot become a burden to me. I would rather use the money for her amputation to purchase a new greyhound. The beginning of a disease is a sad milestone in a race dog’s life; it is the beginning of an end. She is of no use to me anymore.” Reluctantly, Mac reached through the bars to caress her head. Jill’s heart leaped with canine joy at his acknowledgement of her presence. Surely it wouldn’t be long before he took her running again! “Let her sleep.” Jovita Wong


Awakening Awakened moment: Loud cry in the silence— Cymbals resonate.

Amanda Ho


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Issue One  

Debut Issue of Symbal on the theme of Milestones & Beginnings

Issue One  

Debut Issue of Symbal on the theme of Milestones & Beginnings

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