Writing Exercise 1 for Words Of My Body (WOMB) – an acting workshop at HCAC.
Prem Do you remember when we used to hang out almost every day after school? We’d play these educational computer games — there was this chameleon one that taught us how to spell, the tongue would extend and reach for the flies with letters on them as we typed, and the faster we typed, the faster the chameleon would eat. … That was funny to watch. We should Google it and see if we can find it again. Oh, and do you remember how your mum would insist we leave the door open whenever I came over? In retrospect, she was probably worried that we’d be up to something. You know, “boy and girl cannot be alone inside the same room.” It was probably also why she never let you come over to my house. (laughing) But we were kids lah. My body wasn’t at that stage. Plus I didn’t know about sex until I was 14. Late bloomer, I know.
Do you remember that last birthday party at Windermere? There was a barbecue, and we were at the playground. You tried to guess what gift I got you — I remember the way your eyes widened with shock, then narrowed with confusion when I told you it was (gesturing) this big, soft, and pink.
“But I hate pink,” you said.
“But you’ll like this one,” I insisted.
When you opened the gift, you just stared at it. It was a soft toy that looked like Hamtaro, but pink. No reaction. “Do you like it?” I asked carefully.
“Yes!! It’s so round!” You finally screamed, squeezing it tight.
And do you remember that same night when I told you I was migrating to South Korea? I didn’t know how to break it to you ‘cos I didn’t wanna see you sad.
“Will you be back?” you asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Maybe after a long time.”
You just shrugged your shoulders and told me to call you when you were back. (laughing) And there I was, so worried for nothing. You never fail to surprise me.
Speaking of calls, do you remember how we’d talk on the phone for hours? Sometimes we wouldn’t even speak, just sit there with the phone to our ears, watching t.v.
I remember the time when you called and said you had something to tell me, then spent the next 30 minutes squealing and stuttering. Finally, you said that you liked me. And then you hung up. (laughing) What the heck? I tried to call you back but you refused to pick up until the second or third time! And even then, you were way too shy to talk about it again. There was no way I could persuade you, man.
(shaking his head) So stubborn. Just like at recess. You’d always eat the same food, remember? Rice, with two pieces of fried fish, and one hashbrown. Every day. You’d never grow sick of it, and when the stall auntie told you to be careful ‘cos it wasn’t healthy, you still stuck to it. You had your own way of doing things – no one could change your mind once you set it.
Which is why I find it strange. If you remember, that time the whole class was lined up before recess and Ms Low was doing a headcount, you guessed every single girl in the class as the person that I liked, except yourself.
Don’t you find yourself — well, attractive?
Because I find you wonderful, kind and fun to be around.
And I know you might’ve changed since then — I know I have — but this is the way I’ll always remember you. Even through all those years that we lost contact, I find myself thinking about you every time I faced some difficulty in life. Your strong, unwavering spirit, and your gentle eyes.
This is the impact you’ve left on me. I’ll never forget that.
Prem is the name of a best friend that I made in primary school.
In light of all my struggles with subsequent friendships, I feel like I’m clutching my memory of him more dearly than ever, enshrining it, keeping it safe from cynicism, hatred and doubt. But time has its way of percolating through bedrocks, morphing and shaping our memories. I’m sure we had our disagreements, but they seem to escape me now.
I surprised myself by crying at the end of the writing. It’s weird because in crafting Prem’s character, I was using our shared experiences as fodder for imagining his character’s motives (i.e. did he still have feelings for me after all this time? Was that the reason that he kept asking me if I remembered all these things, was he anxious to find out if he mattered to me as much as I did, to him?) but I also realised that views of my own worth – as a human making significant impact on people/the world, whether I was doing anything worthwhile, being a good friend etc. – were seeping into the piece.
And I wondered if Prem had been able to pick up on my insecurities back then. Even at that age, I was constantly worried about seeking approval and being validated. I don’t know why.
If he did, maybe this would be similar to what he’d say in response?