continuation of issue 3
what is the next one is what
I AM HERE, SITTING IN THE BLEAK ROOM. THE BEAUTIFUL, SELF-POSESSIVE YOUNG WOMAN IS ASKING ME QUESTIONS. SHE IS A GOOD INTERVIEWER. SHE IS IN RED SHIRT. AT THE SAME TIME I AM THERE, SITTING ON THE FLAT GROUND OF PHAYARGYI TAUNG. MY FRIEND IS TELLING ME A STORY IN HIS MIND. MY FRIEND IS A GOOD STORY-TELLER. HE IS IN WHITE SHIRT.
Maybe I have a tragic past. Maybe something bad happened to me recently, in a certain past. Yet I have no idea of what it was. I know nothing but it might be something tragic. Now something is happening to me in the present. I can’t deny the fact that I am in this bleak room, while I can’t say no to the fact that I am somewhere else with my friend. Am I in the room? Of course, I am. Am I somewhere else? Surely, I am. Both are right. Both are happening to me at the same time. It is hard for you to believe this, because your knowledge tells you that this is untrue, unbelievable. Your belief relies mainly on what you have been taught or guided, shaped or molded. To revolt against such institutionalized belief demands enough courage. A coward will never say no to the institutionalized belief.
Things happen so fast and things which happened to us were unpredictable, like wayward wind. I don’t know what happened to me. But I know what happens to me now. As I have mentioned above, now I am sitting with a young woman in the bleak room. Now I am sitting with my friend, whose name is Ba Kaung. Everything is vivid. My friend is telling me a story in his mind.
“It is about a boy.” My friend starts another story. “He is poor, but bright. That is why the villagers dub him Phoe Nyan Kaung Lay (Little Bright Boy). He likes his new name. In reality, he is not only bright but helpful.”
“Your story is like a fable.” I interrupt.
“Exactly. It is a fable or fable-like story, like that of Kafka.”
“Who is Kafka?”
“A German-language writer.”
“He was a Germen?”
“No. He was Jew. I have told you about him several times. Do you forget?”
I shrug my shoulders.
“Oh, terribly sorry. You know. I am not as bright as you are. I have a poor memory.”
He sighs as if feeling disappointed. His eyes reveal that he is not disappointed.
“Ah. A very good reason. It works.” He gives a short glance. ‘But let me advice you to apply a brand new reason.”
“A brand new reason?”
“Yeah, a brand new reason.”
“Ok, ok, I will.”
Then he continues telling his fable-like story. He is always earnest to tell such stories. Sometimes he shows me what he has written. His writing is good. It is incredible that a high school student can write such good thing. However, he never entered the essay competition in our school. The odd thing was that I did not enter the essay competition in our school, because I am very bad at writing. But oddly he did not, because he, unlike me, is good at writing. He never told me why not. And I never asked him why not. He is a talkative boy while he has a story to tell me. But he is a silent boy when he has no story to tell me or he has no will to tell me any story. He dwells in his thoughts as he is alone.
He breaks silence.
“The boy wanted to help his poor villagers. And he always tried to find out the way to help his villagers. He spent most of his time, thinking about how he will able to help his poor villagers. He had a firm belief that he would be able to help his villagers one day. He, however, did not know how.”
“How did a poor boy help other people?” I ask.
His face shines. ”Ah, a very nice question. A small thing in my story raises a question in your mind after all. That is the point.’
‘What?’ I can’t get what he means. When I look at him, I see a mysterious expression on his face.
‘Ok, let me ask you why you ask me so?’
‘Because I don’t believe …’
‘That is enough.’ He interrupts before I finish my sentence. ‘That is the point. This shows that you can’t accept something unreasonable and illogical. The fact that a poor boy would help his poor villagers is unreasonable and illogical. You see this. And you sense that this is the weak point of the story. In other words, your rationality warns you not to accept what is unreasonable or illogical.’
‘You have been taught directly or indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly, willingly or unwillingly not to believe easily in what is beyond your ability to reason.’ He pauses and studies me just as a scientist studies an object. ‘My story is illogical, I admit. But you know. Sometimes things happen illogically. ‘
I nod and parrot his words: ‘Sometimes things happen illogically.’
He is right. Sometimes things happen illogically. Reasoning is a wrong code for the thing which is beyond reason. Sometimes what really happens to us is totally different from what we really can reason. Events in the history prove that this theory is true. In Myanmar modern history, we learn about thirty comrades. No one knew beforehand or could not reason that one of thirty comrades would become cruel dictator and would ruin the whole Myanmar fourteen years later after independence. It is said that the would-be dictator was not among the would-be thirty comrades who would take the last ship leaving for Hainan Island on March 27 1941. Unfortunately, he was substituted for the other Thakhin who was chosen, but could not come for his sudden severe illness. It was in this way that he became one of the thirty comrades. Later he became one of the worst dictators in the world. He imprisoned everyone who he thought to be a threat to his power. He did not spare even the members of thirty comrades and their family members. What did let him do this? God? No. I don’t think so. If so, what was it? David was anointed by God to defeat a giant warrior, Goliath of Gath. By what was he anointed to turn our country into the abyss of poverty and illiteracy? In Myanmar modern history, March 2, 1962 means something horrible. It damaged Myanmar political system. It damaged Myanmar economic system. It damaged Myanmar education system. It ruined everything. Our country was popular among countries of South—East Asia then. But it ruined the popularity. Our country was famous for its educational system among the countries of South-east Asia. Incredibly, it turned this fame and prestige of our nation upside down. Our nation lost everything good.
Nothing can erase or conceal this inglorious episode in our history. This inglorious episode in our history will always haunt us. What did let this happen to our nation? What did let the dictator do this? Surely I don’t know. We don’t know. You don’t know. Sometimes our limited ability to know things hurts us.
Don’t you think it is mysterious that I know Myanmar modern history and her main characters? Am I a historian? Was I a history student? Am I studying Myanmar history? Any way it is certain that I am so much interested in history. To me history is a huge novel about what really done by the real people and what really happened to the real humans in a certain past. Reading history gives me pleasure and things for contemplation. In truth, the history we are taught in our school is just a false history, which is written by frightened scholars. Therefore, we lost the precious chance to be familiar with the real history of our country. What we really learnt from school differs from what really happened in the history. Hence it can be concluded that I earned these knowledge not from our school textbooks. Maybe it is my history teacher, who has read the books on the real history of our country. Majority of books which say about reality were banned during the reign of BSPP, because they can affect its power. My history teacher is a good speaker. I admire him so much.
‘And one day the boy had to clean the store room of the monastery in his village. There in the store room, he found a huge box.’
My friend’s words take me back from my wayward thoughts. I am not in the thoughts about history. I am now with my friend and with his story.
Before my friend saying another sentence, I signal him to pause.
‘Something wrong?’ He asks.
‘No. Something missing.’ I correct.
‘Ok, go ahead.’
‘Your poor boy had to clean the store room of the monastery in his village.’
I pause and check him.
‘Yeah, he had to.’ He replies.
And I add. ‘And he found a huge box in the store room.’
‘Of course, he found it there.’
‘And my question is: Was he the first one who had to clean the store room?’
My friend’s eyes twinkle with the pleasure of realization of something.
‘Oh, I see.’ He bursts out.
‘You are very bright guy. So I know that you will see this. If your poor boy was not the first one who had to clean the store room, the first boy who had to clean the room must had seen the box. Ok? Don’t you feel that something lacks?
‘Cool.’ He exclaims. Then he returns to his story.
‘He was not the first boy who had to clean the room. He was not sure who did clean the room first. He was not sure how many people and how many times the room was cleaned before. He, however, was sure that he was the first boy who noticed the box. Here you can ask why the boy was sure that he was the first boy who noticed the box. Simple. It was because he was that he was the first boy who noticed the box. He wondered why the other guys who cleaned the room did not notice the box. Was it because the box invisible to them? Or was it because something made them blind for a short moment when they were near the box? There were many possibilities.
He was not a curious boy. He never tried to know anything he should not know. He was not a disobedient boy. He always obeyed every code of conduct. He never touched anything without knowledge of its owner. He never committed even a small immoral act. But now he was aware of his intense curiosity to see what were kept in the box. He tried to suppress his temptation to open the box and see the stuff in it as far as he could, yet he failed. Something inside or outside his mind and body seemed to be so powerful that he went under control of it.
‘He opened it on impulse. Unconsciously, his eyes fell on something in the box. It seemed that a certain spirit commanded him to take it. He could not resist the order. And he did as ordered. It was impossible for him to rebel against something powerful. He held the thing in his hand. He did not know what it was. He did not know that it was called ‘scroll’, because he had never seen a scroll, because he had never heard the word ‘scroll’.’
‘But you know the word ‘scroll’.’
‘Yeah, I do.’
‘And have you ever seen the scroll?’
‘Of course, I have.’
‘That is why you use this word in your story. Right?’
My friend nods, yet says nothing.
My friend was born in a village 100 miles from our small town. His family moved to our small town when he passed the fourth standard. In his village, there was no middle school. He would have to walk to another big village where there is a middle school. There is a creek between his village and the other village. The students have to cross the brook to go to school. In the rainy season, it is very dangerous to cross the creek. Finally his parents decided to move the town. They bought a house nearby ours. In this way we two became neighbors, friends and school mates. He has lived in the village for nearly nine years, he has vast knowledge about the village. And maybe it is in the monastery in his village that he saw the scroll. I don’t ask him about the scroll he saw. What was written on the scroll he saw? Surely it might be interesting. But I am not a very curious boy like he is, so I can suppress my curiosity easily. I have never seen the scroll. The elders told me about some scrolls. Ancient Buddhist monks wrote Buddhist teachings on the scroll. What’s more some ancient scholars recorded their ideas by writing on the scroll. So the scroll played a very important role in the ancient tradition of Myanmar literature.
‘He saw some patterns with grids, letters, words and numbers. He did not know what the words meant. He did not understand what the numbers refer to. The words and number cannot be said to have no meanings and qualities because he did not know their meanings. Though he had no idea of what they meant, they surely bear their own meanings and qualities. Any way it is sure that every letter, every word, every number and every line captivated him so much that he could not help scanning them. The more he scanned them the more he was captivated by them. Maybe it was because something powerful was manipulating his mind and body.
‘What is something powerful?’ I ask.
He gives a hearty laugh. ‘Something powerful is something powerful.’
”There might be no answer which is better than this one.’ I remark.
‘His eyes fell on a pattern with some simple grids and numbers, yet he did not know what it was.’
‘A pattern with some grids and numbers. What is it?’
‘Don’t you know what it is?’
‘No. I don’t.’
‘Have you ever seen such thing before?’
‘That is the point. From me you have heard the phrase ‘a pattern with some simple grids and numbers,’ but you don’t know what it is. Simply, it is because this is the first time you heard this. Simply, it is because you have no knowledge about this. In other words, there is no data about such thing in your memory. It is certain that you put any data about this into your memory.’
I am silent, not because I have nothing to say, but because I have many things to say. I am choosing the right words to speak.
I try to analyze the phrase ‘a pattern with some simple grids and numbers’. Surely I am familiar with each word. I know the word ‘pattern’. I know the word ‘grid’. I know the word ‘number’. But I don’t know what the phrase means. To be familiar with the words in this phrase is one thing and not to know what the phrase means is the other thing.
‘The boy also had no knowledge about this: it was the first time for him to see this.’
‘You don’t want to let the boy have knowledge about that, do you?’
‘No need to know what it is.’ He replies.
His reply is not the answer to my question. I shrug my shoulders. ‘You don’t let the boy know what it was. Similarly you don’t let me know what it is. ‘
‘No, I don’t.’
‘You don’t think it is unfair, do you?’
‘I am the writer of this story. So have the right to do whatever I want in my story.’
‘You mean you are the God for you story, don’t you?’
‘Sometimes I am. Sometimes I am not.’
A brief silence.
‘The boy tried to commit the pattern to memory, without knowing that the ogre warding it would help him with miraculous powers. He has an excellent memory, so it is not hard for him to memorize the pattern. He tried to draw the pattern in his mind time several times until he was sure that he would be to draw it by heart. ‘
‘You use the word ‘ogre’.’
‘Why don’t you use the word ‘genie’?’
‘I don’t know why. But I feel that the word ‘ogre’ is more suitable in my story.’
‘Ok, let it be. And may I know whether your ogre is like the genie in the fable ‘Aladdin and Wonderful Lamp’?’
He shakes his head. Then he frowns. And then he says thoughtfully. ‘Ah, I am sorry. It is very early to say about it.’
There was a long silence. He is looking somewhere. I can swear that he is thinking about his story. His story is just beginning. He must tell how the pattern works, how the ogre appears. Thought the boy has committed the pattern to mind, he has no idea of when he draws it and on which he must draw it. He is not even sure whether it is dangerous or helpful. There must be a certain hidden cause behind his finding the pattern. It might be a well-designed plan. The problem is that he does not know what kind of plan it is. Good or bad. Destructive or productive. In IT terms, he must activate the pattern by drawing it on something first.
A long silence. I love it. Sometimes I think that sometimes we need silence, because sometimes silence brings us different types of excellent ideas. Now both of us are silent. Now we two are sitting without saying anything. He goes on writing his unfinished story in his mind. So he needs silence. I am not writing anything in my mind. But I also need silence, because I love silence. This place is silence (I think I have told you this), that is the key reason I like this place. From this place I can get freedom from urban noise. This means that I am free from urban noise or urban noise can’t torture my ears and mind. Besides, it is pleasant to gaze at the scene of my little town from here. I come here for freedom from urban noise only, and my friend comes here not only for freedom from urban noise but for thoughts. I am sorry, I can tell you nothing more than that this is a quiet place, the fresh air here refreshes us and that the touch of breeze drives worries and anxiety out of our mind. I don’t know how meters high this hill. No roof, no wall here. That is the other reason that I love this place.
We see other people here and there. Some are having a hearty conversation. Some are sitting still, deep in thoughts. I don’t know what they are thinking. I am not the one who can see the thoughts in others’ minds. I have heard about those who, with their psychic power, can read the others’ mind. Two or three years ago I had a crazy idea to have such power because I want to know what other people are thinking. Later, I abandoned my idea.
My friend has probing eyes, good memory and great power of observation. All these qualities are those that I lack. I, however, never coveted such things. And so you may take me an idiot. He is lanky. I am not short, yet he is nearly four inches taller than I am. He seems to be older than he really is. It might be because he always buries himself in serious thoughts, I think. But I am not sure.
We are not talking about our future plans. I have no future plan: I feel that future is something full of various possibilities. I have a view that to live with a future plan is just to live in a fantasy world. However, I don’t let my friend know this because this can make him dejected. I don’t want to make my friend demoralized. I want him to feel hopeful with his dreams. For me to live without any future plan is free. I don’t mean that I have enough courage to face any hardship of the future. I mean that I don’t want myself not to be the prisoner of my own plans. However, I don’t say that to have a future plan is good or bad. I don’t say that your future plan is your prison cell. Your future plan can be a fantastic world for you. Perhaps it is a hope with which you live all the time. Your future plan is your future plan. It means something else for you. I have no right to say that your future is good or bad or that you should have or should not have a future plan. That is your right, your choice. Not my right, not my choice.
When I was in middle school, I was asked: ‘What will you want to be when you are grown up?’ For me no need to think about my aim two times and I answered easily and quickly. I was surprised when the other students laughed at my simple answer. My answer was: ‘Nothing, Sayarma.’ (Burmese students dub a female teacher ‘Sayarma’.) At the time I did not realize why my answer made them laugh. To me my answer was sensible: to them my answer, silly. Then I had no idea why they thought my answer ridiculous. I thought that my demeanor in the class then seemed to be ridiculous. My thought was totally wrong. Now I do know why.
Their answers were so simple and easy that I can remember them well. Some answered that they wanted to be engineers. Some answered that they wanted to be doctors. Some answered that they wanted to be military officers. I had no idea why they had such things in their minds. Who did put such funny things into their minds? But they also seem to feel that the things in my mind were funny, and the things in their mind were great.
The roar filled the classroom. Only when the teacher beat the blackboard with the stick of cane in her hand as the sign of warning, laugher stopped. Though everyone laughed at my answer, a student remained silent. It is Ba Kaung. I saw he give me thumbs up: he liked my answer. Their response to my word could do nothing to me. I thought that maybe they were wondering what on earth I was doing. To their eyes, I might be a queer, abnormal
creature or an alien. I must admit that I felt slightly uncomfortable in their presence. But I felt neither ashamed nor embarrassed. I felt neither depressed nor inferior. But I could not help asking myself why they don’t accept the fact that a person can live without any idea of his future plan.
‘Bravo! You are really great,’ praised Ba Kaung on the way to our homes. If I remember is right, at the time we were in sixth standard. Friendship between us had been rooted firmly. He has no school mate but me and I had school mate but him then. Later some students try to be friend with us. We don’t like to be friends with other boys. So you may assume that we are weird.
I shrugged my right shoulder, and smiled.
‘I am great. Why?’
‘You have courage to divulge your idea,’ he remarked. ‘It is a challenging job.’
‘Very simple. I just told the truth,’ I replied. ‘I have no idea of what I want to be. And I don’t want to say that I want to be a doctor or an engineer, because I don’t want to be a doctor or an engineer. That is all.’
‘I know,’ he said. ‘To tell something true or to tell something false is not easy. Both demand courage.’
‘Both demand courage.’ I said, echoing his words.
He is right. However, when I declared my idea in the class, it was necessary for me to summon any courage. I did it simply. And I asked myself why people need courage to tell truth in their hearts. I did not remember my friend’s answer. (My friend has no other friend. It is not because he is uppity but because he does not want to have many friends.
‘What is your answer?’
‘I am not sure what I want to be. But I am sure that I am happy to write stories of people who I know and who I don’t know.’
‘Wow, fantastic! You answered like that?’
‘Not like that. I answered: ‘Sorry, Sayarma, I am not ready to answer. Yet I am sure it might be something special.’ And the teacher was surprised at my answer.’
‘That is not the thing she hoped.’ I concluded.
‘Surely, she hoped something else.’ He shrugged his right shoulder.
‘Something what? Something good?’
He does not give any answer to my question. And I try to find an answer to my question. Something good is too formal. The word ‘good’ cannot be put in a fixed definition. That is why something good has no exact meaning.
In reality we have never seen a writer. In our small town, there is no accomplished writer who can inspire him to write. He wants to write stories without anyone to inspire him to do so. Why? Perhaps it is his basic instinct that inspires him to write. This is the easiest answer.
I have no dream for my future. However, my parents have special dream for future. My father is a carpenter and my mother, a hawker: their income is so small and so unstable that they can’t afford to buy me even a bicycle. And I have to walk to the school. I must confess that I envy the other students who bike to school. In fact, I am not the only student who has to walk to school. There are other students, including my friend, Ba Kaung. I must admit that I am not a dutiful, clever son, but I am sure I understand them well. I never let them know that I want a bike. I don’t want them feel sad for they can’t buy me a bike.
As I’ve said, my parents have special dream for my future. They both have no good education. But they want me to be educated. In reality they don’t know what a real education is. The education they know is having a well-paid job and rank which can impress the other people. They want me to be a teacher or an engineer or an army officer. They don’t know that our education system is something destroyed intentionally and is the lowest level among the neighboring countries, even if I earn a certain degree from a certain university, I will not be an educated person. I learn from my teacher’s parents that the education system of our country was better than the neighboring countries. It is hard for me to believe it. After the military coup, our country turned into dictatorship and the country’s education system changed. Educated persons were tortured. From then onwards, education became the synonym of cunning. Majority of so-called graduated persons educated by BSPP’s universities became special idiots, who would produce a new generation of identical idiots. I will become one of those generation, nothing more than that. My simple parents, having no knowledge about the weakness of current education system, admire any degree.
I am not sure what I will be in the future. I have no prescient wisdom. I have no idea of what I want to be. I am not ambitious. I am not interested in teaching. To me teaching is very boring. I know what an engineer is because I found engineers in the construction site where my father works. Their jobs are to guide the workers like my father. I always saw them being busy with a file in which some sheets of papers are kept. Sometimes they open their files to order the workers what to do. And I ask my father why the engineers always hold their files all the time like that.
‘They are young engineers. They have no enough experience.’
I was not satisfied with my father’s answer.
‘Anyway, you should try to be an engineer.’
‘Because an engineer is superior to a worker, like me.’
My father’s answer is so simple that it is imprinted in my mind. I don’t tell my father that I do not want to be an engineer because I don’t want him to be disappointed.
I am not a bright student. I am not good at sport. I am not good at mathematics or geometric. I am not good at writing composition. What I am good at is that I know that I am not good at anything. I have neither skill nor ability which can impress others. It is not surprising that I am not the one of the outstanding students of our schools. Sometimes I happened to ask myself why I was born as such a stupid guy. Ba Kaung always counsels me that I have a certain ability. The problem is that I don’t know what it is. He assures that one day I myself will become see this ability. I am not sure whether his word is right or wrong. I am sure that his word consoles me.
In contrast to me, my counselor was born with brilliant mind and memory. He has good ideas. He has good skill of writing. He can try to be the best in our school, but he never tried. He is good at writing. Yet he never wrote a good composition. He can try to impress the other students. He never tried. When I asked him why, his answer was simple: ‘I don’t want to be the best. That’s all.’
I imagined what it is like to be the best, yet I failed. Even now I can’t imagine what is really is.
We both have our own problems of life. Anyway we are very lucky because we can go to school. I have ever seen some boys of my own age working as day-hired laborers. In a construction site my father works, I met three boys of my own age. They are laborers. They have no chance to go to school. One of them never had a chance to go to school. To him life of a student is like something in a fairy tale. It can be said that the other two boys are luckier than he was. They had chances to go to school. They, however, had to leave from school early, even before they had not finished their primary school. Their education ended early in their childhood. Why? Is it because their fate? Is it because the country’s fate? Is it because the government’s intentional weakness. Here I am just a questioner. So please don’t hope any answer from me.
They looked at me with wide eyes of admiration. To their eyes, I am an educated boy with a bright future. To my surprise, one of those three boys whose name is Minn Lwin is a bookish boy. I am unfortunate, because I have no bike like other students, but I am fortunate, because I have chance to go to school, unlike the three boys.
He reads a lot. He knows some Myanmar famous writers. Once I paid a visit to his house with my counselor. I found a small bookshelf full of book in his makeshift house in a shantytown above the rubble. He himself made this small bookshelf with the sheets of woods. The bookshelf has thirty books. It is very small amount of books for a writer, but a very huge amount of books for a boy laborer. I have no book but textbooks. It is a puzzle to me why he is so much absorbed in literature.
”All these books are mine.’ He said, pointing to the books on the small shelf. I saw something bright in his eyes. Maybe it is pride. He is like a wealthy person who shows his poor friend several valuable properties he owns. In reality, all those books were his valuable properties.
To my astonishment I complimented him on his love of book. ”Oh, amazing. You impress me much.’ I said. ‘It is incredible. I have nothing to read but my textbooks.’
He scratched his head with his right hand and smiled. He seemed to have no word to say.
I gave a light laugh. ‘To be honest, I am a little lazy to read books; especially I don’t want to read big books.’
He gave no conclusion, no remark. He was silent. But his eyes told me that he was thinking something serious. In a thoughtful manner, he was silent.
‘You bought all those?’
‘Of course, I did, with some of my wages.’
I don’t want to know the amount of his daily wage. I want to know the reason he became a bookworm a voracious reader. In fact some reasons are hidden. In other words it can be said that some reasons are beyond the horizon of our knowledge, which is limited to a certain degree. That is too bad. Why are the horizons of our knowledge limited? Does this imply that we do not own our horizon of knowledge or that our horizon of knowledge is under the control of something?
‘Wow, I never thought to buy a book. But my friend bought.’ I said, gesturing towards Ba Kaung.
‘Oh, you also love books.’
My friend nods.
‘Why do you read a lot?’ I ask the boy.
‘Because I can’t help reading,’ he said. Simple is his answer.
He is a scrawny boy. He is weak physically, yet his mind is strong. His eyes are very sharp and bright.
There, in my town, is no big book shop which sells such books. He must go to Pyay to buy these books.
‘Did you go to Pyay to buy these books?’
‘Of course, I did.’
I shrugged my shoulders.
Compared to them, I am very lucky. And it is surprising that misfortune in his life can’t aggravate Minn Lwin.
‘Do you want to be a writer?’ I asked.
He did not answer at once. He thought a few seconds. ‘The man in the book shop asked me the same question. And gave the same answer: I am not sure. The man said that a writer must be an avid reader. I think he is right. I must admit that I want other people know about our lives, about how we live, about how we work, about how we face hardships.’
Later we became friends. We shared our experiences. Ba Kaung and I told him about our experience in school. He told us about his experience in his work. Sometimes he told us about how he felt.
‘Sometimes I miss my birth parents,’ he confides to us, gazing into a vast space. ‘Whenever I try to visualize myself living with them, I feel upset. It is unusual, I know. In fact, I should be happy. I have no idea of why.’ His voice sank.
In fact, it was not the first time he told me about his life. We know everything about his life because he has told us everything. We two are his friends and confidents. The images vaporize slowly.
Can I believe everyone in this bleak room? I feel unsafe. I feel that I am being watched by my foes. I want to confide to someone everything I undergo now. But I have no confidence. I have no intimate friend who will help me, who will advise me, who will save me. So I must save myself. I myself try to escape from this room and from this people. It is hard to figure out who will start to hurt me. Everyone is like robots, but not like aggressive robots. No sign of amenity on their expression. They are just working their works, without saying anything. Is even saying anything danger? And I can do nothing but to wait and see. I can’t predict from which side my enemy will appear.
You can say that they are not my enemies, they are just my colleagues. They are the ones who work together with me for a movie. The problem is that I don’t know them. However, I feel that I know a young camera person well. She is a young woman with red hair. She is about eighteen. She is a poet.
”I like your poems,’ I tell her. She seems to be surprised at my words.
‘I never wrote a poem.’ She says.
I know well that she is lying. She is concealing something real. Why? Is she being forced not to tell me truth?
‘May I know your name?’ I ask.
She looks at the interviewer, who nods towards her.
‘I am Su Myat.’
I am happy to see that what I think is right. ‘I have read all of your poems, Su Myat.’
‘I am Su Myat, but I am not the poet Su Myat.’ She seems to be annoyed. She is in a tense mood. I repent to insist that she is the poet. It seems that my words reveal her secrete. Do my words threaten her security? I swear that I don’t mean to put her into trouble.
The young woman asks me some questions about some foreign films I like. Strangely, some foreign movies enter my mind. Strangely, I find myself analyzing a foreign movie. She listens to everything I say, and writes down notes on her laptop. Why do I have such good knowledge about the movies? Maybe it is because I am a movie lover. This answer is not perfect, satisfactory. The way I analyze the movie shows that I am more than a movie lover. It suggests that I am a film director or an actor or a film analyst.
‘Do you think your analytical knowledge on film is helpful for you to act?’ She asks.
I think I say yes.
‘Ok, now it is time to say about your experience as an actor.’ She says.
The phrase ‘it is time to’ reminds me something to do. In my mind eyes, I see a young lady who is waiting for someone in the city park. The young lady is my lover Lay Yu Nwe, who teaches English at a college in a remote town. And someone whom she is waiting for is I. Last night, on the phone, she told me to have a chat over coffee in the evening. She likes coffee. She is ten years younger than I am. she is more patient than I am. She is more generous than I am. She is a book worm. Especially, she loves mysterious novels.
Two days ago I picked her up at the railway station. She came to Rangoon to attend an educational program for college teachers. She will stay at the teachers’ hostel for three months.
‘This program will be very helpful for us.’ She remarked.
‘How can you say like that?’ I asked.
‘I have read some facts about this program. So I can say.’
On the way to the hostel, we talked about our future.
‘I think at the end of this year, we will be able to make a wedding.’ She confirmed.
The end of her educational program is the end of this year. Thus, we surely can plan our wedding at the end of the program.
‘I want a quiet, small wedding.’ She said.
‘Me, too.’ I said. I was not telling lie. I was not saying something false. I was telling the truth. I really want a quiet wedding, like her.
‘I want to invite only a few close friends. And you?’ She questioned.
‘It is very tiresome to say thanks, thanks, thanks, to so many attendees in the wedding.’
We have the same idea for our wedding, because we share the same views on everything. And sometimes I wonder why we have the same views on everything. There must be a certain hidden reason behind this.
When we met first in a café in the town where her college exists, we talked about some mysterious novels. Maybe it was three or four years ago. I can’t remember the year exactly, but I can tell you exactly that it was the most beautiful and brightest day I have ever seen or experienced in my life. She was in pink blouse. I thanked her in my mind for she did not wear the red blouse, because red is the color I hate most. I have no reason for hating red. The only reason is that I hate red because I hate red and because I hate red I hate red.
”Life itself is mysterious.’ She gave an introductory remark.
‘Maybe,’ I replied, with a nod.
”Not maybe. Exactly it is,” she confirmed her statement. Then she repeated the same words: ”Life itself is mysterious.” Something in her bright eyes uncovered her strong faith in her words.
I shrugged my shoulders. I had nothing to argue with her. It made no sense to argue with her. I knew well the reason why she has such faith. Once she told me what happened to her in her previous life. I ever heard such stories of reincarnation, but I never heard such story from the person who can remember his or her previous life. In this very life she was born as the fifth daughter in a small town. However, in her previous life she was born as the only daughter of a wealthy family in colonial days in Rangoon, and died as a mother of three daughters and as a grandmother of six grandchildren in the age of dictatorship. She was an educated woman, who taught English at Rangoon University. While U Nu was the Prime Minister of Burma, she, as a university teacher, led a peaceful and comfortable life. But after the military coup, she was no longer a university teacher, and her peaceful and comfortable life ended. Everything changed. Several kinds of hardships entered her life. Her husband was arrested, and never appeared again. She remembers that she died at eighty, yet she can’t identify the date of her death in previous life. However it is clear that she died some or a few years before 1988 revolution, because when 1988 revolution broke out, she was five. She was born in 1983, and it is a puzzle for her concerning with the life between her death as a grandmother of six grandchildren and her rebirth as the sixth daughter. There might be other life or no other life before she was born in 1983. She cannot remember the gap between her death and this very life. Was she straying here and there as a soul for a few or some or many years?
‘I don’t remember my daughters’ names, but I remember where they live. My parents went there, yet they did not contact with my daughters. In reality, everything I am telling you now is what I learnt from my parents. I am sure even whether all these are true or not. ‘
”My parents went to Rangoon, and investigated everything I told them. At the time I was young, may be five or six.
‘When I started to talk, I told my mother that in my previous life I was an educated woman. My mother was so much interested in what I said and she asked my name in previous life. So I said, ‘My name was Tin Mya Yi then.’ My mother burst out: her name is Tin Mya Yi, too.’
When she was telling about her past life, I was asking myself many questions about life after death, about reincarnation, about the theory of the cycle of rebirths. I don’t want to say no to the theory of life cycle, of the cycle of rebirths, but I am not ready to say yes to the fact that a person can remember his or her previous life.
Her parents documented everything she told them about her previous life. Everything she told me about her previous life is from the book her parents documented as she had said. Majority of people who can remember their previous lives can no longer remember anything about their previous lives after they are ten or so. So it is unusual that she can remember even when she was over ten.
When she told me about her previous life, I did not sense that she was telling me a lie, I did sense she was telling me the truth.
‘They seemingly are like motion pictures in my mind. When I read the book about my past life, I was amazed. I don’t want to believe that it is true. Yet I feel that it is true. It does not matter whether we believe or not.’ She said.
I said nothing. My mind went back to the time when I told her that I love her. Our beginning was very simple. Like in a love story I have ever read, we two were introduced my friend groom in his wedding. We did not know each other before we were introduced by my friend. She did not know that I exist in this country, in this continent, in this earth, in this world. Similarly, I did not know that she exists in this country, in this continent, in this earth, in this world.
What did make us meet in my friend wedding? Was it a well-planned program? Who did plan? I am not sure whose plan this was. However, I am sure this is not my plan. If this is the very beginning of a well-designed plan for two of us, there must be other episode. I don’t know the other parts of the plan.
Before being introduced to her, I had no idea that I would be introduced to her. After we had been introduced, I had no idea that we would fall in love each other and became lovers one day. I could not imagine why I paid a visit to my friend’s native town and happened to attend his wedding. He did not inform me about his wedding. Was it miracle? No. this is just a simple event.
‘This is Lay Yu Nwe, a college teacher.’ My friend introduced me to her.
She smiled at me. I noticed that her smile made me feel something which I can express what it was or what it was like. Everything stopped: time stopped: space stopped: actions stopped: My thoughts stopped. Everything was silent.
‘She is an avid reader. Like you.’ The bride said, gesturing Lay Yu Nwe.
We talked about the books we have read. She has a very good memory and analytical mind. From our first meeting, we became close friends. Strangely, we have the same likes and dislikes, the same view of history, the same view of politics. The only difference between us is sex. She is a woman. I am a man. That’s all.
‘Let me inform you.’ My friend said, looking at Lay Yu New, and then gesturing towards me, he said. ‘He is very pigheaded.’
‘Wow, really?’ She exclaimed, and then chuckled. ‘But I don’t think he is more pigheaded than I am.’
Indeed, she is not pigheaded. She is obstinate. She got top marks for every subject when she passed the tenth standard examination. She could be a doctor or an engineer or something like that. But she chose the life of a teacher. Her parents gave no remark about her choice.
It was two years later after we became friends that I proposed to her. She said yes. We will marry next year. We decided that we will start a family soon after our marriage. We talked about our wedding on the phone a week before she came to Rangoon.
And I remember that I have a cell phone in my trouser pocket. First I felt trouser pockets. My right hand felt something in my right trouser pocket. It is my cell phone. I take it out and switch it on. I try to find the phone number of Lay Yu New in LOGS. Unfortunately, all calls have been deleted. And I try to find the number in CONTACTS. Fortunately I find it. Thank. I call her.
‘Hello, I am Lay Yu Nwe. Who is speaking?’
My happiness knows no bound. And I answer, ‘It’ me, Yu.’
‘Sorry, who are you?
I am irritated. Why does not she recognize my voice?
‘It’s me.’ Raising my voice, I tell her my name.
No voice from her. Certainly she is thinking about my name.
A few moments later, I hear her speak.
‘Sorry, I don’t know this name. Maybe you call wrong number.’
‘Where are you now?’ I ask. I notice that my tone of voice changes. It is so loud. I sense my nervousness. I should not yell out.
‘I am in the city park.’ She replies in normal tone of voice.
‘Is there someone with you?’
‘Not someone. It is my lover. He is with me.’
‘Beware, you’re in danger now.’
‘You’re in danger.’
‘I’m in danger?’
‘Yeah, you’re in danger.’
‘Ok, I will tell my lover about it.’
‘No, no. Don’t tell him anything. He is not your lover.’
‘Sorry, I don’t understand what you are telling me.’ She hangs up on me.
Why did she hang up on me? I sense grave danger.
I call her. The number you’ve dialed is switched off. A female voice. I try to call her again. The number you’ve dialed is switched off. A female voice again. I try to call her again. The number you’ve dialed is switched off. A female voice again. Did she switch off her phone? It does not make sense to her to switch off her phone. Is it because she wants to switch off or is it because the man by her threatens her to do so? Is she in dilemma over whether to call me as she wants or to switch off as she threatened? I am perplexed. I do check my phone. No sign of connection. I check the whole room. I see a man speaking on the phone in the right corner of the room. I can’t hear what he is speaking. But I can judge that this room has phone connection. If so, why does my phone have no connection? All these confirm my suspicion more. I study the young woman sitting in front of me. No surprise on her face. Surely, she must sense my nervousness. But she shows no sign of sensing my nervousness. Her excellent skill in acting warns me that the danger is with me. This thought is threatening me all the time. The young lady sitting across me is a danger. The camerapersons are a danger. Other workers are a danger. This bleak room is a danger. Everything I experience is a danger.
I need someone’s help to escape from this danger. Do I have close friends to ask help from them? I must phone them. Ok, CONTACTS in my phone must have their names. I switch on my phone. No name and number in CONTACTS. An ominous loss? Recently, I checked CONTACTS. There are many names and phone number in CONTACTS. Now all have been cleared. Who did it? What did it?
”So you mean that you like mystery?’
The question wakes me up. From what she asked, I must have told her something which suggests that I like mystery. I have no reason to deny this. I really like mystery. Should I tell her that not only I but also my lover loves mystery?
My head rises up and I suddenly look at the young self-possessive woman in red shirt. I see her waiting for my answer calmly. She is always surprisingly calm. I envy her calmness because I am always excited and shocked without any reason. I am sure that she also digs mystery. If I am not wrong, we two have talked about mystery two or three days ago. In my mind eyes I see we two having a hearty conversation in City Star, an air-conditioned café where we frequent. Sometimes she comes with her friend, who told me about her boyfriend. Her boyfriend died of throat cancer five years ago before our friendship began. I never asked her about her boyfriend. Now the expression on her face shows that she does not know me as her friend, but she knows me as an actor.
”Our knowledge is so limited that we can’t understand the things beyond our knowledge.’ These are the words she told me yesterday. She even looked like a philosopher. She raised her eye-brows and continued. ‘And we call such things mystery. If the things we call mystery can be solved very easily, they no longer can be mystery.’
I am silent. I had nothing to disagree with her. She is right.
In truth, I dig mystery. I must admit. But words do not come out of my mouth. Is it because I don’t want to admit? I don’t think so. To like mystery is not to commit sin.
When I had a conversation with her in a café, she was not an interviewer. She was my friend. She was a writer. Now she is not my friend. Now she is not a writer. Now she is an interviewer, asking me questions about mystery, about the films, about my ideas, about my other plans.
As far as I can judge, she does not show any sign that she knows me. Why? Does she have amnesia? I don’t believe that she does not know me. I think that she is buffing. Or she really does not know me, or I mistake her for my friend. I am sure that our friendship started two or three years ago. Why does she ignore our friendship? Is it because our friendship is a danger to her?
When I talked with my lover on the phone, I felt excited, annoyed and irritated. I am sure that I can’t hide my real emotion. So my emotion will surely appear on my face as expression. And I dare to say that she surely notices it. Nevertheless, the expression on her face is calm. She acts as if seeing no emotion on my face.
What’s more, my lover is with someone who will hurt her. She does not recognize me. Or she wants to cover reality for her safety or for my safety. Or she does not know me at all. Maybe she thinks that the man with her is me. I should explain to her everything. But my phone had no connection. I don’t know what to do. Do I have nothing to do but to wait for what will happen to me? I can’t help her. She can’t help me. I can’t help myself. One cannot help the other. My lover is in danger, so am I.
I want to ask my friend why she acts my interviewer. It seems that someone has forced her to do so. Maybe she is under the control of the person. She is not my friend, who is courageous: she is someone else, who is being afraid of something. Any way she can conceal her emotion well. I try to summon courage to ask her tell the truth. To my surprise, I fail.
I start to feel self-doubt. I am not a coward. I can’t believe the fact that I fail to ask her to tell the truth. That is not normal. Am I also under pressure? What do they want me to do? What is their real plot? Will my memory be destroyed completely? Will my identity be changed?
‘I am your fan. I have watched all films you starred. The film I like best is THE FAKE in which you starred as a philosopher. Can you tell me about it?
THE FAKE. Is it a code?
Ke` Su Thar