I went out with my father today. I am 19 but I don't bring my wallet or my handphone with me when I go out with him. Its just me, and him, and the whole of fashionable orchard road stretched out, ready to knock the wind out of us. He still thinks that I am 12 or 13. He can't remember. At home, before we left, I wore a skirt and a blouse which showed off my bare shoulders, because I thought it made me look prettier, but he thought different. He raised his balding eyebrows and asked me jokingly, "Why dress until so nice, like adult like that. Going out on a date is it?"
I told him that I am 19, going on 20 (just like the way those very numbers were sung in 'The Sound of Music') and that its perfectly alright for me to dress like that. But he shrugged his thin shoulders and said that it didn't matter. I am a kid to him, always a kid, who should be wearing sloppy jeans and too cute t-shirts, and he is my father, always my father. I stubbornly shoved my legs into a rugged pair of jeans and pushed my feet into a pair of pink rubber slippers. If he wants me to look like shit, I'll do it just to make him laugh. "Okay?" I asked, showing my attire off to him, irritated.
He laughed loudly and shook his head, "Don't know what to do with you." I stretched my lips into a great big smile, smug and satisfied.
It felt really awkward going out with him, as if I was going out on a date with a boy (a very, very, old boy at that) except the last time I went out on a real date with a real boy was more than one and a half years ago, and it wasn't even that awkward then. He loves to go to Cineleisure, where teenagers are at least 20 years younger than him and dressed as Japanese, Korean, and Hollywood stars (they will do anything not to look Singaporean). I told him I didn't want to go there because even though I belong to the plastic generation, I don't fit in at all. In fact, I stand out like a strikingly black and white zebra pretending to hang out with the trendsetting peacocks. I'm not perfect enough, or beautiful enough, or at the very least, I'm not immaculately dressed to look carelessly, accidentally, hot and chic enough. I am just me, a naked face exposed with bashful defiance to the rest of the world, my hair in a ponytail, without any makeup or hairspray or even a decent pair of high heels on.
"Why don't like Cine?"
"Why like Cine?" I retorted.
"Makes me feel young what."
I turned to look at him. He is tall, even after all these years, but not as mightily and gigantically tall as I remember him to be. I don't have to strain my neck to catch his eyes at all. I merely have raise my chin a little to meet his gaze directly. "Serious ah?"
"You mean I've never been serious?"
I laughed, "Whatever!"
He loves to go to Cineleisure. Amidst the chaos and the jarring drum of noise, he can observe and gossip to me about the funny little outfits those "young punks" put on, and how gorgeous they think they look (some really do look gorgeous though). He can forget about his monetary woes, the problems he have with with our dysfunctional and eccentric family, and the troubles he is having with his job, which like the previous job, he is quickly losing. He loves to go to Cineleisure, even though he hates it there. He feels so much older than he should be in the hustle and bustle of pubescent strangers. Time reveals how ruthlessly stark and bold changes are. No one there knows what he means when he waxes lyrical about "The Good Ol' Days". He is 50 but he goes around telling everybody that he's only 19 years old.
"It doesn't make any sense. How can you be 19 when I, your daughter, am 19? You mean you had me when you were zero?"
"Cannot!" I folded my arms indignantly.
We are like kids. He is the big kid with wrinkles around his small eyes and tall forehead when he laughs and when he frowns, and I am the smaller kid that tries so hard to remain unchangingly naive and innocent (even though it is getting increasingly difficult) just to please him.
He nudged my elbow, "Ok ok. Then I'm 29 can?"
I paused for a moment, then belted out, "Cannot lar! How can you be 10 when you had me?"
He winked impishly, "Why cannot."
"Cannot!" I roared with outrageous hilarity.
He held my hand while we walked leisurely to the ticket booth to catch a movie. He couldn't see very well because he was very vain and very proud and he refused to wear his glasses even though it had cost a bomb just to make them. There was something about holding his hand that plunged me into a drowning pool of sinking thoughts and made me feel strangely, inexplicably, sad. There was something about how warm and how soft and how white his hand was, and how rough and how callous it was at the same time, and how it gripped my hand with such mysterious fear and trust, that left me completely and utterly speechless. He has never told me that he loves me to my face. He has never told me that he was or is proud of me. But the way he held my hand seemed to spell it all out.
When I was 13, I refused to hold his hand. It was somehow painfully embarrasing for a big girl like me to be seen holding my parent's hand. So I tried ways and means to avoid having to hold his hand. I said his palm was sweaty and hot. I said I couldn't walk properly. I said a lot of silly things and made up a lot of excuses that only a 13 year old would be stupid enough to come up with and actually say. Now I held his hand, firmly, the way he used to hold mine when I was a child and we had to cross the road together. Now it was I who was leading and navigating him through the crowd of potential trips and dangerous slips. Now I held his hand, and pressed it to give him quiet assurance, as a 19 year old girl, going on 20, with the disfiguring wound of feeling like an eternally old, old, old soul, with the weight of the world on her shoulders.
He is 50, but not only 50. He is a man who has been broken and battered down by society and by reality. He is a man with a family, who walks alone, eats alone, and watches movies alone, even though he hates the sour stench of loneliness. What kind of daughter does that make me? There are things I want to do for him. There are things I want to do for my mother too, who has no friends, who stays at home like a social recluse and worries herself sick to death with her vivid imagination that her kids are going to get raped or murdered or robbed (or all three) while on their way home. But the things I can do for them are worthless as compared to what they have done for me. Still, there are things that I can do, no matter how small, and I hope I can do them to the best of my abilities. I want to spend as much time as I can with them, for as long as possible, until life throws me into another direction (and I suspect that this will happen very soon). If not now, then when?
We grow up, grow old. People walk in and out of our lives. Who do we belong to? Who do we love when nothing lasts forever? Girls love boys, and boys love girls, (or girls love girls and boys love boys), and relationships are formed and lost in an instant. I don't want that. Not now, not yet. I'm not ready. I want something on terms less superficial and uncertain. I want to wait until I am capable of loving myself, and able to create and give a love that is pure, and true, and selfless, where actions speak louder than words (words, which I'm already very good at). I want to love those who gave me everything they could give- my parents, my sister, my close friends. I want to love those who love me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, despite my ugly flaws and glarring mistakes, who will walk with me, as many steps of the way as they can, with the biggest and kindest of hopes and beliefs, even though the world is so obviously harsh, cruel and unforgiving, and will in time, scatter us like falling leaves from the same tree.