Ah Tung 24 Hour Durian stall. Geylang. Twelve midnight. Sitting by the roadside, on loose soil and whatever brown grass is left, while cars whizz by and the air smells like cigarettes, gasoline and of course, fruits- rambutans, longans, watermelons, dragon fruits, and everywhere on tables and in brown straw baskets, green spiky pungent durians.
I watch Ma rip one apart with her bare peeling hands, watch as she digs her long finger into the tender urine-coloured flesh.
“Eat,” she commands affectionately, raising her head slightly and looking at me from the corner of her eye.
She has one hand to her mouth as she licks the soft skin away from her fingernails, and one hand inside the straw basket as she grabs another durian by the woody stem and brings it to the shaky table.
“You take another durian for what? Why you always like to hurry hurry hurry?” Pa questions, skeletal hands on his hips, sharp elbows jabbing into my arm.
“Why? Cannot is it?” Ma roughly seizes the durian on the table. Her pale palm presses against the sharp thorns and she throws it right back into the basket. The durian makes a noisy sound as it whacks against the basket. Her white hands now have crimson marks all over them. I want to reach out and hold her hand. I don’t.
“You throw the durian for what?” Pa demands.
“I hate the way you talk, talk until I very desperate and greedy like that. You think I never eat durian before is it?” she raises her voice.
“Chao chee bye. Don’t slap you you don’t wake up one is it?” he retorts.
We eat the durians in painful silence. When Ma is done, she clumsily takes her packet of tissue papers out of her jeans pocket. She takes two pieces of flimsy white tissues, cleans her hands with it, crumbles it into a small round ball, and flings it vengefully at Pa. It lands on Pa’s lap. He looks at it as if he has been shot. His small eyes are so enlarged that it draws horizontal lines of wrinkles on his high forehead. I want to laugh at him and joke around with him about how awful but adorable he looks. I don't.
“Chao chee bye,” he mutters. He repeats this softly like a Buddhist mantra as he continues eating. He thinks we can’t hear the words but we can. Or maybe he wants us to hear them but pretends otherwise.
Ma folds her arms. She looks down at her flabby belly. She unfolds her arms. She frowns like a puppy with big brown eyes. She pats her belly. She sighs.
I still think she's beautiful. I don't know why I can't bring myself to tell her that. It feels out of place. It stays lodged in my throat, along with years of unspoken secrets.
She decides to eat more durians.
They open the durians up with all their might and strength, as if they are breaking each other’s necks. They bite into the yellow skins and sink their teeth into it as if they are vampires devouring each other’s flesh. They open their mouths wide, and their teeth glisten in the red and green traffic lights. I look at how glossy their lips become as their tongues unfurl and they lick their lips.
There is a red plastic pail for you to throw the seeds and shells of the durians into. The pail is right beside me, where I sit on a short stool. Each time Ma and Pa crossly hurl the remains of the durians into the pail, it narrowly misses me and the pail shivers from side to side. I feel really sorry for it.
The tension is so heated and inexplicably thick. This is such a simple quarrel, isn’t it? A simple, forgettable, and small squabble. Yes, yes. That’s what it looks like. That’s what it must be. I shouldn't get so affected. It's nothing. But I feel like I’m breathing underwater. It's probably nothing. I’m scared so I don’t move and I hunch and eat very carefully and imagine I don’t exist.
I wish I could freeze time and everybody in it and take a walk around this place. It is dark and it is nice in a dirty dingy comfortable way. The orangey street lamps that litter the place suddenly look very pretty. It makes everything kind of slow and dreamy. This could all be a very bad and silly dream. And yet time is moving relentlessly and Ma and Pa breathe harder and faster.
I think of how this is a reminder that I should never get married. I also think of how this is not the first time it has happened, of how worse things have happened between them before, of how I’m always caught in the middle of this fraught panic and cold, cold anxiety. I don't know what to do with my hands. I don't know who to look at. I don't know if I should say something.
I’m tired. I’m always alone dealing with this shit. I want to stand in the middle of the busy road, close my eyes and let a car knock me down. Maybe then they’ll feel so guilty that they fight so much that they'll finally stop fighting. I want to stand in the middle of the road and let a car knock me down. But then again, dying is easy peasy. It is living, that is hard. And I think I’ll like to take the challenge. It doesn't matter whether or not I fail. We're all gonna die anyway. And that, for a change, is actually something positive. Because it means we might as well push ourselves to make the most of what we have now.