Charmaine Chan


an excerpt from The Magic Circle

BEING the way I was, I couldn’t help but think of the whole thing in terms of a movie. I wondered whether it would be intense and dramatic or serene and surreal. Would things happen in slow motion, like they did in film? What soundtrack would be playing? Would people be noisy and wail, or stay stone dead silent. What would the funeral be like? I cast my mother in black—dignified and solemn. Then recast her in hysterics, down on her knees by the coffin.

How would I myself react? Would I be out of my head with my loss? Or would I be cool and lucid, detached as I have always been from anything overtly emotional? I had no idea. 

This is how it finally happened. It was April 22. I was in Bali, because Chuen’s company was having its annual meetings there. I had just had a foot reflexology massage at one of my regular haunts, Cosy. Chuen had finished before I had and he had come to sit next to me, fiddling with his phone and looking down at his feet. We had planned to have dinner at Made’s Warung, one of our favourite local restaurants. But after we paid up, he ushered me into a taxi and told me we were going back to the hotel. I was bewildered. What about dinner, I asked. 

Then he told me that Fourth Aunt had sent him a message that Elaine had passed away that very evening. And my world contracted to a single pinpoint.

So this is how it happens.

It happens in Bali.

Bali—where I first met Chuen, where we fell in love, had our first date. Bali—where we’d gotten married.

And so it had fallen to the person I loved most in the world, in the one place on earth I loved more than any other, to tell me the news I had lost her.

I sat in silence for a very long time as the taxi sped on through the velvety night. I didn’t know how to react. My mind felt crystal clear even as my body felt numb, my hands ice cold despite the warmth of the tropical climate. I remember vaguely wishing that I knew what to do next. “I suppose I should cry,” I remember thinking to myself. “That would be an appropriate response.” So I did.

Chuen directed the taxi to a private entrance to the hotel so that we wouldn’t run into anyone on the way back to our room. In the quiet lamplit silence of our room, my sobs gradually subsided and I suddenly felt ravenous. “Let’s go eat,” I said to Chuen, surprising him with the fact that I could have an appetite at such a time. We ended up having dinner by the poolside, sitting under the stars, where I devoured a large plate of nasi goreng and he had a beer. It all seemed very surreal.

© Ethos Books

by Charmaine Chan
from The Magic Circle (2017)
published by Ethos Books