Goh Poh Seng




  • an excerpt from If We Dream Too Long


an excerpt from If We Dream Too Long

AT the table, his father’s face was sullen as usual. Kwang Meng decided not to do anything to provoke the old man. The younger brats were ladling out the food and swallowing mouthfuls laved with noisy chatter. Kwang Meng bent over his bowl and shuffled rice into his mouth with the chopsticks. He must get out of the flat as quickly as possible. Face over his bowl, he glanced surreptitiously at his father, who seemed angrier and angrier as the meal progressed.

‘Your children eat like pigs! Why don’t you teach them some manners?’ his father barked at his mother.

I would like to make a correction there, thought Kwang Meng. Not like pigs, like piglets. Your own litter of piglets, at their sty.

‘And just look at him,’ the old man turned on Kwang Meng, ‘eating with his face glued to his bowl, as if we don’t exist. You think just because you give your mother a hundred and twenty dollars a month household money, you need not talk to us at the dinner table?’

It was the same old rigmarole and Kwang Meng resolved not to get involved. Like every storm, it would abate in time. It did not call for any resistance. He looked at his mother, a small worn woman, her hair scanty and grey. She too had learned not to resist. Could she have passed this to me through chromosomes? She was an improbable warrior, brave very brave; one not entirely defeated. If one was entirely defeated, one’s dead or as good as dead: one’s in Woodbridge Mental Hospital. It’s alright, indeed common, to be defeated, a little defeated, but not entirely defeated.

Sometimes Kwang Meng called himself the little defeated hero. No one got the point. No one ever got the point. ‘You think your hundred and twenty bucks something, don’t you? You know how much it costs to run the family? A hundred and twenty bucks!’

‘Ah, he only started a few months, he doesn’t get much. A young man his age needs some money to spend on himself. Go out with friends,’ his mother defended.

‘Huh! When I was a young man, I did not spend on myself. I did not enjoy myself. Why his generation so special, we have to keep on pampering them?’

Mercifully, the younger brats had finished and scattered from the table.

© NUS Press

by Goh Poh Seng
from If We Dream Too Long (2010)
published by NUS Press