Ng Yi Sheng


an excerpt from Lion City

IT’S 1104 and Nabilah bte Hasim, the cleaning lady, is emptying the rubbish bin in the main foyer. There’s very little inside: mostly what the staff have discarded. VVVIPs can’t be trained to use bins. What they don’t need, they just abandon in their wake.

Still, she thinks, she shouldn’t complain. After all, she’s surrounded by beauty. This is the most exclusive of all the terminals in the airport, its escalators inlaid with ivory, its ceilings patterned with mother-of-pearl mosaics, its floors planted with bromeliads, cacti planted amidst the splashing fountains. Her brother works in the shipyard, her sister in the assembly line. They sweat and boil and earn peanuts. She might have to mop up tiger piss and elephant dung from time to time, but at least she has a nice view.

A flock of angels glides by, harps and dulcimers in hand. A kachina takes a selfie with its smartphone. An Orisha walks past, dropping a cupcake wrapper at her feet. She scoops it up, ignoring the ache in her spine.

Then she stands back. For some reason, the Chinese Monkey King is throwing a tantrum. He’s pulled out his hair, torn off his acolyte’s robes and leapt up to the ceiling, where he’s using his magic staff to bash away at the chandeliers, sending shards of crystal and tanzanite hurtling to the floor.  ‘這位是齊天大聖!’ he’s screaming. ‘大家向美猴王五體投地!’

A security officer comes rushing in, takes one look at the situation, and retrieves his tablet computer. He plays with the screen a little, and then methodically reads an incantation: ‘Pânâtipâtâ veramani sikkhâpadam samâdiyâmi, adinnâdânâ veramani sikkhâpadam samâdiyâmi…’ The Monkey King clutches his forehead, teeters and collapses onto the tiles. The security officer slings him over his shoulder and takes him away.

When the commotion’s over, Nabilah realises someone has been watching her from the snack shop. Someone or something. It has the white face of a human, neither male nor female, the white body of a donkey or mule, and two rainbow-hued wings. 

It’s very handsome. But then she blinks, and it’s gone.

She looks back at the broken bits of chandelier and monkey hair on the floor. Work to do. Always more work to do.

© Epigram Books

by Ng Yi Sheng
from Lion City (2018)
published by Epigram Books