The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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“I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that’s where they begin. “

I love this book even as I’m sucked into the throes of its deepest tragedies. Even as I’d watched the movie midway through the book, I was unprepared for its ending. Nazism, constant bombings, war-torn countries and broken families set the backdrop amidst the seemingly detached, occasionally soulful, narration by a nameless, hooded Death – a collector of souls whom have left their earthly bodies. Markus Zusak’s book is a lingering remnant of World War II – Deah narrates the chance encounters between himself and Liesel Meminger, a foster child on 33 Himmel Street, Germany.

“He was waving. “Saukerl,” she laughed, and as she held up her hand, she knew completely that he was simultaneously calling her a Saumensch. I think that’s as close to love as eleven-year-olds can get.” 

I loved Rudy Steiner in this book – the movie couldn’t give him half the heroic credit he deserved. Rudy Steiner was: Three times Hitler Youth Athletics medallist; a bread-giver to starving Jews even as his own stomach was growling; a straight A student even though all he ever did was rebel – and all he ever wanted was Liesel’s kiss. Liesel and Rudy’s subtle puppy love breaks my heart all the time, especially towards the end.

“Often I wish this would all be over, Liesel, but then somehow you do something like walk down the basement steps with a snowman in your hands.” – Max Vandenburg

Max Vandenburg is a master of words. He is the Jew in the basement whom Liesel and her family hides. He is saved by words, Liesel’s words to be exact, when each night he laid unconscious in bed he was fed with a multitude of words. With determination to thank the girl he weaves and leaves behind stories of a lifetime and more. Like Rudy, Max wishes to beat the crap out of the Führer and hence his story is that of the Jewish fist-fighter.

“His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do – the best ones. The ones who rise up and say “I know who you are and I am ready. Not that I want to go, of course, but I will come.” Those souls are always light because more of them have been put out. More of them have already found their way to other places.” (On Hans Hubermann)

Liesel’s foster father, Hans Hubermann, is the reason why I still believe in good people. He loves Liesel like his own, teaches her to write and read, receives a beating for feeding a Jew, and is deeply indebted to the man who first taught him to play the accordion (and died on his behalf), so much so that he was willing to hide a Jew in the basement to return the favour. In much of the book, he is the doting father. A saint.

Liesel’s foster mother Rosa Hubermann rules with an iron fist but is the epitome of a hard shell with the softest core. Her unappreciated pea soup shows up a lot, and the hardship of Germans in the 1940s were best illustrated by how much food Rosa puts on the table each night. As loud as she gets, her soft-heartedness beams through whenever Liesel has her back turned because that’s when Rosa shows how much she actually loves her foster child.

“The consequence of this is that I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both. (Death)” 

Death’s cryptic final words: I am haunted by humans.
The book will break your heart from its sheer brutality (all masked by the predominant story until the concluding chapter where it all comes too close for comfort).

“At first, she could not talk. Perhaps it was the sudden bumpiness of love she felt for him. Or had she always loved him?” 

And the happy ending is left to your own imagination. Who exactly was the husband Liesel spends a lifetime with before Death comes to her?

“A SMALL PIECE OF TRUTH
I do not carry a sickle or scythe.
I only wear a hooded black robe when it’s cold.
And I don’t have those skull-like facial features you seem to enjoy pinning on me from a distance. You want to know what I truly look like? I’ll help you out. Find yourself a mirror while I continue.” -DEATH

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eternal graffiti in the heart

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“With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.” – Max Ehrmann

Despite ups and downs (literally turbulence, and figuratively) life has been pretty awesome of late. I wouldn’t have traded summer for its worth in gold, and I’ll look positively forward to the rest of it.

Itacho Sushi with Nataon Dia, my favourite Thai!
We’re deluded in believing that we’ve kicked the habit of ordering too much.
No matter how maxed out we are from jetsetting, I still believe ourselves to be very fortunate, indeed. So there we go, chopping up our unhappiness and serving it up in exchange for laughter and mutual understanding.
Also tonight I’ve met my new favourite drink: the White Russian.

 

oo4 ✦ Dangerous Mind ✦

The kids today are gone away petitioning the dust
Just misfit melancholy dregs gone lost in the mall
Wanderers to nowhere at all

It was never in Max’s honest intentions to fall asleep with his head in Devynn’s lap. It was never in his expectations that she would stay to watch him fall asleep.

She knew not to probe, and merely studied the way his eyebrows knit into a frown that deepened in his troubled slumber. Her thumb traced the anxiety written all over his forehead, finally applying a little more pressure to ease the creases between frowning brows. That appeared to help, as Max was evidently falling into a more peaceful sleep, marked by a tiny snore…

Lithely, Devynn slipped out from under his weight, replacing herself with a soft pillow. When she had smoothed out Max’s dark brown hair, she pulled the duvet blankets over his sleeping frame. Quietly, she left him to his dreams.

******************************************

“Don’t leave me!”

Max awoke in distress, gripping the blankets so hard his knuckles turned white. It took a full minute for him to remember where he was. The bedroom was dark but not pitch-black, and it was Devynn and not the servant-boy who had stayed by his side.

She too was gone, and he was tucked comfortably in bed. Max ran his fingers across his shoulders, feeling a phantom warmth that still lingered from Devynn’s presence.

Suddenly, a fear struck Max. His friends always vanished or were taken away, simply because they had been in touch with Max. He was afraid this fate awaited Devynn and his new friends. That Devynn would abruptly vanish like a servant-boy whose companionship had kept him sane during those long nights. His only friend had departed one day like a burst bubble, whose disappearance he missed from blinking his eyes.

He did not wish the same fate upon Devynn, or Sora, or Thierry.

He looked around for his room-mates but they had not returned.

Something else caught his attention.

The dining table was adorned with colourful plates, all laden with a selection of Korean cuisine – rolls and rolls of fat kimbap, beef stew, cold noodles, bean paste noodles, and kimchi pancakes, inducing an audible growl from the pits of his stomach. A note to him was written in a beautiful cursive hand.

You must be hungry after your sleep. Don’t skip any meals. I am known for my excellent culinary skills, so…count yourself lucky! – Devynn

It was like he had been dead to the world when she had prepared all these food. No clanging pots and pans were heard. After all, despite a brief nightmare, he just had one of the best sleeps in a long time.

His mouth watered as he sat down to savour the sumptuous spread. He made a mental note to ask for a recipe for her salmon sushi rolls. A trace of a smile tugged at Max’s lips when an image of Devynn arranging the sushi rolls on a plate popped into his mind.

The buzzer to the apartment door sounded.

“Package for Mr Max? Please sign over here.”

The bulk was loaded into the living quarters, a red ‘FRAGILE’ label intact on the rock-hard casing. Finally! — his beloved guitar was here, shipped from Korea on request. It was not smashed, after all.

Hastily shutting the door, he threw open the casing, and ran his fingers over the familiar rosewood and strings – the familiar scent soothed his anxieties.

******************************************

 

Their den swarmed with movement, speech and activities. All of their members were in attendance. A heavy cloud of smoke hung in the air, filling every nook and cranny with the odor of filthy tobacco. Above them, busy streets of Tokyo were bustling with cars and traffic.

The clubhouse was their second home, where everyone gathered when nobody desired to go home. That happened often.

Hazily lit by a flickering lamp was a round table where they gambled. Each filled their usual spot, puffing away on weed and cheap cigarettes.

“That new guy– what’s his name again?—was such a dick. Did you see how the girls were all over him? Is that why you’ve been brooding the whole damn day?” Shiwon asked, giving Justin a light push on his shoulder.

“Shut the hell up, Shiwon.” Justin sat down on a chair and slunk further in his seat.

“Do you want us to teach him a lesson? Just say it.” Dong Hae cracked his knuckles and smirked.

“The girls were all ‘oh look at that hunk’. Bleargh. He looks a bit like Taguchi, don’t you think?” Shiwon laughed.

“Shut your mouth.” Taguchi banged a fist on the table. “Justin, just holler if you need back up.”

“Honestly, do you guys like violence that much?” Akanishi asked with a frown. He looked at Dong Hae, then at Shiwon and Taguchi.

“What’s the matter with you, Akanishi?” Shiwon challenged, his fists balled up in a combat stance.

“Enough.” Justin’s word brought silence.

Hee Chul, who had been curled up in his mid-afternoon nap, was awokened. Annoyed, he sat up and flipped his long hair. Running his tongue over his dry lips, Hee Chul said, “Simmer, Justin. You ruined my beauty sleep.” Hee Chul unfolded his legs, got up and sashayed towards Justin who was still in his seat, looking away from the group. Running his perfectly manicured fingers across Justin’s chest, Hee Chul gave a seductive moan and stared into Justin’s eyes. “Who angered my dear Justin?”

Justin pushed Hee Chul’s hands away. Hee Chul gave a seductive laugh. He cocked his head and looked at Justin. “You are one stubborn bitch, and I love you anyway.” Looking around the room, Hee Chul asked, “Since Justin won’t tell me, would any of me kindly give me an update?”

“It’s the new guy.” Dong Hae explained. “Someone’s been frowning the whole day and he won’t admit that the new douchebag is the real reason.”

“Lies. Why would a new guy get on his nerves? No one can out-fight our Justin.”

“This one can,” Justin mumbled.

“What did you say?” Akanishi leaned in to hear Justin, but caught nothing else.

Just then, Dong Hae’s cell phone rang. “Hello….speaking…….WHAT? Holy shit. Right now?” He hang up abruptly.

“Guys, it’s Daiisun. The previous dealer. Our loot was seized. The people from Che-mun Corporation is on their way.”

Everyone stood up, vulgarities flying in all directions.

“Listen up! We have to leave right now.” Justin was in control.

“Where to?”

“Get to Daiisun. We have to keep to our promise.”

And they were off.

******************************************

It was 6 months ago. The deal was made within the hour.

The 7 boys -Justin, Taguchi, Akanishi, Dong Hae, Chris, Shiwon and Hee Chul – accepted Daiisun’s offer to be runners. They would have to back Daiisun in every deal. They knew the market like the back of their hands, and Daiisun could use a whole bunch of street-smart high-school thugs.

On paper, Daiisun was an international trade union, working under pseudo licenses from the local government. In truth, they were an underground organisation amassing cash from trafficking humans and transacting drugs and all other types of illegal or fake goods. Their activities centered around South Korea and Japan as well as the rest of Asia.

The terms of the contract were listed when Daiisun bought their loyalties for 10 million dollars.

1. They were to abide by the leader and Daiisun’s words under all circumstances.
2. Betrayal would result in immediate death.

They became slaves to money in the underworld.

Daiisun’s biggest rival was Che-mun Corporation, which dealt in Korea, Japan and China, and whose leader led with an iron fist.  Often, both sides have come to blows over clashes in trade.

With the boys’ help, Daiisun had come to an agreement with Che-mun over the use of trade space in the local region. Daiisun would have clients that will not overlap with Che-mun’s clients, such that both corporations would work hand in hand in the market and no boundaries were crossed.

6 months later, all these right would come crashing down.
***

In a dark alley linking Daiisun’s warehouse to the Daiisun main building, tall men in trenchcoats and dark glasses lined the place. Tension hung in the air.

Daiisun’s head honcho stood face to face with Che-mun’s. Both were tall enough to see eye-to-eye, unwavering in their poised stance.Unspoken fury threatened to boil over.

“It seems like your men stepped out of line first, secretly made deals with our biggest client, having sold 200 pounds.” Daiisun spoke.

“My men did nothing of the sort. In fact, your men killed mine in order to get a deal that was rightfully ours. Your men are at my mercy.”

“Let them go this instant. My men would never jeopardise this agreement. You are using this excuse to break off our agreement, so you can raid our warehouse.”

Anger flashed in Che-mun’s eyes. He took a step closer to Daiisun.

Instantly, Daiisun was backed up by his members straightening up in their bearings, as if to warn Che-mun against any rash actions.

“Why don’t you get those boys who initiated this deal to get here right now?” Che-mun challenged. “Those boys presumably made a promise to safeguard this promise.”

“We did.” Justin announced as he stepped into the alley amidst the heightened tension.

Behind him, the other 6 boys assembled.

“You hired…kids? Boys, go home to your mummies. Curfew’s over,” he chuckled, looking over his shoulders at Justin.

Several men sniggered as they watched the young boys doubtfully.

“What are you laughing at?” Dong Hae grimaced and stepped forward brazenly.

Justin placed a hand on Dong Hae’s arm.

Looking straight at Daiisun, then at Che-mun, he said, “We’ve kept our promise. We hurt no men, nor did we break any agreement.”

“Then where are the goods? Did they fall into the sea? You boys were last seen trading.” Daiisun boomed.

“We did as told. Che-mun himself was present, we saw you getting into the limo outside the ferry terminal. It was a tri-party trade. The other party acknowledged the loot.” Justin rocked back on his heels in disbelief. The tension in the air was rising rapidly. He heard a few knuckles cracking. It was a multi-million dollar deal. Tempers were bound to be a lot more short-fused.

Che-mun laughed and turned to face Justin. “Is this all you can do? Daiisun was too stupid to trust you boys, but I am not. Perhaps you looted them all to make a bit more…extra cash. Who else is in this game? Who else bought you?” These further insinuations seemed to produce a veil of doubt on Daiisun’s already cynical expression.

He sniggered, turned back to look at Daiisun. “The deal…is off.”

Instantly, an uproar rose in the dark alley. It was of bodies slamming into walls, fists smashing and breaking jaws, and screams of fury and agony blended into one. Daiisun and Che-mun were each surrounded by bodyguards.

“Che-mun, I’m going to kill him!” Dong Hae exclaimed. With clenched fists, Dong Hae charged forward angrily.

“Wait no! You will be killed, Dong Hae!” Akanishi exclaimed and reached out to grab him, but only grabbed at air. Justin followed after Dong Hae who had managed to snag a knife from a dead Daiisun member.

Hee Chul was calmly tying his hair with a rubber band, while the rest of the boys, too, charged forward to help their leader.

A man in black threw a punch in Justin’s face. He dodged, grabbed the man’s arm, and swiftly threw him over his shoulders in a perfect karate move. Another attempted to stab Justin’s back, but Dong Hae saw it and crashed into the man with all his might before he could reach Justin.

Behind them, Akanishi and Taguchi were fighting off Che-mun’s men.

Justin reached the human barricade around Che-mun faster than any of his friends. With two flying kicks, he threw off 2 bodyguards in his path, but they were quickly replaced by more. There were so many, all armed, with pistols gleaming in their gloved hands. Any bullets fired from these weapons could not be traced back to any sources. Che-mun was watching all these in amusement, thinking he was safe and sound within his human barricade.

All 7 boys were now charging towards Che-mun, breaking down the barricade as swiftly as they could. Groans of agony and exertion could be heard all around.

Shiwon fell to the floor as a hard punch threw him off balance.

“You alright?” Taguchi reached for Shiwon’s arms and got him back to his feet.

“Never felt better.” A thin stream of blood was running down his chin. Shiwon swiped his bleeding lips with his bare hands.

The men in black were falling in large numbers, as some were running away from the scene, and others fell defeated. The human barricade was thinning. However, the boys were utterly drained, tired out from fighting.

Swaying, Akanishi threw a punch in a man’s direction but missed. Someone from the back kicked him and he fell to the floor, twisting his ankle. He let out a loud cry.

“Akanishi!” Chris lost focus as he saw his comrade fall. He did not notice that there was someone in black behind them. A sharp blow slammed into the base of his neck.

It was now 5 against God knows how many more.

A gleam of sharp and shiny knife flashed somewhere in the tangle of flaying arms and legs. Hee Chul saw it first. Then Shiwon noticed it too.

Hee Chul whipped out his handy hair brush from his pockets and charged for the man. Leaping into the air, Hee Chl landed on the man’s back and began to ravage the man’s face with his hairbrush.

“You wanna play with weapons, two can play the game!”

Hee Chul whipped out a hairbrush, brandishing it as his weapon. Justin had to control his laughter, when suddenly, he felt a sharp stab on his left side. Pain shot through his insides and rapidly spread to his entire body. He doubled over in pain.

“Justin!” Shiwon was being pressed down by another man, but he had seen the whole thing. The guy with the knife who was being attacked by Hee Chul had slid the knife over to another man. His movements were too quick for Shiwon to give any warnings.

With fury, Hee Chul grabbed the man’s hair and smashed his face against the concrete floor. Blood spurted from a deep gash in his forehead, and pooled around his now-limp body.

The knife protruded from Justin’s left side as he struggled to stay up. Blood was gushing from the gaping wound with every small move he made, and Justin could feel his skin go cold.

Taguchi had just flung a man against a wall and rushed over to Justin. “Let us do the job!” But Justin knew that they needed him. Waving his hands in dismissal, Justin stood up tall and bit his lips. He was strong, and stubborn, he would not back down while he was still able to fight.

Shiwon was getting on his feet. He limped towards Justin.

“We…we must not stop.” Despite his quivering thighs and greying lips, Justin gave a weak smile and encouraged his friends.

Just then, the barricade fell open with Hee Chul’s flying kick, taking down 3 men effortlessly.

Seeing that he was the nearest to Che-mun, Justin clenched his fists and charged, his knuckles connecting with the crook of the corporation leader’s nose with such blinding force.

Che-mun crashed to the floor.

And so was Justin, as he fell atop Che-mun, and rolled onto the floor, unconscious.

One by one Che-mun’s men fled, not only because their leader was down, but also they had heard the siren of police cars in the distant.

It was only when every one of the men in black was gone that the boys realised the siren came from Hee Chul’s mobile phone. But no one wasted any time complimenting his wit, as they rushed to Justin. By then, Chris was conscious again and Akanishi was hopping on one leg.

“Justin!” Loud cries rang through the dark alley. Not even Hee Chul’s slap could get their leader to open his eyes.

 

******************************************

 

That face. Justin thought in that split second when he had knocked the dark glasses off Che-mun’s face. Where have I seen him before?

It was only when Justin fell to the floor that the memories that had long pervaded him returned.

 

******************************************

 

Max was fidgety and uncomfortable as he fingered his red star pendant. Something in his heart told him that things were not right. Something was happening right at this moment.

As Max stood up from the table, he knocked over a glass of water. The glass cup rolled off the table and fell to the floor with a loud smashing crash.

Max stared at the fragments that now lay on the floor and thought to himself: Now they can never be patched up again. No matter what I do, these will always remain as broken pieces.

He sat back down, staring limply into blank space.

~*~*~*~

 

max4

✦ Dangerous Mind ✦
The blackholes in the deep recesses of your mind, secrets you never wished to hide.
The lovers you never want to remember and the history you can never leave behind.
You can’t run further if you’ve only been escaping your own mind.

oo3 ✦ Dangerous Mind ✦

In so many ways we live to follow the sun
In so many ways we exalt and fail as one
In so many ways we want so bad to be done

“Now be a good boy, Max, hold on to this white bag. Wait at that junction for a man in a black trenchcoat. You must see a scar on his chin before you pass this to him, are you clear?”

Only one end-goal persisted in 6-year-old Max’s mind: Father promised to take him to the amusement park if he obeyed and played by the rules. As if his life depended on it, he hugged the heavy package as tightly as he could.

“This is an important task. Daddy is counting on you. Don’t let me down, you hear?”

“Yes, Daddy.” Max grinned.

“Atta boy. “ Father ruffled his hair.

Evening descended, and after they had made their seventh round on the outskirts of the public garden, an image of the junction had been etched in his mind.

“Now. Get out there, Max.”

Father’s assistant unlocked the door, and Max was nudged from his seat. He forced his jittery body to obey, even as his little palms started to sweat.

“Go. Do what you’ve been told. Man in black trenchcoat. Chin scar. Remember.”

Still holding on to the bag, Max walked to an inconspicuous spot at the junction, hidden by towering trees and unkempt bushes, and waited.

An hour passed. The heavy bag kept slipping through his tired arms but Max held on.

Another hour passed. His arms shivered from the strain, and he was both hot and cold all over from nerves and the summer heat. Father’s car was no longer in sight as the sky was dark by now, but occasionally, he knew that Father’s assistant would flash the headlights to signal that they were there. Street lamps were of little help. He narrowed his eyes in scrutiny of every single passing person. Finally, when he could no longer feel his arms, he bent down and let the package slip out of his hands.

Just then, the supposed man in the long black trenchcoat appeared. He was crossing the junction when he saw Max, then proceeded to walk in Max’s direction. Max squatted over the package, watched as the man hesitated, then opened up his strides towards Max.

When he was close enough, Max caught a flash of his face. Indeed, a prominent white scar covered a large part of his chin.

Convinced that this was the man Father had instructed him to pass the package to, Max stood up and pointed to the white package. He looked at Max, then to the package, and nodded. Picking up the package, he turned to leave.

 

Satisfied, Max ran back to the black sedan and climbed back onto the comfortable leather seats.

Immediately after he closed the doors of the car, Max was knocked over by a force so large and brutal that he was slammed headfirst against the car door and out of his seat, finally settling into a heap onto the carpeted floors of the vehicle.

“Why did you put the damn thing down?” Father’s voice boomed.

Max let out a strangled cry as pain shot through his whole body. His mouth was beginning to fill with blood from the impact of the slap. His cheeks were stinging with acute pain. He thought his arm might be twisted.

“ANSWER ME!”

“I…I…I am sorry father. It was so heavy…”

“I did not ask you to put that damn thing down. What if someone else had taken it away from you? How are you going to answer to me?”

“I am sorry, it was really heavy…”

“I don’t give a damn whether it is heavy or not!” Father grabbed Max by his collar and pulled him back up onto the seat. “We’re going home now. And you, young man, are going to spend the night in the closet room.”

“I’m sorry! Please, not there!” Fear overwhelmed the young boy. He almost choked on his own tears which now ran freely down his swollen cheeks.

“Yes the dark and damp closet room. And no dinner. For heaven’s sake stop crying! Start the car, Jung.”

“Master, should we get some medicine for Young Master? He is bleeding badly.”

“JUST START THE DAMN CAR, JUNG!”

The engine roared to life, and navigated its way through the alley, and onto the winding roads of Seoul.

Wet from blood and tears, Max continued sobbing uncontrollably, his dreams of a happy outing with Father and Mother dashed, replaced by the nightmarish thoughts of sleeping in the dark closet that night.

Back home, Father grabbed Max, pulled him out of the car and dragged him down to the servant’s quarters. The servants’ quarters were rooms that housed the maids, chaffeurs and housekeepers. Dark, filthy, small rooms with a musky smell mixed with the stench of human blood and sweat.

 

A closet sat on the far end of the corridor. With a heave, he was thrown into the closet. By then, Max was too tired to struggle anymore. He listened as the door closed and the lock fastened, meaning that he would have to spend the night alone in this dark closet room with only a thin stream of light entering through a gap in the latch of the door. Curling up his small battered body, Max hugged his knees to himself, sobbing. His only companion was the dark that surrounded him. His stomach growled with hunger, and he shook with fatigue, but was unable to fall asleep. He could hear the bustle of activity outside the closet, where the servant’s families were getting ready for bed.

Just then, through a gap in the latch, something fell into his lap. It was a torch light, and a note attached.

‘Don’t be afraid. I am here for you. Let my light shine in the darkest corners.’

Something else fell in. It was a tiny cupcake which Max immediately devoured hungrily. To express his gratitude, Max knocked on the door twice. In return, he got two knocks back.

Another littl cupcake was passed through the gap.

Suddenly, there was total darkness as the servants turned off the lights for bedtime. Max screamed and began to cry once again.

“Hush! Do not cry. Turn on the torchlight I passed to you!” A little boy’s voice instructed him from outside of the closet.

Light instantly filled up the closet.

“Do not be afraid, I will stay with you tonight.” Max heard a soft click, and he knew that the other boy on the other side of the door had his own torchlight too.

“Are you afraid of the dark too?” Max asked.

“Not really. The dark is my best friend. Do you have any friends?”

“From elementary school. Yes. I like my friends. Do you have friends other than the dark?”

“No. I don’t go to school.”

“What do you do then?”

“I help out here. I stay in the basement. I do things like peeling potatoes and weeding the garden. Hauling the woodstock to keep the fireplace lit You live upstairs don’t you? The family that is taken care of by the families that live in the basement.”

“How do you know?”

“I saw you getting thrown in by your father, our employer. It wasn’t a pretty sight.”

“I know. I am Max, what is your name?”

“You can call me ‘hyung’ since I am older than you.”

“What is your real name? Can you tell me? Because you are a very marvellous friend.”

“I don’t have a name.”

“My name was given to me by my parents. Where are your parents, hyung?”

“I live with my mother. I don’t have a father. Do you want more cupcakes?”

“Yes please! Where is your father? Everyone should have a father by default.”

“I guess he is dead. My mother does not like me to speak of him.” The little boy handed another piece of his cupcakes to Max through the gap.

“Thank you. What time is it, hyung?”

“It is 11 in the night. I can hear your father brewing his decaf in the kitchen above us. He usually does this before he sleeps, while reading the papers.”

“You sure do know my father better than I do!”

“My mother always tells me about Master. Sometimes, she would bring me to the window where we can see Master’s bedroom.” The boy fell silent for a long time. Panic rose up like bile in Max’s throat.

 

“Please keep talking! It’s too quiet in here.”

 

“It’s always too quiet here,” the boy replied, but complied, “because the parties, dinners and summer galas are always held upstairs isn’t it? Mother tells me everything about the world upstairs – the silk shirt that Master wore for Charity Ball and Portugese egg tarts that he ate for brunch yesterday. She knows the room so well, I guess it’s because it’s her responsibility to tidy up. Our Master would be undressing while pulling the curtains shut, and Mother would gaze until the curtains are fully drawn. And sometimes, when Master’s main servant girl is sick, Mother always volunteers to clear up Master’s room and she would take me along. She touches everything on Master’s drawers and sheets. I wonder why.”

 

Max nodded, though he couldn’t understand why this was being told to him. He took it lightly, like a bedtime story, so he curled up even tighter into a ball.

“Is your mother beautiful?” He asked.

“She’s gorgeous. Like a blossoming flower on a winter night.”

“Wow, that’s a beautiful way of describing her.”

“Is your mother beautiful as well?”

“Her beauty is indescribable. Except it is masked behind a constant fear of my father.” A fear that Max knew like the back of his hand.

The sky was dotted with pretty stars and cottoncandy clouds carely covered them like a thin veil. Soon, both young boys fell asleep in the dark, each with a smile on his face.


***

When Max awoke the nest morning to the sound of the lock unfastening, he scrambled to his feet. The torchlight was still clenched in his hands, as he burst through the door, looking left and right for his lovely friend.

But he could not be found. The caretaker picked Max up.

“Where is the boy sleeping outside last night?”

“What boy?”

“The boy? Cupcakes? Something about his mom…” a nagging thought at the back of Max’s head told him that it was best not to mention the conversation that had gone on late into the night.

Servants do not and must not make friends with their masters.

changmin

✦ Dangerous Mind ✦
The blackholes in the deep recesses of your mind, secrets you never wished to hide.
The lovers you never want to remember and the history you can never leave behind.
You can’t run further if you’ve only been escaping your own mind.

oo1 ✦ Dangerous Mind ✦

The night is long – shadows grow on my wall
I’m calling out but no one’s home;
Cause paranoia is the only friend I know

Street lamps dimmed promptly at midnight, signalling the witching hours. A rented motorbike cruised along the Kan-Etsu expressway at a speed enough to give the common man a heart attack. Constant roars of the engine were probably the only sounds in this prefecture of rampant crimes and felonies. The Harley-Davidson travelled another mile before skidding to a stop at the gates of a hostel. The rider swung a lean leg to hop out, ran a hand through his hair – damp from ravages of the evening wind.

With a loaded haversack slung across his back, he walked, fists clenched, towards a relatively modern-looking building situated at the far end of the parking lot. He approached the porch entrance. Kikokushijo Student Hostel – the sign formally printed in katakana. He was in the midst of brushing up on his Japanese, though admittedly he was a better composer when his works were Korean.

A chair was propped up against the entrance gate.

“Max?”

A petite elderly lady gently beckoned. She must be Kawa-san, the caretaker whom everyone dubbed the ‘Halmeoni’. A Korean immigrant herself, she adored her hometown lodgers and never failed to welcome them with open arms.

Max shuffled his weight from one feet to another, hesitant.

Kawa-san cupped her thin, callused palms lightly over Max’s, extending her warmth to the tips of his icy cold fingers.

“Please call me Halmeoni, like everyone else. It’s great to finally meet you,  Max. Come over where there’s light.”

Such benevolence in a smile could only beget genuine humanity. Max nodded and attempted a smile which didn’t quite reach his eyes.

“Come,” she repeated, undeterred by his silence, “I’ll show you to your room. Let’s get you comfortable. School begins tomorrow. A good night’s rest will do you some good.” Kawa-san then led the way to the co-ed dormitory that Max was to share with two other fellow students. Max was thankful that she comprehended how he did not wish to speak.

The room was dark. Closing the door behind him softly, Max approached the only empty bed by the window, which faced the dimly-lit streets. He could sense the gentle rise and fall of his room-mate’s chests as they slept on soundly, but quietly so he would not wake them, Max unzipped his jacket and draped it across neatly-folded sheets.

For a long while after, he was lost in thoughts as he stared out of the window. His mind had a life of its own, swirling with memories long buried and better off forgotten.

Here at last, Max was finally physically safe enough to revisit his past. Though blurred and fuzzy at the edges from prolonged suppression, recollections were raw all the same. He fingered the red star that hung from a thin silver chain, warm from the heat of his chest, as he was laid in bed thinking.

That night, Max was sleepless.
***

“Hey handsome! G’morning.”

A chirpy girl greeted Max with a wide smile.

Max didn’t mean to stare. She was dressed in a beach-ready bikini, and as she stood up, he was hit with the fact that his room-mate was drop-dead gorgeous. Max stopped himself from scanning her from top to toe, and focused on her mega-watt smile.

Noticing Max’s creeping blush, she let out a loud laugh.

“Hah! Forgot my manners. Forgive me. I’ve been here for 3 years and this is nothing new. You are Max right? Halmeoni told us you would be staying with us. I’m Sora. Kim Sora from Seoul, Korea, like you!”

She sure talks a lot. Max thought as he shifted his gaze onto the body on the adjacent bed.

“Oh that one is Thierry. He is so lazy even though we need to wake up at this time every morning, and now the time is….OH NO. OH MY GOODNESS. THIERRY! WAKE UP! WAKE UP!”

Sora was born a multitasker. Max watched her tug the blankets off of Thierry, and slapped him in so many areas that could wake the dead, and all the while, managed to powder her nose and put on mascara. Her lungs were a separate entity – they screamed at a hundred decibels for Thierry to get the hell out of bed.

Thierry, however, was dead to the world.

Sora launched her last resort.

“Max. Give me a hand will ya? Press Thierry down.”

Curious, Max did as told.

Sora stood a few feet away, poised to charge at the bed. Max stood rooted as Sora flung her entire bodyweight, and more, at her sleeping victim.

“YARRGHHH!” Sora roared as she slammed onto Thierry. Her fingers latched onto him and began aggressive tickling.

“What in the WORLD!!” Thierry sprang up. He tried to lift his body but Max was holding on. Max was not just ordinarily strong – he was chocked full of biceps.

Thierry growled and howled like a tortured maniac. “SORA…STOP!”

“Get up lazy ass. Get dressed!”

Sora then grabbed Thierry by the cheeks, and kneaded his face like it was a lump of mould. Thierry’s cheeks – already scarlet from laughter and pain from Sora’s abuse – turned pinker.

“KIM SORA I’M GONNA GET YA FOR THIS!”

Easing his weight off Thierry, Max took a step back and watched as Thierry sprang up to a sitting position. Grabbing Sora’s waist, he flipped her over effortlessly. The two rolled off the bed onto the Gabbeh carpets, with Sora on top. Laughing, both pursued unrelentingly with their brutal tickle assaults. Both looked so engrossed in their own little world, forming such a sweet picture of bliss.

Not wanting to intrude further, Max turned away. Quietly, he picked up his duffel and closed the door to the dormitory behind him.
***

Kikokushijo Academy was almost a mile away from the student hostel. Seeing as it was early, Max arrived at school on foot, taking in the fabulous scenery surrounding the campus. Cherry blossoms lined both sides of the walkway, and pretty auburn leaves were snow flakes in the wind. The branches crackled when the winds struck.

Around Max, high schoolers moved in big crowds, lively with chatter and gossips. They must have been friends for a really long time as Kikokushijo was an affiliate of their namesake elementary and middle schools.

“Look. He is the new guy I overheard Sensei talking about!”

“I heard he is from Seoul! Lives in that Kikokushijo hostel.”

“Does he share a dorm with anybody? We have an empty bed in ours!”

“He is tall!”

“What’s his name?”

“He looks hot.”

Max straightened his back and trudged on, his duffel slung high across his back. He was wary of this fresh environment although he was certain nobody knew, that he came from a place where his story was fodder for gossip, people were willing to pay to know his whereabouts.

He refused to slouch away or hide his lanky frame, which had become subject of all conversations. Max ran his fingers through his tousled dark brown hair and picked up his pace.

“Look! He is shy isn’t he?”

“He was flirting!”

“No look! He is blushing!”

“Are all Korean guys as hot?”

Girly chatters could be heard all over as they gushed. They were now discussing his muscular frame and that he must be a really good fighter.

Teeth grit, Max thought: You could do much worst in Korea, in that house. Accept this life. Japan is your safe haven now.

Friends were a luxury. Anybody could betray him. He had to stay low, and all these attention was not doing him any good.

He bowed his head as he crossed the gates into Kikokushijo.

~*~*~

✦ Dangerous Mind ✦
The blackholes in the deep recesses of your mind, secrets you never wished to hide.
The lovers you never want to remember and the history you can never leave behind.
You can’t run further if you’ve only been escaping your own mind.

———

A/N: Reposting a novella written 6 years ago by the old me. Here it is, fresh again after some edits.

To be honest, the protagonist, Max was inspired by a favourite Korean boyband then.
Hence pardon the amateurity, immaturity and bouts of girlish-ness.

max1

To be updated…