Creative non-fiction / December 2014 (Issue 26)

Practical Approaches to Failing Structures

by Nurulhuda Arslan


It is 7:57 pm at Singapore General Hospital. The curtain has been drawn around bed 6, the bed closest to the door and furthest from my father. Every ten minutes or so, someone will part the curtain to join the rest who are waiting in the corridor. Another person then enters. The cycle repeats. At 8:30 pm, I say goodnight to my father and leave as visiting hours are over. I navigate politely past the visitors still in the hallway. They are permitted to stay as long as they need to.

I am back at ward 48 by 10 am the next day. The curtain around bed 6 is still drawn. There are some visitors hovering around bed 6, but not as many as last night. The patient in the bed beside my father sees me looking and tells me that the curtain has been drawn for three days now. Then he says, "Badan banyak panas, macam api"[1] and instructs me to increase the speed of the fan oscillating above him while he massages his distended stomach. Moments later, my father's ostomy pouch requires draining. I stand aside as the nurse draws the curtain around my father's bed.

It is 2:43 pm, and I am almost home from the hospital. I walk past the void deck to get to the lift lobby. The yellow edges of the tent that have been pulled taut around pillars to enclose most of the void deck for the last seven days have been hastily rolled up, resulting in an uneven distribution of material in the roll. The heavier section sags to the point that some of the rolled up edges escape their confines. Chairs are stacked and pushed to a pillar; their plastic legs screech resistance against the cement floor. Round wooden tabletops are dismantled from their metal frames. A wooden dais collapses. The din of equipment being broken down rivals last night's funeral rites as they ascend, heaven bound. By 5 pm, only the excavated remains of a funeral wake stands yellow and erect.

It is too dark to see the tent from my kitchen window now, but the shushing of the tent flaps reminds me that it is still there. I place a bowl on the round breakfast table and pour in Cheerios. Then I drown them in skimmed milk. After wiping down the table, I take the bowl of cereal into my room. I have not eaten at the breakfast table since my mother measured the length and breadth of the available floor space in the kitchen seven months ago. After deliberating over the dimensions of the kitchen, she had declared that the breakfast table would have to be removed when the time comes.

When what time comes?

When the time comes to mandi[2] your father.

[1] Literal translation: Body very hot, like fire.

[2] Referring to the practice of "mandi mayat" in Islamic funeral proceedings, where the deceased is bathed and purified. In Singapore, it is common for it to be done in the mosque or in the HDB flat.

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