Excerpt from D. U. B. L. I. N. — Wan Nor Azriq (translated from Malay by Ti Lian Boon)

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A9: To my critics who may be reading this diary: not far from where you are now, I did mention that I would leave Cortázar for a moment while I tiptoed to another square. Before you get too disappointed and lose patience with the mischief of my feet, you need to know that I too am terribly lost in this diary and do not know how to return to those of you still waiting for the conclusion of Cortázar’s story. In the life of a walker, his story is never complete, instead he continues to walk and builds narratives from the paths branching out in front of him. Like the branching paths in Borges’s story. A garden without answer except for those entering to look for hope. As the Chinese writer Lu Xun said, “Hope is like a path in the countryside: originally there was no path – yet, as people are walking all the time in the same spot, a way appears.”

* * *

B9: Smile next time Mr H, said Anita from behind the camera as she moved left and right looking for the best possible angle for her picture. Mr H felt at ease watching Anita from close quarters, after almost two hours of being separated in their game of surveillance. He wanted to smile, but he wanted only to smile at Anita. Let this woman reveal herself, thought Mr H, what is she trying to hide? He looked at the camera in Anita’s hand: it was digital. He imagined the millions of light sensitive sensors currently translating his image into electronic data: humankind’s new memory, replacing recollection. As well as language. In the days when he used a film camera, its function was to capture images and as a media to store memories. People could still flip through pictures to find sentimental attachments. With a digital camera, the images is stored as a document in a computer much like an organisation’s information is stored, arranged and classified. Smile. He tried to smile. 

Through the aperture of the lens, camera users become the eyes of God’s imagination. Eyes that hear and eyes that direct. 

* * *

C9: I imagine that the park chosen by Mr H must be the smallest in Wangsa Maju. From my computer – I looked for it on Google Maps before going out – this park could not be found. Are you dependent on the Internet for all knowledge? asked Mr H, irritated, as he watched me sitting at the computer (which was all the more enjoyable for me). Not everything Mr H, I answered, but everyone has their limitations. Even a capable person like you may one day forget the way. Or the name of our closest neighbour. Or your actual age and the last time you celebrated your birthday. These limitations provide the proof that we are human, said Mr H, not machines. I laughed and said, In your world, Mr H, the imperfect are us. While geniuses like you make it perfect. But if you are offended – and aren’t you someone who does not overlook anything – I am illiterate. I never had any ambition to become an intellectual. I grew up with a father – in whom I still believe today – who taught his children to accept that all food is good to eat. All food, Mr H. 

* * *

A10: It was December 25th. A nurse came with a hot drink and told me she was a fan of my novels. She sat beside me (she was very young; could be a trainee). She said she wished to be a poet; she recited from memory a poem by Sapardi Djoko Damono:

Walking to the west in the morning, the sun

followed from behind

I walk following my own tall shadow ahead

of me 

The sun and I did not argue about which one of

us created shadows

The shadows and I did not argue about which

one of us should walk in front 

Why haven’t you written a novel for so long? asked the nurse sweetly. The accident made me unable to walk, I answered looking at her. You need to walk to write? she asked. Aren’t all writers like that? Don’t all writers have conversations with their shadows? I said with a hint of pride. I don’t like to walk, she said smiling I laughed. But you like Sapardi’s poem. I like seeing people walk on my days off, said the nurse. I have no time to watch people in the hospital as I am always walking. It tires me out. I feel that if I continue to work here, I will tire of walking and I will tire of seeing people walk, and perhaps I will simply stop walking after that.

A week later I heard that nurse had quit. I do not know what happened to her. Perhaps she could no longer bear it. She reminded me of a woman I knew: an observer who vanished after observing walkers like me. David Goodis tells of this symptom in his mystery novel The Burglar: “Trouble? They don’t know what real trouble is. Look at them walking. What they take a walk, they take a walk and that’s all. But you and I, when we take a walk it’s like crawling through a pitch-black tunnel, not knowing what’s in front, what’s behind. I want to get out of it. I want it to end, there’s no attraction and I want it to end.”

Has it ended? Has it ended, Anita? 

* * *

B10: An abandoned park, thought Mr H, undiscovered, is the best place to walk. Anita was beside him. She was telling Mr H about the football match between Inter Milan and Barcelona later that night. 

Have you ever been to a stadium, Mr H? asked Anita.

No, said Mr H, there’s too little space. 

Compared to this park, said Anita, I do not understand how you can say that a stadium has too little space. It is far bigger.

It is true that this park is small. It has no monuments or animal sculptures, or horse tracks or any lake for geese and ducks to swim in. No ice-cream seller would come here as there are no children to sell to. The eye simply follows the park trails. Or change in the weather. There is no need to hurry here. There is no need to fear (or worry that any physical weakness would be observed) as the walkers are each alone. 

It transpired that he had been to a stadium once (he was not sure when). Did he go alone? No, someone more likely accompanied him. He still remembers the cheers of the crowd and the obscenities of the musty-smelling men to his heaving; eyes concentrating on the green stage below; their privates seemingly about to be unrooted. Mr H felt fearful and violated. He felt he was trapped in an animal cage. That place definitely did not free space, as Anita said, but confined it. Like the hands of death throttling him. 

* * *

C10: When noon came, we started for home and Mr H talked about the dilemma of his imaginary character, Wahyudi. Among the reasons why Wahyudi was not able to leave his flat after accepting Ms Zaitun’s assignment was due to fear haunting him. The fear of falling into society’s web and living his whole life there.6 He was used to travelling as a man on the fringes and a recluse in the city. He did not care if he was viewed as a louse or parasite, as that was the skin he wore. That’s who he is, Anita, said Mr H, and no one can change him.

But Nazim will change, Mr H. He will not be like that forever.

Even I am continuously changing, I never know where I start and where I end.

I feel I might vanish from this place at any time. I am not permanent – like a park – because I cannot be permanent and I do not know how to be permanent even if I were asked or wished to be so.

Ever since my father’s death… I have always looked for a place to depart to… and a safe harbour. 

Father’s death… was my death… and rebirth as a woman.

Mr H waited for me to say something – I walked on without looking at hi – but I could not fathom Wahyudi clearly. He was too foreign to me. Mr H should ask Nazim. He is more sensitive to – and more critical of – the instinctive behavior of an individual. Nazim conversed with people of all sorts of nationalities and background. Nazim – I feel – understood life better than Mr H because he did not just see and think – he experienced it in person. In Nazim’s eyes, life was a clear fact; while Mr H’s eyes life was an imagined fantasy. 

That night I replied to Nazim’s email and signed in to Mr H’s Facebook.  

Wan Nor Azriq  

NOTES

6. On the advice of one of his fellow reporters, Wahyudi met a doctor in a restaurant near Jalan Gasing. Wahyudi arrived at exactly ten at night. It did not look like a restaurant from the outside: more like a club or fortune teller’s house. The gate was secured by a chain and was padlocked. Wahyudi was about to give a shout, when a man in a waiter’s garb came out to open the gate. He did not look local (maybe Vietnamese or Burmese). The name Wahyudi written on the top of a notebook and underlined. He was expected. Inside: walls, ceiling, tables and chairs were all green. The dim light provided a bleak prospect like a view in the middle of the jungle. Near the mirror behind the counter table a dark-skinned woman in a cheongsam smiled as she turned on some music. A rough, rather beastly, voice came from the dark passages leading to the back of the restaurant. Wahyudi took a seat next to a cup-shaped table. The waiter who had let him in closed the curtains, thus hiding from outside view. He waited, quite calmly. He took out a cigarette and lit it.

“I heard you were looking for Valium,” said a foreign voice from the next table.

“Yes,” said Wahyudi, “I need Valium. I need it now.”


Wan Nor Azriq is a writer and translator.  He has published six novels: D. U. B. L. I. N., Boneka Rusia Guido, 86, Soneta Roda Basikal, Dompet Kulit Buaya, Di Kala Bulan Bermain Biola. For many years he was driving UBER and Grab in Kuala Lumpur, now is he currently part of the Melaka in Fact project as a writer and social media coordinator.

Featured image: Garden of Forking Paths, Peter Asquith, Creative Commons.