Friday 4 December 2015

#Fridayflash: Bonsai

Pei Pei sat at the mamak stall, staring at her glass of teh tarik which had been served piping hot. It was nearing one in the morning, but there was still a big crowd at the stall because some famous football team was playing another famous football team. A quaint way, her mother would have said, of trying to run away from the troubles that plagued her at home.

The biggest of which was what to do with Kong Kong's bonsai.

It wasn't that there was something inherently wrong with having a perfect little tree in a perfect little pot; a microcosm, her grandfather used to say, of the world. It was just that this particular little tree amongst all the other trees had somehow been bequeathed to her and she didn't know what to do with it. She found it unnerving, to say the least, mostly because it seemed to sit and stare at her with its soulful leaves, as if it wanted to say something but couldn't. She was being silly, of course. Trees didn't talk. Neither did they stare. It was all in her head.

"The problem with being a little shumu penjing is that we're confined to a little tray or pot and we don't grow very deep roots. Sure, we look pretty - or at least artistic - but we're kind of shallow. We also seem to get shifted around a lot, whether we like it or not. You use the word bonsai, which is the correct English term for me, but I thought you might appreciate the fact that the ancient art of making little old me was actually invented by the Chinese millennia ago before it was passed on to the Japanese. You know, cultural pride and all that."

Pei Pei rubbed her eyes and looked around. She was sure she had fallen asleep, though how she could have in the general ruckus that was happening in the mamak was a mystery to her. One of the teams had won, apparently, and not everyone was happy with that. At least they were only shouting. She took a sip of her cold tea and wondered why she had brought the bonsai out for supper.

"You too are a bonsai, little Pei Pei. Artificially crafted and generally rather rootless. You've built your life a certain way, around certain beliefs you thought were important, but you've never really let yourself grow into your role, have you? You've always balked of the idea of letting your roots take hold and settling down, of choosing one culture or another as your defining... heritage. In fact, you are wary of the word heritage and all that it's supposed to entail because you don't think you belong to one or the other. You're a transplant, like me."

Pei Pei stared at the teh tarik sitting innocently beside the bonsai, wondering whether it was spiked. Maybe they had put in some hallucinogens, or maybe some stray passerby had dropped an ecstasy pill in it. It had tasted perfectly normal though - extremely milky and overly sweet.

"Face it. Without strong roots, you know you're fake. You know that even just a little neglect would kill you because your roots aren't deep enough to find its own water or its own nutrients. So you sculpt yourself meticulously, mirroring the people you think you should be like because you haven't dug deep enough to find out who you were meant to be. Think about it though - this smallness, this cuteness, it's artificial. If you would only plant yourself somewhere and allow yourself to grow, you'd become a huge tree - like that one over there."

Pei Pei caught herself turning to look at the trunk of the ancient tree that provided shade to the mamak stall during the day, including random leaves. She shook her head at herself. "This is some prank you're playing on me, isn't it, Kong Kong? Did you somehow hypnotise me into bringing this stupid potted plant out?" She twisted the pot this way and that, merely stopping short of turning it upside down, in her quest to find the voice recording her grandfather must have stuck somewhere on it before he passed away.

"I'm getting dizzy. Could you please put me down?"

She nearly dropped the pot in surprise. Her grandfather had been a great practical joker, but she highly doubted he was clairvoyant. It must be pre-programmed and tied in with some kind of motion-sensor, she guessed. She shook it again.

"Would you please stop that!"

"Smart. I wonder how he did it." She placed the pot down on the table.

"He didn't do anything. This is all me talking to you," the tree said in a huff.

She narrowed her eyes at it as she sipped on her tea.


It's been a while since I posted a Friday Flash.

I wrote this ostensibly for the Commonwealth Writers Short Story Competition but haven't finished it yet (the deadline was Nov 1). I'll probably finish it one day, but for now, it will remain a piece of flash fiction. 

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