by Herbert Siao
My eyes were on Philip Larken:
Six solid hours engaged in his enigmatic verses
When I heard a whisper, unsure,
As I too was unsure whether to turn—
"Uh . . . sir, do you speak . . . English?"
I looked up into the face of
A-not-quite-old Chinese woman,
"A little," I replied, "My son—" she continued,
Palm open, words halting,
"Uh, hospital . . . Please help me Mister—
"Even a penny, a dollar . . . one or two—"
"I'm so sorry ma'am," I whispered back
Patting my pockets, "I don't even have one."
But I felt the half-bitten pieces of
A half-eaten chocolate bar in a shirt pocket,
Which tided me for lack of lunch or breakfast,
"Its okay"' she said desperately.
The look in her eyes shattered something in me.
(God..,) Did I bow my head in shame?
Did she see me hurriedly wipe my eyes?
Could she tell or hear?
My heart was thudding,
Ashamed at my distress compared to hers.
Against the silence of that reading room
My mind screamed "why? why? why?"
"Why had I nothing to give—and
Why was it okay that she was being rejected?"
But she tapped my shoulder, squeezed it reassuringly,
"Happy New Year Mister."
She tiptoed to the next reader like a bird hopping
From branch to branch,
"Oh God, please spare her son's life."
I followed her with my eyes till I saw her figure recede,
I remained rooted in the middle of Bedok Town Square
Under an insistent drizzle and was swallowed
By an oncoming crowd.
In my mind I saw the boy on the bed and a woman out there
Peddling her plea for a second chance on his ebbing life
Why, oh God, why—if I can do nothing—
Why even care?
© Herbert Siao