Pavle Radonic ~ Code Red

The Scream

There is a woman in the city here walk­ing around and con­duct­ing her day-to-day life with the mem­o­ry of an argu­ment, a scream­ing match, that had hor­ri­ble con­se­quences. Or rather, that end­ed bad­ly; bad­ly in the extreme. It would be wrong to ascribe the end result as a con­se­quence of the argu­ment. Hopefully the woman con­cerned could keep that last thought at bay.

The cou­ple had been togeth­er over fif­teen years. He drank a great deal, smoked like a chim­ney. A wild lad, though wild in the con­text of the art world. Not a wild, hard man.

In the usu­al way, even the couple’s clos­est friends didn’t know too much about their inti­mate, pri­vate life. One of the cir­cle sug­gest­ed the man, a promi­nent local musi­cian, played an impor­tant role as step-father to the woman’s son from a pre­vi­ous rela­tion­ship. The same per­son too who had com­ment­ed on the father­hood role sug­gest­ed the man had been strug­gling recent­ly with his age­ing. Early/mid-fifties’ life posi­tion wors­ened by the booze; there was the begin­ning of var­i­ous ailments.

The argu­ment, the scream­ing match, took place in the inner city apart­ment the pair had bought some years before, an apart­ment sit­ting on the 24th floor of the build­ing. Wild scream­ing it had been. She from one of the rooms indoors and the man even­tu­al­ly from the balcony.

A sud­den silence arrived from the lat­ter after the man, the woman’s part­ner, flipped him­self over the bal­cony railing.

In such cir­cum­stance there might not have been any scream once the rail had been cleared. That was the likelihood.

Clearly, there had been no thought of the dan­ger to any­one hap­pen­ing by on the ground beneath the bal­cony. (Nothing fur­ther had resulted.)

Some kind of sud­den impulse involved, a sud­den trig­ger action, what­ev­er pre­cur­sors there may have been ear­li­er. In the months and years earlier.

The first report of the inci­dent had not men­tioned the scream­ing. It was a close inti­mate of the pair who lat­er divulged that part of the matter.

In an unre­lat­ed event thir­ty-five years ago, a cousin had thrown her­self down a well up in our Montenegrin vil­lage. Bacila se. Thrown her­self; when in fact in a case like that Cousin Jovanka must have let her­self slide down from the rim of the well.

It has sur­pris­ing­ly gone now from mem­o­ry how the news reached us. The ear­li­est mem­o­ry of the recep­tion was Bab’s qui­et absorp­tion of the shock. Very lit­tle was said. Some words from Bab had been expect­ed; there had been almost none.

Jovanka had been Bab’s niece, the pair hav­ing spent a good part of Joke’s youth togeth­er and devel­oped a fond­ness for each oth­er. Memorably, Bab had defend­ed Jovanka more than once when she thought her inter­ests were not being tak­en into account by her par­ents and her sisters.

We were all assailed by the event ever since of course, all the par­tic­u­lar details involved. The long climb up to the vil­lage, which would have need­ed well over an hour at Jovanka’s age. All the deter­mi­na­tion and set­tled resolve. A set of her best clothes Jovanka had tak­en up with her and left beside the well. Her ready bur­ial attire. On top of the cloth­ing was her wed­ding ring.

Assailed across all these years, reg­u­lar­ly and inescapably. In night visions and wak­ing. Jovanka’s sons and daugh­ter had suf­fered how much more. The part­ner of the musi­cian at the bal­cony in her case too.

Gnawing mem­o­ry. Always there. You could not shake a fist at the hor­ror; take the head in hands like in the Munch paint­ing. The mem­o­ry could not be dis­lodged. After reced­ing in the usu­al way it always returned.

It was the first anniver­sary of the bal­cony jump a few weeks ago. Possibly there had been some kind of com­mem­o­ra­tion for those most near­ly affected.

In the high rise liv­ing in Singapore des­per­ate leaps from the upper storeys were com­mon and reg­u­lar. One of the neigh­bours in Geylang Serai said the jumpers always did it in oth­er neigh­bour­hoods, not their own. A strange quirk that was per­haps understandable.

Mother had fixed in her head that Jovanka had gone to her father’s well for her act; not the house where she had mar­ried. A deci­sion that in Bab’s mind spoke loud­ly. There had been hard­ship in both hous­es for Jovanka, but it had been an argu­ment with her father that had even­tu­al­ly pre­cip­i­tat­ed her action. Another source had the oth­er well cho­sen, the house of Jovanka’s husband.

In the cas­es of both Jovanka and the vault­ing musi­cian there had been no pri­or attempts. You might guess the thought of sui­cide had occurred for both pre­vi­ous­ly. Different as the actions were, one would guess so. It was impos­si­ble to know.

There had been some sharp words, not screams, with Jovanka’s father some while before her act. The musi­cian had appar­ent­ly been wild­ly argu­men­ta­tive; argu­ments with the part­ner seem to have been reg­u­lar and dramatic.

The slide; the leap. Complete emp­ty­ing of mind in the moment—that most surely.

A sud­den lunge in the one case and a much longer pas­sage for our Jovanka. Fixed and unequiv­o­cal mind. Silent screams came lat­er per­haps on both sides.


The Red Chair

As far as pave­ment bar­bers went this one was as good as any; for the Indians it was a twen­ty minute walk over to Guillemard. The night before there had been a queue and final­ly the wait was aban­doned. A demand­ing Chinaman in the chair was want­i­ng this, that and the oth­er, mak­ing for a brief wait. In the sec­ond clan house fur­ther along one of the Taoist rit­u­als was tak­ing place, on the throne before the gods and dev­ils a heav­i­ly tat­tooed for­mer bad­die-turned-savant rub­ber-stamp­ing var­i­ous doc­u­ments and ini­tial­ing oth­ers. Kids at the cor­ner table helped them­selves to soft drinks from the fridge; a cou­ple of take-outs were deliv­ered and the old­er man at the out­door table opened four long-neck Carlsbergs, one for each of his pals. During the wait on the fussy Chinaman an unusu­al song was drift­ing across from fur­ther up the lorong. There were a group of young­sters in lable­less clothes out­side the last house in the row, with an acoustic gui­tar and some oth­er kind of instru­ment. Five or six stood in the choir encour­ag­ing, We can, we can.…some­thing, some­thing. Can we pray for you sir? the nosey park­er in the pana­ma was asked by a chap deal­ing leaflets. One of the girls of the group stepped for­ward. No mon­ey sir. Do you need a prayer?… Prayers would cer­tain­ly not be amiss along that strip. There had been no revis­it­ing the scenes in these lorongs the last num­ber of years. Homelessness, beg­gary, the hunch­backed, deformed and amputees scroung­ing could be bet­ter endured than the traf­fick­ing of that quar­ter. Weekends the lorongs and side lanes along there off Geylang Road col­lect­ed scores of girls and more in the broth­els, young teens pre­dom­i­nat­ing. Pimps were reg­u­lar­ly pros­e­cut­ed for under­age girls, with­out any sem­blance of change on the street. The bar­ber that night had not been recalled—two or three men took shifts on that site—but the chap knew his reg­u­lar well enough. Aodaliyaah? Aodaliya.… Ya, the great south­ern land; he had remem­bered. Understandably the man had been struck by the usage. As usu­al the work­ing girls con­tin­ued with very lit­tle hang-time. Viets, Cambodians and per­haps Filipinas, one or two tran­nies among the rest. On this sec­ond night there were far more girls and main­ly Indian for­eign work­ers cus­tomers. Pretty young girls with­out any need of smil­ing or entice­ment. Rapid nego­ti­a­tions, off up the spi­ral stair­case or the old dilap­i­dat­ed house oppo­site, in and out. Of course whites were rare in the barber’s chair. Six-sev­en min­utes for four dol­lars. It had been an ear­ly fin­ish at the Cyber, well before ten. The street light was fair, but the Mainland con­struc­tion labour­ers moon­light­ing wore bicy­cle lamps strapped to their fore­heads. They used a nar­row-blade machine and cut-throat for shav­ing; a gown was pro­vid­ed for clients. For brush­ing off a foam sham­my was employed like car-wash­ers used; broom for sweep­ing into the canal in front. Twenty metres down the gospel group con­tin­ued; across the lorong the young lads fol­lowed behind the girls. Three or four girls were always wait­ing; it was very brisk. The stab­bing moment that evening came when one of the young pimps returned to the cor­ner of the canal oppo­site the lane, close by the chair. It may have been the cruis­ing police car ear­li­er that had sent the lad away. Here he was com­ing back to his post in a casu­al swag­ger. Seeing his approach, a young dark-haired girl sud­den­ly leapt from the red plas­tic chair like the one the bar­ber had com­man­deered and assumed her place over at the awning where her friends wait­ed. A bolt of elec­tric­i­ty could not have thrown her more vio­lent­ly. For the evening the shop’s awning had been half-raised and the girls slow­ly cir­cled there show­ing their legs and curves. Sporting elab­o­rate tat­toos along his fore­arms and sharp red-tint­ed hair, the pimp took the seat. From the awning the lass bent for­ward to the young fel­low with some wit­ti­cism. HaHaHa. There was no answer­ing laugh­ter, though the pimp received the gam­bit well enough. It was OK, there was no need wor­ry, there would be no anger. In the news­pa­per reports of pros­e­cu­tions there were men­tions of pimps try­ing out the girls at the out­set in order to rate ser­vices. Customers enquired seem­ing­ly and a seri­ous busi­ness need­ed to take its busi­ness seriously.

Geylang, Singapore

Pelicans and Egret

Down in the shal­lows pel­i­cans fed on the fish bait, Barry said, or ghost shrimp per­haps, John added. Later John spot­ted an egret sun­ning itself on the spit of land oppo­site and we came around to the cor­ner of the club­house to see it. The egret held sym­bol­ic impor­tance in Zen, Barry said, some­thing con­cern­ing rebirth it may have been. A day or two before Barry had seen one fly over his car and perch on a branch near the creek where we had planned to sprin­kle the ash­es; a lit­tle augury it could have been taken.

There were more pel­i­cans than gulls on the water; a cou­ple of swans came over lat­er when they thought there was some feed being offered.

Barry knew the area from the time of the old race­course grand­stand fur­ther around; a palm that had been plant­ed at the time of the rac­ing remained as the sole rem­nant now. Further around again on the point the pines that European new­com­ers had plant­ed stood along the water’s edge.

A hun­dred metres off the road look­ing across the bay the sky stretched wide, the water below and the body of space between more vast still. Two con­tain­er ships sat far out toward the hori­zon. John knew not to attempt any pho­tographs of the scene, it was impos­si­ble. In the streets of the sub­urbs behind the visu­al field was always sharply narrowed.

From the cor­ner of the club­house where we watched the egret John and Barry point­ed out the joyrid­er out on the water speed­ing between the ships. The white caps they indi­cat­ed were dif­fi­cult to sight so far off and so low on the water. It took some while. The waves of sound car­ry­ing across the dis­tance seemed to bear no rela­tion to the cut­ting of the sur­face out there. It was like­ly a jet-ski, John thought. During the war the British had erect­ed some kind of large arti­fi­cial ears on their shores attempt­ing to pick up any approach­ing German ships. (The Anglophile John again,)

A cou­ple of chaps lat­er told of the immi­nent demo­li­tion of what was the Deaf Angling Club on the right. There had been a long, unsuc­cess­ful cam­paign try­ing to save the build­ing and on the Monday the bull­doz­ers were due. The old­er club­house adja­cent John knew from a pre­vi­ous inves­ti­ga­tion. With its sim­ple fire­place and rough seat­ing it had remained unal­tered from the time of its con­struc­tion fifty or six­ty years before.

Prior to the sprin­kling of the ash­es Barry read out a cou­ple of Bible vers­es he had pre­pared, some­thing from John about the light after the dark pas­sage. Baz like his cousin had read the var­i­ous spir­i­tu­al texts over the years. The sljivovic brought along was rel­ished by Barry in par­tic­u­lar and enjoyed lat­er by the oth­er cou­ple of chaps con­cerned about the demolition.

A sim­ple cer­e­mo­ny like this was fit­ting, for some­one like Al in par­tic­u­lar, who had nev­er had any­thing to do with for­mal­i­ties. Expelled from the local Tech in the first form, hard drink­ing so many years, impro­vised Blues and the dope—it was dif­fi­cult to think of any­one in the acquain­tance so far removed. The depth of Al’s pri­vate grief over the English girl Nora  in youth was only prop­er­ly sug­gest­ed by Baz lat­er in the after­noon, after the cer­e­mo­ny at the creek. There were hid­den let­ters Barry had found up in Alan’s flat. A vol­u­ble man like that—we had called him Yell at one point—keeping the hurt so close.

A cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions ago up in the ances­tral vil­lage the impro­vised arrange­ments for death might have been some­thing similar—without any offi­cial­dom of any kind, reli­gious or oth­er; sim­ple words and straight­for­ward dealing.

The weight of the plas­tic cylin­der was unex­pect­ed; five kilo­grams John esti­mat­ed. Pepper-like car­bonised traces dot­ted the white and grey grain and dust.

Barry took the first turn and we two fol­lowed, the wind blow­ing some of the lighter gran­ules back over the lit­tle dock and onto our shoes.

Against the dock in the shal­lows of the creek the bulk of the frag­ments made a lit­tle bil­low­ing cloud, before slow­ly sink­ing into the water. Barry had brought some flow­ers that he had picked some­where, the magen­ta being the colour worn by the high­est rank of Buddhist devo­tees, he said.

There had been six or sev­en vis­its to the hos­pi­tals and the home over Al’s decline. Barry had man­aged more and for his part John hadn’t been able to bring him­self to it.

Words like images on a pho­to­graph­ic roll were impos­si­ble. On this par­tic­u­lar west­ern edge of the city where only the small­est sliv­er of the built envi­ron­ment intrud­ed the breadth of space seemed to fun­nel down onto the lit­tle dock and the tin club­house behind. No grave­yard with­in the urban lim­its could have offered any­thing like it. The sys­tem of water, sky and air, with the birds and the sand bed of the estu­ary, served the pur­pose very well. Smoke or feath­ered ash might pos­si­bly have been the most appro­pri­ate release into that space, but that was a poet­ic nicety.

Newport Fishing Village


Australian by birth and of Montenegrin ori­gin, after eight years liv­ing on the SE Asian Equator the virus forced Pavle Radonic’s return to his home­town. Previous work has appeared in a range of lit­er­ary jour­nals and mag­a­zines, most recent­ly Nine Cloud Journal, Sunspot Lit, Fleas On the Dog, Panoply & Ginosko.