Pavle Radonic ~ Recusant

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

Niqab woman arriv­ing late for break­fast was one of the teach­ers of a small group of mid-teens. Four girls sat at an adja­cent table and a half dozen oth­ers sep­a­rat­ing them­selves down at low­er ground. A madrasa excur­sion per­haps, though these were not of the low­er class poor. Traditionally many poor fam­i­lies sent daugh­ters to a madrasa at least in part to relieve the bur­den at home. These were mid­dle-class girls, well-dressed, albeit mod­est­ly and cov­ered. All wore the scarf, though none fol­lowed the exam­ple of the teacher. The pil­lar screened the girls at the near table and most­ly the niqab teacher; her male col­league sat in direct line of vision. Bringing up the plates there had been pagis, good morn­ings with the girls in pass­ing, both at low­er ground and by the pil­lar. Late arriv­ing, the niqab teacher had not wit­nessed that exchange. An expe­ri­enced woman of course would notice the altered state of her charges, the alert­ness and tone of the gig­gles. Shifting in the chair now and again through the course of the meal the black niqab came into view a num­ber of times and once when the woman had lift­ed her flap for the food. Earlier the eyes and seg­ments of fore­head had sug­gest­ed a woman in her mid-thir­ties, which was con­firmed by the jaw and mouth. Male col­leagues and oth­er men would devel­op a rela­tion­ship with the niqab woman read­ing expres­sion from her eyes, her ges­ture and tone of voice. Smiles would be sug­gest­ed by the stretch of fab­ric; annoy­ance by sub­tle hints beneath the glossy black cloth. One could not help won­der­ing whether the woman was dis­turbed by the pres­ence of the bule.

2

The lit­tle Rubber-duck­ie beep from the man catch­ing unawares. Without the base­ball cap he had approached, new­ly dyed long hair. The man had nev­er been seen bare-head­ed before; there had been no hint of locks of that length.

Two pra­ta and cur­ry deliv­ered to a seat two across, third from the end in order to clear the spread of his friend’s papers. Back to the drinks counter and return­ing not with the usu­al baby-pink Iced Bandung that he liked—the cheap­er rasp­ber­ry.

Assuming the seat and set­tling, ini­tial­ly the road noise had blan­ket­ed the call.

On Onan cor­ner a steam­roller was going over the new­ly laid strip of tar. Earlier the Indian crew had gath­ered at the deliv­ery truck this side for white gloves and masks. The men were already equipped with their yel­low hard-hats, a dozen milling and some kind of trou­ble it looked at first a few months after the riot.

Saturday morn­ing traf­fic churn­ing and beneath the lit­tle horn from the side with squeaky short exten­sion when the lead note went unheed­ed….

Oh! Oh!

Shovel-hand point­ing at the plate like every­one does here in uni­ver­sal sign to join the repast.

It had been not­ed many times, even per­fect strangers sit­ting adja­cent in these parts could not tuck into their food dis­re­gard­ing the fel­low per­haps endur­ing with­out.

         — Join me, they call, show­ing the offer­ing.

Quite over­whelm­ing always, and on this occa­sion how much more.

After a meal that size the Deaf would not have a morsel else for the remain­der of the day.

3

Tubby with his yel­low apron on the night-shift must have trudged up ear­ly. A recent hair-cut. All the lads at Reaz receive reg­u­lar trims from the bar­ber shop that was run by a branch of the fam­i­ly down in the ground floor well below the eatery. The red and yel­low cap tonight that matched Tub’s Maggi apron had not been sight­ed pre­vi­ous­ly; blue nylon short-sleeved shirt. Tough climb up the incline nights and not a hap­py camper on first land­ing Tub. At home at the bot­tom of the dark lane there was no one to wash, cook or warm Tubby’s bed. (Overcast, cool driz­zly days upon us now at the tail-end of the year.) First notice of the chap’s pres­ence was the strange half-yawned tune from the entry to the sev­ery behind. Allahu’akbar in a tone cer­tain­ly nev­er heard before in these five and more years on the equa­tor. Resting on the counter and head back-tilt­ed, the cap pulled from his brow and scratch­ing beneath, the man gave out the bat­tle-cry of the sui­cide bombers and oth­er mar­tyrs just to him­self there in a moment of lazy release.

Jakarta, Singapore & Johor Bahru

Terror

Obs.
Paki from behind his pil­lar furtive­ly observ­ing the meal being con­sumed. Cool nights the man’s clay oven offered some wel­come warmth—even here in the Tropics spit­ting dis­tance from the equa­tor, believe it or not. (Damp and breezy, grey skies like over the crick­et fields of England.)…. White guy, jour­nal­ist or writer some­thing or oth­er accept­ing bread from his hand, tak­ing the fine­ly diced shal­lots into his mouth with his fin­gers. Never tir­ing of the fare; invari­ably the same order night after night. There was a McDonalds in the near mall and KFC the one over the canal, queues at both almost every day and week­ends par­tic­u­lar­ly. Yet this reg­u­lar pre­ferred the bread he had shaped from his dough, raw onion and two plain sam­bal on the plat­ter. Staying at one of the hotels near­by not short of a shekel, picked up the odd word of Hindisomewhere in his trav­els. Surprisingly, ear­ly on he had been iden­ti­fied as a Paki by this, guy who took his plate and glass out back him­self before pay­ing at the counter. Strange, strange bird indeed…. (It was impos­si­ble to coun­ter­act the drones of course for all that.)

Johor Bahru, Malaysia Dec2016

Chair

Chap stand­ing behind in the pas­sage at Al Wadi unnerved some­what. Immediately behind stand­ing there and not budg­ing. Two min­utes, five min­utes and more. Indian or Bangla. (Turned out the lat­ter). A mem­ber of a local Islamic com­mu­ni­ty might have been lis­ten­ing to rad­i­cal­ized muftis in a num­ber of loca­tions across the globe, from any num­ber of sources. Taking a head on the street like that—perhaps an accom­plice film­ing from the corner—would make a large state­ment of protest and revenge for all his peo­ple had been endur­ing.… Pretended to be watch­ing the EPL on the screen, at that dis­tance. The Indians were less entranced by that par­tic­u­lar game.… Surprised and hes­i­tat­ing at the offer of a seat…. Ah. Well, OK then. Thank you, sir. Many of the con­struc­tion sites and indus­tri­al quar­ters had closed down ear­ly for NY, the engi­neers and man­agers need­ing some respite. (In fact two days off and then the week­end in the present instance.) Endless replays on the screen last few days unseen by this fan. Big Centre-Back Ivanovic for the blue team the dill penal­ized for hand­ball, hang­ing his head, team­mate half-heart­ed­ly protest­ing. The kick­er stut­ter­ing in his approach, but in the end ram­ming past the hap­less goalie and run­ning into the cor­ner with a cel­e­bra­to­ry sign to the delight­ed sup­port­ers. It had been played, played and played again on the screen at Al Wadi the last num­ber of nights when there was no new sport­ing action for replace­ment. Stiff shit big Branislav, you screwed up! A clas­sic Serb look­ing a lot like neigh­bor Rade back in Melbourne, up-scale lump here in this case.… Ya, of course. Taking a seat as a non-cus­tomer made a chap ner­vous, nat­u­ral­ly. Foreign work­er using the facil­i­ties, soak­ing up the com­fort and enter­tain­ment. Ninety cent tea con­vert­ing to Bangladeshi taka was a pret­ty pen­ny.… A few min­utes pre­vi­ous while still on his feet the man had noticed the pho­to­graph of his co-reli­gion­ist refugees catch­ing rain­wa­ter in their hands at their make-shift camp in Myanmar that was car­ried by the Straits Times in a pho­to sur­vey of the year past. After com­mis­er­at­ing with the Bengali it was more or less pos­si­ble to put the man at some kind of ease.

Geylang Serai, Singapore Dec 2015

Osama

The men from the Horn were espe­cial­ly qui­et that morn­ing. They knew not to reveal their feel­ings, even to a trust­ed friend. Not pub­licly in front of oth­ers at least.

A cou­ple of ref­er­ences to the event passed with­out com­ment. The local Liberal can­di­date at the recent state elec­tion seemed to assume the lads were more or less depend­able on the mat­ter.
Talk veered in oth­er direc­tions. With his lim­it­ed English Fausi man­aged a cou­ple of irrel­e­vant jokes.
One response even­tu­al­ly came from Yousef, the musi­cian-car­pen­ter. To a seat­ed fel­low Sudanese Yousef had deliv­ered a short speech in Arabic from his feet on his way out the door. The voice had been loud enough to include every­one at the tables.
A poet as well as singer, Yousef had called him­self at the ini­tial intro­duc­tion a few years before. Short, viva­cious, bright-eyed man.
The gen­er­al recep­tion through the café was clear with­out any head-turn­ing.
A minute or so of close­ly chan­neled voice in a strong, ardent, albeit lev­el tone that had been unin­tel­li­gi­ble for all but the name.
….Bob Marley.

Bob Marley?…
In the cir­cum­stances it was not an espe­cial­ly dif­fi­cult guess.
Before Yousef got him­self out the door he was stopped for the ques­tion and imme­di­ate­ly the mat­ter was con­firmed.
Yes. Gone, Yousef the poet and singer admit­ted, lean­ing in a lit­tle to the table. But the—fore­fin­gers drilling either side of his tem­ples—is ALIVE!

Melbourne, Australia 3 May 2011

Palestine & Christchurch

As usu­al after his night­shift Cabbie Cha was hunt­ing the news­pa­per. On the mis­er­able dol­lars he earned it was no sur­prise Cha want­ed to save the buck ten. Every so often after the read­ing was done and Cha hap­pened along he would be slipped the sheaves. A keen read­er like the Convert could not be con­tin­u­al­ly denied; polite requests always and nev­er com­plaints when the man was rebuffed. Ordinarily Auntie Helen was gift­ed the paper, left on the chair out­side her door late morn­ing after the return from Wadi. Auntie had become a keen read­er her­self in the last few months; recent­ly she had inves­ti­gat­ed a spe­cial offer sub­scrip­tion. There was always a need for news­pa­per in Auntie H.’s line with the felines; one of her lit­ter had recent­ly been pee­ing indoors and for some months now Helen had been stock­pil­ing. Walking up the slope this morn­ing some excite­ment from the Convert was appar­ent. After his grate­ful col­lec­tion and sit­ting a while the mat­ter began to be divulged. There was some dol­drums mixed in Cha’s tale; but this was the less­er part and clear­ly out­weighed by the grat­i­fi­ca­tion and plea­sure. The for­mer arose from an acci­dent out at Changi Carpark No. 2, where Cha had been dis­tract­ed by a YouTube item and didn’t see a pole loom­ing. In a recent post­ing an Orthodox priest in Gaza had fea­tured voic­ing sup­port for the Palestinians. Why? the inter­view­er in the YouTube piece that had dis­tract­ed the Cabbie had asked. Why was a Christian Orthodox priest tak­ing the part of these oth­ers of the oth­er faith?… Cha clear­ly had been gripped; the pole in the side­walk approach­ing entire­ly unsight­ed. In answer to the ques­tion the priest had explained that his com­pas­sion for the Palestinians had been stirred; the priest felt sor­ry for the down­trod­den peo­ple. At the interviewer’s fur­ther increduli­ty, the priest endeav­oured to fur­ther explain that he in fact, the Orthodox priest, felt sor­ry for all. For you too, the priest had added—meaning the inter­view­er. The round­ing like this on the hap­less inter­view­er in par­tic­u­lar had been a moment that the Convert Cha had rel­ished. Ah!… A cap­ti­vat­ing inter­view; smash­ing indeed. The reclu­sive Han thinker that Cha had been sig­nalling the last num­ber of months in his per­son had sem­a­phored more strong­ly than usu­al this morn­ing. Almost a radi­ant pres­ence the man. Cha had recent­ly lost weight; at the same time his cra­ni­um seemed to have grown and his skin coloured in vio­let and choco­late tones like a bloom­ing flower. The Tang-era poets who had gone up into the hills to seek refuge from the war­ring fac­tions so many cen­turies before were evoked for an observ­er here with­out Cabbie Cha try­ing too hard. Even with back­yard repair, the momen­tary lapse at the wheel of the hired taxi would cost a pret­ty pen­ny, Cha report­ed. Painful as this would most cer­tain­ly prove for a man of the Convert’s lim­it­ed means, the effect of the priest’s human­i­ty seemed alto­geth­er to over­ride. Altogether and entire­ly. With the exam­ple of that man’s good­ness the dam­age here to the vehi­cle could be borne some­how by the Cabbie; the finan­cial drain would be over­come in time. Another piece too from the Tube like­wise had recent­ly enthralled Cha. Cabbie Cha glowed in this fur­ther telling and pos­si­bly even more strong­ly than before. The fig­ure of the ancient poet in his thread­bare gar­ments out­side his shel­ter became tru­ly inspired with the addi­tion­al item Cha deliv­ered here. In Christchurch the week before the mad­man killer had mur­dered fifty peo­ple: Cha pre­sent­ed the account­ing that had under­stand­ably appalled so many in this cor­ner. Many in the Muslim quar­ter of Singapore had asso­ci­a­tions with the com­mu­ni­ty in Christchurch; it had come as a sur­prise just how many there were. Family, friends, neigh­bours and acquain­tances had vis­it­ed, set­tled and toured the city on the South Island. Possibly Cha had viewed the ghast­ly footage from Christchurch; the man had pre­sent­ed grue­some YouTubemate­r­i­al more than once of atroc­i­ties in one place or anoth­er across the Muslim world, per­pe­trat­ed by one side or the oth­er. In the short time since that ter­ri­ble event in New Zealand, how­ev­er, where so many had lost their lives so sense­less­ly, Cha in fact revealed that three hun­dred and fifty men and women had con­vert­ed there to Islam. Seven times the num­ber of the lost in the shock­ing mas­sacre had been saved in Christchurch con­vert­ing to the faith; con­vert­ing in the Southern city and the wider ter­ri­to­ries of New Zealand it must have been, accord­ing to the oth­er piece Cha had found on YouTube. The remark­able fact had emerged overnight pos­si­bly; Cha might have seen it on his phone dur­ing his shift at the wheel in the ear­ly hours of the morn­ing. Bright gleam­ing eyes and a rich vein of vio­let and laven­der in the lips of the Cabbie; wag­gling chin too in the Indian man­ner when words were redun­dant.

Geylang Serai, Singapore 2011–2020

~

Australian by birth and Montenegrin ori­gin, Pavle Radonic’s eight years liv­ing and writ­ing in S‑E Asia has pro­vid­ed unex­pect­ed stim­u­lus. Previous work has appeared in a range of lit­er­ary jour­nals and mag­a­zines, most recent­ly Panoply, Modern Literature & The Blue Nib. A moun­tain­ous blog hold­ing main­ly the Asian writ­ing is here— http://axialmelbourne.blogspot.com/