It used to be a running joke between my mum and I.
“Wake up Baby, it’s so late”
“Just 5 more minutes”
“Grab the broom and sweep the floor”
“Give me 5 minutes”
“I need to talk to you”
“I need 5 minutes”
Well at least it seemed funny to me when I would sing aloud “Fiiiveee miiinnuuuttesss…”.
She used to hate it – it drove her mad. She would grumble that she’d never talked back to her mother in her youth and how dare I make her wait.
When she laid in bed on her last day, I whispered in her ear at 9.02am.
“Please give us 5 more minutes.
They’re coming. The rest of the family is coming.”
Her chest rose up and down as the ventilator helped her with the chore of breathing.
Up, down, up, down.
The nurse slipped in and held me close as she whispered in my ear: “I’m sorry, she’s gone”
Even in the last moment, she had to have the last word. That’s my mum for you. It makes me smile now.
My heart hurts but it’s not broken. It’s just a mere crack. No big deal. But when the light hits it, it stings and I just want to patch it up and tell the light to go away. Please go away and let me wallow for a while. Please. I can’t be the light for now. I can’t be strong yet. Please let me hide under the covers where it’s safe, warm and salty. I thought I’m done with the tears, I’ve used up my quota for you. No more can come. But give it an hour or two, when I hear a kind voice. Then they come. The tears flow, and gush, and pass through the cracks with hot salt, and they sting, and it hurts, but I just grin and bear it because I know this will be good for me. Tears are cleaning the wound out. Tears are fixing the crack. Let them flow, they’re patching things up. It still hurts, I won’t lie but I know what comes next is just time.
“I have a slot tomorrow, do you want to come in?”
Amidst the piles of paperwork and the deadlines looming, the little voice in my ear said “Say yes, you need this. You need this now’
“Mmm… it’ll be tricky. I have so much work to do… maybe next week will be better?”
“No worries, I can do Monday too if you want.”
The little voice didn’t let up. “Well how long would it take actually?”
“For one that size? Not too long, probably 10-15 minutes”
“That’s quite tempting – where is your studio?”
“It’s in Balestier. Pretty near the MRT”
I googled it. Wow, it’s just half an hour ride in between my meetings. Is that a sign?
“Ok, this is crazy but let’s do it.”
My first tattoo was a reminder.
I love you anyway.
It was a quote from a mentor when I was seeking answers.
“What’s the meaning of life? Why are you afraid of death?”
“Well because I’m not done with it.”
“What haven’t you done?”
“I don’t know…so much. And I’m not ready to leave them behind.”
“Them meaning your family and friends?”
“Yes I guess”
“So the meaning of life is love. Always
Love and connection gives one meaning. It comes back to loving yourself. I see you in me, you see me in you. We don’t feel alone. We’re on this journey together.”
“Yeah, but what if someone hurts you? What if someone drives you mad? I fought with them all the time. I regret that now. I shouldn’t have.”
“Yes, that is true. Yes, that happens. But that’s life. If you want the big love but you put up the tall walls, how will love come in?
You make me so crazy some days, but I love you anyway.
We argue and fight, but when I look into your eyes, there is still love.
Love is unconditional. Love’s intentions are pure.
I love you but I love me more.
I love you but if you’re not happy. I will let you be free.
I love you anyway.
It’s often said the saddest short story in the world is just 6 words.
“Baby shoes for sale, never worn.”
I can think of a couple more.
“We were suppose to.”
“I should have”
My body knew I loved you before my heart did. We got stood up by both our dates and ended up drunk on cheap Tsingtao. We eyed each other with suspicion. “This is crazy. You’re beautiful, smart but still single? What’s wrong with you?”, you asked. “Well, I tend to pick the wrong guys who want a mommy. What’s your excuse?” Without missing a beat, you smirked “I leave them before they can leave me. So I don’t have to feel the pain of losing their love.” We raised our bottles and toasted each other.
The next morning, I forgot I was in a stranger’s bed when my body betrayed me. As I rolled away from you, it let out a distinctly wet fart. Immediately my eyes sprung open – “Oh fuck, he’s awake…” as I saw the glow of your phone screen reflected on the walls. I bit my lips and turned slowly to peep at you from beneath the covers. You were sitting upright scrolling away. I watched you smile and whisper absent-mindedly to yourself “Nice…”
I lay still mortified, but knew then I was finally home.
And so on that random afternoon, I stole away for a while. It felt like a respite from the rest of the world. From the deadlines, from the expectations, from being the version of me that held it all together. As her tattoo gun buzzed in the background, I felt free and calm. I was free to be myself and speak. Or not speak. To listen. To be seen. To be understood without saying a word.
Just the thousands of tiny ink stabs on my skin.
A relative was diagnosed with cancer. It felt like dejavu. As I tapped my ID at the hospital gantry, my heart skipped a beat and I felt my head spin. Not again. Not so soon. My soul floated out of my body as we navigated through the hallways of the ward.
No, no, no. Stay in the now.
I don’t know if I can do this.
Can I just hide please? Please let me hide.
It’s a weird club to be in but they need us now.
I came back to my body when I saw them.
Frail, resigned, tired. But they looked up and smiled.
I just wanted to hold them. I understood perfectly.
My heart cracked wider.
Ok, just be strong for them for 5 minutes.
Then an hour.
Then a day.
Then rinse, step, repeat.
No one knew I had sneaked away to Balestier that day for my new ink.
I had multiple reasons.
It’s the new year and Valentine’s Day.
It’s from one of my favourite love songs.
”What a difference a day makes/ Twenty-four little hours…”
It’s a reminder that miracles do exist.
I wanted it to look like it was a page from an old worn out copy of an Enid Blyton book.
Because I’m a writer and I use my hands.
I love fairytales.
Because I want it for the ‘gram.
I’m a creature of sentiment and habits.
I wear my mum’s gold rings on my fingers.
I spritz my necklace pendant with my love’s cologne.
I tattoo myself with lessons.
Now each time I look down and it stares back, my tiny reminder tells a different story.
Life can change in 24 hours.
Dejavu. Life and lessons repeat.
You should be grateful.
You should live life to the fullest.
You should tell the people you love that you love them.
Because you don’t know what will happen next.
But maybe if the future seems too much, take it by the day.
If that’s too hard, take it by the hour.
If it still hurts, take it by the minute.
Just 5 minutes.