Theophilus Kwek (b. 1994)
Strange, how we discuss death over dinner.
Nai-nai couches the passing of a loved one
as a walking away, as if someone
meant to join us for a meal
were caught up elsewhere. Aunty Fang
nods to herself; she was at the wake the night before,
and cannot forget how young the body looked.
Uncle Yang is his usual self, reserved,
but slightly quieter.
Father is last to hear the news. I watch him
mix regret with shock under his tongue,
shape a prayer waiting to be uttered.
He swallows a mouthful of rice, asks, how old?
Fifty-eight, nai-nai replies. She had cancer,
but was still active. So young! –
father exclaims; his voice has an edge
that brings new silence. Someone sighs,
can’t be helped. People
come, and quickly go.
Heads bob uncertainly, then in agreement,
as a bowl of fruit is placed amidst the unfinished dishes.
We each take a slice,
but delay clearing our plates. We have all
finished, but cannot bear to leave.
by Theophilus Kwek
from They Speak Only Our Mother Tongue (2011)