GetLit! Modern Myths: A Hantu Kum-kum story
#BuySingLit will be held from Friday to Sunday — three days packed with more than 40 activities in all four official languages to promote Singapore literature, aka SingLit. In print and online, The New Paper is profiling some of the talent involved. Today, we have two short stories — modern takes on mythical themes.
A HANTU Ku-kum story
Razali was a bodybuilder. Unlike some other bodybuilders he knew, the body was not so much a lump of clay to be moulded into its ideal shape, but something that was by nature wild and rebellious. Any drop in vigilance, and there would be an adipose uprising - gathering around his abdominal area as a procession of love handles, or demonstrating solidarity by organising a sit-in at his chin area.
For Razali, his body was not the product of an artist's dialogue between skill and material, but the subject to a monarch's absolute edicts.
The decision to tame his body was made one day while he was in his secondary school's uniformed group. While practising marching drills, he was humiliated in front of his friends when the drill sergeant barked at him, "I said stomach in, chest out, not the other way round!"
For the rest of the day, he was sucking in his stomach, only too self-conscious that each time he relaxed, his viscera would push out his abdominal wall, a submarine crew that used his navel as a periscope to view the outside world.
So he found a solution in body fortification. Strips of muscle could be toned to the point where the hidden body would no longer be able to exercise its design plans on the visible one.
Flesh could be turned into brace, corset and girdle. He started on a regime of supplements, attended the gym at his community centre four times a week, and within three years became a qualified fitness trainer.
He started wearing T-shirts with ripped sleeves (their edges were deliberately jagged to suggest that they had been ripped apart by the force of rampaging biceps), viewed egg yolks and chicken skin with nausea, and got married to a regular patron he would often sign in for free while working as a part-time bouncer at a club.
It was only in the last month or so when Razali started intensifying his workout routines. He had recently joined a new gymnasium located in the city area, and he found himself surrounded by a new batch of veterans who had tuned their bodybuilding pursuits into surgical obsessions.
As the mirrors in the gym replicated their tortured grimaces, it also seemed to make their exchanges profuse and repetitious: they talked about nothing else but extra inches to the chest, or the side effects of creatine monohydrate.
Razali's wife could not help but notice her husband's restlessness. Not without incredulity, she served him banquets, wondering to herself whether the most desperately religious made such offerings to their gods. In bed, he often complained about his colleagues.
The giant Zachariah, whose feats at the bench press were just a step away from the miracle of levitation. And how could he even hope to compare his puny self to the twin brothers, Murad and Maidin, who, blessed with the gift of perfect resemblance, could spur themselves through the completely unforced act of sibling rivalry?
After sending her husband off to work one day, Razali's wife opened her refrigerator. Quilts of mist could not hide the obscene largesse she had stocked for her insatiable husband.
Suddenly, on the radio, she heard a news report about the Kum-kum. The newscaster was trying to quash rumours that the Kum-kum had crossed the Causeway and was now making its rounds in Singapore, making an appeal to her listeners' sense of rationality and common sense.
The Hantu Kum-kum was a ghost who terrorised homes with its hunger for the blood of virgins. She was originally a woman who consulted a bomoh* for a beauty treatment.
The bomoh made her consume an elixir, with one condition: that she not look at the mirror for a period of 30 days. However, tormented by curiosity (provoked each time the woman touched the increasingly smooth contours of her face), the woman sneaked a peek at her reflection on the 29th day.
The mirror cracked; and so did the woman's face. She had been scarred by her own impatience. To regain human semblance, she had to feed on the blood of young women, a task that would send her from door to door, draped in a headscarf that masked her abominable countenance.
Nobody knows, not even the Kum-kum herself, the quota of blood she would have to partake of before complete restoration is possible, which would make her assignment both everlasting, and futile.
A sudden knock on the door brought Razali's wife back to reality, or perhaps yet further into unreality. Superstitiously, she peered into the viewfinder, half-expecting a veiled woman to be brooding at her doorstep. Instead, it was her husband, directing impatient glares at the convex eyehole.
Razali's wife noticed how dwarfish he looked, the sides of the corridor like a pair of parentheses that framed him.
The only cure for vanity was a curse - their depleted savings, his eroded libido - that would never reveal its unappeasable nature.
It was not her husband's body that needed repair, but the evil conspiracy of his own eyes.
Alfian Sa'at is the resident playwright of W!ld Rice and has published collections of poetry, plays and fiction. He loves cats, pantun (Malay poems) and laksa.
*Traditional medicine man/shaman
Win $100 book vouchers
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We have four $100 vouchers to be won.
To enter, go to tnp.sg/buysinglit-contest.
Simply watch the video feature on one of our featured authors and answer the question.
Contest closes at 11.59pm tonight.