When he wakes up in the morning, the first thing he does is read the Chinese newspapers. He flips through the pages, finds what he is looking for, stops, and scans the page. From top to bottom, from left to right, he is absorbed in his task. Finishing one page, he flips to the next and repeats his scrutiny, and then the next page, and the next.
Abruptly, he fixes his gaze on one corner of the page, reads and reads it again. He shakes his head, and sighs deeply. His lips tremble slightly, as if he was muttering softly, but to no one.
The sounds he make are almost imperceptible.
A moment later, he puts down the newspapers, laboriously stands up, and slowly makes his way towards a table. There, he opens one of the drawers and removes a pair of scissors, before inching his way back to where the newspapers are and sitting himself down once again. All of these, with effort.
Due to his slow and soundless movements, watching him is like watching a film in black and white. He begins to cut out the newspaper clipping. The sharp pair of scissors meets the crisp newspaper, and produces a clear slicing sound.
Completing this task, he gets up once again, goes to his reading desk, and removes a folder from his shelf. Opening the folder, he carefully slides the newspaper clipping into it.
Only then does he speak aloud, “This way, I won’t make a fool of myself again. Last time, I had been careless and had written a bunch of letters to an old friend, not realising he had been dead for many years.”
This piece was originally published in Chinese as〈剪报〉in《鱼和钓鱼的人》.
Chew Kok Chang is the 1995 Singapore Chinese Literature Award winner and 1990 Cultural Medallion Recipient. He is well-known among Singapore Chinese literary circles, and Shelly Bryant’s translation and Epigram Books’ publication of Other Cities, Other Lives as part of Epigram Books’ Cultural Medallion series in 2013 has also paved the way for further publication of Chew’s works.
Eunice Lim Ying Ci was a part of the inaugural intake for the Singapore Apprenticeship in Literary Translation (SALT) in 2017-2018, organised by Tender Leaves Translation and The Select Centre and sponsored by the Singapore National Arts Council, and was mentored by Loh Nyuk Fong. These pieces were originally translated as part of that programme.