The Future Starts: The Past Departs

By A Jessie Michael

In my heart thunder, in my eyes, only clouds.

 “Here already? Here already?” asks his mother,

for hours his favorite rendang* stirring.

She is incoherent with love

and breathless from using her lungs as bellows.

My son comes home today with wife and child.


A man steps out of a car, not a child;

 It’s the laterite dust that our vision clouds.

He’s dressed like the city. Where is the boy I love?

Not seeing us still, “Pa!”  he echoes the buffalo’s bellows.

Then child-like, calls “Bu” in his mother-

tongue, peering thru the dust still stirring.


The wind sets the young padi* stalks stirring;

It’s whistle like the reed flute, reduces me to child-

like sobs and I stand speechless like a love-

lorn fool as they kiss my hand. The cloud-

laden sky turns dark and heavy with a mother-

load of rain. In the paddock the buffalo bellows.


The young child frets. “I’m hungry!” he echoes the bellow.

“I made rendang*,” proclaims his grandmother, stirring

spittle in our mouths while the mother

of all storms begins. “I want KFC” — truly a spoilt child

and for a moment my appetite clouds

till I remember that till he’s grown, KFC is puppy love


The rain thrashes the ground, a love

offering to the padi fields, drowns the bellows

Of our lungs, conjures memory clouds

of bare bodies and muddied feet and the first stirrings

of manhood riding on the buffalo, laughing in child-

ridden delight towards his padi-harvesting earth mother.


“Pa the roof leaks, the house creaks and this mother

earth is dying. Laterite will become tar. This love

nest will soon be concrete flats. No more child-

friendly fields, but roads with the horn bellows

of trucks and automobiles. Change is stirring.

Come with us to the city. Will you live among exhaust clouds?”


I see the future start in this man- child trying to mother

us, clouds of grey hair mingling with mists of love.

Slow the past departs, deaf to my heart’s bellows and my soul’s stirring.


*Rendang –aromatic  spicy meat dish with ground coconut flesh and milk, sautéed for hours.

*Padi – unhusked rice

*Bu (Ibu) – mother


A. Jessie Michael is a retired Associate Professor of English from Malaysia and a writer of short stories and poems. She has written winning short stories for local magazines and newspaper competitions and received honourable mentions in the AsiaWeek Short Story Competitions. She has worked with writers’ groups in Melbourne, Australia and Suzhou, China. Her stories have also appeared in The Gombak Review, 22 Asian  Short Stories (2015), Bitter Root Sweet Fruit and Kitaab (2019)  She has published an anthology of short stories Snapshots, with two other writers and most recently her own anthology The Madman and Other Stories (2016).



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