A to Z Challenge: Reflections

When I signed up for the challenge, I remember taking the word ‘Challenge’ seriously. I wanted to know if I had what my mother calls ‘stick-to-it-tiveness’. Was I ready, able and willing to complete this challenge? Could I do it? Would I flounder half-way? Should I give up even before I’d started? In effect, I challenged myself.

I also knew that preparation was the key here; I started planning things early. Throughout March, I did what I called a ‘trial run’. Each day, I would write out a story about the alphabet. For about 18 stories or so, I could produce new material. Of all the new material I produced, my favourite is still ‘A for Ammachi’. I loved that story and judging by the many comments I received, so did others.

For the rest, however, I struggled and wondered how I was going to cope. I spent much of March worrying about these ‘gaps’. How was I going to come up with material that would fit a particular alphabet?

Having identified this problem, I refused to compound it by fixing a theme to work with. I decided to be free and easy.

As April approached, I fretted. I still didn’t have these ‘gaps’ filled. Then, a few days into the challenge, I realised something when visiting other people’s blogs. They were using material that they’d published elsewhere. This gave me an idea. I dug up some stories that hadn’t seen the light of day in many, many years and worked on them. The story for ‘Y’ was a perfect example. ‘Yamuna’ was not the name of the original character in the story. However, to fit the ‘gap’, I changed the character’s name and made it fit.

In some cases, I had to have courage to share what I’d never shared before. The one for ‘W’ is an example. This was the first time I was sharing any of my paintings of Ladoo.

What I enjoyed was the camaraderie of other people who had taken up this challenge. I enjoyed vising other people’s websites and reading their stories. And I was sad when some of them who had such potential gave up half-way. I’ve made new acquaintances and I hope that we will all continue to keep in contact.


Z for Zebra

ZThere was a story in the papers about a runaway zebra that died after a golf course chase. Police chased this runaway zebra from Tokyo zoo across a golf course. It collapsed in a water trap on the golf course and died.

It’s such a sad story, but I could not help be amused by one aspect of this story: this failed attempt to recapture the creature came a month after the zoo held a drill practising this very eventuality.

The reporter wrote as follows: ‘Every year, a zookeeper dresses as an animal and stages an escae, giving colleagues the opportunity to hone their techniques. This year’s creature was a zebra which was successfully collared and returned to its pen. But as if to prove that practice does not always make perfect, this week’s real life response did not quite go to plan.’ (Runaway zebra dies)

Whenever I hear the word zebra, I’m always reminded of a couple I knew in University. They were my mother’s friends: Aunty Saras and Uncle Gordon.

It was the summer of 1996 and I was in Aberystwyth visiting some friends. I decided to rent a car and do a cross-country journey to Kent. On the way back, I decided to stop in Ilfracombe, Derbyshire and visit Aunty Saras and Uncle Gordon.

Keep in mind that there was no GPS and the mobile phone wasn’t going to work on some country roads. And Aunty Saras and Uncle Gordon’s house in Ilfracombe wasn’t exactly easily visible on a map. Duly warned, I was prepared to get lost. And being lost was exactly what happened. I’ll never forget driving up a slope in a very small lane and being comforted when I saw a small car in the rear-view mirror. Then, it disappeared and I was alone. Petrified, I reversed all the way down this lane until I had enough space to make a U-Turn.

To this day, I have no idea how I found Aunty Saras’s house, but find it I did. After I’d settled into a very comfortable room, we started talking about their ‘old’ times. Theirs was quite the love story.

From what I can remember, in the 1960s, she was the warden of Malaya Hall in Bryanston Square in London. She came in contact with many Malaysians. As a testament to her popularity, whenever she visited Malaysia, she was always welcomed into the homes of some of the most high-ranking people in the land.

By the time she met Uncle Gordon, she was already in the late 30s and had a child from her first marriage. Nonetheless, they fell in love and, she divorced and they married.

Uncle Gordon was no ordinary Englishman. He had served in Malaya (I have no clue as what, but I presume it had something to do with the war) and was an engineer by profession. He surprised me by being one of the few Englishmen I knew who loved everything about Malaysia.

They had a happy life together and travelled a lot. The thing about Aunty Saras was that there was never a journey where there wasn’t some sort of drama. On their African safari, she was the one who suffered from a rare mosquito bite. When she came one to Malaysia, she fell and injured her leg. There was the time she walked into a department store and something fell on her. Still, they were a jolly couple.

As for zebras, she told me a story that I’ve recalled each time someone deliberately insults me … like in my Xavier Ealy story. Aunty Saras, being Tamil, was, naturally, dark. Uncle Gordon, being English, was very white. I was describing to her some of the racial slurs that I had to endure from time to time in Aberystwyth.

Aunty Saras laughed and said, “You have no idea how close to the family racism can get. When Uncle and I first married, we had some funny things said to us. Then, when I was pregnant, one of his relatives came up to me and asked, ‘Will this baby be like a zebra? Will it have stripes?’”

How does one respond to something like that?


Y for Yamuna, the Brahmin

Y“Look at her now. Nobody wants to be her friend,” said sixty-year-old Suresh.

Having inherited her father’s strong will, Avanti wasn’t going to back down in this all-day argument father and daughter had been having.

“Nonsense! Everyone wants to be Yamuna’s friend,” Avanti replied. “I just don’t think they are suitable enough to be close to my daughter. They’re half-castes, at best. Yamuna is pure Brahmin. I will not allow a full Brahmin to fraternise with all these …” Avanti made a face to show her disgust.  She then glanced at the wrist watch her husband had presented to her as anniversary gift three months ago. It was 5.35 and she was already an hour late in serving Yamuna’s evening meal. This wouldn’t do.

“How can you say that?” Suresh stared at Avanti, ignoring his wife, Shoba. She had been trying unsuccessfully to get a word in.

“Why not? Until she becomes a full adult, I will choose who she’s friends with. Isn’t that good parenting?” Avanti looked at her father.

Suresh looked at Shoba and said, “See what your daughter is saying. I don’t understand why she’s keeping her daughter, Yamuna, from making friends. Yamuna is our granddaughter and we don’t mind her making friends. Why? Why would you do that?”

“I’m protecting her,” Avanti said in a matter-of-fact manner.

“Protecting her? From what?” Suresh stared at his daughter.

“She could get diseases from all these … these untouchables.”

“You’re becoming just like your friends. You complain that they stifle their children’s growth. Now you’re doing exactly the same. And yours is a little worse.”

Shoba put her hand up, as though she were asking for permission to speak. Her voice was feeble when she said, “But …”

Avanti turned at stared at her mother, too angry to be respectful. “Don’t interrupt, Mummy.” To her father, she said, “I’m protecting Yamuna.”

Suresh scratched his head. Taking a deep breath, he pulled out his smartphone from his trouser pocket and said to his daughter, “You’re fooling yourself. Come. Let me show you this video I took of how Yamuna behaved when her friend came to visit.”

Avanti pulled the chair closer to her father and leaned in to look at the screen. She rolled her eyes when her father said, “Can you see how the friend is putting her hand through the gaps in our gate and calling Yamuna out to play?”

Suresh pressed ‘Pause’ and looked at his daughter, raising his chin, as if to ask, “What do you say to that?”

“That’s what I don’t like,” Avanti replied, nonplussed. “That hand is all grubby and filthy. I don’t know where it’s been. It’ll be full of diseases and infections.”

Shoba leaned against the table and drummed her fingers on the table top. “You know, this doesn’t make sense. You’re fighting with each other for nothing. Yamuna is-”

“You’re such a snob, Avanti” Suresh said, ignoring his wife. “And you’ve passed this on to your child.”

“No-lah. Yamuna is absolutely sweet.”

“Humph! Watch the rest of the video and you’ll see that your baby is also a snob.” They watched the rest of the video and when it ended about a minute later, Avanti was shaking her hands in front of her.

“I never taught her that. I never taught her to lift her head so she could look down on her friend on the other side of the gate, make a U-turn and walk away. Not my fault.”

“Humph!” her father said and picked up his glass of water. He took a sip then said, “Not your fault, it seems. You keep telling her things like she’s Brahmin and pure. You make her feel and think she’s better than all the others and she does this. And you still think it’s not your fault. It’s all your fault. This is not good parenting at all.”

Shoba banged her palm on the table. Father and daughter jumped, then stared at her.

“Stop it! Both of you. You do what Yamuna really is, yes? It doesn’t matter if she’s Brahmin or not. None of it applies to her and you’re arguing for nothing. Whole day, I’ve had to listen to both of you go on and on. Yamuna doesn’t care. That friend of hers doesn’t care.”

“But-” Avanti said, poised to defend her actions with her mother.

Shoba put her hand up. “I’m not hearing another word.” Looking at Suresh, she said, “From either one of you.” Turning her head, she said, “And Avanti, you have to remember that Yamuna is a dog. She’s not human. There’s no such thing as a Brahmin dog.”


X for Xavier Ealy

W The bare walls of the conference room I’ve been left in adds to the uninviting ambience. Surely, being the corporate headquarters of Chanda, the poshest shopping centre in all Kuala Lumpur, the least management could have done was splash out on some decent décor. Then again, I am not here to criticise the artwork, or lack thereof. My assignment is to interview Anthony Ealy, the shopping centre’s Chief Executive Officer. My editor wants a story about this man’s involvement in a project to raise funds for the Cystic Fibrosis of Malaysia. After a string of dull stories, this promises to be a fascinating one.

In the next instant, a man I presume is Ealy walks in, spritely and confident. His hand is already extended to greet me.

“Good morning, Ms. Pillay, Anthony Ealy,” he says with a heavy Australian drawl.

I stand and take his hand. The palms are soft and skin smooth, which is in contrast to the many wrinkles on his face. His mousy hair, cut very close to his scalp, can’t disguise his very high hairline.

He takes his place at the head of the long table and I sit on one side of him. On the other is his Public Relations Manager who arranged this interview. From our telephone conversation yesterday, I know her name is Veni. How her efficiency completely belies her petite frame.

Time to start. I take a deep breath and say, “Please don’t be angry with me, but I have to ask for your age? The papers requires this of me.”

“I don’t want to tell you that.”

That was abrupt. Still, not one to give up, I try again. “OK. Can you tell me if you’re married? Children?”

“No. I don’t see why you need this information.”

This was going to be tough. I look down at the table and take three deep breaths.

“Mr. Ealy, I am writing a feature article. Not a paragraph about the event. I need some background information or else there’s nothing for me to write.” My speech is deliberately slow, lest my growing frustration shows.

He raises one eyebrow, but remains silent.

Perhaps, I should try another tactic. I take the sheet of paper Veni gave me when we first met. It’s meant to be Ealy’s biodata. I read that his full name is Anthony Roger Stedman Ealy. The meaning of the word that his initials make is not wasted on me. Ealy went to a university in Gunnedah. Did this university actually exist? He’s probably just another dumb expatriate we Asians hired because of the colour of his skin. I can’t say that to him. He snatches the piece of paper from me, scans the words, crumples the paper and chucks it at Veni.

Startled, she picks up the paper from the floor then smoothens it out.

“This is all wrong,” Ealy says to a spot above Veni’s head. “It’s ridiculous. I’ll deal with is later.” To me, he says, “I’m not going to tell you about my days in university. I don’t see why the Malaysian public needs to read any information about me.”

I am too mortified to speak.

Time for being polite was over. An ignorant fool needs to be treated accordingly.

“Well, you do realise that this interview is a profile story about you? It’s for the MENs pages.”

“We thought the story was for Style,” Veni replied, her voice feeble.

“I am from Style. It’s the magazine section of the paper.” Looking directly at Ealy’s face, I ask, “Do you read the papers? Surely, when you request that a part of the newspaper interviews you, you would read that part of the papers?”

Both of them look down at the table.

Still, I need to take something back to the papers or else the editor’s going to be furious. “OK. At lease tell me about this project.”

“OK,” he replies quickly and his shoulders drop. “A few years ago, I went to London for a business trip. During a visit to Buckingham Palace – where the Queen of England lives, we saw a group of autistic children being taken around the palace. You know Buckingham Palace?” Giving a once-over my clothes, he whispers, “Maybe not.” Scratching the loose skin on his neck, he says, “Anyway, I paid £15 to go in.”

Idiot! Just because I was dressed in a t-shirt and jeans didn’t mean I was too poor to visit London.

I studied there you cretin. I stood in line from 7 a.m. to get a ticket into the palace when it was first opened to the public in 1997. And I paid only £8.

Stop it, Susan Pillay! You have a job to do here. The story he’d just told was something we could on. Perhaps we were getting somewhere.

I ask hopeful, “So, can I put this in my story?”


I throw my pen down on the table. “So, what can I put in the papers?”

“Well, …” He ran his hand down his hairless arms and said, “You know, it’s amazing how little is done for Malaysian children. This government doesn’t do a thing for its people. When I spoke with the Minister of Health, he said sorry and that the Ministry couldn’t allocate funds here. He said sorry and that’s it. The only reason the Cystic Fibrosis Society is doing well is because it’s the parents who run it. You people – you Malaysians – don’t care about children do you?”

This asshole had the audacity to come to my country and criticise its people in this condescending manner. Still, what’s the point of losing my temper? After all, don’t these whites love Asians for our smile? We can rob them blind, but we’ll still smile. We can write terrible things about them, but we will still smile. So, I smile.

Placing his palms on the table, he says, “OK. I’m done here.” With a nod in my direction, he walks out.

Veni and I stare at each other for a few seconds, unsure of what to say.

She opens her mouth to speak. She closes it. Then she opens it again and speaks, her voice feeble. “We are so sorry about this.”

I put my palm up to stop her saying anymore. Apologising isn’t going to help. It’s time I say what’s at stake here.

“Let me tell you this. You want me to focus on one particular aspect of this project? OK, I can do that. That’s one paragraph. You want me to mention the event? OK. Another paragraph. Then what? This isn’t the news desk, you know. It’s the features articles. I have no story and you know what’s worse?”

Veni’s eyes fill with tears. I sympathise, but the cost of coming for this assignment needs to be made clear. “As a freelance writer, with no story to submit or publish, I won’t be paid. So, you and your boss have effectively wasted my time.”

Veni says nothing for a while before she says the only thing she can: “Sorry Susan.”

I give a one-sided smile. “Well, this another case of measuring waste with a sorry.”


W for Watercolours

WSince I’ve shared many stories about Ladoo and written a book about her, I decided to share something in this challenge that I’ve never share before: my watercolour paintings about Ladoo. I am not a professional painter nor do I have any special training. I just have an interest. That is all. So, here goes…

This shows how I took a photo, used to create a painting and used that as the cover design for my book.

And here are some other images:




V for Vigil

VAbout 12 years ago, I was in the plush office of the legal firm that I worked for. In front of me was my client. With the passage of time, I cannot recall all his facial features. What I can remember is that he was Indian (probably Ceylonese) and since I can’t remember his name, let’s just call him Dr. Lingam. He was well dressed in a beige coloured suit with a yellow necktie. I think he had a moustache. We were discussing a medico-legal case where he was being sued. I only remember that he was a neurosurgeon because of the story I’m about to tell.

“Dr. Lingam,” I put my pen down and relaxed into my chair. We had just concluded discussing what his defence was to a claim for medical negligence. He had rejected my advice to settle the matter out of court and was determined to defend his actions. “Can I ask you about one of your patients?”


“No. Don’t worry. I’m not asking you to disclose her records. I just want to know if you know her.”


“Her name is Molly.” I scrunched up my nose and added, “Errr… I think Molly Khoo. I think that’s her surname.”

“I sort of recall the name.”

“She had a terrible accident two months ago.” Shaking my head, I said, “She opened the gate and drove her car into the driveway. Like my father-lah, she also didn’t pull up the handbrake when she stopped the car. Just put the gear into ‘P’ and that’s it. So, when she went to the check the post near the gate, the car rolled back into her. She was pinned underneath the car.”

“Ah, yes. Molly Khoo.” It was the way Dr. Lingam said her name. Something wasn’t right about his reaction. He was looking to the side, as though the firm’s new wall paper was the most captivating thing on earth. What was this man hiding?

Suddenly, he looked straight at me and said, “What she did was wrong.”

“Huh?” It was all I could say. I didn’t know why he had become defensive. I wasn’t accusing him of anything.

“Actually, Dr. Lingam, I wanted to know what her injury was. Molly is from Alor Setar and so am I. My parents say that no one there really knows. They just know it’s bad.” I had gone to visit Molly in the hospital a day before. I had never seen a patient like that in my life. She was lying flat on the bed, her entire body strapped, almost, to the bed. She could not move her neck at all as it was in what I understand is called a ‘halo’.

“Oh,” he said, his shoulders relaxing. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms across his ample belly. “Well, to put it in simple terms,” replied Dr. Lingam, “she came in with this injury and we did all we could to stabilise her.” Shaking his head again, he said, “But they were wrong-lah.”

He wasn’t going to let this go. I decided to ask him about what he thought Molly had done wrong. “What do you mean, Dr. Lingam?”

He came forward and rested his elbows on the table. “We were willing to do everything for her. But just because she had a friend in another hospital, they transferred her out before we could do anything.”

This wasn’t what I’d heard from Molly’s family. As per the rumour mill in Alor Setar, when Molly first arrived at the hospital, Dr. Lingam refused to attend to her until he heard from the Accounts Department that her husband had paid the deposit sum. Then, when Dr. Lingam arrived, he examined Molly, but refused to tell her husband his diagnosis. “I am the doctor. I’ll tell you when I tell you,” were his exact words, apparently. The last straw was when Dr. Lingam wanted to perform a complicated surgery on Molly’s spine without explaining all the risks of the procedure to Molly’s husband. No other option was provided. The husband did the only thing he could think of doing at the time – he called another doctor friend of his and asked for his help and within 24 hours, Molly was transferred out of the hospital.

I could have told all this to Dr. Lingam. But, his entire attitude towards me made me aware that there could be some truth to the rumours about how he’d treated Molly. And it was no wonder he was being sued, yet again, for malpractice.

I decided to say something that I know went against many doctors’ beliefs.

“Dr. Lingam, you know, I remember coming to visit Molly in hospital. Did you ever look up at the ceiling when you were visiting her?”

He frowned, perplexed. “Huh? What for?”

I smiled. “Well, if you’d looked up, you would have seen that on the ceiling, they’d stuck the verses from the Bible and the Hail Mary on the ceiling. She may have been on her back, but her gaze was firmly fixed on God.”

“Err…” Dr. Lingam responded. Shifting his weight back and forth, he was all fidgety.

“I’m not finished,” I said and lifted one eyebrow.

He looked at me and said in a sheepish tone, “Go on.”

“She’s from Alor Setar. And so am I. If only you could see what’s happening in the Catholic church there. They are having a non-stop vigil in that church, I tell you.” I paused to let the information sink in. “And you know, they’re still having it. I think her operation in this new hospital was last week. From what I can tell, the op was successful and she’s on the road to recovery.”

We sat in silence for a while.

Then, he took a deep breath and held the side of the table and said, “OK, Miss Aneeta. I think we’re done with the case. I will see you in court next week. OK?”

I smiled and rose to shake his hand. “Yes, Dr. Lingam. I’ll see you in court.”

I never quite understood why he was so cagey. As it happened, Molly Khoo made a full recovery. And we lost the negligence case that I was defending because the Plaintiff proved that Dr. Lingam was intoxicated when he treated her.


U for Unholy Deal

U“Your fee is too high, Shanta.” Jude leaned back in his chair at Sid’s Pub. He’d called for this meeting to negotiate my fee to ghost write his book.

Before I could respond, our waiter, Davy took a step closer to our table to allow three burly men to make their way to the bar.

“Here’s your whisky, Jude,” Davy said. “Neat. And soda by the side.”

One of the men reached for the remote control and changed the channel on the overhead flat screen monitor to Star Sports.

Oh, goody. It was the repeat telecast of the Rugby Finals 2015 at Twickenham. I’d read on the internet that the half-time score was New Zealand 16 – Australia 3. Now, with ten minutes remaining, the All Blacks, the nickname for the New Zealand team, were still in the lead at 24 –17.

“How are you, Shanta?” There was a genuine tone to Davy’s query. “You fine, Shanta?”

“Yes, thank you, Davy.”

“You’re fine Shanta. That’s good. Would you like something to drink, Shanta?”

Poor Davy. His head was all messed up because his devout Catholic family vehemently refused to let him follow his heart and join the Jehovah’s Witness movement. Now, he repeated everything at least twice.

Air suam,” I replied.

“Warm water? Why don’t you order something else? A proper drink?” Jude rolled up his shirt sleeves.

“No.” I shook my head. “I don’t want anything else. Water is enough.”

“No. No. No. You get her a drink.” Jude shook his head, trying to overrule me.

Davy cocked his head to one side, waiting for my response.

“I’ll think about it and get back to you.” This was my go-to answer to buy time and reject an offer without causing offence.

“OK.” Davy nodded and I watched him walk past the bar into the kitchen.

On the flat screen monitor, the time stamp read ‘74.00 min’. Oooo… I’d read that this was an important moment in the game. And so it was – Carter scored from a massive penalty kick 49 meters out.

“Wow!” I clapped my hands.

Jude rolled his eyes.

“So, Shanta… about your quotation.” His nasal voice brought me back to our makeshift negotiating table in this pub.

“Yes? My quotation?” I reached into my tote bag and pulled it out. I tugged at it when it got stuck, crumpling some of the papers. There was no need to be this nervous.

“Do you know that in the UK, the going rate to ghost write a book is £2,000 a month? That’s close to RM10,000.00 a month.” I smoothed out the quotation with the palm of my hand.

Jude picked up his glass and I expected him to sip his drink. When I saw his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down, I wondered why he was drinking so fast.Was he nervous, too? A good sign.

“Jude, since it will take me ten months to write your book, by UK standards, I should be paid RM100,000.00 to write your book. My fee to write your book is only RM28,000.00. That’s not high.”

Hopefully, this ‘compare-contrast’ tactic would work. If Jude was made aware of how much other writers charge, Jude wouldn’t accuse me of naming a high fee.

“We are in Malaysia. Not the UK.” Jude raised his hand to get Davy’s attention. “One more whisky,” he called out, and Davy nodded.

I exhaled. What else could I try? Speaking of tries, I glanced at the screen and the All Blacks were attempting convert a try. Carter was going to kick the ball.

“Are you interested in my book or not?” Jude turned his head to look at the screen. “You seem more interested in the game.”

“No. No. No.” I shook my head, quick to apologise. “I just like rugby, Jude. Don’t you? It’s the world championship. I missed it because I fell asleep. It was five o’clock in London, but something like one in the morning here. Sorry. Where were we?”

“Hmmm,” he replied. “My book. I still think your fee’s too much. I can’t afford it.”

Can’t afford my fee? The man had just bought a new Honda CR-V and retail price was more than the cost of my flat. Did he take me for a fool?

“How much did you actually think of paying me, Jude?”

“About RM10,000.00.”

I stared at him. He did take me for a fool.

“You can’t be serious. You want me to do all that work for RM10,000.00? In ten months.”

“Yes.” There was no smile on his face. He then waved his right hand in front of him, as though he was showing his cards face up in a poker game. “I can pay you RM1,000.00 a month. That’s a regular income for ten months.”

I wanted to throw something at him. A plate. My shoe. The glass of water. Where was that glass of water, by the way?

Breathe in, Shanta. Breathe out.

“Let me get this straight,” I leaned my elbows on the table. “You want me to put aside all other projects and work exclusively on your book for RM1,000.00 a month? You know that even a maid gets paid at least RM1,200.00 a month? And minimum wage is RM1,000.00?”

“See?” He cocked his head to one side. “I’m willing to give you more than the minimum wage.”

The gall of the man.

“This is for charity, Shanta,” Jude’s voice was a little less patronising. “Our non-profit organisation, LUPS – Lupus Support – is going to pay for this.”

“I know. That’s why I gave you the 50 per cent discount on my fee. Otherwise, my fee for this project would have been RM56,000.00.”

Davy returned with Jude’s second glass of whisky, another can of soda and my glass of water. Jude took the can, pressed his thumb into the centre of the tab and pushed the tab inside using the pin on the rim. He poured the soda into his glass then handed the can to Davy.

“There’s a bit more.” Davy shook the can and tilted it to empty its contents into Jude’s whisky glass.

“I didn’t want more soda.” Jude took the can from Davy and placed in on the table. “Leave it here. I’ll pour more if I want.”

“Oh. Ok.” Davy took a step back.

I smiled at the waiter, an apology for how rude Jude was. Davy left us alone.

“You know there is something special about this book.” Jude lifted the glass to his mouth, took a sip then said, “If you write my book, you will get wisdom and become holy. You will go to heaven.”

“What are you talking about?” I blurted out. “I was born a Hindu. And I’ll die a Hindu. My place in hell is already reserved. Even if I write a thousand books for you, I’m never going to go heaven.”

Unperturbed, Jude smiled benignly. “OK. No heaven. What about reincarnation? Don’t you want to come back as a human?”

I held the side of my head and dropped my voice. “What the hell are you talking about?”

He shrugged, then said, “Well, if you write my book for a cheaper price, God will be kind to you. When you come back, you will come back as a human.”

How on earth was I supposed to respond to this? I couldn’t very well tell him that if he came back, it would probably be as a stingy monkey. That was sure to get his back up or, worse, make him withdraw from this project altogether. I needed the money to pay for Mummy’s heart medication. Besides, I wanted to learn something more about homeopathy, the subject matter of his book.

“Of course, I want to come back as a human,” I said. “But I need money for this lifetime. I can’t wait until the next lifetime to be paid for the work I do. Writing is my livelihood.”

Jude shook his head, nonchalant. He then picked up his glass of whisky and nursed his drink. I leaned back in my seat and sipped from my glass of water. The three men at the bar cheered. On the flat screen monitor, the jubilant All Blacks hugged each other, having become champions with a final score of 34-17.

I put my glass down on the table. “You know this is unfair, Jude. Why don’t you come up a bit and I’ll go down a bit.”

Quick to reply, he said, “OK. I will pay you RM10,500.00.” He jerked his chin forward and asked, “What do you think?”

I held my breath and narrowed my eyes. He was haggling as if we were in a fish market and he was trying to buy the biggest fish for the least amount of money. Or, for free if he could.

“OK. OK. No need to get upset. We’re only negotiating. You look at your rugby match. I want another drink,” he said and raised his hand to get Davy’s attention.

The All Blacks gathered to perform a celebratory Haka, a traditional ancestral dance of the Maori people. What a beautiful display of strength and discipline. The kind of discipline that artists the world over recognised. The soon-to-retire McCaw, Carter, Nonu, Smith and Mealamu stamped their feet. Jude was never going to give me my asking fee however many times I negotiated with Jude.

I took a deep breath. There were two choices here: take on the project and resent every minute of writing Jude’s book. Or, retire from this project even though we hadn’t even begun and trust that I would more lucrative work would come my way in due time.

After Davy took Jude’s order, I reached out to touch the waiter’s hand. “Wait.”

“Yes, Shanta?”

“Davy, I need a drink. Can you please get me a ‘Cosmopolitan’?”

“Certainly Shanta,” he replied and walked away.

“Ah-ha! We’re celebrating. You agree to do my book.” Jude smiled, smug.

I looked straight at him and said, “Let me think about it and get back to you.”