Hello, friends. Today, I thought I’d share with you another snippet from my work-in-progress, Monsoon Season.
This scene takes place in November 1945. At this point, the Second World War is over (Japan surrendered in August 1945) and the British have resumed their control over the colony of Malaya. The temporary government is called the British Military Administration (BMA), but it’s more popularly known as the Black Market Administration: rampant corruption and unchecked inflation are causing profound suffering to a population only just “liberated” from Japanese occupation.
Life in the towns and countryside is both desperate and dangerous. Life in the camps of the Communist guerrillas is those things and more. Before the war, the British arrested union organizers and Communist Party members as enemies of the state. During the war, the British allied themselves with Communist guerrilla soldiers. Now, no one can predict how the BMA will treat their recent allies.
In this scene my narrator, a Chinese-Malayan guerrilla and translator named Chen Liling, talks to her friend Ah Lim.
10 November 1945
The Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army camp at Tanjong Malim
It’s to near-universal surprise that Ah Lim returns to the guerrilla camp. She was officially on holiday for the past three weeks, visiting her family in Ipoh, but only the most idealistic and unobservant of comrades expected her to see her again. Yet here she is.
I show her what I’ve been doing in the sick bay, which is nothing of substance. How could I, lacking medicines and adequate food? But I stay nonetheless, until we’re alone together amidst our sleeping patients. Then I ask, “Why did you come back?”
She doesn’t hesitate. “It’s hell out there. Maybe worse than under the Japanese.”
“No decent jobs. No food, except on the black market. No money to buy black-market food. Half the country is dying of starvation. The other half are trying to kill each other.”
“Is that so different from life here?”
Her mouth twists. “At least we have a sense of purpose. A sense of unity. Out there, nobody trusts. Everybody’s trying to see what their neighbours have and how they can take it from them. The British come rounding up gangs for forced labour, for rebuilding. But people can’t work if they’re starving.” She stops, swallows, and suddenly more words are propelled from deep inside her. “You should see the children, Ah Chen. They look okay, maybe a little skinny. Then you realize that the four-year-old in front of you is actually nine, and he can’t remember a time in his life when he had enough to eat. People try to grow vegetables but the only fertilizer they can find is human shit, so they use it anyway and take their risks with an epidemic because they might die of cholera but they will definitely die without another mouthful of food.”
I close my eyes. I want her to stop. But this horror is so much less than I deserve.
And from here on, things get spoiler-y. Hope you have a lovely week, despite what I just posted.
P.S. I’m planning to stop blogging at the end of 2016. If you’d like to keep in touch, please consider signing up for my newsletter.