A tiny raindrop on the patrol boat’s windshield catches Lieutenant Htin’s attention. He hears a roaring thunder in the distance just as the mild monsoon transforms into a torrential tempest.
The heavy downpour and furious winds generate raging waves hammering Htin’s patrol boat. Htin Aung, a striking man with chestnut skin and copper eyes, stiffens his shipshape muscles as he grips the wheel to steady the seasoned boat. Although Htin’s coast guard training is still crystal clear in his mind, the monsoon’s ever-changing mood tests his reflexes in newfound ways. After a series of frantic bouts with the aqueous beast, Htin prays to the merciful Allah that his reflexes and resolve will be strong enough to keep the boat afloat.
Then, without a drop of reason, the monsoon wind simply leaves the way it came – surprisingly.
Htin shifts his boat to neutral and steps out of the bridge. The once choppy water now sways the boat in a gentle, rhythmic percussion. Htin attunes himself and rocks to the aquatic melody that sailors are so accustomed to. Midway through his private dance, Htin lets out a laugh at the whimsical wind. One moment he was struggling to keep the boat upright, the next moment he is dancing to its intimate tunes.
Htin closes his eyes and feels the warmth of a monsoon breeze blowing lightly on his face. A familiar sensation tingles through his body and one word drifts to the tip of his tongue. Home. Snapshots of his mischievous childhood linger in the darkness. Htin opens his eyes to dissolve those wistful longings.
He looks around and sees the luminous moon hanging in the obsidian sky, its brilliance bleaching the distant stars. Another gust of the warm monsoon breeze and Htin is again transported back to the past. This time, the wind has blown him back to that fateful night. The night he said goodbye to his mother.
The moon looks the same as it did that night, radiant and glorious. Only the luster in his mother’s copper eyes shone brighter. Moniyan, his mother, was the beauty of Sittwe with her chestnut skin, silky, sun-kissed hair and piercing copper eyes. Htin thanked Allah for allowing him to inherit a semblance of her good looks.
Her beauty was unparalleled, blemished that night purely by the reddish tinge in her eyes. His mother had wept for weeks and her tears darkened the glistening copper to a muddy, reddish hue. She was still crying as she walked with him to the makeshift pier. At the pier, she hugged him so tightly that he could hear the shivering of her heavy heart.
“No matter what, remember these three things. One, Allah is all-knowing. Two, I love you more than anything in life. You are the greatest joy in my life and you always will be. And three, remember who you are. Remember your dreams. Don’t ever let anyone take that away from you.”
She tapped her slender finger on his chest, pointing at his heart, almost as though she wanted her words, her pride, and her dreams to sink into the bottom of his heart and reside in his as they did in hers.
She had used up all her savings to buy him a one-way ticket to Australia. He was to be her future embodied.
She cried again as she placed her favorite jacket on him, nudging him toward the plank leading to the dinghy boat. He, still a boy without nary a hair on his chest nor a tenor to his voice, obeyed. He got on the boat and waved to his mother until the obsidian night consumed her.
Australia! Htin laughs. His mother had big dreams for him in Australia, but the monsoon wind blew those away. It blew in new dreams and a different future.
The wind brought him to Singapore – a country unlike any other.
Excerpt from Adrift, first published in ROJAK: STORIES FROM THE SINGAPORE WRITERS GROUP. Copyright © 2014 S Mickey Lin.