Stone Telling

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by Jaymee Goh

The day I pulled my hair in front of my eyes to consider it was the day I met my brother,
aborted at 3 months,
3 years before I was born.
He did not have my education, meant to protect me from poverty and the world he lived in, but he chattered merrily, anyway:
Abang pernah pergi dunia bunian! [I've been to the bunian world!]
ke Tugu Negara [to the National Monument]
dan tingkap langit atas Petronas. [And the high windows on the Petronas (Twin Towers)]
I did not doubt his existence as a ghost,
but I could not ask his dead baby advice,
not on how to deal with my world, our family that looked at my wayward daughter-ness and shook their heads, reflecting badly on our parents who lovingly took out their disappointment on me;
I told him he should have lived instead of me.
Abang lepak dengan hantu perang dunia kedua; [I hung out with World War II ghosts]
banyak, kut! Lepas tu tengok television kat [A lot of them! And after that went to watch TV at]
Midvalley dengan si pelesit dari Brickfields. [Midvalley with a pelesit from Brickfields]

And my tongue would stutter in the foreign tongue that we never used in the house so I could succeed beyond it, but I so wanted to tell him about our family holiday in Bali or the trip to Pasar Seni that day or just generally how much I appreciated him.
When I first brought home a girl, making passionate love in my bedroom
and waking up messy-haired, through the strands I saw my brother laughing at me:
Ha ha! Adik pengkit! Ha ha! [Haha! You're a tomboy! Haha!]
Takpelah, abang masih sayang–[It's all right, I still love you]
Sayang! Sayang!
Eh, adik tau tak langsuir tu bukan macam wanita? [Did you know langsuir aren't much like women?]
and I couldn't explain to my girlfriend
why I was crying so hard, so I lied
about PMR stress instead.
My mother screamed at me the day she discovered I was definitely not
interested in boys, asked me why I couldn't be a better daughter,
so I took a long look in the mirror and spoke through my hair,
how much I hated it,
hated being a girl,
hated being the straight A student
the perfect prefect,
the prettiest and best,
and still come up short,

and my brother was silent because what, really, does an aborted fetus know about what we neither wanted to be?
The day I decided to grow up a man,
I moved out.
My brother found me,
and when I asked how, he said,
tanya aje tanah aku korek [I simply asked the earth I dug]
cari tulang nenek kebayan [to find the bones of the old wisewoman]
pasang telinga dengar semua drama kau; [listened to all your drama]
abang terbang dengan burung tiong dan keluang [I flew with magpies and bats]
tiap-tiap hari malam [every day and night]
hingga cari adikku sayang. [until I found my darling sibling]

I told him the game plan to live as a boy and force the gomen to change my name,
so he pulled some spirit strings,
haunted the right people and computer databases,
while I learned the small movements,
the sounds, the words, the codes
of how to be a man.
I wept the day I had everything else I needed to pass
but for my hair,
the one filter to that world where I could see
the one person who had always been there.
My lover wielded the scissors, snip-snip-snipped the last of my girl
history away, thought my tears were for relief;
she was a modern moderate who did not believe in ghosts.
I stared at my reflection and testing my boy lips for the first time, I said,
wahai adinda, [wahai younger sister]
adik boleh jadi abang sekarang! [the younger sibling can become the
elder brother now!]
I smashed the mirror and pushed my bloody hand through my crew cut,
and we were both away to our new life
as our true self.

Translation Notes:

Abang = elder brother
Adik = gender neutral term for "younger sibling"
Bunian = sometimes referred to as invisible people, who can only be heard, hence their name, derived from the word "bunyi" (sound)
Pelesit = a Malay spirit bound to a master; it can transform into a grasshopper
Sayang = "love" referring to affectionate, familial-type love
Pengkit = Sometimes used to refer to "lesbian", can also refer to women who code as masculine
Langsuir = spirit of women who die in childbirth; they attack pregnant women, specifically
Nenek kebayan = a Malay archetype of an old woman who may or may not have magical powers
Gomen = short for "government"
Wahai = an interpellation, similar to "Ah"
Adinda = formal / royal way to refer to a younger sibling

Jaymee Goh is a steampunk postcolonialist, hailing from the Nusantaran country Malaysia and currently residing in North America, mostly for academia, in a state of instability as to what would actually happen when she grows up. She has written a wee bit on harnessing the steampunk aesthetic for postcolonial purposes on her blog, Silver Goggles, and her opinion has appeared in places like Steampunk Reloaded,, Racialicious and the Apex Books Company Blog. She writes speculative fiction and essays on anti-racism, multiculturalism, and steampunk.