Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Girl, the Snake, and the Hopscotch...

Once upon a time, there was a little girl. She was six years old, with shoulder-length hair like most other little girls her age. This was sometimes tied up in two pigtails by her mother using hair-bands threaded with lots of rainbow-coloured beads. She loved how the beads made pleasing, clacking noises as she swung her pigtails around, like when she was skipping on a hopscotch. Occasionally she was rewarded with an elaborate plait created by her mother on those days when she was being an all-round good girl (and when her mother was in a particularly creative mood). But when she was bad and wouldn't stop throwing tantrums, her mother would threaten to bring her to the hairdresser and cut short her hair, just like the buzz cut that her father got from time to time.

One day, the little girl was standing at the entrance of a local school, while her mother chatted leisurely with a teacher. She remembered a scene familiar to this from a few years ago, but promised herself not to cry this time, now that she was a big girl. Instead, she peered curiously through the sparsely-spaced grille of the metal gates, and was reassured by the sight of lots of other children about her age running around in the huge school yard, yelling at the top of their lungs, seemingly without a care in the world. But she also noticed other kids lounging around the periphery who were two or even three times her size, looking not the least bit friendly, which unsettled her greatly. The little girl was a bag of nerves until she spied the three plane-like hopscotch patterns traced out in white chalk on the poured concrete in one corner of the yard -- her favourite playground game! She was ecstatic and went in to join the other kids without a moment's hesitation, spurred on by her sudden epiphany that the school yard was not too different from a playground, after all.

One night, however, the little girl woke up in a clammy, cold sweat. She was having a most horrible nightmare, in which she was chased by a giant snake who just wouldn't leave her alone. Even when she tried to lock herself in the bathroom, it slipped through the crack at the bottom of the door and wouldn't go away. In a flash of blind panic she actually opened her eyes and realised she was looking up at the ceiling from her bunk bed, whereupon she saw a huge spider leisurely scuttling across the far corner of the room, casually oblivious to her plight. The nonchalance of that spider, strolling around as if it owned her bedroom, was too much for her to bear, and she screamed and screamed. Her mother came into her room, sat her up and placed the back of her hand onto her hot and sweaty forehead, and pronounced immediately that she was running a high fever even without the benefit of a thermometer. Her mother then got her an ice-pack and a glass of iced water, which the little girl quickly gulped down without any fuss, grateful for the refreshing coolness which revived her patched throat.

In dribs and drabs, the little girl began to tell her mother about the nightmare she was having just before she woke up. Her mother nodded and listened to the ingenious ways in which the little girl tried to escape her demon, then finally smiled and said, You know, you shouldn't have been afraid of that snake, however big it is. Don't you remember you are a snake yourself? Why should you be afraid? You were born in the Year of the Snake, so maybe that giant snake was only trying to say hello to a long-lost friend?

This advice was so surprising that the little girl actually took it to heart. She had wished her mother would say that she could wield an imaginary axe and chop that serpent's head off before it gets hers, but this was altogether a much more civilised proposition. Over the next twenty-four hours, the little girl drifted in and out of her dreams, in which she tried valiantly to take her mother's advice and overcome her fear and face the snake, who still wouldn't leave her alone. But if she was being honest with herself, she found it far easier to just run away than to confront that horrid-looking viper, even if the only route of escape was to squeeze her body through that tiny air-vent in the bathroom. But miraculously, she managed. She worked out a plan: I would keep running but if the snake had finally caught up with me, I would plead with it not to bite me by proclaiming that I was his relative! I would extend the olive branch of peace and friendship rather than try to wield an axe. After all, we are of the same kin.

The little girl didn't remember the family doctor coming in with his stethoscope and his black leather medicine bag to check up on her, nor did she register her father going out to get prescriptions and making vatfuls of rice porridge to feed both his exhausted wife and his little daughter, who mumbled worryingly in her sleep.

Her parents moved her to a cushioned straw mattress placed on the living room floor, a makeshift bed where the air circulation was better and where her mother would join her in her sleep and would check on her temperature every few hours, including right through the night. The little girl was sleeping fitfully because of her nightmarish encounters with the snake, but she also understood that her mother wasn't getting much sleep either because of her nightmares. When she escaped from the clutches of her dreams and woke up in the middle of the night for the fifth or sixth time, she refrained from waking up her mother, but contented herself with holding onto her mother's back and listening to her rhythmic breathing, until she herself drifted once more into sleep.

Three days later, the little girl woke up and felt something discharged from her ear. Her head felt light and, for the first time in what seemed like a life-time, she did not feel dizzy at all. Instead, she could feel the cotton-wool being torn away from inside her head, could feel her head drinking in the sunlight through the balcony windows as if it were orange juice and her eyes were the straw, and she could also hear clearly the gently insistent ticking of the clock on the far wall. She's survived an ear infection, she was later told. Now be a good girl and get well, she was also told.

Three more days passed, and the little girl was well enough to get back to school. She didn't remember if she had successfully confronted the snake or not in her dreams, as she was always yanked back into wakefulness just when she was about to witness what the snake would make of her argument. But one thing she did know: the snake did pause to listen, and she had survived. And if she could survive an encounter with a most horrible deadly serpent, she could survive anything. She felt this truth quite clearly in her heart and mind: I might not have been able to confront the snake that well in my nightmares, but I am not scared any more and I know that I could talk to any kids in my school with confidence.

What the little girl came to eventually understand, was that perhaps even outwardly intimidating people were only trying to find a long-lost friend, appearances notwithstanding. Her mother had, seemingly without any conscious effort, began to teach her the value of keeping an open mind, and to look for commonality among all living things, even in the most unlikely of places.

With this lesson from her nightmare tucked inside her heart, for the rest of her school days, the little girl lived happily ever after with her school friends and her family.

The End.

Epilogue: With the exception of a brief period in her teenage years, the little girl kept her long hair into adulthood, which she would make into an elaborate French plait on those days when she felt like rewarding herself for behaving like a proper woman, one who could face her fears and be principled in both her words and deeds.


Copyright Snowdrops 2010. All rights reserved.

Note: Gosh, I haven't done any creative writing in ages and the above is absolutely dire!!!! (Well, it was really dire to begin with, but my constant re-phrasings had ameliorated the composition a tiny tiny bit). But at least I got this writing exercise done. It's not a pretty sight but I guess at least it got me back on track. I just received Danny Gregory's The Creative License and am skimming through it, finding it very inspiring and helpful. May blog about it later (although I have to say the above writing exercise is not from Gregory's book per se -- as his book encourages people to doodle and paint, which I couldn't quite do on my blog -- but more from what I remembered of Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, which I read years ago and am only finally applying some of the lessons now!!)

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