‘That’s The Story Of My Life’ was a recent production held in collaboration with the National Library Board. Nine performers were trained by Kamil Haque in the art of staging their personal stories, after which they performed for the public. In this series, we share some of the stories told by the performers.
‘That Lone Diner With A Book’, written and performed by Meera Nair
Inspired by ‘Best Of’ by Haresh Sharma
Biography: Meera Nair graduated with an arts degree from the National University of Singapore in 2012. Since then, she has been slogging it out in an office under harsh lights and blasting aircons. Her interest in theatre was sparked in her early teens when she was forced to play Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz for an inter-class competition. To her surprise, she enjoyed it and spent the following years dreaming about the stage.
Staff: Table for?
Staff: Just one? Uh…this way.
Customer: Thank you. Can I have an iced tea?
(Customer places her bags on the extra chair. Staff removes the cutlery for the second person and leaves to prepare the order. Customer takes out sketchbook and book. She opens the sketchbook, picks up the vase and begins sketching the design on it. Staff returns with order and sees her holding the vase. The scene is awkward. Staff puts the iced tea on the table and leaves.)
I don’t see what’s wrong with sitting here by myself. Or with sketching that bicycle on the vase. It looks different. Like my first bicycle.
I remember only two things about that bicycle. It was purple. And it had a word pasted on it. My mother wrote it in pencil and pasted it on with scotch tape. The first time I saw it there, I didn’t know what that word was. Then my mother told me. “Bicycle”. So that was how I learnt how to read and write the word “Bicycle”. Every time I looked at that bicycle I would shout out “Bicycle” and my mother would say “Yes, that’s a bicycle.”
The bicycle wasn’t unique. All around my home, growing up, there were words pasted a lot of the furniture. And I got excited over them.
I remember enthusiastically running smack into the word “Sofa” once. I still feel the pain in my toe. The sofa was like an elephant to my little self. Grey, leathery…but the seats were squashy and great to jump on.
Another activity I enjoyed was making up words. My mother would give me paper and crayons and I’d pair random letters together in hopes of creating a word. Each time I wrote something, I would think, “Did I write a real word?” I wanted to write a real word. A real, long word.
I would think hard about my words. They had to look nice. Some letters didn’t look so nice next to each other. Like ‘fkjd’ and ‘abdtc’. I believed that real words had to look nice.
Each time I had a potential word, I’d go to my mother.
“B-L-L-E-B-L-L-E. Ma, read this!…Blleblle? Is that a real word?…Oh.”
“S-C-H-O-W-S-H. Ma, read this!…Schowsh? Is that a real word?…No?”
My mother never got tired of reading my words. Actually I got tired of making up words faster than she got tired reading them.
“P-O-S-T-M-O-N. M-A-N. Ma read this!…Postman? I wrote postman? I wrote postman!”
Postman. I wrote a real, long word. My first. Postman.
After that I tried writing more real, long words, but somehow never managed to repeat that success.
I loved words. I loved language, I loved learning. I was a curious child. This one time, I asked my mother how to spell island and I remember insisting that ‘i-s-l-a-n-d’ spelled is-land. And then I began questioning why it had to be pronounced that way. Did that mean I could pronounce any one of my made-up words however I liked? If I couldn’t, then English had to be wrong. I remember thinking that English was a strange, strange language.
That didn’t dampen my love for reading, though. Yes, the books were in English, but I didn’t consider them English. As a child, I was imaginative. Every line I read would become a picture in my head, taking me places I had never been to. Making me people I would never be. I embellished stories in my mind as I saw fit and created alternative stories based on the characters in my books. I suppose little me was a bit of a fanfiction writer that way.
Enid Blyton was my favourite author. Growing up, I wanted to be a writer, just like her. I wanted to write about fairies and adventures and mysteries. I loved that series, The Naughtiest Girl In School. That book made me want to go to a boarding school and live with other girls my age and play tricks on them. But I also liked that book because when people scolded me for being naughty, I could secretly compare myself with Elizabeth and tell myself that that naughtiness wasn’t that bad. After all, Elizabeth became a class monitor, and that’s a big thing when you’re young. I was so happy when I became class monitor a few years later.
The other series I loved was the Famous Five series. It’s special to me, even now. Because my mother passed me her collection of Famous Five books, from when she was a child. The books are old and yellow, with a distinct ‘old books’ smell. I’m still afraid that the pages will fall off. But I know I can never throw them away.
They say that your childhood experiences shape the person you become. My interest in words took me through seven languages, although I’ve forgotten most of them. You’ll recognise me as the person reading in the MRT, the one reading in the JB immigration queue, that lone diner with a book.
Yes, I’m that lone diner with a book. I’m alone, but I’m not lonely. I don’t know why you think I am. So thank you for your concern when you see me on my own, but no thank you. As much as I like your company, I also like my own.
I’m happy this way. I wouldn’t have it any other way.