Friday 3 December 2010

Chua Kok Yee's short story in SELANGOR TIMES

For those of you who didn't get a copy, the second issue of Selangor Times features a new short story by Chua Kok Yee. If you like it, get his book Without Anchovies.


Half A Chicken And A Quarter Of A Cow

Fiction by Chua Kok Yee

Colin was standing over the sink with a knife in his hand. He looked down and realised his shirt was smeared with blood. With a shriek, he dropped the knife and turned around. On the kitchen table, a severed chicken head was engaged in a conversation with a cow’s head. The clucking and mooing became louder and louder, until Colin had to press his palms against his ears.

“I screamed at them to stop, and then I woke up,” Colin said. He lets out a sigh, and slumps back to the couch. Jonathan, his friend, was seated across him.

“Do you think it’s because of the job? My boss is crazy, and maybe the insanity is catching.”

Jonathan looked at him, but said nothing. Colin’s boss, Mr Wong, was one of the richest persons in Asia. After visiting a temple on his 60th birthday, Mr Wong handpicked a group of accountants from his companies, including Colin, to work in a special project under him. Colin was exhilarated at the prospect of working directly with the tycoon, but the excitement turned into incredulity after the first briefing.

Mr Wong wanted a big surplus in his ‘karma account’ to ensure he would have a good ending to his current life, and enough positive karma to carry forward to the next. He decided to compensate for any bad karma he has earned, and would receive, in the only way he knew; in dollars and cents.

The project team was split into two groups. The first group was assigned to put monetary values on the negative things Mr Wong had done in the past, and make a monthly recommendation of donation amount to be made to organisations. The job involved a lot of research and interviews to reconstruct Mr Wong’s life history.

Wouldn’t it be easier if you just donate a really huge amount, sir? Surely, that would cover everything, someone asked Mr Wong at the briefing. Mr Wong explained that excessive money would lead to sinful thoughts among the recipients, which in turn would bring more negative karma to him.

So the amount has to be measured and reasonably accurate, Mr Wong explained, before firing that guy on the spot. Later, he donated the fired guy’s two years’ salary to a charity, of course.

Colin was assigned to the second group which was responsible for the present. They had to discreetly observe Mr Wong, and place a value on his deed. After brainstorming and debating, the team agreed on a measurement system by using a karma factor. The karma factor was in proportion to the negativity of the deed. If Mr Wong purchased a chicken wing and ate it, the value would be the price of the wing multiplied by the karma factor of one. However, if he stole the wing and ate it, the karma factor would be increased to three.

Despite the ludicrousness of the endeavour, Colin actually enjoyed the first few weeks on the job. He had all-expenses paid visits to New York, Amsterdam and Monaco along with his boss, and the salary was good. Furthermore it was not as stressful as his previous position; all he had to do during his shift was to record Mr Wong’s actions, review them and assign a value to it. Someone in the office would compile them, and give out the appropriate donation at the end of each month.

Good life, easy money.

Then the nightmares started. There were a few variations to the theme, but always with a lot of blood and chatty dead animals. Once, he dreamt of soaking in a bathtub filled with blood with a swine. The beast, with half of its body roasted, was espousing the merits of socialism.

“I’ve a theory,” Jonathan said.

Colin turned towards Jonathan, and raised his eyebrows.

“How do you measure the value if your boss orders a huge steak, or half a roasted chicken?”

“That’s easy - I’ll use their prices on the menu, and multiply them by karma factor of one.”

“I believe here is where you got it wrong. You can’t just take the price of the food. The bad karma in this case comes from the loss of lives. Half a chicken is one dead chicken, and a quarter of a cow is still one slaughtered cow. So you have undervalued them.”

Colin thought about it for awhile, before nodding. “Thus I’m receiving bad vibes from them? It’s karma.”

The two of them sat there in silence. “You could be right,” Colin said after awhile. “Who really understand how this karma things really works, right?

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