He was an old god, older than most of the bones buried around him. He was girded with concrete; his water was the colour of milk coffee. In evening rain-time his spilled onto the flood-banks and puddles of him got caught there, feeding muck and hyacinths – and local housewives prayed to him, saying: “No, you don’t flood, last time you flood it was so much trouble to clean up!”
On sunny afternoons his puddles on the bank were shaded with weeds, but if you looked closely you could see flashes of colour swimming in them.
There was a boy who was in love with him. The boy lived in a two-storey terrace house nearby, and had a housewife for a mother; every day the boy would squat by his puddle, watching the puddle-guppies swish and play. The boy wore a school uniform.
The river god felt responsible for the boy’s truancy. Finally he said: “Hello little boy. What are you doing here, squatting here day after day? Shouldn’t you be in school, learning about the world?”
And the boy replied: “The world is very boring! And also teacher gives me so much homework.”
“Homework is important,” the river god said. “You can’t spend your whole life looking at guppies.”
“Why not?” the boy asked.
“If you don’t go to school, how are you going to live? How are you going to buy a car and have a family? Take care of your mother when she is old and cannot take care of you? We all have to live in the real world, and in the real world these are the things we must do.”
The boy was not convinced. “You don’t have to live in the real world,” the boy said.
“Actually I do also,” the river god said. “I work very hard. I take all the dirt from restaurants, farms and factories, and I help them carry their dirt to the sea. This is why my water is very smelly. And if I don’t do what I am supposed to do, how will you eat delicious food or have your clothes to wear?”
“You scold me just like my mother,” the boy said, pouting. “Even though I love you so much.”
The river god looked at the boy, and said to him in a kindly voice: “How about this. If I give you something to take home, will you go home and go to school and be a good boy?”
And the boy agreed, not knowing what else to do. And so the river god caused a pair of guppies to leap into the boy’s cupped hands.
The boy ran all the way home – which was not far – to find a place to put his fish in. He stole a jar from his mother’s kitchen, filled it with water, and placed it on his desk, next to his reading lamp.
From that day onward the boy started going to school again, and stopped going to the riverbank, and every evening as it rained he sat at his desk and did his homework. Once in a while he would look up, to watch his guppies swish and play: colourful fishes, and carefree, with eyes very small but very old.
Our Activity Book is a fun thing we do. (Mostly fun, at least.)
(Sharon’s second ever comic strip here! She made her first for the Projek Mandi Bunga zine, at the Singapore Biennale 2013.
Sharon really, really loves keropoks and crackers of all kinds. Occasionally I buy her a packet of Cheezels, to taunt her.)
What this Activity Book is meant to be doing.
(Question 1: I really like the idea of a complex, analog mechanical contraption to move mail packages around. Why don’t we use them any more?
Question 2: Is it okay for artistic collaborators to not understand each other’s goals?)
Ey, look, more from the Activity Book.
(This one is about missing flight MH370, of course. Facebook was in uproar, and you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing the “Pray for MH370” slogan — scrawled on coffee-cup holders, on the sides of buses, on Twitter with hashtag accompaniment.
I don’t know. The news-comment-speculation cycle just seems ghoulish, to me. It’s telling that we’re just past two weeks since the plane’s disappearance, and I’m seeing much less talk about it online; almost as if people are ready to move on to the next crisis-scandal-thing.)