Flash Fiction From Around the World: “A Portrait of Strange Creatures”

This is the sixth in a series of posts featuring original speculative flash fiction in translation. The series highlights both new and established spec fic writers from around the world.


 

Alina Abdullah is a PhD candidate from the University of Leeds with a particular interest in the history of art in Southeast Asia. She is currently co-managing Selangor Art House, an art centre that provides facilities for emerging artists and presents a wide variety of programmes on arts and ideas. She is also a painter, translator, and writer.

 

 

Ikhlas Abdul Hadi has a PhD in Languages, Cultures, and Societies from the University of Leeds and is the co-founder of the research group “Reading the Fantastic”. She has dabbled in teaching English and Southeast Asian studies, while also working on copywriting, editing, and Malay-to-English translations. She doodles comics and writes short fiction in her spare time.

 

 


“Lukisan Makhluk Aneh (A Portrait of Strange Creatures)” by Alina Abdullah, translated from the Malay by Ikhlas Abdul Hadi

It all began when I left your mobile phone, the one that I borrowed, in Haslin’s art studio two weeks ago. Don’t ask how I managed to leave the phone behind. God made it my fate, so that I could tell this story to you, and so that you would also know the story of what happened to your phone.

You know Haslin, right? The grotesque-fantasy artist who paints strange creatures resembling Tim Burton-esque characters? Exactly, just like Jack Skellington in Nightmare Before Christmas, the one who’s all skin and bones as if he had been underfed, or as if he had just decided not to eat at all.

He also paints creatures that look like they came from one of Murakami’s anime. Oh, wait, not Murakami, Miyazaki. Murakami is your favorite author, I know. I’m always mixing up the names of these Japanese people.

But you’ll have to forgive me, I’ve tried many times to finish a Murakami novel and I’ve never succeeded. Maybe it’s because the novel was too boring, or maybe it’s because I read it as an e-book. But that’s another story altogether.

You know Hayao Miyazaki’s work, right? Haslin has painted creatures that look like the ones in Spirited Away. Or maybe Princess Mononoke. I can’t remember the title. Oh come on. You’ve watched Spirited Away? It’s like the great Alice in Wonderland, but for me it was sadder. And it’s such a great work that it even won an Oscar. The Hollywood Oscar. Ah well, I’ll tell you more when I get back.

Anyway, I had to go back to Haslin’s studio, even though I had already been on the road for ten minutes. I should have just followed that old saying: don’t go back once you’ve started on your journey. These old sayings have their truths, apparently. Now I know. (But I can’t yet entirely believe the whole you’ll-get-warts-on-your-bum-if-you-sit-on-a-pillow thing. And don’t you dare ask why).

But you know me, I really take the whole borrowing thing seriously. God gets angry. Especially if that borrowed thing is yours.

So I turned back to Haslin’s studio. Went to that three-leveled shophouse, the one next to the blue mosque. His studio was on the second floor. The ground floor was occupied by a musty-smelling convenience store.

I discovered the studio door unlocked. I wasn’t too bothered about why it was unlocked; with the studio being in such a state of disarray, I didn’t think anyone would be interested even to look further inside. Not to mention, the studio looked like a sewer and there was nothing of value there- with the exception of Haslin’s paintings since, if you kept them long enough, they would increase in value. Like Van Gogh and his Sunflower. Do you have any idea how much Van Gogh’s painting was worth several hundred years later? $82 million! That’s in dollars all right, not ringgit! But, God, what do thieves know about art, right?

I looked around. Tried to locate the last place I left your phone.

Suddenly, I heard a sound from the locked room on the right-hand side of the studio. And, oh! that feeling of curiosity suddenly crept up and snuck inside me and I slowly headed for the room.

Through the door’s gap I peeked in.

What I saw transcended reality; it was surreal, like an anime film that lived beyond the screen. It was neither Tim Burton nor Miyazaki. And you wouldn’t be able to use any of your Jungian unconsciousness theories, either. I was real, I was present, and I was fully conscious as it happened.

Strange creatures escaped one by one from Haslin’s painting and crawled (because of the way their wiry-thin bodies looked, all exposed bones, I couldn’t be sure if the creatures crawled or walked) towards the large white canvas in the middle of the room.

I bet you don’t believe me. But those creatures danced to a terribly slow rhythm, with excruciating ease, as if in a trance. It was as if they were conducting a religious ritual. Not like the ones you watched on YouTube last week with Ayah Pin, but more like the ones by Native Americans around the fire, with the sound of beating drums in the background.

But this one was a little different. I couldn’t hear the background music. There was no fire. But that was what they did- danced in a slow, easy trance.

Danced. To a terribly slow rhythm.

And, suddenly, one of the creatures (manlike? beastlike?) took a paintbrush, dipped it in a can of paint, and began daubing at the big, empty, white canvas.

Another followed. One by one, the creatures painted the blank canvas, each with a different stroke.

Yeah. At that moment I realized that Haslin’s paintings were made by these creatures. (This is proof that I wasn’t unconscious).

And I don’t know what happened after that because when I came to, I was in my car racing home. (And this is proof that I was in a state of unknowing).

If you don’t believe me, why don’t you go and have a look at Haslin’s current solo exhibition.

You should take a real, close, thorough look at the creatures in his painting.

And for a second, if you’re lucky, you’ll see the creatures’ eyes blink at you.

Yeah. Go! See for yourself whether or not my story is true.

Also because of that, I have not been able to return your phone. I’m never heading back to Haslin’s studio. Sorry!

—————

Segalanya bermula apabila aku tertinggal telefon bimbit kamu yang aku pinjam di studio lukisan Haslin dua minggu lepas. Jangan ditanya bagaimana aku boleh tertinggal telefon bimbit itu. Tapi itulah takdir yang Tuhan telah tetapkan padaku, supaya aku dapat ceritakan kisah ini pada kamu, dan supaya kamu tahu tentang nasib telefon bimbit kamu.

Kamu kenalkan si Haslin itu? Pelukis fantasi grotesk yang melukis makhluk-makhluk aneh yang kelihatan seperti makhluk daripada watak cerita Tim Burton. Ya, seperti watak Jack Skellington dalam Nightmare Before Christmas, yang kurus keding melidi seperti kurang makan, atau tidak makan itu.

Dan ada juga lukisannya tentang makhluk seperti dalam anime-anime karya Murakami. Oh, bukan Murakami, tapi Miyazaki. Murakami itu novelis kegemaran kamu, aku tahu. Selalu juga aku keliru dengan nama-nama orang Jepun ini.

Tapi maaf ya sahabat, novel Murakami telah cuba ulangkali aku habiskan, tetapi tidak pernah berjaya. Mungkin kerana novel itu membosankan, atau mungkin juga kerana aku membacanya daripada ebook. Ah, tapi itu cerita lain pula.

Kamu tahu bukan karya-karya Hayao Miyazaki ini? Makhluk dalam lukisan Haslin itu mungkin serupa yang di dalam Spirited Away. Atau mungkin juga Puteri Mononoke. Entah apa tajuk, aku sudah lupa. Ala. Kau pernah tontonSpirited Away? Kisahnya seperti karya hebat Alice in Wonderland, tapi bagi aku yang ini lagi sedih. Dan hebatnya Spirited Away sehingga pernah menangi Oskar. Oskar Hollywood itu. Ah, balik nanti aku ceritakan.

Jadi aku terpaksa berpatah balik ke studio Haslin. Padahal aku sudah dalam sepuluh minit perjalanan. Sepatutnya aku turut saja pepatah orang-orang lama, jangan berpatah balik apabila sudah dalam perjalanan. Pesanan orang- orang tua banyak hikmah rupanya. Baru aku tahu. (Tetapi bab punggung kena bisul kalau duduk di atas bantal itu belum aku percaya sepenuhnya lagi. Dan kamu jangan tanya kenapa.)

Tapi kamu tahu kan aku, aku sangat amanah dalam kes pinjam-meminjam ini. Tuhan marah. Lebih lagi kalau barang itu barang kamu.

Jadi aku berpatah balik ke studio Haslin. Naik ke rumah kedai tiga tingkat itu. Di sebelah bangunan masjid biru. Studionya di tingkat 2. Tingkat bawahnya kedai runcit yang berbau agak hapak.

Aku dapati pintu studio tidak berkunci. Aku tidak hairan sangat kenapa tidak berkunci, kerana dalam keadaan studio yang semak-kelamkabut begitu, aku kira tidak ada siapa pun yang ingin jenguk masuk ke dalam. Tambah pula, studio itu berwajah suwer dan tidak punya apa pun barang berharga. Kecuali lukisan-lukisan Haslin yang jika disimpan lama, akan tambah bernilai. Seperti lukisan Van Gogh yang terakam gambar bunga Matahari itu. Kau tahu berapa harga lukisan Van Gogh itu selepas seratus tahun kemudian? $82 juta! Dolar tau, bukan ringgit! Ah, tapi apa pencuri barangan tahu tentang lukisan, kan?
Aku memandang sekeliling. Mencari di mana tempat terakhir aku tinggalkan telefon bimbit kamu.

Tiba-tiba aku terdengar bunyi daripada kamar yang berkunci di sebelah kanan studio. Ah, rasa curiga itu tibatiba menjengah dan menyelinap jiwa dan perlahan-lahan aku menuju ke kamar itu.

Dari celah-celah pintu aku mengintai.

Dan keadaan yang kulihat itu sungguh melampaui realiti, atau sureal, seperti sebuah filem anime yang hidup bukan setakat di layar. Bukan seperti filem Tim Burton atau Miyazaki. Dan segala teori separasedar Jung kau itu tidak akan dapat terpakai. Aku nyata, aku ada, dan aku sedar sepenuhnya, ketika itu.

Makhluk-makhluk aneh keluar satu persatu daripada lukisan Haslin dan merangkak (kerana badan yang kurus melidi penuh tulang-tulang yang terlihat, tak dapat dipastikan sama ada makhluk-makhluk itu merangkak atau berjalan) menuju ke kanvas putih besar yang terletak di tengah-tengah bilik.

Apa yang kuceritakan ini pasti tak akan kamu percaya. Tetapi makhluk-mahluk ini menari pada rentak yang sangat perlahan, sangat sangat berjeda, seperti dalam pukauan. Mereka seolah-olah melakukan suatu upacara ritual keagamaan. Bukan seperti ratib Ayah Pin yang kamu lihat di Youtube minggu lepas, tapi lebih kepada ratib orang asli Amerika yang sedang kelilingi unggun api, dengan iringan muzik latar gendang dipalu.

Tetapi yang ini sedikit berbeza. Tidak dapat aku dengar muzik latarnya. Tidak ada pula unggun api. Tetapi itulah yang dilakukan mereka, beratib menari dalam rentak yang perlahan dan berjeda.

Menari. Pada rentak yang sangat perlahan.

Dan tiba-tiba salah seorang (seekor?) makhluk itu mengambil berus lukisan, merendam seketika ke dalam tin cat dan mula memalit cat pada kanvas yang putih kosong dan besar itu.

Diikuti dengan yang seorang lagi. Dan satu demi satu makhluk ini melukis pada kanvas yang kosong itu, dengan palitan catan yang berbeza.

Ya. Pada saat itu aku sedar bahawa sebenarnya lukisan-lukisan Haslin ini dilukis oleh makhluk-makhluk tersebut. (Ini bukti bahawa aku bukan separa sedar.)

Dan selepas itu aku tidak tahu apa yang berlaku kerana sedar-sedar aku sudah berada dalam kereta memecut pulang. (Ini pula barulah bukti bahawa aku sedang ketidaktahuan.)

Kalau kamu tak percaya kataku, kau jenguklah ke pameran solo Haslin yang berlangsung sekarang ini.

Dan kau perhatikan dengan teliti, dengan dekat, dengan rapat makhluk-makhluk pada lukisan Haslin itu.

Dan pada suatu ruang saat yang kau beruntung, kau dapat lihat mata makhluk ini akan mengerdip. Pada kamu.

Ya. Pergilah! Saksikan sendiri benar atau tidak cerita aku ini.

Dan sebab itu jugalah, sehingga sekarang telefon bimbit kamu itu tidak dapat aku pulangkan. Takut aku mahu ke studio Haslin lagi. Minta maaf!

1 comment on “Flash Fiction From Around the World: “A Portrait of Strange Creatures””

  1. Emoqwin Reply

    This makes a good copywriting for an art exhibition! Love it heheee

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