Sunday, November 6, 2016

Swayed


Sunday, February 24, 1980.

The short, hardwood staff weaved a gentle path through the still air of the Camden flat. It continued in a series of rhythmic, sweeping arcs and thrusts — its motion steady, yet fluid. Then the staff came to a sudden halt, as if it had struck an unseen target.

The lad at the other end of the staff opened his eyes, very satisfied with his performance of the jō suburi. His small frame stood tall on the vinyl practice mat in the middle of the spacious living room. He cannot help but swell with youthful pride. He had only been instructed in the use of the jō (short staff) for a few months, yet the lad quickly became proficient enough to be allowed to practice the basic motions at home as part of his regular fitness routine.

The lad exhaled a long breath and closed his eyes to repeat the routine, when he heard a sharp buzz blare from the intercom.

The young man tensed slightly with confusion. His parents were out of the country on business. And he was not expecting company. In fact, he had planned to meet a friend at the library later that evening.

The talking feature of the intercom had never worked, so the lad stepped out of the flat and into a pair of sandals by the welcome mat, then glided down the stairwell to open the main entrance door.

“Dan. Hello…”

The lad was pleasantly surprised to discover the arrival to be Danielle, the friend that he planned to later meet. The very comely lass of 16 years quickly stepped inside the open doorway, looking very relieved to be in the overheated air of the foyer. The lass’ long wool coat, thick oversized sweater, and corduroy pants apparently did not offer much protection against the bitter cold Camden afternoon.

Just as the door closed, the lass’s canvas tote bag dropped from her bare left hand to the marble floor with a soft thud as she immediately shed her coat and draped it over her left arm. She turned to face the lad.

“Hi, Xummy,” she began, her British accent thick as honey. “I know we were supposed to meet at the library later, but I just needed to get away from the house and… my mother, y’know?” She pushed a few errant strands of her curly bleached-blond hair from her forehead with her free hand, her glittering sea-green eyes never leaving his face. “So I thought I’d pick you up for our ‘study date’.”

The lad inwardly winced at the young woman’s use of the word “date,” but that did not diminish his knowing smile as he glanced at her tote bag. “And you needed a place to change,” he continued.

“And I needed a place to change,” she confirmed laughingly as she picked up the bag. “You know me so well…” Her voice trailed off as she looked at the lad’s gi and hakama intently. “I see you are doing your Ice… Eye…”

“Aikido,” the lad finished, smiling slightly. Most of the other students in his fifth form class would generally, and thus erroneously, refer to his martial art as “Karate”. The lass seemed to be the only one to make the effort to know the actual name.

“Right. Eye-kiddo,” she attempted. (The lad felt it was close enough.) “Should I come back later…?”

“Oh, no… no. Please…” the lad quickly said, gesturing the young woman toward the stairwell.

Her apologetic eyes seemed to flicker with relief as she sighed. “Thanks, Xummy. My mother was supposed to go shopping, but changed her mind. And I don’t want to change in the library toilet.”

“Of course,” the lad assured her as the pair started to ascend the stairwell toward his parent’s flat. “No trouble at all.”

The beautiful lass smiled warmly. “I’m so lucky to have a friend like you.”

The lad returned the smile. The feeling was mutual. The two had become such good friends — and so quickly — after that memorable school day last October. The lad was not quite sure how; it just… happened. Their first meeting came from the lass’ need to better understand Shakespeare in order to keep pace with their literature class, and she had seen how the lad demonstrated his firm handle of the subject matter in the classroom discussion. However, in their first study session in the library later that day, the pair had learned more about each other than about the writings of the Bard.

Perhaps the reason that they seemed to immediately… click… was the fact that they saw each other in a way that was different than how other students had viewed them (which was essentially the typical teenage stereotypes of “bookworm” and “tart”). They actually saw each other as people who realized that neither of them seemed to truly fit in with any of the traditional social circles of their school.

Of course, the lad’s intentions toward Danielle immediately fell under suspicion by her disciplinarian parents, particularly her mother, when they had found out about that initial study session. They had every right to be suspicious, for the lass had lied to them about the length of time she had spent studying with the lad — as an alibi for a supper she secretly had with another boy afterward. The lass did confess to the lad in their first library meeting that her parents had forbidden their daughter from dating because they believed she was “much too young” to be doing so. While they had both felt that the restriction was quite excessive, the lad had liked to believe that the parents were intent on protecting their daughter, and that their hearts were in the right place.

And yet, in an uncharacteristic act of dishonesty (the reason for which the lad could not fully explain at the time), the lad corroborated the lass’ tale to her mother, who demanded to meet him immediately after school dismissal the following day. While the mother did not approve of her daughter spending time alone with a boy, she did agree that his tutoring can be helpful. So the mother would accompany the pair on their subsequent study sessions. After a few weeks, the lad’s characteristic courtesy and earnest desire to help her daughter with schoolwork eventually led the mother to trust them to study in the library on their own.

The lad knew that the lass’ mother would feel very differently about trusting them if she knew her daughter was currently standing in her stocking feet within the lad’s home without a chaperone. The lass had admitted on numerous occasions how much she had envied the lad’s seemingly independent lifestyle. This was actually borne out of family tradition (he had learned, as both of his parents did, how to cook for both himself and the family since the age of ten), as well as necessity, given that his parents’ work schedules and business travel required him to fend for himself much of the time.

The lad also knew that Danielle’s mother would feel very differently about trusting them if she knew that their study session today was really a front for the lass’ plans to have a “secret rendezvous” with… Derek, he believed his name was. Derek was a nineteen-year-old that worked at one of the small pubs near their school. Derek was also the latest of four boyfriends that the lass had been covertly dating since the second study session after her mother stopped supervising them.

Of course, the lass would not have been able to manage all of these secret affairs without the lad providing an alibi. Again, the lad was not fully sure why he would bluff to the lass’ parents about what their daughter does under the pretense of their lengthy study sessions. Perhaps to the lad’s youthful mind, the lass’ parents appeared to be unreasonably strict regarding her social life. It had seemed that the few times they had permitted her to be out of her home were only related to school and studying.

In fact, not every lie was covering a clandestine tryst with a secret boyfriend. On a few occasions the lad and lass would spend their “study time” together at a local eatery, or at the cineplex, or on long walks through a harsh British winter (with much of the warmth coming from their conversation… and her laughter).

For the most part, the lad agreed to cover for the lass’ dating, and their time spent cultivating their friendship, on the condition that they do go to the library and spend some time actually studying. That way the lad would not be technically lying when asked about their study sessions. He knew that a lie of omission was still a lie, but he at least justified these slight bouts of deceit (at least to himself) by having his actions encourage his friend to spend more time on her schoolwork. Plus, the lass’ marks were improving — which greatly pleased her parents and essentially sealed their approval of their unchaperoned study sessions.

The lad remembered the joy that flickered in Danielle’s eyes a few weeks ago when she received a perfect score on her literature exam (the first she ever had). To reward and celebrate her achievement, the lad treated her to an after-school fish-and-chips at a nearby pub. The pub’s owner happened to be a friend of the lad’s father, so he had no qualms about allowing the underage lad and his plus-one to come in on their own to have a meal. It was during this repast that their server — Derek — caught the lass’ eye, and she had obviously caught his...

…And later today they would have their third date, for which the lass was readying herself in the privacy of the lad’s bedroom. While the lass did not share any details of her last two encounters, the enthusiasm she expressed to the lad implied that her relationship with Derek was progressing well.

The lad stepped back onto the practice mat. He drew a pained breath as he glanced down the hallway that led to the room where the lass was changing. He felt a touch of envy… and also felt a little ashamed for doing so. He knew for certain that, although their relationship was platonic, he and the lass had never known another person more intimately than they had known each other. But recently, he started to hope that their burgeoning friendship would evolve into something… more.

The lad shook his head, as if that would somehow help hurl those thoughts out of his mind. He picked up the jō he left on the floor by the practice mat, and placed his body in hanmi to resume the suburi. But while his stance was correct, the staff seemed to feel… different in his hands than it did before. His first choku tsuki felt a little clumsy, and the second attempt at the strike was completely out of alignment. Not wanting to engrain an improper technique into his form, the lad discarded the jō and instead decided to finish his workout with ashi-sabaki undo.

As the lad’s father would say, “When the hands do not work, work your feet.”

The basic footwork exercises of Aikido were second nature to the lad. Each step, slide and pivot was made with fluid, yet mechanical precision. They were also mostly driven by muscle memory as the lad’s mind drifted toward thoughts of the young woman who was in his bedroom taking off her…

His brow furrowed. Enough of that, he chided himself. He closed his eyes and mentally recited the names of each ashi-sabaki step he performed in an attempt to quell his hormonal thoughts. Tenkai… Tankan… Irimi-tenkan… Okuri-ashi tenshin... Ayumi-ashi tenshin…

It took a few dozen iterations, but the ashi-sabaki finally started to lull his anxious mind…

The lad’s exercise and meditation was interrupted by a slight feminine giggle. He opened his eyes to see Danielle standing before him. Blinking with slight embarrassment, his eyes instinctively performed a rapid sweep up and down the lass’s body… just enough to take in her appearance.

She was wearing an outfit her mother would most definitely never approve: a tight black halter top with a plunging neckline and a very short form-fitting denim skirt over a pair of sheer black stockings (that the lad vainly hoped would keep her warm in the frigid outdoor air).

While the lad did admire the lass’ shapely figure (he had both 16 years of age and male hormones, after all), he only gave it the briefest regard. His gaze tended to linger on what he liked to see on his friend the most: the sly glint of sea-green in her eyes, and her smile.

And he still liked to see those eyes and that smile even though they were currently covered with too much makeup (the lad thought that any amount of makeup was “too much”). He had once asked the lass why she wore it, trying to hint that she did not need it, and she told him that she found the act of putting on makeup to be “fun.” It made her “feel like an actress preparing for an important role.” The lad then wanted to know whether the lass felt that she had to act as someone else while dating, and why she could not simply be the lovely person she already was. These would be two of many questions the lad would regret not asking her…

On the practice mat, the lad noticed the lass was staring at him. Her face appeared a bit critical. “What is it?” he asked.

“Your eye-key… ah… footstep thing. You make it look so… graceful.” The green in her eyes was more pronounced now, almost glittering. “Hard to believe this is the awkward boy I usually see shuffling about to class…”

The lad smiled slightly and shrugged. “Well, I’ve been performing Aikido for years,” he began, stressing the name of the martial art. “Practice long enough and it becomes a part of you.” The lad said this very matter-of-factly, with no sense of self-aggrandizement whatsoever.

“Ah.” The lass smiled with acknowledgement and glanced around the living room, eying the small radio on a corner table. “Well, if you’re done, is it okay if I put on some music while I wait for you to change?”

The lad nodded, and watched the lass’s smooth slender hand snap on the device and work the tuner from the original news talk programming through intense waves of static until she found a popular music station that suited her fancy. The opening notes and lyrics of “Babe” performed by Styx started to fill the room.

The young woman cooed. “Ooh, I love this song!” She was immediately at the lad’s side tugging at his arm. “Dance with me… please?”

The lad swallowed… hard. “I… uh… do not know how…” he stammered.

The lass giggled again. “You kiddin’? With all your fancy ice-kiddo footwork, slow dancin’ should be dead simple. Here…” She took the lad’s right hand and guided it to rest on her left hip, and chuckled softly as the lad quickly moved it up to her waist. With a gentle nod and a puckish grin she gripped his left hand tightly. “I’ll lead.”

And she did. The lad’s first stumbling steps quickly started to find a gentle circular rhythm as his comely companion slowly steered him around the practice mat. For a brief moment, the lad’s eyes locked with hers, and he knew in his heart that he would be willing to follow this woman… anywhere.

Dennis DeYoung’s vocals continued to profess feelings for a true love that had to be left behind, and then moved to the chorus, which echoed some of the lad’s thoughts toward the lass who was leaning, almost snuggling, closer against him.

You know it's you, babe
Whenever I get weary/And I've had enough
Feel like giving up

You know it's you, babe
Giving me the courage/And the strength I need
Please believe that it's true

Babe, I love you

The words seemed to hang in the air as the electric guitar and synthesizers commenced an instrumental solo.

It was then that the lad started to feel Danielle’s head gently settle on his left shoulder — a familiar weight that reminded him of the three somber occasions whereby the lad had comforted the young woman as she softly sobbed over a painful break-up from a boyfriend. But then the lad felt the mass of the lass’s full breasts as they suddenly pressed closer against his pounding chest. There was both a rush of warmth and a cold tingle in his stomach as the young woman’s hands slid behind his back and clutched him tightly.

“Dan?” The lad was concerned. He could feel her body trembling. “What’s wr…?”

“Shh,” she whispered, without moving her head. “Just hold me, Xum. Please.”

You know it's you, babe

The lad wrapped his arms around the lass as they continued to sway so very slowly across the vinyl mat.

Giving me the courage/And the strength I need

His steps felt much steadier now, and he boldly pulled her even closer in their embrace.

Please believe that it's true

He wanted nothing more but to keep practicing this slow dance until her touch and her warmth would become very much a part of him…

Babe I love you.

The music started to slowly fade, and the pair were startled by the harsh chimes that brusquely signaled the radio station news and traffic report. Reluctantly, the lad released his dance partner as she removed her hands and had taken a few slow steps back. She kept her head down, gazing at the mat lying beneath them. The lad thought he heard a slight sniffle as she was taking in a breath.

“Dan…?” the lad began. His voice was still tinged with concern as he saw her hand move to her eyes as she turned toward the living room window.

With her free hand the lass waved away the question. “I’m okay. I just…” she started to say softly, cutting herself off to draw another long breath. She exhaled it in a strong audible sigh. “Whooo, boy!” she suddenly exclaimed. “You are a better dancer than you think, Xummy.” She turned back to the lad, flashing a cheerful grin. “You’ll sweep some lucky girl off her feet someday. Just you wait and see.”

The lad’s eyes searched her face intently… and helplessly. He desperately wanted to know what was bothering her just then, and how he could help. Also, selfishly, he hoped to find some sign that she may had been dodging the very thought that was on his mind: that this inexplicable connection the two of them shared since the moment they first met may be more than just friendship. But he was not… could not… be sure she felt the same way.

He also lacked the courage to make an attempt to find out.

“Um… Xummy?” the young woman began slowly. “You better go change if we are going to get some studying done, yeah?”

The lad found his voice. “Ah… right. Yes…” The lad’s face returned a smile, but there was a note of sadness to it. He had missed his chance. “We do have a bit to go through before you run off with Derek this evening.”

The lad saw the lass’s warm smile widen at the name of “noted boyfriend number four”, and his heart cracked a little more. “I’ll just be ten minutes…” he added after a long pause. He started down the hallway toward his bedroom.

The lad would actually take a little longer, for he had discovered that, while he hardly broke a sweat during his 30 minutes of Aikido routines, he was perspiring profusely under his gi during the not-even-two-minute slow dance. So he quickly showered before dressing in a white button shirt and denim pants. In five minutes, he would don a thick pullover sweater and gather his books and notes in a knapsack. Then he would help the lass with her coat and carry her tote bag and his knapsack as they made their way to the train station and eventually to the library, stopping for a hot Cornish pasty at their favourite bakery on the way. Then they would have a lengthy study session, followed by a longer, effervescent discourse on a number of personal and trivial subjects — including one in which the lass would give the lad a smile that he would treasure forever. Eventually, Derek would arrive and she would depart with a muted goodbye… and the lad would watch the couple walk away arm-in-arm until they were out of his sight. Then he would gather his belongings and make his way home to cook supper. And of course, he would prepare himself to lie if… when… the lass’ mother asks him about how the study session went — for he realized that he had fallen in love with the lass, and would thus do anything for her… including enabling her to be with another.

But the rest of this day would start in five minutes. Right now, the lad, still in his room, silently flung himself over on his back on his bed, exasperated.

Why didn’t I say anything?

He stared at the ceiling, completely unaware that a few short weeks later he would look back upon this selfsame moment: As he lay in grief on that selfsame bed — thinking about how the selfsame halter top and skirt of Danielle’s, folded neatly amid black lace in a spare knapsack in the corner, would never be returned to their owner — he would ask himself that selfsame question.

Why was I such a coward?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Tipping Point


Mountain View, California, September 16, 2016

The man sat in his Air Hawk motorized wheelchair in the corner in the grand living room, which was a little more luxurious and ornate than what he was used to. He felt slightly thirsty, but left his glass of water sweating on the small side table against the wall beside him. He was instead watching the twenty-some other guests who gathered in small clusters around the room, engaged in lively conversation. It was the first party the man had attended since he had become confined to his chair, having lost most of the use of his left arm and leg a few months ago. And despite his weeks of practice with the Air Hawk, he was a bit apprehensive maneuvering the chair through the crowded room. So he was content with having his lovely wife fetch some hors d'oeuvres for him while he parked himself out of the way, and mulled over his own lively conversation from a few moments before in the host’s private den.

The party was held in the home of a mild acquaintance, the supervisor of one of the man’s business associates in the health care industry. The associate and the supervisor have been working with the man on a prospectus for a pilot study for a new experimental rehabilitative therapy developed in Japan — one that may actually assist in helping the man regain his lost mobility. The three of them have had a number of discussions on the matter over the last several weeks, mostly on how to persuade the Japanese developer to pilot with their medical firm. But this evening, the man and his wife were invited by the supervisor to his social-cum-business gathering at his impressive Mountain View home to talk about having the man qualify as a potential test subject when… if… the pilot is a go. The supervisor was still in the den with the supervisor as they had additional business to discuss, but he encouraged the man and his wife to stay and enjoy the party.

While the man was elated by the news, he still looked at the cool glass of water with mild disdain. He had spent most of his recent days in t-shirts and sweatpants, but he had to dress in a button shirt with slacks and a blazer for this occasion. He had learned on a recent business trip that this attire adds an additional layer of complexity when he had to use the facilities, so he was trying to minimize that need as much as possible.

It was then that the man noticed that all of the people in the room suddenly stopped talking. All except for one, who was talking quite loudly.

A rather large man who appeared to be a bit underdressed for this gathering was arguing with his sharply dressed female companion near the drink station. The man in the wheelchair did not really pay much attention to the actual words yelled as he did to the person’s tipsy demeanor. The woman made a dismissive wave to the inebriated man and turned to walk away, when the drunkard angrily seized the woman’s slender arm.

“You’re hurting me…” she groaned, trying to twist away, but she couldn’t break free.

The man’s eyes narrowed as he worked the controls of the Air Hawk to point the caster wheels directly at the couple. Aside from his wife, he hardly knew any of these people around him, but he still could not believe how they could just stand idly by while this was happening right before them. The man’s slender fingers pressed the joystick of his Air Hawk forward.

The man caught the look of his wife from across the room as he was guiding the chair towards the argument. With his only working hand on the controls, the man had to cock his head to one side repeatedly in order to gesture toward the woman in the drunkard’s grip. The man was pleased to see his wife received the message and was working her way toward the other side of the arguing couple.

The angry drunkard seemed oblivious to the whirring hum of the man’s wheelchair as he made his approach. The man considered using the chair’s electronic horn, but instead decided to keep the chair moving, extending his good right leg as high as possible so he could give the drunkard a sharp nudge in the posterior upon his arrival.

As the man hoped, his sudden “kick” made the drunkard let go of the woman and turn toward him -- just as his wife arrived from the other direction. The man lifted his chin imperiously toward the intoxicated brute. He just needed to hold the bully’s attention long enough for his wife to help lead the maltreated woman out of the room and into the kitchen. “That’s quite enough,” the man said sharply. “Perhaps you should step outside and cool off.”

The brute bristled. “This your party, Mr. Sulu?” he scoffed.

The man suppressed his mild surprise that the drunken taunt was focused on his ethnicity rather than his disability, and instead repeated himself in the precise manner he had used before. “Again, I suggest you step outside and…”

As the man spoke, the brute made a few slightly unsteady steps to the left side of the man’s wheelchair, placed the sole of his right workman’s boot against the frame crossbar below the chair’s seat saddle, and pushed. The man’s sentence was cut off by an undignified reflexive yelp as the wheelchair tipped over onto its side.

That action triggered a collective gasp from the onlookers in the room. As the man struggled to shift his half-motionless body from its sprawled position on the floor, he could not help but mentally repeat with acerbity the part of the Air Hawk sales pitch regarding how being the “lightest lightweight power wheelchair” offered “the greatest flexibility and range of motion”...

With a grunt of effort, the man managed to lay flat on his back, and could see the brute slowly lumbering away from him, looking around the room for his female companion. The man strained to lift his head so he could get a clearer view of the crowd, to no avail. All he could do was hope that the women had already made it to the kitchen so the maltreated woman would be hidden from view… and that his wife did not see what had just occurred.

One of the other male guests finally found his voice. “That does it. I’m calling the police.”

That sentence had finally convinced the intoxicated brute to head for the front door. In a few moments the partygoers would hear a distant screeching of tires and an obnoxious rev of a car engine as he made his departure.

In the meantime, the supervisor host and the associate had emerged from the den, no doubt alerted by the commotion. They immediately went to work righting the motorized wheelchair and helping the man back into it. Before the man could regain his dignity, he immediately received a very tight hug from his horrified wife, which he returned as best he could with his right arm.


The man and his wife were relieved to find out that the maltreated woman, who was a good friend of the host, had been in a relationship with the brute for only a brief time, and that this was the first and only sign of abuse that she had experienced. The host insisted that she stay the night in his home as a precaution, and the host’s wife would kindly provide whatever provisions she needed. The man was disappointed that no one actually called the police, but the woman did not want to press any charges. The man was also concerned that the brute was driving a car while intoxicated, but all he could do was hope that the brute would make it home without causing any harm to himself or others.

After a lengthy expression of thanks from the woman and repeated apologies from the host, the man and his wife had taken their leave.

The man slowly wheeled his chair down the walkway, following his shapely wife as they made their way toward their car parked along the street. Before they reached it, the wife suddenly turned and tossed her husband an austere look.

“Just what the hell do you think you were doing? Standing up to that—” The wife bit her lip at her choice of words, but after a pause she continued. “Did you think that the guy wasn’t gonna fight you just because you were in a wheelchair?”

“Well, I was hoping…” the man said with a little cheek. He flexed his right arm slightly… starting to feel signs that bruises were forming under his blazer and shirt sleeve.

“Don’t joke about this!” she snapped. Her voice sounded a little panicked, and the man was surprised to see that she was on the verge of tears. “When you had that… attack, and we had to call the ambulance, I was so scared. The kids were so scared. I don’t want us to go through that again, even if…”

The man tried to reassure her. “Namiko, I’m okay… really… I…”

“No, sometimes I think you’re not,” she countered. “It’s almost as if you have forgotten what happened to you. As if you can just do anything you used to…”

The man held up his right hand. “Believe me, I am aware… painfully aware… of my limitations,” he said earnestly. “But you know I cannot just sit there and let someone…”

“I know,” she sighed.  “I know you always have this urge to help people – even total strangers. It’s one of the things I love about you. But please... please… just promise me that you will give someone else a chance to jump in and help before you put yourself in harm’s way like that, okay?”

The man nodded. He felt that was what he had essentially done earlier that evening, but he knew what his wife truly meant. “Okay. I promise,” he said quietly, his tone dead serious.

“Okay,” the wife said, satisfied. All signs of worry evaporated from her face. She gently touched the man’s left cheek with her fingers, and then brought her mouth to meet his.

“Thank you for that,” the man said after their lips parted. “And for helping her out. I don’t regret doing what I did, seeing how much we helped that woman. But I also know what I did was pretty stupid, seeing how quickly he took me down…”

“Maybe so,“ the woman smirked, “but you literally kicked his ass.”

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Protector in Pink


Johur Baru, Johor, Malaysia, November 1997

The man observed that the shopping centre was abuzz with excitement over the Saturday event that has drawn several children and their families from across the city and neighboring towns. And no wonder. The main stage in the promenade, normally reserved for local musical performances, was under attack by two alien mutant monsters from outer space – each almost a towering two metres tall! One appeared to be half-man, half turtle; the other half-man, half lobster. While both monsters looked utterly grotesque, the bright colors of their foam rubber bodies made them appear not too scary for the youngest of the younger crowd.

Fortunately, the monsters’ evil scheme to destroy the weekend afternoon commerce was about to be thwarted by flashes of red, blue, black, pink, and yellow that leapt, cartwheeled, and somersaulted onto the stage. The speeding arrivals surrounded the monsters, each pausing in a fighting stance so the cheering crowd of over two hundred onlookers can have a good look at the brightly colored spandex-and-lyrca outfits of the six fully masked super sentai heroes that most of the kids had instantly recognized as the Power Rangers.

However, the quintet was not the actual Power Rangers from the television programme or the fairly recent movie. In fact, those with a keen eye can see that the uniforms, while in the correct colors, were not quite the same as their on-screen counterparts. The diamond motif had been replaced with ovals, and the dinosaur patterns of the helmets appeared to be more bug-like. 

That was because the five heroes and two monsters on stage were not officially licensed Power Ranger or Zyuranger performers like the ones that toured in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore a few years ago. They were actually the Sentai Seven, a quasi-professional performing troupe comprised of seven very talented martial artists and acrobats from Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia who presented live Power-Ranger-like shows at local events throughout Southeast Asia – usually to draw in customers to drum up local business, which they no doubt were doing for the shops and eateries in that J.B. shopping centre that day.

(Now that I had made clear the fact of who these heroes are not, please note that, to allow for ease of writing, this post will continue to refer to these performers as “Rangers” since that was who they were supposed to represent. Please keep in mind that at this particular event, or at any other Sentai Seven show, they could not officially – nor legally – be referred to as such.)

This had actually been the first time the Sentai Seven (referred only as “your kids’ favorite heroes” during the show and in the event adverts) had performed in Malaysia in a number of years. The troupe was quite popular when the “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” programme had taken the country (as it did the world) by storm on Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) 2. That was before a few parents and government officials were concerned that the show would have a negative influence on children because the word “Morphin’” in the title sounded like “morphine”– and that would somehow encourage impressionable young minds to want to abuse drugs. So the programme was banned from Malaysia for a time, and the troupe decided to perform in other countries at that point.

That meant the children had to get their Super Sentai fix either by watching the Japanese programme, “Choushinsei Flashman,” dubbed in Malay on RTM1, or settling for the (thankfully) short-lived chintzy American knockoff television series, “Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills,” on Metrovision 8.

The ban did not last too long, however. Eventually, the movie based on the “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” series was allowed to be screened in local theatres with the shortened title, “Power Rangers: The Movie.” The television programme was soon allowed back on the air when it followed the same naming convention. And now that the show had returned, so too had the Sentai Seven.

The man was at the shopping center event, of course, enjoying an exclusive vantage point of the show. He was paying particular attention on the movements of the performer who portrayed the doppelgänger of the Yellow Ranger Trini – and with good reason.

(No, not that reason). 

Since the man worked for the advertising agency that served the property management company for the shopping centre, and was good friends with the centre’s event organizer, he was able to meet the troupe performers and watch them practice their routine (both in costume and in athletic sweatsuits) earlier that week. He remembered the horrible moment when he saw the sweet young woman who was the Yellow Ranger of the troupe accidentally fall against the edge of a raised platform during practice and tear her clavicle loose, just three days before the show.

The remaining “Sentai Six” were scrambling to figure out how to best restructure the choreography with one less performer, when the event organizer had a suggestion for a potential fill-in. A few calls were made, and the candidate was auditioning at the troupe’s practice area later that afternoon. The candidate had promising skills, but admitted to having not practiced in several months, and was thus “a bit rusty.” However, the candidate would work as a viable stand-in with only a few minor cuts to the choreography, limiting the new Yellow Ranger’s routine to martial arts only and no acrobatics beyond breakfalls. Further, the man, a Yondan in Aikido, was willing to work long hours with the troupe in order to train the candidate to be ready for the show in time.

In addition to lacking some acrobatic skill, the candidate was also not quite as… built as the original performer, but that was easily fixed with a bit of strategically placed padding.

On the shopping center stage, the entire Ranger team pretended to be knocked backward by a broad sweep of the Turtle-Man’s arm, eliciting first a collective gasp of shock from the kids in the crowd – and then a communal cheer as the Rangers all used rolling breakfalls to immediately right themselves back on their feet, ready to resume the fight.

The man silently winced as he noticed the Yellow Ranger tip slightly after standing from the ushiro ukemi. Despite his and the troupe’s best efforts during the long two days of the stand-in’s intensive training and practice, the padding still threw the new performer’s balance off a touch. This was soon further evidenced by the Yellow Ranger’s roundhouse kick, aimed to intentionally miss the side of the Turtle Man’s face, accidentally connecting with his right shoulder, actually knocking him to the padded stage floor.

The Yellow Ranger immediately pulled the opponent up to a standing position by the scruff of the foam rubber turtle shell. Before the audience could register what the man knew was a brief check that the fallen actor was unhurt, the yellow-clad performer mimed an overelaborate bowling throw as the Turtle Man somersaulted off-stage in simulated defeat.

Aside from that small hiccup, which was very likely perceived by the crowd as a normal part of the act, the performance went swimmingly. In fact, the final act of all five Rangers vanquishing the threat of the Lobster-man, which climaxed with the monster disappearing from the stage (a magician technique using flash powder, a smoke machine, and the aforementioned raised platform with a built-in trap door), was well-received by the applauding audience.


Shortly after the performance, there was a “meet and greet” session that was originally supposed to have the kids line up to shake the hands of each of the “Rangers” in succession as they moved across the stage, but it quickly reverted to a disorderly mob of kids and adults flocking around the troupe to shake hands and take pictures of the team of masked heroes. 

One person among the crowd behind the heroes had a different reason for being on the stage.

As soon as the man realized what was happening, the rest of the crowd was suddenly made aware via the sound of a loud male scream. They all then saw the Pink Ranger twisting the right hand of a surprised 30-something-year-old Indian male, as she forced him backward through the quickly parting crowd, and roughly shoved him against a nearby pillar at the back of the stage. The Yellow Ranger followed closely behind.

The greasy-haired, lightly mustached male was clearly three times the weight of the Pink Ranger, and even though that extra mass can be considered more flab than muscle, he could have easily knocked down the Pink Ranger with a little leverage. The only thing that was preventing the male from doing so was the pain of his hand bones, which the man could see were straining toward the point of dislocation in the Pink Ranger’s gloved grasp.

The Malay security guard assigned to accompany the troupe quickly approached the two Rangers and inquired what was going on. Before they could respond, a young boy at the front of the crowd pointed to the Yellow Ranger and said in Malay, “He grabbed her backside. He grabbed her backside."

The yellow-clad stand-in did not understand Malay, but soon nodded in agreement when the guard asked in English to confirm what the Indian man did.

Two additional shopping centre security guards, altered by the Indian’s scream, soon arrived and escorted the molester off the premises, but not until they had first spent several minutes attempting to convince the two Rangers that the incident was most likely “a simple misunderstanding.” When that did not work, the guards assured the Rangers that they will bar him from the property and that there was no need to waste time filing a police report. 

The man gave a scornful look to both the departing pervert and his security guard escorts. He knew from experience that filing a police report would indeed be a waste of time…


Later, the man joined the troupe in a reserved private area behind the shopping center offices that included changing rooms.

The Yellow Ranger turned to the pink counterpart and whispered, “Thank you again for dealing with that… molester…”

The Pink Ranger removed her helmet, and the attractive, mid-30s Singaporean-Chinese performer underneath gave her yellow counterpart a wide smile. ”No problem,” she said, arching an eyebrow. “After all, we girls have to stick together, right?”

The Yellow Ranger stiffened slightly at the question before removing the helmet of the uniform, revealing the perspiring face of Xum Yukinori.

“Indeed,” the man in the padded yellow uniform smiled back. He handed the pink heroine a towel and a bottle of water from the stock provided for the troupe on a small side table. He hesitantly asked, “Does that… sort of thing… happen to you often?”

The Pink Ranger performer pushed back the bangs of her short-cropped dark hair so she could dab her sweaty forehead lightly with the towel. “More often than you’d think,” she said with a bit of sadness, draping the towel over her shoulder. She then cracked another smile as she cracked open the water bottle. “The price for having a great backside, I suppose. But that doesn’t mean we have to agree to pay.”

The man nodded. He was still very disappointed that the molester was essentially led out with only a warning from the guards. But he did have some satisfaction that his pink-clad protector had brought that pervert’s sneaky actions out into the open. Perhaps the public humiliation, from both being discovered and the physical retaliation, will make that person reconsider ever trying to touch a woman improperly again.

Perhaps.

The rest of the troupe had already gone into the male dressing room. The man decided to wait a few moments before following suit. All of the male performers had at one time or another made cat-calls at the man in jest when he first put on the chest padding and the yellow uniform. And now through the dressing room door he can hear them all having a good laugh about him being so “sexy” that some casual pervert actually groped him.

The Pink Ranger could hear them too. “They are such boys…” she remarked.

A realization struck the man. He gestured toward the gents’ changing room. “Um, they don’t treat you like…”

The Singaporean woman shook her head. “Oh, no. The may be boys, but they are good boys. They just like to make fun at you putting on boobs.” She paused, and her playful voice now had a serious tone. “But they are all very glad that you did so to fill in for Phaik-Seng… as am I. So thank you, Xum.”

“It was my pleasure. I hope Phaik-Seng has a successful recovery.”

The woman in pink nodded, then turned toward the female dressing room. “You can change in here, if you wish,” she offered. “After I am done, of course.”

“Thank you, but the gents’ will be fine,” the man replied. “I’ve faced worse than ‘those boys’…”

The woman turned to face the man. “I know,” she said flatly. “I saw those marks on you during practice.”

There was a long pause, and the man hoped the performer in pink would not ask about the circumstances behind the few but noticeable scars on his body, which his loose practice shirt apparently did not conceal. Fortunately, his silent wish was granted.

The woman finally spoke. “Well, you watch your backside, Xum. You will not always have someone else watching it for you.” She then disappeared behind the female dressing room door.


It would be hours after the man had changed and said a final goodbye to the Sentai Seven, while enjoying an after-supper Kopi O Peng at a hawker stall near his hotel, that he would realize there may had been a deeper meaning to the Pink Ranger’s words. He briefly wondered if the reason she caught the molester’s action was because she was already looking at his backside... 

And then, just as quickly, the man pushed that ridiculous thought out of his head.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

In Sickness and in Health...

"Now you listen to me, Xum Yukinori: I don't care if you are at 50 percent or 100 percent; I'm still gonna love you for all that you are." 

--Namiko Yukinori, June 25, 2016.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

Forced A-wake-up Call...

We have finally watched "The Force Awakens" today. And of course, after over a week of avoiding *most* spoilers online, my family happened to be seated behind a couple of high school boys who had obviously already seen the movie because they chose to spend their time waiting for the opening trailers by recounting their favorite Episode VII scenes... including the big moment when [name redacted] [verb redacted] [another name redacted]...

I leaned forward and politely said, "Excuse me, young sirs, but not all of us in this theatre have seen this movie. Do you mind not spoiling it for us?"

The two both looked at me askance, probably as much because of my referring to them as "young sirs" as the fact that...

"You haven't seen Episode VII yet?" one reponded, aghast. "We've seen it three times already."

"They must not be *real* Star Wars fans," the other scoffed.

"That is beside the point," I said. "This movie is for everyone, not just the fans. When I first watched 'The Empire Strikes Back', I do not recall anyone spoiling the big surprise of Vader being Luke's father. I am just asking you for the same courtesy to not spoil this movie any further."

"What do you mean 'big surprise'?" The scoffing boy scoffed (again). "Anyone who saw Episode III already *knew* Vader was Luke's father."

That was when it was my turn to look askance. Aika and Isamu tried to stifle their giggling.

Namiko shook her head. "They are *definitely* not *real* Star Wars fans," she said flatly.