A deeply personal narrative written with the vibes of a diary entry, Vio’s story emanates warmth in its nostalgia as well as resilience in its outlook. A truly beautiful piece you wouldn’t want to miss.
“If you end up falling for a girl, I will remove you from your school!” mother scored when I received my acceptance letter for my secondary school.
Why would a 12-year old be worrying about dating? And dating girls, no less? I pondered as I stood by the railings of my school building. It overlooked this brown river that, at the time, was as big as the ocean for me.
I remember reading a sign board as my mum drove me to school. Sungai Gombak was what it was called.
I loved looking at that river during recess. It was as if the milo-coloured waters provided me with a source of comfort. My favourite memory was seeing an alligator swimming in it. It was a field day for me and my friends. Our river was alive!
Of course, I later learnt that it was a huge irrigation drain that ran by the train station. Just as I later learnt I would wash away my romantic feelings for girls because it was weird. To have a crush on my secondary school best friend was almost a social death sentence. Should I choose to fit in with my friend group? How does that explain my thoughts of kissing my best friend? Sometimes, I wished my younger self was brave like the alligator, swimming despite muddy waters.
The “river” ran next to my school and the roads my parents would drive by. Eventually, that river would flow right by my neighbourhood. We rarely ever get to see real rivers in Kuala Lumpur. So that drain river that had occasional graffiti at the side was as close as it gets.
Growing up, I, too, never got to see real queer people in Kuala Lumpur. My parents always pointed out to me when there was a maknya next to us in a mall, or how “a gay” was performing on television (I later learnt that “gay” was Elton John!). Still, I make do with what I have.
By sheer luck, my neighbourhood is named after an iconic gay symbol: the rainbow. When a drain river can be an ocean, I suppose a coincidental name, too, can be somewhat of a sanctuary.
In all honesty, though, it probably got its name from the thing you see after the rain. When it rains in Kuala Lumpur, it absolutely pours. Going to 99 Speedmart to buy bread was like wading through ankle deep waters, and seeing floating bits of plastic tangled with dried leaves. Wearing shoes out on those days is just asking for them to be soaked.
Kissing my Singaporean girlfriend for the first time was a gentle shower. Her soft, pillowy lips were exactly like how I had imagined it would be to love a woman. Every romantic feeling that I washed away in the Gombak river poured down onto me. Kissing her was like floating on my swimming pool, weightless as the sun kissed my skin.
Just between you and me, I use the swimming pool to see how heavy the rain is. It’s a built-in weather forecast in my neighbourhood. There was one time the swimming pool overflowed. The sunken barbecue pit was completely covered with water. I could see how the river by my home was also rising. I was worried that the rain wouldn’t stop. It had been four days!
Being queer, you need to get good at forecasting people’s reactions. Every new interaction is a calculated risk between existing as my authentic self or hiding my identity to put others at ease. So many people don’t like you existing alongside them, and you need to be careful if you don’t want things to turn into a major flood that can swallow you whole.
I do wish, sometimes, that things were better around here. But Taman Rainbow is my home. It’s not perfect but it has all the fun memories of growing up. I loved the river even though it may not love me the same. I love my neighbourhood even though it may not love me back.
Where else can I call home?