The moonlight shone into the dark room through the light white curtains which flapped now and again in the cool night breeze. It cast a silvery glow upon the big bedroom which was home to a study table and shelves stacked full of books beside the wide open windows. A built-in wardrobe on which were pasted posters of famous male American and UK celebrities stood against the opposite wall. The closed doors to the living room and the bathroom occupied the third.
Against the final wall which faced the doors was a king-size bed. On it were the naked bodies of two young men in their early thirties locked in passionate embrace, like two creepers which had inseparably become entwined with each other, their muscles taut with intensity. The man on top was moving rhythmically up and down and their soft moans were nonetheless audible amidst the incessant calls of the early morning cicadas and the croaking of the mating toads in the fields outside.
The door opposite them opened soundlessly, letting in a crack of light from the living room. It closed again shortly after, almost as silently but with a soft click at the end.
The men stopped and turned to the sound but there was nothing except the moving light of the moon cast on the walls as the breeze gently lifted the curtains and the ticking of the clock perched above the door.
When Samuel was born, James and Shirley Soong dedicated him to the Lord. It had been a hard pregnancy but with much prayer and support from their parents and church members, the ordeal was finally over and the couple felt that he was indeed a gift from the Lord.
James and Shirley Soong were both architects. When Samuel was born, they were working for the housing board where they met and fell in love. Both were devout Christians and so their falling in love and decision to get married was fully approved by their church and circle of Christian friends. Both their families were supportive too, their parents being prominent members of the church.
However, they tried for years to have a baby but there was nothing. Initially, both were young and caught up with their careers so it didn’t matter that much but when both of them entered their thirties, it became cause for great concern. They sought medical advice but examination showed that there was nothing wrong with both of them. This was really a matter for prayer and fasting according to their pastors and church elders so it became an item for their weekly prayer meetings.
James and Shirley decided to go for a holiday at Phuket, a well-deserved one. The last vacation they had taken abroad was their honeymoon. Most of their subsequent leaves were spent either in catching up with work at home or helping out in church. When they came back, Shirley missed her period and upon examination, found out that she was pregnant. It was a miracle, an answered prayer. The whole church rejoiced with them.
Samuel was a lovely baby. He didn’t give much trouble to his parents. As a toddler, he was equally wonderful, always wearing an innocent, cherubic smile on his face, his ruddy cheeks ballooning into two pinch-worthy little balls.
He grew into a handsome young lad and the proud parents sent him to a good Christian boy school which was affiliated to their church. He performed well in school and had more than decent grades every year and did so without much help from his parents. Their parents had wanted him to be an architect but when he told them that he was more interested in the Arts, even though they were a little disappointed, they gave in to him.
James and Shirley decided to leave the housing board to set up their own company. It was hard work at first but business picked up and they did very well after a couple of years. James had also moved up in his church, from a youth leader to a deacon and then when he was forty, he became an elder in his church. As an elder, he not only had to do administrative and management work, he had also to speak at the pulpit now and again. James excelled at sermons, his confident style, charismatic personality and amicable countenance made him an engaging speaker. Soon he was so popular a speaker that he often doubled up as one of the pastors.
Samuel had finished his junior college education and after serving his national service, he asked his parents to let him go to the States for his university. Shirley was reluctant at first, knowing that she will miss him badly but James was quite agreeable to it since he felt that the liberal arts were much more advanced in American universities.
And so Samuel left for California when he was twenty-one.
The house along Dunearn Road, an upper middle class area, which was normally quiet except on Tuesday nights when a small group spent about two hours in prayer and Thursday nights when a cell group of about ten people was held, was abuzz with excitement.
Samuel was coming home.
It had been nearly two years since James and Shirley had seen their only child. He did come back yearly during his university vacations when he was an undergrad. James and Shirley also flew fourteen hours to San Francisco to attend his graduation at which he told them that he would like to continue with graduate school.
In the vacations of the first year of graduate school, Samuel told his parents that he was not coming home because he had taken a summer job as the research assistant to his professor who needed him to work through the vacations. He would also be taking a short weekend break to go to Yosemite with a friend, an American born Chinese whose parents came from Taiwan. Charles Cao was an architecture undergraduate from the same university.
As James and Shirley were also too busy with their work and church, they decided that it would be fine not to see Samuel for another year.
“Daddy, you better hurry or Sonny would be waiting for us at the airport,” Shirley said in measured tones, not actually to hurry her husband but to remind him that time was passing faster than he was aware.
“Give me a minute,” James answered absent-mindedly, “Just one more paragraph and I would be done with the sermon.”
In about five minutes, James switched off the computer in front of him after reading through his sermon one more time. He knew that it would be a very important sermon to his congregation. He had always felt the need to forewarn his flock about the world and its evils, even about apostasy and moral decadence of the age. He was increasingly aware of the gathering forces of evil even in squeaky clean Singapore. He had made it a point in his prayer meetings to pray that God in His infinite mercy, would protect the land that He had so blessed with plenty in the midst of the uncertainty because of its separation from Malaysia and its lack of ability to survive without natural resources.
He was deeply troubled by what he perceived as the gathering forces of darkness from the West which had now taken the form of the degenerate choice of the gay lifestyle. What an abomination, he thought, a sure sign of the times, the abhorrence of the indecent acts that men do with other men in the shame of their perversion and lust. In the West, such acts were even going mainstream both in Hollywood and in politics. Before long, the wave of degeneration will hit Singapore too.
The sermon he had just written was to be delivered to his flock and he hoped that they will be galvanized to act not in silence but in more overt forms of pressure to preserve the moral climate in Singapore. He felt it was his moral duty and godly calling.
James went into his bedroom to get changed. Shirley had already spread his clothes on the bed. She had chosen the maroon batik shirt which she liked because she felt that it made him look less austere. He took off his loose fitting polo shirt, revealing a rather dashing youthful figure for a man of more than fifty and slipped on the batik shirt. He had just put on his black tailored pants when Shirley came into the room.
“Good, you are ready. Let’s go, we should be able to make it because he will need to go through customs and baggage. That should take about half an hour at least…we should not have to wait when we arrive,” she said excitedly.
James and Shirley went down the stairs to the ground level of the detached house and walked quickly to the front door outside which their car was parked.
Before they could open the door, it opened from the outside and a beaming face greeted them.
Samuel or Sonny as James and Shirley called him had grown into a young man of twenty –six which would have made any parent proud. He was handsome not in a glamorous fashionable way but was what you might term as the good looking boy next door. He had always kept his hair a decent length with a little flop which came down on his clear forehead giving him a boyish look. Sonny was blessed with good skin which radiated with health. His liking for the outdoors gave him a tan which added to his sporty appearance without looking too sun-baked.
To top it all, Sonny had a charming smile. Each time, and it was often, he broke into a grin, his eyes would purse into slits that made him look almost Japanese or Korean.
And now there he was standing in front of Shirley who showed an expression of surprise at seeing her son unexpectedly at the front door.
“Don’t worry Mummy, you are not seeing a ghost,” Sonny joked cheekily, laughing aloud and giving his mother a big bear hug, “We decided to take an earlier flight….hahahaha…..just to surprise you.”
“And you, Daddy.” Sonny went forward to his father who was standing at the door behind his mother. “I miss both of you….” He extended his hand to his father who took it affectionately.
“Oh, Daddy and Mummy…let me introduce my friend to you. He is Charles Cao…. the guy I told you I would take a break with in the mountains last summer?” He was trying to jolt their memory. He turned to the young man behind and said, “Chuck, this is my mum and this is my dad.”
“How do you do, Sir and Ma’am,” Charles greeted them bashfully in American accented English as he shook their hands politely. James immediately liked the respectful way, the young chap had addressed his elders. It was something reminiscent of the good old days when parents were addressed as ‘Sir’ and ‘Ma’am’ unlike nowadays when some youngsters called their parents by first names…it was so disrespectful.
“I’ve invited him to stay with us. Hope you don’t mind my not telling you. We decided at the last minute that he should holiday in Singapore and as I knew you wouldn’t mind, I offered him our home. He can sleep with me so there is no need to clear a room for him. Just treat him like family; no need for special attention…he doesn’t deserve it.” Sonny giggled and winked at Charles as they all dragged their luggage into the living room.
“Oh, sure, sure,” James said warmly, “You are most welcome to stay here.” James put his hand on the firm shoulder of this young man who was in his mid-twenties. “Any friend of Sonny is our friend. Treat this as your home away from home.” James was genuinely a friendly man with no airs about him. Although he had a serious look when he was not smiling, he was generally known to be sincere and hospitable.
Chuck, as Sonny affectionately called him, was a tall young man with fair complexion. He wore his hair short in American GI style. In spite of the fact that he was only in his mid-twenties, he looked a bit too serious to be. There was a certain gravity about him; the Sonny type of twinkle in the eyes was not present in him. He had a somewhat deeper look in his brown eyes, something that made others want to know him better. He had a certain bashfulness about him and seemed to need time to warm up to people he didn’t know. It was these qualities that made James like him right away and as far as Shirley was concerned, she knew that she would mother him the way she mothered Sonny.
“Tell you what, boys. Why don’t you unpack and freshen yourselves? Daddy and I will take you boys out for supper after this.”
“Thanks, Mummy. Can we please go to a hawker centre? At Lavender Street, maybe….I miss all the delicious yummy hawker food……please, please, Mummy. I haven’t eaten them for years.” Sonny seemed not to have noticed Charles looking at him behaving like a little child in front of Mummy.
“All right, all right…stop pestering us. We can all eat your favourite wanton noodles, chicken rice, dim sum, prawn noodles and fried kway teow. You boys go quickly and put your things in your room.
The two young men sprang into action, half dragging and half carrying their luggage into Sonny’s room which was on the ground floor just beyond the dining room. On both sides of the door, two plaques were hung, one on which was embossed the words, “Christ Is The Head Of This Home, the Unseen Guest at every Meal, the Silent Listener to every conversation” while the other one had the Ten Commandments of Moses etched into it.
Charles scored well with James at supper. Although still an architecture undergrad, his knowledge of the structural designs and architectural feats surprised even an old timer like James. This was possibly the fact that his father was an architect from Taiwan who had migrated to the States after his graduation with his wife, a sculptor.
Supper conversation focused on famous buildings like the Empire State building in New York, Dongfang Minzhu in Shanghai which Sonny insisted resembled two fish balls impaled by a skewer, giggling at his own naughtiness, the shell-like Sydney Opera house, and Taipei 101 in earthquake prone Taiwan – they discussed how such a skyscraper like that could withstand frequent earthquakes.
“Then there is of course the Durian in Singapore…pretty iconic but took some getting used to initially…hahaha….oh I better explain, the esplanade building which houses a concert hall and a theatre is affectionately called the Durian by locals because it looks like two durians,” explained James rather proudly.
“Actually they look like the eyes of a housefly to me,” laughed Shirley.
“No, no. Actually, they look like balls to me, only knocked out of position. Ouch!” Sonny interrupted naughtily referring to its likeness to the testicles, only to see the fierce glare from his father.
“Boys, better eat the food before it gets cold,” Shirley quickly changed the subject.
“Have you been back to Taiwan recently, Charles?” James asked.
“Not recently, Sir. I used to visit every year when my grandparents were still alive. They passed away more than five years ago and we somehow decided that it was too troublesome to go back every year. My Mum actually said that perhaps we could go back to visit my uncles and aunts next year.”
Charles had apparently relaxed and was responding well to the friendliness of the parents of his good friend. And the couple liked the bashful well-mannered young man even more when whatever initial awkwardness had disappeared. In fact, James liked him so much, he felt that Charles was a son he wished he had, in addition to Sonny of course.
“You should be more careful in future…Lock your door.”
Shirley put a mug of hot malt drink she had just prepared in front of Sonny. They were alone in the kitchen, her husband James and Charles having gone out to visit the Esplanade and look at some of the skyscrapers that lined Shenton Way.
“Mum, you saw…,” Sonny’s voice broke off in mid-sentence. He felt his face warm. He had lost his usual cheekiness.
Shirley nodded weakly.
“Sorry, Mum…I thought I had locked the door….I’ll be more careful next time.”
“Are you sure of what you are doing?” Shirley was trying very hard to keep her voice calm.
“Why, Samuel….why have you chosen this road?” Her voice was shaking with hurt and disappointment.
“I didn’t choose Mum….I didn’t choose to like boys…really I didn’t.”
“Did he lead you astray?”
“Chuck?” Sonny felt his cheeks burning. He continued after what seemed like an eternity to Shirley. “No, Mum…if you mean whether he initiated our relationship, then…then I have to say no…I was the one who initiated it…he had a more difficult time accepting his sexuality. He even tried to take his own life…and…when he didn’t succeed, he had to undergo counselling. Then he came into the university and I met him in the student gay club there.”
“Why then why….no, no, how did you end up like this? Was it our fault? Did we do something wrong by you….did we give you an unhappy childhood? Were you unhappy?”
“No, Mum….you and Dad are great parents…you did nothing wrong….don’t blame yourself….I had the most wonderful childhood that any guy could’ve asked for, loving parents, a lovely home, good friends and a wonderful education…”
“Then why?….” Her voice tailed off.
“There is no why, Mum….It just is…I wish I’m not this way….trust me, I did….I prayed hard and tried hard…but…..” This time his voice tailed off as he tried to control the emotions that were threatening to overcome him.
“Don’t let your father know. He must not know that you are gay. We can work things out calmly and patiently.” There was a quiet determination in Shirley’s voice.
What happened next was so fast that no one present had any time to think.
“There will be no working out.” James’ loud booming voice rocked the quiet of the mid-morning. “You will stop this abomination, this terrible, terrible shameful thing in the sight of God immediately.”
“And you,” James shouted at Charles who was standing behind him, white with fear in his eyes, “You will get out of my home at once….right now!”
“No, Dad. If he goes, I go as well.” Sonny’s voice was equally loud and fearless.
“Then you get out as well.” The anger in James’ voice was unmistakable.
“Daddy, please…..please don’t….he is your son,” pleaded Shirley.
“I don’t have such a shameless son….”
“All right, Dad, if you insist.” Sonny turned to his mother, “I’m sorry Mum…I have to go…goodbye.”
“Come on, Chuck,” Sonny said softly to Charles as he grabbed hold of his hand and walked towards the front door. The front door reverberated with anger as it slammed shut.
“Please, Daddy…stop him….we can talk this out calmly,” Shirley pleaded with her husband again. He ignored her and went upstairs into his study where he knew he would be alone.
“Good sermon, Elder Soong. We must not only pray and fast, we must not be passive anymore,” the young couple, Mr and Mrs Daniel Lim congratulated James. They were followed by Dr and Mrs Cheong and their children, ten year old Simon and eight year old Priscilla, Ms Mary Lee, a lawyer and her engineer boyfriend, Thomas Quek. They were the last to leave the church sanctuary except for the deacons who were counting the offering money.
The church was a fundamental church somewhere in the East of Singapore. It was a simple white church building with a single grey steeple. High windows curved at the top covered the two parallel side walls. As one entered the church building through the front gates, one would be in a vestibule whose walls were filled with bulletin boards. It opened into the main sanctuary where neat wooden pews divided into two sides. The central aisle led up to the pulpit which took centre stage. Behind the pulpit was a high window from which natural sunlight streamed into the cavernous hall through plain panels of frosted glass. As the preacher spoke, the light from the glass window and a strategically placed skylight above the pulpit transfigured him.
It was slightly after twelve-thirty and the Sunday worship service during which James delivered his sermon to warn his congregation about the gay wave was just over. To the organ strains of the battle call hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” and the final benediction, the congregation looked moved, many whispering among themselves about the message.
“Are you all right?” asked Pastor Peter Pang. “You look a bit distracted.”
James looked at Pastor Pang, not knowing how to respond to the question.
Pastor Pang decided to take another way. “You told me that you wanted to make it a fire and brimstone sermon. Although I think you did a very good job with the sermon, somehow I felt that you wanted to make it even more fiery….you know the sort of Sodom and Gomorrah type?”
“Maybe I am just a bit tired. It’s been a tough week for me.” James hoped that he wouldn’t be asked to explain any further.
“I see. No matter. I believe you moved the congregation sufficiently. By the way, I was meaning to ask you what happened to Samuel. I thought Shirley told me that he was coming back last week. Why didn’t he come to church with both of you this morning?”
“He had something important to attend to so he couldn’t make it.” It wasn’t really a lie so James could say it with a straight face.
“Well, we should have dinner together soon. Let us bring Samuel out for a meal. It would really be a good chance for fellowship with him after such a long time….you know, catch up on how he’s doing and all that….”
James smiled weakly as he took the pastor’s hand and shook it.
“James, stop torturing yourself,” Shirley said in her usual calming way.
The sunlight streamed in from the kitchen window which opened into the backyard. It was mid-morning on a Saturday. The couple had just finished a light breakfast of sausage and toast. Shirley placed a glass of skimmed milk in front of James and poured herself a glass of apple juice.
“The boys are back in the States. I saw them off at the airport yesterday. James, Sonny wants me to tell you that he is sorry things should have turned out this way. He still loves you.
“I don’t want to hear anything about him.” There was a silent anger borne out of disappointment and hurt.
“I just wanted you to know that the boys are all right. I know you are angry and it takes time for you to accept things but it has been two weeks…even if it takes time, at least stop torturing yourself.”
“You know that he is still our son.” Shirley had half expected James to say that he has no son like this but he kept quiet.
“I know you still love him. You just need to get over this…Remember the good memories you have of him.”
James was actually a fantastic father. Unlike his own father who was remote and always at work, James was determined to be different with Sonny. From the time Sonny was born, James had shared parenthood equally with Shirley. He fed the helpless little baby and changed diapers. He watched Sonny take his first step, fall on his fat bum and then get up again with much encouragement from James. He read to the little toddler at night, sometimes the same story over and over again until little Sonny fell asleep beside him or he himself fell asleep from tiredness. He was there when Sonny learnt how to ride the tricycle and then taught him how to ride a bicycle. He brought Sonny to the pool and taught him how to swim. Although Sonny never really joined the school swimming team, he loved the water and James would always make time to go for a swim with his son every other weekend. He was deeply concerned about Sonny’s studies, but when he realized that the boy was a self-driven independent student, James let off and observed him from the side. He did all these on top of his busy schedule and heavy workload.
Although prone to small mischiefs, Sonny always sat between his parents listening quietly and attentively to the sermons during worship services on Sundays. And father and son often discussed current issues, even politics at the dinner table, James often playing the devil’s advocate in the attempt to hone Sonny’s thinking and oratory skills. In his heart, James was very proud of the way the boy had turned out. In his heart, he knew that he would give anything to make his boy happy and well-adjusted.
Where did I go wrong? Did I give him too much liberty? Had I nurtured so much freedom of thinking that he has now gone astray? Maybe I shouldn’t have allowed him to go to America…What would the church say if they found out? Would they lose their respect for me?…the church is my life other than work and family. Did I fail in bringing him up the Christian way? Would they throw Sonny out of church, ex-communicate him? What then would he do? I know religion is so much a part of his life that he will be lost without it. Would he be ostracized by society….friends and colleagues rejecting him?
And, and…isn’t the gay lifestyle filled with lust and debauchery? Promiscuity and one night stands? What if he should get AIDs?
Are homosexual relationships lasting? Would Sonny and Charles last? Wouldn’t he be hurt over and over again if he goes from one short relationship to another short relationship over and over again?
James was consumed with questions like these. And everyone around him could see that he was wasting away. Shirley was deeply concerned but all she could was to play the role of the supportive wife. She knew that he had to play out the conflict in himself, exorcise the devil within, she told herself. And she patiently waited.
On the other hand, she made sure that she did lose contact with Sonny. She wrote long emails to him and skyped with him whenever she knew that James wasn’t around. She also made sure that Sonny knew that his parents still loved him but his father would need time to fight his internal battle. She also extended her love to Charles, welcoming him as a newfound son…this she did so that she would not lose her precious only son.
Another thing which Shirley did was to read up more about homosexuality. She found out to her amazement that it was listed as a mental illness in the Western for a long time but was taken off the list of mental illness by the American Psychological Association way back in 1975. She read with dismay about reparatory therapy and the negative impact it has on the person. She read research on how no one chooses to be gay but it had to do with how someone is born….genetics and all….just like no one chooses to be straight. She read sad personal recounts of how gay young people attempted suicide, some succeeding, because they couldn’t take the struggles within.
Shirley became a better informed parent though sadder, sadder because which mother would want her child to suffer this way?
In just one year, James had aged so much to the surprise and concern of all the people around him. The dashing middle-aged man was now hunched like he was bearing the troubles of the whole world on his shoulders. His hair had turned completely white and he had lost a lot of weight.
Through the whole year, Shirley had patiently looked after him. Although they both still worked, they paid very little attention to it. Fortunately, the architecture company was already established with systems all in place. And with the experienced staff, it could actually go on without too much from Shirley and James.
When Shirley saw that James had lost most of his initial anger, she slowly introduced him to the information she had gotten from her reading and research. At first, she only gave him bite sizes now and again at opportune times but when she saw him not resisting that much, she began telling him more bit by bit.
James stepped down as elder of his church citing ill health and work exhaustion as reasons. Although the pastors and the congregation were reluctant at first, when they saw how determined he was, they agreed but his name continued to be brought up regularly during prayers. They were basically a really decent and caring group of people and James appreciated it. However, he could not carry on with them…not until he overcame his own battles….
“I may be able to speak the languages of men and even of angels, but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell. I may have the gift of inspired preaching; I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets; I may have all the faith needed to move mountains – but if I have no love, I am nothing. I may give away everything I have, and even give up my body to be burnt – but if I have no love, this does me no good.
“Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail.
“Love is eternal. There are inspired messages, but they are temporary; there are gifts of speaking in strange tongues, but they will cease; there is knowledge, but it will pass. For our gifts of knowledge and of inspired messages are only partial; but when what is perfect comes, then what is partial will disappear.
“When I was a child, my speech, feelings and thinking were all those of a child; now that I am a man, I have no more use for childish ways. What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. What I know now is only partial; then it will be complete – as complete as God’s knowledge of me.
“Meanwhile these three remain; faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.”
James closed the pages containing the passage from I Corinthians Chapter 13 of the Holy Scriptures. It was an old leather bound bible much used and loved. The edges were frayed and yellow with age and frequent fingering. The pages contained passages, long and short ones, which had been highlighted and there were spots which were a bit wavy suggesting that they had dried from drops of wetness. James looked up at the white ceiling and sighed. There were many things which he indeed didn’t understand. For a moment there, he saw all three – faith, hope and love – fused into one single experience, with love giving him the faith that all will be fine and hope that it will only get better. Yes, there were many things he didn’t understand. But it didn’t matter to him now.
The old man lowered his eyes and looked at the picture on his table of Sonny and Charles. They were coming home later that day.