The old man had become an insomniac ever since he turned 60. That was over three years ago. The loss of sleep had seen him aged. Accelerated it, actually. His Mrs used to tell party jokes about him, tales of how boring he was as a young chap. “You know the type, he would start snoring the moment his heavy head touched his pillow,” she told a group of women who surrounded her with glasses of wine and champagne. Amidst the chorus of laughter, hers being the loudest, she added, “the silly man didn’t even notice I was ready for his advances, he missed all the clues I had laid out for him.” So, a few weekends ago, when she said to a friend that she was a lucky woman because “the old man was never restless in bed the minute he hit his pillow,” he knew she had no idea of his nocturia. He had tried everything – refraining from drinking water three, four hours before bedtime, emptying his bladder being the last thing he did before turning off his bedside light, and adhering to the strict rule of no more coffee or tea after dinner. He had not told anyone of his condition for fear that it might be construed as an enlargement of his prostate. He did not welcome the idea of undergoing a digital test by his doctor. By digital, he did not mean anything to do with a computer but rather an examination inside his arse with the use of a finger.
The old man looked wan despite the many long walks with his dog during the recent hot summer afternoons. Hunched and bleary-eyed, the pale complexion of his sickly face gave the impression of a possible illness and obvious lethargy. Below his knees though, the colour of his skin told the casual observer of a man who spent much of his time out in the sun in his shorts. The prolonged spell of excessive night urination had certainly affected his health and mood. He had turned short-tempered and uncaring about his physical appearance. Grumpy at all times, he still smiled occasionally but those were smiles that did not express welcome. With gritted teeth and an overbearing dark cloud as a halo, his forced tenderness fooled no one, not even the stranger whose cocker spaniel dragged her away as they exchanged hellos in the park. His unkempt hair smelled unwashed and often triggered his Mrs to nag him about hygiene as she avoided him more and more. He blamed the garlic in his food for his bad breath and his dog became the reason for his body odour. He had stopped wearing dark-coloured shirts since noticing the collection of scurf tended to be more visible on them. It was always someone else or something else to blame. To be fair, perhaps it was the ghost’s fault for his slide to ignominy. Often awoken in the middle of the night, he would lay wide-eyed after his frequent trips to the loo. He averaged four times a night, at a minimum three times and sometimes six times, that was how bad his nocturia had become. At first, he dismissed the moving shadows he saw as an aberration in his mind, a wild imagination that had gone unchecked in his fecund mind and later he concluded they were simply tricks his bad eyes played on him. He didn’t care and was not bothered by the darting movements of a shadow or the wavering shape of a dark body of energy. He just told himself he wasn’t wearing his glasses. And when he heard the weird whispers just a breath away from his face or the loud unmistakable knock on the table just outside his bedroom, he convinced himself he was in a dream even as he laid wide awake on his bed and sleep would not come. Sometimes, after a pee in the wee hours, he would go downstairs to watch his football team play in the English Premier League. Ever hopeful of a miraculous win, he would be mostly disappointed by the tardiness and lack of zest of the players. It wasn’t just once or twice that the stairs creaked of a heavy footstep but he did not care and told himself that was how wood expand or contract at night. It was a pot deciding to move from its fixed position on the drying dish rack before clattering in the silence of the night that persuaded him it was time to abandon the game on the TV and hurry upstairs to hide in the safety of his doona. That was a poltergeist alright, ‘geist’ being a German word for ‘ghost’.
A few nights ago, the old man again wandered downstairs after another visit to the loo in a dead-quiet hour of the night. He preferred to be downstairs as the unceasing sounds of the mini waterfall and aquarium gave the house more ‘life’. The humming of the fridge strangely comforted him and the more he focused on it the louder it became. Whilst staring at the TV but not watching what was on, the house had a blackout and everything went off. The night turned eerily dark and silent without the usual splattering of the water jets in the aquarium. The TV went off at the same time as did the lamp behind his chaise and the fridge in the kitchen on the right hand side of his open-plan house. But then came the “thud, thud, thud” sound from within one of the kitchen cupboards adjacent to the fridge. It sounded dull and muffled for a few seconds until the darkness in the room turned menacingly darker and the thundering thuds told him to let it out of the cupboard. The old man didn’t wait for the power to come back on. Neither did he respond to the sounds the cupboard made. It’s just a friendly ghost, he assured himself as he made his way up the stairs hurriedly.
A few nights ago, a friend shared a story of a Malaysian man, Peter Achuta, who claimed that he accidentally discovered a cure for nocturia. A simple, non-medical intervention that hardly cost a few cents a night. His discovery came about after his friends had pointed out that his frequent visits to the toilet during their weekly beer sessions had not gone unnoticed. He remembered from his student days that taking an oily bullseye egg prior to his drinking sessions at the pub had enabled him to outlast his drinking companions. So, he took two hard-boiled eggs before his Friday-night sessions and soon discovered that not only did the visits to the toilet stopped in the pub, his night-time urination also stopped every Friday night. So, he began to take the eggs every night and since then, his nocturia had become a distant memory. The old man, although cynical and disbelieving, started taking two hard-boiled eggs for dinner four nights ago. The verdict: It works! He woke up only once during each night to have a pee. Thank you, Tek Fuh, for sharing this gem of a story with the old man. Hopefully, this is the last we see of the cantankerous old fool, a nice transformation that we await with bated breaths. But, let’s not kid ourselves, the old man will not suddenly become the quintessential kind and pleasant man. An urghhling, like a leopard, never changes its spots. But, we cling to the hope that they will fade.
On the following morning, the old man grinned at the mirror, so pleased was he to have enjoyed a deep sleep that had evaded him for years. He knew the rapid eye movements during his sleep would deliver good dreams to him once more. His mood will improve and he will feel better if his nocturia was cured. Almost out of character, he allowed himself a lengthy conversation with an old schoolmate, a born-again Christian.
The Old Man: A question. If we believe in ghosts, does that mean we must believe in the Holy Ghost?
Stan: Of course, we believe in ghosts, as they have immense power to do evil. Technically, from the Christian perspective, the term ‘Holy Ghost’ is not encouraged in the Scriptures anymore. As you can very well discern, it is contradictory to call a ghost holy. How can something evil be holy at the same time? Instead, we refer to it as the Holy Spirit as it takes good care of us.
The Old Man: Why would all ghosts be evil? That I do not believe!
Stan: Well, technically, the term ‘ghost’ is just a spiritual realm and not evil by nature but because humans define ghosts to be evil (the devil, Satan, Lucifer, etc), it is better to use the word ‘spirit’ instead as that can be evil or holy.
Stan: Spiritual entities can be classified as evil or good, weak or strong. But there is only one Holy Spirit.
The Old Man: At catechism classes in Standard 1, were we not taught Jesus was the Holy Ghost?
Stan: You misremembered or maybe misinterpreted the teacher.
Stan: How can you claim that you were taught that the Holy Spirit is Jesus when you can’t even remember the name of your class teacher? Moreover, catechism class was strictly for Catholic students! So, were you even in our catechism class?
The Old Man: I hope you aren’t trying to rewrite my history. I don’t know the rules now or then, but I know I attended two, maybe three lessons. I didn’t want to obey any leader who wasn’t Chinese and Jesus wasn’t Chinese to me. Jesus and Mary looked foreign to me, so I asked the teacher if I could quit the lessons and was surprised she let me!
Stan: How else can you make a 7-year-old kid understand who the Holy Spirit is by simplifying that the Holy Spirit is Jesus? Even theologians have difficulty explaining the concept of the Holy Trinity.
The Old Man: Yeah, the Holy Trinity troubled me then too. I did not accept the possibility of one being being three beings, until I watched Primal Fear and Psycho.
The Old Man: Another question. If we believe in ghosts, is it a ‘feeling’ or ‘energy’ we detect? Or do we actually see a physical being?
Stan: Very interesting question. Why are you passionate about “ghost stories”? Honestly, I don’t know as I have not experienced it personally. I have never met a ghost but I do believe very strongly in their existence. I feel the strong ‘presence’ of the Holy Spirit within and even more strange, I am not the slightest bit afraid of encountering any evil spirit at all. Not that I welcome them in any way but I feel very protected somehow.
The Old man: Can you describe this strong ‘presence’?
Stan: Before I was so scared of attending funerals and each time I attended a wake, my hair stood on ends and I would end up covering my face on one side with my hand to avoid looking at the coffin! Suey (cursed) you know, that was what mum taught me. But now, I not only attend wakes but stare straight into the face of the dead person lying in the coffin with no fear whilst offering a prayer. The presence tells me “fear not as I am with you”. When something great is inside your body and soul, you not only feel it but you KNOW it is the Holy Spirit.
The Old Man: I detect a schism of sorts here. Catechism classes taught me about the Holy Ghost, but it appears the modern vernacular is the Holy Spirit? When did the Holy Ghost become the Holy Spirit?
Stan: Yes. Because of the negative perception of the word ‘ghost’, they changed the word to ‘spirit’.
The Old Man: Words are the greatest source of misunderstandings.
Stan: When the Old Testament was written more than 2,000 years ago, the term ” Holy Ghost” represented a good and holy spirit but today, the world interprets ‘ghosts’ as evil and unholy. When Jesus arrived and the New Testament was written, only the HOLY SPIRIT is ever mentioned.
The Old Man: What negative perception of ‘ghost’? The first ghost I encountered was a very kind one. The world thinks ghosts are all evil? Wow. But, spirits are dominant in the occult, no? Doesn’t the New Testament mention demonic possession by ‘unclean spirits’? That means evil spirits, right?
Stan: Aisehman, you are still at it! The human definition of the ‘ghost’ you encountered must have been a good SPIRIT..!!
The Old Man: Can there be any other definition apart from being the human kind?
Stan: The Holy Ghost and the Holy Spirit are synonymous. Different words for different folks. The original Bible text was written in Greek and then translated into English. Holy Ghost was the term used in the King James Version. It really depends on which version of the Bible is used. The Latin version of the Trinitarian formula “In Nomine Patris Et Filli Et Spiritus Sancti ” consistently refers to the Holy Spirit. Nowadays, the Holy Spirit is used widely.
The Old man: That’s what I wanted to hear! Not that spiel that all ghosts are evil! My paternal grandma’s ghost was kind. She even pulled the cotton blanket to cover my chest properly when I was asleep. True story! I could feel the blanket sliding up my body from my waist during an afternoon nap. I was about seven years old. Even as I trembled in my pretend sleep, I knew it was her.
The Old Man: I was attending a funeral yesterday at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church. The priest mentioned the Holy Trinity and then talked about the Virgin Mary and how strong she was to accept God’s task for her. How would anyone feel if asked to be the mother of God? Oh! The mother of God?! The funeral was partly conducted in Italian and although the language and tone of the priest’s voice was lyrical, my mind could not help but drift towards Mary who was 12 or 13 at the time and very poor. Already engaged to a carpenter named Joseph, it would have raised the ire of all women in society today that a minor would have been used this way, by God, no less. She was valiant and incredibly strong to respond to Gabriel when she replied, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38). But, what a sacrifice. She had not even learned about the joy of sex or discovered the ecstasy of a full orgasm. In those days, it was a sin to have sex outside marriage. She should have been disgraced as an unwed mother, and her future husband should have annulled their engagement. Yet, there was not a single report of her being stoned for her sin as the law of the day permitted. Everyone believed her story, “No, I did not have sexual relations with any man!” There was not a single person who felt uneasy by her claims. A once-in-human-history event, a miracle of miracles, yet everyone was sure her story was true. No word of a lie, she was a virgin when she gave birth to the boy. Not a shred of evidence, yet not a single snide remark about the possibility of her lying to avoid being stoned to death.
The old man met Caterina for the first time for lunch on 13 November last year. He had known of her for decades. He had heard of the stories about her generosity and kindness and her limitless love for everyone. He knew she could cook up a meal for an army without notice. Her recipes of pastas were legendary. It felt to him like their meeting was just a few weeks ago, so fresh her smiles have resided in his mind. Caterina left a lasting impression on him. She remained the only woman in this world to have clung on to his hands and refused to let him go, as he bade her farewell after the party. No one had ever made him feel so welcomed, so liked, so valued. So precious. Caterina did and did so with verve and love. Her smiles never left her face, they were perpetual and genuine and filled with honesty and love. She taught him the value of a smile when it is from the heart. At 92, she showed him that love and kindness is ageless. That a smile can melt the hardest stone. That goodness outlasts darkness. Yesterday, the old man bade farewell to Caterina but this time, it was he who didn’t want to let her go. It was a farewell that was still filled with her smiles and love.