29 January 2019; 13:23 p.m.

[No, I don’t really know why she’s not picking up. You act like she tells me anything. I-]

A brief pause falls over the line. The faint roar of a passing train can be heard from the other end, before the voicemail cuts itself short, as abruptly as it’d started.

29 January 2019; 13:35 p.m.

[I’m telling you, she’s not going to- See? What did I say?]

Bickering erupts over the phone, but it’s impossible to make out anything that’s being said. In the backdrop – footsteps. Light-footed. Sluggish. Peppy. Rapid. A sharp, ear-biting screech escaping wheels (of some sort) as it drags along the surface of the floor. A cacophony of voices blending into one.

Something thumps against another. The phone clicks.

[Hi, Ma. It’s Vivienne. We’re trying to reach you-]

Murmuring. Someone hushes another. A P.A. system sounds off, announcing the train’s upcoming destination. Batu Caves. Hints of frustration can be heard throughout the murmuring.

[Yes, yes, I’ll remember to tell her, I’m not stupid. Okay, hi, Ma. Sorry about that. Carmen wanted to remind you-]

A groan on the other end.

[-that we already got the lotus root, so you don’t need to go out of your way to buy it anymore.]

A brief pause. They start whispering, but it’s much more intelligible this time around.

“Anything else?” Vivienne sighs. The P.A. sounds off again. “You can just talk to her yourself, you know. I don’t understand…” Dearest passengers, just a reminder that the Sentul Timur line will not be available for service from- “…and I’m honestly sick of being your messenger.”

“Yeah, I know you don’t understand. It’s not like…” For any further inquiries, you may contact the help desk at your nearest available station. Thank you for riding with- “…and can you at least end the voicemail first? I want my phone back.”

[Ah, right. I don’t even know if you know how to check your voicemails, but if you’re listening to this, we’ll be back home soon for the lunar new year. Love you. Bye!]

March 25, 2019; 9:44 a.m.

[Hi, Ma.] A faint hiccup escapes her. [It’s Carmen again.

Rustling fabric. Carmen heaves, taking slow, unsteady breaths. The air catches in her throat, before she spits it back out again, as if ashamed. 

Sniffling. More sniffling. A deep breath. 

[I don’t like how it always seems to end like this. My conversations with you, I mean. I know you think I’m a bad daughter. I swear, I’m not trying to be one. I just- I guess I’m sorry.]

Carmen clears her throat. 

[I know our last call didn’t end well. I’m sorry. Please call me back. Please.] A sigh. [Maybe I’ll ask Vivienne to talk to you. You’re probably never going to hear this anyways. Nevermind. Bye.]

March 28, 2019; 22:50 p.m.

Crunching. Spitting. Crunching. Spitting. 

[You hung up too early, Ma. I was going to say that you should stop buying watermelon from Auntie Kang.]


[Too many seeds.]

June 2, 2019; 1:01 a.m.

Ear-splitting, raucous EDM blares through the speakers. 

[Carmen! Carmen, Carmen, Carmen, Carmen, Carmen-] A woman’s voice – velvety smooth and thick with a Chinese drawl. [Are you calling someone? Can I talk to them too? Hi, whoever you are, I love-]

[Oh my god, I called my mom on accident. How did I even-]

A click. 

July 25, 2019; 14:21 p.m. 

[Are you upset at me for keeping this from you, or are you just upset because I’m not what you wanted me to be?

Vivienne’s voice chimes through the other line. Her voice is indistinct, but clear enough to be recognisable. 

“Carmen, what are you doing?” Glass clatters against a surface, footsteps pattering closer towards the phone. “You’re just going to piss her off even more. Now, be rational for two minutes and stop that stupid-”


July 25, 2019; 14:23 p.m.


A door slams shut in the backdrop. 

[All you do is tell me everything that’s wrong about me. Yes, I know, Ma. I ruined our family vacation. I ruined Uncle Lin’s reunion party. I ruined my own college degree, and now I’m ruining our family’s reputation. I ruined your life, is that it?]


[Do you even like me? At all?]

July 25, 2019; 21:19 p.m. 

[Vivienne didn’t know that I was dating Xin Yen.] Her voice is hoarse, the words struggling to escape her. [I mean, she didn’t tell me to tell you that, but I just wanted you to know.]

A woman whispers something to Carmen, indistinct, before the sounds of an ongoing TV show flicker to life on the other end, echoing across the room. 

A game show host (vaguely) talks about the difference between 3rd and 4th grade Mathematics. The woman beside Carmen chuckles, slightly. 

[Sorry.] Her voice is lighter now, her words more tender. [I think I’ll be staying at Xin Yen’s for a little while. It’s not that I don’t want to be around you, I just… don’t think you’d want to be around me right now. Let me know if you change your mind, I guess. On Xin Yen, or… on me.]

December 31, 2019; 23:12 p.m.

[I really miss you, Ma.] Carmen hiccups, her words slurred, nearly indistinguishable from one another. [I know you miss me too, but I wish you’d miss me enough to…to love me, you know? Like, me me. Sorry, it’s late. Me and Xin Yen played a… a game where we’d drink every time Jackie Chan came on screen, and- Sorry, sorry, you probably don’t get it.]

The shuffling of cloth. A switch flips, and Jackie Chan’s voice (only somewhat comprehensible over the audio) comes to a sudden stop. Silence, once again, floods the message, bubbling through the speakers – but it’s comfortable now. Gentle.

[I’m excited to see you tomorrow. Vivienne says you do knitting now? Maybe I’ll bring some yarn along with me. Xin Yen’s cats aren’t using them much anyway. It doesn’t matter, I guess. Bye.]

January 3, 2020; 17:17 p.m.

[Xin Yen says she’s not free for dinner this Friday. Is lunch okay?]

February 11, 2020; 8:15 a.m.

[I don’t know why I still leave you voicemails. I can’t believe you haven’t been checking them at all. Ma, you know Auntie Yin has been trying to reach you for a month, right?]

A microwave beeps, incessantly, in the background. Xin Yen laughs at something indistinct, causing Carmen to snicker along with her. 

[If you ever decide to check your voicemails, I just wanted to say… Nevermind, I’ll tell you next week. Xin Yen and I are making claypot curry. I think you and Vivienne are really going to like it. I love you. Bye.]

Written by: Shortcake

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