KL NOIR: MAGIC marks the resurrection of the notorious KL Noir series. This time around, editor Deric Ee selects 20 original stories that bring you through the crimes and tribulations of life in Kuala Lumpur. There will be a bar hostess with a secret, a crisis in a minibus, well-dressed pontianaks, junkies discovering a new high, vampire slayers, and even an honest taxi driver. This time round, redemption may no longer be such an elusive thing…
Featuring stories by: Lily Jamaludin, Collin Yeoh, Bissme. S, Muthusamy Pon Ramiah, Terence Toh, P. Maheswary, Hong Jinghann, Nadia Mikail, Nat Kang, Masami Mustaza, Lee Chow Ping, Nazreen Abraham Stein, Joshua Lim, Shaleen Surendra, Sharmilla Ganesan, Rizal Ramli, Lim Vin Tsen, Derek Kho, Fadzlishah Johanabas and Sukhbir Cheema.
You have to believe we are magic.
In ancient lore, magic is depicted as a supernatural force or spiritual ability which affects the physical world, giving its owners privilege over the beholder. Magic is abundant in the Malay folk tales Puteri Gunung Ledang and Mahsuri. In the Quran, the practice of black magic is acknowledged and forbidden. Away in the world of video games, magic can take the form of a skill or resource used in fighting battles and advancing the hero’s journey. Considering its application across these narratives, it would not be far-fetched to suggest that magic is but code for disruptive technology and design, or even powerful art.
To paraphrase a currently-disgraced international bestselling author, you may not believe in the kind of magic which books tell you about, but something magical can happen when you read a good book. There is magic in the unexpected, crouching just behind the corner of each twist. There’s magic in the experiences that make us feel like a missing jigsaw rediscovered. All magic requires from you is belief; put your faith in magic and watch it transform your life.
In a fictional world where magic is possible, what is real feels heightened. Human complexities and flaws—fuel for noir’s moral ambiguity—surface in all their glory within a magical universe, and it’s no surprise that fantasy was a faithful accomplice in the rise of neo-noir. We have films like Mulholland Drive, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Perfect Blue—three fantasy noir films served in different ways: David Lynch created a sexy-surrealistic trip through Hollywood, Robert Zemeckis spliced cartoon animals into the real world, while Satoshi Kon blurred fantasy and reality in his suspenseful take on celebrity life.
Like the aforementioned films, the stories in this book take place in a universe where magic is possible. Many of them were chosen because they break free from overused or regressive noir tropes, so you won’t find stories of men murdering women here, and neither will there be politicians or pedophiles. Instead, this book observes the psychology of the men and women in Kuala Lumpur. Fight or flight? Friend or foe? Jack Daniels or Kopi-o? As we move along the hierarchy of power, the answer evolves.
When I was a young boy, my father gave me a radio that I carried around incessantly.
It was sleek red plastic, with the latest technology: a cassette slot, silver-rimmed speaker, tuning knob and a nifty handle I used to carry the radio around like a professional—or what I thought was a professional, anyway.
“There’s music, always,” he smiled at me. “Kena dengar je.”
And so I listened. I was a good listener, after all. I did what I was told. And it seemed like I was always being told something in those days, about what to do and where to go and how to behave. But I was a good child, obedient to the three most important things in our family’s life. The invisible checklist: ayah, negara, tuhan.
I was quiet as a child and said little. But listening to music somehow made me feel as though I was heard. I carried the radio in my bag, kept it on the dining table when I ate, brought it to school in my backpack, slept with it next to my pillow, and positioned it neatly next to my tikar sembahyang when I prayed.
It wasn’t long before the radio began to show signs of wear. It crackled over the music and I would sing to fill in the gaps. Still, I played it often, and in our house where little was said, radio music took the place of conversation.
When my father got ill, we would listen to the radio together. I sat by his bedside as he closed his eyes, and turned the knob to his favorite stations. When the sound grew faint, I hummed the songs until the pain faded. And after my father passed away, I continued to play and play and play the radio until eventually, it gave out altogether and I was the only one left singing.
Sometimes, when it was completely silent, and I was absolutely sure nobody was listening, I would speak to the radio. I said the things I never said at school, or at home. I told that little red radio everything: the fights I had with my brother, the things some of the boys at school said about me, the exam grades I received, my dreams about myself when I grew up.
And then, one day, I held my breath, in complete silence, and admitted to the radio the one secret I had been keeping in for fifteen years.
I lay down on the bed, held it close to my face and stammered into it.
Silence, for a few minutes. I didn’t know what I was waiting for. But then, as if I had said some magical words, the radio blared static, tuned in and out of different stations, and a large and familiar voice started coughing.
I knew that voice.
“How nice to hear from you.”
I never threw a thing across the room so fast. I screamed so hard my mother came in to check on me. I lied, said I had a nightmare, and locked the door as she left.
I turned the radio off but it kept turning itself back on. I stuffed it in the closet but my father’s favorite keroncong songs would keep playing from behind closed doors. I finally dumped it in the trash, and maybe it finally got the message because for the rest of the night the radio was quiet and I could fall asleep, turning and tossing, fearing that somebody had heard my secret, or my father had come back to life.
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