Life is a constant search for the missing.
And last Sunday afternoon, as I was searching for a missing warranty card in my mother’s house (why are these things never around when you need them?) I chanced upon some old photo albums. I opened the first one up and saw a picture from a long time ago. It was from my 3rd birthday party.
And there he was.
In a white short sleeved shirt, dark pants and black glasses. Skinny as hell, just like I have him in my head.
The Amazing Disappearing Man.
Grandpa. Ah Dad. Ah Hoots. He was many things and many names to many people – I knew him as Kong Kong.
I knew him but I never knew him well. I know he was there when I was a kid; there are photos to prove that existence. But in the horizon of my mind, I have only few memories of the Man.
And I know that when I was growing up, I would see him occasionally at my birthday party and some of my cousins’ ones, although I’m not entirely sure.
For the most part though, he was a true master of the Disappearing Act and that’s why I never saw him much.
I remember one occasion where I was in the backseat of my Dad’s car and he pulled to a stop at an awkward junction along Yio Chu Kang Road. Within seconds, a skinny man in a white shirt and dark pants came running. I remember him trying to sneak a glance in as my Dad handed him some money. And I remember a smile forming on that old face of his as our eyes met.
And then, in the blink of an eye, the Amazing Disappearing Man had done it again.
He disappeared. For the next 8 years.
Towards the end of ’96, the Amazing Disappearing Man made his final appearance. I remember seeing him in hospital during that time. My Father never encouraged me to talk to him. I think he was afraid that he would hurt me the way he had hurt them. It was the first time in a long time that I had seen him and probably the first time since I was a child that I had talked to him. He looked at me with an apologetic smile and a humble expression that made me feel awkward, especially with everyone else in the room. I felt like I was meeting a friend of the family, instead of the head of it. I remember the conversation. It was formal and he asked about my studies. Up till then, I had only known him from family photo albums and scattered memories at best.
After his discharge from the hospital, my uncles had a family meeting and decided that it was in his best interest for him to be put into a nursing home. A week later, the Amazing Disappearing Man pulled his final disappearing act.
I guess some birds were never meant to be caged.
Now, looking through the photographs, what’s amazing about it all, is that this Amazing Disappearing Man pulled off his final disappearing act perfectly.
To paraphrase Michael Caine in Christopher Nolan’s wonderful film The Prestige –
“Making something disappear isn’t enough. You have to bring it back. And that’s why every magic trick has a third act. The hardest part. The part we call The Prestiege.”
And that he has pulled off. Right now, the Amazing Disappearing Man is as clear as day in my mind’s eye. In life, he disappeared. But after it, I see him all the time.
I see him in the smile of my Dad as he digs in to a good meal. I see him in the way my cousin’s eyes crinkle when she laughs. And most of all, I see him in my own reflection in the mirror, all day, everyday.
The Amazing Disappearing Man is finally here to stay.
Like I said – life is a constant search for the missing. Sometimes you lose a warranty card, sometimes you find a Grandfather.
Isn’t life great that way?
Now where’s that damn warranty card?