In Language by Sihan Tan

Upon the eternal sunset of life, I turn to you and ask, would you like to hold hands?

Some of you nodded and held hands in a circle. But that’s not enough. We need a bigger circle.

I repeat my request but you don’t seem to be listening. It’s as if the end of the world means something to you. You with your regrets and private grief. Why do you bear such attitudes? Do you not understand universal endings?

We are holding hands now – not for support, not to celebrate, but as a reminder of our history. A legacy indebted to hands.

Our hands have felt the wombs of our mothers. As children, teething and suckling, we sought the innocence of our thumbs. Even before we opened our eyes at birth, our hands were first to discover the weightlessness of a new world – so as to understand, right from the start, that all our hands were meant to fill invisible voids.

Our hands bear our souls, our fingertips gateways to unraveling the material world, probing like nocturnal creatures, to move and be moved and emerge experienced. But between days of industry and nights of unrest, your hands begin to feel to you like that life you have: forever grasping for some meaning in all activities when there is none.

To spend so much time staring at the back of our hands, peeling this great onion of life, only to fumble helplessly when the layers fold back.

What crafts can be made to fill the home you’ve lost? What dishes can be put together to ease the pain of a dying man? The number of lives you’ve dirtied your hands with. Hands unable to possess time or to hold onto emotions. Hands finding it easier to take lives than to save them.

But we try, for meaning anyway, and our hands follow.

Hands on a drink, hands on the wheel. Hands that dared to meet strangers, hands eager to rekindle friendships though it’s only been a day. Hands that find each other, under sheets, going limp under the spell of a lover’s dream into the morning light. And then the sudden parting of those hands, the silence before you realize it’s already the end of the affair and you suffer as you would an incurable disease, left to reminisce the last moments of vigour. Do you shun or depend upon the hands of others? The steady hands of a doctor, the shaking hands of an armed soldier and the beggar at your feet. Cupping charity, cupping books, cupping breasts.

The blind have only their hands. True lovers never forget them — marriage worn so proudly in twinkling bands, widening those gaps between our fingers to let slip year after year of some mythical potential. Hands to sculpt our vanity, hands to feed our hunger and the carnival of desires. Those gesticulations of ours so keen to demonstrate an existence too minor, too insipid for any considerations of immortality. Our palms bear no fortune, as they open only to hide our shame. Any itch for more, what is the sole function of our nails but to scratch at dreams?

All textures in life are of blood and blossoms. Nothing stays whole – nothing sticks to you. To be borne from ruins, to hurt yourself fixing those ruins. Have you saluted the ancient hands that invented this world?

We have traveled with our hands — sunbaked and through time as snowflakes wither upon touch, our skin wrinkling like old fruit. Patterns weaved into our lives. The pokes, the knocks, a nudge, a touch. Caressing faces. Caressing faces on pictures. Pulling away from nature and the unknown. In your darkest hour, do you not search with your hands?

Do you shun or depend upon the hands of others?

To spend so much time staring at the back of our hands, peeling this great onion of life, only to fumble helplessly when the layers fold back. The unspoilt sun, our fingers fragment under its spectral light — is it grace? Was there once joy? Spurn any comparison with the wings of a swan for our hands remain prisoners to touch. They are flightless birds, body heavy and soiled. And so we touch each other, now and again, to accumulate a mountain of contacts, fooling ourselves into thinking that we were loved and loved again. Hearts can’t be broken by hands but such is the disquiet of our swindled hearts: our hands become fists too readily, sparring an internal violence. We now have three hearts, the beating ones having convinced the hearts at the ends of our hands just as a purpose might evangelise a martyr.

Do you refuse to worship hands unable to build a better world, to prevent this end?

Hope has flashed us by. Death brings upon an unknowable perfection, just as we who have never known freedom or flight. Join us and spare your hands from the scattered waste of your life. All movement shall come to a grand standstill. For when your hands are in someone else’s, they cease to belong to you or your neighbours. They become the bridge that connects us. A neutral exception — our hands are finally free from bondage.

So empty your hearts as we await the splendid end. I notice our circle becoming bigger. You are repenting. You seem to finally understand. Do hurry, those who are left behind, for when the head of the circle eats its tail, don’t gesture to me about being alone.

– Cosmic Bridge to the Sun, 0030 hours to Year 0000

Image credits: 1. ‘Daedalus and Icarus’, Orazio Riminaldi (1586-1631) – photo by Ulrich Birkmaier. 2. Still from Shi Gan (2006), Kim Ki-Duk.

About the Author
Sihan Tan

Sihan Tan


Sihan is misplaced in New York City. He is affiliated with Columbia University and will be the new online fiction editor for the Columbia Journal. Sihan also came in second for the recent Golden Point Awards 2015. He practises fiction, non-fiction and misfiction.

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