I was ushered to a seat right in front of center stage (which wasn’t really a stage but a just a mic and a stool) as soon as I arrive. At first I thought it was reserved for writers or more explicably writers who are reading to the audience (already I was letting it go to my head) but when I saw my mother (the only woman in the place wearing a tudung) take the vacant seat next to me, I realized they were just filling in spaces.
Reading his story, currently, is Brian Gomez and he looks exactly like his photo in KLue a while back. Down to his cargo pants, tshirt and army cap. A simple dresser he may seem (as opposed to me, dressed in a sandy taupe Massimo Dutti sweater coupled with a Club Monaco shirt adorned with a black knit tie), I look up to him because he has a published book of his own, Devil’s Place. More so, his discussion on What Do Gay People Eat? is both funny and intriguing.
As Brian finished his reading and returns to his seat, Amir, the host, begin to talk about me and, of course, my father’s name, and why it’s the only reason I was included in the book. I joined in the laughter just to be polite. Seriously, I have been getting that stick ever since that other Nik Abdul Aziz came into power. So you can imagine how friggin’ long that was. It’s like being Paul McCartney and is constantly asked to sing Yesterday. Still, unlike Sir Paul, I’m willing to tolerate it every time I meet new people.
Anyway, I was primed to come up and read my story (which I volunteered for a weeks back, not because I wrote a masterpiece) but since I haven’t got hold of the actual book just yet, I was given a pass to get myself acquainted first with the edited version of The Friendship Dictator.
Taking my place in the meantime is Shanon Shah. I may look up to Brian Gomez, but as far as Shanon is concerned, his accomplishments are the things I can only dream about emulating. He’s a singer, songwriter, he won a Boh Cameronian Arts Award, wrote the successful play Air Con and even has his own Wikipedia entry! And judging by the reading of his essay Muslim 2 Muslim, he is one hell of a writer too. His talk about being different, especially in a Muslim world where the unusual are normally ridiculed and tormented, evokes a deep sense of emotion. Perfect, considering if before I have to upstage Brian Gomez, now I have to upstage Brian and Shanon as well. No pressure, right?
In the end I managed to make it through. Not great but well enough, I suppose. My jokes didn’t work and I even got tongue-tied on my own words. But, hey, there’s a first time to everything.
Another writer, Cheryl, came up to read her piece as well and hers just about ends the reading segment. As a sign-off, Amir announced that they are now planning to create another Body2Body but in BM. So, another open call. Am I up for it? Let’s just finish the day off first.
As everyone start to mingle, Pang (one of the editors) shouted for the attending writers to gather at the end of the room so that anyone who wants their books signed can do so with ease.
So I made way there, thinking how many would actually come up to me and to have their books signed? At least by going up reading earlier they can put a face to my name. Little to my surprise at the end of the room is a long table covered in white cloth with empty seats aligned on one side. This is going to be a proper book signing session! I am gob smacked. Never have I thought I’d be on the opposite side of the queue at a book signing session. This is so exciting! And it gets better. Just as I am making myself comfortable, Shanon Shah pulled a chair and sit right next to me. This is so fucking cool! I wonder if I can ask some tips for the Kakiscript Playwriting Competition.
But the best part of all, he doesn’t carry all this accomplished aura around him. He is really easy to talk to. And, opposite to what he displayed earlier, carrying a serious tone of voice while reading, he is quite a jovial character. At one point, when I realized this is a proper book signing and I don’t have any pen on me, I asked Amir, who happen to walk by, ‘Amir, do you have any pens?’ Know what Shanon say? ‘Kau tanye die ade pens ke tak? Nasib baik die tak bukak seluar,”
Shanon Shah just made a dirty joke at me! And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the ultimate ice breaker. Once two strangers share a dirty joke, awkwardness is no longer a possibility. By the way, Amir did hand me a pen. The one you write with, that is.
In between signings and chatting up fans (him: many, me: none), we managed to talk a bit more (and I just want to point out that my story comes right before his so we were like duos in a tennis match, taking turns hitting the ball) and one thing I realize why he is so easy to get along is he reminds me so much of Ikzal. In fact, they are almost exactly the same. If they are both seated side by side, I’d be downright confused. Soon I was giggling thinking about the uncanny resemblance.
After doodle-ing about 30 odd books, I managed to get Brian’s and Shanon’s signature, including Cheryl’s for my own copy (it’ll be priceless!). And as an added souvenir, I received a Seksualiti Merdeka t-shirt from Annexe.
The book is launched, now let the feedback come. That what’s on my mind as I walked back to the Dayabumi car park with a proud mother in tow. That and the new nickname Shanon just gave me.