Writer’s note: This is the story of Delilah and Samson reimagined in 21st century Malaysia.
Your name is Delilah.
You were born and raised in Malaysia, a nation South of metropolitan island country Zingapore. Recently, Hollywood released an all-Asian-cast movie set in Zingapore. The hype was real, marketing reeled like lubricated wheel bearings, and the country’s repo shot through the roof. Little does one know majority of the scenes filmed in Malaysia.
You were orphaned at a young age. Your aunt and uncle adopted and raised you as their own, showering you with all the love and attention they could afford. Despite the ongoing political tensions between your homeland Malaysia and Zingapore, life was a bed of roses for your tightly knit family. Oh, you weren’t blind to the antagonism between your homeland and her neighbour; sparks flying across the causeway, the carefully worded press releases, the heightened security. Yet, you lived inside that serene little bubble of domestic warmth.
Until five years ago, when your uncle was murdered in cold blood.
He was on a fishing trip with his secondary school buddies. Four of them packed overnight bags, loaded your uncle’s Proton Saga with sleeping bags and a tent, and jet off for a weekend trip at Kampung Ashkelon. “But there’s nothing in Kampung Ashkelon!” You remember saying. “Well, darling,” he said, stroking your hair, “there’s a river with fishes!”
You remember the excitement that edged his voice as he described the fun ahead, carefully balancing two Tupperwares of Nasi Biryani and chicken curry your aunt lovingly prepped.
He kissed your aunt goodbye. The last you saw of him, he was waving wildly from the driver’s seat of his automobile. That is, the last you saw him alive.
Because the next time you laid eyes on him, he was naked in a mortuary. At first, you decide he’s merely catching some zzz on the cold stainless steel morgue table. But something was different. His naturally tan skin looked as white as mahjong paper, body limp like a rag doll, a gush plastered the left corner of his forehead.
You try to hold him, reach for him, to shake him into cognition, but the morgue staff won’t let you.
And no matter how much you screamed at him, “wake up! Wake up, uncle, wake up!!”… He just. Won’t. Wake. Up.
If only the police didn’t called at 8.43pm, the landline phone shrieking with urgency throughout the single storrey house you call home.
If only your aunt didn’t exclaim, “I’ve got it!” as she wiped her hands on her apron and reached over the kitchen counter for the phone.
If only you didn’t know the moment her easy smile faded away that something is terribly wrong. The phone falls from her hand. She crumbles into a smoldering pile on the floor.
You rush to her side. Her face is pale. What’s wrong? You ask her.
She opens her mouth, but no sound follows.
You wrap your arms around her. Her body is frail and weak against your chest. What’s wrong? You ask again.
Her voice quivers when she finally speaks. “Your unc… uncle is dead.”
If only you don’t learn that there’s been a robbery at Kampung Ashkelon. The robbers stripped the victims of all their belongings, including the clothes on their backs. Early findings indicate that the attacker struck them on their heads. Afterwards, he left them in a neat pile, dead and naked- all thirty of them.
Your aunt mourned your uncle for years. The twinkle in her eyes disappeared, lost with the leap in her steps and the beam on her face. You knew rock bottom betide when she refused your famous homemade Roti John, even with extra Planta. She NEVER says no to Roti John extra planta.
She did get momentarily better, but only slightly. One day, she found a lump in her right boob. You convince her to see a doctor, and she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer.
Your situation is true to the Malay idiom that loosely translates into “a fall off the ladder is followed by the crushing weight of said ladder”. With the cognizance of your aunt’s condition came tons of hospital bills. Without your uncle’s salary, you and your aunt make do with her clerk job’s meager pay and your part time stint as a freelance writer. After household expenses and rent, you can barely afford subsidized university fees, let alone endless bouts of chemotherapy.
The country’s economy does no favours either. The cold war with Zingapore reaches sub-zero temperatures. The tension is an open secret; and allies have long pick sides. With the lost of diplomatic friends come lost of crucial deals. This directly affects the country’s economy. Unemployment rates soar, government subsidies reduce, and living expenses escalate.
You sell your autographed copy of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince. Your aunt sells all her jewelry. She even sells your uncle’s car.
Times are hard.
Books are your refuge. There’s nothing like getting lost in a delicious sea of words, oblivious to time, oblivious to pain, to oblivious to the cruel vices of this big bad world. With books, you choose your genre, you choose your narrative, and you create a universe with infinite appeals.
Books are like morphine to your soul. With your head in a wordy tome, you obliterate the strain of medical bills, the fear of losing your aunt, and the soul crushing grieve of your uncle’s death that you frankly never got over.
So it’s no surprise that you picked up shifts at a local book café called Valley of Sorek to make ends meet. Between manning the cashier at Valley of Sorek, classes, and perpetual chemotherapy sessions, life is barely tolerable.
And then enter a boy.
It’s another lazy Friday afternoon at Valley of Sorek. The café is mostly empty. In one corner, two middle aged tai tais are yapping in a manner worthy of their stereotype. Two tables away, a millennial types away on his laptop, probably hoping to make his million before age 30.
You have a free moment so you sit behind the counter with a dog-eared copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. With muscle memory, you flip right to your favourite part and mutter audibly to match Mr. Darcy. “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings must not be repressed…”
“You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” A deep male voice quotes.
You release a startled gasp and snap your head up.
The first things you notice are shoulders. They are broad and strong and powerful and broad. Attached to these broad shoulders are arms the size of your thighs- stout, muscles clearly defined. The next thing you notice is his height, 6”1’ maybe? His features are chiseled; a ponytail hangs down his back.
The guy before you is a sight for sore eyes.
Yum. Every girl could use some eye candy.
Cognitive dissonance- you fervently condemn the objectification of women, yet hypocritically subject men to the same treatment.
A cocky demeanour glints his features. “Mr. Darcy is lame,” he deigns.
You stand up and cross your arms. “And why so?” You spit indignantly.
“Elizabeth turned him down and he comes back like a pride less puppy. Besides, don’t so no taste lah. Elizabeth was plain, like you,” his words are dripping with condescension.
Gee, what an asshole, you think, another beautifully sculpted specimen turns out to be a self-absorbed prick, surprise, surprise.
“Is there anything I can help you with?” You struggle to compartmentalize the douche-bag’s remark.
“One latte, please.” He says, handing you a RM20 note. “And keep the change.”
You resist the urge to roll your eyes as you receive the money. As you open the cash register machine, you fingers grazed the bottom of the note. Huh? You realize that other than the RM20, he handed you another piece of paper.
And scribbled on it was “Samson. Call me 012-3456789”.
You typically don’t call random strangers, especially not after they insult you AND decimate your all time favourite literary characters. Tackling girls 101: do not verbally abuse.
You wish you could ban him from the café, but your boss won’t take that too kindly.
How inconvenient that he’s made himself a regular too. Money is still tight, so you don’t want to lose this job, but that doesn’t remove the bitchy undertone of your “a PLAIN latte for you today, Samson?”
One day, you finish a long shift and ready to leave for the day. The LRT station is only 15 minutes away on foot. However, as you step through the café doors, thunder roars in the distance. A bolt of lightning gleams to your left, followed by a sudden avalanche of rain.
It’s the annual Malaysian rain-a-thon, when downpour swallows the land on a daily basis- really should have brought an umbrella.
You glance at your watch. Your aunt is expecting you soon, and you hate making her wait. So the decision is made. Holding your backpack over your head in a pathetic attempt to shield the pouring rain, you make a run for the LRT station.
Barely few steps out, you hear a honk. You turn around to see a white Perodua Bezza.
The Bezza pulls up to your right and winds down the window. Samson regards you cautiously. “Need a ride?” he asks.
You rather have all your teeth plucked out then drown in rat urine than share a space with Samson. “No, thanks, I rather walk.”
“Please?” he has to shout over the deafening rain. “I’ll be nice.”
The rain is starting to soak through your pasar malam Adidas shirt, so you surrender to a brief moment of weakness and allow yourself into Samson’s car.
Other than basic travel instructions, you don’t feel like talking, so you don’t.
You and Samson sit silently for a while before he begins, “Listen, about the other day, I’m so sorry. I got nervous, didn’t know what to say and started blabbering like a first class idiot. This article I read says women like bad boys. Guess I overcompensated with asshole.”
“Sorry…” he fix you with pleading eyes. Okay, you did not expect that. You’ve written him off as another vain gym rat with a superiority complex.
“You really were a berlagak jerk.” Obviously you’re still mad.
“What’s berlagak?” He asks.
“You don’t know what’s berlagak? What are you? Zingaporean?” You narrow your eyes at him. “Wait, ARE you Zingaporean?” How could you miss it? -The throaty intonation of their slang, the default arrogance.
Of course, they are not all bad. But the increasingly public conflict between your countries is bound to take a toll sooner or later.
Samson skips over the Zingaporean bit. “Can I make it up to you? Perhaps dinner?” He ask hopefully.
He looks so raw you actually feel a twinge of affection for him. But dating really is nowhere on your radar now. There are more realistic matters to deal with, like money and the son-of-a-bitch curse called cancer. Not to mention the lack of emotional bandwidth.
“I’m flattered, but I really don’t have much spare time,” you reply cautiously.
“When I’m not in school, or working my two jobs, I’m caring for my sick aunt. A simple trip to the hospital takes half a day.” It’s true. A trip to the doctor’s mean a two hours bus commute to Hospital Sorek.
“I’ll drive you and your aunt,” he offers.
You purse your lips hesitantly.
He meant it. That Friday, he pulls up in front of your house in his Beza.
As soon as your aunt exits the house, he jumps out and scurries over to the passenger seat to help her in. She’s clearly impressed and shoots you an “I approve of this young man” look.
Well, you’re not so sure yourself.
But he does it again. And again- including that time you had to work and couldn’t be there. Weeks later, you go home to find him at the dining table enjoying your aunt’s cooking.
Maybe you detest him slightly less now.
He found a way to sneak through the cracks, intertwine his life with yours, and tiptoe into you heart, inch by inch. Unknowingly, you lost the intense disdain you once held for him. In its place, you develop… fondness?
“Do you know that Mr. Darcy is the original alpha jerk?” You tell him one day after your shift at Valley of Sorek.
“Er, I thought you like him?” Samson says.
“I hated him at first. He was a berlagak ass. But then he fixed the Lydia situation for her family. And he came back for Elizabeth.” You reply.
You continue. “I understand why Elizabeth eventually fell in love with him. Turns out, you can’t judge a berlagak ass by his cover.”
With that, you slide your hand into his. Your face is the colour of radioactive sambal; your heart is racing madly.
His face softens as he tenderly takes your face between his palms.
Your universe tilts on its axis in his favour; his gravitational pull impossible to resist.
All peripheral activities blur into obsolete. Time stops.
He bends over and gently places a kiss on your lips.
Dang, you are in love.
Love really is nothing but a series of clinical responses. You simply over inhaled Samson’s pheromones, resulting in a series of chemical reactions that create the phantasm of romantic attraction.
Or not. However, the science behind love doesn’t change the joy it brings. In fact, at one point, you are so far lost in a daydream of Samson that you don’t notice a white Proton Iswara with tinted windows pulling up behind you as you strolled on the sidewalk en-route to university.
You are incredibly shocked when a handkerchief gags your mouth while an arm wraps around your waist. You struggle and kick, but is no match to the muscled arms that thrust you into the backseats of the Iswara.
Help! You want to scream, but the sound is stuck in your throat. You want to open your mouth but lips won’t part. You want to kick and punch, but your limbs are limp at your sides. It’s like you’re conscious in a dead woman’s body.
Your eyes are rapidly narrowing. NNOOO!!! You fight to keep your vision unobstructed. But the effort is in vain. The last things thing you hear is the undeniable sound of an accelerating car and screeching tyres.
And then all went black.
Your head hurts. You feel like a lion dance troop performed an entire routine between your temples. Attempting to move, you realized your right hand is clamped under your left cheek, your left arm lie lifelessly next to your head. You are lying on the floor in a near fetal position. You’ve been through sufficient PBSM training to realize somebody cared enough to place you in a recovery position.
Your eyelids flutter before widening. With the support of your left hand, you slowly prop yourself up so you’re sitting on the cold cement floor. A wooden table comes into sight. The room is well lit and you can tell an air conditioner is on at full blast.
“You’re awake,” says a coarse female voice.
You stand slowly in spite of that throbbing headache.
A middle-aged woman is seated with her back straight and her hands rested on the wooden table before her. A black tudung is wrapped around her head and fastened below her chin with a silver pin in a style common among the Malaysian Muslim folk. She has on a traditional plain baju kurung. Dark rings around her eyes emphasize her wrinkles, a clear sign of fatigue.
“Please take a seat,” she says not unkindly, gesturing to the plastic chair opposite her.
You’re learned via Hollywood-education to comply. Putting up a fight only puts your captors on guard.
The woman offers you a glass of water as soon as you settle into the chair.
“Here, drink up.”
You eye the water suspiciously.
“Its just water. I apologize for the chloroform, it’s simply the most efficient way.”
Trying to keep your face neutral and fearless, you address the woman, “who are you? Where am I? And what do you want?”
“I’m DG Hawa, and I work for the DSID.” The Defense Staff Intelligence Division… you read about them before- Malaysia’s military intelligence agency.
“First and foremost, you are not our prisoner, but we do need your help.”
“How do you know me? What can the DSID possibly need from me?”
“Delilah Lee. We know all about you.” DG Hawa reaches for a manila folder labeled in red: MAKLUMAT SULIT.
“English literature student at UM. Orphaned at 2. Adopted by aunt and uncle. Loves Jane Austen novels and the colour pink. Dating one Samson Manoah.”
You contain your shock as she recites details about your life like items off a restaurant menu.
DG Hawa places a picture before you. You observe it carefully. Printed on an A4 size paper is what appears to be a blown up image of a gate lying on a stretch of open field. The individual iron bars that make up the gate is still in tack, its plain design wrought with the occasional twist for aesthetic purposes. Suddenly, you notice a plate, still attached to the gate. An elaborated logo is printed on it, and underneath in block letters read IMIGRESEN MALAYSIA.
“This belonged to the immigration office between Malaysian and Zingapore. It was found on Bukit Hebron October last year, 150km away from the office. CCTV footage confirmed that a man ripped it off the hinges and carried it away with his bare hands.”
DG Hawa slaps another photo before you. An empty piece of land meets your eyes. The ground looks scorched, dotted by irregularly shaped black patches. An odd tree stump peek meekly above the ground level, adjacent to what appears to be charred remains.
“This was a palm oil plantation in Kampung Philistines. Intelligence has it that a terrorist caught 300 foxes and tied them tail to tail in pairs, fasten a torch to every pair, lit the torches and let the foxes loose all over the plantation, all 100 acres of land.”
Another picture follows.
This time, all you see are dead bodies, bloodied and bruised. Piles of tangled limbs are soaking in pools of blood. The sight is so gory you instinctively look away.
“1000 bodies in total- murdered with…” DG Hawa places another picture next to the blood-soaked one.
You avert your glance and note a… bone?
“It’s a donkey’s jawbone. The terrorist massacred 1000 people with a donkey’s jawbone. This information is kept under a tight lid. We can’t afford to let the public know, there will be national panic.”
DG Hawa is watching you carefully now. Her line of sight doesn’t falter as she places a final A4 paper before you.
A chill races up your spine, gripping your heart in one painful grasp. You gulp desperately for air, coaching your lungs to inhale-darn-it-inhale. A familiar pain sears through your body with acute intensity. You sense the threat of deluging tears.
The dolorous scene that plays setting to every nightmare you’ve had in the past 5 years looms before you. DG Hawa is still observing you closely. She treads cautiously.
“In Kampung Ashkelon, 30 men were slayed in cold blood. Conclusive evidence suggests the cause of death to be blunt force trauma. All 30 men were stripped naked and all their belongings taken.”
5 years and counting, and the police have yet to catch the murderer. “Minimum evidence” cited the investigating officer, “it is an ongoing investigation”.
“We believe only one man is responsible for all the aforementioned crimes. And we have a suspect.” DG Hawa informs you slowly.
Your head snaps into attention. What?
“The suspect is believed to have supernatural strength. According to informants, eyewitnesses, and captured images from surveillance cameras, we can confirm that the suspect definitely possesses paranormal physical strength. This is consistent with the crimes of mass murder and vandalism of government property.”
She paces several pictures before you. “Here are evidence that places our suspect at the crime scene.” You anxiously study the images; a man carrying a 200kgs metal gate like a sack of potatoes, a man swinging a donkey’s jawbone…
“It is confirmed that his nationality is Zingaporean.”
The silhouette of the man look strangely familiar…
“We have identified the suspect as Samson Manoah.”
No. NO! For the second time today, air is sucked out of your lungs as if a plunger worked your trachea. You stare at the ponytail in the picture and the broad shoulders taunt from hefting the heavy immigration gate.
“It can’t be, I know him,” you whisper.
DG Hawa looks sympathetic. “Actually, it definitely is him. And you’ve only known him for, what, 2 months now?”
2 months and 16 days, but who’s counting.
“Listen.” DG Hawa’s voice grows urgent. She clears the table so you have no choice but to look at her face.
“We need your help. We need you to learn the source of his strength, anything that can stop him. So far, every encounter we have with him ends with injured soldiers. And in return for your service, we are offering you RM110k.”
She places a cash cheque on the table before you. You freeze.
“No. I’m not betraying the guy I love. I’m sure there’s more to the story! Nobody is that strong!”
“Except he is.”
“He’s a good guy. This can’t be right.” Maybe you don’t know him that well, but he will never hurt people. Why are they trying to pin this on him?
“Samson Manoah is a dangerous man. A terrorist. A monster. We must catch him before more people get hurt.” As an after thought, she adds, “People like your uncle.”
Your face is stricken with grief. There has to be another way.
Her resolve softens. “Listen, Delilah. This world isn’t black and white. But remember, at the end of the day, we have a responsibility to protect Malaysia, to protect Malaysians.”
You go home to find your aunt sitting on the sofa. Her eyes are red, a telltale of her recent tears. There’s a dripping sound. Your eyes immediately dart right. As suspected, a light blue pail sits in the corner of the living hall, collecting water from the leaking roof that needs the fixing you can’t afford.
Gingerly, you lower yourself unto the sofa next to her. Placing an arm around her shoulders, you ask, “What’s wrong?”
She shakes her head but you follow her gaze to the coffee table. There, in the middle of the furniture sits a bill. You extend your arm to retrieve the paper. RM23764.50. Falling sick isn’t cheap, that’s guaranteed.
“Deli, how are we going to pay this?” Streaks are flowing down your aunt’s cheeks again. You wipe her tears with you thumb.
Gears are whirling in your head.
You whisper, your shaking voice barely audible. “Don’t worry, aunty. Don’t worry.”
Knock knock knock.
You place three smart raps on the door of Samson’s rented apartment. Drawing a deep breath, you fold your arms and wait patiently.
The door opens to Samson in nothing but a pair of scanty boxers.
“Hey baby,” you say. He looks at you like you’re the last piece of chocolate cake in the world. Your heart does a jingly stunt.
You step into the apartment and throw your arms around him. Your mouth hits his fast and furious. The touch is urgent, pleading, hungry…
“Whoa…” he says. “Hello to you too.” He wastes no time. Sliding his tongue into your mouth, he homes straight for your tongue. Your tongues engage an intense game of tussle. He runs his hand through your cheap haircut, his touch is soft yet laden with potential.
Your hands travel from his mid torso up his shoulder blades and around his neck. Although your eyes are shut, you can feel his muscled shoulders. With a slight leap, your legs circle around his waist. He catches your weight effortlessly.
Your lips still attached, he carries you to his sofa and sits down. You throw your weight against his chest, pushing him down so you’re lying on top of him.
“You’re a smart girl. You know it’s true.” DG Hawa said. “And I know how much you love your people, your country. You’ll do anything to protect Malaysia. I’ve read your blog, your writing. Even if money isn’t on the table, I have confidence in your loyalty to Malaysia.”
You stroke Samson’s chest. “I love you, Sam,” you whisper, fighting tears.
“I love you too, Deli,” Samson replies. His voice is soft and sweet as honey. The gaze that meets yours is earnest and sincere. He rubs your back lovingly.
“You’re so strong, Sam. I saw you lift a car yesterday to free the doggie stuck underneath.” It’s true; you did see him hoist an Alza up to rescue a dog whose leg was stuck in a hole below. You’ve suspected awhile now, everything DG Hawa confirmed this morning.
Samson pauses. “I didn’t know you were watching.”
“Well, I was.” You run your lips along his neck. “What makes you so strong? Will you always be this strong?”
He hugs you close to him. You can smell his soap, and you snuggle closer to his chest.
“Some deal my parents made with God. Hmm… that’s why I have this ponytail. Can’t cut my hair lest I lose my strength.” He holds you closer. “But don’t tell anyone, okay? It’s our secret.”
Something breaks in your chest. Could it be your heart?
You kiss him again.
“Sam, wake up.” Samson stirs. He fell asleep on your lap, like he has many times.
You look at the scissors and detached ponytail on the floor. A powerful pang of guilt crashes you, a menace to your sanity.
With shaking hands, you hold Samson one last time. It takes every shred of willpower not to cry.
Samson looks up at you, puzzled.
Samson’s apartment door flies open in one deliberate moment. A stream of uniformed personals rushes in- dressed in bulletproof vests and yielding guns. They head towards you with determined looks on their faces.
Samson jumps up and attacks the man nearest to him. He pulls a fist back to land a punch… but the man barely staggers. Samson looks surprised.
The men waste no time. They force Samson down unto the floor with his arms behind his back. He struggles, and struggles and struggles…
Any attempt to hold your tears is now futile. Tears are streaming down your face like a waterfall after the rain. You’re bawling so hard you can’t see straight. Through your clammy eyelids, you sight Samson one last time.
They’ve managed to haul him to his feet, his arms securely cuffed behind his back. But he’s looking at you. Realisation has dawned.
As they drag him away, you realize that look in his eyes? It’s not hate, nor anger, nor disdain.
It’s betrayal. And hurt.
You sit on the floor for hours. Every part of your body is beyond hurt now, it’s numb. You feel like a fruit in a blender, shredded and torn. The world around you is dark and bleak and miserable. You don’t think the sun will ever rise again.
When something broke in your chest, it wasn’t your heart.
It was your soul.
Writer’s note again: This story is based on the Bible story in Judges 13-16. Delilah is often portrayed as the antagonist. A traitor, seductress, and loose woman. I question this school of thought. Instead, I think she should be greatly admired. She is portrayed as her own woman, not daughter of ABC, or wife of DEF. She is simply referred to as “a woman named Delilah” (Judges 16:4). Nor is she, contrary to popular belief, a loose woman, as the Bible tend to spell in bold letters if a woman is promiscuous.
So really, Delilah is independent. She is also brave, taking down a known terrorist.
On top of that, she chose loyalty of country over her love for Samson (even if you could argue against that on grounds of her financial gain).
Ultimately, she is a character we should strive to emulate.
Also, any made-up country name that resembles an existing country name is mere coincidence.