#DearSyed: “Once a mynah flew into my flat and got stuck”

dearsyed is a letter-writing campaign by the Transformative Justice Collective (TJC) in solidarity with death row inmate Syed Suhail, whose brave voice moved us to come together and build a movement for the abolition of the death penalty. We’re collecting letters for Syed throughout the month of March 2021. Read more about the campaign and get involved: https://tinyurl.com/dearsyed


Dear Syed,

I am writing to you after reading and listening to interviews with your sisters. They told stories of your lives together, with both joyous and difficult times, and the bonds between you. Sharifah said you used to sell children’s books, and Mila mentioned you liked to read poetry and philosophy and explain your reading to her. That interested me a lot. Books are my life! I love reading and I have written two novels and one children’s book, all set in Singapore. If it’s possible and there is a book (any book) you’d like, I would be happy to send one to you.

Friends tell me that prisoners in Singapore are always indoors. I thought I would tell you about birds I have seen near my home recently. Most common – little brown sparrows and black mynahs. Once a mynah flew into my flat and got stuck. I tried opening the windows wider but it was too frightened to find its way out. In the end I had to throw a towel over it, bundle it up and release it by hand.

Sometimes I also see orioles passing by, in a lemon yellow flash. Or I look up from this desk where I write and I see the distinctive wide wings of the sea eagle, finger-like shapes dark against the blue sky. Hornbills sometimes perch near my block, sometimes in a group – I think they like to fly with friends. My daughter has seen them eating red berries, but I haven’t seen that yet.

Once I was in my living room, which has a butterfly pen/bunga telang plant growing by the window, and a little olive-backed sunbird came and landed on the window grill. I used to think they were hummingbirds because the tiny birds I read about in books were all hummingbirds, but after asking around I learned my mistake. I do think “sunbird” is a prettier name.

I hope these descriptions of wildlife have added some colour to your day. I’d be happy to write to you again if you like.

With best wishes,
Jolene Tan

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