i carry (a tiny space) - Book Review

By Teo Xiao Ting 

 

In a world where words are tossed around in neck-breaking frenzies, we often take them for granted. In a tiny space written by fifi coo (a non-verbal child on the autism spectrum), where each letter is transcribed to paper alongside his mother before being strung into words, sentences, I found moments in which I was caught off guard, tender.

The language is simple but sentiments run deep. fifi’s voice sears through the book with gentle clarity. With each blip in conventional syntax—It makes me feel overpowered and it is too overwhelming for me to feel I have lost control over my own body—I find my relationship with language yielding, shifting, expanding how words can be wielded. I stay longer with the words in a tiny space, and find myself changing pace to allow them to reverberate on the page.

Throughout the two hours in which I was wading in fifi’s words, I realise the way that his thoughts are transliterated into words are not dissimilar to my own haphazard, rhizomatic processes. Indeed, for me, a tiny space surfaces how language for the neurotypical population is inherited, learned, and reproduced. How language dominates and sometimes obliterates.

One of the first sentences fifi wrote with the alphabet board is this:

I am non-verbal but I have so much to offer.

 

And what fifi offers in a tiny space is an invitation to rethink what we typically assume to be “normal” behaviour, to recast our understanding of how different bodies and minds inhabit this world of ours. I must regulate my emotions, wrote fifi. To regulate something means there is an objective standard to adhere to. But what is this “objective” standard, and how much effort is necessary to contort oneself to this standard?

Through a series of short poems, reflections, and excerpts of conversations with his family about his musings about Singapore and life, a tiny space goes beyond extending an invitation—it constructs a door through which we can hear from fifi himself, in his own words. There are only superficial distinctions between “us” and “them”, or “him” and “me”. We exist in a shared world, and the well of emotions that rose within me as I read fifi’s words is testament to this. I have no elaborate rhetoric to convince you why this is an important book except a sense of urgency when I turned the last page. A sense of urgency because most people will not give the space in the hurried everyday to listen, to understand, to be kind. (Will you?)

 

One shouldn’t be praised for being kind. Kindness is for everyone, not only those who are disabled. I heard inside the little girl’s heart. She was not trying to be kind because of my disability. I heard loneliness in her heart. She only wanted a friend to play with.


 In acknowledgement of World Autism Awareness Month, this review is part of a series of reviews done on books from Ethos that feature representations of autism. Read our other reviews on Ordinary Stories in an Extraordinary World and Open: A Boy's Wayang Adventure.

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