My Love is a Friday

When Anton died, Kevin felt nothing. Not for the first two hours. The announcement of his death was unceremonious. His boss handed him the receiver.

Something happened. Your brother.  

Kevin knew what had happened. It was too obvious, written all over his Boss’ face.

Nineteen years old and there he was, in a box that he had just barely managed to fill with the entirety of his frame.  His growth spurt came so late into his teens, it wasn’t so long ago that he was a child. But now Anton was gone, just like that.

Fuck, thought Kevin. But not because his brother was dead. No, it was far from that. He seemed to accept that Anton was dead the moment his boss walked towards him, cradling the receiver on that warm Friday afternoon. He was curious as to why he felt almost nothing. He stood at the elevator, waiting. Only his hand phone, car keys and wallet were by his side. He had left all his files behind.

He shuffled his feet impatiently. He looked at the ceiling light. Fluorescent lamps turn most of the heat it generates into light. It is and will always be an efficient alternative to the incandescent bulb. That he knew as a fact. You glean these little nuggets of information as you go along. You gather them and it propels you along. He may buy a house in the future, and very well tell the electrician to install more fluorescent lights to save on the energy use.

You learn a few things every day. Many things, if you’re lucky. The one thing Kevin learnt today was that his brother had died. But you may as well have told him that male seahorses give birth, or that one side of the moon will always be hidden from view. It made no difference. His brother’s death was mere information to him, as it would be on tomorrow’s news.

Not that Kevin wasn’t close to his brother, or that they had drifted hopelessly apart. They had grown up together under the same roof. Kevin was four years older, always the big bully. He would constantly berate Anton, calling him names and getting into pointless debates that would last longer than their worth. Kevin was a real dick. But of course, maturity cast a mellow cloak over their brotherly affairs, and they began to look out for each other in little ways. Kevin would buy occasional suppers back just for Anton, and they would talk about the topics that came with maturity. When Kevin booked out while he was still serving the army they would watch soccer and root for the same team. It was never just about soccer. He chuckled as he reminisced, shuttling down on the lift, tapping his feet. As with any brotherhood, a lot was left unsaid.

Perhaps for that, the emptiness remained.

Something had left his chest, and he felt nothing. Or rather, something had divided his heart into two factions; one that grieved, and one that knew it should be grieving but could not bring itself to. These two factions separated themselves ever so perfectly within his chest, and he was only acknowledging the latter. He knew that his family would be waiting for him at the morgue. He knew he would have to be strong, be strong for them. But not like this. He wanted to be strong, not unfeeling.

I want to feel something, he thought to himself. But then thoughts, for all they’re worth, are easily erased by inaction. He sat in his car and closed his eyes. Nothing. There was nothing in his heart that stirred him one bit. The stones on the sidewalk felt more for his brother than he did and he did not know why.

He remembered how his co-worker patted his back on the way out. She looked at him in earnest, telling him to take it slow, to let it seep in. He remembered the smell of her hair as she leaned in to hug him. Why should he remember that, of all things?

And what did she mean to let it seep in? If people complain all day about not having a grip on overwhelming emotion, then doesn’t he have the right to hate himself for being less than emotive about his brother’s death? Are the emotions of the moment a true representation of what someone means to us?

Kevin didn’t have the answers at all. He started the engine, engaged his GPS. There were five missed calls on his phone. Three were from his home phone, two others from his mother. His mother, who had to bury her son.

Life is unfair that way, he thought. He spent the last nineteen years watching his counterpart grow up and even when this was all crushed in one day, he felt nothing. Crushed between a lorry and a road divider.

Fucking unfair indeed. Why do feelings allocate themselves so unevenly that more feelings have to make up for this lack, plaster over the imperfections? For now Kevin felt guilt, and this guilt covered up the void like white paint over an imperfectly chipped under layer, pinching a small corner of his heart that would have otherwise been torn apart. He kept his eyes forward as he drove past Guillemard drive, down Canton Way.

It was as if the city forgot to smile that evening. Not that it was depressing to look at the city. In fact as the darkness descended upon the streets there was a brightness that permeated, that suddenly stood out. He didn’t remember the streetlights to be so spectacular, so … vibrant. Red, white, blue; the synthetic colours blended more and more into each other as the natural light faded from the sky. But he felt nothing for this as well. It was as if the city strove to be as far removed from reality as possible, distancing itself, almost completely, successfully from natures bid to get us to rest, to get us to forget about the turmoil of daylight. The city stretched the limits of human endeavour, allowing us to function outside darkness, letting greyish backlights illuminate the void. He suddenly felt violently nauseous.

Pulling over to the side, he opened the door and immediately got on all fours at a grass patch by the pavement. He choked on saliva, and then on air, gagging uncontrollably but nothing came out. His stomach, it seemed, was empty. It expanded and contracted, like a desperate hand grabbing for something, anything to make sense of. Kevin wiped some overflowing saliva from the side of his mouth with his shirtsleeve. Standing up carefully, he got back into the car. He took a deep breath as he leaned against the steering wheel. In his heart was nothing that could be considered as grief, only layers of guilt painted one brushstroke on top of the next. The guilt of being alone in this car when his family needed him the most, the guilt of not feeling a tinge of sadness for Anton, the guilt of pointless guilt when the world told you that there was more to feel, always more to feel. He started the car again and moved along.

What is wrong with me?

Onto the slip road to the expressway, he turned on the radio. Sticky Leaves was playing, and as far as he knew it was sung by a local artist. The tune melded in with the night, the city lights illuminating each note. He imagined a huge silk scarf being draped over the city. As his car moved along the lyrics guided him into an obscure corner of his heart which he dared not venture. It happened almost instinctively, and he found himself in a dark, unfeeling place.

My love is proud, my love is small. 

He turned off the radio immediately and squinted to keep focus. The silence drowned out her voice instantaneously. Why should he feel anything for a silly mistake? Who was Anton but a stupid boy too young to be exploring his limits the way he did?

And then there was a flash. It was faster than he could anticipate. A motorbike rushed past him, with such speed that you could imagine the air rushing past your side window. The biker weaved through, relentlessly beating cars before they had a chance to change lanes or notice. It happened so quickly.

It was then that Kevin did feel something. It gripped his chest lightly at first, and then all at once. He sped up slightly to keep in view of the biker, weaving mercilessly through traffic to catch up. Soon he was going at 130 on the expressway, but he was too caught up with the chase to slow down. He would have gone faster if he had to, he knew that for a fact. But he didn’t have to.

My love is a Friday.

The bike turned out at the Bukit Timah exit and he slowed down as well. Soon a traffic light emerged, and the biker propped himself at side of the road, resting his leg on the kerb.

Kevin pulled up beside the biker. The streetlights shone on his helmet, glistening brightly, proudly. The night was still around them, the street hugging a band of preserved jungle.

He wound down his window.

“Hey.”

The biker continued to look forward.

“Hey!”

Startled by the unexpected yell, he jolted to the side, facing Kevin. He pushed his visor up. He turned out to be a young Malay man, looking no older than him.

“I saw you just now.”

“So?” Returned the biker.

“That was much too fast.”

“Did I hit you?”

“No, you didn’t.”

The biker looked forward again. “Then what’s your problem? Just drive lah.”

“You don’t get it.”

The biker did not respond, pulling his visor down and looking straight ahead.

“Look at me. Fucking look at me.”

The biker turned towards him, visor still down. He was listening.

And then there he was. All of Kevin’s anger melted away, and then all at once he understood. In front of him was Anton, the young boy so eager to prove himself to this world, to show the world just what he was made of. All 19 years, 179 cm of him. And he was not dead after all, no. Not dead at all. Just foolish in life, but certainly not dead. Kevin choked, but barely managed to compose himself. He had never seen his brother this way before, and of all times it was now that he needed to speak.

People care about you, he wanted to say. People want you back safe. The missed calls, misty eyed parents on lonely Friday nights; you may not get it now, but it shouldn’t take you too long to understand. What youth cannot teach you, you’ll have to learn yourself. That’s what growing up is about. You’ll see eventually that there are things in this life more precious than cutting across lanes and feeling like the king of the world for it. No one gives a dying damn about that in this life. All we need to know is that you’re safe and living for something. So be there, alright?  Alive. I’ll meet you there and we’ll talk about soccer and maybe we’ll all realise that it wasn’t your body after all. That you’re fine. Promise me this, that you will be fine. Please.

But he didn’t say anything. The silence enveloped them, made a name for itself, before it became too much. We seem to feel more for the things left unsaid anyway. The light turned green. The biker pointed a hefty middle finger at Kevin, before speeding off.

Kevin stepped on the gas and his car slowly inched forward.

Only then did he begin to weep.


Special thanks to Singer/Songwriter Lin Ying for letting me use her Single Sticky Leaves to illuminate the path for this story! 

What’s in a Short Story?

This year I’ve written quite a few short stories. I’ve become more casual about it actually. Last year when I set about writing short stories they were mostly already well planned out, plotted out with some key characterisations and plot lines. I made sure these short stories were complex and concocted to suit the mood, exactly how I wanted it. I am perfectionistic when I want to be. But only when I want to be; it can be controlled. Is that still considered perfectionist? Some would argue, no.

But that argument is for a different occasion. My year of short story writing has been different from what it used to be. Upon submitting my sample short story piece for an overseas writing program application in January, I got the email that I was rejected. I felt empty at first, because after all, this was something that I took quite some effort getting underway, and had been excitedly discussing with the people around me. This was still early into the semester, when everything seemed possible. At least that was how I saw it until the rejection came along.

I realised that my writing was too planned out, as if it mattered that someone who read it had to be happy with the ending. I was very careful in the way things turned out, tried extremely hard to be politically correct, and in many ways still am rather politically correct in the way I write. I haven’t had any staunch arguments come my way yet over what I wrote. Perhaps it’s because my style of writing tends to ask more questions than give any answers or assertions. Try arguing against someone asking questions and you’ll find this excessively difficult. It’s like watering a plastic rose. It isn’t productive. I was the guy you read not to get angry or disgusted with or find immense joy and recognition in. Instead, I was the guy you sought neutrality from, a middle ground where certain thoughts could find some rest. (I’m being vague, but it’s part of the plan.)

So going down the line of asking questions and discussing possibilities rather than certainties, I took it upon myself to focus on how to write a better short story. I felt like the short story would be the best way to discuss matters closer to my heart without the burden of being overly explicit. I also had to juggle my disappointment of not making it for the writing program into account, whereas people who were much younger than me made it without a hitch. It’s easy to feel that you’re not good enough at such junctures. But I kept my head up and replied to the selection committee that I would experiment with various styles and be back next year with a stronger application. I thanked them for the rejection and said that it would be a vast impetus to improve. Look at me, so politically correct.

And so a new wave of short stories arrived at my metaphorical shores; and were written once every other week, published in an embarrassingly short time with minimal edits. Not exactly professional, but I had to get things going over such a busy semester. The process went something like this.

I learnt that a short story need not be complex at all. Well, it may end up complex, but it would almost always depend on a simple beginning. A singular beginning. The story needs an entry point. But the funny thing is, your entry point need not be at the start of your story.

I like to say that en entry point may not be a particular scene or action. It could be a certain emotion, a certain character or personality; even the lyrics of a song that just floated around the corner. These elements intertwine with such complexity that it isn’t something you can put solely at the start. It’s some intangible matter that has to find its way into the story. Whether this will be at the front will be up for you to decide. For example, I like to use setting as the inspiration for my short stories. It could easily be my favourite entry point, and one that sticks around for most of the story. I would even argue that setting brings about its own intangibility in the way it carries certain memories and meanings that you cannot separate from its physicality. Your choice of setting will be a burden you have to carry through the rest of your story. It isn’t as simple as finding a party venue. Whether it’s a laundry room or unopened bar, I’d let the context settle in my mind from anywhere between ten minutes to a few days, perhaps take a few pictures of it and just let ideas simmer. It helps that you know where your story occurs, and more importantly, come to terms with its significance.

That being said, it’s important to know some significance, but it is ill-advised to start a story with everything figured out. That was the number one flaw in the way I wrote, the tendency for me to keep things prim and proper because I had it all planned out. Nowadays, I start off my stories without a solid plot to follow. Instead I chase the idea, the intangible psychophysical stuff that hangs over the story. Most of the time it’s me answering the question: why did I choose this setting, of all places? In other instances it may be a question of how to draw out a certain emotion (for example, a man feeling suicidal) at a certain point in the story, or perhaps how to arrive at a specific scene (i.e. a man unceremoniously slitting his wrists). You build your stories to arrive somewhere. Think of the entry way as an airport while the itinerary of your trip being the spontaneous madness of starting without a solid plan. The airport(s) will hold your trip together, the boundless possibilities in between allow you to go crazy.

So the whole point here is, to let your ideas create a story, instead of letting your story create the ideas. Do the latter, and you will end up constructing rather than creating. You want to create rather than construct, because to construct gives off the notion of planned rigidity, and no short story can entrance a reader that way. To create offers infinite possibilities, a ludicrous journey that you decide to take by virtue of your foolhardiness. It keeps the readers wondering how the story would go, and the best part is, it keeps you wondering as well.

Ideas and entry points merely set the backbone for your story. When you think about it, the action/emotion/setting may not even be significant, but the implication of it must be. Why something is significant is difficult to teach. In fact, it has to be discovered as you write, and not many people have the patience to get to a point where things get significant. It sort of fizzles out at the start. This has happened on many occasions, and would explain why my draft section is slowly filling up. From the start to the spark of realisation, it’s really up to you to think up all these strange scenarios and put your creative mind into overdrive, and allow yourself to immerse in  different possibilities. Even the ones you don’t like. That’s not easy as well, to immerse yourself in unwelcome possibilities.

I help myself by staring into space a lot, or by observing people as they go about their lives. Watching empty chairs in indoor spaces has a way of inviting infinite possibilities, the chance of boundless interaction or perhaps just the opportunity to soak in emptiness. And that’s just of a room empty chairs, which could be paralleled to a forest of uncultivated palms which could be as compelling as the dashboard of a car on a lonely Friday night. It can make sense, if you allow it to. Don’t be afraid to be dramatic about these things. Don’t shy away from going too far when people tell you that your thoughts are unproductive or useless. Or that you should “stay with us”. Imagine worlds within words and words within these worlds and be unapologetic about what goes on in your head.

I think that would be my biggest advice, to others and even to myself. To just hold you own in your path to being creative. Be spontaneous and enjoy the pain of failure. And even when things look bleak, you need to have the courage to try again. Writing short stories has been a reminder of all of these things.

Maybe next year will see me with a stronger application and perhaps then I may get into this illusive writing program. Or maybe it won’t. Who knows? I’m certainly not one to accurately judge my progress. I just sit down now and then and write as I feel like, keeping myself busy with wild, erratic thoughts and the silliest of possibilities. I’m not the best person to plot this chart of growth. All I can hope for is that in the short story lies a world I can continue to play around, travel through and discover, and at the darkest hour of a quiet 2 am, find some space to truly be free.

Studio 1959

Taking her on a walk through the outskirts of Chinatown was a bad idea, especially at this time of day. The air itself stung your skin with the accumulated heat, the humidity drawing sweat out like a seasoned fisherman reeling in his cod. I was a sticky mess by the time we walked two blocks. I didn’t know about how she felt, didn’t actually bother to ask.

“Let’s get into here,” I said. I led her by the hand into the nearest cafe I saw, tucked into the corner of a strangely angled shophouse that bisected the main road into two smaller lanes. “Let’s just pretend to eat something and have a rest.”

“Ok.”

We ended up actually eating something. My knife cut the burger perfectly down the centre, and it fell apart like a post party crowd. I felt for the bottom bun with my thumb, and clammed the top with my four fingers, passing her half unceremoniously to her plate, the other half to mine. We chewed like most people do, and talked about the heat in between. It was so typical, so very typical. I could not believe it had been like this for two years. Just me and her, having these little walks, week in, week out. How?

We paid the bill, both of us going very Dutch indeed. We normally cut the bill down to the nearest five cents. I watched as she sipped the remainder of the ice lemon tea. The liquid quickly disappeared as it bottomed out near the part of the glass with the most ice. There was a quick suction sound.

“I’m going to the toilet.” She announced.

“Ok, I’ll just look around.”

“Suit yourself.”

She walked behind the bar counter where the toilets were, as I inspected a staircase near the entrance that led to a second storey. There was a red barrier rope blocking the path, supported by two golden stanchions. I decided to push one of the stanchions aside, giving a quick glance to the blindspot behind. None of the waiters or waitresses noticed me break this precious barrier, so I slipped up the steps on my own.

Above the air was considerably stuffier, like someone took a thick blanket and draped it over me. My neck burned under the wooly thickness of my polo shirt. I stuck two fingers into the gap of my top two buttons and fanned myself by oscillating the loose fabric back and forth. I noticed an overwhelming silence. It was the silence inside a whale’s belly, a quiet that made you feel utterly trapped.

And then there it was, before me a huge bar on the second storey.

The bar covered the entire floor, and was draped in oiled dark wood from floor to bar table. The tables were glass topped with wooden legs accompanied by rattan chairs made of lighter wood. The entire bar was shielded by a wall of bottled spirits that extended to the ceilings, behind the bar, encrusted the walls around tiny windows. From Belvedere clear to Midori green, it seemed a brilliant armour against the outside world, each spirit holding with it the potential for an interesting story to be told or undertaken. It was this bar against the world.

“Welcome,” came a voice from behind.

I almost jumped out of my shirt. It was an old man wearing waiter’s attire.

“Hello…” I started cautiously.

“You know you’re not supposed to be here.”

“I guess…”

“You guess?”

“I’m sorry,” I blurted.

“Welcome then, to my studio.”

“Studio?” I motioned at the wall of hard liquor.

“Sit down.” He commanded without expression, without explanation. He looked at least seventy. Old was written all over his face, from his folded eyelids to his shaky hands as he motioned towards the seat in front of the bar. His movement, though, wasn’t compromised by his age. He strode past me with surprising agility, with the sharpness of a practiced march. He entered the bar, standing opposite me where I eventually sat.

“I’ll make you a drink,” he offered.

“That’s really not necessary.” I thought of her waiting downstairs. She was probably already done.

“No, I insist. I’ve been doing this since 1959.”

I did some quick calculations. Fifty over years. I weighed that with the five over minutes she would take in the toilet. The five minutes won.

“Erm, my friend. She’s waiting. Downstairs. I have to go.”

“Alright, tell me more about this friend.” He gave a cheeky grin. As if he knew something.

“Just a friend. What else is there to know? Just me and a friend. And this cafe. And then this studio.”

Just a friend?”

I looked at him. What was his meaning? I imagined the toilet bowl flushing with great urgency, her rushing out and screaming my name. “I really need to go.”

“No, it’s nothing. I just noticed you holding her hand as you walked into the cafe. It must have meant something more than friendship, at least from how I see it.”

I sighed. A deep sigh that would have lifted a manhole cover if it had the chance.

“It’s complicated,” I finally relented.

“I see that being used on Facebook now and then. Surprising eh, an old man like me on Facebook? But back to you. Do explain what you mean. I never understood complicated.” 

I looked at the old man. An inconspicuous, aged bartender with nothing better to do with his life stared back at me. The air was stiller than an indoor pond.  I decided it would be okay, just this once, to trust a stranger with my secrets.

“I don’t know if we’re together. We never had any labels. Since the start. She liked it that way and I caught on. It’s been two years. We do things but no one knows us as a couple.”

“I see a but coming up.”

I frowned. I tried to come up with a different permutation to start the sentence but my brain failed me. “But … I don’t see it anymore. It’s boring and terrible and I don’t want to be there for her if I don’t have the assurance that she’ll be there for me.”

“I catch your drift. At such a rickety juncture, don’t you want to just end things?”

“We’re too much a part of each other’s lives. It isn’t so simple. We’ve reached that stage of comfort where tremendous consequences would abound should we decide to end things. I have that feeling you know, that we’ll just gravitate back to each other in the end. Somehow.”

The old man frowned, but remained silent. Impatience tightened its grip on me.

“Okay well, thanks for listening. But I really have to go now.” I stood up to leave, tucking the barstool under the counter.

“Wait. I owe you a drink.”

“She’s probably waiting already.”

“Trust me, she’s not.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I’ll give you a choice.” Ignoring my statement, he stood up suddenly and got to action, grabbing bottles from the bar counter, exotic spirits I had never laid eyes upon in my short existence. He stirred, shook, layered as he poured in shots and splashes. Brown turned to dark green which then later turned ivory white which then turned grey to red before finally, the drink turned black. Pitch black.

He placed the drink in front of me.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Drink this and your friend disappears.”

“What?”

“Your friend won’t die, don’t worry. Neither will she be cast into an alternate universe. What I’m saying is, you drink this and it will be as if you and her never met. You’ll lose all feelings for her. In fact you’ll forget she even exists, and the same for her as well. Two of you will still exist, just not in each other’s lives. You walk down and she won’t be there. Your problems will be solved. You will be free of this said friendship. Sounds like a deal?”

“Why should I believe you?” Why should I believe him! 

“Fair enough. You don’t have to believe me. But I’ll tell you for sure that this drink isn’t poisonous or toxic. If you drink this and nothing happens then there won’t be much of a consequence, would there? If I were you, I’d give this a shot. Get it, a shot?” He laughed at his own joke. I wanted to walk away then and there.

But he was right. If I truly didn’t believe him I would have just downed the free drink. I always liked a challenge of a horrible drink, and this dark liquid stared at me as if taunting me to back off. It looked absolutely putrid.

The old man pushed the glass nearer to the edge of the bar, his cheeky grin expanding as if the drink mattered. It probably did, at least to him.

Just as the glass was about to tip over the edge, instinct took over and I grabbed the drink, balancing it in my master hand.

“It’s in your hands now. Down it.”

I looked him firmly in the eye this time, this pathetic old man with nothing but deceit and pointless tales. I was not falling for his trap. I let the glass slip through my hands, and made sure both of us watched as it shattered on the dark wood.

The old man’s smile immediately shifted into a frown. He eyed me with comtempt, and raised a foreboding finger at my face.

“You’ll regret this. I gave you a chance for a new start; and you throw it away just like that.”

I had a lot to say to him, so much in fact. But I decided then and there, that I would say it to her instead. We romanticise the intervention of strangers with such fury that we leave out the most important people in our lives.

I turned away from him and marched down, allowing the air to cool around me, the stuffy blanket lifting off my shoulders.

***

She was waiting at the bar counter, inspecting a poster on the history of the clarinet.

“Where the fuck were you? I called you four times and each time your line was down.”

I told her I was sorry. And then I told her. I held her by the shoulders, in the middle of a semi crowded cafe.

“I only want to be with you if you want it as well.”

“Is there something I missed?”

“No, it’s just that I’ve been thinking. It has been two years of this. You know what I mean? This? I dont even know what this is. And I know for sure that it’s time to make a decision. Either you tell me you see a future in us or I walk away right now, plain and simple. What do you say?”

“Where did you go just now?” She asked. She was avoiding the question.

“I’ll tell you later. I just need to know now, how you feel about us. For once I really do. This is me talking now, not the silly boy you’ve been holding hands with for the past two years. It’s me and I want to know. I deserve to know.”

You’ll regret this. I gave you a chance for a new start. 

“Just tell me where you went first. And then I’ll tell you how I really feel. You’re getting me worried.”

“Why is where I went so important?”

“Because clearly it got you thinking about this! I’ve told you from the start that we weren’t supposed to think about us. And now you have and I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Have you been thinking of this?”

“Of course I have! Who do you think I am, a park bench? Of course I think.”

I pointed at the steps, almost envisioned the golden stanchions and the red rope, the smooth steps leading up.

“I went up there.”

But when we both turned around there was nothing. No staircase, no golden stanchions, no red rope. All that stared back was a blank wall; cold, white, formless.


There is in fact a place near Chinatown called Studio 1939, which was where the cover picture was taken. Other than that, the entire piece is fictional. Staircases obviously don’t just disappear and I assure you the protagonist was not under any influence. 

 

A Certain Laundry Room Romance

“Over there’s the broken machine. Right at the end.”

It wasn’t even planned. She just appeared as I was doing my laundry. I looked at her, she back at me.

“Yes, I’ll use this one.” I pointed at the machine in front of me.

“This one has a weird smell. Like someone made love inside,” she giggled.

I didn’t find her funny, but I laughed along anyway. Anything sexual must be laughed at. It’s sort of a rule in college.

She wore an aluminium coloured top that glistened with innumerable sparkles. She was like a star trek character and I the earthling. Her ears were pointed, her nose flat. That was not the only thing about her that was flat; her voice was on the lower end, dull and perpetually half a key below what one would consider normal, like a slowly deflating balloon. Her eyebrows complimented the sad aesthetic, drooping precariously past a certain angle, making her look perpetually gloomy. That was what I noticed, anyhow.

I put my clothes into the love machine anyway. No one could possibly have had sex in there anyway.

“I’ve never actually seen you before,” I started.

“Neither have I.” She admitted. “I thought everyone would know everyone here.”

“You know, I read somewhere that you can ever know 150 people in your life at once. Any more than that and your mental faculties will be on overdrive and you start going crazy.”

“I must be very sane then,” she laughed.

“No what I’m saying is, by knowing you I’m getting closer to that magic 150 mark. I’m getting a bit closer to insane.”

Woah. Stop. What was I doing?

Rewind to a sunny afternoon at my neighbourhood bus stop. I was sipping on an ice cold milo in a celebratory Mcdonalds cup. It was scorching and I wanted nothing to do with the weather.

I kept my free hand safely tucked into my pocket, adjusting the side of my underwear and attempting to untangle my earphones at the same time. I have my ways to pass time.

An old lady slips by and asks me for tissue. She is old, almost as old as time itself. Wrinkly and frail, she hobbles like a stage coach down a rocky road. She does not have a walking stick to aid her, perhaps as a stark refusal to admit to her old age. It’s like how some dogs still sit with their legs spread out, a relic of their youth imperceptibly hard to shrug off. Of course, I digress.

She looks earnestly at me as I tell her that “no auntie, I don’t have any tissue.” I say this in uncomfortably broken Chinese, thinking of what to say next.

“No matter,” she spoke. We stood in uncomfortable silence. The bus could not take longer.

“You studying?” She asked me.

“Yes.” Keep the replies short, I reminded myself.

“Where?”

“University.”

“Nice. My grandson is only Primary five now. I have a granddaughter who’s Primary three. I really hope they work hard. You know how hard it is to do well here.”

“Yes, very hard.”

“Parent support is very important. Good role models, you know?”

“Role models, yes.”

“If your parents don’t push you I assure you it would be hard for you to do so well.”

“Yes, my parents were good. They pushed me.”

“Sometimes I wish for my Grandchildren to have had the opportunity to be raised in a better family.”

At this point it was getting uncomfortable. The tremendous shade she was throwing at her own family made me uneasy. Where was the bus?

“But the blame goes down generations you know? It all points back to me. The way I raised up my child affects the way he raises his children. It all comes back to me, but now that I’m so old it’s hard to go back in time and change all that.”

“It can’t be that simple, can it?”

“Well, after you go through so much you realize a pattern in the way things work. It’s not always true for sure, but it’s hard to break out of a cycle once you’re in it. You don’t even know you’re in it.”

The bus came.

“Thanks auntie, I really hope your grandchildren do well.”

“They’re still young and naughty.” She laughed.

“They’ll grow out of it. I was a terrible child to raise as well.”

The bus door opened, along with it came the liberating blast of air con.

The laundry cycle finished, and out flowed thoughts of the bus stop auntie. I marched back to the laundry room, opened the hatch and piled the damp clothes into the flimsy clothes basket.

“Hey there,” came a voice from behind. It was Star Trek girl.

“Done with drying?” I asked.

“Yes, one step ahead of you,” she remarked proudly.

I walked over to the dryers and shoved fragrant fabrics deep into the chasm. She opened the hatch of the adjacent dryer and out gushed a wall of heat.

“You know, I was just thinking about what you said.”

“Did I say anything?”

“About the 150 people you meet in your life and how any more would be too much.”

“Oh, that.”

“Do you think the random strangers we talk to along the way count?”

“I don’t know. I think it depends on whether you’ll ever see the stranger again.”

“You know you can’t see a stranger again right?”

“You have a point. To be a stranger is a one time affair.” Or was it?

“What I feel is, that you don’t get so many chances in your life to talk to people. Everyone’s too busy waiting for the next bus.”

“Funny you’d say that.” The last item was in, and I closed the hatch.

“Why?”

“Nothing, just, funny.”


This story is entirely fictional. No such exchanges occurred in any laundry room or bus stop, only through places and people I make up in my head.