By Lin Hongen
He did not dare to open her letter.
Standing on the MRT platform, red Outdoor duffel bag at his feet, leaning on a ceramic tiled pillar, soft breeze in his face. For the umpteenth time his free hand straightened his white shirt, cursing silently when his hand brushed roughly across the edges of his college badge, pinned limply on a corner of the shirt pocket. Undeterred, the free hand went on with the task of pushing every stubborn strand of hair into conformity. Task accomplished, the free hand descended to nudge his spectacles up the ridge of his nose, already slippery with sweat.
And in his other hand, five fingers clutched tightly at the white envelope.
It was not the first time he had faced such a dilemma. A dilemma of both wanting and not wanting to open the envelope, afraid of the contents; fearful of the consequences; aware of the potential heartbreak.
A flicker of movement caught his peripheral eye, and he turned to find yellow letters on the previously empty message board. " Marina South S01". The train was arriving soon.
He looked down at the envelope as the train pulled into the station, seemingly unstoppable until it came to a muffled, controlled halt. His gaze was transfixed on the envelope he held, not caring for his hair, coaxed to untidiness by the wake of the incoming train. He could only think of the letter, and what turn in his life it would bring. The envelope was bare, but he knew whatever it contained was addressed straight to his heart.
A mechanical swoosh, and cold air rushed out to embrace him, beckoning him into a fast-moving, unrelenting, sanitised world.
I'll read the letter on the train, he thought, stepping away from the afternoon heat into the chilly confines of the MRT train. He put down the bag and leaned against a pole, straightening his uniform and smoothening his hair. As his fear grew stronger, his heartbeat faster, as trepidation bit into his self-composed confidence, only one thought flashed mindlessly in his head.
Yes, on the train.
Look at him... the label on his pants... he's from one of the top colleges. No wonder he looks so snobbish. That's an envelope he is holding. Wonder what it is. Some scholarship or bursary maybe, judging from the way he holds it. So tight. Knuckles are whitening.
Oh no. What time is it already... five thirty. Phew. Can reach Orchard on time. Really scared that she will not be there. Wonder if she really meant it when she said yes last night... sounded so distant. Hope she hasn't found a new boyfriend. No she better not... but she's so pretty... wonder if we can be together again. What if she likes someone else now? What then?
Bought her this bouquet of flowers, like what I used to give her in the past. Later bringing her to her favourite Japanese restaurant. She likes that restaurant very much. Buy her a teddy bear later from Isetan Lido. Try to tell her how I feel. That should patch things up.
(He's definitely going to meet his girlfriend.)
(Maybe she's not his girlfriend. Nobody buys flowers unless it's Valentines' day, the first date, or when things get rough.) [Sardonic chuckle.]
*Thetearsofjoyforallthepleasureinthecertaintythatwe're surroundedbythecomfortandprotectionofthehighestpowersin lonelyhoursthetearsdevouryou*
(Things were never like that with Jennifer around. She was such a nice girl... did what I say hurt her so much?)
(How long has it been? Three years? Goodness...)
*She'stakinghertimemakingupthereasonstojustifyallthehurt insideguesssheknowsfromthesmilesandthelookintheireyes everyone'sgotatheoryaboutthebitterone*
*Butsomewhereinaprivateplaceshepacksherbagsforouterspace andnowshe'swaitingfortherightkindofpilottocomeandshe'll saytohim*
(How long do I have to hide behind these sunglasses?)
*She'ssayingIwouldflyyoutothemoonandbackifyou'llbeif you'llbemybabygotaticketforaworldwherewebelongsowould youbemybaby*
(That girl seating there on the row opposite the guy with the flowers... she's wearing sunglasses too.)
(Nobody wears sunglasses in here. Not unless they have something to hide.)
Does he know I'm here?
No. He doesn't.
He doesn't know I'm here.
Thank goodness for my sunglasses and my new haircut.
He can't recognise me.
He still looks the way he was months ago. That gelled hair... so artificial. Wonder why I ever liked him. Was it those cheap flowers he always gave me... goodness! He has a bunch with him right now... or the way he tried to act posh by bringing me to that Japanese restaurant?
How could I have ever liked him? Just look at him. Can't believe I actually mixed around with people like him. What was it in him that I found so attractive about? Shapeless body... unlike Phil....
I should have known better. Why did I ever agree to go out with him last night over the phone? Must have been mad. Out of sheer boredom? The weekends I spend with Phil.... so much better than those days with this idiot with gelled hair. My Gucci sunglasses; Reds haircut; Prada handbag: Omega watch; Lancome make-up. Could this man who could only indulge in flowers and Japanese food cared for me like Phil?
I was happy with the times I had with him.
But I am happier with my tangible wealth.
If not for Phil I wonder where I would ever be now... probably enough flowers to bury myself in....
I love you for what you can give me, Phil.
Now, if only you could listen to me the way this fool could...
How am I going to tell her that I love her very much? And that I really missed her for all these months we've been apart? Of the long nights I spent lying awake in wonder?
So much I want to tell her. So many thoughts. But yet all my words will choke when I come face to face with her. Always this problem talking to her. Stammering all the time.
I hope she has been well all this while. Couldn't ask her over the phone last night. Too nervous. Hand was shaking like a vibrating pager. Always been like that. I'll try very hard to change all these today. For her I'll willing to. It's a new beginning after all.
Sure miss those times we spent together, especially those evenings on the breakwaters along the beach, quietly listening to her telling me about herself, her childhood, and her aspirations... those were the days.
What was it that broke us up? We were so happy together.
That shiny, sparkling ring I saw on her finger when I unexpectedly met her last week. A gift from someone? She told me once that she loved diamonds... but she always said that having any didn't matter, because it was the relationship, the happy moments we spent together, that would matter the most. Diamonds you could lose. Memories you could not, lest you forgot.
She left without a word, and that was what that hurt me the most...
That guy standing there. Wow. His Walkman is really turned up loud. I can hear his songs even from here. Crazy fellow. And he's wearing those brand of sunglasses with mirror-like lenses. Very stylish. I'll buy a pair someday. Have to save some money first.
The boy wearing the all-white uniform is finally opening that envelope he has been holding. His deliberate slowness...
(That guy with the flowers is looking at me. No way he can tell I'm looking back at him with my Oakleys on.)
(Yellow AirMax95s. That student is wearing them. Doesn't match his uniform though. And that red bag. And that silver Rolex! Obviously trying to beat everyone else wearing Tag Heuers... wonder what else he has inside his bag. But... everything he has doesn't match with everything else. He looks like one of those who buy things looking at price tags.)
*SoI'llstartarevolutionfrommybedcuzyousaidthebrains Ihadwenttomyheadstepoutsidesummertime'sinbloomstandup besidethefireplacetakethatlookfromoffyourfaceyouain't evergonnaburnmyheartout*
(He's reading a letter.)
(Strange way he's doing it, reading a few lines and then looking away for a while.)
(He doesn't want to read it.)
(That glazed look. I've seen that before.)
(He's holding back his tears. Good job.)
(That despondent look... hadn't I seen that before two years ago, in the mirror one miserable Saturday night?)
(You'll get over her buddy. It'll be difficult... but you'll see through your folly.)
(Or you'll end up like me.)
*Drinkingmercurytothemysteryofallthatyoushouldeverseek tofindlovelygirlyou'rethemurderinmyworlddressingcoffins forthesoulsI'veleftbehindintimewemustneverbeapart*
I'll get Phil to change our telephone number.
I don't want anymore of the dumb flowers or crappy Japanese food. Phil will learn to listen to me sooner or later.
Phil's diamond ring is just like the happy moments I had with this guy. Except that others can admire and drool at the diamond ring, whose envy can fuel my pride.
With barely happy thoughts my happiness is fleeting.
I'm not going to get off at Orchard.
(What does my surroundings sound like?)
(I want to know.)
[He cautiously removes his earphones, and finally hears what the world around him sounds like -- carefully muffled screeching of the train's rails; children weaving between the metal poles oblivious to their mothers' raised voices; announcements by a disembodied voice, informing him of his imminent arrival at his destination. He stands silent, unaccustomed to all these seemingly foreign sounds. He shakes his head and puts the earphones back on, returning to his fast-moving, unrelenting, sanitised sonic world.]
*Idon'twannamissonesmileIdon'twannamissonekisswell IjustwannabewithyourightherewithyoujustlikethisIjust wannaholdyouclosefeelyourheartsoclosetomineandjust stayhereinthismomentforalltherestoftime*
*I...I...allmybagsarepackedI'mreadytogoI'mstanding hereoutsideyourdoorIhatetowakeyouuptosaygoodbyebut thedawnisbreakin'thisearlymornthetaxi'swaitin'he's blowin'hishornalreadyI'msolonesomeIcoulddie*
(Why are my earphones so soft now?) [Pushes earphones deeper into ears.]
*Sokissmeandsmileformetellmethatyou'llwaitformehold melikeyou'llneverletmegocauseI'mleavingonajetplane don'tknowwhenI'llbebackagainohbabeIhatetogo*
(Must have adjusted the volume.) [But the volume is already at maximum.]
*I...there'ssomanytimesI'veletyoudownsomanytimesI've playedaroundItellyounowtheydon'tmeanathingeveryplace IgoIthinkofyoueverysongIsingIsingforyouwhenIcomeback I'llwearyourweddingring*
(Then it must be the batteries... need to change them.) [Self-deluded, he does not see the battery power indicator cheerfully display full battery power.]
*Nowthetimehascometoleaveyouonemoretimeletme kissyoucloseyoureyesI'llbeonmywaydreamaboutthe daystocomewhenIwon'thavetoleavealoneaboutthetime whenIdon'thavetosay...*
The first few words said it all: "I'm sorry, but we can never be together...” Another line drove the nail home: "...I'm really not worth waiting for...” Who was? He replaced the letter in its envelope, and put it into his red duffel bag.
For such an unceremonious end to months of speculation and hope, he was shocked that he felt nothing at all. Perhaps it was the realisation of the cost he had paid to arrive at this conclusion -- the responsibilities shrugged off; neglected assignments; impending examinations... matters he had so conveniently ignored to devote his time and energy into such expensive an episode. Opportunity cost, he had heard someone say before.
The escalator brought him away from a fast-moving, unrelenting, sanitised world into another.
At the MRT station there was a lot of people. Plenty of executives hurrying around. Students too, some holding hands. He unconsciously grit his teeth when he saw that, but he was already to numb to it, hardly aware of the distant emotions those images evoked.
Above him, the glass dome showed the fury of a tropical storm. His fast moving, unrelenting, sanitised world was about to become a wet one.
But all of the sudden his footsteps ceased, an awkward figure stationary in the middle of a crowded station. People banged into him from all sides, unaccustomed to someone not in a hurry as they were. After all, life was one constant flux of motion, hardly staying still unless they were waiting, seated, or asleep.
He stopped at his realisation, finally making an observation of the picture he had been in all his life.
Plenty of people everywhere.
People casting frantic looks around them, holding delicately wrapped bouquets; people leaning on the ebony marble pillars, waiting, watching; people with earphones and sunglasses, melting into other groups of people.
Slowly, she took confident, well-practised steps forward...
...and on her powdered, photo-perfect face, an ambitious smile was beginning to form...