Roommate

I have a roommate. You usually can only see her back. She is not all that interested in letting you see her face. When you come in, she’ll be sitting alone on her bed of white polka-dotted bedsheets, looking out the window. That’s about the most you will know about her. I’ll lead you out the room and down the five flights of stairs, where we could have a more comfortable conversation at the local park bench. Looking up, you would see her silhouette against the orange-lit backdrop. She might be looking at us, and I tell you she means no harm. She is just connecting with us vicariously.

Over the months, you have gotten used to this, even if she is still an unnerving presence to you. How do I feel about her, you’d ask me. I’d shrug and smile wryly. You think you understand, and I let you think that.

This is what you don’t know. She is not my roommate. She does not exist. You are seeing things.

Just like I don’t exist. You’re seeing things.

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the girl who went home

The soft folds in the white lilac dress were picked up with small, determined hands; the dress breathed the wind’s life. Cool wet grass caressed two bare feet toddling enthusiastically forward.

Where was she going? I watched from the levitated window pane, whitewashed and imperceptible in the background.

Her pigtails bounced – pigtails she had loved but would gradually alienate. She smelt of lily and nutmeg and rose. Her crinkling voice awoke the world like everyday sun. She paused, in front of an anthill. A frisson shook her spine, but not her form. Behind her closed eyes, she saw ants creep up her arm. Her hands turned cold. Her toes dug into the soft soil. With slow but sure steps, she backtracked, and ran home.

I tore my eyes from her retreating body and examined her now obscured footprints.

Where had she been going?

Maybe it was the giant rain tree in the distance, whose rough bark comforted like a pair of warm worn hands. Maybe it was the mountain range beyond, peeping from behind the willowy clouds and papery mist. Or maybe, there was nowhere, just distance. Whichever the case, she was disappointing.

She beseeched me to tell you this, remember her for the first paragraph. Standing on the typewriter, I wondered if we would hear from her again?

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We don’t know how to spend our time

When I look outside my closed, shut windows, I see windows from the opposite side. Rows of four and columns of three, tinted shadows fall on me. Seaweed green, mauve-grey cloudy, a faded pumpkin orange – these lights are shining, the rest are dark abysses, inside with small humans prowling. Colourful lights, a tease of magic –what are the possibilities that of fourteen windows – four I cannot see – four wear distinct tints? Little humans, whom I cannot see, I imagine the lives you lead. The working mother, a grocery shop cashier, trying to make ends meet. She returns home daily to a roomful of cartons, boxes preserved in place of shelves. Or the taxi driver uncle, he wears a faded white polo, whose threads are sparse, lopsided from the weight of cigars. Of all the lives I am not living, how many will they live? Of all the lives we could be living, how many will the average man lead? For most of us, I am afraid, the answer is not many.

the same thing in perhaps a more readable form:

When I look outside my closed, shut windows,
I see windows from the opposite side.
Rows of four and columns of three, tinted shadows fall on me.

Seaweed green, mauve-grey cloudy,
a faded pumpkin orange –
these lights are shining,
the rest are dark abysses, inside
with small humans prowling.

Colourful lights, a tease of magic –
what are the possibilities
that of fourteen windows –
four I cannot see –
four wear distinct tints?

Little humans, whom I cannot see,
I imagine the lives you lead.

The working mother, a
grocery shop cashier,
trying to make ends meet.
She returns home daily
to a roomful of cartons, boxes
preserved in place of shelves.

Or the taxi driver uncle, he
wears a faded white polo,
whose threads are sparse, lopsided
from the weight of cigars.

Of all the lives I am not living,
how many will they live?
Of all the lives we could be living,
how many will the average one lead?
For most of us, I am afraid,
the answer is not many.

lol, so it did end up being a poem, even though I set out to write prose. haha. also it’s quite funny how without any larger rigid plan I appear to be mostly on a mostly weekly basis.

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I step on the petals of yesterday,
admiring overhead,
wondering about the flowers tomorrow.

~cherry blossoms. ~

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Déja vu

The previous night, an insufferable numbing pain attacked my right arm. Half crawling, I stumbled out of the (dirty) blue eight-persons tent, into which my group had the poor judgement to pack eight people when the recommended number was four to six.

The sea breeze blew outside the stuffy tent (1). The sky shone a feast of myriad stars that my myopic eyes, unaided by spectacles, were surprised to glean. It was only around 11.30pm. I thought I had slept for a longer time.

In a half-lucid daze, Celeste (2) and I sat ourselves on the cool, damp rocks by the coast along which our tents were pitched. I lamented about the pain in my arm, the desire to seek her empathy wrestled with the desire to not appear too whiny. I conjectured about the unbearable pain – a pain that simultaneously wrenched my muscles and scraped my bones’ insides :

  1. dengue fever (aching bones are symptoms, supposedly)
  2. insect repellent poisoning (the ventilation was severely inadequate and the tent had reeked of insect repellent)
  3. poor blood circulation from the small cramped space

Celeste assured me with her specific amused laughs that it was probably the third. (3)

“I’ve camped at this campsite before (4),” I told her.

So had she.

We had camped there together, under a same programme, but in different groups.

***

At Pulau Ubin, there was this Marina-Barrage-like-gantry near the mangroves. I lacked the vocabulary to describe it, but I would recognise it if I returned again. Six years ago during Primary 5 camp, I had walked by the same gantry. The memory – salient because the instructor was explaining some fun fact I had now forgotten.

Older now, I walked by the gantry.

As if warped through a tesseract, I was transported to six years ago. I found myself walking alongside my shorter, younger self. A pink Dora (?) sling bag hung across my body and bounced uncomfortably against my leg. (5)

I viscerally recalled those Primary school days – the person, the outdoor cooking, the Cat High boy (6) who gave me a blackberry Eclipse mint.

The gantry seemed different now. If, at least, relatively shorter.

***

“There was this guy who gave me an Eclipse mint,” I told Celeste. “I don’t know why I am telling you this.. but I remember being very happy,” I told Celeste, qualifying my statements, to avoid her presumptuously assuming anything (7).

If she had been judging me, despite weary mental faculties, she kept her judgements silent.

Celeste counted the airplanes that departed miles away (8); I talked about things, facing the other direction.

We discussed the physics of uncannily parallel waves. We formed no conclusion, simply considered the unexplained phenomenon intriguing, and imperfectly satisfying. I explained to her how tides rise and recede. We looked for the moon and found it hiding behind some trees.

On the sea’s surface, lights from a giant island in front of us reflected long discontinuous needles that reached for us.

“Why are these reflections so straight?” I asked.

Celeste did not know.

Looking around, I saw similar light needles extending towards me from nearby cargo ships.

“Hey, I think they point towards me!” I pleasantly exclaimed at my discovery. I shifted to my right, and my hypothesis verified when the beams accorded their trajectory to my position.

A pause.

Déja vu.

“I feel like I’ve asked the same question before,” I told Celeste, “and I’ve come to the same conclusion.”

Another pause (9).

“I’m not quite sure, though,” I added a caveat, so Celeste would not think I was being weird, “perhaps my incoherent mind is tricking me, perhaps we’d stayed out for too long.”

I was privately certain it was déja vu.

Was there a rekindled (or reconstructed?) memory I had almost forgotten?

***

For some reason (10), when I returned from camp, I ended up looking at photos from my Secondary 4 days. My schoolmates and I had all looked so “fetus” – innocent gazes on baby faces instead of current (11) sullen, (12) stubborn visages.

Scrolling through square photos, my lack of social life acutely pierced my awareness. Endless feeds of group photos without me, private lunches I was not invited to, birthday dedications not for me filled the screen. Involuntarily, I wished I could go back in time and right my social awkwardness.

In futile vain.

Have I permanently lost out on something.

***

There are places I’ve once known. There are places I cannot return to. Each time snapshots of the past crash into me in unexpected meetings, nostalgia and wistfulness rock me in bittersweet pangs of vivid recollections or déja vu’s.

I cling onto them, desperately.

***

“Life is not the stations, but the train,” a confidante once told me.

Life is not the various places I’ve passed on the way, but it is the journey?

***

Have courage to move on. (13)

***

Just slightly, I am reassured by how I continue to cherish my memories all the same regardless of their inchoate, clumsy forms. Even when they are shamefully flawed – my unflattering social life –  I would hold on to them.

Subconsciously, I hope it meant my imperfect selves are worth keeping.

***

Tonight, my brain attempts to weave the nonsense I’m spewing into coherent writing.

I miss my younger selves; I miss the days I’ve had; I miss the CCAL camp that has just ended (which I partially disliked because of 26++ sandfly bites and uncomfortable “5-star accommodations”); I miss my friend(s) I can no longer say hi to (15).

But analogous to my disjointed existence whose gaps I flour over with a vague sense of continuity, I conjoin disparate anecdotes in this post with feelings of impulsivity.

It’s imperfect,
but I move on.

In the days to come, I know I would appreciate this (16).

I am (17) now.

——

*written from memory and may have been wilfully edited, subconsciously.

(1) To be honest, I probably was positioned in one of the nicer spots in the tent, being directly in front of the small slit of ventilation from the uncovered fly net. But my arm was in excruciating pain – I was close to crying, except I couldn’t seem to tear though I wanted to.

(2) I’m still undecided if I should use her real name – but you won’t know either way..

(3) At this point, I am probably launching into irrelevant details (the three reasons), but since I am documenting the event, I might as well try to preserve the interesting bits of memory, for myself – just in case i forget and irrevocably lose them..

(4) It was probably ‘Actitude’ camp from P5.

(5) I was also probably wearing the hand-me-down bermudas from Charlene. There was one pink and one and mint one, I’m not sure which.

(6) –

(7) –

(8) she counted to seven, I think? we eventually stopped.

(9) at this point I must remark that Celeste had been really quiet

(10) a product of stalking pretty people, and one thing led to another.

(11) the post got prematurely published at this point because it is 11.59pm and I really want to publish a post on 1 June.

(12) lack of sleep, i tell you.

(13) when you have to

(14 is skipped just to make a statement about the significance of 15)

(15) it’s now a secret … (random add-it from 3 June: “because I always say bye first” > which isn’t true anymore but heh)

(16) if just because it is a starting point to begin writing, to sculpt and chip at my inchoate writing form instead of letting it be fettered by fear and eventually atrophy from disuse – like my now-non-existent speaking skills as demonstrated from CCAL camp

(17) fill in the adjective: ready? braver? older? bolder?

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