Letter #10

Dear Uncle on the Bus,

You sat a seat away from me on the bus. Unlike the usual Singaporean way of averting all gaze with strangers, you smiled and acknowledged my presence.

At first glance, you seemed like any Chinese Uncle: ruffled salt and pepper hair, well-worn cotton shirt, black Kangaroo pants that I have come to associate with my own uncles. Even your silver-strapped watch with its yellowing face marked you as a man from that particular generation.

Yet you were not quite the same. Your eyes, they were severely crossed. And your words came out in a slurry tumble.

When you first mumbled to signal for my attention, I thought you were trying to ask for directions. You pointed at your notepad, and then out the frosted window of the bus. I leaned closer for a better look and was surprised by the string of numbers written neatly in green marker. Each number was perfectly rounded, their edges sharp; evidence of the painstaking effort you took to form each digit.

You pointed again in seemingly greater urgency. Notebook, window, notebook. I gave you a thumbs up, and you seemed encouraged by my response. Our interaction repeated back and forth throughout the 20min ride. You gave me the same expectant look each time you finished writing. I nodded and smiled, mostly to be polite, but my mind was wildly guessing where you had pulled the numbers from.

Where is the pattern? Did your crossed sight train you to make keener observations than our normal, complacent eyes? Are these numbers part of a memory? I even considered you might be an undiscovered mathematician, waiting for the right person to recognise your genius!

A man on my other side tells me I am the first person this whole time to acknowledge your attempts at making conversation (yes, I see that this is your way of conversing). He explained that you board the bus at Chinatown, and ride all the way to Hougang nearly every night, always looking for someone to show your work. In that hour long journey, you never stop writing. You, in that notepad, with your green marker. He joked about his not-so-secret hope that you were a seer with the winning numbers to the lottery.

To be honest, I was startled by your misaligned gaze at first. To be even more honest, I hesitated slightly before sitting next to you. I am however now glad I did.

It was evident from your cheerful demeanour that although you craved human interaction, you meant no harm (and that is more than what you can say about other lonely old men). In that swell of tired people on the bus, most of whom had their faces plastered to their phones, you kept me from staying in my isolated bubble.

So thank you, uncle, for that interesting bus ride. I hope you find whatever it is that you are looking for in your impeccable green numbers.


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