Letter #11

Dear Love,

The living room is dark, except for the grey light streaking in through the windows. It is quiet, bare of the usual tv chatter, and almost still except for the pattering rain outside. The storm has lightened. You are asleep next to me, curled like a child.

It is oddly comforting to watch your chest rise and fall in a steady rhythm. I love the nothingness of this moment. It feels as if we have somehow stolen away from the madness that is happening in the world right now. Even more so, it feels as if I am finally able to catch a breather from the perpetual restlessness that my mind is in. I wish I could bottle this moment up.

Don’t get me wrong though. I love the rough sweaty moments when our kisses are interrupted only by the need for air. I also love the hours we spent cooking together, dancing through greasy fumes and tantalising aromas. But this moment speaks of a comfort with each other that needs neither effort nor thought.

I am tempted to kiss your cheeks right now, but I won’t because I don’t want to wake you.

My heart is happy. I hope yours is too.

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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.

Letter #9 Hello 2017

I have been thinking long and hard about how I want 2017 to be. Unlike convention, I did not begin the year with a piece brimming with naive hope and optimism. Ignorance is a bliss I lost last year, although I cannot bemoan the clarity that it has given me.

Today marks slightly more than a week after the new year. In this brief week, I have felt the brevity of life. (Qian Yi, we were not close friends but your warmth and exuberance is something that I will always remember. I am not religious, but I pray nonetheless that you find yourself in a better place now). I have witnessed the beginning of a lifelong unity, of participants who were thrown together in the most random of circumstances after bearing through the tribulations of youth. And then there was my first kite flying experience. I was reminded briefly of the joys of running barefoot in the soft grass, the warm sun dancing on our skins as the wind ruffles our hair; a picture perfect moment of untethered youth.

Live well, laugh often, love well – maybe those overpriced inspirational posters do have a point. Perhaps then, I should dedicate this year to exploration. Instead of chasing after vague goals, and running after a perfection that does not exist, I will commit to figuring out what kind of person I would like to be, the kind of values that I want to live by, and the kind of relationships that I would like to develop.

I will breathe, and count to ten whenever I feel overwhelmed.

I will cherish my body for what it allows me to do, and nourish it without dousing every bite with guilt.

I will hug, and hug often.

I will give praise with sincerity and without restraint.

I will celebrate my strengths, and know that they are not diminished by my weaknesses.

I will learn to accept the fallibility of humans.

I will be brave. I will be brave.

Letter #8

I saw a couple on the train today. There was nothing special about them, to be very honest. He was in black gym shorts and a loose shirt, typical of the boys in humid Singapore. She was in a white dress and a blue cardigan, a modest outfit but nondescript nonetheless. They would have been easy to miss, had my senses been distracted by a book or a podcast as I usually am while travelling.

In that moment though, they had my attention.

Some people are discomfited by public displays of intimacy. I however enjoy them, not in a perverse way, but rather that in the hustle and bustle of my life, they are an unexpected reminder about the wonderful connections between people. A mother cooing to her baby, a friend leaning in for a whispered secret; these strangers were in their own worlds and I am happy enough as a spectator.

He had his arms comfortably around her waist. Even though all I could see was his back, I sensed that his eyes were closed, as hers was. The two of them seemed oblivious to the pressing crowd in the town-bound train.

The girl’s arms were wrapped tightly around the neck of the guy, her head buried deep in his chest. I wondered if she was inhaling his scent, the way I do with Justin as if with each deep breath I can hold on to a little more of him.

As the train slowed to a stop at the Cityhall station, she looked up and smiled. He bent down for a kiss. Nothing inappropriate, just a quick peck.

And just as quickly as it happened, the magical moment was over. She bent down to pick up her bag, at the same time he fished his phone out of his pocket. Not two seconds later, she had also taken her own phone from the bag. Unconscious habits, type type typing away. The two of them stepped out of the train, one in front of the other, almost as if they were strangers that happened to share the same space. Where hands and eyes were locked in embrace moments ago, they were now busy with something else altogether.

 

Letter #7

Dear Mom,

My tattoo started a conversation.

Last night, you caught a glimpse of it as I was changing out of a dress that you were going to alter. I guess it was naive to think I could hide my body from you. We share too many intimate moments.

I had my defence ready – I was an adult; it is only a small, inconspicuous one; everyone has one nowadays. But what I really meant to say was getting a tattoo was not an act of rebellion. It was a way of reclaiming myself, a simultaneous act of strength and solace in the wake of the madness that is 2016.

I told you how your neediness was smothering me. It was callous, but I couldn’t lie anymore. For all my talk about inspirational women, girl power and what not, I wanted my mom to be someone I could emulate. I wanted you to show me that our worth is not valued by the perception of others, even if I already knew that in my heart.

It was an hour of verbal diarrhoea. I took my glasses off, partly because they were foggy from my tears, but mostly because I could not bear to see how my words cut you. I paced the room, back and forth, up and down, because if I kept still for one moment my thoughts would collapse as easily as a house of cards. I gasped for air between words.

You were mostly quiet through my tirade. After the whole episode, you told me you loved me no matter what. I was confused. How could that be your only response, when I had pretty much just said you were not enough? In that moment, I truly appreciated the depth of mama bear’s love for me.

There I was, being selfish. All I could think about, all I could say, was me me me. I felt this, I wanted that, I need you to be like this. Yet all you wanted was for me to know that I was loved, regardless my thoughts of you.

It was never your own need that you cared for. It was your way of protecting my fragile ego. In that moment, I realised that while I was resenting you for your lack of courage, you were the one who has all the grace.

Letter #5

I think I cursed myself the moment I announced to the world that I wanted to be a writer. I set an expectation, and then worried that I was not good enough to meet it.

I have all these words in me, but I hesitate to write them. I want to write about that old man in the train, fingers clutching a pink backpack that is entirely incongruous to his neat button down and sensible black shoes. I want to talk about the little girl next to him, pigtails slightly askew after what I guess was a busy day at school. She is chattering on about something, face plastered to the glass even though there is only black in the underground tunnel. The old man is clearly inattentive, but his affection for the girl cannot be denied. It is in the way he places a protective handle gently over her when the train jerks to a sudden stop.

I want to write about the Bangladeshi man who sits tentatively on the edge of the seat. His clean but worn buttoned-down shirt, frayed jeans, and dusty sandals peg him as a worker. The hesitation is all over his face. He knows he has to be the first to stand up if someone wants a seat. Despite all the campaigns and reassurances, he is aware of the prejudices. Skins make statements. He scrolls through his phone, an almost prehistoric Nokia that displays only monochromatic colours. Is he reading messages from his family, or work notices from his boss? His face is a blank, and I cannot discern a thing.

And there is more. I want to write about how the wind brushes my face when I cycle. How it caresses my cheek, but only if I keep moving, moving. About the sun that warms my skin, just enough to leave an odd tan by the shirt line, but not enough to burn. As a child, I used to go down the slopes in a free fall, legs off the pedal as the ground rushes up to meet me. Now thrill is replaced slightly by caution, and I grip the brakes just a little to slow the wheels. As I cycle along, well paved roads give way to gravel. The way is still clear – after all I am not the first traveller along the path and I am far from the last. But it is clear that I am out of the city. The trees along the way are no longer planted at  deliberate distances. They are unruly, a hodgepodge of species that came together to create a patchy ceiling that filters sunlight in uneven bursts. The crickets are calling. Their cries are distinct, even through the gaggle of school children that rides by me. Don’t they only come out at night? The bicycle bumps along the unpaved roads, a city bike not meant for the roughness.

And I am a city girl, unprepared for the vast unknown.

Letter #4

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A list to close 2016:

  • Find your strengths, and accept your weaknesses.
  • Settle into a job that you love. Apply and apply. Don’t take rejections personally.
  • Start on the newsletter. Write an article. Have at least 4 pieces to edit by January.
  • Have an honest conversation with the boy. The time for pretences is over.
  •  Tell my parents that I love them. Accept that they are fallible  creatures, as are you.

2016 has been one heck of a year.

Just a few brief months into the year, I have had to learn to take charge of the chaos that is life, even as I realised that I was not ready to release the reins of childish ignorance.

One thing that I am certain though, is that I cannot go through my days with bated breath. I will not mar good days with the worry that bad days will inevitably follow. They will come, without a doubt. But I will handle them with my head held high. Deep breaths. Take the plunge.

I will do all things with guts, and with grace.