Musings / Singapore

light cannot / be bitter

– In the dark we crush, Julia Cohen

Every flight to Singapore is accompanied by a potent paranoia that I will be mired there, whether in duty or inertia or any number of other deceptively trivial, grasping things – helpless to leave, in any case. This is less logistical than merely irrational, though after that Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down above Ukraine, there were legitimate fears that flights between Europe and South East Asia would be severely affected, which did stress me out but only for the length of a news cycle. But on Monday afternoon, as I waited for my plane to take off, there was the habitual rush of mild panic, which can be described as just a constant childish tantrum of DO NOT WANT!!!!!!! in my head.

Simply landing, as the tropical humidity accosted me, provided me with the first irritation. Admittedly, returning to Singapore (I resist saying, perhaps stubbornly, more likely futilely, returning home) has been more and more bearable each time; the transition no longer feels like a slow suffocation. The weather has been muggy, though.

Amidst the foreign familiarity of it all – the cheap thrill of using the automated immigration exit in the only country I can, the gruff old woman at the drinks and fruit stall in Changi Airport T3, the line of people coming to a halt on the right side of the escalator, i.e. on the left – it feels like stepping into a rerun of a movie I’ve watched a thousand times before.

When I topped up my EZ-link card (for public transport!) yesterday, I caught myself before I could say pounds after twenty. The movie goes on.

I’d also forgotten about the little gurgling sounds of the mini-fountains in the condo pool right outside my apartment – my very own nature sounds playlist. It’s not Niagara Falls, but then I’ve never been. Possibly whatever metaphor or deep significance I’m attempting to construct would work better if I could name a similarly famous (or even just any famous) British/English waterfall, but I can’t, so this paragraph ends here.

It’s not that I miss the UK, particularly. I’ve certainly chosen not to stay there – though as choices go, this may be quite a feeble one. (I just meant to say the fountains are lovely, and it is a relief to have my pending anxiety about being in Singapore interrupted by the thought oh how lovely that is, actually.)

K has emphasized how I am at one of those unenviable liminal stages in my life. The evening before I left Oxford this time, I was packing for Singapore and Madrid simultaneously and I was trying to decide whether I should take my packet of personal letters back to Singapore and leave them there for safekeeping, or take them to Madrid with me. It was a silly question to even consider, given that there was no chance I’d have left them anywhere else but with me, which I promptly realized when I started rereading them. I’d forgotten that over Christmas while I was in Singapore, I had already done a ruthless cull, leaving behind only the most substantial of correspondence. The obligatory birthday and holiday cards, the Post-It notes – all those were left behind.

The entire enterprise made me laugh and remember and cry and think, a lot. I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few weeks, anyway, and in fact, I had already begun the old rites of departure: writing to people. But it made me consider the people that (I) have left and the people that have stayed, and how the two are actually intersecting circles in a strange and inescapable Venn diagram. I want to say: of those who are still here, I had faith all along. I want to say: of those who didn’t, I suspected as much. But that would be patently untrue, and the question keeps me up some nights.

In that packet, I’d also found unsent letters and postcards, now too embarrassingly overdue or mawkish to be sent. In one of them, I had quoted Khalil Gibran’s On Marriage, which is exquisite and I imagine will appear in some form or another in my wedding vows (should the occasion arise). This does, I realize, make it slightly awkward both that I had quoted it in the letter and that I am quoting it now – but, eh, whatever. (Suffice it to say the work is very metaphorical, and that’s how the title should also be taken!) It will work as a reminder: But let there be spaces in your togetherness // Love one another, but make not a bond of love: / Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. / Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.

I’m pretty sure I had a point to this post, but each word I write seems to lead me further and further away. I’ve had a long drought of words and this is really the second one. But I thought the first one was too weighty and I needed time to process and in the meantime, there are more things to say.

I am grateful. I suppose that’s what I’m getting at. Or I should be, which is a very different animal. (But I am.) There are a lot of little things. At home there is someone who does my laundry for me, and she got the stains out of the white shorts I had a horrific incident in. Every day, my mother asks what I’d like to eat for dinner, and not once has she mentioned my failure to graduate with a first (though it has only been two days, so that’s still time! I say that in jest.) Today I ran into a dear friend a week ahead of schedule at the MRT station by my house; I was exiting and he had just entered and I heard my name, improbably, called out across the crowd.

And then there are not-so-little things. Yesterday, I had a long, lovely talk with A over a simple meal of sweet, yolk-y buns. Each time I see her, I marvel at how so much can be sustained by so little, how both of us can change so much and yet remain steadfastly together. Nine months disappeared in the space of three hours. I am always left humbled, slightly in awe, and so, so grateful.

This is all the more important to remember because it has been so easy to forget, these recent days and weeks and even months. I met an old friend for lunch today; it had been three years, possibly four. It was pleasant, faintly nostalgic. I can’t remember why we stopped speaking all these years ago, and I don’t know why I hadn’t contacted her first. Does it matter – I mean, how we met today and not any other day?

Why, or how, do all these things happen? It’s not an unfamiliar refrain and this, the clamour in me, is the strongest it’s been in a long time. I am seeking solace in all my old comforts. Ergo, have some Richard Siken: the light is no mystery, the mystery is that there is something to keep the light from passing through and Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us / These, our bodies, possessed by light. / Tell me we’ll never get used to it.

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