How we used to love those evening outings, traipsing through
back alleys to reach the open fields two streets away.
Our troupe, monkey-limbed and messy-haired,
armed with badminton rackets, and enough
shuttlecocks, to lose them all in that hour of play
before dusk fell and dinner began.

Sometimes we traded our rackets for rougher
games of catch, scrambling and screaming
as we sprang amongst our clutch of cousins,
counting out in our childish voices
“Pepsi Cola One-Two-Three!”,
the standard precursor to any good game.

Occasionally, finding a fallen coconut on the green,
we scooped it up, raced home, harassed an adult to hack
open its unyielding husk. Crowding round, we took turns
slurping up the cool sweetness before scraping with spoons
its tender white flesh, eating savagely like feral children,
licking lips in sated disappointment when there was
Nothing left (to consume).

I mourned when they fenced off the fields,
wanting to keep it pristine for club cricketers.
But not as much as I mourned the loss of Grandma’s
House. That stalwart residence at the corner of
Tessensohn Road, anchor to my childhood, levelled,
transformed, now untended grass with a
“No Trespassing” sign.

A field returned, but no longer mine.

(Jan 2015)

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The ellipses trot out across the screen,
a visual hang
like our conversation spread
across two continents
separated by oceans and time differences and
god knows how many air miles.

Technology closes the gap they say
now we can talk anytime
as long as there’s wifi.

But you’re in backcountry now
traipsing over rocky mountains
camping in the open air
walking miles without data
only you and the world beneath your feet
and a perhaps a grumpy french gentleman or two,
stories you’ll relate when you get back

on the grid
of modern civilization, the one
I’m nestled amongst,
bright lights and the constant buzz of information
never silent, never alone,
wondering about the paths you’ve taken
in that strange old silent world
that I sometimes forget exists.

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Fireworks were never the same after that night.

I remember all of us, crowded on the apartment’s rooftop, just a few streets across Kallang Stadium. It was National Day, the celebration had reached its climax, soon would come fireworks.

We rushed up the roof, the patter of our feet interrupting the strains of national day songs floating across from the stadium.

Our eyes searched the horizon. We saw blazing spotlights staining the stadium red, blue, green, rainbow. Patriotic melodies drifted from television sets in countless nearby homes, weaving harmoniously with the live audio coming from the stadium.

Whispers rang amongst us. “Is it going to start? How long more?” Anticipation coiled in our stomachs.

“Shhhh!” I implored, “It’s starting soon!”

Then, the first pop. Red. A dazzling flash of light and colour exploded in the sky. So large, the largest I had ever seen. Cheers rang out from the stadium. I screamed in delight, clapping my hands, mouth agape in wonder.

More explosions followed. Lights of various shapes and sizes, stars, the crescent moon, a hundred and one spirograph patterns. I, who had not seen much of fireworks at all till that day, and never as close – forgot to breathe, watching the sky sizzle in such heated cacophony. We were high up – 20 storeys in the air, night sky wrapped around us.  Two of us, surrounded by our friends, exclaiming “Wah! Wah! Wah!”  in time to the flowering explosions.

I remember that moment. All of us drunk on the mere splendour of the fireworks, of our youth, of the possibilities that awaited us.

In that instant, I forgot about you, sitting with the rest of the boys on the water tank – even higher than where I was standing. I was jumping, exclaiming, crying even, at the sheer majesty of the spectacle. My back was to you, my eyes didn’t search you out, they were glued to the sky, to the night blooming flowers that lived and died so gloriously in a blaze of light and sound. I was young then, I thought they were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

When the fireworks wilted into nothingness, the ashy air the only evidence they had ever existed at all, my head cleared, and I remembered you; your seething, sad eyes that had watched me the entire night. I looked into them, and I smiled. My heart gave a hiccup. That was the beginning.

I have seen my fair share of fireworks after that night. They never felt as glorious, nor were they able to quiet the secret knot of disappointment nestled in my gut. Nowadays, they no longer fire up fireworks from Kallang Stadium, and your eyes no longer watch me as they did that long ago night. That night, when we were young and foolish, and the world seemed full of possibility.


-First published on Writing the City, 2011

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