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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