“No one there now.”
Note: Singlish is used in this story
I try to go home to Singapore once every year or so, to hang out with the parents when they’re not jetsetting off to Copenhagen to babysit Emily my niece. I also like how I can just throw dirty clothes on the floor and they fold themselves and become clean by the next day. Because Singapore is family time, I only occasionally take taxis (or Ubers.) But my last trip home was different. My grandmother who raised me had died the year before, and it was hard being with my family, so I withdrew. I didn’t try to shake off jetlag and kept strange hours, I went on long solitary runs in reservoirs at 6 in the morning, I read and I tried to write. And then late one night at 2AM, I had a sudden desire to go to Punggol.
We lived in a bungalow in Punggol by the sea when I was growing up. We used to be able to walk to the beach, not so much now with all the new development. It wasn’t a nice beach, by far, but it was the highlight of my day to grab my bucket, accost my mother when she got out of the car after work, and streak down the treacherous path between brambles to the beach, so I could carry out productive tasks like fill buckets with sea water and throw it into holes in the sand.
I didn’t trust myself to drive on the left side of the street, so I managed to find a taxi (minor miracle) and off we went. Daniel was a cheerful, middle-aged “uncle”* who might have been younger than me. He was chatty, apparently having just started his shift.
“You do what?” he asked.
I lied and said I was a teacher. For once, I wasn’t interested in questions, and I didn’t feel like explaining my job.
Daniel nodded. “Teacher Good,” he proclaimed in approval.
“Thank you,” I said seriously. “Our children are our greatest resource.”
“Why you go Punggol?” he asked. “So late. Nothing nothing. No one there now.”
I explained that I used to live there, and I wanted to see how it had changed.
“Oh.” Daniel gave me a look that said he thought I was crazy. (Nostalgia doesn’t really exist in Singapore.)
“Nothing nothing,” he repeated. “So late. No one there now.“
We drove down the highways. There had been a torrential rainfall just recently and I’ve always loved the smell of rain on asphalt–product of growing up in a city, I guess–so I rolled down the window.
Daniel immediately buzzed the window back up. “Aircon,” he proclaimed, gesturing at the AC. Most Singaporeans believe that the outside air will kill you, (if the sun doesn’t first.) I tend to have the same belief as well, just not that night.
I gave up with the window and listened to him chatter on about what he was going to eat for breakfast. Eventually, we arrived at my childhood home. It was hard to see with just the light from the street lamps, but it looked old and rundown, very different from the modern blaze of the rest of the city. Everything looked different, not how I remembered the last time I was there, when I was only thirteen. Everything looked small. The ledge I used to stand up on to look at the ocean waves looked much lower than I remembered. The driveway was much shorter.
Daniel was getting impatient. “Go back?” he asked.
I took a minute to try to memorize how it looked now. But all I could see was my grandmother walking down the driveway in her purple blouse. Chasing after me in rage. I could remember her when my grandfather died, and she taped a photo of him over her closet mirror. I could remember her just sitting on the porch, staring.
I got back in the car.
“They’re going to tear down,” Daniel predicted. “Build new house for sure.” He reached over and turned on the radio.
I had to turn away so he couldn’t see my tears.
*”Uncle” or “Auntie” is a title you can give to virtually anyone, including complete strangers
About the artists
Dina Muhic: “I am a Bosnian-born film and television scholar based in Oregon, with a passion for studying people and places through art. Fictional characters are my favorite subjects.”
Visit Dina’s site: http://dmuhic0.wixsite.com/sometimes-i-art/fan-art
Loraine Yow is a self-taught illustrator hiding in Portland, Oregon with her outlaw cat. Her home on the web can be found at www.lolo-ology.com