Train doors open and loud brash slippers clamber towards the seat across me. I look up at once, on guard. The first thing I notice is the giant white paper cone; long, thick, dark green stems with fresh slender leaves peek out from the slit. The middle-aged, incredibly tanned woman struggles with the metre-long cone and plops down, her two bulky red plastic bags carelessly dropped on the adjacent seat. Bottles of fresh milk, packets of salt or sugar. "谢谢光临," the plastic bags say in serif font. Two seconds of silence. The woman tries to set the clumsy cone in a more comfortable position - between her legs, beside her thighs. Paper crinkling. Her left hand takes it from her right, and she decides to hold it upright, almost austere if you ignored her slouch and her legs spread comfortably apart. You almost can't see her denim shorts. She doesn't give a shit what you think. Silence, save the humming of the train. A weird bulge hidden underneath her loose sleeveless top, it can't be her tummy, it can't be the way she's sitting - I'm perplexed, until she gets out a wad of five-dollar notes from her pocket. Ah. A fanny pack. Of course. She counts them with one hand and then puts them back. Silence. Her feet slide outwards and then in again, a little slipper-stomp, restless, as the train hums on. Watching her makes me feel restless, too - I've been on the train for half an hour without a book; my phone is dead; I'm half-considering getting out three stops early to walk home just so I don't need to be sitting still for another five minutes.
The train comes to a sleepy halt at Clementi, pauses, takes off again as it announces its next stop. She gets up abruptly, plastic bags and paper cone. Gets to the train doors on my left in three large climbing strides, as if she's tackling a mountain. Her legs actually look like they could belong to a high school netballer. They're slim and toned, even more tanned than the rest of her, not a golden glow but a somewhat dull dark tint, sun-charred. Her feet, though, are scarred with an undefined number of little discoloured irregular spots, bearing testament to hard things dropped or hot liquid accidentally spilt through the years. Metallic silver polish on neatly cut toenails. Suddenly she turns and hastes towards the train door on my right instead. The train zooms into Jurong East then slows, slows, comes to a complete stop; half the people in my carriage get out of their seats and wait at the doors. As soon as they open the crowd runs in hurried streams to the train on the opposite platform - it's probably the last one for the night. I still catch sight of that stark white cone. It floats past the barrier and the woman finds a seat right at the centre of my line of vision, her back facing me, her cone still being held upright like the torch of Lady Liberty.
Jul 20, 2016
Cecilia runs over in a grey crop top, tight knee-length skirt and shiny black flats. I should have told her that I was planning to take her to the seaside. When she gets into the car I'm surprised: glittery eyeshadow, beautifully done eyeliner, lipstick that looks really good on her. All dolled up at 11.30pm. "Looking good!" I marvel. "My roommate was like, why are you so dressed up at this time of night, I was like, it's my birthday, indulge me, okay?"
In the car she plays Like A G6 and Justin Bieber's Sorry and we both sing along, unashamed. She's never been to Labrador Park, but she told me she wanted to go somewhere with water. (I was confused: "a water cooler? A vending machine?") We get out of the car and the salty wind greets us, caresses our faces, tousles our hair. Bright lights from the oil refinery island beyond. Songs are still blasting from her phone; we sit facing the sea. "Oh my gosh, I'm spending midnight of my eighteenth with you!!! I don't think I've ever celebrated at midnight outside before. I'm usually just sleeping." I open a bag of potato wheels but when I attempt to reach for my laptop the entire packet falls on the floor and it's all gone. "Should we let the fish eat them?" she asks, and throws a cupped handful of wheels into the water, white dots being carried by the wind. "oh no, it's still too close to the shore, I think we should stop." "It's at night, they can't see them!!" Bending over guffawing at the ridiculousness of it all.
We bin the rest of it and take a walk eastward, pop music announcing our arrival to the lizards and trees. "No fishing" signs, but the old men clearly don't care. "Which part of 'No Fishing' don't they understand," she grumbles. We stop at a lookout point. "Please don't let there be people," but there is, a middle-aged man with a rod. "Ugh." We occupy the space anyway. She's having a hard time finding a comfortable position with her skirt, so she lies down. "Oh my God can you help me take a Tumblr picture!!! HA. Forgive me, I'm being such a teenager." I open the camera app on her phone; no more music now, just the sound of iPhone camera snaps. She peruses the pictures - "I look like I'm dead!! Okay take me sitting up instead." "Your label is showing." She adjusts her skirt, but allows the small of her back to show. More photos in landscape, up close, in monochrome. I play with the camera angle so that the fishing uncle at the back doesn't get in the picture. "Oh the clouds behind you look really good," I notice, and snap a few candid shots of her with the sky. "Oi! Stop it! Stop taking! Unglam!" She laughs, snatches the phone from me.
Three boys come over with fishing rods. I notice that she isn't talking anymore. She keeps her gaze low, sits up straight, adjusts and readjusts her skirt from the back. She doesn't want anything to show anymore. I don't pay any attention to our intruders at first, but when I notice her discomfort I take a better look at them. Spectacles, caps, a kopitiam cup. Their fishing rods are still in their cases; they look out to the sea and assess the waves in soft, casual conversation. They look younger than me, and harmless. I realise how trusting I am of Singapore, how I project my own innocence and my narrow perception of Singaporean society on the strangers around me. But Cecilia hasn't been saying a word. She's still adjusting her skirt, keeping her gaze down. "Wanna go?" I ask. "Yeah." Her strides are long and quick, even in her tight skirt, even with her blistered foot.