We sit next to each other in the stagnant train; hands folded, shoulders touching, side by side in the empty cabin. We sit, next to each other as quiescence fills the space with a low thrum.
“Bukit Panjang Terminal” – the text scrolls across the electronic sign board – a relic from the 21st century.
I focus on the steady vibration of a dwelling train, the sheeny red plastic seats, the matte ad screen embedded in the plastic overhang above the opposite row of seats. A cheery tune – heavy on the shrill Chinese instrumental – blasts from the running ad, drilling irritation deeper into my skull. I suppress the scream rising in my throat, a contemplation of the looser corners of my mind, and focus.
Threads of conversation loop over in my brain. Is your sister still in-? Obviously, a yes. I think. My brother’s still in NS. What can she even say to that? Book recommendations, book recommendations. . . Do you still read? How’s Japanese learning going?
“They’re-“ the word comes out as a cracked whisper, softer than intended. I clear my throat.
“They’re upgrading the Downtown Line trains in December, right?”
“Oh, really? Wasn’t it upgraded a few years back?”
“Yeah, but this time they’re replacing all battery operated tech with silicon powercell tech.” I push my closed lips into a semblance of a smile.
“Ohh. . .”
“Ohh, aren’t those silicon powercells that power the teleportation modules on the trains?”
“Yes! And-“ And I would yammer on about the fascinating theories and trivia about teleportation, the physics behind the concept of blasting the molecules into subatomic particles and reconstructing them at different locations, followed by the philosophical trainwreck brainwork of identity and self behind the idea of tearing apart each molecule and stitching it back together, different but the same.
As I rummage around for more conversation starters, the ad loop resets, and the Chinese instrumental opens with a shrill clash of cymbals and plucked strings. Irritation crawls up my spine and crowds my skull.
Japan. . . Are you still planning to study in Japan? That’s a no-brainer. Do you still watch anime? Did she ever? “Ah! Do you know Yuri On Ice?”
“Departing for Cashew. In 3”
There’s a second or two of space as we reconfigure; shake out of the post-teledaze, while the reconnected nerves fire up. With gaping mouths and blank eyes, our faces, seemingly with “loading” scrawled over, morph into a lagged animation of human emotion. “Yuri On Ice? My friend is crazy about that show.”
“Did you watch?” I watch her – every twitch of facial muscles, every shift in movement, each tweak in the expression that hangs in her eyes.
“I haven’t had the time, but my friend spazzes about it all the time and shows me all sorts of fanart. I know all about the Tumblr theories. It’s about two ice skaters right?”
“Yes! Do you ship them?”
“I think they’re a cute couple. It’s a very healthy representation of how a gay relationship – any relationship actually – should be like. Did you see-”
“Departing for Hillview. In 3”
My eyebrows twitch together. “Eh, why’re you sitting over there?” I gesture towards the row of green seats across me.
“Yeah, that’s keer.”
“SMRT’s teleportation modules aren’t very reliable, are they?” I laugh. “Not like that’s any surprise.” Another laugh slips out.
I clamp my lips together, tongue between my teeth. My eyes dart up to the ad screen – “If you see any suspicious-looking person or article, please-“ – and back. The tinted window throws an image of me, dully monochrome, distorted, and nebulous.
“What did you ask me just now?”
“Oh, I was asking about the kiss.”
“Oh, the kiss? That was such a cute moment the whole fandom went nuts over it.”
“The kiss – it was a cute moment, but I just- found it. . . uncomfortable?” The last syllable hitches into a squeak.
My eyebrows hike up. “You? Found it uncomfortable?”
“Departing for Beauty World. In 3”
“Wait, what were we talking about again?” The phrase lilts up into a question.
“Umm, uhh. . .” My eyes veer to the right. “Oh! Gay stuff.” I laugh again.
“Ahh, yes. What about it again?”
“Despite our more conservative culture, I think Singapore has the social climate for LGBT persons to live comfortably, normally, without any discrimination. You see, unlike westerners, Singaporeans aren’t as strongly opinionated vocally, so even if there’re opposing views, there won’t be outright hate crimes or bullying as much as in the west. Furthermore, the collectivist outlook means that Singaporeans tend not to prioritise sticking with their views over maintaining relationships.” I would delve into a whole speech about my opinion.
I swallow and look up. “Oh hey, you’re sitting even further away now,” With a small smile, I pause, my lips parted.
“I think Singapore is pretty accepting of the LGBT community. . .”
As I open my mouth-
“Departing for King Albert Park. In 3”
“King Albert Park.”
“think Singapore is pretty accepting of the LGBT community. . . Or at least the younger generation.”
“Eeh, if you say so.” A pause. “I think most people are still pretty closeted in terms of mindset. Like, it’s not natural, y’know.”
“Wha. . .” The Chinese instrumental shoots through the fog of my thoughts.
“As in, perhaps people won’t kill or bully, but shunning and gossiping and pinpointing the divergence – yes.”
Well, enough of us are secular. I averted my eyes. “Right. . .”
“Departing for Sixth Avenue.”
“You know,” the words burst out, discordant, harsh, dying out as quickly as it came. My head tilts downward, my hair brushing past my cheeks, as I trace my bare thigh. The fine hairs stood out starkly under the unprotected light filling the cabin, every pixel of pigment distinct in the blend of skin tones.
“I’ve … I’ve always wanted to apologize for that time…” I look up.
When my eyes drift back to where she sat, the white plastic sheen curving in a grin on the veneer of the red seat, she was gone.
“I wanted to apologize about that Dana thing back when you were in Nanyang Girls’.”