#1: Composition on an Unplanned Walk Home

Sunday / 19 May 2013 / 6 pm / Along Bukit Timah Road, Singapore

She took a different bus route home, not by choice or sudden whim, but to avoid the – at this point she really had no qualms about resorting to a cliche – numberless horde. Mentally, she ascribed no race or nationality to them, merely occupation, for even in her head she strained to be politically correct, to resist that virulent strain of xenophobia to which so many had succumbed. That was the only quality that bound them, the ones who spent their Sundays off on the same stretch of road as the rest of their seemingly homogeneous domestic sisterhood.

In fact, she realised that the route was geographically shorter, though it required two buses and a short walk in between. It bypassed her old school, and she quickly suppressed the uneasy recollection that it had been more than ten years since she last referred to it as her new school.

The sunlight was golden with the promise of brevity, and pretty enough to be almost convincing in its attempt to make everyone forget that it was the daily cause of long periods of torturous baking. She decided to believe the sun’s innocuousness, this time, and eschewed the second bus. The distance she would have to walk was a distance at which many of her peers would surely balk – the mere prospect of any physical movement in the humidity, let alone the sun, no matter how low and how golden, seemed to diminish their very air-conditioned beings.

Yet again, she stumbled on the feeling of being profoundly alone. She hated herself for using the word “profound”; its poetic flexibility was too convenient to be anything other than a void. What exactly did it mean? Deep, vast, beyond comprehension, beyond words – a word to mean beyond words, an admission of failure? She reminded herself that the greatest of writers – as if she could be one of them! – used the word too, and she wondered if they hated themselves for it, and raised their hands in defeat and involuntary pause from their pens and papers, typewriters, laptops, tablets, or whatever it is that people wrote with these days. She wondered if they, too, simultaneously experienced that literary self-loathing, and the reluctant acknowledgment that “profound” was suitably, undeniably, profound, and no other word could take its noble place.

Pausing to wipe the sweat from her face, she was slightly disgusted and surprised to find that the earnest sun and humidity, its humble companion, had engendered a significant amount of gravity-defying liquid deposit at the nameless underbelly of chin-meets-neck. Had she mentioned that she was profoundly alone? She had forgotten that brief yet familiar epiphany back when she lost herself in an introspective analysis of that adverb. Funny that it had to be in adverb form and not mere adjective, as if the state of solitude had any hint of movement. Alone – being alone – well, it was a continuous state of being hopelessly alive, she guessed. Again she distracted herself from the idea, as if she was already so accustomed to its surfacing that it failed to arrest all other thoughts in its wake. She was really quite fine with it, most of the time, but didn’t know how to express it in a way that would not prompt others to pity her, “this poor, desperate girl who, by accepting her loneliness, was trying to hide it in plain sight.”

A narrative had been crafted, a mere ghost of a narrative. There was no way to neatly conclude a short boat ride down the indulgent stream of consciousness. What else was there to say? She had weaved together those strange little vignettes – of buses, of sunlight, of profundity, and of walks – in what she thought was a vague sense of connectivity that merely displayed how her mind could wind from thought to thought without so much as a breather or an inkling of logic.

And with that, she arrived home.

Berny Tan