In this creative response, Gauri Kumar reflects on the rapid transformation of Singapore and the nature of transient ex-pat living.
On a bus. Just past the window, the world’s awash in butterscotch. Bike paths and highway exits and multi-storey carparks draw me back into a pocket of time in between Before and When and I push my nose up against the glass trying to dissolve in the past.
Five, six, seven summers ago, these stooping structures slashed the sky in two. Five, six, seven summers ago these streets were a home, not a childhood home four times removed. Cycling through tableaus of the familiar drenched in daybreak at forty five kilometres an hour, and I’ve never felt so lost: every recollection is a speed-bump gone over too fast.
The big-kids swing set, with chipping paint and squeaky hinges is gone, replaced with a new, more garish model. And my stomach drops. The park across the road’s covered in cigarette butts and crushed beer cans, from friends who never stopped playing there but changed their definition of playing instead. And my stomach drops. Every best-friend-forever-and-ever-ad-infinitum’s been stolen away by work visas, every red string of fate is a frayed end and an unsent text now.
And my stomach drops, and it keeps dropping, and I realise that this is not a pocket of time anymore, nothing fits into place like it used to— like it’s supposed to be. It’s not a mosaic, it’s millions of fragments scattered through time, and I’ve been sat on the floor trying to piece them together.
It’s rough and jagged and all wrong. It’s not Then anymore, not Before or When. It’s Now.
And I get off the bus.