Every morning, I get up at 8am. This used to be unthinkable; lately people tell me it’s a luxury. I don’t have to brave the sun and rain in my heels to get to the trains; I am a spoilt child through and through, and my mother drives me there, for all of two minutes. Sometimes she feels charitable and I get driven all the way there. I am aware this is not normal. But nothing is normal lately.
Things change, as they always do. The shorts are packed away into the back of the cupboard, as are the t-shirts. The skirts are tight. The shirts are tight. The pants are tight. Everything is a noose on your body, sticking close to your skin. Nothing must be out of place, though we skirt as dangerously as possible to the limit. But sitting there feels so strange. I’ve never had to sit straight in my life, walk so daintily. I’m a sprawler, who slumps on the chair and hunches as she walks. My feet break out in rashes if I wear anything other than slippers; my eczema gets worse with lack of sleep, alcohol and caffeine. None of which I can give up. None of which I can change. My doctor tells me I am allergic to my job. I laughed. Helplessly.
The mornings are precious, that first light. I live behind a school, and at 7.20 the national anthem plays. It’s been my alarm clock recently, the same way I used to live my school life around these rituals. A hand to your heart, reciting the same words morning in morning out. Listening to announcements, people barking orders. An auspicious start to the day, and a characteristic one. The trains are surprisingly bearable, though there are days when inconsiderate people are also noisy and sweaty, and everybody gets pissed off. There are days when there are no hand-holds, and every second is a balancing exercise amongst other people. To see who can touch the other less. We are lucky that, in this country, nobody really thinks about taking advantage of anybody. Or it could be that everyone attractive also drives. Which is also usually the case in the business district.
I walk the same route everyday, just as everyone else does. I walk it on Mondays and Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Not on Saturdays and Sundays because I drive, or I don’t appear at all. I walk past a green field with a stage at the far end, and benches lining the grass. In Singapore this qualifies as a park. There is also a little grass-covered mound where a cat naps every morning. In nursery rhymes it’s where Miss Muffet sits, eating her curds and whey. In other countries there are other mounds, dotting the landscape as the heather blows in the wind. In Singapore this qualifies as a political microphone. A citizen’s microphone. Every morning I imagine someone standing on it, his back to the board where there is a list of regulations spelt out. Every morning I imagine him talking to nobody, his speech drifting up to the people on the tallest floors. I imagine his words bouncing off the glass windows, tumbling down to the ground, where they roll forlornly at his feet. There are only buildings. The cat continues napping.
Things change, as they always do. As they always have. I begin to understand the ramifications of changing just one word in an entire sentence, though it was something I always knew. Nothing you really know prepares you for what you don’t understand, and there is so much. Every day you make mistakes. Every day you are allowed to make less mistakes. Every day the files pile up.
Now I understand, though I always knew. I talked about it a lot in the days when I stayed up at 3am to study and went back to school on Sundays. Nothing changes, like it should. Nothing has changed, as it should have. To be honest, I was prepared for a lot worse. I’ve prepared myself beyond belief. That the days will be long, the hours longer. The nights will always be dark and then light, as the morning comes. That I will not see anybody anytime anywhere. That there will be packed lunches, cold dinners, empty beds. Deadlines. Dead lines. That shitty words get thrown around like toys, so easily and childishly. That life will be as bad as I can make it out to be, and everything that can wrong will go wrong. But I have a habit of depressing expectations; anything good becomes better because of it. I also have a habit of disappointing expectations. Everything that could go wrong has already gone wrong. (The worst words are “has the potential to do better”. “You’re good, but…”. “More”. “If only you…”. “If you tried”. “If you bothered”. The worst: “if you cared”.)
Nothing’s too bad now, but I made it that way. I could be unhappier. I could have been more bitter, more upset. But the hours are manageable, and the work, though difficult, is at least not boring. The people could be less nice. We are still friends. I get to wear tank tops to work. There is $4 pasta at the hawker centre nearby. People still call me out for lunch. And dinner, and beer. I’m the lowest life form, but I won’t always be. I’m stupid, but I won’t always be. I’m not the happiest, but I won’t always be. We’re young and we won’t always be. I’m a sailer. (This is deliberately misspelt, and I felt the need to point that out.) I’m a sailer. I will take anything you throw at me, and I will sail through it. My life is going to be built on fucking fortitude. WHEE.