It was a dark night, where a week of parties and gatherings culminated in this fateful nocturne of Monday, 19th November 2001. Mother Earth sang a sad serenade so evocative of the night, a gale that howled and whistled over the eaves of our Block 20, Holland Drive, #12- 407 apartment and tried to burst through our windowpanes. Windowpanes that were to be shut forever. Holland Village twinkled in the distance.
I tore my gaze from the window and took a last walk around the house, one room to another reminiscing of events past. Those were the days of peace and delight, when I sat in the living room watching Robbie and the Book of Tales on TV12’s Kids Central. The kitchen where I cooked my first plate of maggi, and fried my first egg, however deformed was the ultimate omelette. Into my bed room I walked, and a sense of nostalgia like a torrential river threatened to pull me under, never relinquishing its grasp until I was cold and lifeless.
Sleepover night with Samuel. Mum reading me a bedtime story. Pokemon card battles with Xing Ming. Battles in the dark with my brothers. Rat- tat- tat and sounds of exploding bombs and the whistle of shrapnel. Sacrificing my comfortable bed for a night on the cold hard floor under a make-shift camp. Cuddling my favourite bunny toy as the Earth threw a tantrum, flashes and splashes in all its glory. Sitting at the table working on countless projects and innovations. Stashing chips under the bed. The vestiges of memories gone by wrapped like tendrils around my feet and threatened to engulf me.
I glanced at my watch. 7.50pm. I hefted my night bag, and retreated into the open, leaving the dense flood of memories behind. Boxes and boxes of family items were already on their way into the unknown, loaded onto a hired truck that had left a few hours prior. I had never actually thought this day would come. We talked about it, we joked about it, but it was always so far off it seemed so unreal. But now…
The bell rang, cruelly wrenching me from my trance. It was Xing Ming, my best friend since Primary 3. I was grateful for his showing up, yet saddened. This was no phantasmic illusion. It was now reality. My family was watching A War Diary. A War Diary, this was something else I was going to miss, I though wistfully.
8pm. It was time. Flicking all the switches off, and watching the lights dim one by one was like having the candles of my soul blown out. Tick, tick, tick… Deep breath in, I took my final whiff of home, holding my breath so that it would all be stored in the cavities of my lungs. But to no avail. There are some things in life we just cannot hold onto forever, and need to let go. I exhaled, but I could not let go.
The elevator pinged, and I stepped out of the apartment, letting Pa lock the gates. We squeezed into the elevator, thus began the longest elevator ride of my life. Mum made friendly conversation with Xing Ming, but nothing registered. I was still lost in deep thought. Of the times my friends and I jumped and rocked the elevator so hard it would stop for thirty seconds and resume its clockwork descent. Of the times we would bet on which landing the elevator would stop on. PING!!
Like a zombie, I dragged my feet out. We loaded all our luggage into the trunk of a waiting taxi, and as everyone got in, I turned to face my best buddy. A long wordless moment ensued, during which a million words tried to breach the space- time continuum. It was the longest, most meaningful wordless conversation we have ever had, but no one wanted to start for it would release the floodgates of emotion that would mar this final ritual. We embraced for the first and last time. Images of hop- scotch, our daily share of Twisties, badminton tourneys, track races and detentions together (because we always came into class late after PE) flashed through my mind.
Then it was over. I got into the cab, and we pulled off into the night. I looked back, and Xing Ming was still there, waving. I waved back, until the point where the taxi turned a corner, and I could see him no longer. Along the way, we drove past Ghim Moh Primary School, my second home for four years. The green fences and gate, the hall, the 2 blocks as well as the school compounds. In a flash, all these were left behind, and we sped away into the night, into whatever future holds.
It was a dark night. A dark and stormy night.
(By Joshua Ong, after a full cycle of the Chinese Lunar Calendar).