This was a piece that I wrote sometime ago, at a coffee shop in Bugis, in central Singapore.
It was published both in my collection of short shorts, All the People Imagine, and in a Local literary magazine, Ceriph.
It's still one of my favourites.
Iced Honey Latte
If I had stayed at home today, I would have found a way to waste this perfect Sunday away, watching some rubbish on the TV or taking three-hour naps.
So, I kept my lethargy in the closet and dragged myself out of the house, to find myself here, at a café, waiting for a $6·90 cup of coffee. Plus, plus.
The spinning ceiling fans spin, messing up my messy hair. I normally pin my hair down because it annoys me to have my hair all over my face. But today, I deliberately did not, celebrating how I don’t have to go to work.
I listen to the noise of traffic and of the coffee crowd for a while.
One of my favourite things to do is to write here, which is one of my favourite places to be at – Bugis. I go about seeing things. And if you don’t already know Bugis, I should assure you that there is plenty to see here. There is the roadside snake oil seller who is also a magician stationed near the temples at Waterloo Street. There is the occasional conventions of cosplaying youngsters at the National Library, sporting pink wigs and pimply faces. They pretend to be cartoon characters by wearing scraps of cloth and posing with over-sized futuristic weapons fashioned out of card-board and crepe paper bought from the arts-and-crafts supply shops at the Bras Basah Complex next door.
A pretty waitress with a pony-tail delivers my iced honey latte with the whipped cream on top. I taste the coffee. It is too sweet. And not cold enough. I drink some of the chilled, lemony water served in a tea-light holder… I suppose I could have gotten a better cup of coffee for less than $6.90, or gotten more with $6.90, but the payment is also for the use of this table and chair, coasters that look nicer than my name-card, and the thrill of drinking water out of a tea-light holder.
I shall let the coffee get warmer, given my heart’s condition. Lately, my heart can too easily be made to beat harder. So, finishing the coffee quickly will probably make my heart beat harder, considering it is my third cup for today. If I can concentrate hard enough, I will feel the emptiness in my heart. By emptiness, I refer to the space in my heart that is otherwise taken up by my blood, which contains a kind of apathy. And caffeine. And whatever. I have apathetic, caffeinated, blood red, whatever blood…
This kind of reminds of how red is the opposite of black. Neville, a friend of mine, independently arrived at the same revelation as well. That goes to show in a fuzzy way that there is extractable truth in that red is the opposite of black. I don’t want to delve into a logical explanation of why it is so, because it becomes too unromantic.
Let us pretend that I already did, explain, and imagine that you were convinced that red is the opposite of black. Since you’re convinced, you can understand how it is true to an extent. Then, you can find it within yourself to believe in the story of the greyscale girl.
It began with her eyes. They were brown when she was born, but as she grew older, they darkened in colour and gradually turned black.
She didn’t notice them initially, but when she did, she got them checked by an eye doctor. She brought an old photo just in case he needed to make comparisons, but he couldn’t tell what went wrong and encouraged attribution to puberty-related hormonal changes. Since her eyes otherwise functioned normally, she didn’t bother to do much about it after that.
Then, dark eye circles started to grow, which she also thought was normal due to the lack of sleep and watching incessant television that didn’t interest her, but at least gave her something to do… Anyway, she was of the age where one typically begins a lifestyle that nurtured dark eye circles, so she did not bother to do much about them either.
Perhaps, it was for the better that she didn’t know at first. After all, it was not as if, if she had known it earlier, she could have done anything to prevent it: The girl was turning grey because she was bored in every manner with every matter of being.
Sometimes something could seem to get her attention. But she would be rather aware at the back of her head, or usually, hardly at the back of anything, that she gave it attention just to establish that it truly and utterly bored her.
Death bored her and sadness bored her, and everything bored her. Increasingly and thoroughly.
The greyness of her eyes and dark eye circles spread across her face. She hid the patches of grey with make-up to avoid having to talk to anybody about it. Soon, her neck turned grey. By the time she realised that joy and humour bored her, her breasts were grey.
When she worried about her condition, the grey would almost stop spreading or appear to stop. When she returned to boredom, the grey would grow again.
Just about when injustice bored her, her arms and hands turned grey. When food lost most taste,
her lower torso turned grey. Next were her thighs, and in between them, and then her knees. By then, she knew she would ultimately turn totally greyscale, and when she was resigned to her becoming, her feet turned grey.
Fortunately, she could still see colours. She appreciated that deeply. At least she could see the blue skies and watch movies and TV in technicolour. At least she could see which part of her skin was not evenly made-up by her liquid foundation. She thought her appreciation sustained her ability to perceive colour and continued to be grateful for that.
Also, she remained curious about her red blood-shot eyes and thought that that might have helped too – that her blood remained red. She’d cut herself between her monthly menses to check and assure herself that her blood remained red. She really wanted to retain the colour in her vision, or whatever it was that she might lose should her blood turn grey. She had been apathetic about everything, except her colour vision.
A breeze confuses the ceiling fan and does not help relieve the heat. My hair sticks to my face, and I wipe away the perspiration with the inside of my t-shirt collar. The traffic continues to sound, and I hope for their passengers’ sakes that these are different vehicles going around. I hear the church bells chime for the second time today. Maybe somebody is getting married, and entering a new phase of life?
I wonder if any of the grayscale girl’s family members knew, or if they were worried, or how her story got out at all. Did she have any friends? Maybe she knew Neville, and that’s how he concluded that red is the opposite of black? I wonder if she liked the smell of jasmine flowers or to eat cherries. If she did we might have something else to talk about and understand. What about you? Do you understand?
My left hand rests on the sheet of paper as I write on lazily. I recollect what I saw today - a skinny black cat jumping across a drain and pink periwinkles waiting for rain. I saw people, lots and lots of people, scurrying around, in cars, and in flip-flops, or high-heeled shoes, pretending to be cool, or needed by somebody cool.
My too-sweet, iced honey latte gets warmer with every passing minute. So, I finish it and call the pretty waitress over for the bill. The coffee costs $7·50 including taxes and her company.
As I wait for my change, I count the number of mosquito bites on my leg. There are two. I shall steal the coaster, because it’s so fancy. I drink some more water from the tea-light holder, because I have nothing better to do.