I walked past the same spot where the stairs had been but it had mysteriously vanished.
TWO MONTHS AGO
The first time I met her parents, I wore ‘appropriate clothing’ just as she suggested –long sleeved shirt to conceal my full-sleeve tattoo, formal pants, and sensible shoes –but her family had already formed their judgments from her Facebook pictures. Despite my best efforts to please them, they loathed seeing their daughter with me. I could see the disapproval in their eyes as they regarded us. I did not suit her family’s conservative, upper-class, elite image. I was a struggling musician cum producer with no stable income while she was a financial consultant with Citibank drawing a five-digit salary.
“Aren’t there lots of good, successful men at Citibank?” Her parents hinted.
After three years, we eventually broke up. She cited the reason of ‘irreconcilable differences in our personality’ but I knew that it was because of her family. To cope with the grief of loss, I drank excessively. One night, my best friend Andrew came over and found me lying on the sofa next to an empty bottle of whiskey. There were lines of white powder on the table.
Andrew shook me awake to make sure I was alive, and then yelled at me, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, Kurt?”
The living room was littered with beer cans, empty liquor bottles and pizza boxes. There was cigarette ash all over the floor. He got a large plastic bag and started clearing up my trash for me. “Wake up for Gods’ sake, I can’t help you if you don’t help yourself.”
I crumbled. “What am I going to do, Andrew? I can’t find work. Jamie left me because I’m shit, you know that? No talent, no money, no future in the music industry…I am a failure.”
Andrew softened his tone. “Look, you’re not shit. You just…lost your way while finding your path.”
ONE MONTH AGO
Andrew was the only one who knew about my down-spiral into the abyss of self-loathing, and he frequently checked in on me. He also offered me a place to stay when I moved out from Jamie’s place.
I embarked on a gradual process of healing. With Andrew’s encouragement, I began looking for job opportunities and long-term contracts.
None of them got back to me.
“Don’t worry so much. Life has a way of working itself out.” Andrew said.
I recall when we were both students studying in Boston. We met on an app – He was the first to say ‘Hi’, and we met up shortly after. That weekend, I confided in Andrew. I told him about how my parents disapproved of my choice to study music. “Even though it’s something I really want to do, I have to make it pay the bills somehow.” He replied, “Life has a way of working itself out. You’ll get through it when the time comes.”
I was a music student, and he studied statistics. Superficially, the things that we studied seemed very different. It was Andrew who pointed out the similarities. “We both look for patterns, and appreciate the elegance of these patterns.”
I thought about how every song I heard would automatically be dissected in my head. Like a poet who subconsciously analyses every poem line by line when reading it, I could never hear or enjoy songs in the same way others did. “I suppose that’s right,” I said.
Andrew continued, “We also borrow or incorporate these patterns into our own work. It’s an art.”
Art. Were the mysterious workings of the universe that made life work itself out also art?
I thought about Jamie again, and then Andrew. They possessed pragmatic and specialised university certifications and were drawing top-dollar for their expertise. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jamies of the world ended up together with the Andrews of the world. Yet, the universe had it such that Jamie and Andrew met someone like me. Did we gravitate toward one another because unlike poles attract? Or are there really fundamental similarities and points of convergence despite the illusion of difference?
It was around seven on a Saturday morning and I couldn’t sleep. Noticing that Andrew was still asleep, I got up as quietly as I could and tiptoed out of my room as I left the house.
Sunlight had just begun to warm the streets. I strolled aimlessly until I came to a flight of stairs.
This flight of stairs was not like others.
It was clear that the stairs were part of an overhead bridge, but the middle portion of the bridge was missing. There were only stairs on one side of the road, leading to nowhere. It was an eerie sight in the middle of Ang Mo Kio. There was something disconcerting about the stairs in a city so well-planned – It served no function in a rational, utilitarian space with buildings in neat rows and pavements that always led to somewhere.
Image credit: Stomp
The entrance of the stairs were cordoned off but I felt compelled to proceed. I stepped across the tape and began to climb. Step after mindful step I ascended. When I reached the top, I stood at the edge of nowhere. Gazing serenely at the trees on the opposite side of the road, I noticed that the area around me was strangely deserted.
There was nobody on the pavements, and no cars were on the road. The world had come to a standstill for this moment. I was truly alone in a silent neighbourhood.
I felt every bit as incomplete and out of place as the bridge that I was on. It wasn’t even a bridge. It was a staircase to nowhere – the pedestrian who climbed it would be greeted with nothingness at the top.
Several thoughts flashed in my mind.
I thought about my ex-girlfriend and how the hurt was still lingering in the background. I thought about my career and the seeming futility of my degree in Singapore. I thought about Andrew, and how he never failed to be a pillar of support for me…
The thought was truncated when my phone buzzed. It was an email from one of the studios I had sent my portfolio to. They were interested in meeting me to work something out.
I clenched my phone as waves of gratitude hit me. It was time to go home.
When Andrew heard the news, he leapt up from his chair and hugged me. “I told you things would work out somehow.” Stunned, I awkwardly placed a hand on his back and hugged him back.
Perhaps I had finally found a soft place to land.