Short stories

Guardian of the corridor

People know that I exist, but never seem to notice me much. This allows me to silently observe and be aware of all the comings and goings that happen in my block.

I listen to all the whisperings, but never contribute. I watch all the happenings, but do not partake in them.

I am visible, but invisible at the same time.

Perhaps it is in this way that I am not so different from the murderer. After all, the police didn’t have anything on him. He was an unknown stranger who walked amongst us, hiding in plain sight. Visible, but invisible.

Last week, he struck again. All the police knew was that it was a man who had been targeting females.

Claire was his most recent victim.

I overheard the neighbours talking it. “Her body was sliced open. Poor Claire. How could anybody be so cruel?”

I’ve been warned not to wander when it gets dark. “Jo, don’t go out past ten OK? There are so many perverts out there.”

I didn’t understand. Why should my freedom be curtailed just because some people are unable to control their impulses and sick desires? Don’t tell me not to wander, because that’s not the real problem.

Teach the killers not to kill.

***

A week later, the neighbourhood had seemed to move on from the murder and the block was buzzing with chatter about James.

It’s almost astounding how quickly the world moves on from one trivial event to another. Humans talk about how some animals do not have episodic memory, but don’t humans forget too?

James lives on the same floor as me. A Vietnamese woman had recently moved in with him. From what I understood, Ivy was his Vietnamese wife.

I heard a neighbour say, “James earns so much but so what? He can’t find love.” Another person added, “He can’t find, so he buy lor. The woman is just after his money.”

Unlike some of the more obnoxious neighbours who spread vicious rumours about the foreign bride, I find Ivy to be a sweet and good-natured. Sometimes, she sees me along the corridor and she stops to say hello. On certain days, she offers me some of the food she has prepared. We don’t talk because I don’t speak her language, but I understand her intentions when she gestures to the food she has made. Kindness is a universal language.

Ever since Ivy’s arrival, James’ face is no longer dull and ashen. His voice is upbeat when he greets us on the corridor.

Humans cope with loneliness and the need for companionship in different ways -Why do we not look upon the old lady who buys a puppy with disdain? Is love no longer love when dollars are forked out for the arrangement? What do we know that makes us worthy to judge relationships that look different from ours?

James and Ivy take care of one another and find joy in spending time with each other. From what I see, Ivy and James have plenty of love in their heart.

Sometimes that is all that matters.

***

Rumour has it that Kurt and Andrew are not just best friends, but lovers.

It started when Kurt moved in with Andrew – Kurt said this would be temporary because his flat was undergoing renovation. But Kurt never left, even after months had passed.

I was at the lift lobby when I heard a neighbour quip: “Eh, they gay ah?”

One neighbour said that he had never seen Andrew with a woman before, but added “But he looks straight leh!” Another had insisted that they were gay, because “If not, why they stay with each other?”

Perhaps I knew more than the neighbours did. For a split second, I had a glimpse into the private lives of Kurt and Andrew.

I remember it being a particularly warm night. As I passed their flat on the corridor, I witnessed them sharing a kiss on the sofa. A kiss on the lips typically signifies that two people share romantic affection for each other.

It was Kurt who noticed me at the corridor.

I stopped in my tracks and stared mutely at the pair, unsure how to react or proceed.

Kurt and Andrew exchanged glances, then broke into a chuckle. “I don’t think Josephine is the type to judge us.” Andrew said.

Kurt smiled at me. “Goodnight, Josephine.” He got up and closed the door behind them.

Kurt was right, I wasn’t the type to judge. There are many things I see about humans that baffle me, but we don’t necessarily need to judge what is different from what we are used to.

***

It was around five-thirty in the afternoon when I recognised Ivy’s scream. I dashed out of my house in the direction of the scream. It led me to the corner staircase.

Ivy stood face-to-face with a man. This man had a blade in one hand and a mask over his face. Lily lay splayed open on the steps as blood gushed from her wounds.

The man’s eyes widened in shock when he saw Ivy. He swung the blade at her and motioned for her to stay back. Ivy raised her hands and pleaded with the man to not hurt her. Distraught by the blood and the man brandishing his blade, she began to sob violently.

Afraid that this would draw attention, the man panicked and tried to flee.

I was quick on my feet. Running past Ivy, I leapt at the murderer and bit down hard on his calf. He let out a scream as the pain shot up his leg. As the man struggled to get me out of the way, this bought some time for Ivy to get help.

In the confusion of the tussle, he dropped the blade and tripped over his own feet, falling flat on his face. Kurt burst in just as the man was down on the floor. He seized the man’s arms and pinned him down. “Call the police!” He said to Ivy.

When the police officers arrived, Ivy explained everything. She lifted me up and carried me, stroking my head as she told them how I bit the murderer, buying her some time for her to get help from Kurt, who happened to be home at that time.

The cat murderer had finally been stopped by the unlikeliest combination of heroes.

I noticed that people have started opening up to Ivy and Kurt once they were recognised as the heroes of the neighbourhood. “They caught the murderer. They so brave ah? I heard he had a knife eh.” “Ya! Lucky got them.”

It started with a smile, and then small talk. Gradually, the residents started having conversations at the lift lobby, in the corridors. Then, they exchanged food.

While I am glad that the neighbours have grown closer, I also feel slightly confused. Humans are so strange – They needed an incident like this before they were willing to interact with Ivy, Kurt and Andrew. Yet, after talking to them, the residents have realised that they are like each other in many ways. They have hopes, wants and fears. They enjoy a good meal, and look forward to spending time with their loved ones.

All this could have taken place in the beginning if they had just talked to them instead of talking about them!

Since the incident, the residents have also started calling me “Guardian of the corridor”. Some would give me treats and rub my belly. These days I am not longer invisible, but I still quietly observe. I prick up my ears and pick up on all the murmurs that the wind carries.

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Helen’s vision


Image credit: MAGGRAV

I was eight when my mother brought me to have my fortune read. It was a small shop behind Fu Lu Shou complex and the place smelled of incense. It was an earthy scent –like a blend of oak, sandalwood and citronella. The orange signboard read ‘HELEN KOH GEOMANCY’.

My mother told me, “Aunty Helen is very good with all these things. She studied geomancy so she knows what she is doing.”

I asked, “What is geomancy?”

***

We were ushered into a room where I was instructed to sit down. I sat facing Helen and she took my hand.

“Girl, the spirits are showing me that glass will cause your death if you’re not careful.”

Helen furrowed her brow, and then continued, “I see snowfall, and you are shivering… You need to be wary of snow. It will chill your bones.”

Other than that ominous warning, I didn’t remember anything else in particular. I was too young to comprehend the gravity of her words, but my mother took it very seriously. My family avoided holiday destinations in the winter, and I was persuaded to avoid handling or being near glass whenever possible.

When I turned twenty four, I told my mother that I wanted to go work in America. She was convinced that it was a bad move. To her, it was the land of guns, gangs and rampant racism. Worst of all, it snowed there.

As a child, I went along with my mother’s wishes. However, I grew increasingly weary of letting what I perceived to be my mother’s superstitions constrain my decisions.

I went ahead with America anyway. A prophecy made by a woman who consulted some spirits in a stuffy shop was not going to stand between my dreams and I.

***

“You need to be wary of snow.”

I was twenty eight when I died. It was not winter when it happened, but it had been snowing all year.

The snow came in the form of fine powdery whiteness. Coke. I nearly smiled, thinking that Helen could have told me that “Coke is not good for you” and my mother would have prevented me from drinking soft drinks. Either way, we got it all wrong.

“I see snowfall, and you are shivering.” I burned up and shook violently as waves of nausea crashed against me. I desperately needed to turn to my side, but my limbs no longer belonged to me. I was still lying on my back when I began to vomit. I choked and struggled against the vile liquid sloshing back against my throat.

Glass will cause your death. Glass. That’s what they called it around here. Not meth, just glass.

My lungs were on fire.

My vision blurred with patches of brightly-coloured circles. The colours bled into one another until a rich blood-orange blend resulted. It was nearly the same colour as Helen’s shop signboard.

It was the last thing I saw as I drew my final breath of air.

A soft place to land

TODAY

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?

***

YESTERDAY

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.

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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.

Dumplings

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Image credit: Clemens Krauss via Berlinartparasites

It killed my grandmother.

That morning, my grandmother woke up early as usual. She made breakfast for the family and brewed some coffee. She put two sugars in my father’s, and that was when I realised something was wrong.

“Ah ma, this kopi is for Pa?”

“Yes dear, bring it to him.”

 “Ah ma, daddy doesn’t take sugar in his coffee.”

My grandmother did not move. She froze with the cup of coffee still in her hands, and slowly, she smiled back at me, showing her yellowed teeth. Something was very wrong. This woman looked the same –kind brown eyes, thin lips, and curly white hair. She had the same wrinkled hands that had time etched on them. The same slight limp in her walk. But I knew she was not my grandmother.

“Ah ma is getting old. I forget some things.” She took the cup back into the kitchen as she poured its contents into the sink. After a brief pause, she said, “You were always the smart one, Grace.”

I whispered softly, “No, you never forget,” as I ran to my grandmother’s room.

I opened the door and on the bed was the mangled body of my grandmother. She lay skinless on the bed – pure muscle, flesh and bone. All the skin had gone and her eyeballs were exposed. I stared in mute horror as her dead eyes peered back at me.

That day, my father chased it out of the house. The Creature hid in the stairwell, but my father tracked it down. Using a special knife, my father killed it. It shrieked as he drove the knife through its heart. The Creature’s black mass shot out of the eye sockets and slithered away. My grandmother’s skin collapsed to a pile on the steps.

I hugged my dad and we sobbed violently.

That was half a year ago.

We sat at the dining table – Pa, Anna, and I, wrapping dumplings diligently. I taught them how to roll the skin to the perfect thickness, the amount of filling to use, and how to fold the sides. “The skin of the dumpling is very important,” I said. “If it’s too thin, it disintegrates easily after boiling. If it’s too thick, the dumpling becomes floury.”

I paused thoughtfully before saying, “Delicious fillings are nothing without well-crafted skin.”

Anna said, “This skin is perfect, Grace.”

Pa said, “Ah ma would have been so proud to see you make them.”

I didn’t respond.

My hands worked diligently, wrapping each dumpling meticulously. When the last of the fillings had been wrapped, I admired the rows of dumplings on the tray. They would turn out to be the most beautiful creations, I told myself.

I belong to a race that can never walk the earth in our natural form. We were genetically coded to loathe our fluid, black exterior. If the world was a vast blue ocean, we were a massive oil spill. We craved a body that did not resemble our own. Discrete boundaries with limbs, unlike the formless dark slime that we were. Beautiful velvety skin, unlike our wet oily texture.

Do we have to kill them? I asked. I was taught that there is no other way. We were wired with the DNA of hate and born innately despising our skin.

Those that could not bring themselves to kill or could not find hosts perished. For the sake of self-preservation, my people encouraged me to find a stable host and blend in. Stealing their identities was the only way we could live. And so we lived on borrowed skin, slithering from body to body, building our homes using other people’s faces.

The old woman was my first. And then her granddaughter, my second. They call me The Creature, but I have no name. I take the name of the person I kill.

Her name was Grace.

Right before her father stabbed me, I escaped out of the woman’s skin. I hid and I waited. And then I killed the daughter. I was more careful with the body this time.

I tapped into her memory to teach her family how to wrap dumplings. My new family.

I made a mistake once with the sugar. Now I have learnt. I am careful with memories and details. I adapt with time. I fit in.

Anna tells me that the skin is perfect. I don’t disagree.

Marine terrace

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Image credit: Instagram post by @hueyxhuey 


NEIGHBOURHOOD OF THE LONELY.

Leong sat at the kopitiam and sipped on the piping hot black coffee. It was thick, exactly how Lily would have liked it.

During the weekends, Leong and Lily would go for coffee in the afternoon together. Kopi-c for Leong, kopi-o for his wife. They would sit at the kopitiam for an hour or two, talking about anything under the sun.

That was before she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Multiple chemotherapy sessions and medications drained Lily of her strength. The kopitiam sessions became increasingly infrequent. Leong would reassure her, “You’ll be back home in no time and we can go for kopi together in the afternoons, just like we used to!”

One morning, she was rushed to the hospital and never returned home for good.

It had been a month since her passing and Leong sat at the same kopitiam for the first time since she was gone. They had always been inseparable but today, he was alone. He could picture her sitting next to him, smiling. Leong could almost feel the wisps of her hair against his cheek – She would sometimes rest her head on his shoulder as they people-watched… But Lily was gone, and the vacant seat next to him was a painful reminder of his loss. Waves of grief and loneliness crashed against him. Leong would no longer order kopi-c. It would forever be kopi-o, in loving memory of his wife.

There was a hole in his heart in the shape of Lily, and Leong desperately tried to fill it with the shape of kopi-o.

Christine greeted her neighbour.

“Eh, did you see Leong at the kopitiam last weekend? I see him sitting by himself and I feel so sad. He must be so lonely without his wife – did you know she passed away?”

Christine was not one for frivolous small talk. She nodded politely, and hurried home. Her neighbour was always eager to engage in trivial conversations, passing on gossip about others that Christine had no wish to know about.

She opened her front gate and was greeted by the sight of her fifteen year old son lying on the sofa, his eyes glued to the screen of his iPad. “Is daddy back yet?” Christine asked.

He did not respond. As her son played his game, the only noise that filled the living room was the sound of the laser beams shooting at zombies on his screen. Pew pew pew pew.

“Alex Lim, I’m talking to you. Did daddy come home?”

Without looking up, he said, “He went out.”

“Did he say when he will be back?” Christine asked.

“No, but he said he didn’t want to see your jibai face.”

Christine did not flinch at her son’s use of a Hokkien expletive. She calmly set the food down on the table that she had bought from the kopitiam downstairs. It was her son’s favourite Hokkien mee, with extra pork lard. “Come eat dinner.”

“I eat already.” He said, and went to his room, slamming the door behind him.

Christine sat down, opened up her packet of noodles, and began to eat. With every mouthful of food that she shovelled into her mouth, she became increasingly aware that the emptiness within her was not something that could be filled by food.

Lonely because his wife died? She thought to herself, recalling what her neighbour told her. She wished that her husband was dead. That way, neither of them could have him. If he could not be hers, then at least he wouldn’t be the Other Woman’s. She trembled with anger. She couldn’t understand why her son blamed her. I’m not the one who’s tearing us apart. She wished that the laser beams from her son’s iPad game would slice her into a thousand pieces. Pew pew pew pew.

Christine sat alone at the dining table made for four and sobbed quietly. Each empty seat served as a stark reminder of her family that could never exist in the same physical space simultaneously.

Claudia tugged at the leash. “Time to go, Toby.”

Toby licked Alex’s face and jumped around him excitedly. “Bye Toby.” Alex petted the Japanese spitz’s white fur for one final time before he got up to leave. The fifteen year old boy was Toby’s favourite person to meet while on his walk because Alex would give him a few dog treats from his backpack. “Bye Auntie Claudia, thanks for stopping.”

“No problem, you can come visit Toby anytime.”

Toby was an energetic dog with soft, white fur. He was easily excited – he would dash to the corners of the room whenever he wanted to play. Toby adored Claudia, and he would experience separation anxiety when they were apart. He would follow her around the house. When she showered, he would wait outside the bathroom. When she slept, he would curl up at the foot of her bed.

The story of Claudia and Toby began when Claudia’s daughter went to a pet store and bought her a dog.

Claudia was divorced, and her only child was a successful lawyer who married an equally successful lawyer. Once, Claudia had casually asked if they were intending to have children. I could take care of them for you, she offered. The next week, a Japanese spitz showed up at her flat. “Now you have something to keep you company.” She told her mother.

She would tell relatives proudly, “You know my gal – she’s a lawyer at Baker & Mackenzie now.” When they asked about why she wasn’t at the family gathering, Claudia would tell him, “She’s busy working so she can’t come. But she’s a very good girl, you know. Pays for everything for me.”

Claudia made a large pot of lotus root soup and gave a pork rib bone to Toby. She waited for her daughter to call. When are you coming to drink soup and visit me? Wednesday, ma. I’ll call when I’m coming over.

It was already ten. She dialled her daughter’s personal mobile number, but no one picked up. She tried her son-in-law. “Mother? What’s wrong?”

Oh nothing, just wondering if you all ended work yet? It’s Wednesday. I made soup. I’m sorry, I have a big case tomorrow to prepare for so I can’t come over. Did Rachel call you? No, she didn’t. It’s OK. I understand. She’s busy.

Claudia hung up.

Toby lay stretched out on her lap. She hugged him and he licked her face enthusiastically.

The deep end


Source: Pinterest

The tropical heat made the swimming pool a favourite spot for many during the summer holiday. Every weekend, Mei would go swimming with a good friend.

It was a particularly warm day and Mei slathered sunscreen on her arms and shoulders. She noticed a man in his sixties watching her. Mei self-consciously tugged at her new bright orange swimming costume, trying to avoid the man’s gaze. He did not look away. Instead, with his gaze fixed on Mei, his eyes began to water.

“Ignore him. Sometimes there are crazy people here.” Her friend warned her as she pulled Mei away. “Come on!” She said, diving in to the pool.

Mei stood at the edge of the water as it lapped at her toes.

Her friend started to talk about some boy she had just met. “And then he told me about-”

Mei took a deep breath, and plunged in. The water rushed against her body and greeted her skin with its cool temperature. The world around her was silent for a few seconds. Tentatively, Mei surfaced.

She smiled. The pool was no longer the same. The old tiles were in place, and the Jacuzzi at the edge of the main pool was gone.

“Mei!”

She recognised the voice.

Five weeks ago, Mei realised that she would be transported back in time if she dived into the water head-first at the pool. The first time it happened, she met Hock. He found her, confused, crying and crouched at the corner.

She learnt that it was 1982, and the deep end of the pool was a portal where she could travel between two points in time. For every weekend after that, she would go swimming and take a trip back in time to meet Hock. Yet, she never knew how to tell him about her secret.

“I’ve not seen you wear this before.” He said with some surprise.

“Is it nice?” Mei asked. “Too orange perhaps?” She felt her cheeks growing red.

He paused, and then he laughed. “You look great.”

They swam for the whole afternoon and the sun was beginning to set. At the edge of the pool, they kicked the water lazily. Hock leaned in closer to Mei.

“Can I …” Hock began nervously. “Can I call you after this?”

Reality hit Mei in the face as soon as those words left his mouth. There was no way he could contact her as long as they existed on different timelines.

She turned away. “Hock, I… I can’t. I have to go.” She got out of the water, and Hock panicked. “Mei, did I do something wrong? I’m sorry.”

“No. You did nothing wrong.”

She waited until she was safely out of sight before she plunged back in to the deep end, returning to 2017. Five hours had passed with Hock, but time froze in 2017 for as long as she was in 1982. The sun was still burning in the 2pm sky, and she could hear her friend’s voice as she surfaced.

“–that time he went to climb a mountain, he’s so cool!”

——

The next weekend, Hock was waiting for her.  “I didn’t know if you were even coming today – I…”

Mei threw her arms around him and caught him by surprise. “Hock, I’m sorry about last week,” She said softly.

She was afraid that he would disintegrate if she touched him. What if he was a distant dream tucked away in Mei’s mind, ready to evaporate like the beads of water on her skin? But Hock did not disappear. Instead, Mei felt his arms wrap around her tightly. He was warm, solid, and she could feel his heart beat against her chest.

Hock felt real. Hock was real.

Mei was the first to break the embrace. “I have something to tell you, but you have to promise to believe me.”

He promised, and she told him about the first time she discovered 1982. When Hock recovered from his initial shock, he said, “Mei, stay here with me.”

Mei did not know how the portal worked. Currently, she could move freely between the two years, but what if she found herself somehow trapped in 1982? What would happen in 2017 if she stayed in 1982? Would her body sink to the bottom of the swimming pool? Would she disappear without a trace underwater? More importantly, was she prepared to leave everything behind for Hock?

Mei told Hock that it was something that she had to think about, and he promised to wait.

“I’ll wait for you on Saturdays until you no longer wish to see me.” Hock promised.

—-

The next week, there was a problem with the drainage system and the pool was closed for repairs. Mei had to wait another week for the pool to reopen.

She had made her decision. A weekend later, she plunged in to the deep end. She stayed underwater for a while, and when she was ready for her new life, Mei surfaced for air.

Children were running toward the Jacuzzi. There were no metal ladders by the pool.  Mei blinked and looked at the tiles she was standing on.

It was still 2017.

During the repairs, something had changed. The portal no longer worked.

Her heart shattered as she remembered Hock’s voice, “I’ll wait for you here on Saturdays.” She thought about Hock spending his subsequent weekends waiting for a girl who would never show up. Tears began to well up in her eyes and rolled down her cheeks.

Suddenly, a recent memory came to mind – Mei recalled seeing a man tearing up by the pool a few weeks ago. It was the day when she wore her orange swimsuit for the first time. Could it be -?

—-

Initially, Hock would go to the pool every weekend, hoping that Mei would come. As the years wore on, the frequency of his visits also declined. At the end of 35 long years, Hock was no longer waiting for Mei, but found comfort in clinging to the memory of a place. On balmy afternoons, he would find himself sitting by the pool for old times’ sake.

And then it happened.

Mei finally showed up, albeit in a way he did not expect. Hock looked on as the girl in the orange swimsuit plunged into the deep end of the water. He watched as his past flooded the present. Yet, a gulf of years still separated them – Hock was no longer a young man.

He wiped the tears from his face. It was time to stop chasing the past.

He was ready to never return to the pool again.

—–

Mei scanned the pool area for the mysterious man, but she was four weeks (35 years) too late.

Restaurant Kyo

Restaurant Kyo is a place where relationships converge and intersect with food. This is a story of three couples with three very different dining experiences.

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Barachirashi

There was a queue. L’s legs hurt from the standing, and it was cold. “The wait will be worth it,” N assured her, and L did not doubt N’s impeccable taste in food. With N’s adventurous taste buds, there was never a dull day in the past month that they had dated. True to N’s unconventional nature, they spent most of their time trying different foods. Tonight was Japanese food night.

When their food finally arrived, it took L only one bite to know that N was right. It was worth the wait. They ate silently from large bowls of seasoned rice, topped to the brim with generous chunks of raw fish. The seasoning was delightfully savoury, but left a sweet aftertaste. It was the best thing L had ever tasted.

They wolfed down their barachirashi in content silence. L thought about how the modern dining experience sometimes entailed shallow chatter during the meal. It was as though conversation served the function of filling the void left by subpar food in overpriced restaurants. Today, there was no need for that. Even without words, dining together had become an intimate experience for the both of them.

Before L met N, she was content to stuff herself with convenience store noodles and refrigerated sandwiches from the deli counter. Since then, L and N’s dates always revolved around good food – to N, sharing food was a form of love. “This is how you love yourself and others”, N said. “Food is nourishment not only for the body but also the soul.” She showed L five different ways to prepare linguine, the art of rolling sushi, and the trick behind choosing sweet watermelons. N’s fascination with different foods symbolised her capacity for wonder. It was with small bites that L discovered N’s big heart.

When the last grain of rice had been picked off the bowl, L licked her lips. She was the first to break the silence. “I love this. I love you.” She said.

L’s declaration of love was truncated by the sound of glass smashing against a wall.

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Img credit: Kyo Roll En

Matcha

S and J finished their sushi dinner. S cupped her hands around a cup of green tea. The scent of the green tea wafted to her nose as she brought the cup to her face. The smell of ocha was familiar, but had conjured some discomforting memories.

“You were having a bad day so I got you this!” He revealed a tub of matcha ice cream he had hidden behind his back. “Green tea! Your favourite!”

Like always, we got two spoons and ate from the tub. The ice cream was sweet, with a slightly bitter aftertaste. There were bitter nodes amidst the sweet and I loved it for the very combination of these flavours that constituted its unique taste. Matcha ice cream was not cloying…Just like our relationship. We gave each other sufficient space. But perhaps, too much space.

When you said that I had changed, we were eating matcha ice cream. Suddenly, the ice cream tasted too bitter.

I haven’t touched it since.

 “Where shall we head to after this?” S asked.

“I’d like to stay for dessert. I love their green tea ice creams.” J suggested.

S felt her stomach sink as J ordered a matcha and vanilla parfait. J scooped some ice cream using her spoon. S watched as the spoonful of matcha ice cream traversed the space between them. It hovered in front of her mouth. “Try this.” J said to S.

S opened her mouth hesitantly as J fed her the matcha ice cream. It was bittersweet, just as she had remembered. She felt the ice cream melt on her tongue as the memories began its slow spill from the crevices of her mind. It was at this point that J leaned over, cupped S’s face and kissed her firmly on the mouth.

 “Does this taste good?”

Her kiss tasted of vanilla.

The vanilla overlaid the taste of the bittersweet matcha, resulting in a delightful combination of sweetness that was perfectly balanced. S took a second spoonful of matcha ice cream. Some of the vanilla ice cream had melted and mixed into it. The bittersweet matcha was in harmony with the subtle fragrance of the vanilla.

The mind forms new associations to sensations when introduced to new memories. With each mouthful, S felt the gustatory imageries of the past overlay, but not override, that of the present. Both old and new lovers had converged and she was slowly beginning to heal. The matcha was no longer as bitter as she remembered.

“Thanks for suggesting we get the ice cream,” she said, knowing that J would not be able to fully appreciate the gravity of her words. A grateful smile spread across S’s lips.

S’ thoughts were cut short by a loud noise in the corner of the restaurant and they both turned to look. “It seems like they’re fighting,” J said.

Sake-Boom

Img credit: AWOL

Sake

 “When were you going to tell me about this?” C exploded.

“I was going to –” W tried to explain, but C cut her off.

 “How could you do this? You didn’t have the right.”

C fumed as she downed her ninth glass of sake. The bottom of the sake glass was not where she would find herself. Sake warms the body on a cold night, but that night, it burned for them both. C regarded the sake glass. For some people, alcohol provided temporary relief – a sanctuary that they retreated to whenever emotions got too overwhelming. For C, there were times when she drank to forget, and when she woke up the next day, the pain would be lessened. Not this time. This time, she would remember and feel the same hurt over and over. How could she possibly forget?

She felt a fire in the pit of her stomach threatening to unleash its fury in the form of verbal carnage. No. She could not bring herself to yell at her lover. In a fit of uncontrollable anger with no other form of release, C smashed her glass against the wall next to them.

The loud noise of glass shattering had alerted the people around them. Some restaurant staff rushed to the table. C had cut her hand smashing the sake glass against the wall. Her lover looked on in shock and horror as crimson streamed down C’s hand.

W had watched helplessly as the glass shattered. It seemed to be a telling metaphor for the state of their relationship. Sake was her favourite thing in this world, but that was before she met C. Tears streamed down her face as W began to sob.