VI | Letter
He asks me how I’ve been.
I say I’m good,
(a bit about junior college)
and about Ria.
‘You leh?’ I ask back.
He’s quiet for a while,
As if my question is a philosophical one.
‘I’m defaulting NS.’
I stare at him.
National Service is compulsory in Singapore.
Defaulting is a crime.
He: How’s my mother?
Me: I don’t know. You don’t visit her?
He: Your mother meets mine more than i do.
Me: NS is compulsory.
I didn’t know what else to say.
‘Why are you defaulting?’
‘I don’t want to go.’
Up close, his brown hair
is longer than usual.
A grey ghost hovers around his mouth.
It’s really hot at the moment
but he’s wearing a black jacket with
inscribed on the front,
the “S” cut through by the zipper.
‘You’ll get in trouble for defaulting, you know.’
‘I won’t. I’m migrating to the US.’
My toes are numb
inside my shoes.
I dig them into the rubble insoles.
‘Just because you don’t want to do NS?
‘Is your dad going with you?’
‘It’s two years of being
‘You’ll be a slave to the government.’
‘Yeah,’ I reply, pushing away from the wall.
‘but you know how to make it fun.
‘When we were young, you were excited to go.’
‘Every guy has to do NS.’
Now, I’m confused.
‘What do you mean?’
‘It’s not right.
‘It’s two years of my life.
‘What about the big picture?’ I ask.
Defence of the nation?
‘That’s the government’s problem.’
An itchy feeling
rises in my chest.
That’s why they came up with NS.
‘You’ve changed, Clyde,’
Brient stares at me.
His face is no longer familiar.
His eyes no longer playful,
His jaw hard.
No, you’ve changed.
But I don’t say it out.
Because maybe he’s right.
I’ve been feeling weird since that sudden daydream while kissing Rowan.
‘Is your father going with you?’
He pulls some documents
halfway out his pocket
and jams them back in.
‘He doesn’t know.’
‘He’s too busy with that woman to care.’
Brient has changed.
I open my mouth to say something,
but he is looking
down at his phone.
‘Time to go. My flight is soon.’
I follow him to the gantry.
Still not believing.
‘You’re going right now?’
Me: Aeh, think it through leh.
He: I’ve thought this through for a year.
Me: For a while more.
My limited vocabulary frustrates me.
I’m not good with words.
He turns to me.
‘I got my enlistment letter yesterday.’
‘When is it?’
‘In four months.’
‘Then why don’t you-‘
‘The train’s coming in one minute. I’m going now. Good to see you one last time, Clyde. All the best.’
just like that,
His unfamiliar figure
melts into the kaleidoscope
which continues to rotate
for another hour.
At home, I find the piece of paper
folded six times
jammed in the corner
of the bottom-most drawer.
I grimace at my childish handwriting.
this suicide note
two years ago.
It was addressed to
The letter started off with curses.
I told him how hard life was,
how frustrated I was.
How helpless I felt.
When I wrote it,
I thought about all the qualities he had that I admired.
So the letter ends—
with this last sentence:
‘if i was like you, i would have—’
I read it now,
in the dark,
wishing my meeting with Brient was the dream
and the daydream with Rowan was reality.