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Wednesday, Feb. 02, 2005 - 8:46 p.m.

Midway through their date, as they were walking in Fort Canning Park after dinner, she started counting the number of things she hid from him. It was the sight of a grave, of some early Malay Royal that started her thinking - what secrets do we never tell? It was not about guilt, not about coming clean, and not about bringing this three month-long relationship to a deeper level. It was a study of herself, a review of the relationship by revisiting all the things she kept entombed.

A week ago.

The old French couple had approached them outside Raffles City, apparently asking for directions. They did not speak a word of English and were pointing at a map that the old Frenchman held. She retreated to the background, and let him handle the task of vaguely pointing them in the wrong direction. It was a ridiculous scene.The Frenchman was asking in French - where is the museum, slowly enunciating each syllable, as if talking to a child. Her boyfriend was asking in English - where do you want to go, in the same excruciating tone. She watched him struggle in a hybrid language of English and gesticulation, as she mentally answered each of the Frenchman's questions, in perfect French.

She had remained completely silent and held his hand lightly as the French couple walked away from them, and away from the museum. For the rest of the day, she translated all her thoughts into French. Do you want coffee with milk, he had asked. Oui, au lait. I'll talk to you soon, he said as they parted. Je vais telephoner demain. It is her own secret language and she does not use it in front of others. She only wants to keep a part of herself to herself. She wonders if it is because she cannot give - this, a consequence of that boy all those years ago in junior college. He was her first serious one, and she had given so much, tried to change him, tried to get him to quit smoking, to come with her to church, but in the end, all she had to show for her naivete was its loss.

This current boyfriend is good to her, and makes her happy, even if she has to say "I'm happy" with the nonchalant shrug of shoulder; so she is sure he is nothing beyond a temporary salve. She has this fantasy of finding the one, if he exists at all: she is walking in the midst of a crowd at Raffles Place during lunch hour, and everyone is talking loudly in different languages - English, Chinese, Malay, Tamil, Hokkien, Cantonese. She starts asking in French, Ou etes vous? (Where are you?) and the cacophony gradually stills to silence, the crowd blurring to the visual quality of a mist. Then she spots him between the rows and rows of bodies - he is staring at her directly and he says, Je t'aime (I love you). She is not looking for someone who speaks French, or even someone who loves her, but she is searching or that single person who also understands why one may possess a secret, hidden vernacular.

One month ago.

She was at a bar in Boat Quay with her friends while he was in Bangkok for a filmmakers' conference. They got drunk and she ended up in a corner sofa of the bar, making out with a stranger, though there was no sex after that. She does not blame her actions on alcohol, because she knows that alcohol does not feed one new desires, but it only removes one's inhibitions; if anything, alcohol is the clarification of intention and her intention was merely to find those fleeting moments of happiness. While pinned down against the sofa, her boyfriend had sent her a text message to her mobile phone - what r u doing? She stopped for a moment, and pushed the man off her. She thought for a while and then replied - making out :| . His reply took a few minutes, probably as he considered the ambiguity of her emoticon, but he finally said: haha, have fun. gnite!

She saw what was happening as a scene from a film - one of those that employed a split screen to juxtapose two concurrent narrations. On the left half of the screen, she was sitting up in the sofa texting into her mobile phone; on the right half of the screen was her boyfriend in his hotel room, puzzled and discomfitted, forcing himself into the belief that her message was a joke. After he got back to Singapore, he did not ask her about it. When she stumbled out of the bar with her friends that night, and as her heels clicked unsteadily against the pavement, she realized one thing - this was the first time she had hid something from him by hiding nothing at all.

Two months ago.

He had asked her to attend a forum on film that he was participating in. He was a panel guest and would be speaking on the state of independent film-making in Singapore. Eight p.m., at the University Cultural Centre, there's going to be a lot of people, and I hope to see you there, he said. Cradling the phone against her neck, she said that she had to attend a meeting that might end late, but she would try to make it. The meeting, as it turned out, ended early. She reached the University well before eight but waited till the auditorium was full before she entered. She stood in the back corner with the other late-comers, and watched him seated at a table on the stage with three other speakers. From this distance she could not make out his facial expression, but could see that he turned his head occasionally, scanning for her presence. His speech was intelligent, articulate and she cared for the words that he spoke, clapping more loudly than the surrounding audience when he had finished. As he walked back to his seat from the speaker's dais, he looked around again but he could not find her - this time she had hidden herself.

The following day, she told him that the meeting had ended late; maybe next time, she offered. He would never know that they were both there once.

This current boyfriend is not the first she has hidden things from - there were others before him (whom he does not know about). She is not a consummate liar, nor is she wilful and cruel. For the lack of a better descriptor, she is broken. She wants to give, to have nothing come between them, but she cannot; she has to hold something back because she was broken by that first boy so many years ago. The fear of hurt ever since has made her draw a line across her body, a line beyond which men may not cross. Self-protection - isn't that a fundamental response of any living species?

As they walk under the shadows of a Banyan tree back to the carpark, he stops and points out that the Banyan tree is the only tree with aerial roots. Unlike the others, its roots are not hidden under the soil. He turns to her and asks - because he really wants to know, "What are you thinking about?"

She gives him a smile, adding another instance to all the hidden things behind that line, and then says, "Nothing."Rien.


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