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Friday, Feb. 11, 2005 - 12:51 p.m.

The man looks up from his book as the lady librarian cuts the boy sitting opposite him with a shhhh. The boy has a small white pair of earbuds in his ears and responds with two upturned palms, the universal gesture of puzzlement. The man observes that the librarian had vocalized an aural command for silence, while the boy had responded with a soundless hand signal, to mean the spoken word: what? The transliteration of silence and sound between the two provides him with a moment's amusement. The librarian finally speaks and asks the boy to turn the volume down. He reaches out across the table and makes a show of hitting the stop button on his CD-player, but the soundless earbuds remain plugged into his ears, in a very small demonstration of defiance.

The man goes back to reading his book and as he comes to the last page in the chapter, half of the page is blank. It is a literary form of silence, a break in the mental stream of words running across the brain. He looks at the boy, and his white earbuds remind him of the couple on the train earlier that afternoon. They were huddled against the glass partition next to the train doors, the last remaining alcove for lovers in the city. They had white earbuds too - one in hs ear, the other in hers. No words were exchanged, but only smiles. He wondered what music they were listening to, and how long it would take for them to tire of this arrangement of bodies. Eventually, their appreciation for the music will outweigh their appreciation of each other, and on that day, they will buy another pair of earbuds.

As he crosses the void-deck to get home he sees a pair of teenagers, still in their school uniforms, arguing in the carpark. He walks past them, and only catches wisps of the girl's accusation and the boy saying he did not want to talk about this anymore. Be careful, the man thinks, one day you will be like me, and argue with her just to hear the sound of her voice.

He opens the letterbox, and the smooth aluminum of its emptiness is almost too much to bear. He checks his handphone as he waits for the lift and there are no missed calls; he sends her a text message and sees the message emanating from him as expanding circles of radio waves. The waves sweep across the country looking for her but he already knows they will not find her, and that there will be no reply.

The man can think of many types of silences - the forced quiet of a library, the absence of text in a book, the unspoken sharing of earbuds, the 4 a.m. stillness, the day of the last sun. But the most terrible one of all has to be hers. It is the expectancy of an answer that will never arrive, a form of silence that cannot be broken.


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