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Saturday, Mar. 12, 2005 - 3:49 a.m.

At the cafe, she is given a clipboard and instructions to spend only seven minutes talking to each man. Someone will ring a bell at the end of each period. Before she starts she has to tell herself, smile, be friendly, be open, not all Singaporean men are that horrible. Those are all in Vietnam right now buying brides.

They sit across from each other in two overstuffed sofas, the upholstery thick with the smell of coffee. Before either of them says anything, she sees that he has already started to undress her with his eyes. She does not fear him or her own nudity, so she undresses him as well. A crowd has gathered in the background, and the organizer from the Social Development Unit is looking at her watch. But if you could visualize the superimposed mental space of the scene, you would see the two strangers sitting opposite each other, the man and the woman completely naked of clothing. And then you will note her slight disappointment, not at her own nudity, but at his transparency.

The next one is a civil servant, but don't prejudice me, he says, I really don't fit the stereotype. Alright, she says, tell me about the last book you read. He nods, and regurgitates a short paragraph that he memorized before coming, but it is too obvious, even to him. She does not have to say anything, because the only sound between them is the sound of him realizing that the stereotype, like the cast of all archetypes - is immutable and inescapable.

Two minutes into the last man, she realizes that he is not really here to meet new people, but to have someone to listen to him. His wife divorced him because he named their new-born daughter Alice. At first, she was pleased with that name, because Lewis Carroll was her favourite author. But one day in a fit of epiphany, she realizes why he had chosen that name. It was an anagram of his first girlfriend's name - Celia. She confronted him about it, and since he could not lie to her (though he wanted to), he admitted that there was something fundamentally wrong with the marriage. He was still looking for Celia. His wife kept the baby and re-named her something else. That child will be one of the few who will grow up with two names, one of which is secret. What is your name, he asks. Lecia, she replies. Immediately, she thinks that she should have lied and told him something else.

At the end of all the meetings, she has to give the names of the men that she would like to see again to the organizer. But her piece of paper is blank. She had decided that it would be blank before she had met any of the men, and had only come to the speed-dating event to experience that addictive feeling of almost meeting. It is like jaywalking across a busy road, the cars passing so close you can almost feel their speed. She is still waiting for her chance meetings, and the accidental intersections - the lack of deliberate thought behind them is self-validating. So she hands in the blank slip of paper as her answer, because she is still waiting for her accidents, because she does not want to ever admit defeat.


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