Friday, Apr. 08, 2005 - 7:11 p.m.
Whenever he feels the need to disappear, he heads down to Zouk. He is not there to surrender himself to drink or dance, but to completely dissolve the physicality of his body into the hundreds of strangers who surround him everywhere. He pushes past their bodies at the bar, the men holding their drinks, the girls on the constrained rectangle of hedonism that is the dance floor. A few girls are drunk from vodka Ribena and hug him - for a fleeting moment the straining closeness of their bodies turns all histories, all heartbreaks and memories, into an amorphous black hole, where even the meanings of things are sucked away. He leaves the womb of their arms with amnesia. In the member's area there is hardly any space to turn. The writhing mass of flesh is the paradox of isolation in density. Here he can feel the heat of their bodies as they rub against him, a shirt button dragged across the side of his naked biceps, an anonymous pair of breasts squashed against his back momentarily, each carrying a bit of him away to their different destinations. Silently, he thanks each one for taking a part of him away, into the flashing pulse of the white strobe lights, where everything becomes a stop-motion movie, where his consciousness can diffuse into nothingness at the transient interface of light and darkness.
As the taxi hurtles down the black roads of the PIE towards the airport at night, the taxi-driver's voice turns serious for a moment. He talks about the phantom expressway exit that lies between exit 4A, which goes to Simei, and exit 4B, which goes to Tampines. He tells the passenger that he tries to avoid traveling that stretch of road, especially during the Hungry Ghosts' Festival in July. The phantom exit appears more frequently then and one is more likely to make the mistake of turning into it, because of the supernatural aura that descends on Singapore during July. He tells of another taxi-driver who drove into the phantom exit at midnight and found himself at a HDB car park in Punggol at 7am the next morning, with no recollection of the past seven hours. Look, the taxi-driver says, it's coming up on your left. The passenger looks out the window, and sees only the solidity of the grey expressway barrier, and beyond it, a large open field with the silhouette of a few trees under the moonlight. The passenger counts the months till July, and all the quarrels that he will have had with his wife. He decides that he may take another taxi here then, cruising for the mythical escape to seven un-remembered hours, and the broken line of its disappearing distance.
At Lim Chu Kang cemetery, where the horizon is a sloping line of tombstones that follows the shape of the rising ground, people gather during Qin Ming Festival to pay their respects to the dead. Tombstones are cleared of weeds, the marbled photographs of dead faces are wiped clean, and sheaves of coarse paper money, each piece marked with the center square of gold are among the many things burnt in red metal bins for the dead. A family crowded around a burning bin is uncertain if the tradition is to be treated symbolically or with literal piety, but as they watch the smoke rising up towards the open sky, it is not unfathomable to imagine that the dead are barefoot and poor, waiting for their yearly ration of clothing and money. A pair of paper shoes constructed to look like a pair of black loafers is thrown into the flames and evaporates as vapours of ash. A paper shirt, a pair of paper trousers, thin as kite paper, burn quickly in the fire. In the underworld, a ghost slips a foot into a shoe. He might be delighted at its transmutation into genuine leather, or experience the dependable, annual disappointment at the paper that wrap his feet; they will only last days in the eternal walking of the underworld. A final possibility is that the dead receive only ash. The ghosts wear the silver dust on their naked bodies, bodies which are as diaphanous as mirages, so thin that they appear to transmit light.