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Monday, Jul. 08, 2013 - 12:39 a.m.

(I'm sorry)

The girl gave him a pair of silver cuff-links which he would never wear. This happened in his car, at the end of a night-time walk, along the coast of Sentosa island. There was no wind that night. The haze from the burning Indonesian forests had lifted, so they had a clear view of the blackness. From somewhere in the dark, shapeless sea, a ship's fog-horn sounded, and they heard its indistinct echo, reflecting off the waters.

They laughed and talked for an hour more along the coast. They paused by the breakwater, staring out to sea.

As they sat in his car, she gave him the cuff-links. As a present for starting your new job, she said. He looked at the silver cuff-links in their small black box, and thanked her. He was gracious not to press her for the real reason.

She had been carrying around that small black box with the cuff-links in her handbag the whole night—as they walked along the waterfront, watching the yellow and green lights of tankers disappear into the horizon, as they breathed in the slightly sweet, vaporized Sumatran forests into their lungs. And he only realized after seeing the cuff-links—that she had been fighting with herself as she walked close to him—should she give it to him or not?

He dropped her back at her apartment, and watched her tall figure disappear down a path, obscured by bushes. This will be the last I see of you, he thought. To mark the moment, he repeated that last thought out loud, as if narrating the scene. He snapped the small black box shut again, possibly for the last time.

She had sat in the front seat of his car, and had left her scent there. A girl-shaped vapour of his desire, and ache, because he knew he would have to break this off. (He was getting married to someone else). The duality of his emotions can be thus summarized: earlier that evening, he desired to see her, but was disappointed, almost angry (with himself?), when she replied that yes, she could meet him.

The way he did it was predictable, and the least painful to her, he thought. He merely took longer and longer to reply to her SMSes, lengthening the duration before his echo, until all that was left was the promise of one. He thought this to be merciful. The promise of an echo. Her perspective of these events would form a symmetrical mirror to this story, though one that is still unwritten.

But to come back to that night. After dropping her off, he drove aimlessly for a while, speeding recklessly, before he decided to head the car home. In the driveway, he stood, watching the silouette of his house, lit by the orange street lamp behind it. He walked over to the front passenger side and waited, for the olfactory neurons in his nose to forget her. Then he opened the door and sat in the space where she had sat. He closed the door quickly to make sure none of the vapours escaped. Her scent hit him again, and he immediately thought of her.

Across the black waters, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, a barefoot farmer was bent on one knee. He had a cigarette in the corner of his mouth as he tried to kindle a fire that would clear the land. He watched the smoke rise into the night air and sail away. He had no idea that hundreds of kilometres away, his fire was bringing together a man and a woman, and then drawing them apart.

When the man leaned back into the car seat, he leaned back into her. He asked himself, are there any instances, when betrayal may be justified? Yes, he thought—it merely depends on the justification. Which was true, but he felt a little wrong for recognizing that truth. It was the haze, blame it all on the haze—a foreign smoke that suddenly appeared on the horizon, and rapidly descended on Singapore after it had floated silently across the Java sea. It blocked the clarity of vision, gave the people amnesia, and mired all our hearts in ambiguity. It was a smoke that made a man touch a fire, turning betrayal into an act, done in the service of love.


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