12 October 2014

Travel dark.

Last week, the world felt smaller than it was.

That Monday, I went to class, the last one before the midterm break. Afterward, I had dinner with my roommate at one of the campus canteens. I finished packing when I got to the hall, took a quick shower, and then walked down with my bags to the bus stop.

It was dark and kind of muggy, and an orange haze hung from the trees. I supposed that nearly everyone else had gone already; the campus was so quiet. The bus stop was empty, but a few fellow stragglers came too as every car that swept quietly by was not the 199 bus.

Two or three other students were there, and so was a big guy in a singlet. A woman on a scooter pulled up, exchanged a few words with him, and then went away again. He lit a cigarette. I couldn't sit down, knowing where I'd be in just 12 hours. All of us watched the street.

It was the kind of night at the kind of bus stop where anything could pull up at any moment — a van full of goons, an elegant lady riding a giant dog, an indigo bus carrying tired ghosts — anything that might possibly be interested in a small girl in black. But I'd have to beg off; I had to get on the 199.

In the film version, the bus will be mostly empty, the driver gray and world-weary, the ride quiet. But I boarded a packed bus and had to stand. I didn't care. I kept looking at my big blue bag — big enough to carry my body, if I folded myself up like the shirts inside — and remembering what having a bag and being on a bus meant, what was waiting at the end for me.

The whole thing took nearly nine hours, but I think of that Monday evening as an unbelievably brief trip through a long, long tunnel of night. The world outside the bus was dark. The crossing from the bus station to the train station was dark. The train ride across the country was dark — doubly dark as I drifted in and out of sleep. I'd close my eyes to an empty train, open them to a full one, close them again, and then find myself alone again, as the train entered and exited the city center and people trickled off to their homes, leaving me still slouched in that green plastic seat, my feet guarding the week's worth of clothes in the blue bag underneath.

The Tanah Merah Station platform is in the open air, but when I got out there, I was still in the tunnel; the world beyond the railings was dark. More people shuffled into the scene as the second train took its time: a male flight crew member, sitting up straight in his crisp lilac-colored shirt, one hand on the handle of his smart black luggage set; an interracial couple with tiny sling bags, slumping against one another in fatigue, probably making their way back after spending a layover in the city; a trio of students giggling over a notebook; an elegant young woman in trendy, dark clothes and a floral head scarf. She looked at me for a moment, and then she went back to watching for the train; I was a character too, maybe.

Then, I was back on the train and moving through the tunnel again, but only until I had to get out to walk the next part of the way.

Changi airport was very different at close to midnight. Many of the shops were closed, the air smelled faintly of urine, and there were traces of litter around the terminal as, understandably, the night shift staff was probably smaller. The terminal's trademark carpet, almost luxurious in the daytime, made me think of seedy hotel hallways at that strange hour.

The penultimate stretch of the tunnel was the sky. I had a window seat, squashed between two other girls and the blackness outside. We weren't moving, maybe; maybe we were suspended in the sky, and the world slowly turned a few degrees underneath. I closed my eyes and then opened them, and somehow, two hours had passed. I spent the last hour awake, eating the sandwich I'd bought in the terminal.

We landed. I got through immigration. I claimed my bag. I walked past customs. And then Cris was there, handsome as ever, and warm, and real. It was the end of the tunnel. We crab-walked, arms still around each other, to the parking lot.

Finally, finally, through another orange haze, the sun.

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