Buying a HDB flat [2013]

He sits in an empty house with the woman of his dreams nestled in his lap like a kitten, only bigger, more beautiful and more alive. He feels her soft breath on his thigh, and in her face he sees vulnerabilities, strengths, hopes and fears.

He wonders if he will be able to become the man she deserves.

The floor and the walls are bare, like bleached bones. They sit on a secondhand sofa — minimalist, L-shaped and completely exposed. (The cushion covers have been sent for dry cleaning). The inner casings are fragile, and the cotton is exposed in some places. A plastic bottle (H20 blackcurrant) is sawed open with a pair of scissors, serving as a de facto ashtray for the cigarettes they would smoke. So many cigarettes. The house is on the 10th floor, the wind is wonderfully brisk and you don’t need fans in a house like that.

Plastic bags are on the floor, loosely filled with yesterday’s clothes and tomorrow’s dreams. Music plays from a pair of cheap speakers, plugged into the corner electrical socket. The sink in the kitchen is faulty. The drainage in the toilets is poor. They order a McDelivery breakfast — buttery and syrupy goodness, sticky and messy.

The fridge gets delivered, the electrical mains get replaced.

The floor is joltingly cold. They have nothing, nothing, nothing but smiles and comfort and the realization that yes, now we can be together alone. Here we are safe, here we are free. In these walls we are free from prying questions and curfews and abrasive relations.

They tear up an old towel to wipe their feet. The windows are cleaned with gusto. (“I’ll clean them every week!” he exclaims. She smiles knowingly.) There is no heating, no hot water, showers will have to be improvised with taps and pipes. They will have to do. It is a blessing. They replace the old pipe with a new one, and a couple of weeks later, with a showerhead. The water is frigid.

The fridge is not turned on yet. Electricity is expensive, and they have nothing that needs refrigeration anyway. They are determined to be prudent, to be careful where their parents had cared less.

The books pile up, beautifully. Only the favourites and the best get to make the long trip over, and they are arranged lovingly, by colour because it pleases her (and admittedly, him, too.)

It is freezing at night. Who knew Singapore could be so cold? There is no furniture to trap heat. They hold each other to keep warm. First they sleep on the floor, and when that gets too much, they get a $25 mattress from the neighbourhood provision store. It has planets and stars on it. Its plastic texture would rub their skin.

The first acquisitions are delightfully mundane. A bucket and a mop, to clean the floor with. They ask their neighbours (a Malay family with a matriarch and lots of kids stuffed into an impossibly small space) for newspapers, and are earnestly gifted with a large bundle. The children are cheerful and greet them with a chorus of hellos whenever they get home.

You can see the military airbase from the kitchen. The sun sets on it every day.

They explore their surroundings. Everything they could possibly need is either downstairs, or within walking distance. There’s really good prata nearby — and prata is rarely good enough to be worth mentioning, but this one is. The neighbourhood feels slower and more peaceful. There are few cats. (They don’t know it yet, but soon a cat would enter their lives and change it unexpectedly.) The MRT still uses the old gantries from years gone by, but the new ones have arrived, packed and wrapped.

Soon there will be bills and tenants and the inevitable creeping of clutter.

They sit in an empty house, but they have each other and their dreams and that is enough. Maybe this is growing up, they think, when the cold bites at your toes but you smile because this time you are free. This time you are alive. If only we could share it with the world, or if only we could bottle it up and take a good deep whiff every single day, because surely — this won’t last forever.

They play slow songs on her laptop. They sit in near silence. It rains every day. It rains long and hard, almost as if to wash away the world outside the walls, outside of the space that they have claimed for themselves.

There will be struggles, there will be pain, there will be loud arguments and there will be questions. Questions of careers, of meaning, questions asking — what do we do next, where do we go from here? How are we going to pay for this? How do we ensure our own survival? How do we plan to put food on the table, to keep this roof over our heads? What do we do about insurance? Can we create a safe and meaningful space for friends and loved ones, a space that is a haven, away from this crazy chaotic world we live in? Who will we have to become, what will we gain, what will we lose?

They say when you find the person that you want to spend the rest of your life with, you can’t wait for the rest of your life to begin. Well, the rest of our lives are here, every second, every moment.

They may be alone, and broke, and the walls may be bare, but they have each other. In that, despite the pains and struggles, perhaps they are richer and more fortunate than most others, and for that they should be thankful. In the eloquence of silence, their thoughts begin to blend, everything and nothing become one and the same, and a wave of contentment washes over them.

Life is short and harsh but if you have someone to spend it with, someone who you are willing to argue with, suffer with, to annoy, and to bear it with, what more do you ever really need?

Dreams, dreams, dreams. They will be more than they imagine, and perhaps less, too. She sings and he writes and the world passes them by, and perhaps this time — it’s totally okay. What is the world, anyway, but for what we perceive of it, and while there’s a world out there waiting to be explored, there’s also a world right here to be built together, a world of our own.

What more do you ever really need? Comfort and solace and quiet bliss.


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