Void Deck

Alfian Bin Sa'at

Where the neighbourhood wives,
After a morning at the wet market,
Sit facing the breeze
To trade snatches of gossip
About leery shopkeepers,
The local louts,
(Like that fella who's always drilling his walls
Gives me migraine)
And that mad woman
Who throws things from her window.
With careful put-downs they
Fashion boasts, about stubborn sons,
Lazy daughters, who by some miracle or mistake
Always score well in class.
When words falter,
Gestures take over: pursed lips, rolling eyes,
Animated hands adorned by bangles of
Gold, jade, steel, string.

And children orbit around them
Laugh without diction
Their games of tag a reassurance
That there has been no hothousing
Of who is unclean, unwashed,
Untouchable. When they break out
Into some kindergarten song,
One almost believes in a generation
Cleansed of skin-deep suspicions,
And free from the superstitions of the tongue

And old folks sit like sages
To deploy chess pieces with ancient strategies.
In a corner, a caged bird bursts
With the song of its master's pride
And wrinkled women breathe, through
Tai-chi-tuned windpipes, the operatic melody of the air...

All a wanton fantasy.

Eyes reveal a meeting-point
For loners and loiterers:
A sense of things reduced-
Conversations that trickle through
Brief noddings at lift landings,
Teenage rhetoric scrawled, in liquid paper,
On the stone-table chessboard,
(Where the king used to sit)
The grandiose house-selling dreams of residents
Compacted in anonymous letterboxes;
As an afterthought, an old man pees
Under a public phone.

A place to be avoided, this,
How in its vastness it devours hours.
Little wonder then,
Why residents rush through void decks
Back to the cramped comforts of home
As if in fear of what such open space might do
To cosy minds.

Published in One Fierce Hour (1998)

Postcolonial Web Singapore OV Singaporean Literature Alvin Pang