an excerpt from It Never Rains on National Day
SOMETHING slackens and then we are moving, slowly at first and then juddering faster. A cool spray rises as we move past the other boats, then leaving the concrete embrace of the harbour behind for the relief of open water. The sun is not setting yet but the shadows are long, and the tall buildings of the city are at their most attractive, glittering as brightly as the water. They look like beautiful toys, like we could reach out and pluck them from where they stand, the great wheel of the Flyer, the three reaching fingers of the casino, the hard-angled glass and steel of the CBD.
We gape and take pictures if we have cameras on our phones. Mohan points at the lotus flower museum and shouts, Look, I built that. Ah, we laugh at him, but have you ever been inside, knowing he hasn’t, because who could afford that admission fee, and just to look at old porcelain or some foreign painting? Still, we cannot resist doing it too, calling out what we’ve made, office buildings, skyscraping banks, the Gardens by the Bay with their giant metal trees. That’s mine, I built that. Despite ourselves, we feel a flicker of something at being a part of this machine, and having operated the cranes and laid the bricks that bought the great city into being.
The boat pulls past Sentosa Cove but it takes us a moment to recognise it, knowing that the houses there cost fifty million dollars at least, as expensive as the moon. From this side they look merely grubby, washed-out pastels behind a scrubby screen of trees, not the palaces we imagined, but then nothing human-made could look well against the blue-green sea, its neat triangular waves in parallel lines as regular as a child’s drawing.
Our conversation sputters and we fall into a lull, hypnotised as the mainland slips away and there is space, as if someone has drawn a circle a mile across and placed us alone in its centre. The trip takes less than an hour, and soon we are passing the giant oil drums of Pulau Bukum, the twin green hillocks of the Sisters Islands, and then St John’s, its name inscribed in white letters on the slope approaching us, slightly overgrown with grass.
The fishermen are ready to disembark first, leaping onto the jetty before the boat has quite docked, juggling heavy bait boxes and carbon rods, then the teenagers form an orderly line and troop ashore, breaking off in clusters for a photograph under the welcome arch. We are the last to disembark but that is fine, we are not in a hurry and it is easier to manoeuvre Jairam on shore without other people in the way. The crew stand with one foot on the step and the other on land, either side of us, holding the boat in place.
© Epigram Books
by Jeremy Tiang
from It Never Rains on National Day (2015)
published by Epigram Books