The decidedly not divine Miss P was annoyed. She tapped her blood-red fingernails on the table, reading yet another article on identifying Singapore’s favourite undead. They’d gotten it all wrong! Again! Was it really her fault she liked floral fragrances? She went to great trouble to smell nice, and they thought it was all frangipani! Or jasmine! The living! They never noticed anything!
She looked around, ignoring the steam rising from her kopi-o. The Lido girl was here, dragging a teddy bear around the old-fashioned coffeeshop, asking the uncle for Milo. Miss P smiled at the girl, and shifted on the old wooden bench to make space for her. The girl had been really excited about some upcoming movie about a boy wizard, even dressing up her bear with a wizard’s hat. Miss P thought it was just as well the girl had a seat for every movie, she looked like might just rematerialise in anticipation. The uncle came over with Milo for the girl, and Miss P’s kaya toast. She called out to his head, which kept a watchful eye from the counter, thanking him.
The army boys were all at one large table, as usual, drinking Tiger Beer, and eating as fast as they could. Between the vulgarities and the army acronyms, it sounded like they’d had a good night’s work, giving an entire camp full of newly-minted NS boys nightmares of ORD-ing six months late. A particularly sensitive boy had woken up screaming. He was now being imitated ad nauseum, the boys laughing themselves, well, obviously not to death, but hard enough. One boy kept his spilling entrails on the chair next to him. Another had blooms of blood on his No.4s, military medals in crimson. Both swore instead of using punctuation.
She’d had a good night as well. Taking the last MRT train to be early, she’d decided to wander around her usual haunts. At a reservoir, she’d terrified a girl into hysterics, putting paid to her boyfriend’s idea of a wild night in a parked car. She’d thought to get a lift, since the car they were in was speeding in her direction, but decided to continue wandering. Seeing more parked cars, she had repeated herself, terrifying 3 more girls before taking the night bus back.
She looked around. There was the odd soldier in an old-fashioned uniform. They were usually quiet, asking only for drinks and to borrow a newspaper. The livid bayonet and gunshot wounds were horrific even by their standards. They deserved respect, these men, who had fought and died for a country not yet formed. The war dead rarely came here, preferring to live in their old bunkers. They practiced marching in order to have something to do, and kept to themselves. This had become a country almost foreign to them. Most of the places they knew no longer existed. Those of their companions still alive were mostly in hospitals and old age homes. They visited as often as they could, she knew, always asking forgiveness for not being the ones who had to survive. On the nights they marched, they always hoped that there would be someone to see them, a distant nephew, perhaps, or a granddaughter. But that was rare, and as time went by, fewer people remembered them. They had no graves, only memories, and those were fading.
Miss P smiled to herself. At least she wasn’t losing her popularity. Everyone knew her, or thought they did. She frowned again. Who exactly came up with the idea that she lived in a banana tree? To her, bananas were good for fibre and potassium, and not much else. Anyway, technically banana trees weren’t trees, but large herbs. She lived in a shophouse these days, storing her vast collection of white dresses in several rooms. Their world kept expanding, as buildings were torn down to make way for new ones. She’d been surprised to see the National Library appear, with its red brick walls and the fountain in the courtyard. It still smelled like old books, quiet and accepting. She’d seen the new library, and thought it was odd, cold efficient glass and metal, not particularly something you could have feelings about. Recently the National Stadium had begun to appear. It was like there was more than one Singapore, the past and the present ones, neither having much in common with the other. But then again, she was old, older than she looked, and her ideas of history and belonging had no place anymore in the land of the living.
“Mari kita rakyat singapura sama-sama menuju bahagia…”
The radio began blaring. Miss P looked at the clock, it was the end of tonight, and the beginning of tomorrow. She sang along.
“Majulah Singapura. Majulah Singapura.”
- Nurul Jihadah Hussain 2007
Published in Life! section of the Straits Times on the 29th of July as part of their Ghost Stories Competition.