This was an activity for settings. We were given a setting and asked to write about two vastly different characters. Two characters with opposing motivations who see the same setting in opposing lights.

In The Night

This was where it had all started. Standing on the other side of the road, Anna kept her eyes on the wide screen television above the banner that read Bugis Street. Advertisements played on loop. Smiles of teenagers, adults and even old people flooded the screen. She couldn’t take her eyes off of them even though the Red Man had already given up his light for his brother. Anna remained still. It wasn’t until the flashing of green light, that caught her attention, did her feet move.

One step at a time, there was no rush in her movement not even as the seconds went down. Maybe a traffic accident would be a better way to go. A thought that went away the moment she reached the other side. It was replaced with another: how unfortunate.

She entered the air-conditioned street; a shopping heaven filled with knock-off goods at every turn. People all around her had their mouths opening and closing but she heard nothing. The smoke from freshly fried bananas drifted through the air and yet she smelt nothing. Her mind was preoccupied with memories of the past to take in anything new. The memories came flooding in with every step. Her laughter from  the times she had walked the crowded streets with her husband took up everything she was hearing. The durians that they had eaten together would have been the taste in the back of her mouth but there was nothing sweet about it now. All that remained was the bitterness that she couldn’t wash away. And all she saw were the sights of her and her husband huddled together in different areas of the street. There they were at the bag shop. Her breathing picked up. But they were also at the shop selling shirts. Her heart raced. And also at the small restaurant sharing a drink. The voice in her head asked her to run. The loving sights of her and her husband chased after her. Every turn into another alley, another sight. Her and husband were hugging here. Kissing there. Whispering sweet nothings into each others’ ears right in front.

It. Was. All. Too. Much.

Run.

She ran. She ran up the escalators but her visions didn’t stop. She ran and ran running into the same sights, more sights. She lost all sense of direction in the crowded third floor with the blinding lights of every other shop selling the same thing as the next. She ran in vain trying to find the damn exit. Her visions were catching up to her. That’s when she found herself backing into a toilet.

A shot.

She had never spent a moment in this establishment’s wet and pungent smelling toilet that was dirtied with footprints with her husband – she had never spent a moment in there by herself either.

It was her only shot.

She would be safe from her visions there.

She was – from her visions, yes.

But the only thing that bothered her now, was her; her reflection on the wide panel glass. Her dreary eyes that were tired from grieving the loss of her husband in a sudden heart attack, her balding spots from losing hair in the months after his passing, her bony arms from not having had a proper meal in months. She couldn’t recognise the eyes staring back at her. What she saw haunted her just as much.

No. She had to get away from herself.

She stumbled away from her present only to be bombarded by her past. Her visions surrounded the entrance of the toilet closing in on her. She could barely breathe. The tears didn’t stop. She shut her eyes tight.

Stop.

Stop.

STOP.

She was pushed against the wall behind her.

Her hand found it’s way to a knob.

Her eyes shot open. An exit. A shot. Another shot at safety. Away from her sights, away from her thoughts, away from her aching past that she could never relive, away from her bleak present that she would never get out of.

She turned the knob and entered the dimly lit stairwell, shutting the door behind her with a thud.

She heard her breathing calm. It was over.

Over.

But she heard it again. Not the voice in her head, not her breathing, not the sound of her heart beating against her chest. It was the laughter she’d been running away from. She turned slowly from the door to the stairwell. Two people would barely fit if they were to stand side by side on the steps.

But there they stood.

Her visions had gotten there before her. They stood at the bottom of the steps, they stood at the top, they were behind the door. There was no escape.

Except through the window with red frames.

——–

This was where it would end. Standing on the other side of the road, Devi kept her eyes on the wide screen television above the banner that read Bugis Street. Advertisements played on loop. Smiles of teenagers, adults and even old people flooded the screen. Soon, she would have a grin as wide as theirs. The Red Man gave way for his brother to shine. One step at a time, she told herself wanting to savour every moment of her journey. She wanted to take in every sight, every smell, every sound for she knew she would remember this day for a long time, if not forever. The bustling of feets across the road, the fruit seller calling out to the crowds, the blaring Chinese music on the radio, any other day, Devi wouldn’t have given a damn, but today, everything just seemed beautiful. She almost couldn’t believe it took her all her thirty-two years to be able to enjoy the chaos of it all. People were going in all directions inside the acclaimed Bugis Street. Food of all kinds were being fried and steamed, sending off a variety of sweet, heavy, faint smells, of tuna, durian and fried chicken to name a few. And they all seemed to somehow come together in a harmony of sorts. If ‘warmth’ had a scent, this would be it. Her ever chaotic mind seemed to find solace in this place that was too crowded with people from all over the world, haphazardly stacked imitation goods and cheap assortment of foods. Everything about this place screamed a mess and yet somehow nothing was out of place.

She didn’t feel out of place.

It invigorated her. She picked up her pace keeping her eyes peeled for the one store that would change everything.

And then she saw it.

Her shot at a new life.

Unlike all the other stores which overflowed into the walkways, this one kept itself contained within its door. It did not have blinding lights that enticed customers, it did not have heavenly fragrances of freshly squeezed juice or steamed buns, it did not have staff that cajoled you into buying anything. No, it stood quietly with a pink banner between a counterfeit bag shop and a counterfeit shirt shop. People who noticed the shop glanced away, often stealing glances at it as they moved past. But not Devi. Devi stood opposite it, staring at it, her heart thumping hard against her chest.

It was her only shot.

Thirty-two years she had waited. Thirty-two years she had listened to her conservative parents. She wasn’t upset at them. She didn’t regret listening to them. But it had taken her thirty-two years and three failed relationships for her to listen to herself. And that she regretted.

She made a move towards the sex toy shop. Her parents would disapprove. But she was no longer going to wait for marriage. Why would she, when same-sex marriage was still illegal in Singapore?

She pushed open the glass door. It marked the end of the old her.

That night she would celebrate a new her, a her that would not fit in – a her that no longer wanted to – and this would be where it would all start; again.

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