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old school kid

503 – that’s the number of the block where i spent the first 12 years of my life. i remembered the day i moved out with my family – it was christmas eve and it was raining – into our new apartment smelling of fabuloso detergent and sanity.

as is often the case, i ‘happened to in the neighbourhood’ and decided to look around the estate that shares the same age as me. that was about where the similarity ended, for i felt like the stranger evolved from a traitor. i was the one who left after all, as was more expedient, considering the alternative. time is a great whitewash, for the peals of laughter i once helped to create are no longer audible. they say that kids can hear at frequencies adults can’t. i guess i am no longer a kid.

it is an unwritten decree that once hdb estates reach the ripe old age of 20, they are to be dressed up in garish colours. in fact, the louder the better. nothing like a good old splash of colours to liven up the mood a little. so the freshly adorned blocks of flats stand at attention, no matter that there is a limit to how tall they can stand, doing their best to fill the role that they have been cast in – laughing stocks in the drama of renewal.

i took the lift to the 8th storey of block 503, the top storey may i add. the lift now stops at every floor, no doubt because of certain vote-garnering measures, i’m sure. it used to stop only at the 1st, the 4th and the 7th storey. as i exited, i glanced to my right across the street and saw the pap kindergarten i used to attend. to the left was a ledge, painted a gaudy maroon, upon which a row of crows were perched, cackling to be shot at gunpoint. of course that was not going to happen, not in this country anyway. i quietly edged towards the unit where i used to live in. at that point, i suddenly got the irrational feeling that i was not supposed to be there. it was as though every step that took me nearer was a grave transgression of its own. i just stood at the bend, 2 units away, and peered, hoping that the door would be closed. it was, and i am glad it was.

i left after about a minute, went down back towards the void deck. there was nothing much other than a rusty yellow bicycle chained to a stand (that maroon again!), some wrinkled malay uncles chatting at the stone chess table and those whitewashed pillars that i was so well acquainted with as a speed-loving, crash dummy adolescent on my bmx. stepping out into the dull glow of the cloudy afternoon i thought about solar panels and how they were only effective in strong sunlight. but then to power the engines of nostalgia, the dull glow of cloudy afternoons are perfect, thank you very much.

my primary school was about a few hundred metres away. it looked different, not the grey-white structure that i used to hate but would now adore. it was now, like most things, cheerfully resplendent in red, yellow and blue (3 cheers for the brighter end of the colour palette, people!). the skeleton of the place was still there, i could easily navigate the school. when you once spent 6 years in a place, forgetting it is hard work.

walking around, i heard some kid banging out rolls and flourishes on the drum set in the music room. if he was indeed a primary school kid, he was really quite good. maybe he’s one of those kids always held back by his peers and by circumstances. sure, your feathers may be a shade brighter but hey, no kid who desires approval would fly solo. i know that feeling.

the table tennis room was still in the same place – the afternoons i spent with that black contraption which kept spitting orange balls at me in random directions. sometimes i wonder if i could have spent my time better, make better decisions. like that time when i consumed a huge bowl of ‘yong tau fu’ with too much of its too rich gravy during recess and threw up in one of the science labs, as the equally stomach-churning glass jars of preserved snakes will attest to. or those times when i kept trying to feed the birds through the metal cage of the school aviary and got my fingers nipped again and again, as though by repetition i could attain some form of higher knowledge. i was a kid after all, and when you are a kid, you  believe.

for more on my thought, click here.


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