“And for the last group… Richard, Yvonne, Hubert and Lisa.” Mrs Gill barked out the last grouping and scanned the class with a gaze that pierced Yvonne’s heart. “If there is no objections, all of you can get up and look for your other group members and begin work now.”

Yvonne did not dare to raise a finger against Mrs Gill but silently, she wished she had objected. The students around her left their seats and grabbed their belongings and scrambled in every direction. However, Yvonne remained seated, hesitant to meet her group members, especially Richard, whom she had an uncomfortable history with.

“Hi, are you Yvonne?” A voice came from behind her. “Your name card says so.”

She turned to face a chubby boy with tousled wavy hair who was gesturing towards the name card on her desk. Every student had one.

“My name is Hubert. And this is…” Hubert gestured towards the pair that stood beside him, “Richard and Lisa.”

For some reason, the sight of Richard made Yvonne’s brain decide to cease all cognitive functions. It was not until Lisa extended her hand that Yvonne regained composure and gave it a shake. Richard followed suit, and Yvonne was surprised to see her own hand stretch out to answer. In a tragic miscommunication between brain and motor functions, Yvonne’s hand dangled in the air after Richard withdrew from the handshake. Taking this as an opportunity, Hubert took the hand and shook it as how an overly eager kid would with an unopened gift.

“Nice to meet you, Yvonne! I heard you’re great at this class, let’s find a seat somewhere and get started, shall we?” Hubert said as he let go.

Throughout the meeting’s duration, Yvonne sat opposite Richard. She secretly kept eyeing him while maintaining sufficient eye contact with whoever was speaking at the time. Oddly, he did not seem to return the interest. In fact, he seemed to be pretending to not know her at all.

Richard was intensely focused on the discussion and was trying his best not to bother with Yvonne or her equally intense gaze that she seemed determined to hold throughout their short meeting. He decided to brush it off with an attempt at forcing her to speak instead.

Hubert and Lisa were deciding between presenting on the topic of mergers and acquisitions or social organizations. Richard cut in.

“I think merger and acquisitions are particularly interesting.” Richard was intrigued about the conflicts that arose whenever two companies merged. “I think there is a lot to explore regarding the possibility of conflict and how companies successfully overcome it. What do you think, Yvonne?”

Hearing her own name from Richard’s mouth only made Yvonne realize how foreign it sounded as it rolled off Richard’s tongue. It lacked all the emotions, expression and longing that had once been the way she was accustomed to. A deep, throbbing pain began somewhere within her chest that numbed her entire esophagus. Her lungs expanded, expecting air, but she could not inhale, and she choked on the void that also seemed to have swallowed her voicebox.

“Yvonne? Are you okay?” Yvonne’s pain was evident to all at the table, albeit the rest only perceived it as a strange peculiar discomfort. Richard’s eyes were blankly staring at her, but as her gaze met his, she saw a flicker of concern, which was met by a flicker of rage.

How dare he utter my name as if all the time we spent together was wasted and for naught!?

“I’ll tell you what I think.” She inhaled deeply for the torrent of words she could feel building up and clambering relentlessly to be let loose.

Hubert began to squeak as his groupmate found her lost voice, “Well, that’s great then! I was getting worried-”

But Yvonne cut him off. “I think the conflict in merger and acquisition is an excellent idea. And you know why? Because there are so many ways to deal with it. Some companies address their differences. They talk it out, and they settle on a compromise. And some companies-“ Yvonne stared pointedly at Richard, “Some companies simply ignore it. They pretend they’re one big company and then they go about doing their own shit ignorantly without giving a single fuck about the employees from the other company. And what happens to those employees’ feelings? They get hurt. They don’t like it there. They feel like killing themselves. They-”

The torrent ended just as quickly as it began and Yvonne was barely holding back her tears.

“I need to go to the toilet.”

She stood up and left. The three remaining students stared at her seat. Hubert afraid, Lisa worried, and Richard a turmoil of emotions. Yvonne’s outburst had caught the attention at some of the students at nearby tables too.

Lisa was the first to move. “I should go check on her.”

Richard reacted. “No. Let me.”

Richard followed the echoes of sobbing that brought him to the emergency stairwell, where Yvonne was found bawling her eyes out until they resembled swollen tennis balls with slits. Instinctively, Richard’s hand acted before his brain did and it stretched out to wrap around Yvonne’s shoulders, but he withdrew it at the last moment. He was not sure if she still appreciated gestures like these.

to be continued


He Walked Into the Train

He walked into the train. The cool air hit him like a blizzard. He hurriedly wiped off the sweat with his sleeve because the last thing he needed now was to be ill. He walked along the carriage and found a sit between two males. Content, he swung his bag to the front and relaxed his legs, allowing his butt to fall into the hard plastic chair.

At this point, most teenagers would automatically retrieve their phone from the pockets or bags. This man preferred to just sit and enjoy the comfort of the seat. To him, seats came rare and an empty one has to be fully treasured.

So he looked around and analysed his surroundings. And he caught sight of a woman. If he were to guess, she would be in her early-thirties. But it was not her age that caught his attention. It was her expression.

She was wearing the smugest, most self satisfied and self content look that a person could pull off without crossing the boundary to look snobbish or boastful. He let his eyes linger on her. She did not seem to mind. She was talking on the phone and her eyes were flittering towards the ceiling expressively, yet staring at nothing in particular as she imagined the person on the other side of the phone.

He continued to stare. He knew it was rude, but he could not help it. He cannot help but to wonder what put that gloat on her face. Was it the person on the other end of the phone? Or was it because she just earned a promotion to kill for? Or was she a gambler and she just won the lottery? Or perhaps she was just that cheery.

She has been on the phone for a pretty long time. The train has passed five stations already, yet the gloat lingers on her face, and his eyes lingered on it too.
He was still wondering about the answer that he will never get to the question that he will never ask. What was it that made her day?

Was she aware that someone was watching her? He knew of people who behaved as if the world was watching them. They ate cakes by the milligrams and did everything delicately. He thought it was ridiculous. Let the haters hate, that was his motto.

Ten stations passed, she was still on the phone. Still wearing that expression. The passengers next to her were not aware of this person bursting with jubilee standing right beside them. He wished he could get closer to eavesdrop on her conversation with her telephone stranger but no, an empty seat has to be treasured.

It has been twenty stations. Nothing changed. She was still there, he was watching her. The passengers came and go but the pair ignored their surroundings so marvellously, they were like two rhinoceri in the midst of a fly swarm during summer.

He was now completely engulfed in his own mystery. He could not stop thinking about it even if he tried. What was her secret to happiness? Well, the train arrived at his station too early and now he’ll never find out.

He Walked Into the Train

A Short Chronicle of My Trip to Singapore

I am finally here, the land of the free, the New York equivalent for me. And try as you may, a person my age can never avoid taking public transport if you have places to be daily. So this short story is inspired by one of the many strangers that chanced upon my path today.


In his hand he held two cups. Will she like them? He thumbed the cups nested in his palms. So fragile, he thought. Fragile… just like Jolene. The thought of her name tugged at his heartstrings.

I saw his grip tighten on the two cups, but his facial features remained undisturbed. His brows were fraught with wrinkles, and were clenched so tightly that they formed a thick lump of skin crowding out his eyes, causing his eyes to be no more than a slit.

The young man seated beside him looked up from his Jane Eyre novel, and sneaked a peek at his neighbor with the funny brows. The brows made him look angry. Wait, no. That look is not anger. It is worry. Yes, he looked worried. To me, he looked very worried . That man was very worried, all the time.

Jolene… what have I done to deserve her stolen away from me?

Now he was thumbing the cups again. His thumb explored the inner rim of a cup. As I watched, I noticed his odd bulging fingers. Like his brows, their skin were excessive as well. It was as if he had too much skin, which folded and reminded me of a bulldog’s sagging cheeks, or a cold sausage with wrinkly skin. I felt sympathy and wondered whether it is a symptom of old age, or was he a casualty of a cruel accident?

Blissfully unaware of being scrutinized by the brat on his right, the old man was still lost in his thoughts. She will like them. The teddy bears on it will make her like it. She loves teddy bears… if she can recognize and recall what teddy bears are. What have I done to deserve this?

While holding the cups, he toyed with the keychain hooked around his left thumb. As the final sentence passed through his mind, he squeezed at the spring-mechanism clip which gave a satisfying ‘Snap!’ sound. That snap was his expression of rage, hurt and every strong emotion he had. It is soft and will be unheard, but it will have to do. Temper, temper, he chided to himself.

I was staring blankly at my outstretched feet and weaving a tragic story about the stranger next to me, before two pairs of approaching feet beckoned me to oblige to civic duty to tuck my feet in to give way. As I did so, the man beside me looked up and his gaze followed them. They were a young couple, probably around my age.

Her voice alerted me, forcing me to stop my train of thoughts. “Really meh!” Her squeal, her pleasant voice, the playfully cheeky refusal to believe her boyfriend’s tall tales, all of these brought the euphoric yet nostalgic sentiments to blossom within his breast. Young love, how beautiful it is. Love her hard, young man, love her while you can. His gaze followed them as they walked on and onto the next carriage, until they were finally out of his sight. But his gaze lingered on where they exit, where he noticed another young kissing couple. Young love, he thought again.

“Bartley station,” the train announced abruptly. The kissing couple broke off, looking up and at the train’s digital panels. The girl’s expressions read: This is my stop.

Bartley? I still have ways to go. Sigh. I was tired and it had been a long day. I was already drawing on reserve creativity energy to compose this tale. But beside me, my muse of the day rose from his seat. This must be his stop too.

My stop. I can see Jolene soon. I can give the cups to her. How will she react? Will she recall her favorite childhood toys? I hope so. But her dementia is getting worse. Yesterday she almost forgot her own husband…

A Short Chronicle of My Trip to Singapore