Chap Lau Chu
One day we'll take them down again.
In this city you'd be lucky
if the roof you put up outlasts
the kids you raise. Show me a square
of earth and I will show you where
we put to bed what could have been
walls, a room – an everything. In
a year or two they'll be taller
than before, pushing right up through
the sky. Yes, the kids, too. I swear.
You say compare here and Dawson?
Dawson is a muddy area.
You know why Tanglin Halt is up
and down, up and down? Not level?
Put it this way, Tanglin Halt here
is solid as rock. Lim Yew Hock's
time, they don't have excavator
cannot level the ground. But still
must build. That time you not born yet,
they build, so many blocks they build.
The day we move in father puts
his ear to the floor, raps once, twice
with his knuckles till every inch
has been tested, his fingers bruised.
Forgetting myself, I run through
the hall and in a flash he stands –
catches me – lifts me off my feet.
Not so fast, he says, it's all air.
Somewhere, someone begins cooking.
Char, steam. A din of kitchenware.
Okay you know this car park? Next
to the wet market, the road there?
Got one whole row of shophouses,
police, next door got PAP,
now a lot closed already, there?
Behind last time is where we used
to have the getai. You don't see
the car park very small – last time
whole block of people can squeeze there!
All the children one row. That's where.
For a few minutes every night
it's like someone comes by and sets
a flock of pigeons free, all at
once, an act of mercy so brief
and extravagant we want it
to happen again and again.
They're dark at first, flocking between
the blocks, and then suddenly lit
as each door (and ours) swings open –
it's Ma, home from the factory.
Not say is very crowded lah.
So this is the room right, mattress
on the floor, then three of us sleep
nearer the wall so won't fall down.
That time also got the tenant
from Malaysia, take one room. So
the rest of us, one room. My Mum
and Dad, three of us. Usually
I'll go to the hawker centre –
do homework, sometimes sleep also.
Morning settles above the field,
like a cloud. In places mud has
swallowed the grass, leaving only
little blades sticking up towards
the sky. In some ways it looks just
like a map of the earth – brown, blue
and green, in scattered areas.
Imagine if this is all there was:
easy, from up here. Now look again –
what if this were all there was?
Most, move already. Some of them
like my neighbour, that old lady
I told you? Move to Ang Mo Kio.
Ang Mo Kio, you know? Must be it's
cheaper. That time one room one hall,
now change two room one hall. I heard
they will pay you some more, must be
some allowance, help you to move.
The rest of us? Soon lor, don't know
when yet. I don't want to be last.
For a while there were volunteers,
on the weekends especially,
asking if we needed a hand
with all the packing, some even
staying long enough at the door
to hear all about the estate –
old times, what it was like back then.
Quieter now, the days bring
fewer visitors. And even then,
even this will come to an end.
Nowadays people grow herb, grow
flower, is different. Last time
Japanese come, all we have is
eng chai to eat! You won't know one.
Move here, got fruits. Grow papaya
down at the train tracks, lemongrass
outside my front door. After this
not sure whether still can or not.
Can we plant? Where to plant? Not say
don't want. Just that I still don't know.
By Theophilus KwekQLRS Vol. 22 No. 1 Jan 2023