The sun’s fallen from the sky, but the air’s still too warm. There’s never a breeze in Singapore when you need one. The train overhead has dropped off a herd of people and picked another up in turn. They’re pouring out of the station to flood onto the street and into the malls.
There’s one thing that stands out. A great structure of metal and glass that rises from the ground, with lights to attract and blind you, windows to entice and buy you. A screen mounted to the window plays a video of picture-perfect people telling you that this great new skincare product is just what you need to finally find your soulmate, and you’re not complete until you rub this funny lotion all over you. And then someone else appears to tell you the same thing, except this time it’s about a watch.
The crowd never stops moving, like the heartbeat of the city. Tired people selling things to tired customers so they can go on with their tired lives. There’s an old woman who can barely stand cleaning up after people so she can keep affording rent.
There’s a little stall where someone is selling art they put their heart and soul into for ten bucks. Everything’s a commodity now.
The last train home shows up. Each rail car only has a couple people at this hour. Everyone sits so far away. The buildings fly by, all the malls, stores and apartments. Every lit window is a story reserved for only a select few.
Home is the last stop. I’m alone on the train by then. Not another soul. The lights are starting to turn off, the store shutters are all slammed shut. It’s just the street lights now, and the occasional window of a couple still up. There’s an ache in my legs from being up and about for too long and a pain in my back from sitting hunched over paperwork for too long.
I’m not ready to head home and lie down though. It doesn’t feel right. Something pulls me in the opposite direction, towards the beach, just a short walk away from the train station. Just a few minutes there, it says, whatever “it” is.
There’s nobody else. It’s just me, the sand and the ocean. Black waves lit by the pale moon. Ebbing in and out, stretching out into eternity. The ocean ends somewhere, but it feels infinite compared to me. Slowly, everything starts to fall away, leaving only the sounds of bugs and waves.
I don’t know how long I’m there for. Minutes, hours, it doesn’t really matter. It’s there, faced with the immensity of the ocean, that I realize how small all my problems really are. But it doesn’t help. I’m small too, small enough to be consumed by it all. By the pace of the city, its lights and products, the desires trapped in lit apartment windows. It feels cold all of a sudden.
The waves lap at my feet, then recede again. I’m hoping for some revelation here, some divine truth that’ll make me feel better. It doesn’t come. Why would it? Sometimes things have some hidden meaning for you to parse. But sometimes, an ocean is just an ocean.
I’m not in tune with the universe here. I’m not finding enlightenment. I’m just a dumb kid staring at an ocean that couldn’t care less, trying to escape the world for a little while. But maybe that’s all I need. That quiet moment, all to myself.
Eventually, I have to tear myself away. I have to head home, wake up the next day and face the world again. The gears of the world won’t stop turning just yet. We’re all caught up in them, snagged by our sleeves and taken for a ride we didn’t sign up for. Sometimes it seems like the world just keeps getting faster and faster as crowds and opportunities pass by all around you.
But the ocean was always there, always moving the same as it ever did, keeping a healthy distance from the city’s crowds. A momentary escape from the world that doesn’t stop turning.