An excerpt from Shantih Shantih Shantih by Daryl Qilin Yam
We were both in bed when I told him about this idea that I had: I didn’t have a title for it yet, but I knew it was going to be a book. It was an idea that had been resting in my mind for a while, but now I finally had a way of picturing it. I envisioned it would be around fifteen to twenty thousand words, which would either make it a novella or a novelette; it would be split across twelve different sections, with each section voiced by a different character. My lover then asked me what I was going to write about, and I told him it would centre on the one and only time it ever snowed in Singapore, though I hadn’t decided exactly when. And at this point I asked if he could imagine it, if he could foresee himself reading a book like that, and he said yeah, of course he would, he would read anything I wrote.
Encouraged by what he said, I grew appreciative of how amenable he was. Just earlier, for instance, when we had entered my house together, I told him to be quiet and take his shoes with him, and he did; when I told him not to approach the windows to the backyard he also did as he was told, because I had dogs there, you see, and one of them loved to bark at strangers. Later, safe in my bedroom, when I told him there was a certain way I liked to be held, he held me in that manner too. And so I told him about my plans, my other plans with this book: I told him about how it would be great, in fact, if my future publisher could market my book as a work of nonfiction; it would sell, I think, if we could make it seem as though the snow had actually happened, and that there had been a coverup that needed exposing, a great unveiling—perhaps we could bill it as a massive conspiracy that was still underway, one that pretended the snow had never happened. I could even declare the text to be the transcript of a dozen people’s statements, each person recounting word for word this supernatural event that had occurred over the island, and how they had all come to witness the snowfall together in their own time and way. It was then my lover spoke up again—he asked if I was sure if it should snow across the entire island, or perhaps I could make it more localised, like in a specific neighbourhood or street. And I said no, it would have to be island- wide, the scale of that idea appealed to me more. And then my lover said, well, if that’s the case, would twelve people be enough, then, for the book that I wanted to write? Would twelve separate accounts even be considered adequate? And I said I certainly hoped it would, I couldn’t imagine myself investing more effort into this than I was prepared to. Twelve perspectives, I believed, would be enough.
At this point my lover looked at me—there was no light in my bedroom, but suffice to say I could still feel his gaze upon me— and he said: Actually, hang on. It hailed before, right, in Singapore? I told him I knew what he was talking about. I asked if it was about that incident, in 2013, in the midst of the haze crisis, and he said right, that’s the one. Wasn’t there a news segment on Channel 5 that went viral after that? And then my lover reached over behind me and grabbed his phone, which he had left on the headboard; he opened the YouTube app on his Samsung Galaxy and for a moment we were awash in nothing but the light from his screen. It touched me to think that if anybody had seen us at that moment, they would only see two heads floating in the darkness, his and mine encased in a halo of blue light, which is how I had always imagined a perfect kind of companionship. And with my head on his shoulder he typed “hailstorm singapore 2013”, and there it was: the first clip in a list of search results.
The clip opened with a shot of a newscaster, seated behind a desk, wearing a beige blazer over a large-collared magenta blouse. She said: “Freakish weather hit western Singapore today, with a storm toppling trees, as a dry spell in the country was broken— and a surprise too, as hailstones pelted parts of the island. Despite the elements, the Civil Defence confirmed there were no injuries.” And then there was a cut to a second clip, blurry and pixelated, as a cardboard box skidded across a red-tiled sidewalk, and a vicious wind, made visible by sheets of falling rain, gusted over the scene and over the plants, the road, the toppled-over chairs. It only took us a beat to register a second voice—a voice-over narrated by a male newscaster, declaring, IT’S LIKE A SCENE FROM A WESTERN APOCALYPTIC BLOCKBUSTER, EXCEPT THIS IS SINGAPORE, AND THIS WAS HAPPENING FOR REAL— and immediately afterwards we started to laugh, the both of us burst out laughing in my bed, for some reason everything the guy had said felt absurd and a little embarrassing. And then this embarrassment had a way of persisting; it left me feeling a little cold after the initial high. I wondered if that was due to the halo we were in, this blue light from his phone, an igloo in which all feeling seemed to magnify and distort. More than anything I started to wonder if he actually thought I was pretentious, or arrogant, or a fool. I wondered if this video on YouTube was a way of avoiding further talk about my book; that perhaps I shouldn’t have brought it up in the first place; that perhaps I was too naïve, or too trusting; perhaps he now thought I was a fraud, coasting off real events that had happened years ago, or because that’s just who artists are. Perhaps the fact that we laughed just meant that it was all silly, really, we couldn’t take anything seriously in Singapore. And then the shame of it just kept growing within me, like a sponge in water, while it also made me want to shrink away from my lover. I took my head off his chest and lay down on my pillow, and in all that time I guess I was just waiting for him to leave like he earlier said he would.
At half past four he got up from my bed and took his clothes, as well as his shoes. He said he had to return to the hospital, to Raffles Hospital. In that moment it saddened me to think that in an hour, or probably even half an hour, people would start to wake and begin their day again. But for now I was the one who was awake, I was the only one in the world with my eyes wide open like this. What could I even see, staring out of my window? What was all this sky, clouded over? And what could I even think to do with it? What right did I have towards any claim of ownership, of authorship? Just before my lover left I tried to buy us a little more time, I wanted to make him stay a little longer; I asked him what snow was, what the word for it in Tamil was, and he looked at me, uncertain. It was “pani”, he said, but he wasn’t so sure. You don’t know? I asked, and he looked at me again, with a deeper frown etched over his eyebrows. No, he said, he wasn’t sure at all; the word might have stood for snow, or it might have stood for dew, as in the droplets of water that accumulate in the mornings, before the sun rose in the sky and the earth got warm again; it might have stood for one or the other, he didn’t know for sure. And then he said goodbye and left.
Get your copy here: Shantih Shantih Shantih by Daryl Qilin Yam
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