by Celia Hauw
1963: Years since the end of the Second World War, Singapore gains increasing levels of self-governance under British control, moving towards a future of both uncertainty and ambition.

There are times at night I awake
and don’t know where I am, cotton sheet 
bundled around my torso like a snare,
until the echo of rain battering
the zinc roof, the shuffling of my mother’s
slippered feet, and the gargle of sheets in the wind
places me back in my bed. That was how
I somehow always found my place
in time without realizing what had passed, 
like the times we leave our offerings 
under the banyan tree for so long, 
we never notice when they disappear
until now – I can lie here for hours
walking through the days I lived through myself:
The afternoons I spent crawling into drains to
chase after guppies and killifish, fetching water
in kerosene tins at the well, where someone
would pay me to retrieve their buckets that fell
in. I stood over that shade where the water
was too dark to see myself.
I held the fish up in a bowl under the sun
to see its scales catch light. This is everything –
Everything that feels unreal deep inside me,
for me to have lived and continue living
into quiet afternoons, interrupted by successions 
of radio cars, and early mornings alone
straining to hear the whir of the fan 
at the foot of my bed, drowned out by the rain.
The waves of water, slamming against the roof.
The fantasies that want to come through, coming through.
On the main street, outside the coffee-house
where we were sitting, waiting patiently
for the first television broadcast to play,
another one of those radio cars pass us – 
the second one I’ve seen today – 
Merdeka! Merdeka! playing through the speakers
and out of the megaphone in the hand
of the man in the passenger’s seat.
The quality of his voice far away
even though he was right in front of me
just like the nights we gathered under tents to rally,
listening to the crowd roar and to the men
on stage as they recounted stories. I was there,
though sometimes I didn’t know what they meant.
Other times, even when spoken directly at me
some stories occupy a space outside my mind:
My mother crouching in a drain during air raids
or my grandfather, a Chinese spy – how he hid
names of sympathizers in the shell of a pen, how
they questioned him with hoses, cured him with water,
and left him in the sun to dry.
The television crackles to life.
A man whom I do not know at the center of everyone’s
attention: Tonight might well mark the start 
of a social and cultural revolution in our lives.
All of us, the entire village, watch the camera
pan outwards. A nervous flag, shrinking 
in the distance. Drums building,
beginning a story the way every story
begins – with a sound.
Sitting outside on the veranda, nearing twilight
the open breeze coming and going 
moving slightly the wind chimes
Notes cast further and further away from me
where they hide in the hollows and fill the gaps
between every cricket’s yelp
Yesterday, a world of difference, between now and when
someone had set off firecrackers and lit one of the coffee-houses
aflame, leaving trains of stuck cars even outside our home
What does it say, I ask
my father, reclining on the rattan chair
with the morning’s paper resting on his belly
to catch the orange peel that fell as he ate
He is sitting just outside the light of the sole bulb
that hangs in the center of our veranda, where I sit
as my mother trims my hair with a pair of barber scissors
He inches forward to catch a glimpse
of the headline. Just an accident.
I feel like I am waiting for something
to come up from behind the silhouette 
of the banyan tree in the distance
A jet tears across the sky above us
My mother’s hand freezes
Leaving the edge of the scissors, a small thing
holding its breath
on the back of my neck