This is Sparta

Part 2 of 3

The flight was a bit late getting into Singapore. We had to circle at a distance for an extra half hour while the planes delayed by a recent thunderstorm moved through the queue. I was running late by the time I cleared immigration, bolting for the shuttle bus to the main terminal to ditch my bag at the left luggage desk. In spite of the frigid air conditioning, I had managed to work up a sweat by the time I nudged my way onto the smooth plastic bench of the MRT.

I took out my wallet to slide in my fare card for safekeeping. My bank card was conspicuously absent from the leather slot it always occupies. I frantically searched my pockets and daypack, my blood pressure rising as the train trundled towards downtown. No luck.

I hadn't used the card in days, so it was hard to be sure where it had gone missing. Maybe I had left it in that Thai ATM as I rushed to catch up with my friends. Maybe it had tumbled from my wallet as I went through security, snapped up by an underpaid security officer. Maybe it had been taken from my pocket by the nimble fingers of an impossible pickpocket, moving with the faceless grace of a shadow. It was gone, and in its place I had a handful of currency from a half-dozen countries.

I met my contact near our usual Arab street haunt, a shisha bar that operates in the legal limbo of an unlicensed patio space. Sometimes they get raided; most nights the police leave them alone. We caught up, talking now about places we had both visited.

Soon it was time to catch that last train. We drank some beer in the courtyard of his public housing complex. These buildings dot the landscape all over the island state, strangely familiar in that slightly Soviet feel that all such projects share across the globe. I would not have wanted to have to find the place on my own.

We took a walk around the lake, the pathway deserted on account of the evening's rain and the late hour. It was humid, and mosquitos hurried from the undergrowth to feast on my warm blood, but the cheap beer from the 7/11 made it all quite tolerable. We found some dry benches in a gazebo further down the path.

As we sat for a moment, a motorcycle pulled up nearby and stopped. Two men dismounted and settled in to a bench across from us, producing some bottles of their own and relighting their cigarettes. After they had done this, one of them slowly approached us, hands clasped and shoulders rounded in a posture of some formality. He explained to us haltingly that they would simply be sitting in this bench nearby and asked whether that would be acceptable to us, whether it would disturb us. I felt like we tripped over ourselves in our hurry to reassure him that this was not a problem. I was a bit puzzled, but I had an inkling that this might be some of Singapore's ethnic tension rearing its head. The men were dark skinned, and my friend offered that certain Singaporeans would be quick to report them for the offence of enjoying the calm by the water at night.

The men thanked us for our understanding quite earnestly, which made us feel awkward, so we moved on, stumbling perhaps a little and speaking too loudly about the perils of the bureaucratic state and the cowardice of consumer despotism. Sheeple. The place is built for sheeple. I could see how living here too long could lead you to act irresponsibly, to take risks, to be socially if not politically reckless, or else to leave.

By the time I bunked down on the living room couch, it was almost time to get up again. To make my early morning flight I needed to catch one of the first trains across the city, which I did. As I stood bleary eyed amongst the horde of crisp commuters, no doubt wreathed in a cloud of boozy vapours, it dawned on me that I was effectively penniless. I had managed to get a cash advance from my credit card the night before, but had spent much of that already. Here I was boarding a plane to Taiwan with twenty-four Singapore dollars in my pocket. Sorting out the money thing would have to be the first priority once I got to a fixed location.

The flight boarded early. I choked down a weird sardine sandwich and some awful coffee and waited for everyone else to get on the plane. No point spending more time breathing canned air than necessary. I fell asleep before takeoff, my head jammed at a weird angle against the emergency exit door. I dreamt of being on a plane with more leg room and a dystopian reality where children wore military regalia and tyrannized the old.