Thursday, January 2, 2020

That Trees Do Cry

That Trees Do Cry

It could not have been less obvious. Even the foreign workers working nearby would have realised
something was amiss. A building that was closed and of little significance to them whatsoever, and yet, there was this constant stream of people - individuals, couples and families - that trickled in like wandering spirits, lingering about quietly in as much as a whisper, drifting in and out of the silent stairways, and loitering before bolted doors and unlit windows.

Hitherto they took their cameras out now and again to steal a shot here and there without getting in
each other's way. The respectful silence that permeated the air betrayed the mutual understanding that each one has for the privy of the other's need to be alone to dwell in his or her own timeless place of memorable fondness and youth.

I brought my 10 year old son along just to relive the little moments that we once had here. I vividly
remember one rare breakfast of sandwiches and coffee in the cafe by the fountain in the inner
courtyard five years ago. I couldn't remember what we chatted about, but I remember we had a
magazine and he was reading something aloud to me. I remember feeling very proud as the elderly lady at the next table beamed an approving smile at the proficiency of this young reader.

However the strongest piece of thread that binds me still to this place can be found on the parapet of the main stairways. Here it was, and still is in my eyes, the memorable resting place that me and my siblings sat with Enid Blyton's books in our hands. We loved this spot and would sit here for a while before adjourning home.

I had wanted so much to share this feeling with my son. That I did sitting there with him for a while and we had pictures taken for good measure. However, what happened next, swept me off my feet in the most enchanting way.

'Daddy... look! A slide.' I looked up and saw him sliding down the smooth terra cotta tiles. 'That was
exactly what I and my brother and sisters did too,' I smiled.

Never in my wildest dream that out of my babe's mouth comes a distant voice from my past and so miraculous a gift of vision that only he, my son, could ever have presented me so dearly.

We left shortly after and walked slowly round to the side of the red-brick building for one last time.
Surprisingly, there were still some books lining the window sill inside. They looked forlorn and sad against the algae-stainted pane, leaning out as if to take a last glimpse of us old faithfuls.

It seemed goodbyes were hard even from the inside too. Long gone were the noises of the children and the incessant steps that greeted the arrival and departure of the library visitors. Anguish draped heavy like a burial cloth.

As I walked to my favourite Sea Beam tree at the end-corner of the building, I wondered if I, amongst the thousands of old faithfuls, had done enough to help conserve this place of our youth.

A carpet of tiny flowers greeted me under the Sea Beam tree. Some fell on my head. As I stooped to pick
up some, I found a dying caterpillar lying motionless amongst the fallen flowers. It must have fallen from the high canopy too.

I looked up to see my son who by then was riding happily about in the carpark on his scooter. Will he and his generation ever know that trees do cry when a caterpillar dies? I sincerely hope so, and understand why dad and others alike are so sad today.

- Joseph Lai, 3 April 2004

In its place - a gaping hole of an entrance to the 350m Fort Canning Tunnel. A very short tunnel for a cherished place of memories and growing up for Singapore Merdeka Generation especially. 

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