Life is like vapour, here today and gone tomorrow; like a flower that blooms today and fades tomorrow; and with every newborn that takes his first breath leaves an elderly taking his last. How he was brought into this world was just like every other baby, birthed out of a deliberate choice by humans, or maybe that of nature, some would say. It was not as if he had an option, as if he could turn back into dust. Whether he liked it or not, he was here on this earth to stay, until the day someone takes him away.
There he stood, arms folded and with a seemingly thoughtful expression; looking out to the river and watching the world go by. Everyone who passed by presumed that he was in deep thought about something purposeful like the meaning of life, but no one ever stopped to discover the depths of his heart and the thoughts that he bore. He wasn’t thinking about the beauty of life. In fact, he hated life itself. Freedom was out there; freedom was in the people walking along the streets and in the trees that swayed to the rhythms of the wind. Freedom was everywhere but not for him.
The more he stood watching people go by, the more he loathed them and the life he had. He wanted to experience life like everyone else; to feel the movement in his limbs, to smell the flowers that were blooming and to hear the sound of his voice. More so, he wanted to relish in the city that he had painstakingly laboured to make something out of nothing. But life would never allow him to, for he was always seen as an inanimate object void of emotions, only erected for the admiration and viewing pleasure of people he barely even knew.
People always said that the passing of time was relative to one’s emotions and for him, minutes felt like hours and hours felt like days. The merciless sun rays glared upon him and he could feel his polymarble skin beginning to crack under the intense heat. People of all ages, from all walks of life and from various parts of the world echoed the same words that went on like a broken recorder throughout the day: “That’s him, the founding father of Singapore!” Was that all he was to them, just a “founding father”? Wasn’t that a bit too shallow of a thought? Did they not recognize the struggles he had to go through in order to transform the country from barely zilch resources to a thriving British colonial settlement? That without him, there wouldn’t even be a place for them to call their home? None of that seemed to have crossed their minds for all they wanted was a photograph with him and they couldn’t care less about a significant historical moment. He deserved so much more, but none he got. And if the sun wasn’t bad enough, nastier days came when cumulonimbus clouds gathered overhead and tattooed raindrops which felt like bullets penetrating his body and there was nothing he could do but to withstand what felt like the wrath of God. When bolts of lightning tore across the sky followed by a peal of thunder, the people who seemingly adored him scattered to seek shelter. They only took care of their own needs and he abhorred them for that.
So what if he was seen as a popular representation of the tiny red dot, it held no value because he was just a part of history that people didn’t even know. People didn’t have the luxury of time and were caught up in their own lives; meeting deadlines, beating the rush hour, keeping up with appointments – living life as if it were a checklist of events. No one, not a single one, ever stopped to think about what it would be like to be confined the way he was. They had goals to achieve and dreams to realize but for him, his aspirations ended with his demise, hundred and eighty-nine years ago. If he were to be given mortality now, he would have led a life far above the rest, spending the time he had to perfect the very nation which he had founded, but the opportunity he had was long gone.
What then would life be, if it were to only draw misery? What would there be to look forward to, when each day and night, rain or shine, brought about a vacant heart and a bitter soul? It would only be wise for him to disappear from the face of the earth, before the resentment of living a life that he did not desire engulfed him.
It seemed God took pity on him for one day, he no longer heard the clicking of the shutters or the shrills of people. Although throngs of people walked past him, none lifted their heads for even a mere glimpse of him. They huddled outside the Parliament House, packed like herrings in a cask, and just seeing the writhing, quivering mass of humanity was enough to release the claustrophobia in him. In place of the exclamations and animated chatter he usually heard were the shuffling of feet and the occasional sniffle. Despite the clouds coughing out great spouts of water, the people stood unfazed by the unending cataract of water sluicing from the sky. What could be more significant than his death? What could cause even the air to hang so low? Who had the power to unite the ignorant nation in such a manner? It felt as if a time bomb was ticking within him, ready to explode and hurl debris all over. The amount of pent-up anger he had withheld all these years was bubbling and boiling like lava, on the verge of eruption but as quickly as it had risen, it subsided for he saw what they clutched on to so dearly. Not a camera, but stalks of freshly bloomed white lilies and roses, and photographs of a man.
“LEE KUAN YEW! LEE KUAN YEW! LEE KUAN YEW!” chanted the sea of faces. “LEE KUAN YEW! LEE KUAN YEW! LEE KUAN YEW!” were the only words that rang out from the seething mass of people as the cortege passed by. From where he stood, he saw it all. He saw the contorted faces, the scattered petals, the salutes of acknowledgement and remembrance. Above all, he saw the coffin bearer party, the gun carriage, and the national flag that was carefully draped over the casket.
As the procession passed by, something shifted within him. It wasn’t one of those usual bouts of turmoil that bubbled into a fit of rage. It was an unfamiliar feeling, as if the thorns that grew out of him over the years were gradually being plucked away. He could not quite yet comprehend what it was, but all he knew was that a particular bank of memories, one which he had carefully stashed away at the back of his mind and double-locked in steel so that all who ever did try would never break through, began to fall through. The selfish hearts of men and the darkened and weeping skies weren’t the only things that he had seen. He saw high-rise buildings come to life and felt the security in the hearts of people walking along the streets late into the night. He didn’t want to come to terms with the fact that the nation had been further transformed since his demise – he wanted credit to be accorded to him. After all, wasn’t he the one who founded this land? But as memories burst through the seams, truths that he had tried to suppress for the longest time, tumbled out.
As these memories and truths broke out from their chains, something else was also set free. All the anger and frustration that he had supressed for years fell to the ground. That unfamiliar feeling was that of liberation, and experiencing it for the very first time made him want to break out into a dance and fist-pump the air. As the first rays of the sun graced the earth, there was no longer heaviness in his heart but an unspeakable joy that overflowed, and with that, he was ready to face the world again.
He didn’t mind not having a shelter over his head, and it didn’t seem to bother him that he could neither move nor speak. The sun rays that used to flash relentlessly at him he now saw akin to spotlights on a stage, casting a glow over his whole body. The sporadic camera flashes which he once detested actually created a glistering effect on his white and flawless skin. He really did feel like royalty – all he needed was a crown and a red velvet robe with faux fur trim to pull off a look of elegance, stature and poise. He didn’t seem to notice this before, but everyone who came by always had their photos taken, striking the same pose as he did.
When the crepuscular rays began to stream through the gaps in the clouds, it was the cue for him to fade into the shadows. The night sky to him used to always be an ocean of blackness, but this time, a canopy of luminous stars materialized right before his very eyes. The city skyline boasted a subtly illuminated glow, enticing the young and old, lovers and merry-makers alike, into the outdoors to make a party out of their night. As usual, no one seemed to notice him anymore; it was as if the curtain call came when the fiery red orb dipped beneath the horizon. But strangely enough, instead of feeling the pierce of daggers, into his heart flowed a great rejuvenation.
And just maybe, he could get used to this life.