At times, one of these boys is friendly (and you may have, at one point, almost been kissed as a joke), but you were never friends. Born in Australia, he has a wider, whiter circle of friends and girlfriends, a certain swagger and fondness for rap. He adopts a hybridised accent, alternating between the whitest schoolboy (plays footy “with the legends”) and a blaccent learned from MTV (a continued use of “wassup my n____!”).
Many years later, you stumble across these boys as men in necessary spaces; shopping centres, the odd mutual friend’s party, grocery aisles. On one occasion you exchange small smiles with one of them and he tells you, “you look good”. Online, you come across familiar names in your feed, liking posts about muzzing, shredding, big dogs, Manny Pacquiao. In June 2020, you see these same familiar names liking posts about ‘blue lives matter’, about how racism today isn’t a thing. For a second, your thumb hovers and you pause. And you wonder: do you – for lack of a better word – really ‘unfriend’ a now distant near-forgotten acquaintance?
Many years later offline, stepping through chattering peak hour commuters and clattering trains, thinking of pouring a steaming cup of tea in the office, you look up from the glow of your phone and see him standing, hair gelled and neatly dressed in pressed blue uniform. If either of you recognises the other, neither of you show it.
This is how you are reminded of all those years ago, when one of those boys who could have passed as your brother asked, “Why’d you move here?”. You remember leaning a hand on a wooden fence, jutting your chin, lowering your eyelids and starting to say, “In Singapore, we already spoke English at home, so…”
But as you speak, you also remember asking your parents the same question.