We agreed to meet in front of the MacRitchie Reservoir the following Sunday, the oldest reservoir in Singapore. My university friends were the ones who suggested this place as a good kayaking venu. I read about MacRitchie’s history a long time ago, back when I was still in university. It was part of the compulsory Singapore education that all university students were required to take.
One of the readings talked about how the reservoir came about. From how it was built, to interesting facts about it, such as the existence of a small Shinto shrine right in the middle of the forest, built by the Japanese during the second world war. It was sadly destroyed by the British forces when they reoccupied Singapore, and remained in that state until today. The abandoned shrine served as a quaint historical attraction for those who are more adventurous. A part of me wondered if Phoebe was the type who would be open to the idea of finding the shrine.
While the reservoir still played its role as a water catchment area today, it also serves as a recreation area for those who enjoy the nature. Activities like treetop walking, hiking and jogging are part of the different things that one can do at the park. As for me however, it was kayaking today. With a girl named Phoebe. I reached a few minutes earlier, so I waited at the bus stop as agreed. I watched the cars and buses pass, as I wondered how would today turned out like. I wondered what lay in front too. How many dates must we go before I can confess? Or are the feelings mutual in the first place? The mechanics of a courtship were all so confusing.
A short buzz in my pocket startled me. It was from Phoebe. “So sorry but I will be a little late! Boarded the wrong bus!” The messaged made me chuckle. I replied her saying that that it was okay, and to take her time. Looking at her display picture in the instant messaging app, I still had a hard time believing that an actual beautiful girl, who can easily pass off as a model, is willing to go out with me. On a date that was totally unconventional. Spent on a boat. Under the hot tropical sun of Singapore.
Lucas, of course, was skeptical too. He thought that I was lying, that I’m just cooking up a story as part of an April Fool’s joke when I first showed him Phoebe’s picture. Still, he was happy for me, just that he felt that something was not right. Such a beautiful girl would hardly be single, let alone on a dating site. Most surprising of all, she chose a guy who is neither rich, charismatic or insanely good looking. Not the typical guy that girls would fancy.
“Something smells fishy,” he said, but was not able to pinpoint what exactly that was fishy. In the end, he just asked me to enjoy myself, and to update him on the progress. I told him that I would. “Since when have I not told you first?” I asked him. He chuckled at my comment.
When Phoebe finally arrived, I found myself staring at her in disbelief again, just like the first time when I met her. She was that kind of girl who catches your attention when you walk pass her in the street. Dressed in a pink dri fit singlet and in a FBT shorts, she was a sight to behold. Her figure glowed through the figure hugging clothes. A drawstring bag hung from her back, and her hair flowed through the cap that she was wearing, into a neatly tied ponytail.
“Hi…” I said as I casually walked up to her, trying to not be too anxious. “You’re finally here!” An obvious fact, and I did not know why I said that. It sounded as if I was annoyed that she was late, which I was not.
She smiled apologetically, as the rest of the people getting down from the bus brushed against us. “Yeah, sorry about that.”
“Nah it’s okay.” I shrugged, and waved my hands as a signal that I don’t mind. I motioned towards the park and smile back at her. “Lets go get our boat then, shall we?”
She gave a nod, and we started along the trail into the reservoir. The path was lined with greenery, both big and small. Trees, bushes, grasses and even flowers. The fresh air here felt like a far throw away from the air that we usually get back in the city. It was refreshing, to step into nature every once in a while, and to soak in the surroundings.
Back when I first came to Singapore, I found it hard to believe that the country actually hid an outdoor gem like this right in the middle of the island. Unspoiled by civilization, I loved how the place offered a solace from our everyday technology.
We walked for a while in silence and I was not really sure of what to say to break the ice. I kept looking around me, searching for something suitable to say. I wondered if the awkwardness can still be considered normal during the second date. It was Phoebe who started the ball rolling. “So how have you been?” She turned and look at me.
I searched for an answer. There were so many things happening in my life, and I didn’t know what would be best to tell her. In the end, I settled only for “Like that lo.” Which was totally a lame way to answer questions. Who gives such a vague answer? And such a total conversation stopper too. Lucas would have definitely scolded me for this. I needed to make the answer longer, or at least ask a longer question. To keep the conversation going. “How about you? How has school been?” I simply blurted out.
She thought about for a while, her index finger on her chin. “Hmm.... like that lo,” she answered, imitating my voice, with a frown on her face. I immediately recognized it as my own. She looked at me with the frown that my friends always teased me about, waiting for a response. Her face betrayed a hint of playfulness on it. I laughed. She followed suit.
“You’re evil!” I said in between our laughter, to which she replied with a shrug. At least it did not felt awkward anymore, as we began to feel more at ease. We updated each other about our lives, about what has been happening since we last met up. Me about my work, she about her school. We continued along the tarred road, heading towards the lake.
The sun shone through the leaves, bringing a warmth mixed together with the freshness of the air. The smell of a lake hung in the air. Our feet rubbed against a dirt path path now, as our trail began to look more rugged. We were close to our destination, I guessed. Before long, we found ourselves greeted by a green wooden shack, its paint somewhat worn, with peels here and there. The zinc roof that covered the shack were rusting too. perhaps an evidence of how long has the shack been keeping watch over the lake.
Next to the shack, rows and rows of brightly painted kayaks laid, propped against a metal railing. A few dozen life vests, in an equally bright colour, hung close to the boats. Further down the shack there was a makeshift wooden jetty, where I could see other people busy getting into their kayaks, guided by an middle aged man, tanned from the head to toe. He was busy shouting instructions, gesturing wildly to make his point.
As we approached the shack, another man greeted us, whom I assumed to be the jetty man’s colleague. He asked whether we were looking rent kayaks for the day. He was a middle aged too, tanned as his colleague. His hands were wrinkled and his hair white, perhaps a result of all the hard years of work under the sun, renting out kayaks. I told him that I was, and he quoted me a price that I have already knew from online. Four crisp ten dollars note exchanged hands that day.
Phoebe immediately took out her wallet and wanted to pay for her share. I pushed her purse back into her bag. “My treat,” was all I said. I wanted her to not feel burdened. Or perhaps it was me trying to appeal to the belief that guys must always pay.
She looked surprised. “You sure about that? I mean it’s no big deal if I share, and I will feel bad if we don’t.” Her hands were still holding on the purse.
“Yeah, I’m sure. You’re still a student, and I am already working. You can treat me back the next time when we’re doing something that you like, if you feel bad for this.” I did not give her a chance to reply, as I immediately walked towards the locker. I just turned towards her and grinned. In the end she just gave a sigh, before putting back her purse into her bag.
“Thanks,” she muttered, as we were putting our belongings into our locker. Her lips parted into a smile. I let my lips do the same.
The old man then asked us to pick our life vest and our kayak, before directing us to his colleague at the jetty. It was a busy Sunday morning, and there were several other people around us, each picking their own life vest and boat. There were already several boats in the water as well. It was the first time that I was trying this, so I did not know what to expect.
Phoebe offered to help me carry the kayak to the jetty when she saw me struggling to drag the kayak to the water. But not wanting to appear weak, I told her that it was fine, and boasted that I was a king scout back in my secondary school. Any effect from my scouting experience has been long gone by now though, replaced by the product of years of not so active lifestyle once I step foot in Singapore. My arms strained to carry all the weight. Deep down inside I felt ashamed.
Phoebe must have seen through the facade, because she gave me a ‘are you sure face’. We walked a bit more, before she asked if I was okay again. I hobbled around, but still insisted that I was okay. Without saying a word, she proceeded to carry the end of the boat, which has been dragging through the ground for a while now.
“Hey!” I turned and looked at her. “Really, there’s no need. I can do this.” The harshness of my voice caught me off guard. Beads of sweat rolled down my forehead.
She gave me a serious stare. “Just let me help, can?” There was slight hint of annoyance in her voice. The conversation was headed into dangerous water, so I shrugged, and dropped the topic. We walked in an uncomfortable silence for the remainder of the journey. The distance to the jetty was much shorter than the distance from the bus stop to the shack, but it felt like forever to me.
“Girlfriend, boyfriend?” the old man at the jetty gestured at the both of us, his finger moving from me to Phoebe. He was trying to be friendly, but it was just the wrong timing. Only an uncomfortable silence greeted him. Phoebe smiled weakly, without saying anything. She quickly climbed down to the boat, taking the front seat. I followed suit as well, but not before thanking the uncle for helping us.
This is going to be awkward, I thought, as we began to swing our oars, and paddled towards the center of the lake.
P/s; The main character is such a dick, don't you agree? Anyways, here's to hoping I could continue to write once I'm in Malaysia!