Number Twenty
Esquire Singapore|February 2021
He was the poster boy of the Average Singaporean Man, our Foong, ‘average’ being the keyword. Furred with little vices as even the best of us are, like a tendency to stare at cleavage despite his hardest efforts not to, and a finger that often strayed up nostrils (his) when he thought others weren’t looking (they almost always were). But surely Nothing to be Alarmed With. For he was also nice, our Foong, good—if a little milquetoast. He was a blood donor (especially when he was trying to lose weight). He had a creed: work hard; no drugs; be kind to humans and animals. No cargo pants on weekdays, especially white ones. Or skintight bike shorts on public transportation.
Lauren Ho

Call Ma—in Balik Pulau, Penang—once every week; pay for Pa’s nursing care even though he left them for a total bitch three decades ago but was now the dumpee, and the Alzheimer-ed. Life! Also, respect women. Only plain vanilla consensual adult human-on-human porn. He’d never even downloaded anything illegally, which, considering he was a late Gen-Xer and had been around when Napster and Pirate Bay were considered ways to give the establishment the middle finger, was almost sweet.

You could say our Foong was an ordinary Joe, not one to rock anyone’s boat, just like you and me.

Not a creep.

In spite of himself he followed her off the MRT. She caught his eye for several reasons: first of all, she was unmasked—something he noted once his brain processed the riot of signals her particoloured geometric print wrap dress and black velveteen kitten heels sent his way—or rather her transparent face mask made her look like she wasn’t wearing one at all. It was only after he’d inched closer to where she stood in the almost-empty carriage that he saw the glint of curved plastic of her mask. Ah. Then she caught his eye, held it, and—this was the clincher—she winked. No one, especially women who looked like her, had ever, in the history of humankind, ever voluntarily winked at men like him. Her plump lips, parted, were Ribena red.

Foong didn’t believe in mincing words/ gilding turds; he would admit to anyone (even if they weren’t asking) that he was not attractive. Age had not been kind to him, despite his relatively young age of 43; his skin was sallow from a lack of exposure to natural light, his hairline receding to spite him, plus he didn’t have the money, charm or other illusory means of detracting the eye from the soft sag of age around his chest, which he had somehow—wrongly—believed was contained by the tight-on-purpose white T-shirt he was wearing.

As she stared at him, smiling, Foong felt a familiar underarm seepage. Especially when she mouthed, Come home with me. She was, for all intents and purposes, acting suspiciously, and since locals were encouraged by the government to follow up on suspicious individuals…

They meandered. She knew he was tailing her because he clomped about most ponderously, not wanting to be accused of surprising her, and every 10 steps or so she would turn, smiling, her eyes seeking him out coyly.

Then they came to a quiet road in an enclave of bungalows. She stopped. He stopped.

Hello, she said. Warmly. He’d been expecting a barrage of insults.

Hi, he replied, a wave sprouting out of him unawares.

I’m sorry, but I’ll have to blindfold you if you want to come any further with me. Don’t worry, it’s only for another 800m or so.

Is that necessary? he said. He was afraid of the dark.

Yes, for my safety.

Foong’s heart was freestyling.

Okay, he said, allowing her to approach with a scarf. I’m going to look silly, he thought.

I’m going to die.

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