Of Paths I Will Not Cross Again

Sunday, February 28, 2016


"Should we take this turn?" I asked him, motioning to an alley. The sun was up and it was a bright afternoon. There was no harm taking a shortcut to our destination.

At first glance, it looked like one of the usual back alleys of a row of shophouses, where shop owners go to take a breather or have a quick smoke. This one though, was unusually crowded.

No, it wasn't packed by the likes of Chinatown streets during Chinese New Year or Orchard Road on Christmas. It just didn't seem like there'd be this many shop keepers all taking a break at the exact same time. And all of them being men.

Strangely, all the back doors to these "shophouses" were wide open, and the men were entering and exiting freely, most of them looking to be in high spirits.

As he stopped in the middle of the alleyway to tie his shoelaces, I glanced down and watched him do it. From the corner of my eye, I could feel the stares. Looking up would probably mean making eye contact and I somehow knew I should avoid making any there.

The moment he stood up, we quickened our pace. "What the hell is this place?" he whispered. As we walked, I couldn't help but steal glances of the interior of the shophouses. I saw many doors that were painted pink, presumably belonging to the many rooms inside. Later, he told me that he caught sight of an altar.

As we were nearing the end of the alley, a faded poster was plastered on one of the walls in full view. It featured a collage of girls in raunchy outfits.

"Oh my god!"

In broad daylight, in an unexpected location. I made a mental note not to take anymore shortcuts anytime soon.


As she sat at a secluded corner of the almost-empty Yoshinoya outlet - eyebrows furrowed and lips pursed - she counted.

She emptied her pockets, and counted the number of coins she had. She counted and tallied up their value. She counted and mouthed the value to herself.

The sound of the coins rang through the quiet air of the fast food restaurant. There was no doubt that the staff have noticed her presence. With the noise from the coins, they must have. But no one said anything - didn't ask her to leave, didn't ask her to purchase an item from the menu. They let her go on counting.

As she thought about the number of meals she could have with the remaining coins she had left, she let out a sigh. She gathered them and gingerly put them into her pockets, before emptying them out once again onto the plastic beige table.

She counted them again. Again, and again. Some were shiny, others were filthy. But it didn't even matter. She counted them, hoping that the more she counted, the higher the value would become. Things unfortunately don't work that way, and she knew that very well.

With the final tally, the elderly lady carefully put her precious silvers into her pockets and walked out of the restaurant.


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