It is late afternoon when she joins me. 5:45pm. This is it — the beginning of the end. Something bittersweet hangs in the air. We are early, earlier than most others. I’m sitting on the edge of the ledge, staring at the soon-to-be crowded buffet tables, the blooms of the Flower Dome forming a myriad of bokeh marbles in the background of my vision. A harmony of laughter and unsynchronised chatter makes its way to the hall, calling our necks to the direction of the source. We watch as more people stream into the hall, and I begin to recognise a few familiar faces amongst the crowd.
We push ourselves off the ledge and as I am about to call out to one of my classmates, she tugs at my forearm and goes, “Look!”. There is childish excitement in her voice that I can’t help but find endearing, but as I follow her gaze towards the ceiling of the hall, I begin to understand why. The kaleidoscope of orange, blue, pink, purple, yellow — all unlikely companions, but somehow beautiful — is truly a sight to behold. I take in all the colours and for a moment, we just stand, with the lights forming a beautiful backdrop behind the groups that have congregated before the buffet tables.
Before I know it, we are at the buffet tables. She holds out a plate to me and I load heaps of pineapple fried rice onto my plate. I give the broccoli a pass and continue to fill my plate with the other foods. Breaded ebi tempura, golden cereal fish fried to a crisp brown and seafood gyoza. None of which wasn’t my favourite. I hover my tongs above the plate of chocolate eclairs and as I am caught between my love for sweet food and the desire to make good dietary choices, she drops an eclair onto my plate and justifies, “Dessert can’t wait.”
In my peripheral vision, I could just make out the outlines of the pool table and the neighbouring foosball table. I make a mental note to have a go on the pool table after I’ve finished my food. My thoughts are interrupted as I hear my name being called from the other end of the hall.
“Quick! The first performance is just about to begin!”
She hears it too and grabs me by the elbow, making a run for the illuminated benches, where our other friends are seated. As we weave our way between rows and rows of chairs, I make a conscious effort to keep my food from skidding off my plate. At this point, the room is buzzing with excitement as the emcees give the stage up to the first performers of the night.
The set is impressive, with electric guitars, a keyboard and a strange instrument I don’t know the name of. She informs me that it is a “talk box”, or something along those lines.
Following the final beats of “Check Yes Juliet”, she drags me to one of the tables positioned near the stage and immediately immerses herself in the array of artwork carefully laid out on the tabletop. I exchange a smile with the artist, a tacit apology on her behalf. She offers me an empathetic smile in return and hands me a quick sketch of the both of us. I take a moment to appreciate it, before keeping it in the safe pocket of my jacket.
The emcees announce the next item on the programmes list, and I turn to face the stage. The performers take their positions, and the strong bass beats of the music fill the air. They do not disappoint. The acrobatic display leaves me in awe, while the well-choreographed routines tug at the corners of my mouth and a smile finds its way onto my face. The next few moments are hazy as I faintly recall dancing along to upbeat tunes and cheering for our newly-appointed “Meme God”.
The intermission begins, and we head toward the Flower Dome. The dazzling display of dianthus and daffodils catch my eye, and I make my way through the resplendent display of flowers, Christmas decor and Disney characters. We argue over how “Tsum Tsum” should be pronounced, and I insist that it should be read as “zoom zoom” but ultimately I give in anyway. There is no lack of photo spots, and my camera shutter clicks non-stop as I take it all in — or try to, at least.
We make our way back to the Flower Field Hall, right in time to catch one of the last performances of the night. A familiar tune fills the air. Could that be…? My ears do not fool me, as the melodious voices of the singers fill the air, breathing life into a unique remix of 《当你孤单你会想起谁》, a timeless SODACHE classic. We put our arms around each other and sway in time with the music. As I sing along, I am reminded of the times I’ve had in these 2 years, and a wave of nostalgia sweeps across me, back to a time before tests and exams, and winning Orientation games was the most of our worries.
As time ticks down, we regale in what will be our last ever session of SODACHE, our batch’s last hurrah. One by one, these familiar songs seem to count down toward the end of a long journey.
As I leave Gardens by the Bay with these all too familiar faces, I am engulfed by a bittersweet feeling. Our time in Hwa Chong may have come to an end, but I know that for every one of us, this is just the end of the beginning.
– fin –