Digital painting & short story by Teo Yu Siang
The journey between the Yio Chu Kang and Khatib train stations always seemed unnecessarily long. Someone once told me the reason for the long distance between the stations, something about a planned funfair that never was.
As the train trudged along its tracks with a monotonous, determined pointlessness, music from my earpieces wrapped a soft bubble of solitude around me. What a strange sense of safety music is, I thought. How weird it is when temporary excitations of air molecules could move us, comfort us.
Stefanie Sun’s 我不难过 began to play, but I wasn’t really listening to my music, because I had suddenly realised that the guy sitting beside me had been looking at me for some time. I looked up to see a young man. He looked roughly the same age as me, and was kind of cute. He smiled, so I nodded and offered my friendliest smile before retreating to my island of isolation. I suspected that it looked more like a grimace, but I couldn’t care less.
I could hear my walls crumble silently when he gently pulled my earpiece off the ear that was facing him. The song was just entering its chorus. I looked at him quizzically.
“Can I ask you a question?” he spoke softly, the kind of quiet that draws you in as you strain to hear better.
“Sure,” I replied without intending to, then bit my lip in regret as I removed my other earpiece.
“Which do you think came into existence first: this train or you?”
“Wait, what?” I raised my brows and looked at him like he was an idiot for asking that. But he looked at me with a polite persistence, and I felt myself blushing as I began to feel like I was the idiot instead.
“Well,” I began, “obviously, I must come into existence before the train. I mean, the train exists to ferry me home, right?”
“That’s what you think,” he whispered into my ears. He then leaned back as if to survey my face better, his lips curled into a satisfied smile that was bordering on a smirk. Like he was teasing me with a secret.
“What do you mean?” I asked. I was starting to feel annoyed at his wiser-than-thou attitude.
“Well, think about it this way. You’re on board this train to get home. So, if this train wasn’t going where it’s currently headed, you wouldn’t even have boarded it. This means that your existence, your being here in front of me, is contingent on this train’s existence. This way, the train must come first.”
“I’m sorry, this doesn’t make sense.” I looked at him incredulously.
“What?” he asked, as if hurt by what I said.
“This conversation. This Q&A session – whatever you call what we’re doing right now. This doesn’t make sense.”
“What’s that?” I snapped. Something about the way he spoke annoyed me.
“Autological. It means something that expresses a property which it also possesses itself. That last sentence you uttered – ‘This doesn’t make sense’ – is autological.”
“No, it isn’t. That sentence makes perfect sense, so it can’t have been autological.” My voice had a tone of finality to it, a finality that somehow sounded a little childish.
“But don’t you see?” His eyelids drooped almost imperceptibly, but the sadness emanating from his eyes became overwhelmingly unbearable. “Nothing really makes sense in this world. So the sentence must be autological.”
I’d only just realised how dark his pupils were, how his long eyelashes draw your attention to those large, deep circles. If I looked long enough, could I find fragments of his soul within those deep, dark pools? I continued observing his face as he turned away to face the window on the opposite side of the carriage. The full moon hung lowly on the night sky, rendering everything in the train carriage a little surreal. There was something sad about the smile he had on his lips.
“Au-to-lo-gi-cal.” He uttered softly and slowly, as if to himself. He sounded so child-like that an impenetrable finality hung in the air.
By now, the train was approaching Yishun. The sound of the train tracks vibrated the carriage with its steady but hurried pace, like the beating of a heart that grew tired of empty words. I tried to make sense of the senseless train of thoughts running through my mind, but all I managed to produce was silence. I thought the guy sitting next to me would say something – in fact, I hoped he would – but he, too, seemed to think that silence was the most appropriate conversation to have.
As the train pulled over at the station, I left the train carriage without saying a word to the stranger.