There are things you already expect to happen and then there are also unexpected things. You relish in the unexpected. But you are also not so sure how to handle it.
Receiving notifications from Facebook when a friend, former colleague, relative, or even a stranger greets you is an example of what’s expected. We do it all the time when we greet our friends and family. It’s basic really. Facebook reminds you it is someone’s birthday and it even provides a screen where you can send your wishes wholesale to all the celebrants of that day.
My mom sent me photos of a birthday card she picked out for me from National Bookstore. At first the cards look “Hallmark” generic, but somehow the message inside is always strikingly relevant. She signs her name on it, my dad’s name, my brother’s name… adds the date and the year. It’s the same every year and I love it. It’s just that I’m not there physically to receive the letter. I felt the love.
This was my first birthday in years as a single guy. It’s challenging not having a partner to take you out. But I had plenty of surprises this year.
I went to Yishun the night before my birthday on a premise I would be watching RuPaul’s Drag Race season 8 with two of my friends. I arrive at the flat to this scene:
And not just that… but my colleague Greg is there. Wow. Surprise!
A night of food, karaoke, and board games. And yes, we still did get to watch RuPaul.
The afternoon of my birthday was spent lying in my bed in Geylang. Everyone else was at work since it was a Wednesday. I had my office laptop with me… intending to finish a few more edits from home. But I couldn’t. I just lay on my back when I had another episode.
Why did I cry again? I don’t really know. I suppose I was imagining an alternate reality where I’m still together with him and we are spending a whole day travelling somewhere or cooking barbecue at a beachside chalet.
In the evening I met up with a former colleague who was visiting Singapore with her boyfriend. The two are glowing. You can switch off the lights at Song Fa bak kut teh and still be able to eat your food with the glow coming from these two lovebirds.
I brought them to Chinatown for some bingsu. We talked about ABS-CBN. They are an office romance. I was in an office romance. In that same building. Or sometimes underneath the massive antenna tower where he took my hand, shook it firmly, and introduced himself formally. “I’m Danilo Emmanuel…” Obama became the first black president of the United States a few days after.
Thank you for sharing bak kut teh and bingsu with me, Lara and Rap. While I loved giving you a street tour from Clarke Quay to Chinatown, it was me who enjoyed the company.
Starbucks at The Cathay was were we decided to meet.
He was running late and I was halfway through a ridiculously expensive cup of passionfruit iced tea. I tried to imagine it differently. If this was the guy I met in KL in April… would there be butterflies in my tummy after hearing again his deep, dark voice? Or if this was “Leo of River Valley”— arms on the table… his squint, his shy smile in tow.
He arrived and he got me a slice of a Starbucks cheesecake. This was the first time we met with the intention of having a decent conversation again. For most of it, we were like friends catching up.
But it ended on a somber note. Because I was put in my place again as a villain. That I played the role of quitter or deserter.
The very circle of friends that matter to me in Singapore… well, they fell into the WhatsApp generic greeting of “happy birthday!” to which elicited my reply “thank you”. They’re busy with their own lives.
Two people I reconnected with recently invited me over to Yishun were the sweetest.
Greg, my officemate, surprised me in the office (along with the team) + surprised me again when he was in Yishun for the birthday salubong. Thank you.