The airport is a place of departures and arrivals, of separations and reunions. And because it is such, the airport is also an officially gazetted venue where we can put on public displays of affection without fear of reprisal from the authories.
If I so choose to grab my girlfriend by the waist and lock lips with her in a passionate swoop, I am certain there will be no citizens standing a few metres away, silently observing, recording the scene with their camera cellphones. I am certain there will be no pictures of me and my girlfriend locking lips, giving each other the tongue, uploaded on the internet a few hours later. And I am certain there will be no infantile comments chastising me and my girlfriend for such a blatant display of public affection. Because this is the airport – a venue where public displays of affection are approved of, if not encouraged. Still we can only display public affectations in approved areas that are marked by red boxes – a leftover from the state’s history of demarcating smoking corners by painting yellow boundaries. I think it is no coincidence that our lips are red as well, boxes of passion.
There are times that I wonder: how far can I go before the uniformed troops step in with their rifles trained on me. Like in a movie, I would be read out my rights before being handcuffed and escorted to a holding area. “Your immorality will affect the morale of the public,” the leader of the troops would intone to me. Or would the troops not intervene because I am no more than a small fry? Perhaps they would leave me to the citizen police and by daybreak, I would be humiliated in public – pictures of me making out with my girlfriend outside designated areas would go online for all and sundry to see. Will I be able to act like a martyr when humiliated? But tonight I am not here to test my country’s OB markers.
I am here for an event which does not involve me. Because I am doing neither the departing nor the arriving. I will experience neither the pain (or happiness) of separation nor reunion. I am just there to wave my left hand. “Goodbye, bon voyage!” Empty words of encouragement will pour from my lips later but my company will not know it. Words have been emptied of their meanings for so long that I don’t think anyone remembers the real past. The real hides behind acronyms these days and thus displaced, we forget their meanings. It reminds me of the Youth Olympic Games that happened sometime ago. Or YOG (Why-Oh-Gee) as it is more commonly known. Sometimes the people forget that these games are for the youth, the nation’s fresh blood and they ruin it with politicking, with their adult meanness. Luckily some people remembered.
Reverie. It is good to remember the past but I should not get wrapped up in its chains. Or I will sink with the anchor that is history.
Time fast forwards and I now see the couple standing in front of the transit gate, locked in a customary embrace. They are going to part. They lock lips. A little tonguing perhaps. The guy’s arms wrapped around the girl’s lithe body. To make up for the two months of separation. I avert my eyes in respect. I do not want to intrude the private bubble that they have carved out.
It was out of nowhere. The sounds that broke the moment.
And separate. Embarrassment. Or was it? I can’t tell.
Heeheeeheeeeeheeeeheeeeeee. Heeheeeheeeeeheeeeheeeeeee. Heeheeeheeeeeheeeeheeeeeee.
Oh it is their friends giggling, nothing more you think. Not some discreet camera flashes that goes heeheeheeehee. We are safe for the moment.
The couple decides to continue with their mental communication. No words are needed because everything is communicated through the lips, a language that is stronger than words, stronger than embarrassment or anything else. The language attempts to fill the void created by an impending two-month absence.
In a way the girl, like all other girls, feels robbed of her boyfriend. The country has done her a disservice.
It is an instinctive reaction, one that will either be corrected or forgotten a few years later. If forgotten it will make a good story for her to tell her friends. I was with this guy throughout his National Service. I didn’t abandon him for other guys, separating herself from the chaff.
I am being careless here. It’s too voyeuristic, too negative. I am conjuring up possibilities that didn’t even exist until they were brought into existence by my voice. I am at fault. The one who gives knowledge is at fault. Such is its power, a gigantic serpent swallowing its own tail. I am the mother of their tales.
And like the authoritative figure that all mothers are, I look back at the two best friends who stood there giggling. In their pure hearts, they mean no harm. Everyone is capable of this, this nervous tittering when confronted with an uncomfortable situation. Our natural reaction: laughter. By laughing, we admit we are complicit in the act of subversion, an act that is against our stoic Asian values. This is why we make fun of the kisses between brides and grooms, between couples.
The laughter is ritualistic. An eye tic of the unconscious that manages to burst out to the surface of the bottomless puddle. We cannot accept spontaneous displays of public affection – no kissing on public transport, no kissing at playgrounds. But kissing at designated venues, such as the airport and the wedding hall, is fine.
Even worse, it would be mortifying if you don’t kiss at the wedding reception. Or at the signing away of your lives to each other. And that would be a crime.
Nota bene: This is an embellished work of non-fiction