Usually, I would write a story in summary of the photographs I’ve been taking for my 365 Days of Singapore project. However, in light of the recently-passed General Elections, I wrote a short dystopian story instead.
Hope you’ll enjoy it.
Ministry of Society
Farrah’s fingers almost crushed the edges of her envelope, her hands wrapped around the manila paper tight. She ascended as the entrance escalator of the Ministry of Society brought her to Client Services, after passing the metal detector and the security guards at the foyer two storeys down.
Eyes on the floor, she looked up in time to get off the moving stairs and witness a tall, Chinese man, probably younger than she was, crying and reaching for another lady. And as their cries echoed through the queuing hall, she caught the lady scream back in a foreign language, pleading as she was led away by expressionless officers. As the man collapsed to the floor, she turned away.
“IC,” the officer behind the desk asked.
Farrah handed her identity card to Adina, if the shiny tag above the stone-faced officer’s right breast pocket was correct. Awkward silence disturbed with shuffling papers and feet ensued. A few beeps later, Adina handed a number printed on thermal paper, together with the IC, over.
“Thank you,” Farrah said.
Adina did not.
Leaving the queue, she entered the waiting area, rows upon rows of plastic seats placed in 4 by 4 blocks. Numbered counters formed a barrier between the sparse individuals dotted all over the corners of the waiting area and the officers from the Ministry of Society, with their expressions a mixture of molded smiles or zombie-like resignation. Number boards hung periodically at the front, displaying queue numbers and their corresponding counters, interchanging with whatever was on Free-To-Air television that day.
Her ticket grasped together with her envelope, Farrah shuffled to the left corner.
Sliding into a row of seats, she placed herself behind another man, this one now looking slightly older than she was. A tanned, lanky man holding his phone up, his cheekbones high. Upon hearing her taking her seat behind him, he quickly slipped the gadget into his pocket, hiding the picture of him and another man in the middle of a tender kiss.
She turned away again.
The minutes passed with only two counters open and three other individuals waiting with their necks craned, and eyes glazing over mid-morning news. Farrah closed hers, letting her head hang as the anchor droned on, only jerking upright at the sound of each number being called.
Almost nodding off for the third time, she lifted her half-closed eyes in response to the beep.
It was her turn.
The tag on her attending officer gleamed against the fluorescent lights. And as she took her seat opposite Brenda, Farrah responded to the officer’s plastic smile with an awkward one.
“Good morning!” Brenda greeted, “How may I help you today?”
“Hi…” Farrah started, “I came to submit this?”
With a raised eyebrow, Farrah plonked the recently-opened envelope on the black counter.
“I made an appointment to get help for my fiancé’s visa,” she said. She swore Brenda’s smile barely moved as the officer took the contents out. Scanning through the documents, including Farrah’s and her fiance’s citizenship information, curriculum vitaes, and a list of miscellaneous, for-audit-only documents, only Brenda’s eyes were visible as they darted from one end of the page to the other.
Her hands clasped, Farrah stretched her neck and straightened her back until the silent reading ended in a thump. Looking up, she met with Brenda’s smile, now reduced by half a mouth and her eyes losing their glitter shine.
“I see you have made an application for your fiancé to stay in Singapore,” she said.
Brenda put the documents down.
“Miss,” she peered at the photocopied birth certificate, “Farrah Lim?”
“We see that your fiancé has been in our country for the last five years. Is he considering citizenship?”
Farrah shook her head.
“Not in detail,” she replied.
Brenda smiled again, this time her lips seeming to tear at the corners. Farrah leaned back, her brows furrowed. The officer settled the documents on the countertop and retrieved a green plastic file from below the table. Farrah’s eyes widened.
“I understand your predicament, Miss Lim,” Brenda said, “But one of the best ways out of your current situation is to consider our list of registered local bachelors.”
She opened the file, cracked at the spine, holding dull plastic pockets featuring the lives of registered men, summarised and forced to fit into a single sheet of paper. Farrah put her hand over the plastic reports as Brenda flipped past the third profile.
“No thanks,” she said, “Our registration for marriage is set.”
Brenda stopped, her smile disappeared.
“Yes, it has been set and approved. I just need his visa so he can stay here.”
Brenda closed the file and slipped it off the table, looking away with lines on her forehead and her mouth struggling against the frown tugging at its edges. Her lips parted, and she mouthed a few, barely visible words.
“I’m sorry?” Farrah broke in.
The officer jerked upright, her eyes in shock, and turned to Farrah.
“Nothing miss,” she said, “But what you’ve told me doesn’t make sense.”
Hope you’ve enjoyed the preview! To read the entire story, you can find it on my Tablo, or click here.