The windows from the nearest apartment complex did not show much life at day time. I folded my arms and pressed them on the window stool to support my chin as I held my head steady gazing out. The amount of sunshine touching the walls depended on the location of the trees: leaves filtering the hours of light from 7 AM until 7 PM.
It is a bit different back home in the Philippines. I’d normally welcome the sunrise in my window at 6 AM, and it vanishes behind our small-town mountains around 5:30 PM.
Being in Singapore made me feel naïve for its modernity, busyness, luxury, and high technology. When not watching people from the window for my online job break, I’d examine the contents of our local host’s herbal tea container. Every element steeped golden with time. When the night came, the neighboring windows were all lit, and energy filled them through people coming home, children coming home, and elders gathering their dry clothes from makeshift laundry hangers. It gave me a warm sense of relief that other than the trees and the bird songs, there were relationships within the concrete jungle that thrived.
The area of Bukit Batok is an unusual choice for travelers. This was also the very reason why I was more drawn to it while looking for available hosts. The neighborhood was very quiet and there was a vibrant hawker’s corner just a few steps from our building. One afternoon after I got bored from gazing out in between work tasks, I sent my Mother a message.
“Nay, I am currently in Bukit Batok. I just recalled that when we wrote to each other snail mails, this was mentioned in your address.” As always, Mother replied slow. Perhaps she was busy cooking food and looking after her eatery. “What is the name of the apartment complex you’re staying at? I used to live in Jade Building. It’s very near ION.” I rose from the couch and my body was filled with a unique sense of curiosity.
In those few days in Singapore, I and my boyfriend met old friends, immersed ourselves in deep interests: street art, old secondhand bookshops, local lowkey culinary experiences, and Lucky Plaza. Lucky Plaza on a Sunday had an elastic vibe of Filipinos. Standing in one corner is enough to listen to various local languages and dialects. OFWs would hang out with each other over food, laughter, stories, and gossips. I saw a few who chose to be alone in some corners of the MRT station making sappy video calls to their families back home. “I just sent you money a few days ago”, one woman sobbed in frustration while on her phone.
My Mother was in her very place back in the days. She worked as a domestic helper for eight years. The first time she had to leave us, she was 23. I was seven, my younger sister was two. While she was away, we would receive a big box once every two or three months filled with various items. We would also send each other snail mails and recorded voice tapes that traveled across the distance for two weeks before they reached us or her.
While walking around the local neighborhood of Bukit Batok passing by buildings and random shops, all the memories in her letters and phone calls felt vivid again: the big wide swimming pools, the very clean surroundings, the detailed ingredients of laksa and mi goreng, and the amusing Singlish.
One day, as I passed by ION Orchard Mall, I noticed a huge green gate subtly situated on the side of the public walk path. On it was an embossed text, The Jade. I stood there as my heart slowly felt like a tiny window. I realized that I had been walking on the same paths my Mother used to walk onto. I had been seeing sights she probably gazed at, too.
Then, I wondered if the trees and the bird songs also eased her homesickness while living with a family not her own.
I walked closer to the gate and breathed deep. For a moment, all the ajar feelings I had for her shut tenderly.