This is dedicated to anyone who’s ever had to take the train in Singapore in 2010. For you, my fellow sufferers.
He called it Godvision: a bird’s eye view of the sorry souls he was overseeing from his little glass-walled cubby far away from the platform. They left Brownian patterns as they milled about, listless, dragging their feet to a workday probably spent in a fluorescent-lit box somewhere else. From this angle they looked like little insects, barely distinguishable from one another, gender and race all shrunk down into unidentifiable human blobs.
How small and sad and grey our lives are, he thought.
“It’s time,” his supervisor said.
He recoiled at the idea of what he had to do, dimly wondering if his revulsion made it through the medium of his body and came out as a physical cringe. It was really just a press of the button, no more than the movement of a finger that cost him nothing. But it was another thing when you could see its immediate effects on the teeming masses. The collective hatred and fear that rolled off them, the resentment that was apparent even from the faceless and nameless. The suffering he could not bear to see.
“Do we really have to do this every single time?” he asked.
He thought of the musician who had once written a song with lyrics collected from various PSAs and later called it one of the most depressing things he’d ever done in his life. How was this any better?
His supervisor looked grim. “It’s not your job to question decisions from the Management.”
What should he have done? What could he have done? There was only one way out for him, and it was not much of a way out at all.
His hand hovered over the dreaded button for a long second before it descended and pushed it into place. Somewhere deep in the machinery a circuit was completed and electrical signals raced along wires hidden and serpentine, from switchboard to relay all the way down to the magnetic coils, where the signal he had given juddered out a series of sounds. A jingle, cute and cheerful when initially conceptualized, but worn down through endless replays into something dull at best, sinister at worst. All across the station he could see the waiters look up or shake their heads or just remain stock still, bound into inaction by jadedness. He imagined he could look into their eyes and see blankness recessing into infinity, too devoid of care to do anything in the face of this insidious horror but to mindlessly take the next step in front of them, one after another.
“Train is coming,” he sang softly to himself. “Train is coming, train is coming. Please start queuing. Love your ride.”
**Bonus points to anyone who can identify the other song referred to here. As a side note, I’ve actually collected an entire pageful of Helpful Missives taken from one SBS bus and I intend to make an electronica song out of them. ONE bus by the way. It was literally plastered all over with instructions to move to the back, give up your seat, look out for terrorists, don’t forget to tap out etc… madness.