Friday. 6pm. Orchard Central.
It is unusually cool and gusty. I feel the wind on my recently coffee-henna treated hair, the coffee fragrance an olfactory delight, masking the cigarette smoke from the well-groomed office employees congregating around bins and benches alongside equally well-groomed hedges separating the walkway from Orchard Road.
I shall begin my mindful walk down the busiest part of Orchard Road. Orchard Central is decked for Valentine’s Day. The baby-blue cardboard cut-outs of skyscrapers silhouettes are tacky, so are the Cinderella carriage and bird cage where one could enter to sit. I see men having no qualms doing just that even without an escort on hand, just as I had been amused once in a restaurant seeing the men at the next table taking photos of their ramen. There’s sexism in me.
The awful Chinese New Year fish pond with the mermaid is still there at the Orchard Gateway entrance. There are obviously many who do not share my view as they pose in front of it. At 313, I pass many with oblong paper shopping bags, those bearing names I can’t afford or can’t pronounce. I see a clean-cut young man who looks to be a teenager carrying a Victoria Secret bag and take a double look. Is what is contained inside for him or someone else? Perhaps he is an androgynous female? I am not sure.
At the junction of Orchard Building, where H&M is, I join the crowd waiting to cross. A man mingled among us, handling out booklet-pamphlets with the word Bible printed on it. I try to think of something to say to decline, like or-ni-tou-fo but he skips me, and I feel a little insulted.
I cross the road and I see Victoria Secrets is doing brisk business, with stream of shoppers entering and exiting. There are various models and photos of lacy red brassieres displayed on the window and I realise I have never owned a red brassiere in my entire life thus far. A few men in jackets and clipboards are loitering where I pause and I hurry on. In front, I see an elderly woman carrying an open box in her arm. Without warning, she pokes an unsuspecting woman and I give her a wide berth, but not before I see the pens in her box.
The green man crossing is on and I cross over to Takashimaya. A woman and a man on a wheel chair are stationed at the crossing to Paragon. There is a large cardboard stating their life story with the hope of some donation. I ignore them and continue. A man overtakes me. I notice that because so far no one has overtaken me even though I am walking at a slower speed than usual. I note his gaunt feature and the extra large square plastic bag with the word Diagnostics, containing his medical film under his arm. I know it is a medical film because I had taken one recently when I fractured my toe. I wonder if he is worried or happy with the results. More likely worried, judging from his hunched shoulders, as if bearing some invincible burden.
At Wisma Atria, I hear a familiar voice and song. Ken, as is advertised on a board, is singing on his make-shift stage of Persian carpet. I wonder if I had heard him sing at the Matchstick concert organized by my son Aaron last year for the Bone-Marrow Foundation. He has a few audiences watching him from the stairs of Wisma Atria and I long to sit and let him finish the song. But I have an appointment to keep, and after hearing another two verses, I depart. An Indian couple obviously on honeymoon tries to take a photo of the Orchard Road sign. I guess if I am them, I would do the same. Our familiar Orchard Road might have been on someone’s bucket list, much like how I had always wanted to be at Time Square.
There is a wrought-iron fanciful fence at the Paterson Road junction and the instruction board on it tells me to use the cocoon underpass. I thus end my mindful walk there and enter into the chaos that is the Orchard Road I am more accustomed to.