The Longest Day
by John Ritchie
My feet step out with a confidence the rest of me doesn’t share. What the hell am I doing here, a stranger in a strange land? Part of me wants to step back into the cool cocoon of the airplane fuselage, the place that represents England as it was a mere 12 hours ago when I boarded. But most of me recognises that is not an option and the impatient business man edging past confirms the press of bodies at my back. We are all being reasonably polite now, but will a lack of cabs bring out a competitive edge, a dog-eat-dog savagery I didn’t know I possessed? Will I trample women and children in my desperation to get out of this heat and into a shower? Will there even be a shower this far from civilisation? I start down the steps and wonder what happens next.
There is a heavy scent in the air; thick and almost sickly in humidity that must be close to 90 percent. Two in the morning and I feel like I am in a scented sauna. My shirt is bunched uncomfortably around my waist and sticks to me everywhere else. Somebody says ‘Doesn’t the frangipani smell wonderful’. Right now, I’d prefer the smell of wild roses in English hedgerows. Am I homesick? No, more likely it is the brandy making me maudlin, that and jet-lag. I should have drunk more water.
The sudden surge of bodies alerts me to the coach that has sidled up behind us. The animal side of our nature manifests itself, there is too much tooth in the smiles of those who got to the handful of seats first. The rest of us stand and sway against one another as the coach lurches on its journey and try to pretend that it doesn’t matter. The almost tangible tension makes liars of us all.
The bus breaks down 200 yards from the Airport building and there is a lot of shouting in a language I don’t understand. A full scale riot seems imminent. Then the passenger doors open and doll-like policemen in skin-tight uniforms are pushing into the bus and shoving us out. I stagger into a hot night riotous with red, white and blue lights and milling bodies. Someone grabs my arm and I pull away, ready to lash out if necessary. My assailant smiles. ‘Welcome to Singapore, Mr John.’