Permanent Goodbyes

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Five days ago, I bought a used phone from one friend. It was a black iPhone, with a sleek touchscreen panel promising a comfortable online experience. For an inexplicable reason, the messages couldn't load well when I transferred my memory card into it. I had to scroll through an inbox of old messages, with tired resignation.

There were two unexpected notifications, reminding me to check messages which I've hitherto not read. Startled surprise melted into shock. I stood in the middle of the train station, gripping the non-sentient phone, hoping it'd speak its secrets.

These messages were from a person who is now dead.

They were from Peter, sent in February this year but not received. My phone account was deactivated during an overseas exchange program. I imagined these messages, as pixelated pigeons, trying to fly into my inbox only to realise that its entrance was barred with chains and padlocks. They, in disappointment, fluttered about, not knowing what to do, before deciding to give up and fade into the digital world.

Two months before he committed suicide, that was when they were sent, and their notifications were only received four months after he passed away.

It turned out that the service provider deleted these messages as they were stored for far too long in their database, under a deactivated account.

I couldn't retrieve these messages. I couldn't read them. I couldn't find out what Peter has to say.

We weren't close friends, Peter and I, but it seemed as though I was one of the few people he trusted enough to want to chat with. It felt as though I've failed his trust.

And my professor's dad passed away on Tuesday's morning. I wondered how to console him then realised that maybe, just maybe, he didn't want a stranger's condolence.

And my friend shared a story of how her friend's boyfriend got ran over in Changi and passed away. Death became personal. It was no longer an abstract concept we read about in the newspapers, something that happened to other people. It has become familiar, and carries urgent but unclear meanings.

For that week, I've been out almost every night, enjoying good food and thoughtful chatter with friends. Life moved on with a startling, almost indecent, normalcy. At times, my eyes flicked open during darkened hours, an inner world plagued by a vague ache, unable to rest well anymore.


what is death
but fingers no longer moving,
a phone that keeps ringing,
spasms tiptoeing
on stiff lips.

else, what is death
but the closing
of reluctant eyes.

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