I remember when I was younger, that there was this game I used to play. Being a shy and somewhat timid boy, I hated being on public transport, especially the interminably long minutes spent in crowded bus stops waiting for the bus to appear. And so, partly to avoid having to look at people and partly to avoid the sensation of people looking at me, I would pick a spot on the ground and stare very very hard at it, unfocusing my eyes which (I’ve been told) gave me a wistful, faraway look.
(To any potential young readers who poo poo the idea that Singapore’s public transport system could be less than beyond reproach, I can vouch that it didn’t use to be quite so good. Once upon the time all the buses weren’t air-conditioned.)
I used to be able to do it really well, too, for minutes on end without moving. It was almost meditative, because I would be concentrating so hard on only a single task that it took over all other sensations. I would usually have to consciously start myself breathing again when someone broke my concentration (I missed a lot of buses this way). Mostly it would be friends or family who would start asking me what I was staring at or if I was ok that jolted me back to reality, and (only a child and already a drama queen) to which I would always turn my head slowly towards them slowly and reply in the negative. I could also get it to work in class, or anyplace I was bored, really, a
Needless to say, I got a reputation for being somewhat weird and unpopular (not that I needed this little exercise to be that way).
Also, it was a nightly ritual for me to stare up at the bare ceiling of my room, and do another trick with my eyes/mind, by focusing on a spot very very hard and suddenly the world would melt away, and I would shrink. It was always such a wonderful and strange sensation doing it, to have the world suddenly grow enormous and see the room I slept in every night in a brand new fashion. (It also ended up giving me existentialist issues, but that’s another story.)
But I can’t do these things anymore. And it’s not for lack of trying.
I don’t know why – sometimes, rarely, at night the old feeling comes back, and I stare at the ceiling for hours, basking in the strange special state of mind where I’m an ant in my pillows. But mostly I’ve lost it. If I consciously try to force it, it just slips away from my brain, no matter how hard I pursue, and I end up staring at the wall feeling frustrated. And I can no longer do the thing with the eyes in public transport any longer. A few seconds, perhaps, but any longer and it actually hurts.
Perhaps in the years that have passed my brain has become hooked up differently, or it’s become so cluttered in there that meditative staring is no longer possible, or even that I haven’t done it in so long I’ve forgotten how to do it. It was just a silly thing, really, but it was pretty personal, and I feel a little sad that it’s gone.
Of course, the games I get to play these days are much more fun, but sometimes when my body remembers how it used to feel when I could do that thing with my eyes, I do miss the old days when I was the fat, lonely, unwanted kid.