Ten years ago.
Annie let out a yelp when I pulled her behind a seat that could barely hide us. The double-decker bus raced in the direction of the expressway just as the masked men ordered the driver to do so. On board with them were the two of us at the back, a graying old lady with bags full of groceries, and her daughter and grandchild seated across from her, who had begun to cry profusely as if on cue to irritate the hijackers.
One of the masked men left for the upper deck while another walked to us. The mother struggled to keep the man away from her child, but without hesitation, he brutally slammed the back of his rifle into her temple then pushed the little girl aside. Her crying seized when she choked on her incapacity to mentally register the sight of her mother’s motionless body across the aisle.
The old lady was next in line. “W-what do you want?” She demanded repeatedly, standing her ground in Cantonese.
“Take care of this!” He ordered in a kind of guttural voice as he unloaded a heavy black duffle bag on the seat next to her, crushing her vegetables and eggs. From behind cover, we could see that they were wearing matte black devices that scrambled their voices with some sort of tech.
The bus made a hard left onto the expressway, the wheels almost lifting off the ground, the entire box of metal twisted and groaned before slamming back down onto the asphalt. The lights flickered and the masked man was thrown into the seats near us.
“What the hell, bitch?!” He yelled through his mask, as the other gave him the finger. The driver received a couple of slaps to his face from the masked person in the front, causing the bus to momentarily swerve into the another lane. The masked man stumbled his way back to the front and gave his partner a shove. A heated argument ensued.
“They have guns? How could they have guns? This is Singapore!” I palmed my forehead and mouthed my disbelief to Annie.
She, the calmer of us two, took a quick peek out the window into the night. Since the commotion began, the bus had gone off course and there was no way of telling where we were while the vehicle beelined down the road. “You two!” An angry female voice shouted from behind the mask. The top of our heads had become visible to her.
She angrily shoved her partner against the dashboard and rushed toward us with a knife in hand. The old lady, without fear of consequence, stuck her leg out and tripped the “bitch”. With the chance given to us, we rushed past them and grabbed the little girl. Before we could find cover, the masked man had his muzzle pressed against my head.
“Where do you think you’re going?” His menacing voice raptured through the mask. His patience at its limit.
I couldn’t help but agree. What were we thinking? The bus was hurtling down the expressway at top speed. It wasn’t as if we could just get off. Suddenly, the kid beside us screamed when her grandmother clutched onto her bleeding throat. Her knees gave way and gravity took her to the floor. The “bitch” must have thought thinning the herd would make the situation simpler. Instinctively, Annie turned and hugged the little girl tightly, denying her the gruesome sight of her dead loved ones.
The masked woman moved to her next victim, the girl’s unconscious mother. However, before she could do anything, my body had lounged forward and my right fist collided with her mask. She fell back, and I on top of her. At that proximity I could see her eyes from behind the mask. There was so much anger within. My knuckles bled, but I didn’t think. I took another swing and missed. My forearm connected with a knife she had pointed straight at me. Stupidest move ever. She proceeded to knee me a good number times in the nuts and my body melted away.
Annie and the girl backed into the only corner available to them. “What is with these people?” She complained as she lifted the mask off her face, the foreboding voice became clear. Just before my mind could register the cacophony of what was going on, a bright flash, silver bullets and debris burst through the ceiling right above her head just as fresh blood gushed from her jaw.
“John!” Annie screamed out for the first time in this ordeal.
Her calm composure broken by my probable death. As if by god’s grace, however, only a few bullets grazed me. The masked woman was beyond recognizable and now, the third and last amongst them, emerged from the upper deck.
“Who gave you the order to kill?” A different female voice asked rhetorically to her only remaining associate. Before he could reply she sent three bullets through his chest, shattering the window pane behind him and into the unlucky left rear tire of the yellow-top cab ahead. The bus careened into the decelerating taxi as it should, just as a number of other vehicles slammed into our rear.
The entire salad of metal, glass and rubber came to a screeching stop.
“We must leave witnesses. As many as possible.” She stood up from her seat gracefully as if she had perfectly orchestrated the dramatic crash. “But you guys...” She sighed at the tragic demise of her associates. “Oh well, I have no more use for you.” She pulled out their masks from the rubble one after the other while she tiptoed through the carnage to the black duffle bag.
From the corner of my eyes I surveyed what was left of us. The driver had landed on the roof of the taxi in front, unconscious. Annie and the little girl were motionless. Her mother and grandmother buried beneath the collapsed upper deck. I, myself, had no energy left to even lift a finger, my blood almost feels as if it had bonded to the knife to my arm.
“Annie!” I called out desperately, praying hard she was still alive. But she wouldn’t respond. The last of the masked men took her time to get to me. The black bag slung across her shoulder seemed like it was too heavy for her. She plopped it down onto my lap as if to hurt me purposefully. My nuts were still burning from the ruffle earlier. She knelt between my legs, set her revolver aside and pulled on the bag’s zipper.
“Is she your girlfriend?” She asked through her mask in the voice which had become haunting to me. Unable to get the zip open, she slammed the palm of her hand into the shaft of the knife pushing the blade further into my bones. While I yelled in agony, she grabbed on to my cheeks with her free hand, “It’s kinda rude to not answer my question.” She yanked the knife from my arm, blood poured out as if she’d just uncorked a bottle of wine.
She used the bloodied knife to cut open the bag she could not get open and rummaged through its content. She tossed out a number of handguns, loaded magazines, and stared longingly at a revolver which she then tossed aside like a worthless piece of junk. The last thing she lifted out the damn bag was the last thing I could have ever imagined.
“Want a piece?” She said excitedly, which in my mind, registered as sadistic. She ripped the top open of a small red bag of panda shaped biscuits filled with chocolatey goodness. A familiar smell filled the air mixed in with all the blood, rubber and metal parts. She sat back and relaxed as the sound of faraway sirens blared into the night.
She sat her mask aside, revealing a beautiful face. I watched in disbelief as she savoured the taste of every panda she put in her mouth. “My name is Lisa.” She introduced herself as she stuffed half a biten panda into my mouth and giggled. “They have guns? How could they have guns? This is Singapore!” She mockingly re-enacted as if she had been watching us the whole time from the upper deck.
“Guns aren’t the only things we have, dear boy.” She lifted the bag so I could see inside. It was dark, so I could not believe what I saw at first. But I stared at it for a good number of seconds and the image did not go away. It was a bomb.
“Your ignorance. Everybody’s ignorance.” Her tone shifted from delightful to sinister as she consumed her last panda. “You think this country is safe and that is why this must happen.”
“B-but why?” I breathed although the pain spreading from my arm to the rest of my body was telling me not to bother with this psycho. “Are you terrorists? Al-Qaeda? Jemaah Islamiyah?” My aforementioned ignorance beaming.
She smirked. Through the little amount of light from the streetlamps that could reach the inner parts of the mess, I could tell. She wasn’t Middle Eastern as we have grown to expect terrorists to be. She was one of us. A Singaporean.
“We are...” She gave it a thought, “an organisation, not as simple as terrorists.” She stood up having finished her snack. “All of them have tried endlessly, but failed to attack this sacred place.” The sirens grew louder, the traffic on the other side of the road grew heavier.
“We are revolutionaries.”
At this point of time I had lost so much blood that I couldn’t really hear what she was saying. My brain was pulsating hard against my thick skull it was as if it had switched place with my heart. My ears were burning red and my eyes were teary with sweat and mucus. I looked to Annie but Lisa spitefully blocked my view with her bare legs. She kicked me in the face and shouted, “Oie! Are you listening?” Her words were literally falling on deaf ears. She grabbed me by the collar and shook me as if it and the face-kick would help alleviate my deafness.
The light in my eyes began to fade just as beams of torchlights scanned the horrific scene. The Civil Defence had finally arrived. Surveillance choppers flew over us, surveying the damage, and men following the commands of blaring loud-hailers tactically moved closer to us scavenging for the injured.
This marked the beginning of her last act.
She calmly put her mask back on and picked what I assumed was an emptied snack bag. She tossed it aside and revealed to me a device.
“I had planned for all of you to come with me but unfortunately I’m just left with you.” She said as she stretched her arms into the air. “Well, you and all of them.” She said, pointing to the rescuers outside with renewed determination.
“Things are about to change, darling.” After a deep breath she resumed her speech as if she had it memorized. “This country will no longer be safe. The violence of men from all of history till today has tipped the scales and spilled so much precious blood. A serpent has emerged from this spilled blood and a great war will converge on this island. But I will take you to a safe place! Soon, you and I will be one. Together we will become Legion!”
“John! Stop her! Now!” I heard Annie echoing in the chambers of my empty head. Time slowed down for me. Pain faded away. The little remaining light in my eyes showed me a summary of my boring life till that point.
And then strangely, the vision carried on.
My eyes widened. A quickening rhythm overcame my heart. I saw myself leaping off the ground towards Lisa, wrestled the device from her hand and body slammed her through the only pane of glass still intact. My body felt as light as a feather but the momentum of my action sent her directly into the roof of a Red Rhino, a lamppost on the opposite side of the expressway and then into a tree beside it as if gravity had no hold of her.
The vision ended just as Lisa was about to press the trigger. Gathering all the strength left in my utterly useless body, I did as the vision prescribed. It played out just like déjà vu.
“What the-?” I thought to myself just as the search and rescue team came to greet me. I turned to Annie, a group of paramedics had just gotten to them. The little girl had resumed crying but Annie was still unconscious. I could have sworn I heard her call my name. I turned my head back to the tree I had sent Lisa to while paramedics checked my vitals.
She was gone.
Mitch Advent is a lifelong experiment. It is about throwing caution into the wind and delving deep into different passions to discover similarities and celebrate the differences between them. The project stems from the belief that at its core, all things creative are the same. Mitch, because that is my name. Advent, because I do not consider myself the best at anything I do. My objective is to lead by example and invite others to walk the same path.