Day 21

30 Days Of Art With NAC: Unbroken by Jinny Koh

To inspire and uplift readers as the country emerges from the Covid-19 circuit breaker, The Straits Times, supported by the National Arts Council as part of the #SGCultureAnywhere campaign, has commissioned 30 works by local writers and artists on the pandemic and what it will be like when all this is over

ST ILLUSTRATION: CEL GULAPA

Lian squints at the computer screen, her mouse hovering over the links in her e-mail. It is her granddaughter's birthday today and Zoey is throwing a Zoom party. "Simi zoom?" Teck said, and Lian was just as confused. It took her some time to get used to WhatsApp video-calling her granddaughter during the circuit breaker, and now, here's another newfangled thing - Zoom. Apparently, Zoey's friends will be there too.

"Teck ah! Are you ready? Party's starting soon!" Lian calls out, clicking on a link. A box pops up, prompting her for a password. Did Zoey give her one? Lian checks her phone. Look at her now, Lian thinks, almost laughing. Juggling so many gadgets at once. Facebook, Instagram and, now, Zoom - Zoey has been introducing all these apps to her. Teck doesn't even have an e-mail account.

Lian watches Teck, who is putting on a T-shirt for the party. Cannot be topless in front of Zoey's friends, Lian reminded him. This circuit breaker caught them by surprise and has most certainly been trying. Neither of them can go to work and suddenly, they are in each other's faces all day. "Lian, why are the cups not washed?" "Lian, where's my torchlight?"

Lian this, Lian that. They are an old married couple, but that doesn't mean they don't tire of each other's presence.

In fact, ever since Zoey married and moved out four years ago, they have settled into a daily routine - work, dinner, sleep. Some days, they hardly speak to each other, Lian preferring to settle in front of the TV with her K-dramas, while Teck goes out for a beer.

This circuit breaker has forced them to share a space a lot more than they are used to. Not that there haven't been any perks. With Teck around more often, they are finally fixing things around the house that have long been broken but ignored. The creaky bedroom door that needed oiling. The busted lightbulb in the storeroom. The loose hinge on the kitchen cabinet. Perhaps Teck is bored at home and needed to just do something.

"Start already or not?" Teck asks, hovering behind Lian.

"You cannot read the words on the screen meh?" Lian says. The host will let you in shortly, it reads. Any moment now, Zoey will appear. Lian glances at Teck. "Sit down lah! Or else the camera cannot see you." Teck grabs a stool and sits next to her, frowning deeply at the computer.

Forty-one years. Ovarian cancer. Retrenchment. Near bankruptcy. This Covid-19 feels like another curveball thrown their way - but what have they not gone through that they cannot weather this? Forty-one years is a long time and if they are lucky, they will have another 20 more to go.

But who have we become? Lian wonders, now that their daily duties don't consist of Zoey. The other day, Teck asked if she'd like to join the karaoke class with him once the community centres open again. Karaoke? Lian echoed. Since when was Teck ever interested in singing?

Still, she agreed. Perhaps this is a start - of something she cannot put her finger on, but one nonetheless.

The screen brightens. "Ma?" Zoey's voice comes on the speaker. Several Zoom boxes start populating the screen at once.

And there they are, appearing on the screen too: two elderly people sitting next to each other, their elbows barely touching, their eyes searching for a familiar face in a sea of Zoom boxes before landing on themselves.

• Jinny Koh, 34, is the author of the novel The Gods Will Hear Us Eventually (2018). During the circuit breaker, she turned to cooking to occupy her two daughters while they were on home-based learning, getting them to fold dumplings and bake bread with her.

• To read the other works in this series online, go to str.sg/30Days. To listen to them in a podcast, go to str.sg/Jmf2

• For more local digital arts offerings, visit a-list.sg to appreciate #SGCultureAnywhere

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2020, with the headline 'Unbroken by Jinny Koh'. Print Edition | Subscribe