I remember a time when I was in junior college, during the honeymoon period or the now-defunct first three months for JC Year One students, I and three other friends stayed back in school late one night.

I can’t recall if it was after a training session which usually ended late in the evening or we simply stayed back in the canteen after lessons until the sky darkened, but armed with tea light candles, a lighter and probably some drinks (non-alcoholic of course! we weren’t of legal age yet and it was a school compound!), we went up to the rooftop. There we lit up the candles, placed them at strategic spots on the edges of the low boundary wall and appreciated the beautiful scenery from the rooftop.

It might be just a school but our school building was situated high up on a slope and we were in the Bukit Timah area, so the view overlooking the surroundings was actually quite breathtaking. With the residential estates there being mostly private, the place was rather dark as compared to a heartland, with lights coming mainly from the street lamps and the other prestigious schools beside and opposite ours. A sense of tranquility settled upon us quickly. It was a sight and experience not to be missed but I think I might be the very few students ever to have the chance. I mean, who else would be insane enough to come up there for no apparent reason after sunset?   

If there was a reason why we did that, well, I have no more memory of it. The guys took some chairs for all of us to sit and we started chatting. Neither could I recall what sparked off the conversation but one of the guys started talking about his parents’ pending divorce which was clearly traumatizing him. When he was done, I think he was a bit embarrassed because while the two of us were close enough for him to reveal his family secrets to me previously, it was the first time he told the other two friends. He joked about how his chair, which was really simply one of those classroom chairs with plastic blue seats and metal frames, must be special because it “made him babble about his troubles”.

He then decided that the rest of us should take turns sitting on HIS chair and talk about our deepest secrets. Our other two friends went first and second. The girl talked about a brother whom I had never heard of for the obvious reasons. He was violent and abusive, always scaring the wits out of her with an action as simple as a single bang of his bedroom door. He wasn’t close to anyone in the family. He was a brother whom she never really had. I never knew and one would never have guessed for she was a pretty girl who was smart, seemingly confident and eventually went on to be a lawyer. The other guy chatted about his delinquent past where he joined street gangs, smoked, drank and fought on the streets. Again, you wouldn’t have known just by looking at him. He was from a SAP school previously and he looked nothing like the usual hooligans on the streets.

When it was eventually my turn and I sat on that plastic blue seat already well warmed by its past three occupants, I found myself speechless. Before the two of them got their problems off their chests, I swore I could remember what I had planned to talk about when my turn was up. But after hearing what they had to say, I knew I had no more complaints about my life because all my so-called problems and worries just seemed so trivial in comparison. I just sat there, looked at them one by one for a few seconds and simply said, “I suddenly realise that I’ve no problems.”

Life is a very quaint thing and, truly, everything must have happened for a reason. I can’t remember which level the rooftop was on, how to get there and many other details regarding the school, but I will never forget that night when a firm knock was delivered right on top of my head and woke me up, shook me up and wisened me up right at that moment. 

“A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.”
                                                – Hugh Downs