We stand undeterred in the pouring rain. The sky had opened, turning the drizzle into a heavy downpour. We shield ourselves with our little striped umbrella, turning it every now and then as the wind blew the rain from different angles. From where we stand, we can hardly see the road in front of us, just small glimpses as people shift from one leg to another – like peering through a crack in the door. A lady hands us a poncho. Our clothes are already soaked through, my skirt heavy from the weight of water. The poncho flutters in the wind, covering the both of us only minimally. Our small and flimsy umbrella stands no chance against the rain, which subsides for a few seconds, only to come down heavier than before. We smile at one another. The girl on my left takes me under her umbrella. I am thankful to this stranger who at this moment, doesn’t feel like a stranger at all – a second act of kindness.
We are told to step back, the people jostle to keep their view. Umbrellas overlap forming tiny waterfalls that fall in a steady stream off the edges, sometimes trickling cold water down our backs and on our faces. It’s cold. We close our umbrella and find ourselves under another held by a man with his wife and young daughter. We apologise for our trespassing, but are dismissed immediately, “No, it’s ok.” Warm smiles greet us. We stand there together like a family. There are no strangers today. We are one; we are here for one reason. A shiver goes down my spine.
A boom from above; the F-16 jets fly past. People tilt their umbrellas to catch a glimpse but I see nothing except the multitude of colours of the umbrellas around me. Across the street, people wave their flags in salutation.
The first of the 21-gun salute is fired. It is barely audible over the sound of the heavy raindrops pelting down on us. We hear another. Everyone is silent as he approaches. I hear a rumble that grows louder. The first of the convey whizzes past us. Umbrellas shut like mimosas to the touch. “Lee Kuan Yew, Lee Kuan Yew, Lee Kuan Yew”, chants the crowd. It is a glorious moment. I watch the cortege go past as I stand on my tiptoes. The Singapore flag, red and white, covers his coffin. It is barely a few seconds before it is out of sight. This is the closest I’ve ever been to him. The thought saddens me. The cheers wane and are replaced by weeping. It is hard to distinguish the tears from the rain on the peoples’ faces. As my tears are washed away, I am suddenly thankful for the rain. He wouldn’t want to see us cry.
We observe the customary minute of silence. People lower their heads. The entire city is silent; this bustling metropolis at a standstill. I stare down into the puddle of water around our feet and I see the colours red and white reflected in it. The silence is broken by a melancholic voice. “Mari kita rakyat Singapura sama-sama menuju bahagia…” We join in the anthem, singing softly, sober. When was the last time I sang it?
With the end of the anthem, it is over. Hugs, smiles and thanks are exchanged. As tears continue to stream down my cheeks, I look around and it is beautiful. In his passing, he has united us once again – one people, one nation, one Singapore.