Tuesday, August 16, 2022

A Kind of Ghost Story?

Ovidia--Every other Tuesday

The Hungry Ghost festival is still on here in Singapore (and will be until 26th August when the Gates of Hell close for another year). We're celebrating with gusto this year, given the last two years of Covid Restrictions didn't allow live getai performances to entertain the visiting dead and us not-yet-deads. 

'Getai', literally song-stage, are often boisterous, risque performances with fights sometimes breaking out between audience members with difference tastes. (Something I suspect visiting ghosts might find more interesting than the usual song and dance routines!)

But I've got a different story today.

On Saturday evening I went to the Choa Chu Kang cemetery area to attend a wake for an old classmate's mother. The lady was in her 90's so I was wearing a dark red shirt. (Mourners can wear pink or red to show happiness for a long life once the person who passed is over 80 years old). 

If you saw my last post here you'll know red is one of the taboo colours during Ghost Month--not because the ghosts don't like it, but because they're attracted to it. 

I didn't think much of it. After all it was a bright afternoon and I was in the Christian part of the cemetery... 

I stayed and talked with my friend longer than I'd planned--in addition to being classmates for ten years since the age of six, my father and hers had been drinking buddies in the old days, so there were lots of old memories.

Anyway, I'd planned to call for a taxi or Grab ride home from there. But my attempts were futile--clearly our drivers aren't willing to do cemetery pick ups in the evening. I've heard stories from more than one driver about passengers picked up at night in this area who vanished after getting into their cabs. And in Singlish, the word 'ulu' (from  'remote' in Malay) refers to areas where taxi drivers won't respond to calls!

Anyway the Choa Chu Kang Cemetery was definitely an 'Ulu' zone.

But I wasn't worried.

After all there's a very convenient bus out of the cemetery area--No. 172. 


It's the only service along this route and serves mainly to get people like me out of there. Bus 172 goes down the length of Jalan Bahar, with the Chinese cemetery on one side of it and the Muslim cemetery on the other. Beyond, the Bahai plots and the Christian plots and beyond that plant farms and nurseries and military training areas.

I knew that I could take Bus 172 twelve or so stops towards the city, then cross over to the opposite side of the road and take either a 174 or a 157 right back to my doorstep.

When Bus 172 came it was practically empty, apart from a lady right at the back of the bus in a green kurta and pants staring out of the window and her curly headed toddler in an orange dress in a pushchair .

The kid reached out to me so I waved to it--you know, the way you do to keep them entertained enough to not cry but without inviting them to come closer. The child was holding onto a little red plastic flower and I remember thinking I hope she doesn't drop and lose it.

Anyway, I got off at my stop and took the overhead crossing to the other side of Jalan Bahar. I knew I was safely back in civilisation because from the top of the overhead bridge, I could see the lights of Jurong Point, one of the largest malls in the Western part of Singapore. 

Once on my bus I was (I thought) safely on my way home. So like I usually do, I took out my kobo and started to read (Velvet Was The Night by Silvia Morena-Garcia--great book).

Only after about 20 minutes I looked up and realised that far from being almost home, I was back, deeper than before, on the cemetery grounds. I realised I must have got on the Bus 172 going in the opposite direction rather than the Bus 174 that would've made a right turn and got off the Jalan Bahar route.

No problem though--once more I hopped off the bus, crossed the road and waited for the next Bus 172 to get me out of there. That's the beauty of being over 60 years old here, once you get your Silver pass, public transport is really cheap.

And yes, I had no problem getting on the next Bus 172. Again it was almost empty.

What was unsettling was--again, there was a slim Indian lady in a green kurta and pants staring out the window, with a young child in a pushchair at the back of the bus. This time the child (wearing something orange) was crying.

I wished I'd paid more attention on my first Bus 172, but I hadn't, so couldn't tell if it was the same woman and child.  

Don't be ridiculous, I told myself--of course it couldn't be the same pair. The woman and child I'd seen had still been on the bus when I'd got off, they would be well towards Boon Lay by now. And this bus I was now on had come from the opposite direction. 

Still, I couldn't help staring. Quite rude, I know. Especially if they weren't ghosts. (If they were ghosts then I'm not sure of the correct etiquette).

And I saw it--the red plastic flower on the floor of the bus, by the wheel of the pushchair.

What would you have done? The woman continued to look out of the window (it was dark outside by now so she couldn't be seeing much of anything from the lighted inside of the bus). She ignored the crying child. The child continued to cry.

I picked the flower off the floor of the bus. It was a red plastic hibiscus with a yellow stamen that looked like it had broken off a hair pin. I offered it to the child--then worried about germs, but too late. The child took it and stopped crying. It stared at me. It reached out towards me (or to my damned red shirt?). The mother continued staring out the window.

And I got off the bus. This time I was very very very careful to get on the right bus after crossing Jalan Bahar yet again. And this time I tracked our route with my phone app, no more reading.

I wonder who they were--both women and both children--coming out of the cemetery alone in the darkness. 

And I wish them well. 




  1. Even if no ghosts were involved, it sends shivers down the spine...

  2. Oooooh, that’s spooky! Someone one asked me if I “believe in ghosts.” My answer, typical of a scientist was, “What I believe is irrelevant. Show me some evidence.” Still, I like a good ghost story!

  3. Since you picked the flower for the child in the end, your “spirit” knew that there was nothing to fear even though you realized something strange. I would have Hail Mary-ed myself next to the bus driver… thanks for the story 🫣