One game involves pretending I'm in a movie, especially when I'm on public transport. Maybe because I'm a story-teller by nature - I can't stop narrating, even if I'm just on my way to work. If I was younger and more insufferable I would certainly imagine myself as the dreamy-eyed lead in an indie music video, or a romance shot entirely in soft focus, adorned with floating sun-spots and a twee Belle & Sebastian soundtrack.
As it is, my imagination is depressingly realistic, and I often find myself in gloomy Eastern European arthouse films. I am a Mongol Russian, carrying my meagre ration of cabbage and black bread home to my dingy apartment, I think. Through no fault of my own, I am about to be embroiled in a human trafficking ring and I will get shot in the head in a train carriage. Red arterial blood will spatter on the clear plastic divider above the handicapped seat I am so unwisely sitting down on.
On more cheerful days, I am only lost and confused. I am in a French film about existentialism and identity, and the camera lingers slowly on my work-roughened skin, my blank stare. I should have a cigarette dangling out of my mouth, but I don't smoke. This makes me stand out from the other characters. I am the non-smoker.
On bad days it gets into Taxi Driver territory, but I think it does for everyone, really. I wish I could snap the neck of that skinny bitch who cut in line, I glower. I would take everyone on this train platform hostage in exchange for a billion dollars and a private jet. But I'll get into a shootout with the police and get pumped full of bullets. Before I die, though, I'll lead everyone in a rousing chant of "Attica, Attica!" No, wait. Wrong movie.
When I'm in class, I am literally acting out my professional role, so I don't really need to pretend in my head as well. My act usually boils down to world-weary, underpaid teacher, calling out for homework assignments in the cynical tones of a twenty-year veteran. There is plenty of eye-rolling and sarcasm: "What's going on back there? I hate to interrupt, but perhaps you two would like to join us in our scintillating discussion of prepositions."
The other game involves carefully noting the music played at supermarkets. I usually do my grocery shopping late, around 10.30pm, when I'm done with work. When it's close to certain festive seasons - Chinese New Year, Christmas, Hari Raya - there's nothing much worth listening to, but throughout the rest of the year you do hear some odd choices. My personal best was realising that the supermarket I frequent (a regular NTUC, not even a Finest variation) played Blind Melon's No Rain at 10.23pm exactly for several weeks in a row. No matter which night I dropped by, as long as it was 10.23pm, they would play No Rain. Why? It wasn't like they were using the stock boy's 90s' Greatest Hits compilation CD. It was just that one song, and it was always inserted right into a colourless porridge of soft jazzy muzak. I always got a kick out of it. If I could I stayed a little longer, delaying my checkout, just to hear it one more time.
The last thing is music related, too. There's a skinny busker who plays guitar and sings in the underpass I take every day. Sometimes he's joined or relieved by a man in a straw hat who thumps the rhythm out, and a smooth-faced young dude who looks like a lost intern. The man in the straw hat and the intern are a lot better than the original busker, I'm sorry to say. My little game goes like this: if I like and recognise the song they're playing, they get $2. Even if I'm running low on folding money, or just running late, I'll dig around my purse until I scrape together $2. If I can't tell what's being played, I put my earphones back in and walk fast.
I feel pretty bad though, because two weeks ago the intern and straw hat were playing Stevie Wonder's Superstition, but I was carrying so many groceries the bags were cutting red lines into my hands and I just couldn't stop. It's been nagging at me ever since. Probably this is what OCD sufferers feel like all the time.
I doubt my way of life is very healthy - the movie game in particular really lends itself to depression, I have to admit - but I've been doing it since I was a kid. In many ways, I've lost my old life and am now in the process of building a new one, so things can get tough sometimes. I retreat into my head, play my little games, and they keep me going. I'm staying in the game for one more day.