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In transit, as in life, the journey matters. When we spend time on transport every day, the way we travel shapes our memories and, in turn, our identity. In this 3-part series, we explore how different modes of transport have shaped our relationships in more ways than we might possibly admit.  

Top image credit: Casey

“I’ll text him in 5 bus stops. Or if the next traffic light is green. If more than one person alights at the next stop, I’ll ask him out.”

Perhaps this is why I’m single. When it comes to love, so many of my life-changing decisions have been decided by, of all things, a bus ride.

When it comes to love, my bravery is all an act. I often make the first move, but beneath that ballsiness lies a timid girl who’s not ready to own her rejection. It’s easier to blame heartache on fate and bad timing.

The reason he’s not with me now is because that one red light didn’t change fast enough!

To be fair, I don’t always behave like a child. Just when I’m interested in someone.

––

His name was Dan. After years of having a massive crush on him, we reconnected and started hanging out more often. My growing feelings came to a head one Sunday afternoon on the bus. There was a languid quality to the scorching day, making me miss his company.

So I sent him a text: “Hey would you be okay if we date exclusively?”

Surrounded by strangers, the bus I was on provided an odd sense of moral support. I wasn’t physically alone, but I didn’t know anyone either. Across the aisle, a woman glanced up from her phone. Our eyes met and she smiled wryly. Had my face betrayed my internal turmoil?

This strange substitute for intimacy gave me the courage I needed to ensure I didn’t combust from all the nervous energy that came with waiting for a text from a boy.

I aged 5 years over the next 5 minutes, having taken this meandering journey to compose myself and phrase my request as casually as I could.

My penchant for childish, self-inflicted mind games meant I refused to read his reply until the bus passed the next traffic junction.

“Sure. Haha.”

No one tells you how it feels to ride a bus with someone whose heart you would go on to break in the next hour.

The prolonged nature of bus rides also means you are often forced to sit with your thoughts.

I remember being 20 and falling out of love with Bryan. He was the one I thought I was going to marry. And then, just as surely, he wasn’t.

No one tells you how it feels to ride a bus with someone whose heart you would go on to break in the next hour. Few words are precise enough to describe the weight of this final journey you take as a couple.

I suspect that he knew he’d be sending me home for the last time, and so insisted on doing so for exactly that reason. His sadness was palpable, as was my guilt. But the world has little sympathy for the heartbreaker.

As the bus rounded a bend, I almost threw up. That night, a familiar route felt alien.

That night, the fluorescent lights were too bright, the road too bumpy, and the bell too loud. People stood too close, almost like they wanted to hold us together. For the first time, I noticed fingerprints and grime on the windows. Behind us, a man excused himself to alight and I resented him for disrupting our last moments together.

Every sense was amplified, including the heartbeat ringing in my ears and my sweaty palms no longer holding his. The 174 bus felt like an interrogation room, except the questions were all in my head.

Are you sure you want to break up with him? If the next traffic light is red, how about reconsidering? Should I give him a heads-up in 4 bus stops?

As we learnt that night, buses are tiny spaces made even tinier and more claustrophobic when you’re trying to avoid the inevitable.

We broke up when we arrived at our stop and I could breathe again.

In a relationship’s infancy, long bus rides entail a kind of romantic desperation.

Big fights are overrated – you’ll know it’s the end when you start noticing a change in the blandest routines.

In a relationship’s infancy, long bus rides entail a kind of romantic desperation. They let a freshly minted couple spend more time together, they last longer than a cab ride, and are rarely as squeezy as the MRT.

A child jostles past, accidentally nudging your bag off your shoulder. His mom hastily apologises, but you tell her not to worry. You’re happy just being there.

One day, the dread creeps in after you tap your EZ-link on entry. You’re sick of this routine that was once cute, but dismiss your irritation as simple exhaustion after a long day. All you know is you secretly pray for a succession of green lights so you can quickly arrive at your destination. These rides have started feeling like attempts at making someone stay. 

Eventually this teaches you that nothing lasts forever.

One moment, you’re 15 and nothing matters except your hand in theirs and a shared iPod for the journey. The next, you’re 20 and counting traffic lights until you break the news that you don’t see a future with them.

––

Dan and I realised we weren’t ready for a relationship, so we stayed friends. These days, I don’t let bus rides dictate my decisions about him, or anyone else.

Still, the girl I used to be occasionally tries to stop me from being the girl I want to be.

If someone rings the bell at the next stop, text him. If the light turns green before this song is over, ask him out. If the bus stops at the next traffic junction, I won’t write about my feelings.

But she can’t win. I’m no longer afraid of how I feel.

Today on the bus, I texted Dan. I read his reply, and then I wrote this.

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