The last time I looked up at the Merlion, I gave him the widest smile I could give to him that time. Water falling from his mouth down to the river with a quiet roar, he looked down at me with contempt and pity. He knew. I didn't know he knew, but he did.
I opened my mouth, took a couple of steps to my right, and waited for my friend's instruction if the angle was precise. There. Snap! The photo turned out perfect. People would see the photo and they would believe I was having a good time.
Yes. I was having a good time, my first time celebrating my birth on a foreign land, away from the sight of the people back home and accompanied by a couple of dear friends. People around us enjoyed the view, despite the heat of the sun, enjoying its summit for the day. I paid them no mind, for my two friends were all that mattered to me on that day and on that time.
I had never felt that loved in my entire life before, welcomed by two people into their home with the intent of making my birthday a memorable one. I had nothing to offer them but my company and an unwanted emotional baggage I carried all the way from my home country. Never had I felt that low before. Kindness and caring just arrived when I needed it most.
There I was, on the final day of my birthday celebration, letting the bittersweet feeling sink in. I just had the best birthday of my life at that point but it was about to end. When we left the Merlion's sight, I knew the journey had come to a close.
Then I went back home.
It had to happen.
A year and a month later, I had to return with another friend.
On the second to the last day of our trip, I found myself by the foot of the Merlion once again, paying him no mind. I opened my mouth, stepped a little backwards, and waited for my friend's confirmation that he had taken my photo. He showed me and we issued a laugh. I urged my friend to do the same. She refused, probably embarrassed by the act. I couldn't care less because I felt happy. I would open my mouth again and take the same photo because it felt good and the rest of the world didn't matter. Then, I heard him. He called my name.
The water from his mouth flowed uninterruptedly. His regal eyes acknowledged my minute presence. His royal mane moved gracefully along with the wind. His whiskers gleamed like daggers. His scales glittered with the majestic color of the sea. He asked me to open my mouth once more and I did. He turned his head, directing the salty stream of water towards me. I drank from his water. My eyes hurt. My clothes got drenched. My shoes got filled with liquid. When he returned to his default position, I was on the ground, sprawled across the concrete.
“You didn't tell me,” I laughed maniacally, water coming out from my mouth. “How dare you! Thank you! You didn't tell me.”
The Merlion didn't speak but his deep-sea blue eyes flashed towards my direction.
I continued my hysterics.
“The last time you saw me, doubts and confusion littered my soul.” My head fell to the right. Blurred feet walked in different directions. “My heart ached from the misalignment of expectation and disappointment. I felt so misunderstood and mistreated.”
I moved my head so I was facing him again. “But you cured me. You cured me but you didn't tell me. I went back home and began seeing the world from a different perspective. You made me wake up each day with joy and enthusiasm, no longer apathetic to life.
I started loving myself in ways that I never did before.
I could then speak my name with pride and gusto.
I said goodbye to fear and hello to faith.
I rediscovered spirituality without religion.
I finally began building my dream, which I unjustly neglected for so long, word by word, sentence by sentence, block by block, page by page, chapter by chapter,
and draft by draft.
I started living.”
If I had tears right then, they would be tears of joy but I had none. Instead, the water from the Merlion's mouth fell confidently to the river below.
“Why did you not tell me of your generosity, of your compassion, of your care, and of your love?” I asked him.
He responded, as if his voice came from the river below. I could hear the stone under my head vibrating. “If you knew, there would be no awe. There would be nothing to discover and nothing to learn. You could never appreciate the light without the dark that possessed a beauty unbeknownst to most. You had to be there to get here and you did.”
I got up from the concrete, my clothes and hair dried, my shoes no longer soaked. The regality and the royalty of the Merlion had gone too, replaced by a bland and lifeless stone. My friends walked to me. We took more pictures. Our feet and legs got tired so we had to go.
As we walked away from the crowd, I returned one last look at the Merlion. I would remember this day when I opened my mouth once again, innocent of the consequence it would bring. My feet carried me up to the stairs and to the bridge. I gave him one last look. If I had his eyes, I would see what he was seeing - a vast river, peaceful, beautiful, and serene.