There were a lot of stars in the sky that night

The Milky Way, Shot on iPhone 14 Pro Max, The Pinnacles, Western Australia

It’s been a minute and a fortnight into my new gig. I’m glad I’m colleagues with the genius and legendary street photographer Chia Aik Beng, aka ABC. We’ve known of each other for a few years now, crossing paths on different work related occasions, so we’re both excited about finally being formal workmates.

We’ve been chatting over our desks, over lunches, throwing ideas back and forth. It was only natural to catch even more pockets of conversation further out?—?over Friday drinks.

And so we off we went, talking about mutual agency experiences, how we wanted to work at our current workplace, what other notable lunch options there were around the work hood et cetera.

As with any conversation between Singaporean males, dips are lifted by a recollection of something funny that happened during National Service.

And so off we went: What unit were you in? Forty-Six. Eh? Me too! What year? Eighty Nine to Ninety-One. Oh. Mine was one batch before yours!

Another connection struck?—?not uncommon.

Then ABC said, “I remember Thailand, when one of my friends died during training”.

And I said, “I was there”.

That horrible accident had happened in October 1989, and over the decades, the memories had faded, for better or worse, and I had only recalled bits and pieces of it, sometimes confabulating the fragments into some version of the story.

But that instant, ABC and I began trading our recollections of the time (around 8pm), the place (somewhere in Kanchanaburi), the weather (it had rained till there were flash floods). Our thirty odd year old bits and bobs of the accident fit like jigsaw puzzle pieces.

The armoured vehicle. Callsign 22B. The little hill it went up. How it toppled over because it was a false track it had tried to climb. How it landed upside down and crushed the soldier who had been standing and manning the machine gun. How it took medics eight hours to retrieve the soldier’s remains. How I had heard over the unusually quiet radio chatter a sombre instruction for the quartermaster’s storeman (whom I now know was ABC himself) to return to base to “collect the deceased’s personal effects”.

We spent a few moments punctuating our quiet spiral with the occasional expletive.

Then ABC said, “I remember looking up at the sky that night after the accident. I have never seen so many stars”.

And I said, “I wrote about looking up at the stars that night. There were a lot of them”.

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