It starts with a beat. A steady electronic thump in my chest. Electric waves pulsing through my body with a feeling like forever before breaking into the tips of my fingers and the doors of perception. I gasp in the first chords of the song as they hit like my first breath of air, and when I open my eyes the club embraces me the way you used to every time the beat dropped: hot, sticky, lingering.
Dark amber lights, sleek brass curves, and rich leather cushions beckon in brief glimpses through a cool hint of haze, but my eyes sweep past the familiar tables and sofas, over the smooth dance floor yawning beneath the glimmering moon of a disco ball orbiting above, and the first thing I really see is the DJ.
He presides over the empty dance floor like a god in headphones. Glowing song waveforms swirl around him like scripture and his hands flash and pull between them and the spinning discs of the holographic turntables. He slips one cup of his headphones off—one ear in the past, one in the future—and the world pauses with him, waiting, listening… a beat of breathless anticipation…
…and with a flick of his wrist, the bassline cuts in and life starts stirring inside me and the club.
Throngs of people sway on the dance floor and I hear laughter, loud whispers, and hushed kisses—the ambiance washing over me on the back of a strong melodic bassline I just realize I’ve been nodding along to. The song’s got a funky, soulful vibe to it, but just a bit up-tempo and mixed like something Black DJs might’ve been spinning off twelve-inch vinyls in gay clubs in Chicago a century ago. It’s got a good groove and makes me want to move—the way you felt every time you walked into a club that’s lit with the music already pulsing in your blood.
Is that what I just did? Walk into the club? The DJ likes to ease people in so the music’s always like this at the beginning of the night, which probably means I just arrived, but I’m suddenly conscious of my fingers tapping to the beat against something smooth and hard, and I look down to see my arm resting on a long bar.
Was I getting a drink at the bar? I’m gripped by the feeling that something’s missing.
/Where are you now?/
The DJ cuts in some vocals from an old house song and for a few brief moments, barely longer than the length of the sample, everything seems to fade away. There’s just a distant sound—a faint rumble or pitter-patter—and somewhere across the club, a flash of movement—arms moving, hips grooving—that calls to me. I walk towards it, drawn like a melody in a song that keeps going on and on—and then it’s gone.
• • •
“Who is this?! Who is this?!” Something slams into my shoulder and I would’ve fallen down if I wasn’t pulled into the air in a bear hug. “Good to see you brother, it’s been a minute!”
I drop onto the soft cushions of a sofa and gasp for breath. At first, my mind’s blank, and I have no idea who the tall figure grinning down at me is, but then the sharp electric sound of the DJ’s song floods into me. Notes lock into place like bolts and the bassline repeats like gears turning in my head, and I return the broad grin more familiar than my own. “Damn, James, take it easy on my shoulder!”
James just laughs and I stand up at a table full of bottles glittering like diamonds in the night. We’re surrounded by beautiful faces and figures in everything from sleek blazers and dresses to dark jeans and t-shirts. Some I know well and others are the kind I only occasionally nod to, but we’re all friends because there’s nothing like the bond between people you dance with when you’re alone and loveless except for the love you share for the music.
People come and go and the night mixes and repeats as the electric beat goes on and on and on. I’m drinking and bopping my head to the beat, and James shoves drinks at me while telling me it’s been a minute. Everyone dances. Sometimes, the song changes, and we’re by the bar downing shots—they’re different nights, and I try to remember if we were pretending to be less pretentious? Then it changes again and we’re at a table full of bottles by the edge of the dance floor and the bass is shaking my legs and I remember it’s all about the music.
But as I sit on the sofa listening to this song, I can’t shake the feeling that something’s missing.
A hand slaps my shoulder and I see James. “Having a good time, brother?”
I can’t help but smile back. “Yeah, I’m good, man. I just feel like…”
I struggle for a few moments, and there’s a tightness in my chest, like an unfinished breath I’m aching to take. “Like I’m looking for something.”
“Alright, alright, so that’s how you’re gonna be tonight, huh?”
Before I can ask what he means, the song fades out and someone slides in next to me.
“What are you boys doing here all by yourselves?” I turn to see Justina, her eyes and dress glittering like champagne bottles under the neon lights. She raises her eyebrows when she sees my face and turns to James. “Oppa, what’s wrong? Something serious, is it?”
“Nah, you know how he gets—he’s looking for love.”
“Love?” Justina considers me bemusedly. “Oh, babe, don’t you know? This is Singapore. Confirmed you won’t find love here—just clubs.”
“No, no, it’s not that, it’s just….” I trail off. “Just a feeling I’m missing.”
“Darling, that’s why we’re all here. Every feeling we ever felt every night we ever danced—it’s all here in the music.” She takes my arm, resting her head against my shoulder. “Come, this is a good set. Let’s give it a listen until we hear what you’re looking for. Then you and Oppa can go hunting for love.”
“Yeah, brother,” James says, wrapping his arms around us. “Let’s wait for a good tune and dance.”
Together, we look over at the DJ looming over the darkness of the dance floor like some mystic shaman, and let his music wash over us. He’s a musician playing memories and emotions, and a hundred half-forgotten feelings and images swirl inside of me, each yearning to rise up and break free from the rest but none quite making it—none quite right.
But there’s something so familiar about this, and I wonder how many times I’ve sat here listening to the music, waiting for something. For what?
Something catches my ear and I’m drawn back towards the dance floor, blanketed in a faint white mist lit by beams of neon light. There seems to be a sound nearly hidden in the music, on the other side of the club, just beyond the beat. A distant rumble or pitter-patter, like a train or…
/Where are you now?/
• • •
The beat’s pounding like my heart in my chest as the colors and the heat and the music all comes crashing back, and I’ve got that feeling like I just walked into a club that’s lit itching to dance because the music’s already pulsing in my blood.
The club…? I’m suddenly conscious of my fingers tapping to the beat and look down to see my arm resting on the bar. What am I doing here, what was I looking for?
/Were you just imaginary?/
The DJ cuts in the vocals and someone with bright, glistening eyes is standing in front of me. There’s something almost familiar about her, and just as I realize that, I realize I know this song, too. This tense, anxious build-up, the aching desire of the notes…. Memories stir inside me: endless nights waiting by this bar with this anxiousness in my chest and—
“Hey! Kua simi kua?”
I don’t expect the burst of Hokkien because you don’t look Chinese, and I didn’t even realize I’d been staring too long, but I answer like it’s just the next words of the song: “I was just thinking I have to call my mom.”
“Huh? Lost or what?”
“To tell her I found the girl of my dreams.”
—her laugh is bright like yours, ringing with the sudden riff of synthetic bells. She leans towards me and we clink glasses, and I wonder how long we’ve been standing by this bar drinking and saying things I can’t quite remember.
“Who are you?” she suddenly asks. “I know we met, but I can’t remember which night this is.”
I open my mouth but nothing comes out. What am I supposed to say?
“You’re trying to remember, too,” she says, regarding me with sky-colored eyes. “It’s okay, give the DJ a minute.”
As if on cue, the beat fades out and a new one starts kicking in—the transition to the next song. It’s a quick rhythmic pattern that pulls me in, and after a second that feels like a minute, I smile at her and say: “Well, you’re pretty hot, so maybe you burned me before.”
Your laugh breaks out like a monsoon wind, rising high above the bassline as you swoon theatrically back onto the sofa. “Stop it! I’m dead already. Your lameness killed me.”
The beat’s pulsing through my body, filling me with life and words, and the next song flows over us. She leans in close with her forest-green eyes, and my heart or the beat quickens just a bit. It feels like we might’ve been standing by this bar forever, laughing and swaying along to the rhythm of this song.
“I’ll get this round,” she says as we finish our drinks. “They always serve girls faster.”
“Just the pretty ones?” I ask.
She laughs. “Do you say that to every girl? Or just the ones you want to take home?”
I start to reply, but she’s looking at me intently now, her face soft white under the dim lights, and I can’t shake the sudden feeling that something about her’s off, like a transition to a song that’s just a bit wrong.
The thought’s barely in my head when the club starts to twist like an old vinyl disc. I feel myself twiiissst with it, stretching out with a tense electric riff—and then it stops and I drop into a fresh, faster and harder, electronic beat. I’m leaning against a wall in a crowded hall away from the dance floor now, but my shoulders are still swaying with the music as someone looks at me with light eyes framed by bright blue locs. Her body’s bumping to the beat and I wonder how long I’ve been standing here listening to this song.
The volume turns up and I’m leaning back against a pillar watching the dance floor now, feeling the music crash into me as someone with deep amber eyes leans in—it still doesn’t feel right. There’s a burst of white fog and I’m sitting on a platform by the edge of the dance floor staring ahead, caught by the tense, aching melody echoing the longing in my chest. Then the beat starts speeding up and I’m in the bathroom watching a slim figure with black hair lean over a shelf; a burst of bright piano chords and I’m back at the bar alone again. The set goes on and on, the music getting faster and darker. A flurry of almost-familiar faces and places flashes before me with the beat, each one taking me somewhere else until it feels like I’ve been wandering this club my whole life.
But I still can’t shake this gripping feeling that something’s missing.
/Was it just a fantasy?/
The vocals cut in with a haunting piano riff, and everything slows down again. The beat’s a steady electric thump now, and I’m tapping my fingers to it on something smooth and hard.
“You haven’t found what you’re searching for.” I turn to the voice and she’s looking at me with dark, almost-familiar eyes. “I can see it in your eyes—how lost you are. What did you come here for?”
Searching…. That’s right, I’m at the club and I’m searching for something—I’m always searching for something.
“Is it someone like me?” she asks. “Or just a memory?”
And those familiar eyes, dark and fierce as a Sumatra squall, pierce into mine. It feels like I’ve known them forever, like I’ve been standing by this bar waiting…
“There you are—what’re you doing here?” I turn and am caught by your dark, storm-swept eyes. Your face glows amber brown under the neon lights, your hair dark as midnight on a dance floor, and for the first time since I’ve been waiting by this bar, I feel at ease.
“Trying to get this bartender’s attention—you wanna try?”
“Baby, it’ll take even longer for me—I don’t look ang moh or Chinese.”
“But they always serve pretty girls faster.”
“Very smooth—come, I clap for you. But don’t tell me what it’s like to be me.”
“Okay, okay… but you’ll still go home with me, right?”
“How can? I’m taking you with me.” Your laugh is bright and soothing as the melody. “But, baby…” Your eyes turn questioning and pull me in. “Why do you keep going to the bar when we have a table?”
I follow your gaze across the dance floor and—
I see the DJ, and as if on cue, he grabs one of the glowing waveforms swirling around him. It trembles in his hand like a long, sinuous snake before he throws it in one smooth motion into the turntables. It disappears with a flash of light, like an altar sacrifice, and there’s a warbly CRASH, like an old-school record scratch. My vision or the club flickers and spins, and then for a second that feels like a minute, everything fades away…
• • •
I’m sitting on the sofa, the quick electric beat echoing through my chest and the club. The music is flooding into me: a melancholy ache in my chest that’s building up to… a song? A feeling?
“Sayang sayang sayang!”—it means love in Malay. And isn’t that what you used to say while squeezing me tight every time I came home from a bad day?
Something I’m missing—something I’m yearning for.
The crowd on the dance floor’s a throbbing mass of life pierced by shafts of neon lights, pulsing in time with the beat. The music’s getting harder and darker; the beat’s barreling faster, and the ache in my chest’s getting tighter, squeezing me until I can barely breathe. I feel an inexplicable surge of fear, and then I hear a soft sound—a low rumbling roar—breaking through the noise from across the dance floor.
Like an approaching train or the sound of…
Rain taps rapidly against my senses—there’s a storm forming outside—and I start awake from a nightmare where you’re not there. I instinctively reach out to you but I’m pressed down by a ghostly weight sprawled across my chest.
I call out your name but it’s caught in my throat and I feel a rush of fear… but then you press your hand on my chest and whisper in my ear: “Baby, it’s okay—I’m here.”
The music is crashing into me, the frantic beat building higher and higher. I’m pushing purposely through the dance floor, knowing as clear as the beating in my chest that what I’m looking for is just ahead. The crowd’s a massive, swirling crush of colors and bodies pressing down all around, but I keep pushing forward—
And you spin and spin, laughing as your hair swirls as if caught in a monsoon wind, and I reach out and call out—
Your name…. I can remember how it tastes, the way it flutters in my mouth like freesias in the wind. The shape of it forms like a beat on my tongue, aching to roll out and drop with the beat of this song, but it keeps drifting away with the music, like a secret whispered on a Straits-born breeze, and…
Light trickles through my balcony, and I see your figure cutting up against the sky. It’s dawn just before the end of Ramadan, and the sun’s at your back because you’re supposed to pray, but you’re up because you love the colors of the sky in those moments just between night and day.
I walk towards you, opening my mouth to call out—
/Where are you now?/
/Were you just imaginary?/
/Was it just a fantasy?/
The crowd melts away and the sound of rain is drumming down around me, a deafening roar almost like music, and there, just beyond the beat, in the eye of the storm…
I see you.
You’re dancing like no one’s there—eyes closed, hair dark and lustrous as midnight on a dance floor—and I walk forward feeling like I’ve been walking to you all night, or my whole life. You look up as if you always knew I was there, your face glowing amber brown under the neon lights. Your dark, storm-swept eyes catch me like a monsoon, and the sound and the rain and the music all fade away in their intensity. The whole world seems to pause to watch you, waiting, listening… a beat of breathless anticipation…
And you smile and say: “Hey, baby.”
Lightning strikes as you come to me and the club explodes and the music crashes down into us, and everything finally feels right for the first time this whole night, or maybe my whole life, as you pull me into you the way you always do every time the beat drops: hot, sticky, lingering.
“I’ve been looking for you.” My first words to you in what’s felt like forever.
“That’s what you always say.”
“Only to you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just dance with me, baby—this is what you came for.”
The beat’s four-to-the-floor but I feel it in my soul. Notes fall in place like rain and the whole club—the whole world—fades away as the music washes over us. You pull me closer and closer into you as we dance, until I can’t tell where I stop and you begin. It feels like there’s nothing here but us now, holding each other and rolling together on waves of music. It feels like there’s been nothing here but us dancing to this beat since the beginning of time.
As the ecstasy of the music swirls inside us, time fades away, the changing of songs the only sign of its passing. But as the music lightens, the club starts coming back and I feel so close to not only you but everyone here. We’re all dancing together, connected in a sea of ecstasy by the beat of the drums on the dance floor, and it’s that night.
The night I jumped on James’s back and pretended to be a backpack. The night half our friends got rolled out in wheelchairs. The night you gave away your shoes because they hurt. The night we got stuck in the Ferris wheel in the back. The night Justina announced you were adopting each other because you’re both Straits-born. The night you snuck roti into the club under your dress. The night I snuck a bottle of vodka out in my pants. The night you really, seriously thought we were on Mars. The night we kept slipping ice cubes down everybody’s shirts. The night you wanted to quit your job and make crystals. The night we all agreed to only dance on tables. The night you heard your jam right after leaving and ran back inside to dance until sunrise. The night I promised to show you the canals of New York. The night all your friends left for another club but you stayed with me. The night I figured out I loved you.
It’s this night and every night we ever danced together. It’s a string of songs and a feeling like we’re filled with music and living only for each other’s desire, stretching into forever.
I don’t know how long we stayed like this, how long we swirled in the darkness as music itself—maybe we never stopped. But sometime, somewhere, we’re sitting together on the sofa holding each other close, and as I look down at you, I remember all the nights I lay awake loving you in silence under the moonlight. And when you look up at me with those storm-swept eyes, it’s like waking from a nightmare to find myself loved, and I think I would give anything for those eyes.
“Baby, why are you crying?”
“I don’t know. It’s just something about this song.”
• • •
As the night winds down, the music becomes relaxed and more melodic—the promise of sunrise. Our table also clears as our friends disappear. Some slip away unnoticed like they were never there, while others give big goodbyes. James throws you in the air in a bear hug, and Justina kisses you and makes you promise to call her. It’s bittersweet, holding you close as we slowly come down from the afterglow of our night together, wishing it didn’t have to end.
/Where are you now?/
I feel an inexplicable surge of fear and jump to my feet. A piercing screech like speaker feedback splits through the empty club as I realize you’re gone.
I try to call out your name but I can’t breathe and it feels like something’s pressing down on me. As if from far away, I hear a soft roar—like a coming train or the sound of…
Rain pelts against the windows—there’s a storm outside—and I start awake calling your name into the darkness. I try to reach out to you, but you’re not there and I can’t move. The hungry ghost of our mistakes pins me beneath its weight and tells me: No, I can’t love you anymore.
I force myself forward through sheer will and run across the dance floor. The drumming of the rain grows louder as I search desperately for you through the fog. And there, just ahead near the exit: a faint figure covered in mist, like a ghost or a dream.
/Were you just imaginary?/
“Wait!” I shout as I reach what has to be you—because I don’t know what to do if it’s not. I reach for your hand and—
The air smells of fireflies and goodbyes as you catch me with your storm-swept eyes one more time, before you turn away and disappear into the wind.
—I expect you to fade away at my touch, but instead, you spin around. My vision or you flickers, but I see you looking at me with those familiar eyes. The sound of rain still surrounds us but seems to soften, as if we’ve entered the eye of the storm.
“Why are you leaving?” I gasp.
“Baby, is it really you?” There’s a surprise in your eyes I don’t understand.
“What are you talking about?”
“Do you remember? Tell me you remember.” Your voice is pleading and…
Your eyes pierce me fierce as a Sumatra squall, wet with tears and lined by lightning. The pain in them is matched only by the storm in my bleeding heart.
“How long will you go back and forth—how many times do you want to hurt me?” My words are more angry than pleading.
“As many times as you hurt me.” Yours are as cold as the rain.
“Just decide and go!”
“You know it’s not that easy. How long did you make me wait?”
“It’s not the same—“
“It feels the same!”
We circle each other like old records exchanging truths, scratched and scarred with each playing. We’re so good at justifying what we do to each other that we guide each other’s hands down our own hearts, cutting the jagged lines that can only be felt, not seen.
“I hurt you,” I say.
“And I hurt you,” you reply. “We couldn’t stop hurting each other. You said it was samsara—an endless cycle of suffering.”
“And I said… I never wanted to feel that pain again.”
Images of a lifetime in this club flash before me: endless nights roaming the dance floor and sitting on the sofa, waiting for a song. Always searching for something, never quite knowing what.
But it was always you.
I struggle to catch the beat. “But I’ve been looking for you ever since—For the whole night, for my whole life.”
Your eyes glisten sadly. “That’s what you always say—that’s how this place works. This night is every night we ever danced together. But… if you’ve really been looking for me, if it’s really you… then I’m here now. What are you going to do?”
I don’t know what to say. Why did I come here—what was I looking for?
“I know I hurt you, but why are you still lost in here? I know you love the music—I do too. But what are you really looking for? Is it in here or is that just a feeling that’s faded, a beat that’s dying? The music’s over, baby—kanina, don’t make me beg—come home with me.”
I realize my memory of you is a string of songs, of the beat dropping and the music pulsing in our blood, of this place where we never hurt each other because notes don’t bleed. Because that’s all that’s left when love leaves: music and dancing. Is it you I want or the memory of you in this place? Was it you I loved or the beat of the drums on the dance floor? Why couldn’t I decide?
/Was it just a fantasy?/
I hear the beat picking up again—a steady electric thump like a heart in my chest—but now it makes me uneasy. “Why do you keep asking if it’s really me?”
You pull my hands into your chest, and I wonder if it’s your heart or the beat I’m feeling. “I don’t know what’s real anymore, baby. Is this really you or just a memory left to haunt me? Sometimes, I wonder if it’s even me coming back here—who’s searching for who, me or you? Jodoh is jodoh… or maybe we’re still bound together in samsara.”
I look at you and wonder how long I’ve been here. A minute? The whole night—my whole life?
Rain… it’s growing louder. It always rains when we part ways. The pitter-patter of water marks the turning points of our lives, the start of our transition into the next song, and…
Rain falls like notes all around us. It’s monsoon season—which one? There are so many here and even you never remember which one we’re in.
“Baby, come home. I want you to come home.” Was that you or me?
The storm in your eyes is the only season I know anymore, and it’s them more than your hands that hold me still. Or is it me holding your hands, holding you still? The only thing between us I’m sure of is the tension, like the anticipation in a slow fade-out transition.
Like we’re waiting for the next song.
“It’s okay.” You smile softly. “We can’t lose what we already lost. Go on and keep dancing and searching for love. And if morning comes and you still haven’t found it—then know that I love you.”
I feel the music rising inside me again as the DJ starts the next set, and I want so badly to step forward with you into the exit. And as the beat starts pumping in my chest, I feel like maybe I can, like I’m just on the verge of breaking free from a weight that’s been pressing me down the whole night—my whole life. But memories of you lying next to me under the moonlight flash before me, and I remember that it’s always when I’m on the verge of losing you that you’re most beautiful. I’m afraid because you’ve never looked more beautiful than you do now as you hold me still with your storm-swept eyes. I hold onto your hands, waiting for your smile to pass like a monsoon rain I know will end, not sure if it’ll be me or you that fades away with the next song, wanting this moment to last forever—knowing it’s already over.
• • •
We’re sitting together watching the rain fall gently outside our window. For a moment, I wonder how long we’ve been sitting here, when a familiar sound starts slipping through the pitter-patter: a cool electric beat driving a smooth melodic bassline.
“Hey baby, you remember this song?”
“Yeah, they played it at that club all the time.”
“It’s a good song, huh? Really brings me back.”
“You’re right, it really does.”
We hold each other close and listen to the music behind the rain, reliving every night we ever danced together.