Soul Station


There was no way Ng Hiang Tien would be able to see her, Lee knew that. And yet, from outside the window, the old man’s blank eyes continued to torment her, a constant reminder of her past that she had tried so hard to bury. It seemed that even two decades of being dead couldn’t erase the memories from life. 

Ng had arrived two days ago at the Bukit Timah Railway Station and hadn’t left since, spending his time writing letters which he’d post into the Station post-box at sunset. As a result, the Train which collected souls and brought them to the Afterlife had ceased to come—it was stated in the Afterlife Rulebook that the Train would not stop at any Station that was within a kilometer of a mortal, since the sheer energy of it would rip their frail bodies into a million pieces. The Station was filling up with the dead day by day, and it was quickly getting overcrowded.

For hours, the three station masters, Lee, Jalil and Sayid, had been sitting in the Office looking through the letters in an attempt to find out what exactly this old man wanted, so they could make him leave. From where she was sitting, Lee could see that Jalil’s eyes had glazed over, while Sayid was in a deep slumber on the desk.

Ng’s letters gave the impression that he was disoriented and confused (Lee once read that it could be a result of a period of isolation). He wrote about how he came here often with his 10 year old daughter, and that he lived nearby in one of the landed houses in Dairy Farm. Quite the contrast from his hazy descriptions of the present, those memories of his daughter—Yi Sing, which she was referred to as—were vividly described, almost as if their excursion to the Station had only been yesterday. 

In reality, according to the Life Records (Lee had checked), Ng Yi Sing was a thirty-five year old divorced mother of two who was more commonly known by her English name: Aimee Ng. The house in Dairy Farm no longer belonged to the Ngs; Aimee had sold it four months ago. Most importantly, a police report lodged a day ago declared Ng Hiang Tien missing. Investigations were still ongoing, but apparently no one had thought to check the Railway Station.

The chair in front of her screeched, and Lee jumped. 

“We’ve been here for exactly 3 hours and 46 minutes,” Jalil growled. Noticing the sleeping Sayid, Jalil reached over and whacked him on the head. Sayid’s forehead hit the table and he jerked up, yelling in pain.

“What lah-!“ he swore. Jalil’s jaw tensed and he turned to look at Lee.

“Have you done anything useful?”

Lee flushed, nodding quickly. Jalil had been especially on edge for the past few days and she prayed that today wouldn’t be the breaking point.

“Yeah, um. There’s an old red phone in my office and it still works. I’ve also found Aimee Ng’s number from the Life Records, so…”

“Wait, you can’t seriously be suggesting that we call Aimee Ng!” Jalil interrupted, eyes widening. “Look, this is ridiculous. If you recall, the dead and the living aren’t allowed to interact. We’ve been here for hours, and we’ve accomplished nothing. Sayid here has been having a nice, long nap, and you’ve been staring outside for God knows how long.

“Come on, tell us what you’re thinking.” Jalil’s eyes narrowed. Lee tensed, and she saw Sayid rise from his seat from the corner of her eye.

“Jalil…” Sayid warned.

“What? Oh, right,” Jalil sneered. “This old man reminds you of a certain someone, doesn’t he? Who is it again? Ah, yes – your mother.”

Lee’s stomach dropped. In typical protective mode, Sayid stood up and slammed the table. But as the two men started to quarrel, a numbness seemed to have settled over her ears.

After years of distancing herself from her regrets, by volunteering to become station master at Bukit Timah so she could escape the Afterlife – escape the prospect of reuniting with her family – it was almost easy to forget about her mother. And yet, with the recent arrival of Ng and the cruel words Jalil had spat out, there was no stopping the flood of guilt. 

“Jo…? What time is it? Why are you home so late?”

“Jo, you really can’t visit this week? … But you haven’t come home in two months! … You’re on a business trip? For work? Again? And you didn’t tell me?”

“Jo, I’m sick.”

“Jo, stay for a while more, won’t you?”

“Is this Ms Joanne Lee? … Ma’am, your mother passed away in her sleep early this morning at 2am…”


Lee blinked and felt a wetness on her cheeks. She was met with the stares of her colleagues. The distance between them seemed to stretch.

“Yes?” Her voice was a little too high. She cleared her throat and shifted in discomfort. “Sorry, I must’ve drifted off.”


“Are we decided then? We’re calling Aimee Ng?”

Without waiting for an answer, she stood up and walked as quickly as she could out of the office, heart racing. She felt the urge to puke, though souls didn’t have stomachs to hold food.

It was the same sick feeling she had experienced when the phone call came through years ago, informing her of her mother’s death.

The setting sun coloured the Station a glowing orange. In the office, Lee, Jalil and Sayid stood by the window, nervous energy causing the air between them to vibrate. After she had left, Sayid and Jalil had agreed to follow the plan on one condition – that they wouldn’t speak on the phone after Aimee Ng had answered it. The fact was that the entire plan depended too much on whether luck was on their side or not, but Jalil had no choice but to give in due to a lack of other options.

            Ng finally got up from the bench, clutching a new letter in one hand. With every step he took towards the Station, Sayid punched a button into the ancient red telephone.

9… 7… 6… 7… 5… 2… 1… 8…


The three stationmasters flinched as the call tone broke the silence of the evening. Outside, the footsteps paused. It should go through right about now… 

As if on cue, Aimee Ng’s voice cut through the phone line.

“Hello?” she said. “Who is this?”

The reaction was immediate.

“Yi Sing! Yi Sing!” A hoarse voice cried out. Sayid quietly put the phone down on the table as they waited with bated breath. Lee stared intently at the door, and within seconds, Ng appeared, clutching onto the frame to steady himself.

“Dad! Where the hell are you? Do you know how much trouble you’ve caused for me?”

“Yi Sing, don’t you remember?” Ng’s voice trembled. His arms hung at the side, and a lost expression crossed his face. Lee’s hand twitched. “We used to come here so often… But what happened, Yi Sing? Why is it that I don’t see you anymore?”

“Dad, wait, is it the Railway Station? The Bukit Timah one?”


Aimee swore. “What the hell. Stay there, got it? Don’t go anywhere. I’m coming.”

“Yi Sing, I never see you anymore. Yi Sing, why don’t you come home anymore?”

Yi Sing, I never see you anymore.

Lee, why don’t you come home anymore?

Because I don’t know how to talk to you! Lee had screamed. The image of her mother’s fallen face was still fresh in her mind.

Bile rose in her throat. What kind of daughter would say such things? How could she ever face her mother again?

And yet… wasn’t she just continuing what she had done in life? Neglecting her mother?

Ma was probably still waiting for her in the Afterlife.

And then it struck her. Without thinking, Lee took off, past Jalil and Sayid and Ng, out of the door and away from the station. Behind her, Jalil shouted something, but she was already gone with the wind.

She only stopped when she arrived at the bench outside the Station, with Ng’s unposted letters strewn all over it. 

The letters were the answer.

            Lee couldn’t believe that it had taken her so long to understand, when it was the same communication gap that had separated her mother and herself. The letters contained memories – memories and emotions that Aimee Ng had forgotten as she grew older. If Aimee would only read them… she’d remember, wouldn’t she?

            And then she’d understand her father. She’d be able to talk to him again, just like she had as a little girl.

Then perhaps Ng would be content for the last of his days, and Aimee wouldn’t have to live on with the same guilt Lee had lived with. They had a chance, and she could still help them. It wasn’t too late.

            Only then would Lee finally prove to herself that nothing was too late to fix. Perhaps if everything worked out, she’d finally have the courage to confront her own mistakes. And maybe then, she’d board the Train when this was over, to go to the Afterlife. To meet her mother after decades of avoiding her.

            A burst of wind from behind her jolted Lee out of her thoughts.

            “Lee, what are you doing?” Sayid said, worry and panic evident in his tone.

            “Jalil was right,” Lee spoke. It suddenly hit her how good this felt. To be calm and composed and clear-headed. To have a purpose that grounded her. She turned to look straight at her friend.

            “Ng does remind me of someone,” Lee continued, swallowing. Courage was something that needed to be practised, at least for now. “My mother.”

            At that moment, the revving of a car sounded. Aimee Ng had arrived. Lee’s heart lurched, and when she spoke again, it was with more urgency than before.

            “Sayid, I need you to trust me,” she said quickly, voice trembling only a little. “I’m going to do something tonight that will break probably half the rules in the Rulebook. 

“But everything that happens will determine what I do from now on. Please, just… don’t stop me.” Desperation was clear in her voice. Sayid seemed at a loss for words.

            The blue Toyota stopped, and the woman hurriedly got out of the car, walking as fast as she could. She paused for a while at the sight of the broken fence, where Ng had entered through, then quickened her pace, disappearing into the Station.

            Lee looked back at Sayid, who finally nodded, meeting her eyes seriously. Lee closed her eyes, focused on concentrating all her energy into the centre of her soul. As she started to glow, her body grew weak, and her knees buckled. Concentrate.

            She vaguely felt someone holding on to her as she hit the ground, but her entire spirit was focused only on the burning in her heart and the voices from inside the station.

            “Who are you? Where’s my Yi Sing?”

            “Dad, I’m Aimee – Yi Sing – don’t make this harder than it has to be, please, for God’s sake!”

            “You’re not my Yi Sing! Get away from me!”

            “Dad, please!”

            “Get out! Get out! Yi Sing, where are you? Yi Sing, come back to me…”

            Through blurred vision, Lee watched the silhouette of Aimee Ng bury her face in her hands and lean against the wall. Ng pressed himself against the doorframe, curling into a tighter ball. The scene before her struck too close to home. Feeling a sudden rush of emotion, Lee’s centre glowed brighter, and she grew light-headed. A low moan escaped her as she fought against the overwhelming urge to give up.

            One by one, slowly at first, then picking up speed, the letters swirled around her, creating a tornado of paper. Sayid’s hands dropped from her shoulders, repelled back by the mighty wind that surrounded Lee in a cocoon.

            With the last of her energy, Lee felt the letters rip through her flickering soul, soaring into the open window of the Station Office. They scattered from the ceiling in an explosion of white, drifting downwards onto the floor. For a moment, the night waited in bated breath.

            Her last thought before her eyelids fluttered close was how pretty they looked —just like snow.

“…She couldn’t have died, idiot. We’re all dead already, remember?” Jalil’s irritated voice drew Lee into consciousness. “Look, she’s awake now.”

Blinking slowly, Lee struggled to sit up. Sayid, ignoring his colleague, immediately came to her aid, gently helping to rest her against the bench. Jalil sniffed as he stared down at her, but Lee could see a hint of uncertainty in his eyes, as much as he tried to hide it.

            Behind Jalil, two people walked away from them, towards a blue car. Aimee held on gently to Ng, slowing down to his pace. She was silent, looking to be deep in thought. Her father clutched his letters tightly, mumbling something. Aimee nodded and smiled – a little awkwardly perhaps, but she was trying.

A warm feeling came over Lee, taking her a little by surprise. She hadn’t felt this emotion in a long time.

Everything had worked out for this family. Now it was time for Lee herself to board the Train to the Afterlife and fix hers. As apprehensive as she was, she knew it had to be done.

Besides, she missed her mother.

Turning to Jalil, Lee smiled. 

“I’m resigning.”

“What?” Jalil spluttered. “Why?”

“I’m going to be brave,” she said simply. To voice her decision out loud brought a small twinge of fear, but she knew it was time to stop running from the past.

“Y-you can’t,” Jalil’s face turned red and his eyes bulged from their sockets. “You broke a law by interfering with mortal fate. That means at least a 3 month hold up before you’re allowed to board the Train.”

“3 months will be over in no time,” Lee said, and her lips twitched at the sight of Jalil’s lost expression. Sayid grinned.

“Jalil, bro, are you trying to say you’ll miss her?” He teased.

“No, obviously not,” Jalil retorted immediately, proceeding to list the many reasons why he detested both of them.

As Sayid and Jalil resumed their usual banter, Lee felt comfortable in her own soul for the first time. People used to say that there were endings and beginnings in life. It was the same in death, she decided. A chapter of her existence had closed, and a new one had opened.

It was time for her to embrace it.

Carmen Leong (Class of 2023) writes to build temporary homes tucked far away in the nooks of her imagination. They often contain some element of fantasy, and represent her dreams for the future. Some words linger in her mind for hours.