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  • Siren (Redux) by Haley Tien-Warrior—25th Anniversary Oral History/DJ Cliffhanger Remix—MUST LISTEN! THE FEELS . . . Awesome . . .
  • Clara Chow (bio)

For a time, nobody had any idea why it was happening: a slew of fatal traffic accidents within a particular time frame—the six to eight hour in the evening belt—as though a god had sneezed, and random blood flecks from a nosebleed splattered across the island.

Traffic cops were promptly deployed to man speed cameras on overhead bridges. Road safety messages festooned lamp posts at hundred-metre intervals. Current affairs programmes on television embarked on nationwide soul-searching about whether standards at driving instruction schools were rapidly slipping. Fathers lending their sons cars to ferry their dates for the first time said silent prayers and dreaded late-night phone calls. Taoist mediums operating out of dingy flats with idol-cluttered altars and kris-wielding bomohs experienced an uptick in business as people brought their bewitched cars in to be exorcised after random malfunctioning—a stuck accelerator here, a finicky ignition switch there.

[frenetic stopwatch ticking—honking and engines revving]

At the Traffic Police headquarters, Assistant Superintendent Steven Teo and his team worked around the clock to crack the case.

Voice of asp Steven Teo:

"We had this huge board up at the station, stuck full of pins, ringed in red, and criss-crossed with thread like some kind of crazy embroidered mandala. We just couldn't figure out the pattern. We stopped sleeping with our wives. With that kind of carnage on the roads, who could get it up?"

[ominous synthesiser sounds]

February gave way to March, the hottest one on record in the past decade, and the death toll continued mounting. The speed limit was [End Page 43] lowered to 50 km/h on the expressways, and traffic snarls ate into the workday, exacting costs in terms of lost man—and woman—hours. Companies moved towards "work from home" labour forces, and Uber drivers quit in droves.

As the Minister of Transport, Mr Leong Chee Meng had to do something.

Voice of Leong Chee Meng:

"It got to the point where the panic was palpable. People started leaving their cars at home, which was actually good, but then the public transport system was really tested. We bumped up the frequency of trains and mobilised private bus companies to pick up the slack along popular routes."

Mr Chet Chua, owner of parallel importer Autos Pronto in Mackenzie Road, recalls the anxiety that beset the car trade.

Voice of Chet Chua:

"At one stage, they were saying that certain makes and models were more likely to be involved in the mass crashes, and we were keeping a tally, hoping against recalls. If it had been Toyota or Honda, or any of the popular brands, we'd all have been screwed."

[ambient noises, cars whooshing by]

There were no survivors, up until that juncture, each gnarly wreck claiming its victims. All over the city, the Grim Reaper threaded through rush-hour smog, passing under the noses of schoolchildren pressed to grimy windows, as air conditioners worked valiantly to blow that much stale air into stalled interiors. Metal turtles, beached on asphalt, paddling towards infinity. The dead and bent spilt no secrets, told no lies, even as reporters waited, notebooks limp like apologetic fedoras in hand, outside morgues and crematoriums.

Meanwhile, the doomsday sayers brayed their messages about killer wheels—computer chips frying and locking up brake systems—steering wilfully into head-on collisions. The pragmatic traded technology for superstition. Each time an ambulance or police siren wailed through the streets, children shuddered and held onto their collars, imploring inwardly that they would not be the next passenger—or worse, cargo—in those tin cans hurtling.

[interlude—tinkling mournful Muzak]

Wavy died on a Monday.

With the small cake box that held her dead goldfish on the passenger seat next to her, Selena Tham drove to her boyfriend's house. She was going to bury Wavy in Brian's garden, and then sit down to a plate of [End Page 44] spaghetti Bolognese while blowing her nose, feeling the pain subside with her sobs. It was just a ten-minute...


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