The hand reached out slowly, then withdrew. The shadows danced shakily in the background. Almost like a wayang kulit, Hui-Mei thought. But who remembered the arts of the previous generations? The cultures of a past that had long been relegated to the dusty archives no one had the heart to explore anymore?
There was a moment’s silence, and then the curtains started to close.
When you’re the only person in the audience it’s hard to know what to do. Clap wildly and hoot? Clap in a dignified manner? (Whatever that meant.) Get up and walk out like the rest of the tiny audience that had sat out only a few minutes of the show?
Hui-Mei got up awkwardly. She hoisted her backpack onto her shoulder and made her way from her seat.
In the post-pandemic period in the mid-2020s, theatres, cinemas, and sports stadiums had been renovated and refurbished to make way for the Great Social Distancing Era. There were benefits to the extra space and the palpable fear.
But in this case, it was not the fear of infection that had kept people away. The critics had slammed the press preview and now, the show limped to the end of its first week with a disheartened cast and crew and the sponsor not even sending her minions to attend after Opening Night.
It had all but flatlined.
From backstage, the cast straggled out. Kai caught up with Hui-Mei. She could see bits of make-up smeared behind his protective goggles. He adjusted his mask just as they emerged from the theatre into the humid night air.
“What do you think is wrong?” Kai asked as they trotted to the bike stand. “Is it the script? The storyline? It’s not believable? Or is it the acting?”
Hui-Mei shrugged. She wasn’t going to tell him that no one wanted to watch a play about life before COVID-19. It was just too painful. How does an audience suspend disbelief when the story is all they ever heard about from their grandparents and from fairytale history books? No one wants to know about that kind of freedom. Especially when the last spaceship was about to leave for the New Life and the rest of humanity was left to struggle with what’s left of an old, ravaged, tired planet.
Maybe a better storyline would have been a comedy like the old silent movies of some funny-faced chap named after an edible seed.
Tomorrow would be another day at the Kepong factory, churning out such edible seeds in cans. The human population needed a lot of these protein-rich foods and Hui-Mei knew she should be grateful to have a job feeding her comrades left on Earth. But watching Kai “working” at his hobby shouldn’t be depressing. Everyone needed some relief from reality. Somehow it seemed, not tonight.
“Come on,” she said to Kai now, as they cycled up the slope towards the old Railway Station. “Let’s go watch the celebrations.”
“Really? I thought you didn’t want to.” Kai had made it to the top of the slope and was waiting at the curve.
“Changed my mind,” she puffed out behind her mask. “Come on! Race you!”
They raced in the silent night. There were no more noxious fumes and roaring engines on the road. One thing good that humanity had done was to get rid of vehicles that bled the Earth of her natural resources – the liquid forms of dinosaurs of the old ages.
Maybe this really was the reason no one had stayed at the theatre. The greater spectacle was here at Dataran Merdeka. The countdown of the final spaceship, the Jalur Gemilang, bearing the embryos, a few guardians, surrogate mothers, and hopes of a doomed species, taking off, never to return. Everyone had gathered to celebrate. Or maybe, to mourn.