To avoid embarrassing my friend, I am changing the names in this article. To my sweet and funny friend: you know who you are.
Florence and I actually met a couple of months before Covid-19 swept into the breach and turned everything upside down. Her boyfriend was my colleague and he was fun and interesting and a much-needed bit of English humor in a sea of Singapore international school strictness. It was this friend who would often bring me back to myself by strolling into my classroom on a Friday at 4pm and saying, “Why are you still working? We’re going to the pub.”
The ‘pub’ was a hawker center: a collection of holes in the wall, selling everything from chips to fish eyes. And, of course, ice-cold, eye-waveringly expensive beer. Our team gathered at this place every two weeks or so, sitting on plastic orange chairs under the fans, and invariably ended up rolling home drunk several hours later, still dressed in work finery and clutching work laptops. On one of these occasions, I met Florence. My first impression was that she was very cool, possibly much cooler than me, but also that she was just lovely.
Lockdown came to Singapore at the start of April but I, unfortunately, was already in a government-mandated quarantine at that point, having travelled abroad. Living alone had never bothered me before but suddenly, restricted to the small square of my flat and communicating via Zoom, I recognized that isolation could very easily make a person go mad. I did not go mad though. And I attribute that fact to Florence.
Florence hated the thought of me being lonely and made it her mission to keep me company from a distance. As well as phone calls and voice notes, she cycled over to mine each week (no joke in Singapore heat) and we shared a drink and a chat with her sitting on the floor at the bottom of the stairwell, me in my pajamas at the top. She gifted me wine with strict reminders that she loved me and that she couldn’t wait until we could see each other properly again. When quarantine lifted and lockdown began, we shared socially distant beers in the park and we told each other our parents’ life stories. We went for long walks along the river, masked for safety, discussing everything from books to babies to travel. I liked how unwavering she was in who she was. She had the courage of her conviction and she was also unfailingly kind. I realized I had made a friend who I not only loved, but also admired.
The lockdown measures relaxed in June and Florence and I were able to go for a dinner together at last. I had also decided at this point that I was going to leave Singapore and this dinner became our final farewell. I was mostly very excited about leaving Singapore and starting a new life with my boyfriend in France, but I felt absolutely bereft at leaving Florence. Our goodbye dinner was predictably boozy, punctuated by declarations of love and plenty of raucous laughter. We followed it up with three more goodbye dinners. My eyes were dry when I stepped onto the plane but I felt the pang of saying goodbye to a soul sister.
We now try to catch up properly once a month but life sometimes gets in the way. We send each other long and impassioned voice notes. I look to the future, when Florence and her boyfriend move back to England, and they are only an hour away.
I think about all of my soul sisters who are spread across the globe, who I love to distraction. And I recognize once again that there is nothing like the friendship of women. You are all my chosen family and I am with you, in lockdown, in life, for always.
Amy Arora is a freelance writer with ten years teaching English Literature in schools around the world. In building her portfolio, she writes short stories, articles about education, and personal essays about the important things in life: mostly friendship and love. You can find more of her writing at www.amyarora.com and her instagram @_amyarora