NCW virtual resident, writer and arts organiser Daryl Qilin Yam writes about blossoming love.
Commenting on the sheer volume of Tom’s in the UK, Daryl describes his own romantic encounters with a Tom. He writes about the night they first met, and meeting again at Norwich Castle, about prolonged embraces and moments of connection. The tender, messy intimacy in this piece will transport you back to your own first kiss.
During his virtual residency, Daryl worked on Be Your Own Bae, a collection of interconnected short stories concerned with the lives of queer Singaporean men and the friends, family members and mentor figures that they love and look up to. Situated across Singapore, South Korea, New York City and multiple cities in Japan, the collection further threads together multiple genres and styles of writing such as speculative fiction, ekphrasis and creative autobiography.
Daryl’s residency was generously supported by National Arts Council of Singapore.
One of the cruellest things I had to learn about life in the UK was just how many Toms there were floating amongst us. In second year I swear my friends and I were all involved with a Tom: Emma had one, Sophia had one and then moved on to another, and so did I, all of the Toms differentiated between them not by their first names but by their last names, and then of course the specific ways they made us, gifted us with whatever joie de vivre we needed as twenty-something-year-olds, before proceeding to destroy us.
For example: My Tom gave me my first kiss. It was a kiss that had tongue involved, and very prolonged skin-on-skin contact, initiated by a hug that my Tom didn’t want to break. It was the kind of kiss that of course made me moan a little, while making our group of friends gasp into silence, because it also happened to be a kiss that took place in the queue to Moo Bar, which was also how Tom and I had bumped into one another. After we broke apart we didn’t really see each other again, I kept my focus on dancing before I had to step outside, requiring some relief from the heat of the crowd. And it was there where I saw my Tom again, trying to hail a taxi home with his flatmates; he caught sight of me, ran over to me, and gave me a quick kiss, shortly after saying he’d like to see me next semester. And then true enough, the taxi did come after a short while, but before he could disappear he quickly gave me a second (or, I suppose, third) kiss as a way of saying goodbye. It wasn’t till Tom’s taxi shuttled him away, finally, when I looked over my shoulder, and saw Samar and Patricia paralysed by the door, clutching one another with glee.
And so I shouldn’t have been surprised, at The Castle, to find that the man I made out with in the queue also happened to be named Tom. As I gave him a smile, and told him my name in return, I had to also take in the fact that he wasn’t my Tom, the Tom with blonde hair and a slightly manic look in his eyes; the Tom before me right now had dark hair, curly hair, hair long enough to be tucked behind his ears. This Tom had glasses, too. Tom asked if I was new to Norwich, and I said yes, I was, could he tell because of the fact I was Asian? This caused Tom to groan; he kissed me, on the cheek and on the neck, and then groaned a little more in my ear, before suggesting we get food. I asked if he was hungry, and he said not really, no, he just wanted to get away with me. He then said that there was a good place down the road, just past the roundabout, a placed called Lotus House at Bishop Bridge Road, which then made me want to ask if it was because I was Asian again. And Tom had to go no, no no, no you don’t, all the while laughing.
It’s actually fucking good? he said. So you’re going to have to take my word for it, Daryl.
It was good. Gratifyingly good. But it was made all the better because after we wolfed down a small carton of Singapore noodles (don’t ask), right outside the shop, Tom held my hand and asked if I might walk with him, a little further, down to a place where he loved to make out with men. And I said yes, take me to wherever please, and I felt giddy, giddy and glowing on the inside, while Tom linked arms with me and took me down the side of Bishop Bridge Road, with nothing but the cars on our left and these treetops to the right, past which I could catch a glimmer of something, something wet and shining under the moonlight. I asked him what it was, and he said it was a river, the River Wensum, a river that threaded through the city centre. Down the road we finally arrived at a bridge, just right of a set of traffic lights, and it was there at the bridge where we held onto one another, Tom and I, staring at the column of water that shone before us, garlanded on both sides by lush grasses and the dripping branches of the riverside trees. And there was a moment when I understood that where Tom wanted to take me was somewhere deep within those trees, that there was a walking path through which we could spend an hour together, possibly more, away from eyes and amidst the verdant, fresh-smelling green. And I had to tell this Tom not to be so eager, to not surrender to our urges so quickly, not when we could both be in the light for a while. Because while I was telling him this I also managed to realise, in my own quiet way, that for a moment I wasn’t really talking to this Tom, but the other one, the one that mattered — the one who managed to slip away, all those years ago, even after he had set me on my path through desire, a path littered with kisses, and embraces, and other intimacies he’d have nothing to do with. Even after he’d fulfilled his promise to meet me again, that following semester. On Bishop Bridge Road I found myself holding onto my current Tom, and not surrender so quickly to what still lay ahead, the darkness.
Daryl Qilin Yam (b. 1991) is a writer and arts organiser from Singapore. He is most recently the author of the novella Shantih Shanith Shantih (2021), shortlisted for the 2022 Singapore Literature Prize, and the novel Lovelier, Lonelier (2021), a finalist of the 2021 Epigram Books Fiction Prize. He is a co-founder of the literary non-profit Sing Lit Station.
During his residency, Daryl worked on Be Your Own Bae, a collection of interconnected short stories concerned with the lives of queer Singaporean men and the friends, family members and mentor figures that they love and look up to. Situated across Singapore, South Korea, New York City and multiple cities in Japan, the collection further threads together multiple genres and styles of writing such as speculative fiction, ekphrasis and creative autobiography.
In 2022, the National Centre for Writing offered three virtual residencies for writers from Singapore, generously supported by the National Arts Council of Singapore. The writers were Akshita Nanda, Crispin Rodrigues and Daryl Qilin Yam. Over the six months, the Singaporean writers worked on a project with a UK-based writer as mentor. They also met online with writers and translators connected with Norwich, took part in an interview for The Writing Life podcast and participated in Meet the World events. At the end of the residency, we commissioned a piece from each writer reflecting on their residency and their writing. They also contributed writing tips, like the above, and a blog for Walking Norwich. Read more here →
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