Blackout

by Winifred Tan
Tonight I experienced my first blackout.

Or, to be more precise, my first involuntary blackout whereby I couldn’t fix the issue with a simple flick of the offending switch.

The time now, according to the clock display on my mobile phone, reads 2.06am. This means that it’s been over half an hour since the electrical supply in my apartment was cut off, just when I was about to step into the shower.

I wish I could say it has been an electrifying experience thus far (pun intended), but then I’d be lying. The truth is, living in a world with no electricity scares me. No lights, no entertainment, not even heated water for showering.

I feel powerless.

When I first heard the tell-tale click of the suddenly halted power supply, my response was a resigned sigh. My apartment is prone to power trips, and I’ve gotten so used to them occurring over the years that I don’t even feel surprised anymore – I just head straight for the mains panel in my storeroom and flick the culprit back into place.

Which is exactly what I did.

But this time, the usual culprit wasn’t at fault. Neither were the rest of the switches.

I furrowed my brows in puzzlement.

It wasn’t until seconds later, when I heard agitated mumblings and dimmed torchlights drifting in from the unit next door, that I realised things were more serious than they seemed. That’s right, dear reader, the electrical supply to my entire block had been cut off!

The mumbling next door intensified. A few storeys down, I could hear a similar commotion culminating in a loud and indignant “How come no electricity?!”

Curious soul that I am, I went out to the corridor and spied shamelessly on an annoyed neighbour stomping his way down to the guardhouse, presumably to express his displeasure in more colourful terms.

I followed him, firstly because I had nothing better to do, and secondly because – with my parents out for the count and snoring à la Cacofonix – I was the (wo)man of the house and responsible for its safekeeping. On my way down, I even stopped to reassure my anxious elderly neighbour – in halting (but no less effective) dialect – that there was no due cause for alarm.

The guard, on being confronted with no less than 5 irate residents, was visibly exasperated. In a few curt sentences, we established that: one, no one knew what had gone wrong with the power supply; and two, short of waiting for the technicians to arrive, there was nothing else for us to do.

So I went home. Paced around the quiet living room. Eyed the dark bathroom longingly. And itched to get something done. Anything.

Which explains why I’m currently seated at the kitchen table, penning down my thoughts by the faint light of my mobile phone. (If you’re wondering why I’m not using other ‘more conventional’ light sources, it’s because I couldn’t locate any torches, and my mum has avowed war on anyone dripping candle wax on "her precious marbled floor".)

Minutes passed.

Just as I’m writing the previous line, a tell-tale click sounds. The microwave behind me resumes operation and displays, in bright green letters, “Welcome to Inverter Cooking. Please programme the time.” Suddenly the apartment seems much more alive than before.

Well, thank god for that.

Tonight’s blackout may have lasted only approximately an hour, but to me, it has seemed like an eternity. It makes me wonder: if we already feel so helpless and crippled over a brief lapse of electricity, how much worse would it be if we were to experience a real crisis? How ill-equipped would an average Singaporean be in the event of a widespread earthquake, flood, or tsunami? Would we know how to respond? Would we even be able to respond promptly?

These are questions I can scarcely bear to think about.

So I’ll leave you, my dear reader, to ponder over these questions on your own. What I do know is, for now, I’m going to hunt down that elusive torch and emergency kit, and finally hop into that well-deserved hot shower.


An Assistant Editor by profession, Winnie dabbles in writing whenever her muse strikes. Reading, however, will always be her first love.