It was 7 o’clock in the evening, and I was feeling hot, sweaty and upset. I was standing with Mum and Dad and lots of other people, mostly tourists like us, behind a barrier like they have for parades, along a road called Serangoon Road in Singapore. The road was wide and most of it was full of traffic - but the lane closest to us was closed off so that a procession could go past, for a Hindu festival called Thaipusam.
Smelly exhaust was coming out from all the cars and buses, which were moving slowly because they only had half the road. In-and-out, motorbikes were trying to squeeze past them. Dad had said this was rush-hour traffic, but I remember thinking that was really silly. If anybody wanted to rush, they should choose a different hour, because right now there were too many cars on the road.
It was really noisy, too. Not just cars slowing down and accelerating at the traffic light, and buses farting and belching like my grandpa, but there were drums and loud wailey music and lots of people singing and shouting.
And I had just seen a man go past. He was only wearing some orange rolled-up shorts. He was walking past us, but being held back by three other men who were pulling, pulling on long thin wires that went right into the skin of his back with hooks. The hooks went right under his skin, and pulled.
I didn’t like it.
I could hear people all along the line from me go “oh!” or say some swear words (which you can if you’re a grown-up), so I knew they didn’t like it either. But nobody was doing anything about it – they were just taking pictures or videos!
Mum held my hand, and Dad said to me, “Are you alright, son? I know that was quite gruesome to look at, but I don’t think he feels any pain. He’s in a trance.”
“Maybe he’s too young to see this,” said Mum, “I’m not sure if I fancy it myself.”
I wanted to ask Dad what’s a trance. But just then another man was coming past. He looked like he was wearing a big decorated scaffolding – it had tinsel and feathers sticking out all over. There were sharp bits of it going right through his skin too, but I could see he wasn’t upset or anything. He was sort of dancing, and there were some other people with him, who weren’t wearing any scaffolding, singing and dancing, and blowing whistles in a kind of happy way and beating on a drum.
On the other side of the man, I could see the traffic was still going past. I wondered if the people in those cars and buses were scared of what they saw. Some of them were staring out at the procession, but I think most of them looked just grumpy.