27 November 2018
Goodman Arts Centre, Block L, #01-46
20 November–7 December 2018
We have all entertained thoughts about what we would tell a Martian about us, if we were to meet it. My experience meeting Charlie is the closest you can get.
Charlie is a twelve-year-old girl, portrayed by Victoria Chen, who has been raised in a sterile room. For some unknown reason, one is given a fifteen-minute visitation, in which one is allowed to talk to her about anything. The only ground rules are not to touch her, or let her out of the room.
I should have heeded the advice of countless etiquette books of not arriving at someone’s place a little too early. Being the first in the shift, I arrived fifteen minutes beforehand, and “the woman”, as Charlie calls her, has yet to complete setting up. Throughout my wait, it felt that I was waiting to see Victoria Chen perform something, rather than waiting for this opportune moment to meet Charlie.
All of that changed when “the woman” opens the door to a spartan room with fluorescent lights. Charlie is lying on a mattress covered with a white bed sheet. Beside the mattress are scattered drawings, which Charlie later reveals that they are scenes from her dreams.
Eager to discuss as many topics as possible, I ask a series of questions to find out more about Charlie. I established that a “professor” visits her to check on her and give her more paper and markers, and a “woman” would usually deliver food and drink to her.
Before I knew it, Charlie turns the tables, “How do you spend your time?”
Explaining to her the concept of work and money sparks off a philosophical dialogue:
“Why would you do something you don’t like? Shouldn’t you do what makes you happy?”
“I like it for the most part, but as with anything, there are parts that you don’t like and you have to do it.”
“But why can’t you just do the parts that you like?”
“Unfortunately, to get ‘money’, you have to do both. Then, you use the ‘money’ to buy food and other stuff that makes you happy.”
Charlie is unconvinced—so am I.
Apart from being philosophical, she is incredibly attuned to the ebb and flow of conversation. There are moments when she simply keeps quiet and looks at you as you continuously explain things, while trying to assess whether she shares the same set of concepts as you do. Soon, Charlie unwittingly becomes your psychologist as you become increasingly aware of what matters to you based on the topics you chose.
Suddenly, the door opens and our time is up.
“Bye bye… Isaac.”
This takes me by surprise. I only told her my name at the very start, and she still remembers. The slight pause before saying my name sparks an internal struggle: What is stopping me from taking her out of the room? Who are these people that I have to listen to them? If I “rescue” her, how do I ensure that she is safe?
Before I could formulate any answers, I am already on my way to the train station.
It is odd how one could connect to a fictional child embodied by a wonderful actor. Who would have thought that I would benefit more from the conversation than Charlie?
“Meeting Charlie was also seeing my inner self – A Reflection” by Sam Kee, Arts Republic
“Review: Charlie by Bhumi Collective” by Bak Chor Mee Boy