Beneath the Singapore Cricket Club veranda, Dara watched two teams of lawyers sweat it out in the annual law rugby tournament held every January, and allowed herself a small, happy sigh. Under the cool shade, she felt some mild pity for the poor bastards playing under the sun’s sticky glare, but suffering in the heat never lasted long in Singapore; discomfort was always reliably suspended in the blue or yellow taxis that swarmed the city, or through the icy gusts that rushed onto the streets from the malls. It was like a contract signed as a basic human right: “You shall never perspire for long.”

Dara sat at the top of the stand beside Lucy, a junior associate on her team, and one of the new trainees. It was a good vantage point from which to keep an eye on her boss, lan, as he entertained two of his most important Japanese clients at the bottom of the steps. She would be ready whenever he caught her eye and gave her the green light to approach. In the meantime, she tried to feign interest in the losing team in green, which was made up of amateur and semi-professional players from her firm, Morgan Corbett Shaw. She’d given up checking her phone to see if her best friend, Amaka, would make an appearance. Even though Amaka’s bank was helping to sponsor the tournament, she somehow always found a way to avoid these work events, something Dara just couldn’t afford to do.

Giving up a Sunday afternoon would be worth it, though. Dara felt as confident as Perseus with the Gorgon’s head in his bag, being so close to the partnership she’d spent the past six years working for. Work was going so well that it didn’t matter that she was experiencing caffeine withdrawals from missing her hourly fix, or that she was being forced to give up a much-needed day of rest. She usually wasn’t in the city much at the weekend; she traveled every chance she got, taking advantage of Singapore’s many public holidays, a welcome by-product of a country that officially celebrated three different religions. The past Christmas break had been spent cycling on her own in Laos, a wonderful change from the year before when she’d celebrated with friends of friends who, like her, were avoiding both the English winter and their difficult families, chugging bottomless glasses of champagne in a hotel lacking genuine festive spirit. Whenever her married friends started giving her dating advice (a grown woman of thirty-six!) or tried to fix her up at parties with men they would never have considered for themselves, she reminded herself that she’d been to ten out of twelve countries in Southeast Asia multiple times, and had seen and experienced things that would have been impossible with children in tow. So, whenever Amaka broke off in the middle of a conversation like a puppet, gawking at a nice butt and pulsing biceps (or shiny bag), or Lucy grieved over her latest failed date, it made the imminent payoff of Dara’s investment in her career – at one of the largest law firms in the world, no less – even sweeter.

One of the green players-it was hard to recognize his face from this distance — tried to dash across the field; he was brought crashing down by three men in red.

“All the girls I’ve met here complain about the English guys catching yellow fever, but the guy I’ve been seeing has been here two years and he’s never even dated an Asian girl,” Lucy boasted, reminiscing about her recent date.

The trainee, who had only been in Singapore a month, looked confused at this bit of casual racism, but Dara stifled a smile, accustomed to the terrified insecurity of the English girls here. Most of the expats she knew were French, British or American; the women mostly dated other French, British or American expats, contracting their pool of dating options, while frustratingly (for them, at least), the men did not.

“He moved out here with his now-ex. They were engaged, but he said she missed home too much, which I completely understand.” Lucy tilted over the trainee, shaking her curls in earnest. “But nuking a relationship like that-mad-ness. I’d pack all this the second there’s a proposal. Are you kidding?”

“So she went back to the UK?” Dara asked, pressing two paracetamols into her palm. She’d worked for ten days straight and would have given anything to swap the warm cup of wine in her hand for an almond milk latte.

“Well, no actually. Yes and no. Total fluke— Andy said she met someone on the flight back and six months later they were married. They live in Sicily now, where the guy’s from, and she’s got one on the way,” Lucy said ruefully.

“He told you all this?” Dara stared at her suspiciously.

“She invited him to the wedding. Anyway, I still say it was a risky move.”

“Hmm.” Dara couldn’t hide a smile as she dug out a small, battery-operated fan from her bag and switched it on. “I see what you’re saying. You’ve got your career and all she’s got is a ball in her stomach, lemons everywhere and a bossy mother-in-law.”

The trainee barked a short laugh and Lucy paused, unsure who the joke was on.

“Speaking of careers…” Lucy smiled conspiratorially. “Now that you’ve been given lead on the Nairobi case, it’s only a matter of time, isn’t it? As long as the case goes well, of course.”

“Is that what everyone’s been saying?” Dara shrugged and swapped the fan over to her left side, pretending her heart hadn’t skipped a beat. Secretly, she was pleased it was so obvious to everyone in the firm. The one area of her life she was truly confident about was her ability to work longer and harder and smarter than everyone else. It was what had earned her a scholarship to a private girls school in St. Albans and got her through three lonely, uncomfortable years studying Classics at Oxford where she had never fitted in and couldn’t afford the time and energy it took to try. Not for the first time, she wished she’d had some guidance along the way, someone to warn her that actual working life relied on so much more than intellect and being the smartest in the class. She’d had to figure it out on her own, second-guessing whether she’d been given an opportunity for the right or wrong reason, if she was being too pushy or not pushy enough, if she’d stroked the right ego the right way, or how she would be judged for caring about partnership above everything else. Finally, it seemed, everyone around her was starting to see Dara the way she saw herself: as the best senior associate in the firm.

“Yes, Dara, everyone.” Lucy lowered her voice, looking so excited they might as well have been talking about her. “The clients love you and it’s a major arbitra-tion. With the Kenyans so obviously in the wrong, it couldn’t be more perfect.
And with lan so close to…”

Lucy made a noose gesture and dropped her head to one side.

“OK, let’s not talk about that here, with everyone… here.” Dara made a face.

“How did the rest of the date go?”

“Well, after dinner – which was amazing, a little too rich but really nice – we went to a bar in Orchard Towers, just for a laugh.” Lucy’s voice carried a whiff of scandal. “Have you heard of it? I don’t know, is that weird?”

Dara had to move – she couldn’t take another second pretending to be interested or pretending it was normal for a date to take you to a building that was part of the country’s Red Light Guide. It may have been smack bang in the middle of town, surrounded by malls and even a handful of preschools, but no amount of adjacent respectability could hide what took place on the top floors at night. The activities were (apparently) strictly government regulated, and the sex workers were regularly screened, but Dara was sure there were millions of other bars more appropriate. Lucy’s date was yet more evidence of the rubbish on offer in Singapore’s dating scene.

“Oh crap, sorry, Lucy.” Dara rummaged in her bag until she found her phone and put it to her ear. “I’ve been waiting for this call.”

Rising and shuffling to the edge of the bench, she turned her head away from the two women and pretended to speak to someone, relaxing only when she was out of earshot. As much as she found Lucy’s lack of guile refreshing, her big mouth and unsophistication were the last things Dara wanted to be associated with, especially at this critical juncture. She also found Lucy’s undisguised hunger to be married and spoken for truly disheartening, if not downright bizarre. No one droned on like this in London, but here, it was as if crossing an ocean made young, working women shed the tough skins they’d developed to conceal their desire for attachment in their home countries, revealing the raw, pink truth their ambition had been hiding all along. A haze of desperation was blowing from Lucy, and Dara needed to remove herself from its path.


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Excerpt from THE SUN SETS IN SINGAPORE published by Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, LLC. Copyright © 2023 by Kehinde Fadipe.