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Thanks for the mammaries

This journal is part of a series on living and working in Singapore.

On the other side of our tiny office, Annie is pumping milk at her desk. As a gay man, this is one of those things that I am aware happens in theory, but have no practical sense of what it actually entails, like bra fasteners or Mila Kunis.

It just sort of happened. She said she was going to do it and I, being the progressive, well-adjusted 21st century guy I like to think I am, said sure, go ahead. But now I’m skulking at my desk unsure what to do as I listen to a noise that sounds like a frog trapped in a yoghurt machine. It fills the whole room — rrrrrrrrbrrrtshlup, rrrrrrrrrrbrrrtshlup — all the more disconcerting because I have no idea what is actually happening to produce it. Should I make light conversation? Turn on the radio? What is the etiquette here?

I’m tempted to leave the room, especially as I need to pee, but I don’t want to risk copping an eyeful or making a sudden movement that might startle her and cause untold irreparable damage. Besides, she had said she would do it fast. Was this to ease my discomfort? Or perhaps I’m supposed to be impressed — maybe pumping milk has a competitive element I had not considered.

Completely unable to concentrate on doing any work, I let my mind wander. From the depths of memory, I dredge up a dim recollection that there are places set aside in some workplaces where people go to do the milking ritual. I am imagining mysterious rooms full of complicated milking apparatus. Would they be silent, efficient places subject to unspoken but rigidly observed territorial customs, like men’s urinals? Or would they be social spaces, more like a row of hair dryers in a beauty clinic where ladies chat, flicking through magazines while being gently siphoned.

It’s been fifteen minutes and I really need to pee but the frog is still stuck in the yoghurt dispenser. Rrrrrrrrbrrrtshlup. Rrrrrrrrrrbrrrtshlup. Do I get up? It can’t go on for much longer, surely — how much milk can there possibly be? Where is she putting it? I think I should get up. Maybe I should give her some warning first, perhaps with a cough or an elaborate about-to-stand-up sound. Or maybe there’s a special word I’m supposed to shout, like golfers use before they tee off. I *really* need to pee. That’s it, I’m getting up.

Oh, it’s stopped. Brushing past, I stifle an awkward urge to say ‘well done’. As I walk swiftly round the corner to the gents, head down in concentration, I pass something that almost makes me wet myself in fright and amusement…

Lactation Room