Time is the very essence of how the whole transient world morphs and evolves. Time heals but it also leaves scars giving a person a tragic sense of old age.
Twenty years of self-exile is a long a time. When you consider that life is but three score and ten and even if perchance good health prolongs it to eighty or ninety, twenty years is really still a big bite of it.
The landscape looked surreal as the taxi cruised down the expressway from the airport to the city. We were travelling down land which had just been reclaimed when I left; I remembered seeing the sprouting housing board flats of Marine Parade and wondering what it would look like in twenty years. In my childhood it used to be the sea dotted by fishing boats and kelongs, the little silent sentinels guarding the southern coastline of Singapore.
Soon the taxi drove up a giant network of bridges like arteries and veins, conduits leading in and out of the heart of the city. The one we were on was the Benjamin Sheares as the taxi driver proudly told me in an accent nostalgically reminiscent of a past life. At the top, the skyline, I strangely recognized as Shenton Way stretched before my eyes. The skyscrapers of glass and steel all trying to outdo each other in their efforts to conquer the sky, testimony to the fact that Singapore had joined the league of major cities of the world.
And before I knew it, I was in the city.
Margaret Drive had aged. I had not seen it for twenty years, and now it looked unfamiliar although bits of it claimed recognition from a previous existence.
The taxi took a left at the end of the road, then a right and in about five minutes stopped at the bottom of a block of flats. Sue Ling got out of the taxi and waited for me to alight and for the taxi driver to help me get my luggage from the boot. We took the lift to the ninth floor and stopped in front of a grey wooden door which Sue Ling unlocked with a key from a bunch she had dug out from her handbag. Quick footsteps came towards us in the dim cool interior and as my eyes adjusted to the dimness, I saw a man in his forties in front of me. Behind him stood a young man with neat short haircut. They were both smiling at me.
“Welcome home,” Robert said warmly as he gave me a firm handshake followed by an affectionate hug.
“Welcome back to Singapore, Uncle Richard.” It was the young man who stood behind Robert, my brother-in-law. I had seen Julian twice, once in Los Angeles and later in San Francisco just last year. He also hugged me reassuringly. “Welcome home,” he said again as if to assure himself that I had heard him the first time.
Father had died of a heart attack the year I left. I didn’t come back for the funeral because I just couldn’t make myself do it. Mother never forgave me for that but she cooled down and we talked long distance until she died two years later of cancer. And now all that is left of family in the whole wide world is Sue Ling, my baby sister, her husband and their son.
I had come home. I felt a lump in my throat and a blurring of vision…..yes, I had finally come home.
Anger is usually the result of frustration that has been building up over a period of time without relief in sight. It can be mixed with a feeling of having been wronged and treated unfairly. The consequence of anger unattended to and accumulated: an explosion.
“You can take your job and shaft it up your asshole.” I couldn’t believe I had said that. But I did, loud and clear. I knew everyone outside the closed door could hear because when I walked out of the office, I could sense everyone looking away and pretending not to have heard. The silence was deafening.
It was not that I couldn’t handle the stress of the projects which were given to me; yes, there were big ones and there were so many of them which meant that there were even more meetings with clients, with management, with colleagues in the many committees and teams I was in. It was just that there was very little support from the most important person in my everyday work life – my immediate boss. Everything I proposed was knocked down not with rudeness but with a skepticism and cynicism which demeaned me. And she always had that saccharin sweet whisper of a voice which I saw as fake politeness masking evil intentions.
“There is no need to think. Your job is not to think, just to do what I tell you to.” This was always her reply when I told her what I thought would be the best way to improve our productivity or gain a competitive edge for the company. “Don’t think; just do.”
The next thing I knew, what I had proposed would be on the table of the manager and as he announced the new initiative, she would be beaming at his side. He would look at her with pride and recognition of her brilliant idea, I mean mine, with me fuming at the side.
Maybe I should have been more philosophical about things: my best friend, Robert, used to tell me. Live and let live, he would say. After all, everything is for the good of the company no matter who it came from. Just take your monthly salary and look elsewhere for fulfillment. Ah good old Robert, always the nice guy. To him, everybody is good and virtuous, and never at fault. Every time I complained to him about someone, he would look at the positive side and tell me to do likewise. No wonder he was everybody’s favorite friend at the university. But at times, I wanted to murder him; it’s just that murder is a crime and he is after all my best friend.
The straw which broke the camel’s back, and I did feel like a beast of burden most of the time, was when she complained to the manager about my bad attitude. I was called in his office that morning and in the name of counseling, he told me that I should treat her with more respect, suggesting without saying so that I had not been respectful. I could be more careful with my tone, he suggested. She was after all, a good boss who had in spite of my answering back and snapping, not given me a hard time. She was after all the sweetest and nicest person in the whole division. He was surprised that I should treat her in that way. If I didn’t change my attitude, he continued, it would affect my job and worse affect the morale of the whole team.
And that was when the explosion took place.
I walked out of the lobby. Outside there was a light drizzle but the sun was still shining brightly, the way the weather in Singapore very often is. Sometimes, I wished that things were more certain and clear cut….I wished that it was either raining or sunny and not both at the same time. But there it was….even the skies were creating problems for me. I was seething with anger as I walked along the streets without an umbrella, the drizzle coming down to settle on my head and shoulders like bits of snowflakes and dissolving into my hair and shirt.
I must have walked for a long time. I was near the hawker center, a stone’s throw from my home. I could tell it was lunch time as the place was filling up with the lunchtime crowd. I knew that there wouldn’t be anyone home at the time. Dad and Mum would most likely be still at work. Sue Ling was most probably still in campus: she would not be home until very late, staying back in the library to study.
The common corridor of the housing board flat was empty as most people were still at work or in school. As I walked absent-mindedly along the corridor wondering what I should do, it suddenly occurred to me that Robert would very likely be at home; he had told me that he was clearing leave the whole week.
“Oh no,” Robert said more with a tone of concern rather than disapproval for what I had done. I was in his room, pacing up and down rather than sprawled on his bed as usual.
“Oh no. Are you okay?” Good old Robert, always concerned about the person first rather than the situation.
“No, I am not okay. Can’t you tell?” I snapped at him unfairly.
“Yes, I can. But I’m really concerned about you. Why don’t you sit down and tell me all about what happened.”
I told him. He nodded as I told him about how I was ‘counseled’ and how I lost it. In between, my anger at Angela came up over and over again. I was convinced that she was the root of all my troubles. I told him how I wished she would just die and leave me alone…..no, no, wait…I don’t want her to die….I want to kill her….poison her coffee and see her writhing in pain on the ground as she frothed and foamed, slash her face and plunge a jack knife into her, push her onto the MRT tracks and watch the train run over and dismember her. Robert let me go on and on. Soon I was sprawled on his bed as he sat on the chair next to me looking at me quizzically, a small understanding smile on his lips.
“Feeling better now?” he laughed.
“What do you think?” I looked at him and smiled. “I’m not going back to that fxxking job…..no one can make me,” I threatened.
“No, no, of course not….it’s your life….do whatever you feel is right.”
“I will. You don’t have to worry about me. I’ll be okay.” I felt that I had to reassure him that I was fine. It would be wrong to have my best friend worry about me.
The western restaurant in Balmoral Road was dimly lit. Robert was taking me out for dinner and we decided on a western meal. The restaurant was one of our favorite haunts not only because the food was cheap and good but also because its quietness and unhurried old world service gave us an opportunity to talk.
We were seated in a corner hidden from the entrance by a screen of leafy plants. From where we were, we could see the people coming in and going out without their knowing. The restaurant was filling up with the dinner crowd and I was surprised to see Angela walk in. She was with a man and both of them walked to a table at the other far side.
“Oh, no…she’s here,” I whispered fiercely to Robert.
“Who’s here?” he asked puzzled.
“The bitch…my boss. She’s sitting over there.” I pointed in the direction as I sank deeper into my velvet chair.
“You have a right to be here so you don’t have to hide.”
Robert was right. I had as much right to be there as anyone else so why should I feel uncomfortable?
“Who’s that man with her?”
“Don’t know….her husband probably.” I had not looked too carefully at Angela’s companion, being too engrossed with trying to handle my own emotions at seeing her there.
Robert’s question made me look a little more carefully at him. He was a rather chubby man in his early thirties. A pair of nerdy plastic framed glasses sat awkwardly on the bridge of his nose, threatening to slip off any time. He had short hair parted on one side, every strand plastered into place by some hair cream. He wore a long sleeved pin striped blue shirt which looked purple in the dim light of the restaurant, a cheap looking orange colored ballpoint pen reared its ugly head from his shirt pocket. In all, he looked like a boring civil servant of sorts.
In direct contrast, Angela was in her power suit as usual. She loved to team it with blouses of pastel colors. She felt it gave her a softer aura against the no-nonsense suit on the outside, I had heard her declare when off peak office chatter moved to fashion.
I decided to go to the restroom and guess who I had to meet along the corridor? Angela, herself.
“Well, well, if it isn’t Richard.” There was a ring of smug victory in her voice.
“Hi, yes, Angela. I’m having dinner here with a friend.” I tried to sound as blasé as I could.
“How nice.” Her tone was as fake as the plastic flowers hanging on the walls. “By the way, how’s life after leaving us?” She emphasized the ‘us’.
“Fine, I guess.”
“Found a new job?”
“Let me give you a piece of advice.” She didn’t sound like she was going to let me off. “Let me give you a piece of advice. The next job you are in, don’t mess with your boss. She can do you in. You won’t even know what hit you.” All this was said in that sweet whisper of a voice.
I looked at her trying to hold my anger down. It was after all a public place….I really shouldn’t create a scene here. I flashed her an angry look. “Thank you for your advice. I will remember you for the rest of my life.” It was my turn to smile wickedly at her.
Back at my table, I told Robert what had happened. In the dim light, I could see him shaking his head from time to time. Was he beginning to see evil under the sun? Most likely not….not good old Robert.
Where had I seen him before? The chubby man in the bar looked familiar but I just couldn’t place him. He was dressed fashionably in an expansive looking branded soft yellow polo. His short hair fell nicely over his forehead and although he was not handsome, he did have a pleasant face. On his nose sat a pair of black plastic framed glasses. Then I remembered who he was. He was Angela Siah’s husband. But he looked so different and what was he doing in a place like this…and, and isn’t he chatting up the notorious male prostitute Ansel who would sleep with any man for the right price. I could see Angela’s husband gently stroking his arm as both of them were engaged in intimate conversations.
What was my response to finding out that Angela’s husband was leading a double life? Well, the most immediate response was one of glee. She deserved it…I was responding like someone hitting back at an enemy who in real life he couldn’t. It was a reprieve from my feeling of injustice and powerlessness.
An evil thought suddenly popped up in my head as I sat there in the dim corner sipping a margarita with my friends, the couple Kenneth and Keith who were celebrating their first anniversary and Sandra whose partner Delia couldn’t be there. Wouldn’t it be great if I could seduce Angela’s husband to spite her? I smiled to congratulate myself on the diabolical plan.
“Want to buy me a drink?” I was face-to-face with him. I had gone up to him, when I saw him alone at last.
“Er…sure, what would you like?” He was surprisingly responsive.
“Beer, please.” He pointed me to the bar tender who quickly served me a bottle.
“Richard. Please to meet you. And you are?…..”
He looked surprised. “Of course. Martin Loke.”
“Nice to meet you, Martin…Martin Loke.” I smiled at him and winked.
“Nice to meet you, Richard.”
“You come here often?”
“Once in a while.”
“I see. I saw you chatting with Ansel. Didn’t work out?” I teased.
“Nah…just a friendly chat.”
“Yah…friendly is the right word for a place like this.” I winked again.
“I noticed you with your friends.” He looked in the direction of my friends.
“I didn’t know you were looking,” I gave him a smile, “Yes, we are celebrating the anniversary of the couple. Met a year ago and still together. Hahaha,” I laughed, “Quite a feat you know. Our type of relationships don’t last.”
He nodded in agreement.
“A good crowd tonight. Good looking lot too, yourself included.”
Was he making a pass at me? Can it be so easy?
“Thank you, you are too kind.” I flashed him a smile.
“So do you meet people often?”
“Well, sometimes. You?”
“Yah…now and then.” His quick confident answer surprised me.
“So do you fancy anyone here tonight? Might want to take the initiative.”
“What?” I stifled a gasp and swallowed hard.
“You. I fancy you. You must be interested or else why would leave your friends and chat me up?”
“Er…Hmm. You are pretty direct.”
“Come on, we’re all adults here. We all know why we are here….no point in time wasting..” He broke off there, waiting for me to fill in the blanks.
“I see. Are you always such a fast worker?”
“My place?” He ignored my question. “Say goodbye to your friends.” He was already getting up.
I caught Kenneth’s attention and signaled to him that I was leaving with Martin. Kenneth elbowed Keith who waved goodbye. Sandra also looked my way and showed me a thumbs up.
Martin took me to his car and we drove to his home in Katong. It was a walk up apartment and the minute we entered the door, he slammed it shut. In a moment, he was all over me, fondling and undressing me hungrily like a man who hadn’t eaten for weeks.
I couldn’t believe the events of the night as I lay in bed with the morning light streaming into the room. It was so easy and here I was sleeping with the enemy’s husband, his soft regular breathing signaling that he was deep in sleep still. I looked at his naked chest heaving up and down and his stomach still fat and round in spite of his supine position. Victory is sweet; vengeance even sweeter.
“I always knew you were a bit crazy but this is sheer madness. You are playing with fire….are you sure you can handle it?” There was no sign of reproach but rather a sense of deep concern in Robert’s voice.
It was a month after sleeping with Martin and I had just told Robert rather gleefully about my revenge.
“He’s not even my type.” I was determined to run down the guy. It was as if running him down was hitting at Angela. “He’s a fat slob. Ugly and no sense of fashion. Well, not really ugly but seriously what makes him think that he can have me?”
Robert looked at me quizzically. It was his way of telling me, “Hey, buddy. You’re heading down the wrong road.”
“And he’s not even good in bed.” I had to add this in for full measure.
“So it ends here?” He sounded earnest.
“Guess so. What else is there? I’ve slapped Angela in the face and she doesn’t even know it.”
But what would happen if she knew? The thought flashed across my mind but I didn’t think more of it.
“Stop worrying.” I laughed at Robert’s earnest face. It always made me laugh. Sometimes I wonder why he is still my friend not to mention best friend. I teased him all the time and took advantage of his good natured personality ever so often but he never once lost his temper with me.
The cinema at the intersection of Orchard Road and Scotts Road was a popular one. All the blockbusters were screened there; sometimes movie goers had to queue for tickets a couple of days ahead for very popular shows, the snaking queue often quite visible from the road outside. The façade had a huge canvas poster of the movie being screened, stretching from one end of the building to the other. Under it, the lobby housing the ticketing area and the snack counter selling popcorns and drinks had become an important part of a whole generation of movie goers’ experience.
It was, however, a lull period at the movies: nothing worthy of notice except for an unknown British movie which the distributor didn’t even bother to publicize. But there was not much to do since I was still taking my time looking for my dream job so I decided to kill time in a darkened cinema hall, telling myself that I would walk out if it proved to be too much.
“Hello.” The voice from behind me sounded strangely familiar. I was at the box ticket counter buying tickets for the show. I turned around to meet the round ruddy face with the plastered hair on top.
“Hi, Ma…Martin…right?” I was feeling uncomfortable like a school boy caught for misbehavior.
I nodded sheepishly, having quite forgotten that I had given him my name that night.
He pulled me away from the counter, sensing the hostility of the counter girl who was most likely annoyed at not being able to complete her job.
“What are you doing here?” he asked in a friendly voice.
“Boredom kills, just trying to die a bit less painfully.” I thought I was being clever but he ignored it.
“What about you? What are you doing here?”
“I took the day off. Best time to do it is in-between projects.”
I shrugged my shoulders not really interested in what he was saying. I was thinking hard on how to get away…well, maybe not that hard.
Having adjusted our eyes to the dim interior of the restaurant, we chose a table in a corner.
A waiter in a blue and green check shirt approached us and came back with a mug of beer a couple of minutes later.
“Don’t mind?” I asked Martin, taking out a stick of cigarette, more out of politeness than seeking permission.
“It’s okay,” he replied without any sign of minding.
We were really not within earshot of anybody being the only two customers in the restaurant. It was the lull period between lunch and tea and the waiters were just standing around the service counter engaged in their own conversations, not having much to do.
“I didn’t expect to see you there.” Expected conversation opener. I would be surprised if he did.
“Me neither,” I replied nonchalantly.
“How have you been?”
“So, so.” I shrugged my shoulders.
“You didn’t call me. I gave you my office number.” He sounded hurt and I noticed his double chin move up as he swallowed.
“Lost it. Forgot to take it out of my pockets before my mum washed my clothes.” It was just an excuse for I had thrown it away at the bus stop immediately after I left his home.
“It’s okay.” He seemed to have bought it. “Give you again later.” So he wants more of me. It was something I didn’t expect. I thought I was a one-night to him.
“Sure.” I replied…I’d just have to throw it away another time.
“I was hoping you would call….kept thinking of you. I didn’t want it to end after just once.” He sounded surprisingly sincere. Didn’t all such cases end after the first night? He hadn’t told me that he was married…I didn’t expect him to…who would in a situation like his? Just fxxk and go…that should have been his modus operandi.
“Well such things do happen.” I sounded unconvincingly soft. “What were you expecting?”
“I thought you liked me. The way you made love that night…”
I guess I should have won an Oscar for my acting. It was just pure seduction, nothing more. There were no feelings; it was just all pure make-believe. I really shouldn’t, but in retrospect, I felt a bit sorry for him especially when he sounded a little hurt.
“I do like you.” I had to lie. I really did feel sorry for him, looking at his sad puppy eyes, slightly downcast.
What on earth could that remark mean? Was it a sign that he knew I was lying or was it an acceptance of the situation or perhaps it was both?
“Do you want to come to my place?”
I looked askance at him.
“Now,” he continued. “You don’t have anything on, right? Neither do I.”
I must have been crazy because I nodded. He took it for a ‘yes’ and quickly signed for the bill. In a moment we were in his car, going eastward down Victoria Street, then Lavender, Kallang and finally Mountbatten.
I had never felt that way before. It was a sense of security and being loved as he held me in his arms.
Was I the seducer or the seduced? At that moment, I was neither. I was just someone in love. It didn’t matter anymore whether all he wanted was just my body; I wanted to give it to him. I wanted him to possess it, to use it in any way he desired. It was sheer abandonment, sheer submission. Is this what love is all about? I knew so little about him and yet…
And he is the husband of my enemy. Wasn’t it supposed to be just revenge? Pure and simple revenge? I had to get a hold of myself. I can’t let this take control of me.
I pulled myself out of his embrace. He must have fallen asleep for he responded sleepily with a ‘hmmmp?…”
“I have to go,” I whispered in his ears, “it’s late.”
The room was in darkness. He turned and took a look at the clock on the side table.
“Oh, my God.” He jumped up from the bed. “I’m late for an appointment,” he cried with urgency, “let’s shower and go. I can drop you off in town. No, no….sorry, you’ll have to make your own way back.”
“Will we ever meet again?” I asked him trying to sound as blasé as I could.
“I would like to.” He didn’t sound so sure.
“Oh. Okay.” I could sound as tentative too. I had not reached the stage of groveling yet….the ball was in his court…I would wait for him to make the next move.
He did make the next move a few days later. A movie about a killer white shark was going to be screened. I knew it was going to be difficult to get tickets because of the excited buzz it was creating in town, created most likely by the aggressive promotion.
Martin invited me to watch the movie with him. He said he was able to get tickets for two and would I like to join him. “Of course,” I replied without thinking.
After the movie, with images of dismembered body parts floating and blood fountaining in the waters, plenty of gore and violence….poor fish or poor human beings I couldn’t decide….we had dinner at a vegetarian restaurant, suddenly preferring a non-meat meal as if to atone for the sin of human violence against animals, ironic because all the dishes we ordered were named as mock-some-meat or other. Sounds like man’s original lust for animal flesh hadn’t been totally wiped from his brain…..
I found out many things about him that day. He was in the hotel line, a career carved out of being the son of an hotelier. He had worked his way up from a bell-hop and was now manager of the public relations department. It was a family business and all his siblings were working together in various appointments and positions dished out by the patriarch, his father. He was educated in Singapore but was sent by his father to San Francisco and Paris to do summer courses in hotel management. From what I heard, his father held court not just in the hotel but at home too.
He was the only child of the third wife of his father, his mother being his father’s personal secretary when he was younger and the hotel was doing well as a result of Singapore moving into the tourism industry. The hotel had been overtaken by huge five-star ones but still managed to keep afloat with acceptable annual profit margins.
There was something else he wanted to tell me, he had said when we were almost done with the meal. He was really sorry that he had not told me earlier but he was just too mesmerized by me and didn’t want to spoil his chances. But it had been gnawing at his conscience and he felt that he had to tell me to be fair to me. And if I decided not to see him again, he would understand it completely…it was after all his fault and his alone.
I looked at him. How is one to look when his lover tells him that he is married? Surprised? Shocked? Hurt?….whatever it is, I must not over-react.
I must have been a good actor because he really sincerely was moved by my response.
“I know you must be terribly shocked and hurt. I don’t blame you for feeling this way. Would you like to go?”
He had such lovely baby eyes, my heart melted to look at them, so pleading, so remorseful.
I reached out my hand and placed it over his, giving him an affectionate squeeze. It doesn’t matter. I had to make it sound convincing with sufficient amounts of hurt, turmoil and finally forgiveness in that sequence. But it was all done in surprising sincerity for at that moment I realized that I was really trying very hard to keep him.
He looked down at the dessert in front of him with downcast eyes and when he looked up, remorse in his eyes had turned into gratitude.
If our affair had an official starting point, it would be that day but I knew in my heart of hearts that it had started way before that.
His apartment in Katong was a piece of property he had acquired when he was still an undergrad. It was bought with a considerable sum of coming-of-age money that his father had given him, money which could be used in any kind of investment he wished – it was his father’s way of giving startup money to his children whom he wanted to train to be entrepreneurs. Martin decided that property was the best bet; in land scarce Singapore, property prices can only go one way – up.
He had been renting the apartment out for a few years to an American family. The husband was recently transferred back to his head office in New York, the family following him and so the apartment was vacant.
We began meeting there regularly and one day, he gave me the keys to the apartment and said that I could move in any time I wanted and if I didn’t, I could just go there any time I needed some space away from my small housing board home which I shared with my parents and sister.
We started meeting there every weekend.
Martin helped me find a job at a hotel in Changi. The public relations manager was his good friend from school but they had kept in touch after they split ways at university – Martin stayed in Singapore while Mun Wei went to the United Kingdom to pursue a diploma in hotel management. He finally graduated with a degree, came back to Singapore and when he met up with Martin, was told about a vacancy in the Changi Hotel. He immediately applied and as they say, the best person, in this case Mun Wei, got the job.
Mun Wei had felt grateful to Martin ever since so when Martin brought up my name to him, I was quickly called up for an interview and immediately hired as his assistant. I really knew nothing about the hotel line but under Mun Wei, I really picked up the tricks of the trade rather quickly.
And those months were some of the happiest in my life.
I liked the job very much and Mun Wei was a good boss. I was earning quite a good salary and with a little help from my parents paid the down payment for a studio apartment in the Changi area so that I didn’t have to travel too far to work. I also bought a second hand one thousand cc car. But most importantly, that was the period of time when my relationship with Martin blossomed. Life was indeed good.
I found myself looking forward to the day in the week when I could meet him. I had a day off every Tuesday and to suit me, Martin took Tuesdays off too. We would meet in his Katong home and I would cook lunch for him, after which we either watched television together or just listened to music, doing things couples do at home. Although he didn’t tell me so, I knew I was to be discreet and I was not to be seen outside with him. I was contented with all these, really I was. But what surprised me was when he asked me to go out for a walk with him at the Fairy Point just beyond Changi Village one Tuesday. He was in a rather sullen mood that afternoon, I could tell.
“But we may be seen by your friend Mun Wei,” I tried to caution him, “you know how near the hotel is.”
“Let him see whatever he wants.” He sounded upset so I quickly put on my track pants and waited for him to lead me out the front door.
He drove in silence and after about twenty minutes, we were driving up the narrow lanes that laced the little resort enclave linking all the different colonel chalets that overlooked the sea below.
We stopped at the end of one of the lanes. Just beyond the trees, we could see the shores of Pulau Ubin and beyond, the misty green outlines of Johore. Martin held my hand and led me to the edge of the grass stretch; we descended the rugged steps which led to the isolated alcove below. I was a bit shocked when he held my hand….it was far from the discretion, I felt he would have wanted. What would happen if someone should see us….? But his hold was firm and sure so I let him.
The tide had stopped coming in and the sea was gentle. Rocks stood silent at both ends of the short beach and the trees and bushes behind us covered us from the outside world. I felt strangely safe and secure especially when he suddenly pulled me to himself and held me so close and so strongly, I could hardly breathe.
Then something else happened. He began to sob in my arms. Firstly, it was hardly audible but it became stronger and stronger, his trembling body becoming more and more uncontrollable. I felt that I had to hold him tight, perhaps because he needed it but I realized because I wanted and needed to. He had touched that very soft inner core of my being with his muffled sobbing. He had opened my heart, and my soul and very existence were pouring out into his entire being.
We must have been like that for at least a full twenty minutes. Finally his sobbing ebbed and we both lay down on the grass patch just next to the sandy beach. He rested his head in the crook of my arm as I stroked his head tenderly.
“I’m so sorry for breaking down like this.” His breathing had become more regular.
I had hitherto not said a word to him…he would tell me when he wanted to……I was not in a hurry to get him to expose himself if he was not ready to.
“Shhhh,” I hushed him gently, “it’s okay…don’t say anything. Just close your eyes and let me hold you.”
If there is such a thing as two souls connecting to become one, that must have been it. Time stood still and we had retreated into an even smaller space than the secluded alcove, a space that could only hold the two of us.
When I opened my eyes after what seemed like timeless eternity, the sun was already very low in the sky. The last crimson rays had painted the shores of Pulau Ubin red like the ambers of a fire pit.
His breathing was deep and regular. I was still holding him tightly but his arms had relaxed. I let him go gently afraid that I might wake him. I didn’t. Most likely the extreme of emotions must have exhausted him. I took off my T-shirt and rolled it up into a pillow, placing it gently under his head. His face had returned to normal, his ruddy complexion returning. His brows were defined and manly, his lips thick and strong. A trimmed stubble which covered a slight double chin gave him the attractiveness of a man approaching middle age. At that moment I realized what a handsome man he was….and I took back everything I had said about him being ugly and repented for my earlier meanness.
I was looking out to sea when he woke up.
“Sorry, I must have dozed off.” He lifted himself up into a sitting position next to me. I rested my head on his shoulders.
“It’s okay. You were tired.” I tenderly laid a kiss on his face and he squeezed my side in response.
“I regret getting married.” His voice was a little shaky but clear.
“I’m not sure if she loves me.”
“Why do you say that?”
“She has never shown me much affection.”
“What do you mean by that? You have children, right?”
He was quiet.
“Actually a two year old boy,” he said after a short while.
“How can you doubt her love when you’ve had a son together?” I tried not to sound too judgmental by softening my tone.
“Sometimes I feel that to Angela, we are just medals that she adds to her display mantelpiece.” He didn’t seem to have heard my question but I let him go on.
“We were in school together. I remember that she used to appear next to me every time we had a lecture. And then she would sit next to me in the lecture theatre. At first, I didn’t notice it but when it recurred ever so often, I began to notice. I guess I liked the attention that I got since I never was very popular with the girls in my pre-university years. And since I came from an old boys’ school, I never really knew how to chat girls up.
“Boon Tat warned me about her.
“I never really thought we were dating because I’d never asked her out. But somehow after we graduated, we managed to keep in touch, well, I think she took the initiative because she would be the one always calling me up and arranging for this and that. I never was one to take the initiative but I responded to her invitations. I guess that was really when I realized that we had inadvertently started dating.
“But there was a problem: Boon Tat and I weren’t just best friends; we were also…….we were also… lovers. I remember him warning me against Angela but I guess vanity had a stronger hold on me. I waved his warning away and continued to date her. My parents were not against my dating her. In fact my mum loved this pretty, polite little girl who would always talk to my parents and my grandparents sweetly and bring little gifts for them now and again.
“I remember that one night, we went out dancing. It was one of those popular nightspots, a disco called Horizons in one of the downtown hotels. I remember getting a bit tipsy and when I drove her back to her home in Toa Payoh, she invited me to come up with her and sober up a bit before continuing my journey home. She told me that her family had gone for a holiday in Hong Kong and she had the whole flat to herself. I guess I felt a little funny to be going up to her home but somehow I accepted her invitation.
“Angela’s home was a four-room housing board flat. Although not grand, it was quite pleasant. I sat down in the living room while she went to get me some Chinese tea which she said would drive a bit of my tipsiness away. She returned with the tea and passed me a warm wet face towel. I drank the tea and the fragrant aroma did indeed refresh me somewhat. She asked to me put the small towel on my face and I could feel my facial muscles relax under its soothing heat.
“What happened after that was a blur. But I remember waking up the next morning wondering where I was. It was a lady’s room judging from the dressing table standing proudly opposite the bed. It was most probably about seven or so in the morning.
“The door opened and Angela came in. She was in a loose fitting oversized T-shirt which fell off one shoulder and covered the tight flora shorts she was wearing. She smiled and said good morning to me. Come for breakfast, she invited. I got up and the covers fell off, and that was when I realised that I was stark naked. I remember her laughing when I immediately bent over and pulled up the covers to cover my embarrassment. It’s okay, she said nonchalantly, we are both adults.
“But to me it was not okay. I had done something I shouldn’t have done and I didn’t even know that I had done it, having allowed myself to be so intoxicated.
“Angela didn’t seem to be affected by what happened that night. We continued seeing each other because although I was not comfortable, the guilt in me made me agree to whatever she wanted each and every time.
“My parents noticed that we were meeting very often and one evening, they sat me down and asked me about it. I admitted to them that we were dating. My mother was delighted and my father was evidently quite happy. I was twenty-seven, and according to them at a right age to settle down. I don’t remember what I said to them but it was something tentatively like I’d have a word with Angela.
“But it was not only Angela that I needed to have a word with. There was also Boon Tat.
“I arranged to meet him one last time. Angela had gone away on a business trip so I was free that weekend. Boon Tat and I met in my family holiday chalet in the East Coast. We had two full days to ourselves. I tried my best to lavish all my attention on him, romancing him and making him feel like he was the most important person in my life. On the last evening, just after we had sex, we sat at the dining table eating our last dinner together. I told him that I had something to tell him. He stopped me. I didn’t have to say anything, he said. He just wanted to enjoy the last moments of a memory that would carry him on for the rest of his life.
“I never really told him that I was breaking up with him to get married. The rest of the night was spent in silence and when I dropped him off at his home, he hugged me and gently laid a kiss on my lips. It’s okay, I remember him saying. It’s okay. It’s a decision which I had made. I didn’t have to worry about him. He’ll survive. When he turned to go into his house, my vision blurred with tears of guilt. I drove home slowly in the drizzle that had begun.
“Angela and I got married in December that year.
“It was a grand wedding. Although her parents were not really demanding, Angela told me that we had to respect my parents’ position in life. And so it was a grand wedding in a cathedral. My parents paid for everything including giving us a house in the Bukit Timah area which they said they had intended to give me anyway.
“Married life felt good initially; I liked the way she ran our lives. But soon, the boredom of family life and the increasing demands of her career set in. I felt that perhaps having a child would do us good. But she was against the idea; she wanted to work hard a few more years because she felt that she was going somewhere in her career.
“Little Joel was an accident. But I managed to persuade her to keep him. After the baby arrived, I could see that she was determined to catch up in her career once she could leave him to the maid. I also realized that she blamed me for the baby and for the hold back in her career.
“There was another problem in my life. I could not forget Boon Tat.
“I tried looking for him but found out that soon after I got married, he had migrated to Australia. I was filled with guilt for having forsaken him. And there was also something else: somehow marriage didn’t take away feelings I had for men. God knows I tried not to stray but…..
“I started going back to my old ways. That was when I met you.”
The stars had come out above us and the evening crickets had started their incessant buzz.
He got up and walked towards the water barefooted. I followed him. In the semi darkness with only the light of the crescent moon, I held his arm warmly and reassuringly.
“I just had a very bad quarrel with her this morning. Quarrels have become more frequent these days. At first they were just verbal but what shocked me was that it had turned violent. She threw a glass bottle at me. It missed me when I ducked and it smashed into the wall against which I was standing. I don’t know what took over me but I went up to her and lifted my hand to hit her. Luckily, I came to my senses before I laid my hands on her. But the action shocked both of us. We stood there frozen and then she stormed off out of the house.
Fortunately, the maid had taken Joel to my parents’ place or else he would have been frightened.”
“Want to tell me more about what the quarrel was about?” I put my face against his arm and smelt his warmth.
“She accused me of having a woman outside. Of course, I denied it but her tone became more and more aggressive and accusatory. I guess my anger must have shown in my voice. What followed was a shouting match and then the bottle….”
“My poor Martin,” I whispered in his ears as I pressed close to his face. “Tell you what. Let’s take it all off and throw away all our troubles.”
I took off all my clothes and run naked into the sea. “Come on,” I beckoned to him and as I played in the water, I saw him sheepishly strip. His nakedness shone under the light of the half moon and I suddenly realized how deeply I had fallen in love with this married man.
I was in my office when my secretary told me that there was someone who wanted to see me at the lobby. I put my work aside and took the lift down to the ground floor.
Immediately when the door of the lift opened, I saw her at the far end of the far end of the lobby near the concierge. Doris the receptionist at the counter pointed me to her when she saw me but before I could even walk towards her, she had walked towards me, her high heels clicking threateningly on the marble floor.
Angela was obviously aiming for a showdown.
She walked towards me and before I could say anything, she snapped at me. “You leave my husband alone. I know what you are doing; you’re trying to take revenge on me. But you are not going to succeed. Martin loves me too much to leave me for you.”
“Angela, still the bitch that I know you to be.” I knew how to play her game. Although I was boiling with anger within, I played it cool. “If you can’t keep your husband, don’t go around blaming everyone else.” I knew what I said would affect her because it suggested a failure on her part and I knew that failure was worse than death to her. “Your husband is the one who is sticking to me. If you want us to break, control your husband.” It was a challenge which may result in Martin leaving me, something I hadn’t had time to realize might prove too much for me…..But my anger prevented me from seeing that.
Angela reached out her hand to slap me but it was quicker than her. I grabbed her hand and threw it downwards. “This is a public place so don’t make a scene,” I said in a fierce whisper. Knowing that there was nothing she could do, she stared daggers at me and spit out three angry words, “just you wait”.
I didn’t go for lunch having lost my appetite. Although it was a victory of sorts for me, I knew that it was not the end of trouble.
Nearing the end of lunch, my secretary told me that Mun Wei wanted to see me in his office. I took the lift two floors up. Mun Wei had, since my joining the hotel, been promoted and was now heading the whole hotel. I spoke to his secretary and she showed me to his personal office.
Mun Wei gestured for me to sit on the sofa. I could see Changi Beach from where I was sitting. Although it wasn’t raining, it had been overcast the whole day. The tinted floor to ceiling glass window made the view look even darker and gloomier. He walked towards me and sat down.
“I heard about what happened this morning.” He didn’t sound like he was reproaching me; he sounded more matter-of-factly, a little like a friend making a passing remark.
“I can explain.” I was all ready to defend myself as I had been preparing for this all through lunch.
“No, no, please don’t. It hasn’t caused any trouble to the hotel and really it is your own business.”
I kept silent, waiting for him to continue.
“Actually I saw both of you some weeks back. Both of you were in his BMW. I recognized his license plate. Even though I didn’t see him, I saw you. I didn’t think anything of it because I know that both of you are good friends and you might possibly be having lunch with him on your day off. But what happened this morning told me that something a little more serious might be happening. Don’t worry….I know Martin well enough to know that he liked men. It’s just that I didn’t know that both of you are together. I remember asking Martin when he invited me to his wedding whether it was such a good idea. I mean you know that people like us…I don’t mean to be moralistic but should people like us get married and court trouble for ourselves?”
I looked at Mun Wei in surprise.
“Don’t be surprised, Richard. There are more of us out there than you can imagine. Most of us look and behave like your average man in the streets…in fact we all are just average men living our own lives without any fanfare.”
I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Mun Wei was the most straight looking man I had ever encountered, he with his low manly voice and his manly demeanor. The only sign that he was anything like us was that he was extremely well groomed but then we were working in a hotel so we had to be.
“We, Martin and I, moved in the same circle of gay friends when we were studying together. In fact, we were part of the three muskeetiers, him, me and Boon Tat. But they paired up and I just tagged along most of the time. I didn’t think they minded it and I really liked both of them. I was very sad when Martin decided to get married and Boon Tat migrated to Australia with a broken heart. In fact, I spent a whole month in Sydney with him after Martin’s wedding just to help him get over things.
“I guess things were very different after Martin had a wife and a family. We somehow were not as close as we used to be. In fact, I didn’t even know that he seeing anyone especially someone who happens to be my colleague. I should have known when he recommended you to us. But at that time, I thought that he had gone totally straight so I didn’t think anything of it. But I’m glad that you are now with us. You are suited for the hospitality line and you have been a great asset to the hotel. I won’t allow what happened between Angela and you spoil your good track record here.”
He must have put the last bit in to assure me that all was well and that he had my back covered.
I was troubled by Angela’s “just you wait”. Although I didn’t think she could do something to physically harm me like paying someone to kill me….this was after all Singapore and I doubted that she had enough courage to resort to such means…..I was haunted by something, not knowing what it was. It was some sort of ominous foreboding of coming tragedy.
I didn’t have to wait in suspense for too long. I went as usual to Martin’s Katong home. I had done some grocery shopping at the nearby supermart as I intended to cook a good meal for him as usual. When I entered the front door and switched on the lights, I saw that Martin had already arrived and was sitting in the living room in the dark. I put the plastic bags of grocery on the dining room table and went up to him but stopped halfway. He looked pale with bloodshot eyes as if he hadn’t slept the whole night. His hair was disheveled and a very obvious five o’clock shadow had appeared on his chin. He sat there quietly and didn’t move even though he knew that I was walking towards him.
I sat on the arm of the sofa and tried to hug him but he pushed me away.
“What’s wrong?” I asked trying not to show any hurt especially because I had a hunch that it was going to be like this. This was probably what Angela meant by “just you wait”.
“I need to ask you a question.” His voice was so cold and frightening.
I kept silent.
“I need to ask you a question.” He repeated himself as if afraid that I hadn’t heard him the first time.
“Did you get close to me to take revenge on Angela?”
“Le…et me explain…..” I tripped on my words.
“Just tell me whether it is true or not.” He was raising his voice at me.
I just stood there not knowing what to do. Although I had been preparing for this moment all weekend, I felt frozen and unable to say anything or even move.
Martin looked at me with his bloodshot eyes, this time filled with tears. “Why do all of you have ulterior motives? Why? Angela is like that and now you…..” His voice trailed off as he covered his face with his hands.
“It’s not what you think, Martin. It’s not like that. I admit that I tried to get close to you at first to take revenge on Angela but…but….I really did fall in love with you after that.”
He didn’t seem to hear me. After a short while, he stood up and rushed out the front door, slamming it shut. I wanted to follow after him. But somehow I didn’t.
I didn’t see Martin for more than a whole month. He didn’t answer my calls and seemed to have vanished from the face of the earth. I waited for him at his Katong home and even risked being attacked by Angela when I waited secretly outside his Bukit Timah home.
My work suffered. Fortunately, Mun Wei was behind me all the way and even though he couldn’t find Martin either, he granted me leave and gave me days off so that I could ‘tend’ to my personal business.
In agony, I waited for news of him. During that difficult period, Robert tried to spend as much time with me as possible. He had been in Taiwan for a two-year posting and had just been posted back to home office here in Singapore.
Finally, I received an overseas call from Canada. He was coming home.
I met him in Katong, a week later. He had lost weight but other than that, he seemed better than the last time when he confronted me.
He was his loving self again. I was so happy when he took me in his arms; actually it would be more accurate to say that I was relieved.
It had been a terrible time for him. The sheer pressure, which Angela raked up could have broken the strongest most stoic man. Not only did she asserted pressure on him to make a choice between her and me, she got Martin’s parents and her parents and relatives involved as well. She even got the priest from the parish to counsel him from the way of the Devil.
He ran away to Canada. He needed to think.
Finally, on a lonely street in Toronto where the maple leaves were falling all round him, he realized how much he missed me. At that moment, he made up his mind. He was prepared to face it all….he would divorce her once he got back to Singapore. She could have all his money, his homes even Joel as long as she gave him his freedom.
With that settled in his mind, he flew back to Singapore, a happier man than when he left. He had come straight from the airport and there we were back in Katong home, perhaps for the last time because he intended to give it to her as well.
“I’ll be broke. Would you still be willing to be with me?” he asked.
“As long as you forgive me for using you to take revenge.” It was an issue which still bothered me.
“I forgive you….if I didn’t, do you think, I’ll be back here?”
Being in his arms again brought me back to the days before Angela confronted me.
I knew that Angela hated losing in anything. I just didn’t imagine how intense this hatred was and what this obsession would lead her to.
She called me up one day sometime before Christmas. Martin and I had already put up the Christmas tree in my home. We had bought wedding bands and intended to get our best friends over for a Christmas party at which we intended to announce that we were as good as married to each other.
Then her phone call came.
She asked me to meet her in Toa Payoh. She gave me the actual address. Knowing that her parents lived there, I thought she had wanted another showdown with her parents joining in.
It was a bright Sunday morning, about nine. The roads were quite deserted – church goers having gone to church or have not yet left their homes yet. Non church goers were most likely still asleep.
I drove into the car park of one of the blocks and walked towards the block she had told me to wait at. Seeing nobody there, I waited. Perhaps she was just coming down; she had told me nine o’clock so I was about five minutes early, wanting to get it over and done with as soon as possible.
“Richard Wong.” It was a loud voice from above.
I looked up.
There, about nine floors up, I saw Angela looking over the railing down at me. From the distance, down where I was, she looked crazed – not the Angela I used to know, the confident and domineering Angela. She looked wild, her hair swept by the wind which seemed strong up where she was. In her arms was a bundle which looked like a sleeping baby or something.
“Angela, don’t,” shouted a voice from behind me. I turned around only to see Martin getting out of his BMW and running towards me.
It all happened so fast.
The bundle hit the grass verge in front of me with a huge thud. The blanket covering it opened up to reveal the face of a young toddler. I screamed and stood transfixed to the spot, not knowing what to do, by which time Martin had reached my side. He stood there pleading with her not to do it but she had climbed over the railing.
People were beginning to look out of their windows or coming out of their doors to find out what the commotion was all about.
“This is what you made me do, both of you.” She sounded as crazy as she looked. Before anyone could do anything, she leapt.
Angela landed on the concrete path right in front of me.
So Angela won in the end. Her revenge against me was so extreme and complete that there was nothing I could do to retaliate. But the price she had to pay for victory was great. She had staked her life and that of her child.
The media had a field day reporting the incident involving the murder cum suicide of the wife of the scion of a hotel because of his lover who happened to be a man.
I was so badly hounded by the reporters that I couldn’t go to work anymore. They were practically camping outside the Changi Hotel. Mun Wei gave me unpaid leave and I tried to hide by staying at home all day. Robert and Sue Ling, my sister took turns to deliver grocery and my needs to me. They couldn’t hide anything from my parents anymore but thank God, my father was so angry with me, he refused to have any contact with me so I didn’t have to see him face to face. My mother was so shocked that she had fallen ill immediately.
Police investigation meant that I couldn’t leave Singapore. I knew that Martin had it worse. Because of his relationship with the deceased but largely because of the fact that he was the son of a rich hotelier’s third wife, the whole thing panned out like a television soap. The press didn’t go easy on him.
He didn’t contact me at all. I tried in vain to call him over the phone. I was too scared of the press to go to his home. All I could do was to stay holed up in my own.
The court’s verdict was murder cum suicide. It was expected but I was relieved to find that they had been kind enough to leave me out of the picture. The reason recorded for the suicide was disharmony and trouble between the couple.
The media frenzy died down soon after. They seemed to have forgotten the melodrama and moved on to other sensational news.
I returned to work but the trauma of it all had taken its toll on me. I could no longer concentrate on my work. I tried all the time to get in touch with Martin but was unsuccessful.
I tried to go back home to my parents but Sue Ling advised against it: Father was still very angry and mum, though recovered, was still too fragile to be further agitated by the sight of me. Furthermore, Father had forbidden anyone to see me again.
Good old Robert stood by me all this time. He moved into my flat. Although it was only a studio apartment, it was large enough for the two of us.
And he was there when I received a letter from Martin. The tone was formal and devoid of any affections. It sounded so much like a business letter – clear and to the point. At the end of it, Martin clearly stated that he was ending our relationship and moving on. I was told not to try and contact him because he was preparing to leave Singapore and migrating to Canada.
I went into depression.
At my lowest, I tried to hang myself in my home but Robert came home early enough to save me. I began seeing a psychiatrist. In the midst of all these things, I sought solace in religion. I began attending church and the sermons and the prayers lifted my spirits somewhat. Although the emotions were still there, they had dulled and instead of the sharp pain of the past, they became a dull throbbing in the recesses of my mind.
Life for me in Singapore no longer held any meaning. I sold my home and my car, my two prized possessions, the symbols of what I felt was my success in Singapore and left for Los Angeles for my exile in America.
I had no idea at the point in time how long the exile would last.
It lasted for twenty years.
“I would like to visit Angela.” I was talking to Robert and Sue Ling after dinner.
They looked at each other.
“She’s in a columbarium in Mount Vernon. We found her niche by chance when we were visiting one of our friends. We’ll take you there this weekend.”
There was a certain artificialness in the plastic silence of the columbarium. It was open air and the stillness of the lawn in the shadow of the trees cast a certain pall over the place. One feels like one has gone into another dimension of place and time, another world cut off from the living throbbing metropolis that Singapore has become.
Angela looked like what she looked like twenty years ago. The same cryptic smile, well-formed and polite but not totally relaxed. Her eyes were still sharp and focused as if in doing so, she would be able to control things in the world.
Okay, Angela. You’ve won and I’ve lost. But what a price you’ve had to pay for winning. Rest in peace now because I admit defeat. I hope it’s enough for you.
I turned to the niche beside hers. The picture of a little toddler with chubby rosy cheeks looked back at me.
I’m sorry for being the cause of your suffering. I hope you’re now in a happier place without pain and suffering.
We sat in silence as Robert drove us back to Queenstown. Sue Ling put in a CD of Christian hymns. The whole family had converted to Christianity after I’d left for America. The strains of Amazing Grace filled the car.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found.
Was blind but now I see.
The car turned into Margaret Drive and in the cool shade of the trees that lined the road on both sides, we passed a church with a large white cross standing on top of its red brick façade. In a blink of an eye, we were home as Robert turned into the car park.
I looked up at the block of flats. I knew that Julian, my nephew would have cooked dinner for us. He was a wonderful young man, very much like his father, my best friend Robert.
In that instance, I saw a bird flying above us into the thick canopy of leaves. Perhaps, it had come home. I’m sure I have, to the warm loving arms of my family.