What would you do, if you could tell the future ?
What would you change ?
1/4/21 – Updated
6/4/21 – Updated
9/4/21 – Updated
Calm is a nice word for slow according to my Dad.
He thinks I’m too slow with everything in life. I take ages to finish my plate of noodles or even a drink.
I’m not exactly slow, on the contrary, I’m actually quite athletic when it comes to sports but I like to take my time with everything. Just relax, and do it at my own pace, a pace that I’m comfortable with.
I just don’t display strong emotions, regardless if it’s happiness, sadness or anger as a child. My parents were pretty worried initially, sending me to doctors and therapists.
They suspected I’m autistic or something.
I know there’s nothing wrong with me though. I just like to take my time to think things through. Just like I can spend an hour in the arcade without spending a single token. I will just hold the tokens in my hand while watching other kids go through the game over and over again.
After I’m sure I have figured out the traps, the hidden secrets and where to get bonuses, then I will start playing. You can probably imagine my dad sitting by the side looking bored as fuck, wondering how long does it take for a kid to spend his $2 worth of arcade tokens.
When it comes to exams in school, when it’s a 2 hour paper, I will take the full 2 hours. It didn’t matter how easy or hard it is, I will take my time, pace myself, go through the paper once before I start attempting the questions.
Some of my classmates think I’m super chill. I’m that cool tall guy sitting at the back of the class that sees and knows everything but say nothing. I prefer to take in all the information quietly.
I know who is cheating in exams, who is passing who notes and of course, I know who has a crush on who.
Quite a few girls have crushes on me, when they don’t know me well that is.
The secret love notes, the hints and antics they do to get my attention. They did get my attention alright but attention does not equate to reaction for me.
A sweet girl passed me chocolate on valentines’ day once. She was standing there in her school uniform, cute ponytail and braces. I would not mid dating her definitely. I accepted the chocolates and thanked her before calmly opening it in front of her. Since it’s a large box of chocolate, she gave it to me at the start of school when it’s mid day with temperature at 31 degrees, I offered to share with the rest of my classmates.
I mean can you imagine me keeping that box of chocolate under the desk till I get back home. It’s going to look like fudge. Since it’s a gift, in order to show her that I appreciate it, the best course of action would be to eat it right away isn’t it ?
It did not sit well with the girl at all and when a friend told me she is crying in the toilet, I decided to do something. I need to explain to her the reason why I share her gift.
I walked right into the girl’s toilet, stumbling into the crying girl who was changing midway, clad only in her bra and school skirt. She’s not alone, beside her are 4 other friends who were staring at me in shock in only their blouse and underwear. We just finished our physical education lesson and everyone is changing out of their sweaty clothes.
There was a 3 second delay before screams echoed throughout the bathroom.
I thought that was it but out from a cubicle came rushing out a relief teacher midway through her pad change. Swaddling like a duck with her pants around her knees, she screamed and threw her pouch at me.
Minutes later, I find myself in the principals’ office.
“Would you like to explain your actions Jerry ? “ The discipline master said.
“I was trying to explain myself to Peiling why I opened her box of chocolate to share with the other classmates.”
“Do you need to do that in the toilet?”
“I heard she was crying and I wanted her to stop. It didn’t occur to me that she was changing.” I said in a flat voice as more teachers filed into the office including the one with the unfortunate pad accident.
Needless to say, my actions did not sit well with the adults. However, despite the shouting and raised voices, I remained calm and just told them the truth. I just wanted Peiling to stop crying and I want to clear things up with her.
I was made to apologise to all my friends and the teacher involved. My parents were activated and you can just imagine the horror on their faces when it was made known to them what I did.
If that was not bad enough, my dad sat me down and tried to talk to me about growing up, hormones and the urges of men.
I sort of got famous in school after that but I’m still not the most notorious one. I overheard a teacher saying that at least I’m not as psycho as the kid that only completes half of his exam papers so he can sleep.
Despite the teasing from friends, both male and female alike, I remained nonchalant.
After a while, they just call me an emotionless man.
It’s ok with me though.
School days are a breeze for me all the way till Junior college. I don’t top the class but I’m always not far from the spot. There’s a couple of girls that I like in Junior college that I would love to date but they find me too boring. Too straight.
A friend once came to me and commented that I’m destined for a life of up and downs.
Ups when I keep my mouth shut, downs when I decided to say something inappropriate at the wrong time.
The most glorious moment in my life was the day I received a scholarship from the government. My friends say I’m literally set for life. This is the golden path to success in Singapore at least.
All I need to do, is to finish school, settle into a cushy job in the government sector and I can cruise my way to retirement. No worries about economic downturn, no worries about retrenchment. The only thing I need to keep in mind is to be obedient.
It’s as simple as that.
Shut up and be obedient.
Listen to my superiors who like me, are scholars themselves. I’m going to be promoting at twice the speed compare to my peers and in no time, I will be looking at a condo, a car and probably a stash of spare cash.
Just be meek, act dumb and always praise the ideas of my bosses even if they are being an absolute dumbass.
“keep your damm mouth shut Jerry.” They said.
This is the scenarios my friends painted excitedly as I sipped my coffee quietly around the table.
Somehow, they are all more excited than me about my own future.
Seated around the table are friends I made during my army days, I could not help but applaud them at their imagination. They can probably write a book with the among of ideas they have as to how my career will be like twenty years down the road.
“Yes, yes, you guys can tell the future.” I said in jest at my buddy who I shared a bunk with for the past few years.
“You know I’m right Jerry, you just know I’m right.” He replied with a finger salute.
“ what about you ? You should be the one that is going to be cosy and all. Free uniform, free food, free lodging, free parking and… “
“Hey hey, you make it sound like I’m going to jail, I’m signed on with the army for fuck sake.” He gave me the finger and everyone around the table laughed.
Looking at my friends around the table, I feel a little sad that we only get to meet once a year now. Everyone is so busy with their own lives. Gone were the days we spent everyday with each other in the bunks and in the field. National service helped me opened up a little I guess.
I’m still boring according to my friends but they admitted they have seen much improvements over the years.
“And I still could not believe how calm you were when we were robbed at gun point in Thailand” my buddy commented, relating the story everyone heard a dozen times.
It was our day off after our training overseas and just as luck would have it, we were ambushed on our way back to the bus station. A group of thugs jumped out and demanded we follow them at gun point back to their place for a chat.
The leader of the group looked high as fuck too sniffing and wiping snot from his nose while holding the gun.
“And this fucker I tell you, he literally looked down the barrel of that gun and told the guy to take everything he wanted, but we’re not following them !”
My buddy shared among old laughter that he was about to piss in his pants as I shove the weapon aside gently and pulled out my wallet.
“He took out all the money and gave it to them but, but !” my buddy paused before saying that I kept 100 Baht in front of the guy robbing us because I told them we need to get on a bus back to camp.”
The group roared with laughter before my buddy added that the leader jabbed the gun in my stomach and said in accented English.
“what did you just say ? I asked you to follow us !!! ”
“And this dumb fuck here, haha, he just pushed the gun aside again before going in his dead tone voice.’ We can’t follow you, if we are not back in time, they will throw us into military prison.’ “
The entire table roared with laughter as I smiled at the story that came out without fail when we meet. My buddy went on to finish the story, adding that in the moment of confusion, the 2 of us just walked right past the group of thugs who started talking among themselves, arguing if they should care about the 2 of us going to prison.
“the best part of all ?” My buddy clutched his belly , trying to control his laugher. “ They forgot to rob me !”
Tears flowed around the table as everyone chuckled while other patrons of the café stared at us.
“ How the fuck do you do that Jerry ? “ My buddy asked.
I shrugged my shoulders and said I don’t know. I just told the truth in a way.
The lot of us said our goodbye and parted ways after a brotherly hug. There’s no telling when we would be able to meet again with everyone present. It’s going to get a lot harder to have everyone out at the same time as we grow older.
I guess this is part of growing up and moving on. The memories of all the crazy stuff we did will always be on my mind.
I would say National Service did me some good.
I made more friends during that 2 years compared to my schooling days.
Some of these friends are going overseas for their studies, some are relocating, some are starting work while a few others like me, have to contend with going back to school.
Fast forward a few years, I have to say my buddies are quite the fortune teller. I graduated 1st class and started work at a Nparks. The body that governs all the trees.
No kidding. Nparks.
NParks is responsible for enhancing and managing the urban ecosystems of which the government calls a “City in Nature”. It is the lead agency for greenery, biodiversity conservation, and wildlife and animal health, welfare and management. They are also working closely with the community to enhance the quality of their living environment.
We manage more than over 350 parks and 3,347 hectares of nature reserves, the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Jurong Lake Gardens, Pulau Ubin and the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park.
Ok, I know that sounds boring as fuck so I will just summarise.
I look at trees and plants the whole day and I get paid for it.
It’s as simple as that.
My office comes with one of the most beautiful view that money cannot buy on this island. I’m right smack in the middle of Botanic garden. Everyday, when I look out my window, I am greeted not by tall buildings and skyscrapers, but by the soothing green of trees older than the country itself.
Some of the trees are so beautiful that I can spend time just staring at them.
I love plants and nature, it’s the reason why I do what I do. I find spending time with plants to be less complicated than spending time with people.
There is this calming effect I cannot describe when I’m surrounded by plants.
I feel right at home.
And no, I don’t talk to the plants in case you are wondering.
Within 2 years of joining the company, I was promoted, and the increment and promotion kept coming. At 30 years old, I made manager. It’s mainly an office role and sometimes I give tours to foreign dignitaries. Most of the time I’m reviewing drawings and appeals by contractors and owners who wants to cut down trees near their site.
And I take extra pleasure to exert pain on the assholes who would go so far as to poison the trees just because they want to cut it down.
Oh don’t laugh. People like these do exists, alongside those who just went ahead and fall a 50 year old tree and pretended it’s not there in the first place.
Lodging wise, my parents and I stayed in an old cosy flat along Farrer road. I take a bus to work in the morning, and sometimes if the weather is good, I could jog back home.
All’s good on the financial front but when it comes to dating, I have no luck at all.
Absolutely no luck.
I tried dating apps, I joined match making programs and my mum even tried to matchmake me with her friends’ daughters. Nothing worked.
I’m not ugly or anything. I’m just boring.
Ok, boring may be an understatement, a better way to describe will be boring as fuck.
I can’t think of any interesting topic to keep a conversation going. I’m just not a good talker.
I remembered a first date with this girl Susanne at a nice café in town. She’s really pretty and she was wearing this low cut dress that showed off plenty of her ample assets. She was drawing the attention of all the men in the café but my eyes, my eyes were looking at the poor stalk of orchid the café cut and dumped into a small vase.
Looking at that orchid, I reckon it will not last the day. Needless to say, the date did not turn out well. Susanne thanked me for the cake and coffee before walking off. She never looked back.
She will probably remember this day as the day she spent with someone who found a dying orchid more interesting that she is.
Another date with a matchmaking company did not end up well too.
It was some speed dating thing that we do over lunch. When I entered the café, I could tell I was at the top of the list for the girls. Many of them made eye contact with me in a friendly manner. At 1.8m, I’m the tallest among the group of men present that day.
In terms of figure, I work out and run 3 times week at least and I swim every Sunday.
I’m tan, I’m sporty and an auntie once mistook me for a Korean actor.
I can Lee Min Ho my way into his fan club pretending I’m him probably if I wore a mask, do up my hair or something.
The dating and matchmaking attempt always start and end the same way. A strong start and a weak finish.
I mean girls see me and immediately get their hopes up. Once we start interacting, they get their hopes dashed.
There was a particularly memorable matchmaking session I attended in the afternoon.
After a general intro by the host who revealed that I work in a government agency, I could almost see the eyes of the girls in the room light up. Tall, good looking, stable job working in the civil service, how is this not husband material you tell me ?
However, all advantages I once had were gone the moment we started interacting.
It is at times like this I believe that god is fair.
You cannot have your cake and eat it too.
The man beside me is shorter and looks a little overweight but he is very humorous and witty. He made every girl laughed. Even I could not resist eavesdropping on what he’s saying.
He’s really good.
He’s a small business owner and I could see how well he will do in the future given his gift of the gab. He can sell and he’s selling himself really well to all the girls.
The guy on my left is thin and scrawny. He looks like the geek that nobody talks to in class but when he speaks, he oozes confidence and charisma. He’s a dentist too, free dental care for life if you choose him. He was confident enough to admit he is still staying with his parents at his age because there is plenty of space in the family home, which happens to be a stone throw down where the 1st Prime Minister of Singapore use to stay.
It’s not nice to judge people by the cover but one particular attendee looked like he don’t belonged the moment I laid eyes on him. He was the one that first caught my eye when I walked in, it’s impossible to miss him. With an arm full of tattoo and his hair recently dyed black, he looked like a loan shark or a debt collector. I could still see the signs of subtle gold streaks in his hair.
He’s about 1.7m, well-built and spots a 3cm scar below his chin.
I mean seriously, looking at this picture, you would expect that gangster to be at the bottom of the list for the room full of women holding executive jobs.
However, that tattooed man turned out to be a police inspector.
He revealed that the tattoos and blond hair was part of his job requirement in the recent past. However, he could not share more due to the sensitivity nature of his work.
He reassured the girls in the room that those are in the past. He has since started work in an office managing home team operations and he don’t think he can ever go back to his former adoptive organisation.
He said it in such a casual yet mysterious manner that I think a couple of girls who liked guys with a bad boy streak immediately put him to the top of the list.
That’s fucking James bond right there in the room. I could see one of the girls literally ogling at him, probably imagining the fun they can have with his handcuffs in the bedroom.
At the end of the 2 hour lunch, all the girls made their choices and I was the only guy that is left out.
I did not get any matches. I gave one word answer and offered nothing more than awkward silence.
I sort of expected this because beneath the good-looking shell my parents gave me, is a plain and boring individual.
And I have a secret.
I’m a virgin at 30 years old in this time and age. Can you believe that ?
I gave up trying to date and put my effort into work. The annual appraisals I receive is testament to my commitment to my work.
I’m a civil servant alright, but I’m one that works hard for very cent.
Not wanting to leech off my parents indefinitely, I also put down a deposit for a SOHO apartment just a stone throw away from my work place. Single, no commitments, I earn a relatively high income with decent bonus and, I invest in the stock market. This is what freedom smells like.
In 2018, at 32 with a career that can only go in one direction up, an apartment of my own, all I now lack is a car and what my friends predicted will come true.
Comfortably set to cruise my way to retirement. My bosses and colleagues love me, even those that don’t like me, don’t exactly hate me, you get what I’m saying?
To be honest, I was prepared to live my life quietly. Staying single gave me the flexibility to leave as and when I want when it comes to travelling. I quite like the idea of doing what I want, when I want.
I bring my parents overseas twice a year too, one short trip and one long trip.
I gave up hope that I would one day meet the girl of my dreams, fall deeply in love and have a fairy tale ending.
Because it would be unfair that’s why. Life is always fair.
I’m already blessed as it is, I’m contented enough to leave the fairy tale ending to others.
Then something happened.
2nd November 2018
It was a Friday evening and I have already knocked off work.
I changed into my jogging gear and went for my run around Botanic garden.
Taking the usual route, I go past symphony lake, making my way towards the Tembusu heritage tree. The tree you see in your 5 dollar bill.
I went all the way to the entrance at Cluny road before looping back.
Going to the left of swan lake, I heard the crack of distant thunder. Looking at my watch, I realised it’s 7pm and the lights along the park is not on yet.
The overcast skies turned the path I was on dark like someone pulled a curtain over it.
I continued running, not the least bothered by the dark or the impending thunderstorm.
I can literally cross the road back home form my office.
My mind was already thinking of dinner and a coffee by my balcony while watching the rain when I saw something absurd in front of me. I slowed down and blinked twice to just be sure I was not dreaming.
No I did not see a ghost or anything, I saw instead, a newspaper stand.
“what the hell ? “ I mumbled under my breath.
It’s a old school newspaper stand and the owner was trying to prop up his umbrella.
I walked over to his makeshift table and I saw an array of magazines and newspaper. He even carried some comics. Newspaper stand like these are almost extinct in the country, many of those that remained can only be found in older estates. You used to be able to drive up to a newspaper stand, wind down your window and get a copy from the gentlemen manning the table. Now they are all gone.
The man at the stand looked like a retiree in his sixties. After adjusting his umbrella, he took a sit on his plastic chair and tapped a cigarette out of the box.
What the hell is going on ?
There isn’t supposed to be a newspaper stand like this in the garden. And you are not supposed to smoke in the park too.
I went over to the man who blew a cloud of smoke into my face with complete disregard to the law.
“Hello Uncle, who gave you permission to set up a newspaper stand here ? And you are not supposed to smoke in the park, please put it out now.” I said while he gave me the nonchalant look.
I looked up and down the path I was on. We’re the only two around and I picked up a magazine. It’s solid, I can touch it, this is definitely not some illusion or anything.
“ Uncle, I’m talking to you, I am a staff here, I work here. You cannot set up a newspaper stand here. “ I repeated what I said in Chinese and Hokkien dialect but the old man just looked at me with a smile and continued smoking his cigarette.
Reaching for my phone, I was about to call security to get rid of this strange man when he called my name.
“Jerry, I’m just here to sell newspaper. I don’t mean no harm” He said.
I was speechless for a second and I looked at my running top. I do have a name tag that I wear when I’m working but I was in my running attire.
How did he know my name ?
“ who are you ? and how do you know my name.?” I asked.
“ I’m just an old man selling newspaper Jerry.” He took a long drag of his cigarette and crossed his legs. Tapping the paper in front of him twice, he brought the fag back to his mouth without taking his eyes off me.
“I asked you, how do you know my name ? “
This is not funny.
A stranger appearing in the middle of the park selling newspaper. If my boss sees this, he will probably flip.
Tapping to the copy of his paper in front of him again, he old man repeated his earlier statement.
“I’m just a newspaper seller Jerry. Move along if you are not buying.”
I looked at the copy of newspaper. There is only 1 left.
I did not read the papers that day, but i just celebrated a colleagues’ birthday over lunch.
Her birthday is 2nd of November.
Looking at the date, I realised the newspaper is dated for the 5th.
I took a closer look and I laughed out loud.
“Uncle, the newspaper printed the wrong date. Your papers no standard.” I said in a sarcastic manner.
He did not seem at all bothered by that and took another long drag of his cigarette. Retro inhaling the smoke into his nose.
“I know your new CEO is not exactly known to have things going his way but come on, take a bit of pride in what you are publishing.” I said
The man smiled and continued to smoke, puffing away as his cigarette.
“I’m just a newspaper seller, I don’t write nor publish the news.” He replied.
I told him again in a stern voice that he cannot he here.
“You need to go, I’m serious. You cannot be here. You’re going to get in trouble, you’re going to get fined and it’s going to take you a month to make back the fine. So please, come on, just pack and go.”
I never expect him to say the same thing to me again.
“I’m just a newspaper seller Jerry. Move along if you are not buying.”
I sighed and looked at him snuff out the cigarette and reach for a thermos flask. He opened it and I could smell coffee.
Looking up at the overcast skies, I guess I sort of pitied him. He’s already so old and trying to make a living.
“Will you leave if I buy everything?” I said.
I reached into my fanny pack and pulled out a crumpled $10 bill.
“It’s all I have.” I said. “ I can transfer the money to you or something if you promise not to come back here again.”
“That’s more than enough.” He said.
The man took my $10 bill and thrust the copy of newspaper into my hand.
“what about the rest ? “ I asked.
“ The rest are of no use to you Jerry. “
“ How do you know my name ? “ I asked as the man started packing up the stall. “ hey I’m talking to you.”
He ignored me and I shook my head in disbelief. Ok, old people have their weirdness and all but this is just plain rude.
I glanced through the news on the newspaper and gave it a few flip. It looked like your typical publication. News of an accident, an unintended fight that resulted in a man being stabbed. The victim is still fighting for his live. There’s news about the Christmas lighting along Orchard road and of course, the usual financial news and all.
There’s even a section with lottery results on Saturday and Sunday.
“Do you believe the news you read on the papers?” The man asked while packing.
“Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Why ? “
“then what are you going to do for those that you believe in?”
“huh?” I don’t know what he’s trying to say.
Just then, it started to drizzle, and the man hasten his pace to pack, stuffing his belongings into his canvas bag.
Seeing that he’s leaving, I shook my head and took off back to office.
By the time I packed up and got ready to leave, the drizzle has developed into a full-blown storm.
I braved the storm with a small umbrella from my bag as i walked out of the Botanic garden. I grabbed a sandwich on my way back and arrived home totally drenched.
I took a hot shower, forgetting all about the weird man and his newspaper.
When I’m dry and freshly showered, I opened my sandwich and made myself a cup of tea.
Looking over to my bag where I stuff the newspaper, I could not contain my curiosity.
I pulled it out and I looked at the news.
Corporate stuff. Food promotion for new cafes. High rise littering.
Politicians bickering and the latest news on sex for credit scams.
I flipped the page and I saw the picture of a young woman in her twenties.
She just passed away in a car accident on the 3rd of Nov. The news took up an entire page.
It was a freak accident and it happened just along the street I was staying at. Sulyani was a police officer and she had just finished attending to a shoplifting incident with her colleague.
They were standing by the sidewalk when a truck driver coming down the street suffered a stroke and mounted the kerb.
The impact pinned Sulyani against a wall, killing her instantly. She managed to push her colleague, another officer, Chan, out of the way. The driver died on the spot as well.
The article spoke of Sulyani’s career and the family she left behind. Sulyani is only 29 years old. The only child of a mix marriage, Sulyani was described as extremely filial.
Her dad is a cab driver while her mum is a home baker. The article also said that Sulyani was due for her promotion and the family was looking forward to their holiday next week.
The holiday is going to be the 1st time Sulyani is bringing her folks overseas.
Everything is booked and paid for.
During her free time, Sulyani volunteered at old folks home and helped rehomed about a dozen cats.
All of her colleagues spoke fondly of her.
“poor thing, so young somemore.” I mumbled as I turned the page to read some other news.
I went to the news about the stabbing.
It was between a debt collector and the debtor.
It was the 1st day of work for the debt collector too, an Irish man who moved to Singapore not too long ago.
I could not believe what I was seeing. An Irish man working as a debt collector in Singapore ? That’s something new.
The story goes like this.
The debtor is a businessman with a bad temper. He owed about 150 thousand to an import export company and they have since engaged a debt collection company to chase after this bad debt. The company that Conor is working for is J Debt Collection, aka JDC.
The businessman Bobby and the debt collectors were supposed to meet at a hawker centre to discuss the debt and it’s repayment. You see, Bobby, recently had a windfall from the lottery, striking the 1st prize.
The prize money of close to a million solved all his money woes and he has more than enough to pay Conor’s company. In fact, Bobby had prepared the money for full repayment and he was the one who initiated the meeting to close the account, but something went wrong.
No one was sure what happened during the meeting but Conor apparently triggered Bobby’s foul temper and instead of a happy ending for both parties, Bobby ended up stabbing Conor.
Interviews of bystanders revealed Conor had difficult communicating with Bobby who prefers to speak in Hokkien dialect and Chinese. Conor then made a call to a colleague for help and for some reason that the office is still investigating, the colleague decided to teach Conor some Hokkien curses.
The moment those stared flying from Conor’s mouth, things went to shit.
A spokesman from the debt collection company told reporters that they are investigating the incident because they did not send Conor to the meeting alone. Another staff was supposed to turn up and guide Conor through the process of collection.
They added that all staff were trained to be professional and not use vulgarities and curses during collection and declined further comments.
Looking at the pictures of the parties involved, I shook my head at the news and stopped reading. This is absurd.
This is just plain bad luck man, I mean the guy is prepared to pay and close the case. Imagine if things had turn out the other way, on his first day of work, he manages to collect 150 thousand for the company and it’s client, things would have been so much different.
I flipped the page and saw some news about a man that has been missing for a week. He’s visually impaired and his family is looking for him. This is the 2nd visually impaired man that has been missing for the past 6 months. People are calling for greater social support to this group of people.
I flipped the papers again, finally coming to an article where it doesn’t involve someone dying, getting stabbed or missing.
The article about the Christmas light up looked more interesting. It’s Disney theme for 2018. I looked at the picture of the lit up decoration along the main Orchard road junction and nodded my head in approval.
It sure looks good and magical.
Coming to the lottery section, I took a quick glance because I’m not interested in stuff like this. I don’t usually gamble.
The 1st prize for Saturday however was the extension number for my work phone. 3025.
I gave a raised eyebrow and nodded before flipping to look at promotions at the local supermarket.
After I was done reading, I folded the paper and chuck it below the coffee table.
3rd November 2018
It’s a non-working day but there’s some stuff I want to finish before the new week start.
Waving to the security guard, I walked out of my estate’s compound.
I spent the whole day in office doing my work, choosing to order food in for lunch.
Coming close to dinner time, my parents called, asking if I’m joining them for dinner.
I thought about the Christmas light up and suggested we head to town for dinner to have a look.
My parents agreed and we were to meet at Orchard Ion at 7pm.
I was a few bus stop away when my mum called me.
“Eh Jerry, you silly boy. Where got light up ? They are still putting it up. It’s not ready.” She said. “ I asked the people on site they say they are putting up the final touches tonight!”
“Huh, impossible, i…” Right about then, the bus made the turn into Orchard road and I froze in my seat.
It’s not done yet.
I can see groups of contractors working along the street trying to get things up in time. Ladders, cables and large crates of decorations lined the street, the foreman was organising his men for what looked like a final night of touch-ups.
Looks like it’s going to take another night of work or so before it’s ready.
This don’t make sense. If the decorations are not ready, how did they take such a nice picture of a lit up Orchard road for the papers?
Maybe it’s a 3D rendering or something. I heard they can do pretty realistic 3D renderings these days.
I met up with my parents and my mum scolded me for bringing them out here for nothing.
We ate at a restaurant and while waiting for the desserts, my parents pulled out their lottery tickets to check their results.
“Oh please la, you all got to stop buying these, it’s a waste of money.” I said.
“what do you know? You don’t know one la. This is investment.” My mum said without looking at me.
My mum is an administrative staff in an investment firm for the past 20 years, if she calls lottery investments, I’m glad she is not managing any portfolio.
Dad too, pulled out his own tickets from his pocket. Having recently retired, he now works part time wrapping gift hampers. He’s just not the type to stay at home idling away with nothing to do.
My dad put on his glasses and squinted his eyes at the screen of his phone. I can never understand why people buy lottery. The odds are clearly stacked against them.
My mum has several tickets and I took a couple to help look at it.
“This is, haiyah, all these numbers, won’t come out one la.” I said.
The numbers she bet on never changed throughout the years. It’s always my birthday, her birthday, our flat unit number.
She made a show of trying to smack me on my head for cursing her.
“don’t curse me ! these tickets are valid for both days of the draw.”
I watched my parents go through their tickets and while sipping my tea, just out of curiosity, I asked for my dad’s phone to look at the results of the lottery for that Saturday.
The moment I saw it, I felt something weird. It made my chest tightened because I saw something that made me feel uncomfortable.
The first prize for the 4D lottery draw that day is a number that I find all too familiar.
I looked again at that number, unable to believe my eyes.
I returned my phone to my dad and I kept thinking about it.
Impossible. This doesn’t make sense. I looked around the restaurant, trying to determine is I’m on some hidden camera trick show. Aside from a hot babe who was looking over my way a couple of times, no one seemed interested at our table.
I sent my parents back in a taxi after dinner and went up with them to grab some of my old clothes. My mum kept telling me not to clear everything out of my old room.
“It’s not as if we are going to rent out your room, just leave them here if you want to. “ She said in a nonchalant voice even though I knew what she was trying to tell me.
I gave her a hug, knowing that she still harbour hopes that I will move back and stay with them.
“Ma, I’m too old to be leeching off you all.”
“Nonsense, you will always be my little boy.” She said while trying to sound irritated when I know it was just an act.
I said goodbye to my parents and took a bus back to my place. The first thing I did; I went to the papers
I opened it up to the lottery section and it’s right there. The results.
I rubbed my eye and pinched myself to make sure I was not dreaming. I used my phone to check the latest result on the lottery website and compared it to the newspaper print.
“Bloody hell.” I mumbled to myself.
It’s exactly the same.
All 23 sets of 4 digits are the same.
How the fuck is this possible ?
My eyes immediately went to the results for the lottery draw the next day.
1st prize is 6051.
4th November 2018.
I went for a morning jog in Botanic garden to see if I would bump into the newspaper vendor again. This is mind boggling.
I’m beginning to wonder if this is a prank.
I did not see the vendor.
I went home for a shower and took a bus to the supermarket for my weekly stock up. There is a lottery booth at the supermarket too and I hesitated for a second before entering it.
It was then I realised I have no idea how to do it.
Thankfully, the instructions are plastered on the notice board.
I think I attracted the looks of a few punters when they saw me trying to read the instructions how to place a bet.
I shaded the number 6051 on the betting slip.
Then for the bet amount. I hesitated again before turning to the uncle beside me.
“Uncle, if bet $1, how much will I win ? “
The uncle with a gold watch on his wrist was expertly shading a stack of betting slips. He gave me a look before replying.
“ Young man, if want to gamble, go big or go home. $1 if first prize only $2000. Where got enough? Like that might as well don’t gamble. “ He said before turning away.
Ok, if $1 equates to $2000 in winning, then if I put $100, that’s 200 thousand.
1000 is 2 million.
Ok. Sounds good. 1000 sounds a bit overboard, so I placed a 100 bet.
I shaded the box and placed my bet. After I got my betting slip, I felt silly all of a sudden.
“I can’t believe you are doing this Jerry.” I said to myself. “ How low have you become?”
I have never placed a bet before in my life and now because of a stupid newspaper, I wasted $100 on a piece of paper.
God, I have never felt more dumb.
After the grocery run, I went home for a bit of housekeeping.
Dinner is a simple meal of salad and chicken breast. I had forgotten all about the lottery ticket until my mum called. She told me she will treat me for dinner the following week because she won the lottery. $150. Some consolation prize because she bought the number from the receipt of our meal the night before in Orchard.
It made her so happy and I decided not to remind her that she probably spent 10 times the amount on the bets before she won something.
I hung up the phone and went to the lottery website. I almost fell off my chair when I saw the updated results on the betting portal.
I refreshed the screen 5 times and I stood up in shock, causing my chair to fall over.
“FUCK!” I shouted in my house as I stood 3 metres away from my screen.
The usually calm and composed me just totally disappeared.
“FUCK this shit. FUCK!” I don’t know what came into me as I cursed audibly and started doing the Cha Cha dance in front of my laptop.
Why Cha Cha ? Because I was walking forward, cursing twice before backing away again. Then I rinsed and repeat.
I looked at the date stamp on the site. The date is correct.
1st prize 6051.
I could not breathe as I covered my mouth with both hands.
“what the fuck. What the fuck ? “ I kept repeating to myself.
I took a few deep breaths to calm myself down as I looked at my winning ticket. I literally put the ticket right beside the screen and the numbers were just fucking staring at me.
My mind started to go into overdrive. That’s $200000 right there, on a piece of paper measuring 40mm x 50mm.
I took out the newspaper again and flipped the pages so roughly that I started spilling the other pages all over the floor. No I’m not going to look at the lottery results. I don’t care about the results or the 200 thousand at that moment.
Fuck the money. My heart was beating so fast I think I’m going to get a heart attack.
I went to the news about the stabbing and my eyes went to the date again.
It happened that night at Bukit Timah Food centre. The time is not revealed but it happened at night.
I looked at the clock in my living room.
I grabbed my phone and wallet as I charged out of the house.
Running to the main road, I flagged a passing taxi and told the driver where I wanted to go.
“Hi, Bukit Timah Food Centre. As fast as you can please.”
My heart started beating really fast as the taxi turned onto Bukit Timah road, speeding towards the food centre barely 10 minutes away. I don’t remember feeling this anxious before in my life. Something triggered in me and my usually calm demeanour was shattered.
I was breathing with my mouth and sitting in the middle of the back seat with both my hands holding onto the seats in front.
“Going for dinner? “ The taxi driver asked as he overtook a slower driver.
He did not look too old himself, probably only a few years older than me.
“ No. I’m not” I replied.
“Meeting your girlfriend ah? Haha.” He teased, commenting on how anxious I look.
“No, I’m single.” I said while hoping all the lights turn green in our favour.
“If you are headed to the hospital, I would think your wife is giving birth or something, you look so anxious. Chill man, we’re almost there.”
The taxi overtook 2 other vehicles, and he did it while weaving in between the 3 lanes. He even flashed his high beam at a vehicle turning into the road before overtaking it aggressively. I reckon he must be having a slow day and I’m the first interesting passenger he picked up or something.
I saw him look at me through the rear mirror a couple of times and in an attempt to calm me down, he tried talking to me.
“ Yo bro, what do you do for a living man ? Just curious. “ The driver asked.
Right about then, the cab slowed down as vehicles from the lane we were on all started changing lanes. An accident has occurred up front. The cab made the change in lane just when I was about to tell him where I worked.
The words were about to leave my lips when I turned and saw the vehicles involved in the chained collision on my right. It’s not serious, just a few bruised bumper and when I saw the 2nd vehicle in the chained collision, goosebumps exploded all over my body.
It’s a vehicle with it’s company name proudly embossed over it’s side.
JDC. J Debt collection.
I felt the cab picked up speed and I honestly don’t know what the hell is going through my head when I answered the cab driver.
All I remember was seeing a series of images in my head before my brain made up the decision and my lips delivered the answer.
I saw the picture of Conor, Bobby, the money that needs to be collected and the stabbing that could be avoided.
That was all that flashed through my head as the cab sped past the junction just before the food centre.
“I’m a debt collector bro.” I said to the cab driver whose expression through the rear view mirror told me exactly what he wanted to say before he said it.
“You got to be shitting me.”
The taxi arrived at the food centre and turned into the open-air carpark.
I paid the driver and quickly got out.
Turning my head around, I tried to get a feel of the area. It’s been a while since I last came here.
The aroma of cook food filled the air and I could hear the metallic clang of frying pans from the food centre above. On one side of the food centre is a busy road while the other is flanked by a school and housing estate.
The open air carpark I’m in now feels like an oasis, separating the calmness of a sleepy estate from the hustle and bustle of the main road.
The wet market on the ground floor of the two level building is empty as it only operates in the morning. The only signs of life are from the tanks of ornamental fishes lining the side of a stall.
An old man pushed a trolley of old cardboards and I saw him pouring water over the top of it to make them heavier.
They sell those by weight. He saw me looking and without batting an eyelid, poured more water onto the cardboard before piling some dry ones on top.
It’s post dinner peak and there are many empty lots. I walked briskly along the line of parked cars, trying to see if I could spot either Conor or Bobby.
The stabbing happened at the carpark and since it hasn’t happened yet, I have a good chance of stopping it.
A picture is slowly forming in my head as I thought about the car accident earlier. The blanks are getting filled like puzzle pieces coming together.
The colleague that is supposed to be with Conor is stuck at the accident a couple of streets away. This must be why Conor ended up alone with Bobby.
Cars entered and left the carpark in a steady stream.
The papers made no mention of Bobby’s car plate number and the only information I have to go by are their faces.
I circled the car park twice, trying to see if I could spot either of them. Suddenly I caught a glimpse of man with blonde hair coming from the direction of the wet market. I did a double take and it’s Conor.
He just washed his hands and was drying them on his jeans before taking out a cigarette.
My throat felt dry and I wasted a second looking at my left forearm.
I brought my forearm really close to my eyes as I saw goosebumps raised all the hair on my arm like I’m spider man and something tripped my senses.
It’s really happening.
“fuck.” I mumbled as I watch Conor walked out into the carpark trying to find his colleague while reaching into his sling bag and pulling out a walkie talkie that comes with an earpiece.
My mind raced for a solution. The most simple one I can think of is to remove Conor from the location. If he is not here, the stabbing will not happen.
There was not enough time to think it through properly, I walked directly towards Conor and I saw him did a double take at an old Mercedes that just entered the carpark going pass me.
The car passed right in front of me and I recognised the driver.
My heart raced as if I’m on a treadmill at speed 12 with a 20 degree incline.
Conor saw Bobby too and he looked eager to start the meeting. He lit his cigarette and I could see him getting his game face on. Probably eager to impress on his 1st collection. He puffed nervously on his cigarette, blowing out smoke without inhaling them.
The moment the tail of Bobby’s vehicle passed me, I approached Conor.
“Hey Conor.” I called out.
He looked a little shock, obviously he does not know me. It’s up to me to either convince or confuse him now.
“Who are you ? “ He asked in accented Engligh while looking at me from head to toe.
“I’m Jerry, I’m here to help you with Bobby to close the 150 thousand account.” I said, giving him details that no one should know about unless I’m part of the team.
Conor looked confused and he looked around. I don’t want to give him enough time to think it through.
“You….. You’re from JDC ? “ Conor asked me while looking over my shoulder at Bobby who was parking his ride. “Where is Andrew ? He’s supposed to …”
I did not let him finish and I told him Andrew got into an accident. He won’t be here. I was prepared to do the collection on Conor’s behalf, in fact I wanted to tell him to let me do the talking.
Conor however, pulled out a slip of paper with scribbles and translations on them.
“Alright Jerry, I’m ready. Let’s do this man.” He said in accented English
“woah woah woah… wait wait wait..” I stopped him to take a look at the piece of paper he is holding. “what is this ? “
Conor told me he did a rehearsal with Andrew earlier in office. He wanted to use some common terms that will help him connect with Bobby, it will make things easier.
I looked at the greetings, the phrases with translations scribbled beside them. It’s not going to work.
“Ho seh bo ?” = How are you doing ?
“An Zhuar Settle ? “ How to settle this debt ?
“Eh Sai Settle bo ? “ Can we conclude a settlement ?
I saw vulgarities too in dialect but those were marked and underlined in bold not to say those, but rather, to help Conor identify if he was being cursed at.
Looking at the list, I told Conor to just stick to English.
“I will do the dialect if needed.”
“ No, that way I will never learn. You have to let me do this hands on.” Conor insisted. He says he is confident to pick up the local lingo.
“I can do the Singapore ‘la’ leh’ ‘loh’ and so on man. Come on. This is nothing.” He said while taking a deeper drag on his cigarette. “Hokkien is a piece of cake.”
“What ? “ I could hardly believe my ears.
Turning to look at Bobby, I saw him smoking in his car after winding down his window.
“Look Conor, this is your first time, just watch how I do it.”
“No no no Jerry, trust me. I know what I’m doing. Let me show you.” Conor started walking towards Bobby and I quickly put myself in front of him.
“Dude, look. It’s not as simple as you think. There are many variables in play here. Things might go sideways if you don’t communicate properly, it might evolve into a shouting match or worse, so let me do it.” I said.
Conor is starting to get suspicious of me. I could see it on his face.
“I know. I know what this is.” Conor said. “you are here to do this because you wanted my share of the commission. Come on dude. Don’t pick on the new guy man. I’ve got rent to pay too and parents back home…” He shoves me aside and I held onto him in a desperate attempt.
“ Dude !, you keep the credit, you keep the commission. I don’t want any of it !”
I think the way I said it looked so desperate, I don’t blame Conor for not being convinced.
He was determined to approach Bobby and do this his way.
“I hope this is not about me being a foreigner coming to take your job and stuff man, come on. I need this commission Jerry. It took me so long to land a job after losing my previous one.. “ Conor looked at me in an intense manner.
“alright, alright… tell me how are you going to do it ? “ I asked.
“sure, I will start with ‘Xiao Lian eh.’(young punk), ‘Ho seh bo’… “ Conor said while referring to his piece of paper.
“Dude, there’s no way you can collect the debt that way…” I told him honestly. “It’s just not coming out right.”
Conor wanted to know why is it not coming out right ?
It’s just language.
I could see he was getting a little agitated, plus he is nervous as hell and I need him to clam down, so he doesn’t spark anything.
“Alright, alright, you do it, but before you go, let me teach you a couple more phrases.” I said.
Conor turned and told me he is aware that company policies state that there are to be no vulgarities.
“I’m not teaching you vulgarities. Besides, you think Bobby will let you throw vulgarities at him ? “ I replied.
“Then what is it ? what am I not saying right ? “ He asked.
”Hokkien dialect is a language that you need to speak with enough emotions. Be passionate while staying just below the line that cross into aggressiveness. You get what im saying ? Just like when you are cheering for your favourite football team, you love them but you want them to be better and all and you start cursing at the way they play ? “
I told Conor Hokkien businessmen are particular about ‘face’. They like to win, but we are not here to lose either. We need to remind Bobby that there can be a win win situation for all and we want to remind him in a stern and professional way.
Conor looked at me utterly confused. I don’t know what I was thinking either, I’m also a little confused about my own smoke as well.
“ A conversation’s dynamic changes all the time, and no amount of translated stuff and lingos is going to get you anywhere if you don’t react accordingly.”
“Errmmm.. alright.. so … what do I say ? “Conor asked.
Right about then, Bobby got out of his vehicle. There’s no time. Gesturing to his talkie, I asked if he has another one of those.
Conor pulled another out of his sling bag and gave it to me.
We did a quick test and I told him I will guide him from a distance.
“Don’t worry, the commission is yours and yours alone. “ I said.
Conor put on his earpiece and stuffed the talkie into his pocket.
I positioned myself at the spot behind Bobby’s car, pretending I’m the owner of the Toyota in that opposite lot.
From there I can hear everything they say and I’m also near enough to stop things from getting worse.
Conor, dressed in the JDC uniform immediately caught Bobby’s eye as he approached him.
“ Wah. KNN(curse) , Ang moh also come and take debt collector job ah. You all want to fucking steal all our rice bowl si bo?” Bobby said in jest.
“Hi Mr Bobby, my name is Conor from JDC.”
“You.. you power ah. Foreign talent ah. Got degree in collecting money ? Real one or fake one. haha “ Bobby teased while tapping another cigarette out of his box.
“Mr Bobby, I believed we are here to discuss the debt of 150k owed to.. “
Before Conor could finish, Bobby cut him off in a condescending manner. He looked like he’s out to have a bit of fun at Conor’s expense. Probably thinking since he’s here to clear the debt, why not squeeze a bit of fun out of the guy collecting it .
“You come… what country.. what country ? “ Bobby asked in broken English.
“ I’m Irish.” Conor said.
“Wah lan eh ( WTF ) KNN ( curse ) , Singapore not enough Ah Beng ( gangster ) to collect money meh ? Need to employ you haha.”
“Mr Bobby, I would like to reassure you that I am more than capable of handling this collection in a professional…”
Conor gets cut off again before he could finish.
“ Professional ? Puay Kee Puay lor hai, Ang moh jiak gao sai. ( Go eat shit, don’t talk to me about your professionalism.) Hear before or not. hahah.” Bobby said while lighting up his cigarette.
“I don’t know what that means but I can tell it’s not a compliment.”
Bobby chuckled and told Conor to find someone else who understands to collect the money from him then.
I could not believe what an ass Bobby is. If he fucking has the money ready, just pay it and close the account. What is he after this kind of cheap thrill ?
He fucking gets off on putting people down and it gets on my nerves.
“You ang moh always think you si bei ( very ) big fuck. huh. Cycle on the road like you got pay road tax. KNN ( curse ) Fucking don’t know traffic rules want to yaya papaya. ( act proud ) Har. Point finger here and there. Lan jiao ( curse ) ah I tell you. “
I could tell Bobby is starting to get carried away and Conor is not taking it well.
“You think limpei ( self promoted title of father) like our Jenghu ( government ) ah. See you like god ah. Lan jiao ( dick ) understand or not. hahah.” Bobby said while thrusting his middle finger at Conor before grabbing his own testicles to reinforce his point.
His brutish behaviour is definitely going to be the trigger point here.
I could see Conor clenching his fist as he tried to remain professional but keeps getting cut off by Bobby.
It’s going to happen soon if I don’t do something.
Now, telling Conor to calm to will not be of any use. He is boiling inside and he needs to let it out. He needs to vent.
Just like a coiled up spring, the tension needs to be released.
I spoke into the earpiece without thinking.
“Conor, you need him to shut up. Say this to him in Hokkien. It’s not vulgarities. Say this to him. ‘ LI SI YAN DAO’ , say it forcefully and in his face.! “ I spoke harshly into the speaker.
Bobby was about to let loose another string of insults at Conor when the entire open air carpark erupted with the voice of an Irish man shouting in accented Hokkien.
“LI SI YAN DAO!! ( YOU ARE HANDSOME ) “
His shout was so loud that I jumped.
Bobby too froze on the spot at his sudden outburst.
“what ? what did you say? “ Bobby asked, absolutely flabbergasted at what he just heard.
Conor, apparently seeing the effect of what he just said, decided to say it again since it was successful in shutting him up.
“ I said. LI SI YAN DAO ! ( you are handsome !) “ Conor said it while pointing his right index finger in an aggressive manner at Bobby.
Bobby’s eyes widened and pointed his own finger at himself.
“ Wa SI YAN DAO ? ( I am Handsome ?) “ Bobby asked.
“YES. LI SI YAN DAO! ”
“ Wa SI YAN DAO ??? “ Bobby asked with his eyes opened wide.
“YES. LI SI YAN DAO !!!”
Bobby started raising his voice at Conor, taking it to almost a shout.
“WA SI YAN DAO ??? ” Bobby shouted again in a questioning manner, drawing the attention of everyone in the carpark.
“ YES that is what I said. LI SI YAN DAO AHHHHH! “ Conor returned his shout, losing his composure, jabbing his index finger within mere inches of Bobby’s face.
Bobby’s jaw dropped and he was just stunt like vegetable all of a sudden. He could not believe what was happening. It just hit him like a ton of bricks.
Conor, still unhappy with the verbal and racial abuse earlier, continue raining what I taught him earlier at Bobby with increasing aggression and passion.
“LI SI YAN DAO !!! you hear me ? do you.? LI SI YAN DAO….LI SI YAN DAO…. LI SI YAN DAO…..LI SI YAN DAO AH!!”
Bobby was shaking and on the verge of breaking out in laughter as he looked around the gathering crowd. He was trying to gesture to the others in the carpark to see if they heard what was happening.
“wa wa….wa.wa..… wa si yan dao ? “ Bobby asked Conor again, pointing his own finger with an incredulous look on his face.
Seeing that his earlier aggression and condescending attitude is gone, Conor kept up his rant.
“yes ! YES ah. You… BOBBY, LI SI YAN DAO!! You.. you BOBBY. LI SI YAN DAO!! “ Conor spoke in a raised voice like a gangster asking someone from a rival gang to a fight.
Bobby tapped his chest and opened his car door while panting away, trying not to laugh. He pulled out a bottle of water to take a sip and I guess Conor see this as his victory.
I spoke into the talkie again.
“ Conor, go for the kill now and collect the money. Tell him ‘ LI SI WA LAO PEI ‘. Do it with the same aggressiveness .” I said as I slowly backed away.
Obviously elated with the results achieved earlier, Conor followed my advice without question.
“ LI SI WA LAO PEI ! ( you are my father ) “ Conor said in a raised voice and Bobby expelled all the water he was drinking. “ Now pay me the money! “
Bobby, choking and retching out water by then was totally defeated, unable to believe his own ears.
Now it was Conor’s turn to lose it. He has tasted victory and it’s a potent drug.
“LI SI YAN DAO BOBBY !. LI SI WA LAO PEI ! “ Conor jabbed his finger hard in the air, venting his pent up frustration from earlier.
Bobby by then was squatting down and leaning against his car door. He lowered his body slowly, hunching into a small ball as he struggled to breathe.
“wa… wa si li lao pei ? ( I’m your father ? )” Bobby said and he looked like he was going to get an heart attack.
“LI SI WA LAO PEI !!! LI SI YAN DAO AH!! “ Conor said again in a louder voice and Bobby by then threw in the towel.
He was totally defeated. He just laughed and laughed. Bobby was shaking and drooling onto the floor of the carpark lot. His half finished cigarette now lying by the side of his foot.
Pointing to himself one last time, Bobby had a pained expression on his face and he could hardly speak. He looked like he was constipated.
His expression was so scrunched up that he might just collapsed. Conor kept his aggressive stance as Bobby raised a palm at him, tapping the air between them, signalling for Conor to wait.
He wanted Conor to stop talking.
Reaching into his vehicle, he brought out an envelope with the cheque prepared together with a transmittal form for Conor to sign.
Conor, upon seeing the money, softened his stance immediately.
Bobby pointed his finger at Conor, jabbing his index finger at him twice before switching it to a thumbs up.
“KNN ( curse ) you this Ang Moh….Si bei the good ah . You win…. I give you win. “ Bobby said while wiping tears from his eyes.
Bobby’s eyes were red and bloodshot from the exchange. He looked like he just cried.
“Awww gee man. Thanks ..dude. “ Conor said, unable to hide his happiness as he signed and took picture of the collected cheque.
Conor extended a hand and pulled Bobby off the floor but Bobby’s legs are not listening. I guess the shock has yet to settle.
I started breathing easier and did not realised I had soaked through my top with perspiration.
Conor looked for me in the crowd and he waved the cheque at me in a grateful manner.
Bobby on the other hand, finally felt the full impact of what just happened on him. He started laughing again as he knelt down beside his car. He was literally crying and laughing, unable to believe how ridiculous this evening has been for him.
Conor, concerned that the client is unwell, started asking if he is ok, if he needed him to get him water.
Bobby’s trembling fingers could not even light a cigarette and I watched Conor do it for him.
I set the talkie down on the boot of a car and slowly backed away.
Ok, doesn’t look like anyone is going to get stab tonight.
Walking hurriedly towards the bus stop, I saw the vehicle from JDC turning into the carpark. I broke into a run towards the petrol station and I did not stop until I’m far enough away from the food centre.
Stopping when I’m at the bottom of an old railway bridge near King Albert station, I turned and looked towards where I just came from.
It started with a chuckle initially, then it evolved into an all-out laugh. I laughed and laughed so hard that I was clutching my tummy and attracting stares from passerbys. That was fucking ridiculous.
When I recovered, I started walking along Bukit Timah road towards my place.
The walk back gave me time to organise my thoughts.
I could not believe what happened.
It’s mind blowing.
I literally saved someone’s life, can you believe this ?
The feeling that was coursing through my veins cannot be described. It’s pure, undiluted elation. The concentrated hit of dopamine being released in my head felt so good.
I started to think about the paper. I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know how this shit works but the newspaper has proven what it’s written time and again.
The lottery, the debt collection, the light up at Orchard road.
Right about then, I find myself staring at a neighbourhood police centre near Botanic garden.
Suddenly, a face came to mind.
A face from an article I read.
I got back to my place and the security guard waved to me as I walked in totally drenched in perspiration.
“Yoz Mr Jerry. Super fit man..” He said, thinking I just came back from a workout.
“Hi Uncle Ang, had your dinner already? “
He nodded and gestured to his cup of coffee. Something that he needs after his meal for him to last through the night.
“Any plans for the weekend ? “ he asked as I strolled past the guardhouse.
I turned and started walking backwards on the narrow path leading into the development.
Looking at Uncle Ang, I smiled and replied.
“Yeah… i’m going to be a superhero tomorrow I think.. “
“ Really ? hahah” He chuckled in the same way a benevolent grandfather does while joking with his grandchildren. “fighting crimes ?? “
I shook my head with a smug smile.
“ No… Saving lives”
My throat was so dry and the first thing I did upon entering my place was to go to the kitchen. I started drinking from the tap directly, gulping down water beyond the point of thirst.
Panting and wiping my lips with the back of my arm. I went straight to the papers. Picking pieces of it up, I went to the section about the stabbing.
“Bloody hell.” I cursed out loud when I realised the article is gone.
Just like that.
The article in it’s place is now about the chain collision along Bukit Timah road I passed by earlier. No one was hurt but it caused a bit of a jam. Flipping the paper front and back, I tried to figure out what kind of dark magic is going on.
I picked up the paper and held it against the light. Maybe it’s not normal materials the papers are printed on. Maybe it’s some high tech LCD screen or something that feels and look like paper.
You can then refresh it or something like a webpage of a connection.
I checked the front and back of the piece of paper before bringing it to my stove.
“ let’s see what the fuck are you made off.” I mumbled as I lit up my stove.
Blue flames danced in a nice circle around my underutilised stove and I held the paper to the flame. It ignited immediately, the fire consuming the paper, devouring and turning it into ashes within seconds.
I dropped the paper and watched the ashes crumple and fly about my kitchen.
It’s just paper.
I mean if it’s something high tech, surely it has some batteries involved. Even if there are no batteries, there should be an antenna where the device can be powered by a signal or something.
I grabbed another piece of the paper, careful to leave the part about Sulyani and her colleagues intact.
I tore up a section of the paper and looked at the fibres. I crunched up a portion and used it to wipe my sliding glass door.
So far, it looks like newspaper, it smells like newspaper, it burns like newspaper and it cleans like newspaper.
I dunk a ball of it into water and watched the some of the ink dissolve into the liquid.
It’s fucking newspaper.
Unsure of what other experiment to conduct, I took the full page news of the accident that is going to happen the next day and pin it up against a glass wall with blue tack.
I read the report twice. The accident happened right along the same street where I was staying. Practically right in front of Cluny court.
The time is not stated but it happened in the day.
I stuck pieces of blank paper along side the news report and brought out a box of coloured markers and bits of string like I’m about to solve the crime of the century.
There are several pictures of the accident and the damaged it caused scattered throughout the report. I went through each one until I found what I’m looking for.
A light post in the middle of a traffic island.
I’m interested in the shadow it’s casting on the grass beside it.
A shadow is the longest in the morning when the rises from the east, it’s the shortest around noon and long again when the sun sets in the west, casting the shadow on the other side.
Opening up google map, I used the street view function to drop the yellow man pin on the same street where the accident happened. I orientated the screen until I found an image taken on a sunny day with enough shadows for me to make my comparison.
Using the red true north arrow that allows me to turn the camera about, I repositioned the pin and thereby the screen, to display what I would see on the ground in the day, if I was standing due North.
Establishing my direction, I checked the shadow of the light post and confirmed my deduction that the accident happened in the early part of the morning. I adjusted the google street view to match the picture of the accident site so I can make an apple to apple comparison.
Glimpsing clues and cues from the reporting, I deduced that the accident happened quite early. At least earlier than the time when google last sent it’s engineering team to capture the street view footage for that stretch.
Pictures of the accident scenes showed a gathering of park goers in the background too.
Discounting the time for the emergency services to arrive, start their rescue operations, and for the police to set up their signature blue tent for fatalities, I estimate the time of the accident to be between 8am to 9am.
Why ? Why is it so important to know the time of the accident?
Since I stay along the same stretch, why can’t I fucking park myself on a stool and wait for it to happen?
Here’s the thing, I don’t want it to happen. I want to stop it from happening. And to do that, I need to know the time it happens.
There’s no telling how many trucks is going to pass by in the morning. If I wait until the point when I see Sulyani and Chan standing by the side of the road with a truck barrelling down towards them.
It’s going to be too late.
Enlarging the map on my laptop, I looked at the aerial view of the neighbourhood.
Cluny park road starts after the junction of Tyersall road and Cluny hill. It’s a total of 797m long. Assuming there are no cars in front of the truck, it would have almost 800m of uninterrupted drive to pick up speed and momentum.
However, there is a small roundabout at the turn towards Jalan Kembang Melati , this break in otherwise long stretch of road effectively reduced the distance the truck have to pick up speed to about 157m until the estimated point of impact.
No matter what car you drive, you simply can’t speed pass a roundabout. You still have to navigate the turn, lose a bit of speed before you pick it up again.
I scribbled over my sketches and notes beside the newspaper article.
Taking a few steps back, looked at the wall that is now filled with blue tacks and untidy scribbles that only I understand.
The truck that caused the accident is a Nissan cabstar. I fired up google again and looked at the specifications of the vehicle. With a fully laden weight of 3500Kg. It’s been modified and fitted with a cover at the back and during the time of accident, it was carrying old units of air con compressors together with some scrap metal.
I’ve never driven or been on one of these trucks before and I paced about the wall of information before grabbing my phone. I’m going to call a contractor I work with in the parks.
It’s late in the evening and I don’t know if he is going to pick up my call but I’m thankful he did.
“ Hello Jerry, don’t worry. House keeping all done swee swee ( perfectly ) , I never leave any of the dead trunks behind and I confirm plus chop my worker never litter their lunch box all over.” Uncle Sam immediately went on the defensive because everytime I called him, it’s to reflect how badly he maintained his area of work.
Sam is the owner of a small landscape company that we work with regularly.
His team of 6 workers helped maintain a section of the Botanic garden among other small jobs. He is also a pre-qualified term contractor of sort, sometimes he gets activated to clear trees that toppled over during a storm.
He makes it a point to send me pussy willow every Chinese new year every since I started managing him and his team. He doesn’t hate me but he tells people I’m difficult to work with simply because I do everything by the book.
There is no, ‘brother, brother, close one eye’ kind of stuff.
It’s by the book, as simple as that. He can ‘brother brother’ all he wants. It’s always by the books for me.
One thing I like about Sam is that he is very hands on. He knows everything and is capable of operating every single piece of equipment. I have seen him with a harness on, 15m up in a crane car and trimming the crown of a tree with a chain saw complete with a cigarette in his mouth.
I tried shouting at him not to smoke in the park and he had the cheek to tell me the smoke came from his saw, not the cigarette in his mouth.
“Uncle Sam, I need to ask you something.” I said.
“what is it ? “
“Your truck, the one you use everyday for work and to ferry workers.” I said while squinting my eyes at the article to look at the pictures.
“yeah, what about it ? “
“Can I check how fast you can accelerate to if you are fully loaded and have a track length of about 157m ? “
My question was met with an immediate silence on the phone.
5 seconds later, Sam asked if I’m drinking.
“ You drunk ar Jerry…? You siao ar ? ( crazy ) “
“No I’m not, how fast to go from 0 to 100 ? is there some standard to follow or something ? “
“Hello brother…. Lim pei drive Nissan Cabstar…. Not Nissan GTR.”
“Sam I just want to know how long it takes for the truck to be fast enough to knock someone down and be fatal.”
The silence on the line now stretched longer than 5 seconds.
“ Jerry, Jerry, Brother I tell you… I tell you… you write this down… write this down…. one second. “ Sam said
I grabbed a pen and paper.
“Ok go ahead” I said
“1800-221 4444” Sam recited over the phone.
“what is this ? “
“This one ahh.. is the national suicide hotline…You give me a second, I find the Tinkle friend one for you….”
“Uncle Sam, I’m not thinking of doing anything stupid. It’s for work and I just want to get a feel of the ideal travelling speed we are currently imposing on all maintenance vehicle in the parks around the island.” I lied so blatantly and smoothly without a change in my expression.
Sometimes I scare myself.
“Oh… cheyy… err… for me ah… i.. clutch down, push 1st gear, zhuarrr( accelerate) and drag, 30km/h for 1st gear is no sweat but I quickly change to 2nd gear. At 2nd, faster pickup and if I drag a bit, can hit 60km/h. From there I go 3rd, by then can hear the beep beep sound already if I drag also.” Sam said as he tried his best to describe his driving.
“No no no… I don’t mean this… errmm… say if you have 157m of straight road.”
“err ok..” Sam answered cautiously.
“At which point do you think you will get fast enough to ram up a kerb and pin someone against the wall ? “
“I am feeling a bit uncomfortable talking about this Jerry…. You ok bo ?
Crap, that didn’t come out well.
“Ok I rephrase it. Ermm.. “ I looked around the house before asking Sam what would it take to stop a fully laden truck of his if it’s travelling at say 60km/h and the driver is unable to steer or hit the brakes.
I just made a wild estimate. If not, this will not get anywhere.
“You need those crash barrier, those pop out from the ground type, One of your 80 year old raintree in the park….or maybe another truck parked in front of it ? but it’s going to be ugly man.”
“Is there something more, ermm, day to day type of stuff that can stop the truck. ? You know… “ I looked at my furniture and said somethings stupid. “ Like tables and chairs … better still if there’s some technique to stop it and can be done by just 1 man…“
I could hear Sam asking his kids to lower the TV volume in the background before he replied me.
“errr… 1 man ah ? … 1 man stop the truck ah…. got 2 way la…” Sam said, getting my hopes up. “ The simplest is the driver step the brakes.”
“what if the driver cannot step on the brakes ? or the brakes are spoilt ? What is the other method that can be employed by a man ?” I asked.
“Like that ah… you try asking Iron man or the Hulk la, ga yi long kuay ki ( just ram it ) , that one I think no problem la.”
I sighed and massaged my forehead before thanking Sam for his time.
I looked at the site of the accident on google map. Maybe I should I fuck up the traffic by throwing my dining table into the middle of the road or something.
Hell, maybe I can put a chair in the middle of the road and just sit there.
4th November 2018
I barely got any sleep. The whole night I was tossing and turning about in my bed.
While waiting for my coffee to brew, I could feel a sense of frustration slowly building inside me. I’m frustrated because I don’t know what to do.
Currently at the top of my list would be stop the truck when it slows down at the roundabout, but here’s the thing. Base on the report, the driver suffered a stroke.
It did not mention when he suffered it. He could be keeping his foot down on the pedal all the way down the street until the point of impact, you never know.
In this scenario, my best chance would be to stop Sulyani and Chan instead.
Leaving my place at 6.20am, I looked up and down the quiet road on front of my place. Hell is going to break loose in a couple of hours’ time.
Sitting by the side of the road with a cup of coffee and butter croissant, my eyes never left the road. My ears pricked the moment I heard the rumble of a heavy vehicle and several passed by without incident.
So far everything the papers reported came true. I don’t know if it will be the same for this.
There was some commotion coming from the supermarket from what I can see. Two Caucasian kids were shouting at the supermarket staff before they suddenly took off. They dashed out and ran away, towards the direction of the roundabout.
Everyone at the café turned and tried to see what is happening except me.
My heart started beating faster and I was perspiring heavily. My palms were wet and I feel cold despite the hot and humid weather. I guess that’s what cold sweat feels like.
That must be the shoplifting that triggered the appearance of the police officers.
A few minutes later, my lips turned pale and I spilled my coffee when i saw the familiar figure in front of me.
Coming towards the café on 2 bicycles, are Sulyani and Chan.
They must be from the police centre right up the road near Coronation plaza.
I looked at Sulyani who parked the bike by the side and when she removed her helmet, I realised she looks so much better in real life. That is a true beauty right there.
It’s not hard to notice her ample assets in front of her chest given her rather small frame. Her mixed parentage gave her beautiful features. Her large eyes and pronounced nose are those that people would go to surgery for.
The uniform she was wearing is drawing as much attention as her sculpted legs and C cup breasts.
She smiled at a child by the café and when I saw those dimples appear, my heart melted. She can do things to me with her handcuffs and I will never complain.
Her lanyard nest comfortable in between her chest, displaying her identification and I swallowed a gulp of my saliva as I realised that poor lanyard is trapped. No matter how she moved, how the heavier card case at the bottom swayed and shake, the lanyard will never be able to break free from the deep valley cleavage it was placed in.
Sulyani saw me looking at her and she cast me a look for a second before looking away.
She’s here, if she’s here, it means it’s going to happened.
It also means the truck is going to appear anytime now.
I could feel goosebumps appear all over my skin when she walked past me and entered the supermarket to speak with the staff.
I got up immediately and started walking towards the direction where the truck will be coming from. I looked odd staring at an otherwise non-busy road.
People Jaywalk regularly there, there’s not much traffic and they just want to cross over.
I stood by the side of the road and kept staring towards the vanishing point of the road.
I have no fucking idea what to do as I kept alternating my attention between the road and behind me to see if Sulyani and Chan is out.
“Fuck this.” I said and I started jogging towards the roundabout junction.
I didn’t want to do this because it’s dangerous as hell and there’s no guarantee it will work but stopping the truck as far away from the accident spot is my best chance.
I decided to intercept it when it slows down at the roundabout. It’s my best shot.
“Jesus…” I mumbled as I saw the truck appearing a distance away.
Turning behind me, I saw Sulyani, Chan and a supermarket staff coming out to the sidewalk. The staff was pointing towards the direction where the teenagers ran. They are pretty far away and from where I’m standing, they looked like small candlesticks but still visible clearly.
The truck has started to veer to it’s right before being pulled back sharply. You can see it’s losing control.
There are no other cars in front of the truck as it approached the roundabout.
“oh fuck, fuck ,fuck.” I said as I literally started jogging on the spot like I was going to shit in my pants or something.
The truck is picking up speed and it’s veering left and right now, crossing into the lane meant for traffic coming from the other direction. The entire road is deserted except for the truck.
I ran towards it and immediately kept pace with the vehicle. Being up close, I realised how fast it is going.
It mounted the shallow circular island of the roundabout as I jogged alongside it.
Sulyani & Chan have now moved out right by the side of the road where the fence ends between walkway and the road.
Running alongside the truck, I tried to jump onto the side step to open the door. It’s locked.
It’s worth a try at least.
Holding onto the passenger side door of the truck, I tried to punch the window and the pain in my knuckles reminded me how stupid that was.
I jumped off the side of the truck and nearly fell flat on my face. Swinging my arms wildly to regain my balance, I started to sprint flat out as my ears caught the rumble of the engine putting more power into the truck.
“HEYYYY!!!, HEYYYYYYY!!!! “ I shouted at the top of my voice as my lungs burned like someone poured acid down my throat.
Sulyani and Chan turned to look at me and the out-of-control truck.
They saw it and I could see it on their faces.
They were frozen to the ground at that split second at the sight of a truck going right at them. I sprinted as fast as I could towards them.
Tightening my core, I stretched out my arms like I’m going to tackle both of them to the ground.
I charged right into them with my arms spread apart. I lifted off the ground and rammed right into them. With my body soaring through the air for a mere second, I felt the truck graze my right calf at it takes down the road fence.
Like a train that is out of control, the truck mounted the kerb, rammed into the electrical box and smashed head first into the wall of the shopping centre. If Sulyani or Chan had been there, they would have been pinned against the wall.
The crash felt like an explosion of screeching mangled metal groaning in front of a loudspeaker.
The trio of us hit the ground hard and I could hear the audible thud of Sulyani and Chan’s head hitting the ground before whiplashing back up and back to the ground again.
The truck’s engine hissed as it’s mangled remains groaned at the impact that shattered the windscreen and caused the front part of the truck to be compacted onto itself.
The foot of the driver is still on the accelerator and the wheels are still spinning. Exhaust fumes started to fill the site as the shock of the accident left everyone around the area petrified. Screams started to fill the air as café goers vacated tables and started running in different directions.
It was a hard landing for me and I could feel the spots where it’s going hurt the moment bruises appear on my body.
Panting for air, I pushed myself up as I looked at the horrified faces of Chan and Sulyani. Chan was bleeding on the head and Sulyani immediately checked if he is ok.
Ok, I did it.
Sulyani and Chan is alive. I did it.
Turning to look at the truck, I immediately felt a sense of dread creeping back into me.
The truck carried the company name of Sam’s landscaping company.
“No… no. no. no….No way… not possible.” I mumbled as I scrambled towards the vehicle. “no.. no.. no.. please no..”
I looked at the load it was carrying. No, those are not landscaping equipment or freshly trimmed shrub and plants. The truck is carrying scrap metals and old air conditioners.
Why ? Why is it here.
I started shouting for Sam.
I tried to pull the door opened but it’s crushed. I used my elbow and removed the remains of the shattered window. Coming face to face with the man, I groaned in relieve when I realised it was not my contractor.
The driver is someone else.
I could see the driver but he’s unconscious.
Staff from the nearby French embassy came out to help while some bystanders called the emergency services.
Someone claimed to be a doctor and I made way for him.
I could literally hear my heart beating in my eardrums as goosebumps continued to come and go on my skin.
It’s like I’m getting the aftereffects of pins and needles, and it keeps coming and going.
With more people descending on the scene of the accident to help, I slowly backed away from the site.
Sulyani was up on her feet and I could see her looking around. Our eyes met and she shouted at me.
I backed away as someone asked if she’s ok.
I started to run back towards my place.
I dashed home and shut the door behind me. heading straight to the kitchen, I ran the tap and starting gulping water.
I don’t know what was causing the shock I was feeling.
Whether is it because I just saved Sulyani and Chan, or because everything that is printed on the newspaper is true.
I went over to my wall where I was doing my scribbles and writing the night before.
The article is different now.
The accident still happened. The truck driver still passed away because he had a stroke. He died at the wheel. The article is different now because Sulyani and Chan are no longer casualties in the accident.
No one died, except the driver.
I touched the paper just to be sure it’s real. I pinched myself on the cheek to make sure I’m not dreaming.
This is incredible.
I walked out to my balcony that has a view of Cluny Park road. It’s now jammed up with vehicles. I could hear sirens in the distance.
Looking across the road to Botanic gardens, my place of work, the place I first met that newspaper seller, I knew what I must do.
Heading out again, I passed by the security guard post to see Uncle Ang changing shifts with a younger chap.
“ Yoz Jerry, go buy things ah ? “ Uncle Ang asked
“Yah….. go buy newspaper…” I replied.
I spent the next few hours circling the entire park that is filled with weekend crowd. I came across entire family of otters, I saw monitor lizards digging on the ground for earthworms.
Squirrels, monkeys, the black swans and even some wild parrots. Just no signs of the newspaper seller.
I walked up and down the same stretch a few times before going to other quiet spots in the garden. I saw some colleagues and contemplated whether to ask them if they happen to see a newspaper seller around but I stopped myself.
It’s going to make me look stupid.
I saw some used newspaper by the foot of a rubbish bin. It’s wet and probably came from one of the families having their picnic nearby. Passer bys gave me weird looks when the saw me trying to read the newspaper on the ground.
It was from one month ago. I picked it up and threw it into the bin.
I went for lunch at coronation plaza and brought my ticket to the same counter where I bought the ticket from.
“Hi, errm , I think I won something. I said to the lady at the counter.”
The lady fed my ticket into the machine and did a double take at the winnings.
“Hello , you need to go head office to claim prizes more than $5000.” She said.
“Oh, where is the head office ? “ I asked.
She gave me a slip of paper with the address and opening hours. Guess I’ll just head down over lunch the next day then.
My phone rang and it was Sam. I was expecting this call.
He told me his truck got into a bit of accident and his work will be delayed on one of my site.
“Very unlucky leh, your weird phone call about truck hit people, now my truck really hit wall man.” Sam lamented.
I tried to probe a little, asking if he is ok and what happened.
Sam told me he lent his truck to his neighbour where his industrial office is. He got a stroke and crashed the vehicle.
“oh dear, is he ok ? “
“Literally up lorry. Die liao”
“Oh my god..” I said, pretending to be unaware of what is happening.
Sam asked for an extension of his project which I readily agreed. I told him we will sort out the paper work back in office.
5th November 2018
I waited for my queue number to be called and presented my winning ticket. I was showed to a lounge while the staff prepares the cheque for me.
She asked if I would like to make a donation to charity, I declined.
Not because I’m stingy or heartless. It’s because I don’t dare to touch the money. It’s $200000. It’s a large sum. I don’t know if I can touch it.
I honestly don’t know what to do with it.
I’m not exactly a spender and I save almost 50% of my pay cheque every month.
I took the cheque and looked at the number and my name on it. It’s surreal. It’s going to take me 2 years of work plus good bonus and not spending a single cent to get this amount.
I deposited it into my bank account before taking a taxi back to work.
My office has a view of Botanic garden. At least a small section of it anyway. Every couple of hours, I would just look outside, hoping I would see the newspaper seller again.
The days stretched to weeks and I began to experiment with the different combination of circumstances that gave me the chance to meet the newspaper seller.
I met him during my jog on a Friday and the skies were overcast. Then it started to rain.
I started jogging everyday and I did extra laps on Fridays.
When I saw it was going to rain, I immediately changed and ran out if I’m not working. It didn’t matter that it’s 11pm at night, I ran in the rain along the same stretch hoping to see the man but he’s not there.
If I’m in the office and it starts to rain, I will grab an umbrella and walked to the same stretch.
A month went by and I never gave up. There must be a reason why I met that mysterious man.
I refuse to believe something like this is a one-off incident.
21st December 2018
I’m going to go on leave for the last 2 weeks of the year and 21st is my last working day for 2018. The whole office is in the festive mood and my boss, Alvin, asked me out for lunch.
“Eh Jerry, You got lunch plans ? “
“Nope. You want to grab something together ? “ I said while dropping everything I was doing just to look at Alvin and reply.
Alvin is going to retire in a few years time and he’s known to be very temperamental. He used to be in the military before joining the organisation.
He has mellowed down a lot lately. Age catches up with everyone. I guess no matter how bad ass you are, you will reach an age where you finally decide it’s time to take things a bit easy.
Alvin belonged to the generation that demands respect even before he earned it. Not that he doesn’t deserve any but you know, he has that I’m older, therefore you respect me kind of setup in his head. He has issues talking to some of the young hires and always gets me to be the go between.
Not that I’m very old but I guess he sees the different between an early Gen X and the subsequent ones.
The 1st time I was scolded by him was because I replied him while drafting an email without looking at him. He told me off in front of the whole office.
“You look the man in eye when he’s talking to you!”
He said it with a raised voice like I committed some insubordination sin that silenced the whole office. From the corner of my eye I could see a few seniors shaking their head, they probably already placed bets when it would happen to me.
I knew immediately if I said nothing, or rebutted him for the outburst, the issue will escalate.
Saying nothing will only spur him to scold me again. The worse thing I can do is to give him a ‘blur fuck’ expression, pretending that I am unaware of his anger.
To rebut him will be to get on his nerves, thereby exacerbating the situation.
I don’t believe in wasting my breath with people who are not in the right frame of mind to listen. I believe in solving the problem by tackling the root cause.
The warning came as a shock to me, I wasn’t expecting to be treated like this by another adult but whatever. All eyes were on me and I stopped what I was doing and stood up.
I see no merit whatsoever in being macho or talking down to my boss so I apologised immediately.
A simple sorry will not suffice for old timers like Alvin.
‘Sorry’ is what you say, Alvin strikes me as someone who is more interested in what you will do.
I have to hit him back fast without giving him enough time to continue brooding about dumb shit like this.
“I’m sorry. It will not happen again. What was it that you want to discuss again ? ” I said, throwing the ball back to his court.
This way, if he continued scolding me for something trivial, he would be disregarding the task and issue at hand. Things like this drive old birds like Alvin nuts.
There was a 3 second stand off before Alvin asked me to go into his office.
It was all work related from the moment I stepped in and over the years, I learned all his pet peeves and dislikes. It’s one of the reason why I successfully cement my position in the team. Not just because of my academic achievements.
It’s because I knew how to handle Alvin. I knew how far I could push him without him stabbing me with his golden bayonet in his office.
Sometimes I know Alvin wanted to strangle me but he can’t. End of the day, the decisions we make, it’s all for the team.
Alvin has gotten rid of many people over the years but I know I’m here to stay.
I knew I could stay because Alvin don’t hate me like he hates the other scholars. Though I must say, sometimes I wonder if he hated himself since he’s one himself.
Alvin is tan, so tan that he gets mistaken as non-chinese frequently. He goes fishing every weekend and is someone that will feel right at home in the wild or among the green. It’s like the old soldier in him never left.
His temper is his biggest flaw to be honest. He has a very low ignition point and gets triggered easily.
“Let’s go eat at Adam road food centre ?” He said.
“Sure. I thought you didn’t like going there because of the bad exhaust? “ I teased.
“I’m on half day today. I’m heading back after that. Ahha. “
At 1pm sharp, I saw Alvin walk out of his office and I don’t want him to come over to my table to remind me it’s time.
I left the half-written email to a colleague from the ministry and immediately grabbed my wallet and phone.
Alvin drove and he parked at one of the lots outside the food centre along the road where the private houses are. Upon arriving, Alvin remained seated, and he continued talking. We chatted in the car and he asked about work, if I’m happy, basically life in general.
A casual end of the year and I’m about to do your appraisal chat.
I followed his que that he is ready to get out of his car and opened the door.
Just when I thought we can head to the food centre, he pulled out a cigarette and lit up while looking at the way a particular tree is leaning over the road. He started talking about a project that is almost completed.
My stomach was rumbling by then but I knew from experience when a uncle like him starts talking about work, it’s best to let him finish.
I ended up giving him a summary of what happened in the middle of the afternoon sun while waving 2nd hand smoke away from my face. Alvin knew I hated the smell and he did what he could by turning away when he exhale but come on.
I’m literally standing right in front of him, no matter how he turn, the smoke is still getting in my face.
The more we talked about work standing like two dumbasses beside the car under the sun, the longer the impromptu meeting dragged.
Alvin lit up his 3rd cigarette when I saw a police car turn into the narrow road we were on. I’m not sure why but I have a bad feeling. The car slowed down before parking behind us.
I felt my heart skip a beat when I saw Chan and Sulyani alight from the vehicle. I have not seen them since that faithful day and seeing them now felt so surreal.
I’m glad they are ok of course but I immediately looked away and pretended to be checking the tree a distance away while talking to my boss about a dead monitor lizard stinking up a storage shed in the garden.
I waited for a while before turning back and coming face to face with the two officers.
Holding my breath, I was afraid they would recognise me from that day of the incident, but they didn’t.
Sulyani gave me a quick once over but turned her attention to Alvin.
Sulyani and Chan asked what are we doing there.
“why ? what’s the problem officer ? “ Alvin asked
“Just want to know what are you guys doing here “ Sulyani said. “you have been loitering here for sometime and someone made a complaint.”
“Smoking lah ? Cannot smoke here ah ? “ I could see Alvin getting into his defensive and aggressive mode and I quickly butted in.
People at his age hate getting told off, or rather, being told what to do, it didn’t matter if they are right or wrong.
“I’m sorry, we’re leaving right now.” I said while trying to stop Alvin from flaring up. I’ve seen him snap for something as trivia as a biscuit wrapper in the middle of the lake.
The resident of the private estate we are standing beside made a complaint to the police according to Chan. He asked to check our identifications and I could see my boss about to explode.
To him, this is not about the police doing their job. To him, this is two young punks trying to accuse him of something.
Alvin started raising his voice, not at the police, but at me.
“JERRY ! FUCK LA. Rich people…. Afraid to DIE AH. A little bit of 2nd hand smoke also need to call police!. Outside here is public road ok. not their grandfather road AH !”
It may appear that Alvin was talking to me but anyone could see that was meant for the owners of the property who made the complaint.
I could see the expression on Sulyani and Chan’s faces changed and I quickly put up my palms to try and defuse the situation.
Pulling out my lanyard and my staff pass, I explained that we work for Nparks.
I literally had to wrestle my boss’s staff pass from him as he kept trying to make things difficult.
Chan insisted on our IDs and I almost had to rob Alvin for his wallet to hand it over to Chan.
“He’s my boss, bad day for him. We’re done here. We’re going off. Now. like right now… I’m sorry for the trouble.” I said with a smile while trying to drag Alvin away.
I gestured for his cigarette, but that stubborn old fool decided to puff away more vigorously, blowing smoke towards the boundary wall of the house. He’s not taking this well.
Alvin lit up another cigarette, puffing 2 together like a chimmy, determined to fumigate the spot we are standing on.
“Jerry, you scare what ? nothing wrong ? we did nothing wrong !! EH. Public road leh ! you scare what ? ” Alvin said as I continued dragging him away and I could see Sulyani looking at me a little intently.
I think she is trying to recollect where she has seen me before.
“I’m hungry Boss, I got fixed lunch time. If I go back late I will get scolded. My lunch time is 1 to 2 ! “
“What the FUCK la ? . I’m your boss. I’m on half day. you go back late, who the fuck is going to scold you ? “ Alvin said in an agitated manner as he tried to pull his arm away from my hold.
Chan handed our ID back and suggested we leave and not loiter outside the property.
I alternated between pulling him away from the two officers and turning to look at the same guys I saved a month ago.
Sulyani by then had her eyes fixed on me. She was not moving and I could see she was thinking of something. Trying to recall where did she last saw me.
I managed to yank Alvin across the road and head towards the food centre.
“Haiyah !… what’s your problem Jerry… ? No need to be afraid of them. We did nothing wrong !.. “
“Boss, I’m hungry. Now peak hour, very hard to get a seat la. “ I said, dragging him like a mother dragging a stubborn child away from the toy section of the mall.
Upon entering the food centre, Alvin snapped at me.
“arghhhh!. If not for you.. I would have fucked that two young punk up…what the hell. Maybe I should go tell that property owner off also ah…what the fuck..! I think the trees in his property is sick, cut them all down… hazard to public….” He cursed again as I pointed to an empty table, gesturing for him to sit down.
Shaking my head, I went to grab two large mugs of sugarcane juice.
“Suar la, Suar la ( forget it ) . You so old already, still get worked up over this kind of things….for what ? “ I said, pushing the mug of drink over to him.
The frown on his irritated face got a bit better after the down a large gulp of the cold drink.
Alvin wanted prawn noodles and I told him I’ll get the same thing.
After a short wait, I was about to tuck into my bowl of noodles when I saw Sulyani and Chan coming into the food centre.
I don’t think they are there for us, they’re probably there to grab lunch too but they saw us. Or rather, Alvin saw them.
Sulyani and Chan did not see us initially, they went to get their own lunch and I started praying when I saw them looking around for seats. It just so happened that the table beside us decide to get up.
“not here, not here, please not here.” I mumbled under my breath.
Fate has a way of playing with people and as luck would have it, Sulyani and Chan set their food down on the table beside us.
Alvin set his utensils down in a defiant manner and started a staring match. I had to bite down on my tongue in order not to roll my eyes.
“Boss, come on la ! You 61, not 16 ! stare for what ? “
“ Eh Jerry, you something wrong ah. Why you so scare of police ? Stare only what ? Which law in Singapore say you cannot stare at police ? I curious about them what…. They handsome and pretty….“
Sulyani and Chan looked at Alvin as they cautiously scooped rice into their mouth. They must be wondering what is this man’s problem.
“haiyah… just eat your..” I could not bring myself to finish talking when my eyes saw a familiar sight.
I literally froze mid-sentence as I too dropped my utensils.
Right across the circular food centre, walking table to table, is the same old man I saw selling newspaper in the park the other day. I blinked a couple of times just to be sure it’s him and not someone who looked like him.
“Oei Jerry, Jerry. “ Alvin called out to me but I slowly stood up and I looked at the man going from table to table to peddle his newspaper.
He was wearing a cap pulled down low but I know it’s him
The man looked up and our eyes met. He broke into a knowing smile, as if the two of us shared some secret nobody else knows.
My suddenly change in behaviour caught Sulyani’s attention as well and she too, followed the direction where I was looking.
“Jerry, eh, Jerry….Oei… what’s wrong with you… ?” My boss called out to me but I did not reply him.
“Boss sorry, i… I … I saw someone I know… give me a minute…” I said as I started walking towards the man.
The newspaper seller turned and started walking out of the food centre. He just walked out.
I chased after him, coming out into a busy car park with cars lining up and waiting for a lot.
Turning my head around, I saw the newspaper seller walking towards the direction where we parked our car.
“hey ! HEY!” I shouted as I ran towards him.
I caught up to him in time and I’m right.
It’s the man.
It’s the same man I saw in the park.
“Oh my god. Fuck.. oh my god… how ? “ I asked while panting to catch my breath. Panting not from the short run, but from the sheer excitement of meeting him again.
“what how? Jerry “ He said with a grin.
“How did you do that? How ? “ I asked as I shook his frail body, getting a little agitated.
“I’m just a newspaper seller Jerry…” He said while keeping up his smile.
I had enough of this smoke and mirrors and magic, or whatever you want to call it.
The one man that could answer all the questions that was keeping me up all night is now smiling and playing dumb with me. He knew what I was trying to ask him.
I think I snapped and lost it for a moment, turning aggressive. It was unlike of me to behave in that manner.
I’m always calm and not many people can flip that switch but this man. This man could.
I could see it in his smile, he’s taunting me. Taunting me with something that he knew I wanted.
I wanted to know.
I want to know what is this all about.
I walked so close to him, speaking to him in his face like I’m about to pick a fight. I don’t know why but I could feel myself boiling the longer he takes to answer my question.
It’s like I’m turning into another man altogether.
“how… the fuck did you do that ? the newspaper, how did you do that?
The old man shove me back with both hands, causing me to go backwards and stepping onto the road. There are no incoming cars along the road but that flipped a switch in me.
It was a deliberate attempt to make me angry but by the time I realised it, it was too late.
I recovered and grabbed him by his shirt with both hands.
“what is your problem !” I was literally growling at him only to see him putting on his meek and helpless mask while facing my aggressiveness.
By the time I recovered and calm down three seconds later, I turned and looked around me to see several horrified faces staring at me.
Several passer bys are passing judgemental looks on my behaviour. An adult manhandling an old man.
Sulyani, who for some reason, decided to run out of the food centre after me when I came out.
And of course, my boss Alvin too, who just saw me shake down and bully an old man.
“ bloody hell… and I thought I’m the uncivilised one” He commented. “ Jerry… what’s happening.”
Sulyani walked across the road and pointed a warning finger at me.
“let go of him.” She warned.
I quickly let go of the old man, suddenly conscious of my own actions.
Sulyani looked at my boss and me before asking what is our problem.
“First is your boss, now …you…. Is there something going on here ?” She asked with her hands on her hips.
Sulyani looked so pretty up close that I didn’t know how to react. Her complexion is so smooth and fair. Her eyes are electrifying to look at. I seriously doubt any men can look at her in the eye and not be seduced instantly.
“Uncle are you ok ? “ Sulyani said “Is he bothering you Uncle ? “ She asked while shooting a glare at me with that electrifying pair of eyes, her hands going awfully near her taser gun.
“I’m just here to sell papers.” The newspaper seller smiled and tried to offer Sulyani a copy. “ would you like a copy ? “
“ok sure…” she replied.
“NO!” I said, my voice louder than usual, i grabbed the newspaper from her hands. “ I’ll buy it. I’ll BUY IT ALL..”
I pulled out a fifty dollar bill from my wallet and gave it to the seller, taking all the newspaper from him. All 4 copies of it.
Sulyani stared at me as if I’m mad and I tucked the papers under my arms, determined to shield them from prying eyes.
“dude …Jerry, you ok bo ? “ My boss asked in shock at my behaviour.
He has never seen me behave like this before.
Lighting up a cigarette, the newspaper seller blew out a cloud of smoke towards me before adding with a grin.
“I hope you enjoy the read” Turning to Sulyani, the old man tipped his cap before saying something that didn’t make sense at all to her. “Thank you, Officer Sulyani, glad to see you well..”
It was something only the both of us knew.
The man knew.
He knew I read the newspaper and I did something about it.
The man tipped his cap again at Sulyani and started to walk away.
I told my boss I need to take half a day off urgently and I started running away towards the direction of my place.
“Are you ok Jerry ? what’s wrong ? “ Alvin shouted at me as I continued running and turning backwards to look at him and Sulyani with a puzzled expression on their faces.
“JERRY!, are you ok ?! Hey ? ” My boss shouted and Sulyani’s eyes never left me.
Turning around to answer Alvin, I saw the change in expression on Sulyani’s face. She finally recalled who I am and where she saw me. I can’t deal with this now, I quickly replied my boss and picked up my pace.
“I’m fine !, just need to read the papers! “ I shouted.
I ran all the way back home and immediately spread the 4 copies of papers on the dining table.
“oh fuck” I panted in disbelief as I looked at the 4 copies of paper.
The publication dates of the 4 papers are the same.
However, the headlines are different.
A suicide, a murder, an accident and a bad fall.
I glance through the headlines and a smile broke slowly on my face.
“Fuck, I love a challenge.”