James was raised by an elderly lady with no blood relations. Little did he know she is safe keeping a secret, one that will take both of them on an adventure of their life time.
*This is a non-erotic title*
Every Friday evening, i will make my way to an old estate in Redhill. It was a routine i have stuck with since i was 10 years old.
I will walk to the hawker centre, buy dinner for two, and go my Ah Ma’s place across the road. Now this Ah Ma, or grandma, is not my maternal, nor paternal grandmother.
We are not related by blood but i call her Ah Ma, and i treat her like my own grandmother. Her name is Joan, she’s Indian, and a Catholic. Our paths first crossed when i tried to shoplift in a mama shop she operated.
I was caught red handed but instead of calling the police or informing my teachers, she sat me down and asked me why i did it.
I did not steal sweets, or stickers or chocolates. I stole a loose packet of instant noodles that was being sold for 20 cents.
I told her i was hungry, and there are no food at home.
Well i come from a really dysfunctional family, typical drunkard dad, and hardcore gambling mother. It was a miracle i survived until 10 years old in that environment to be honest.
Joan shut the stall early and walked me home. I thought she was going to tell my parents what i did, but when she saw my dad lying on the floor with puke all over his body, she just lowered herself to my height and told me these exact words.
Joan : From now on, if you are hungry, you come to me you understand?
Ah Ma Joan has this typical fierce grouchy look on her face when she doesn’t smile. Most people’s first impression of her will be that she is a nasty lady. There is a permanent frown on her face and her eyebrows are always wrinkled.
Joan never smiles but if you make the effort to look into those eyes of hers, you will find that there is nothing but kindness through that window into her soul.
I started going to her mama shop once or twice a week when my parents did not give me money for food. The food Joan gave me is not for free, she made me work for them. I helped out by doing simple chores, arranging snacks, unpacking boxes. And if i had spelling or homework, she made sure i finish them before i helped her out.
I started going there more regularly because for the first time in my life, i experienced what it meant to be loved unconditionally. It may seem like Ah ma is treating me like child labor, hiring me for mere cents but i know it’s not about that even at that age. She is trying to teach me something, about money, about dealing with people, about building relationship with the neighbours.
We’re not related by blood, she could have left me alone to my own demise, but lucky for me, she saw something in me. With Joan’s encouragement, i scraped through PSLE despite being a regular low performer in school.
It didn’t take long for my family circumstances to worsen.
My dad disappeared, my mum remarried and i was on my own by 14 years old. If not for my Indian Ah ma, i honestly have no idea what to do.
Joan was there was me every step of the way, she was the reason i did not end up in social service’s door step. She paid for everything, every damm thing. My uniforms, my school bag, stationaries, even the bills for the flat that my parents simply abandoned.
Without Ah ma Joan, i would probably be in jail, or six feet underground by now.
I am 28 this year, and Joan is still operating her small mama shop in Redhill under her block. I would have visited her everyday but Joan was adamant that i don’t feel obligated to take care of her.
She will scold me like an angry Indian lady who refuse to wear her mask in the middle of a pandemic if i visit her too often. I know she meant well, she wants me to go on with my life, to date, get married. She wants me to know i owe her nothing.
Joan : I’m just a stranger to you James. There’s no need for you to do this.
Joan’s husband and son died in a car accident even before i was born. She had a hard life and perhaps it was circumstances like these that hardened her into the woman she is today. She takes no nonsense from anyone, not drunk men demanding to buy alcohol, not underage smokers who threatened her for refusing to sell them tobacco products, not even the town council staff who told her to shift her shelves within the boundaries of her shop.
She will literally snap their head off like a crocodile.
Deep down though, i know she’s a softie. She is that kind grandmother everyone ought to have growing up.
While life may be cruel to her emotionally, she’s rather well to do in the financial sense. She lives in a HDB flat, people live in 3 room, 4 room, or even 5 room flats, but not my ah ma.
My Indian Ah ma, lives in a 7 room HDB flat. Yes, it’s a corner 4 room merged with the immediate 3 room unit beside it. Joan’s house is clean, immaculately neat and she has a few rooms lined with artefacts and paintings.
She told me they belonged to her husband and she just kept them tidy. I’ve never been interested in those stuff and i never took much notice of them. Most of the time i spent with Joan was in her kitchen, where we will cook and share a meal together. There is one room however, it was kept locked all the time.
She never opened the door, not even once. When i asked her what was inside there, she just said storage of old stuff. Then she would change the topic regarding the room immediately. I could tell she don’t want me to ask about it, and i stopped asking. Everytime i walk past that room though, it felt as if i have the chills. Like there is some sort of weird energy that affects me in ways i can’t even say.
That day, like every Friday, i made my way to Joan’s flat. I bought her favourite oyster omelette and was looking forward to share it with her over a can of cold beer. The skies are overcast and there seemed to be this layer of smog in the air, like the haze are back in the country.
Arriving at the level she stayed on, i was surprised to see two men with fully tattooed arms at her door. They were knocking on the door with their fists, demanding that Ah ma open up and let them in.
Hock : JOAN! OPEN UP!
Soon : Just give us the idol and we will go!
James : HEY!…get away from the door…
I called out to the two men from the other end of the corridor.
They turned and looked at me and the moment eye contact were made, one could just feel the tension in the air like two rival gangs staring each other down.
You see, with such an introduction, one would assume i grew up well, graduated from university and got myself a good job working in the office in a suit and tie.
Well, i did grow up well, i tried my best to keep out of fights and trouble. i stayed away from drugs, and i love my Ah ma. She kept me out of trouble but while she tamed and calmed the beast in me, the fact that i’m a broken child from a dysfunctional family never changed.
There has always been this bad boy streak in me that is looking to rear it’s head whenever i get the chance.
I did graduate from a university, but i didn’t work in the office.
Hock : mind your own fucking business…
Soon : Joan, open up!
I hung the packet of oyster omelette on a rusty, exposed nail on the wall and removed my watch from my equally tattooed arms.
Hock walked towards me aggressively and i matched his pace, making a straight path towards him with a grin on my face.
You see, Joan wanted me to work in an office, but i ended up working in a ring.
A fighting ring that is.
Ah Ma knew i enjoyed getting into a scuffle, instead of steering me away from violence, she made me contain them in a ring. Contain it within an area of less than 40 SQM.
I was good at what i did, and i got into the national boxing team. When i’m not fighting, i help organise activities and training for junior boxers with the sports council.
I was no stranger to fighting, and neither was Hock from the way he moved. We threw punches at each other like seasoned boxers, left hooks, jabs and uppercuts. We weaved in and out of each other’s reach. I even managed to land an upper cut on his chin that knocked him off balance momentarily.
I sent a knee into Hock’s stomach and he collasped onto his butt. Turning my attention to his friend, i gestured for him to come for his share with a cocky hook of my left index finger.
Instead of taking up the offer, he remained stationary and just stared at me.
Hock bounced up and came at me again.
This time, he came low with wild swinging punches. I found the right time to land a kick, which i felt was rather hard. It got me worried that i might have fracture one of his fingers since he used his hand to block the attack.
When Hock lifted his left hand i saw three fingers that looked a little out of shape but instead of howling in pain like what a normal person would , he just stared at his dislocated fingers.
James: i’m so sorry, i cannot control my strength sometimes.
I was about to offer to call an ambulance when Hock did something that blew my mind. His mangled fingers twitched and move on their own before they fell of his hand like they unscrewed itself.
My eyes widened in horror as i looked at the three digits on the floor like a lizard just shed it’s fucking tail.
James: What the fuck…
As if that sight itself was not horrifying enough, his entire hand fell off, revealing what appears to be a rotting stump of pus covered flesh.
James : eeeww!
I stepped back and tried to recall if i’m in the middle of a nightmare.
Suddenly Joan’s door threw open and i heard the crack of a whip. It sliced into Soon’s back and cut him apart like he was a wobbly piece of tofu. Without breaking a sweat, the whip was swung on top of Hock’s head and he too, deflated like a balloon out of air.
I blinked several times at the two men who just disappeared into thin air and then back at my Ah Ma. The quiet, unassuming woman who has raised me since the age of 10.
Joan looked at me, panting with exhaustion as i tried to digest what just happened.
James : What the fuck was that?
And in her typical snappy way, Joan warned me that if i used that language in her house, she will bend me over and give me a smacking i’ll never forget.
Joan : You’ve always been curious about the locked room James…come in…it’s time you knew…