Story by Lee Su Min
One Mistake Is Enough
It is not uncommon to take a cruise-to-nowhere whenever your love affair ends, this is one of the ways to distract ourselves. In life you are allowed to make any petition to God, God is bound to answer as He is entirely in charge.
And so Lily decided to put her faith in God and to put her life in His hands. She booked herself on the Pacific Affair Cruise anchoring at the port of Phu My, the gateway to Ho Chi Minh City. It was a seven-day cruise and frankly all she wanted was to test God, to see if He would bring her through to the end of the voyage. Lily couldn’t swim, so if the ship sank at any time during the voyage her life would not be spared, and that was even provided that she was not the first one to die.
So she packed her suitcase and arranged for all her bills to be paid by direct debiting from her bank account. The credit card bill she settled in advance so that she would have sufficient credit advance in her account to do shopping.
It turned out that the Wong family and another couple Pierre and Miss Fiona were the only two other Singaporean families on board the Pacific Affair Cruise. Lily felt isolated, as she was the only one without a companion. She had meant to use this cruise as a chance to finish reading Jeffrey Archer’s ‘Best Kept Secret’ and also be alone, to reflect on her past and to make some New Year resolutions.
Lily haven't been on a cruise before so when she packed she considered the swimming costume. After she tried it on she was surprised to find that she could still fit into it. But then she told myself that if she ever needed to swim she must have had landed herself in the high seas in which case she won't have time to put on the her costume anyway. Then she packed it thinking that maybe she could use it for sunbathing on the open decks. Lily saw herself lying on a deckchair amidst a group of ladies in bikinis. It was a mistake.
At the line-up to board the ship Lily already saw Miss Fiona. She was wearing a black beaded top and a flared skirt with tiny glittering sequins embedded all over. Decorated with more than ten (she didn't manage to count the exact number) silver and gold bangles on each hand she looked like an Egyptian lady. Her face though pretty was small so her features have the tendency to squeeze into the heart shaped face.
Miss Fiona noticed that Lily was looking at her but preferred to look away instead of greeting her even though they were in the queue for the same cruise liner. It was a little unfriendly since chances were that they would meet again later. Lily thought of her companion the man in a plain orange T-shirt with jeans a rather good looking chap. They looked obviously incompatible. For a moment Lily felt sorry for him and wondered what made him marry her in the first place. She assumed that they were married.
By the time they checked in it was time for dinner. Lily did not forget to take ‘Jeffrey Archer’ with her to the dining room. When she arrived at the Mediterranean Restaurant she was surprised to find their names written on cards and placed on the table, which gave the them no chance to choose their own seats. Lily was alone so she didn’t really mind, and as the experience was new she hasn’t made any enemies yet. In case anyone wanted to ask her for her resume she was ready to sell him any one of the listings she had. Lily earned a living as a real estate agent.
As Lady Luck would have it, the Egyptian Lady sat down next to Lily. Lily glanced at the name card and saw the name ‘Mrs. Fiona Yee’. So this was Miss Fiona! Lily told myself she must not be rude to her in case she turned out to be her next buyer or seller. Her husband the attractive man sat next to her.
Lily found that throughout dinner the man and Miss Fiona never spoke a word to each other. The diner on her other side was a Japanese man who concentrated on the food in front of him. Before each dish was served he would pick up the menu placed in the centre of the table to see first what it was. When Lily heard him speak in Japanese she decided to give the acquaintance a miss.
The second day.
Coffee was bitter and as Lily took her last sip a man appeared by her side.
“Want some sugar?” He offered.
Lily looked around and she saw the attractive man, but couldn’t find Miss Fiona.
“She is not married to me,” as though reading her thoughts the gentleman said,
“My name is Pierre.”
“Oh ok, I am Lily,” she replied, a little reluctantly.
Lily wasn’t planning on befriending the couple since she sensed that Miss Fiona was not willing.
“Why are you telling me this?” Lily asked.
Lily remembered Miss Fiona being addressed as “Mrs. Yee” on the name card so how could this man not be married to Miss Fiona?
Just to confirm Lily asked, “Are you Mr. Yee?”
“Yes,” Pierre answered.
“Your wife is very pretty,” Lily said, just to clarify that she has no other intentions.
Instead of which this man said, “But I am not in love with her.”
“So you want me to help you get rid of your wife?” by now Lily thought that she was reading Pierre.
“Ah, you are beginning to make sense,” he said.
So Lily said, “I am not sure I can help you,” she became a little cold.
This man wanted something from her, and she was not sure how he was going to reward her for her efforts.
“How long have you been married?” Lily was not interested in the man but she was interested in his story. Lily liked gossip.
“Less than three months. We were supposed to consummate our marriage but it is almost impossible on the cruise so I have given up.”
At this point Pierre suddenly looked quite vexed.
Then Lily said, “The simplest thing to do is to ask your lawyer to serve her a letter.”
Pierre changed the topic, “Listen, do you want to spend the evening with me, if you want we can adjourn to the deck area.”
Lily had nothing better to do for the night except the movie that was going to be shown at the theatre ‘The Crossing’ so she went along with Pierre.
“Fine with me,” Lily said.
Pierre took the lead and he walked three steps ahead of Lily so that they didn’t look like they were together. Finally, they reached the open air and he took out a chair from those neatly arranged on a stack. Pierre placed it next to a table and he went and pulled out another one. It had been raining and the furniture was meant to dry out in the sun.
After Pierre saw that there was no more water collected on the seat he sat down. Lily knew that this might take them another hour. But as far as Lily was concerned she was not running away from anybody or any situation. Lily was a free woman. So she was relaxed. Lily has surrendered to God.
“Are you married?” Pierre asked.
So this was what it was all about!
Lily got fed up. This man wanted to sleep with her, and he didn’t want his wife to know about it. She smirked and her expression gave her away.
“No, it is not what you think,” Pierre urged. The urgency in his voice made Lily a little uneasy.
“I want you to pretend to be having an affair with me,” he said.
“If you don’t have a husband it makes the affair a whole lot easier,” Pierre continued.
“Pretend?” Lily looked at him.
“Yes, go to the dining room with me and we act like we are a couple.”
“How do you explain this to Miss Fiona?” that immediately sprung to Lily’s mind. She was still thinking of the unfriendly woman.
“She won’t be there,” he said.
“Why not?” Lily asked.
“Don’t worry, she has gone to the cinema,” Pierre offered.
Lily felt a little relieved, as she didn’t want to be mistaken for stealing another woman’s husband. In any case she was not very good at it.
Frankly speaking, Lily was a little excited by this proposal and she wanted to give it a try. After two days she was beginning to get a little bit bored by the monotony of this voyage. No one else here seemed to speak the Singaporean language.
“What time is dinner?” Lily decided to take the initiative. Pierre looked at his Rolex watch and grinned.“ Thanks for the cooperation,” he said.
When they stepped into the dinning lounge, Pierre did not forget to put his arm around Lily’s shoulder to suggest that they were a couple and she rather liked his attention. As they sat down to dinner, they were introduced to the Wongs. Lily did not forget that she has eczema so she told Pierre.
Pierre removed the prawns from her plate and enjoyed them thoroughly eating her portion. No one else at the table spoke to them. Most of them spoke Japanese and green tea was the only beverage served at the table. Lily offered Pierre her Tiramisu cake and in return Pierre promised to walk her back to her cabin.
Lily was surprised that Pierre did not attempt to hold her hand along the corridor, then she rationalized that he didn’t need to, as she was only his pretend wife, and now that there wasn’t anyone around there was no need to display any form of intimacy. Lily walked with him to the end of the corridor where her cabin was situated.
Then she waited to see if he would want to come in but Pierre merely said, “Wait for me to come around tomorrow morning before you go down for breakfast, I’ll knock on your door.”
Disappointed, Lily nodded her head to signal agreement and saw that he walked back to his cabin.
The third day.
The entire day went by with just Pierre and she. They walked from starboard to port and then port to starboard after they had climbed the stairs. The carpets on each deck were different so that the passengers could distinguish the decks and find their way easily.
It took quite a while for Lily to orientate herself that the left was port and the right was starboard. There was a gift shop on the mezzanine level and she used that as a compass point. Several times she was tempted to walk in to browse around. There was a piece of jade displayed on the glass case by the side of the shop so from the outside you could spot it. The item that she really liked was a jade pendant hanging from a gold chain. The chain itself was 22 carat gold, which put the price up and she couldn’t buy the pendant without the gold chain.
Yesterday she had gone in to try to bargain with the salesgirl but the girl refused to lower the price. Now every time she walked past she couldn’t help peering at it and today she went in again hoping that the salesgirl would decide to reduce the price.
In the third evening, Lily tossed and turned in the small confined space. Throughout the night she was wondering if she had made a mistake agreeing with Pierre entering into this play. Now that the stage was set and she had been chosen as the lead actress it seemed she could not back out. But where was Miss Fiona? Being on the high seas alone in the cabin could be a lonely affair.
Then Lily thought of going up to the deck to take in some fresh air but it was dark and it was quite a long way up there. Lily was not worried about her safety, as on a cruise everyone was stuck on the ship, any intelligent criminal would know that he couldn’t get away with it. So she simply got herself going with the hot water from the kettle. Lily slept only between 3:00 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., when she heard the loud knocking on her cabin door she knew that she had woken up late.
“What happened to you?”, the moment she opened the door she saw the well-dressed Pierre.
On the fourth day.
This morning Pierre was wearing a Ralph Lauren polo shirt. He looked fresh and ready to take on a new day whereas Lily was still drowsy as she had only four hours sleep. Lily told him to wait for her as she took her shower and got changed.
Once out in the open Pierre put his arm on Lily’s shoulder again. This time she was already prepared for the gesture but she was just wondering what he was doing with Miss Fiona the night before.
Did he sleep with her in that small cabin space?
Lily shrugged the thought away as Pierre offered her coffee. They were late so the usual familiar faces were absent from the table.
Already they were into the fourth day of the voyage and it was getting a little boring. Lily still hasn’t started on ‘Jeffrey Archer’. The program for the day did not quite excite her either. All she wanted to accomplish at the end of this voyage was to acquire the jade pendant. She really liked the green and the design on the piece. The price of the item had exceeded her credit limit and on high seas there was no line to call her banker in Singapore.
They walked around after breakfast and they drifted into the casino. In the mornings it was closed so they tried the fruit machines. There were at least twenty on display you had no clue which one was going to give you money. The fruit machine was probably designed for the laziest gamblers for all you do is to pull at the handle.
Whether you got a win or not depended entirely on the chance which was preprogramed on the sets. No one was there so Lily was allowed to choose whichever machine she fancied. She arrived at one and she tugged at it. A whole lot of coins spilled out. They came pouring out until the machine was tired and satisfied. Lily was stunned until she realized that she had to bring the money to the cashier to change them into paper currency.
Pierre promptly got a bag and helped her to collect the coins and brought them to the man. They shared the proceeds and for a moment they were happy. Then they automatically walked up to the promenade again.
The sea breeze was refreshing and Lily felt at peace with nature. She looked into the deep sea and for the first time she realized that the colour of the sea was black. Lily stared into its depth and followed the rhythm of the waves pushing forward and backwards. The motion of the sweeping seawater was mesmerizing.
Lily let the sound of the smooth running engine program her brains into sleep mode and once again she surrendered herself to God. She told Him that if He wanted to take her now He could do so. Lily would have died without regrets. Her parents had left her a long time ago and she had no siblings and no more immediate relatives. She did not have anyone to whom she must give account.
Life went on and Lily would just let Him lead her. She looked at the horizon far beyond and she could only feel the light wind blowing at her face. There was nothing but the sea in front of her so that she could not even fix an image of the scenery in front of her. For a moment she had forgotten about everyone that she knew before she boarded the ship.
“What are you thinking of?”
And then suddenly Lily realized that she was not standing there alone. It was Pierre. Pierre was her friend now and she have him to account to.
“Do you want to hear my story?” He opened up.
“Sure, if you have something to tell me,” Lily said.
He went straight into the heart of the matter and said as a matter of fact,
“I want to divorce her but I don’t want to give her half of my money.”
Lily thought to herself. Nonetheless she allowed Pierre to continue. But he said nothing. There were only the two of them now and she guessed Pierre trusted her enough to give her his thoughts. But what could she say? Splitting the matrimonial assets was part and parcel of divorce or annulment whatever you call it and she couldn’t help him there.
So Lily asked the next logical question, “Do you have a lot of money?”
“I own ‘Rendell Properties’”.
‘Rendell Properties’ was one of the estate agencies in Singapore and also the largest. Lily did try applying for a job there but she was late for the interview so she lost the job. Lily took a deep breath, and she started to think how wonderful it would be if she could take over his relationship with his wife from here. At that time, Lily still felt that it was wishful thinking.
“You are getting there now,” Pierre finally gave her a wicked smile.
Lily looked away pretending to be disinterested. If Pierre wanted her to replace his wife it would be for him to make the first move. The wind was blowing at them and Lily allowed Pierre to use his hand to tidy up her long hair. He pulled them to one side and pushed them to the front. And then they continued to stand there for a long time until it was time for dinner again.
They were one of the first guests to arrive. Their usual table was half full and she saw that the Singaporean family was already there. Lily still hadn’t sorted out which one of the two men is related to the girl with short permed hair.
This time the older of the two was seated next to her. She gave them a smile and they sat down on her left.
Pierre took the seat beside her and he helped her with the napkin. Lily looked around for Miss Fiona but couldn’t find her. When the waiter started serving the dishes she appeared at the door, saw Pierre, and she walked to the other dining table. Lily could see that their relationship was already estranged. Her conscience was now clear.
As usual after food Pierre walked Lily by the starboard. They passed the gift shop and Lily was happy to see that the piece of jade was still there. It sat quietly among the other items but somehow she felt that it did not belong there. It was too beautiful and exquisite to be among the rest of the semi-precious stones.
This jade was real; it was a collectors’ item not easily found in jewel shops. Lily was surprised that the gift shop was selling it. But that was not her concern. If she liked it she would just buy it off the shelf. The fact was that Lily couldn’t afford it. It was selling at thirteen thousand five hundred and sixty U.S. dollars. Lily looked at it and decided that it was no use going in to ask the salesgirl for the price again. She already said that all items were at fixed price.
Lily turned to Pierre and he was looking at the same thing. “Fancy the jade?” surprisingly he asked.
“Yes, it’s very nice.” Lily commented.
On the fifth day.
At 7:30 a.m., Lily waited for Pierre to come around before she went out for breakfast even though he did not instruct her when he sent her to her cabin the night before. It had become a habit for them to be together. Miss Fiona was out of Pierre’s life for now.
Lily didn’t know why Miss Fiona agreed to come on to this cruise with Pierre in the first place. In any case, Lily was sure that Pierre was keeping tap on her so she needn’t worry. Pierre and Miss Fiona were still sharing the same cabin. Lily doubted if the ship had another spare room for Miss Fiona to move out to. By now most of the people on board saw Pierre and Lily as a couple and she doubted if anyone bothered about their non-existent affair. Lily was not Pierre’s mistress until she slept with him.
“Don't tell lies,” suddenly Lily heard a man’s voice, loud and angry.
Lily turned around and she saw one of the people in the other Singaporean group. She recognized him as being the father of the one with permed hair. His name was Chai. There were three of them and she never got around to saying hello. Lily looked at the girl and she seemed distinctly miserable.
What did she lie about?
Lily inclined her ear ready to take in the other part of the conversation.
“I am sure you have lost it,” Chai said to the girl.
“Shall I put up an advertisement?” the girl asked.
“Whatever for? The thief won't return it,” Chai paused for a while then continued.
“Forget about it,” Chai waved his hand dismissively and put the conversation to an end.
But the girl still looked dazed as if struggling to recollect her thoughts. Lily was tempted to go up and console her. Obviously she lost something valuable.
The opportunity came for Lily to talk to the girl when she was alone with the girl at the dining table. The rest of the diners at the table together with her father Chai had gone to collect food at the buffet table. Pierre had gone to the restroom.
Lily leaned over to the girl and began, “I heard you lost something ....”
“Yeah, it belonged to my mother,” the girl did not attempt to hide.
Then the girl suddenly grabbed Lily’s hand, “Can you help me find it?”
Startled, Lily quickly said, “What is it?”
“It is my mother's jewellery,” the girl replied.
“I know it is your mother's jewellery, but what item is it?" Lily was impatient to find out the damage, not that she thought she could help her.
“My mother passed away last Christmas, it was Christmas Eve, everywhere was playing ‘Silent Night’ and she would have been forty-seven on Christmas Eve.”
“That was young,” Lily couldn't help making the remark.”
“What did she die of?" Lily ventured a guess, “Cancer?”, it being the most prevalent cause of death nowadays.
The girl seemed lost in her thoughts, then she added, “My dad was having another woman.”
“Ah I get it. This woman stole your mother's jewellery.”
“Yes, I think so, maybe that is why my father couldn't care less.”
“So how are you going to get it back?” Lily next logical question.
“I have no idea," with that they ended the conversation.
On the sixth day.
By now it seemed certain that the marriage between Pierre and Miss Fiona had irretrievably broken down. When Lily walked passed the gift shop with Pierre in the afternoon again Pierre brought her inside. He took out a credit card from his wallet and he gave it to the salesgirl.
“No need to wrap,” Pierre said and the salesgirl took the jade from the glass case.
“I knew that it would look nice on you,” he commented after he put it around her neck.
“I knew that it would look nice on you,” he commented after he put it around her neck. The salesgirl said, “We don’t issue receipts for credit card transactions since it is already recorded on the card.”
“Now we don’t have to keep coming here,” Pierre turned to Lily.
No one has ever bought Lily such an expensive present. Lily felt a little awkward as such an item would not justify a small cruise ship. This was not the Titanic. Besides it didn’t go with her cheap clothes.
They drifted to the promenade once again and as Lily allowed herself to lean on the railings. Pierre took out his iPhone, “There, let me take a picture of you,” using the camera he took a shot.
There was no harm in it, Lily thought.
Lily suddenly felt like a queen and she couldn’t believe her good fortune.
Could this man have fallen for me? What did I do to deserve this? And what did he see in me? I haven’t even put on my swimsuit, so it could not have been my figure.
Lily wanted to ask Pierre to send her a copy of the photograph he took of her, but she felt it best not to, in case he accused her of being insincere. She was just too happy about the state of affairs.
I have caught a big fish!
Lily felt like a new bride as she stepped into the dining room with Pierre. She was sure that once the ship docked at Ho Chih Min City he would pop the question.
From there they could just take a flight back to Singapore to get married. Of course Pierre would have to annul his marriage first. But that won’t take too long.
As Lily was dreaming away she heard Lyn’s voice,
“Dad, this is mom’s pendant!” Lily looked at her and realized that she was referring to her jade.
Horror and paralysis seized Lily instantly. At once she knew that she had been framed. If Lily said that Pierre gave her this pendant, then she would have to disclose the fact that they were together. Lily did not set up to seduce Pierre. She looked at Pierre and waited for him to say something but he refused to look at her. Why did Pierre not own up himself?
He could have broadcast the fact that he bought her this item from the gift shop. He had her picture in his iPhone. That would be sufficient evidence that it was acquired legitimately. Did he still want Miss Fiona? Lily sat there wondering and praying to God at the same time.
Pierre was completely silent. Then Lily realized that the jade was stolen property and that was why no receipt was issued. So Pierre knew it and hence did not want to confess to the purchase.
Did he know that beforehand?
Was he the one who stole it from Lyn?
If he stole it why would he pay for it again?
And if he did he won’t have told Lily to wear it. There was no reason for him to frame Lily. Someone else stole it from Lyn and Pierre had paid for it. So the only person who could stand as Lily’s alibi would be the salesgirl. But she was nowhere to be found. The gift shop was closed. All eyes were on Lily waiting for her to confess to a crime that she did not commit.
No, I can’t do this. Lily told God.
In a fit of rage, Lily put her hands behind her neck and unhooked the gold chain. She took the pendant down and put it on the dining table. She had nothing to say. Pierre had betrayed her. He refused to defend Lily and to admit that he bought it for her from the gift shop. That would have exonerated Lily from culpability straight away. No, it would appear as though she stole it from Lyn.
How it was stolen Lily had no idea for she did not do it. But only Pierre, the salesgirl and herself knew that Lily was not the culprit. Pierre still refused to look at Lily. She became enraged and her hands were trembling,
“You can have it back.” Lily shouted.
That was all she said before she left the dining table and stormed off into the open deck to greet the night breeze.
In a daze Lily walked towards the promenade. She pushed open the heavy door and found that it was raining. The wind was strong and she found herself fighting it to walk straight. The deck outside was wet and Lily had no idea if she were on the port or the starboard. She walked on even though she knew that she was heading nowhere. This was a ship, after a while she would have to turn back and walk along the other side of the deck.
Thank God no one was after her. They must have gone back to their dinner after having solved the mystery.
They might even decide to call the police to arrest me.
Lily recalled the events that took place. If Pierre didn’t give a statement she would be found guilty. Lily wished she hadn’t accepted this gift from Pierre. She couldn’t have afforded it in the first place.
Why has God done this to me?
Lily decided that she could still go back to the cabin. She walked around the deck until she found the gift shop again, and then she used it as a reference point to walk to her cabin. The shop had a sign with the word ‘Closed’ displayed. Once inside her cabin she opened her luggage and she found her swimming costume. Lily put it on with determination. In the small toilet she could only see the upper half of her body.
Then she grabbed her raincoat and pulled it over her body and she walked out again. The sky was dark. It must have been after 8:00 p.m. No one saw her walking around as she tried to find her way to the promenade again.
There! This was the spot where Pierre took my picture, just next to the flags.
Lily stood there for a while, and then she sat down on the wet floor. Her clothes were wet anyway by now. The rain still hasn’t stopped. And then Lily got up, this time to punish her creator. Lily wanted to look at the colour of the sea again. She dropped the raincoat and leaned her body against the railings of the ship and felt the rain coming down on her face. Then with some difficulty she climbed over.
Back at the dining table, when Lily did not turn up after half an hour, Miss Fiona came up and sat next to Pierre.
“She is gone now,” the woman said.
“Where is my money?” Pierre asked.
“How much did you pay for it?” Chai replied.
“Thirteen thousand five hundred and sixty U.S. dollars,” Pierre recounted.
“And where is the jade?” Miss Fiona asked.
“Here,” Lyn said, picking it up from the table.
“Return it to the gift shop,” Pierre ordered.
The police never came. They were not involved.
The Pacific Affair Cruise sailed on and finally docked at the harbour.
Only one passenger was missing which was Lily. But no one knew when and how it happened. There was no suspicion of foul play as everyone witnessed the ugly scene just the night at the Mediterranean Restaurant. In any case, there was no next-of-kin from Lily when she failed to come back with the cruise.
The State Coroner commented that Lily’s affairs were conveniently tied up but still could not record a verdict of suicide as no body was found. Neither was natural disaster a cause of death.
This morning at the Babylon Church, the crowd was large on a Sunday. As usual, the priest read out a random petition. He saw a piece written in green ink. They said that God hears all petitions, and all would be answered, in His time.
Father Jerome Davis picked up the piece of paper and he read it out loud,
“Dear Father, I am a sinner. I have fallen for a married man, and I am an adulterous. Mother Mary please intercede on my behalf to tell Father to forgive me. But God, I can’t live without him – the man that I love. And I don’t know how to carry on anymore. So please let me die.”
It was signed Lily Ng Wei Wan.
Hope you enjoyed the story you've just read. I wish to write more stories to amuse my readers!