A foster mother might not necessarily know the father of her adopted child, but every mother sure darn knows who the father of her child is.
And a journey is only pleasant if you have someone waiting for you at the other side.
This was about the fifth time that Suzie was walking into this building at Peak Centre along Canton Street in the past five days, which meant that she had been coming in here every day, unless she came in here twice or three times in a day. Nobody knew.
A lot of shops were here. But there was something very disorganized about this shopping centre. There was no interior at all. Jewellery shops stood side by side with dried goods store and every other shop was a travel agency. There was even a fortune teller in the middle of nowhere.
“At least the walls ought to be painted,” Suzie thought to herself.
The other uncoordinated feature about the Peak Centre was that there was no one main entrance. You could come in from the side by the food stalls or you could enter from the side where just outside was the taxi stand.
No one told Suzie to come here. It was just that what she wanted to do this was the place to do it. Suzie wanted to book herself on a group tour to Europe. This was summer time and the weather was not so cold there.
Suzie lived in a country where the weather was hot all year around. The temperature ranged between 25 degrees Celsius and 34 at its highest. Almost every building had air-conditioning and she didn’t get typhoons or earthquakes. At the most it rained three consecutive days and even then the weatherman complained that the rainfall was insufficient for the demand in consumption.
The higher demand had caused an increase in water costs. Water was drawn from her neighbours and the country managed water shortages year after year. You could call this increase in water costs a rationing. The motto seemed to be that: if you can afford it, why not?
After the taxi dropped Suzie at the taxi stand, she walked out without getting a receipt from the driver. This was her habit, as Suzie did not have to give an account of her expenditure to anyone. Suzie was single so there was no joint account holder. Right now she was just happy where she was.
Today she just thought of going away for a break. Suzie didn’t know when Norman Lee was going to propose, if at all.
Last night Suzie just went into the website of the Registry of Marriages and couldn’t find Norman Lee’s name so that meant that he was still single. He was thirty-one and not in a hurry to get married, according to him. Suzie had gone to Maria Sofia a clairvoyant lady and consulted her. She prayed in her own tongues and discerned for Suzie that this man by the name of Norman Lee will marry her, by hook or by crock, but that Maria did not know when.
So Suzie was very sure of herself and therefore she came to this Peak Centre. This building housed many travel agencies. They all offered similar services. Suzie had no idea which one offered a better deal. If you wanted to go to China, they all ran China tours. If you wanted a European tour, every agency did it too. The difference lay in the departure dates.
But even then they were around the same dates and the prices were very competitive. Suzie didn’t feel good whenever she walked in. That was because her brains were not allowed to use logic. Suzie had no idea which was the best agency. And there was no formula on which she could use. There were no cheapest, best dates, or best itinerary agency. You simply walked around and chanced into one of them. You made some enquiries and then you walked out.
For someone who hadn’t really decided on her destination, dates, and costs, it was confusing and fruitless. But today as Suzie walked in she told herself that she must make a booking. She had just come from Maria Sofia and that lady told her that she was going to meet someone on this trip, that this was the only chance of meeting another man, and that if she didn’t it would have been too late for her.
Maria Sofia said that in her life she got only two chances of marriage and time was running out for this first chance. So yes, Suzie was hoping to meet someone on this trip and get hitched. But she had no idea whom he was, where he came from, and where he was going for holiday and when he was going. Suzie was just calling on Lady Luck.
As she walked, Suzie looked up and there she saw the words Sesame Holidays. Nice name but she was inside before. No result. There were several vacancies on this tour and she gathered that it was not so popular. In the other one two shops away the Mable Tours the departure dates were not even fixed.
The customer service officer a Miss Hazel at Sesame Holidays again suggested Palestine but Suzie hesitated to be the first who placed a deposit. The tour was empty and then they needed at least twelve confirmed passengers to depart.
Also the write up on the brochure for Palestine looked interesting. There was no nation called Palestine. There were proposals for establishing an independent State of Palestine, and because of this there was much tension in this Palestinian territories, which included parts of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip.
For reasons best known to herself, Miss Hazel kept selling this tour package to Suzie.
“You travel via Israel and land at Tel Aviv. The Gaza International Airport is currently closed. But it is worth visiting as you could visit Israel’s capital city Jerusalem as well as the famous biblical city of Bethlehem. On Manger Square you could spend some time worshipping at the Church of Nativity. This fortified church is built on top of the cave in which Jesus is allegedly born.”
Suzie decided to try her luck. The warning Maria Sofia gave she could not put it out of her mind. She had been dating Norman Lee for close to five years now since she was twenty-five. They dated on and off and it was understood that the two of them would marry one day. But when?
The pilot made an announcement just before his quick landing. Taxing was a cruise and a little bit too long. Maybe the airport was large. Suzie waited at her seat then only stood up when her neighbour got to the isle. The seat between them was empty so they shared the space throughout the journey. They both used the tray table from the back of the front seat which folded down whilst Suzie put her pillow on the recliner. They were careful not to tread on each other’s space.
“Let me help you,” as Suzie was trying to lift her heavy hand luggage her neighbour said.
The stewardess saw and quickly came to their rescue. Suzie wished the stewardess hadn’t come. But the neighbour managed to do the chore before this stewardess could do anything.
“Thanks,” Suzie gave a grateful smile when he brought the luggage down.
Then they both waited in line for the aircraft door to be opened to let the passengers out.
Once Suzie arrived at the arrival hall she picked up her luggage and looked for the tour group leader. She remembered having met him at the tour agency and that he was a stout man with a moustache, and without spectacles. Suzie walked around. She could see many people greeting their loved ones and she was getting a little worried.
I hadn’t made any contingency plans. If the group didn’t materialize what should I do?
Ben Gurion Airport was a small airport. Once the group of people arriving cleared Suzie could see the airport workers walking around in their casual shirts and pants. She could only guess that they were not airport passengers by the fact that they didn’t seem to have any purposeful activity. It was like they were loitering around. So was Suzie.
So that Suzie tried to go to the newsstand to pick up a newspaper but realized that she didn’t have the local currency yet, which was very careless of her. So she looked around for the exchange bureau.
“A penny for your thoughts?” a man came up behind her.
He spoke English so Suzie knew that he came from her part of the world. Glad to find company she turned around quickly. It was her neighbour!
“You haven’t found your friend?” he asked.
Suzie realized that she had completely forgotten about him and so she tried to apologize, but then it wasn’t her duty to follow him.
I am not his keeper.
“Oh, sorry, I forgot about you, your friends haven’t arrived?” Suzie asked in return.
The man didn’t answer but merely took over the luggage from her hand and gave it a push. She saw that he only had an overnight bag. He looked like a frequent traveller.
Suzie had no idea why the tour leader still hadn’t found her and she still hadn’t seen any Singaporeans yet. The population in this hall was generally of a darker skin. She could see that the city was dilapidated and in the mist of confrontation. Before she arrived here she saw pictures on the websites but she didn’t expect it to be so real.
Suzie was getting upset. She had her return ticket with her, which she couldn’t use until 3 March. And she had no clue where the airline office was even if she wanted to change her departure date to leave from Palestine straight away. Without the comfort of a tour bus and the familiarity of Singaporeans around her, she felt completely lost. She had no choice now but to rely on this kind soul the man beside her now.
At least I have already encountered him on the flight.
Suzie remembered that the tour group was supposed to check in at the Wallace Hotel at Bethlehem Palestine but she had no idea where it was.
The people around here carried with them a kind of sullen look. They seemed oppressed and waiting to go into a fight at any time.
I would not go up to any one of them to make enquiries. In any case I don’t think they speak my language.
Then Suzie caught sight of a man in a loose white T-shirt and black pants staring at her. He was standing next to a pillar and he had deep-set eyes, with a distant look, as though thinking of something else at the same time. Suzie could not be sure if he was actually looking at her.
No, I could not pluck up the courage and walk away from my neighbour, this familiar man, and got up to the unknown locals and ask them where the hotel was.
They didn’t smile and they had no expression on their faces. Or maybe Suzie was a foreigner she couldn’t read their minds. It was all very new.
At this point in time Suzie realized that she must make a quick decision.
Either I follow him for the rest of the day, or I tell him to go away and continue to wait for my absent tour group. If I follow him from here, then I break away from the tour and then the rest of my stay here in Palestine would be entirely his call.
As she was thinking, her neighbour had already hailed a car, with a swift move he checked both their luggage into the back seat and he showed the driver a map. The bearded man muttered something and he brought the engine to a start. The two of them both jerked a little and Suzie and neighbour looked at each other in agreement.
“The guy didn’t seem to like his job,” Suzie said aloud.
The neighbour gave her a look as though to tell her to keep quiet, “be careful he understands English,” he said softly.
Suzie quickly shut her mouth and tried to enjoy the scenery. There wasn’t much to see at all. It was just an impression of an old civilization in a Muslim country. By this time Suzie already felt that she could have followed the news on television and missed this adventure. It was just beginning to look boringly dangerous. The grass was dry and the plants were malnourished. No street lamps and she wondered if it was safe out at night.
In Singapore the pride was that any woman could be safe out after midnight.
The journey was long enough for Suzie to wonder if they had been taken in for a ride, or on the wrong track. But fact was that there seemed to be only one direction from the airport on the muddy road. So the driver must be taking them to the hotel. She started to think if it were five-star or four-star when they stopped in front of a house.
The driver came to a halt when he arrived at a building which was completely walled off.
“So this was it.” Suzie thought to herself.
The hotel was very small; it was just a large house with several rooms. Suzie didn’t know how many rooms there were but it looked very small. She dumped her luggage in front of the concierge and gave the woman her name. The neighbour asked for a “presidential suite” and she heard the concierge said U.S. nine hundred.
“If you don’t’ want, we can do U.S. thirty,” the concierge offered.
“You can check in now and leave before sunset, we have another 700 people coming and we are always full.”
At this point in time Suzie knew that her life depended on God and Him alone. No one was here to help her if her neighbour connived with the locals to cheat her or do harm to her. If she died in Palestine the office would know only after the holiday when she didn’t report back to work. They wouldn’t even be able to find her body. The only sensible thing to do now was to give this neighbour his best interpretation and be of use to him.
Suzie tried to think where he came from. He spoke English like he came from Hong Kong. If she were lucky he might even be a fellow Singaporean.
The hotel concierge asked, “Just the two of you?”
“Yes,” the neighbour said,
“Just the two of us,” and then he gave the lady his passport.
It was bright red, and when the concierge flipped it open the biodata showed his name as Daniel Lee.
“Are you Singaporean?” Suzie just wanted to start conversation.
“What makes you think I am not?” Daniel Lee retorted.
Thank God! Suzie’s heart almost stopped beating.
“Can we go home together?” she made an instant request.
The man didn’t say a word but merely handed her the room key which he got from the concierge.
Suzie had envisaged a large group of about twenty people touring the city on the bus and the tour leader giving them a continuous string of narration. And that she would be hopping on and off the bus for sightseeing. Hazel promised that lunch and dinner would be taken care of.
Now I had better find out if this Daniel Lee was going home on the same flight. I had better cling on to him for dear life.
“When are you going back?” Suzie asked.
“Same as you,” Daniel Lee replied. At the time it didn’t occur to Suzie that he could have known her departure date.
Suzie just wanted to shrink into a corner. She walked to the single seater sofa at the middle of the hotel lobby and dumped her hand luggage and slumped on the soft-cushions. She refused to be checked into the hotel room.
How could I be certain that the hotel concierge did not also have a spare key to my room?
“Are you going in or not?” Daniel Lee looked impatient.
“I am not checking in,” Suzie said.
“What?” he sounded surprised.
“I want to check into your room,” Suzie made herself clearer.
“Why? How can we?” the man began to look puzzled.
“I want to share the room with you, it’s cheaper,” Suzie said.
She knew it didn’t make sense; she had already paid for the entire tour duration, food and lodging.
“No, I don’t want to go into the room myself,” by this time she detected a note of sympathy.
Daniel Lee knew that she was lost and that she was in an unfamiliar setting without my contact. He still hadn’t told her why he was here with Suzie. She assumed that he was just another traveler who happened to be on the same trip. In any case who cared why he was here, fact was that he was here was a blessing from God.
If he wanted to take advantage of me this is the best opportunity.
Suzie told herself that if he slept with her now she could always insist on him marrying me after they had arrived back in Singapore since they both shared the same Women’s Charter.
Suzie was sure that the room would have a sofa by the side. All hotels have. She knew this to be the only time for bargaining, even though Palestine was the worst place for negotiations.
Once I was in my own room I would have no idea if he had left the hotel to go out or not, I don’t have his itinerary. He could even have checked out the next morning before I knew it. No, I was not going to budge.
A woman was sweeping the floor in the background. Suzie could see that she was just going through the motions. The floor was cemented and she couldn’t see dirt on it at all. Her coat was loose and Suzie could see a pair of embroidered pants underneath. She sat on the sofa and refused to be checked into her room.
Suzie didn’t know what made Daniel Lee agree to her demand and as she saw him gave her set of keys back to the hotel concierge, she leaped up from the sofa with joy.
“I am going to follow you,” she said.
So for the time being, Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Lee were in room 8. The hotel was only three stories high, and there was no television in the room. Suzie realized now why the tour agency gave her a discount and made her pay the full package fare on pretext that she was an “early bird” as one of the earliest passengers.
Hazel lied, I was the only passenger and there was no tour group. The tour leader was supposed to meet me here and to conduct the tour with me but that he did not make it.
But it was too late to strangle Hazel now.
At this point in time Suzie was not in love with Daniel Lee. She knew that she would not return as Mrs. Daniel Lee as it was not possible to register their marriage in Palestine. Daniel was merely her savior. Once she got back to Singapore she was going to ditch him. Suzie didn’t fall in love with people easily. She had only one boyfriend to date and that was Norman Lee. Basically Suzie was a very cautious person.
Suzie started working the moment she finished school and was able to support herself, including trips overseas for holidays. But this time she was over confident, landing herself in this state of affairs.
I should have ordered Hazel to give me the names of the travelers. That would have made her confess that there was no one else in this tour. The clairvoyant Maria Sofia told me that I was bound to meet someone if I went on a holiday. Yes, I was tired of waiting for Norman’s proposal.
“Can we sleep with the room door open?” once the concierge handed Daniel Lee the key to room 8, Suzie quietly asked Daniel Lee.
“If you wish to go back to Singapore I will help you,”
“You are afraid of everything;”
“Since I was queuing behind you at the check-in counter I knew you to be a very difficult woman,”
“You insisted on a window seat when you actually checked-in late; you didn’t like the wine on board, you were upset with the stewardess.”
“At then first you distrust the locals, you followed me,
“Then once we were together you became suspicious of me;”
“Now you have decided that the locals could be used as witnesses against me.”
“My dear, you must decide for yourself who is your best bet; and I am not going to toy with you the whole night.”
With a barrage of words, Daniel Lee finished his lines, “I want to go back to Singapore and end this match making process. Maria Sofia the matchmaker told me that I was bound to like you, and yes, I like you very much.”
“But you must trust me, at least somebody.”
So Maria Sofia had set me up. No wonder she told me to go on a holiday, now I remembered telling her I would like to go to Palestine. There was only one flight to Tel Aviv this week, which meant that Daniel Lee trailed me. He knew who I was right from the beginning since I was standing at the check-in counter of Qatar Airlines at the Changi International Airport.
Now that I knew the whole situation I was getting quite comfortable with Daniel Lee.
“Are you afraid of mosquitoes too?” Daniel Lee could see that I was thinking.
“No, mosquitoes don’t bite me, they don’t like my blood,” meekly Suzie replied.
And so Suzie Wee and Daniel Lee checked in to room 8 of Wallace Hotel.
Throughout the night Daniel Lee was on the phone talking to the Qatar Airways office, trying to find their next flight out. We were told to go to the airport by 6:00 a.m. the next morning to wait for some other passengers who might have made cancellations or missed boarding.
Suzie did not unpack her luggage and slept intermittently. Daniel allowed her to sleep on the bed and she did not know what time the man finished talking and landed himself up on the bed beside her. In a strange and foreign country, you could do anything. When you have decided to trust someone you could let go of your guard completely. Anything that happened here in Palestine must be that of the will of God, for this was after all Jesus’s birthplace.
The next morning, both parties headed straight for the Ben Gurion Airport. Daniel made Suzie take coffee at the hotel café as breakfast was free and by now the two were regarded as Mr. and Mrs. Lee by the hotel staff. Suzie did not want to deny it as the marital status offered her some kind of protection.
When both of them approached the check-in counter the airline staff said that they were lucky as the flight wasn’t full. Suzie wanted her window seat as usual but this time Daniel Lee and she couldn’t get the same row. If they sat together one of them would have to take the middle seat. So they agreed on “either he took the isle or I take the window.”
After a long journey, the plane finally touched down at the Changi International Airport. As Suzie was pushing her luggage from the arrival hall into the waiting area, Daniel followed behind her. She guessed he didn’t think that their relationship should end here after the holiday.
“After all this time together and what happened, don’t you want to see me again?” Daniel asked.
Suzie was sure. At the back of her mind the image of Norman Lee surfaced. Suzie knew nothing about Daniel except that he was a good bodyguard whereas she had already spent five years with Norman. Norman was a typhoon’s son and his father owned two bungalows and a few apartments in Singapore.
That was why Suzie waited for him all these years. By now she had found out that she did not love Norman for himself. She knew that her feelings had changed for Norman after the hot and sultry night in Palestine. It was a country not yet recognized.
Suzie felt the struggle of the people wanting to be themselves, wanting an identity … the people minding their own activities as though no outsiders should disturb them. No questions were raised about Mr. and Mrs. Lee on the night of 27 February behind the closed door of room 8 in Wallace Hotel.
Suzie continued walking to the taxi stand. There she got the taxi man to carry her luggage into the boot compartment and she bid Daniel goodbye. The cool air conditioning refreshed her and I knew that she must give Norman Lee a call.
Norman Lee was very excited when he heard Suzie’s voice.
“Suzie! Where have you been?” he asked her to drop by his apartment straight away.
Suzie sensed the urgency and true enough Norman was at the front door already waiting for her.
Suzie never gave him her set of keys. Norman hugged her tight and said that her absence made his heart grow fonder and that since the time she disappeared he had decided that they must get married. Of course Suzie accepted his proposal. This was what she had been waiting for. Maria Sofia was right on all counts. She did predict that Norman Lee would propose.
On 22 November Suzie’s daughter Julia Lee was born. On her third birthday during the celebration Suzie noticed that Julia’s nose was a little sharper than usual, liked she had a crocked nose, a feature that Suzie didn’t have.
Suzie wanted to call Maria Sofia again but instantly she realized that this was not a matter of the future for the lady to discern anymore. It belonged to the past as it called for her daughter’s DNA. Suzie was glad that Julia was a girl, for even if she were a Lee, for sure that when she got married her surname would have to be changed.
Suzie’s past would not be a matter of concern for anyone in the next generation. But the truth of the matter was, only the woman knew who Julia’s real father was.
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