If you did not see anyone in front of you with your naked eyes, that meant that there was no one around and that you could safely undress. However, you must always lock your door, even if you were the only one in the entire house.
The violence inside the mall last night left no dent on the majesty of the building. The altercation that happened had shattered the glass wall of the Summerset Restaurant. No replacement had been installed yet.
I was just there last night.
Whenever I was at the Landmark Mall, I never failed to drop by at the Hourglass Figure to visit her.
She wore a black dress. The dress was an evening gown with sequins sewn all over. There could be at least a thousand, or a lot more than that. I marvelled at the workmanship. I couldn’t sew, but that even if I could, I would never have the patience to make myself do such an elaborate piece.
The first day of work was always full of apprehension and anxiety. I picked a cream-coloured blouse and a denim skirt. For telemarketing I didn't think that I needed to be so formal. I liked denim because it was easy to match.
Once I started work, I found that the women in my office were dressed modestly. Most of them wore plain colours. But Mrs Chew my immediate supervisor the department head stood out with her frizzy hair. She claimed that she has never permed her hair in her entire life, that the curls were completely natural.
I shared a table with a guy called Walter Sim. Walter was young and inexperienced. Often I heard him shouting over the phone,
“Don’t hang up yet, let me finish …” and invariably the other side had already hung up on him.
I looked at Walter, and I began to feel sorry for the both of us.
After work, I walked around to the nearby Landmark Mall and found myself again at the eating house called the Summerset Restaurant. I stood at the entrance but no one came to usher me in. I knew that my salary was meagre. But how would they know that I had no money? After I called out hello several times, the waitress couldn't pretend not to notice me anymore. She knew that I would refuse to budge, and as she came by, she said,
“Madam, we are closing very soon, the last order is at 8:30 pm,”
“8:30 pm? You mean it is 8:30 pm already?” I too started to act up.
“Have you decided on the diced chicken yet?” at least she had some memory. Between last night and tonight I guess there were less than fifty customers. This wasn't a very popular restaurant.
When the food came, I relished the diced chicken and lapped up the entire gravy.
After the dinner, I had to walk through the part where the garbage were thrown all over the ground. I always wanted to know who was in charge of this state of affairs. And then the question would inevitably come to my mind – what did they do with Claire’s body? Did they dump her in a rubbish bag and throw her away? Did they cremate her properly?
This was an innocuous Sunday. I took just myself out without the usual umbrella. The only difference in my appearance was that I wore my sunglasses. And of course, my handphone was with me.
Three steps and I reached the security guard post. The man was friendly, and I always greeted him by name.
“Morning Zubin,” I would say.
The man nodded his head to indicate that he noted my presence. He was a very enthusiastic worker, and apparently, he recognised each and every one of us in the estate. I was told that he had been working in this estate for almost thirty years since its development.
Although a Sunday which meant that I did not have to report to the office, I found myself in front of the Hourglass Figure at Landmark Mall.
Admiring the black taffeta I stood, with my hands behind my back, I thought I heard a voice, “Good morning, how are you today?”
I knew at once that it was Rebecca talking to me.
But that she was a mannequin. How could she talk? Nonetheless I answered her, “Sure. How can I help you?”
“I feel very hot in here,” she said.
“I can’t adjust the thermostat for you, I think this is central air-conditioning,” I said.
“No, it is this dress, it is suffocating,” she complained.
The dress was an off shoulder, and I could see that it was made of taffeta.
I was curious. Under ordinary circumstances I would have gone in to speak to the salesgirl, and to make some enquires. The taffeta was very attractive, I knew that I couldn’t afford it. But of course, Rebecca didn’t know. Rebecca was the mannequin. I didn’t know why I gave her the name Rebecca, but that was the word that popped up in my mind whenever I was standing in front of her. And no, I didn’t know of any other person by that name. It was randomly assigned to my brains.
Tonight, after work, I found myself doing my expense chart my Excel spread sheet again. The figures do not balance, and I found myself in debit. My Mastercard was overdue by another two thousand and forty-six dollars and I still needed to pay for my utilities bill.
“Ok, I mustn’t turn on the lights,” I told myself.
And then, “I mustn’t turn on the tap so often,” I resolved.
I lived alone and was given five key cards to my apartment. All my drawers each have a lock and every single lock in the house was securely locked whenever I left the house.
You could say that I was paranoid. It was not that I had a lot of money, I just didn't trust anyone I saw. Yes, you were right, the reason was that things have been stolen from me before. It was not a lot of money; they were jewellery that Mark had given me reminding me of a time when I was still young and beautiful.
I was already thirty-nine, most people would have at least been made a manager or at least an associate by now. But I was working as a telemarketer at the Talkative Bureau. It was definitely not an ideal job, and I was waiting for a time when I could move out into a proper job. By proper job I meant some job where I could use more of my brains. This telemarketing was essentially a clerical position.
The salary I earned from the job could barely pay for my food and utilities bill, apart from the maintenance sum for the apartment.
Friends and family had disapproved of my divorce, saying that I was stupid, as Mark was more than eligible for any woman, and a plain woman such as myself. Even my divorce lawyer Lee Lay Eng who handled the case tried to persuade me out of it, despite the fact that she could benefit from the fees she earned. Lee Lay Eng was a reputable lawyer, and a successful lawyer at that. No, I did not cry in front of Lee Lay Eng.
It was difficult to get a divorce, as none of us committed any wrong. But I had to do it, not after he told me to abort Claire. I had to do it for Claire.
My job was stressful. The stress came from the sheer boring nature of the work. No chance of entertaining, which meant that there wasn’t a reason to dress up, and I did not meet even my bosses. I sat at a desk with just a telephone and a notebook and several pens.
So that after work I found myself in the Landmark Mall again. The mall was just opposite my office past the pop-up café.
For reasons unknown I walked to Hourglass Figure to see Rebecca again. No, she has not changed. Her face was as serene as ever, without a trace of makeup. But of course, she was a mannequin. No one ever put makeup on plastic. I thought I saw her open her month, so I went closer.
And then I heard Rebecca, “to take revenge you have to go back to look for the aggressor, there are several ways to do that, you can go back in time, like a time traveller … ”
Automatically I continued for her, “but going back in time you would require a lot of imagination, if you can’t find the villain in your present life, and you would have to lug your entire baggage with you. So, the best way is to move forward and live your life as though you had never been bullied … ”
I carried on, my mind thinking of Mark.
Rebecca was looking at me. Her eyes big and wide.
“Have you ever been bullied before?” I became curious and asked.
“I was abandoned by my mother,” Rebecca said quietly.
This was a very bizarre statement, coming from a mannequin. Of course, she was abandoned by her maker the craftsman. As far as I was concerned, a mannequin has no life and was not enabled to think. She was not even a robot! Robots were programmed and has artificial intelligence.
Over time, I had become engrossed with the daily interaction. I needed to see Rebecca every day to find out if she were still wearing the black taffeta. For if they changed her out of it, I would purchase it at all costs. I didn’t want to remove it from her whilst she was still wearing it.
Most people would see nothing wrong with taking clothes off a mannequin. As a matter of fact most boutiques change the clothes on their mannequins in their display regularly.
It has been a week, no, two weeks, and Hourglass Figure still hasn’t changed her.
I wanted to go in to ask the salesgirl why they were so lazy but I knew that I had to give a reason for my enquiry perhaps suggesting that I wanted to buy the taffeta. I was poor, I still couldn’t make a balance on my Excel spread sheet. If nothing else, I was severely distressed.
So again I found myself confronting Rebecca.
“When are they changing you?” I asked.
“Your guess are as good as mine,” she answered.
“Do you want me to ask them for you?” I was beginning to feel sorry for her. As she said, it was very hot in that taffeta.
“No, I am not at liberty to protest,” the poor woman replied.
“Rebecca, if you want me to talk to them I would, just say yes,” I told her the truth. As I said, I wanted an excuse to change her out of that huge dress. It was not a wedding dress, a wedding dress was usually white. Once they take it off her, I would step in and bargain for it.
But that I have another reservation. I didn’t wear black. I was a superstitious person. Black is a universal mourning colour. If you looked at the newspapers often enough, you would find that eighty percent of the people who found themselves in trouble with the law appeared in black. But of course some people looked good in black, especially if they were overweight. Lawyers were allowed only to wear black and white to court.
I was not a lawyer, just a staff of Talkative Bureau doing cold calls. By cold calls I meant that I was given daily a sheet of a hundred to two hundred names for me to call making invitations for bookings on a booth at an exhibition hall belonging to this company that I am working at. Talkative Bureau was a company that sells space.
My work was often exasperating. I worked long hours from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., with only an hour in between to grab a quick lunch at Starbucks. Then I would rush back to the office to continue with the list. My performance was based on the number of calls I made. The more successful calls I made, the more points I scored. I was paid by the hour and the points I earned would determine my salary. If I resigned before the contract ended I would have to pay back the company twice the amount of my weekly salary.
As I said, I couldn’t afford the black taffeta.
Rebecca looked regal in it. She deserved it. She could stand and not move on hours at a stretch. And every time I went to see her she was holding the same posture. Oh yeah, I forgot that she was a mannequin.
Mannequins didn’t move.
I noticed that Walter came in everyday with a new shirt every morning, and that they were obviously branded, the logo of the Ralph Lauren boldly sewn onto the expensive fabric. The only thing he didn’t change was his belt, which was a Gucci with the two Gs buckle. His pants were tailor made and fitted him exactly, not an inch too long or too short. I marvelled at his impeccable dress sense.
But there was something odd about him. He never looked me in the eye whenever he spoke to me. Believe me I tried to engage him. However, all in all it was fruitless. And after a while I gave up trying. I knew that I hadn’t offended him in any way, for if I did, he wouldn’t even speak to me in the first place.
We exchanged a pleasant “wish you luck,” every now and then in the course of our phone calls which often went unanswered. I began to take more coffee and I even brought my own condense milk to sweeten the coffee as the item was not provided for in the office supply.
“Hi Carmen, could I borrow some of your condense milk?” today out of the blue Walter asked.
It would be rude to say no, so of course I said yes, but I couldn’t help teasing the man by quipping,
“Borrow? How are you going to return me the exact amount?”
“I will buy you a new can,” and then, “by the way, must it be Dutch Lady?” he asked.
Surprised by the fact that he knew the brand, as men didn’t usually notice these things, I quickly replied,
“So long as it is condensed, not evaporated,”
And before he ventured into the topic of evaporated milk, I quickly picked up the phone and started,
“Hello, may I have two minutes of your time, Sir?” ….
Life went on. It had been a month since I joined, and already it felt like half a year had gone by. And I still had not seen Walter’s entire wardrobe. So that today I plucked up the courage to ask him,
“How many shirts of these do you have?”
“Hey! You noticed! Was afraid that you didn’t!”
I was sure that these shirts were not meant to impress me.
We were holding the same position, so naturally I knew how much he earned. With his kind of salary, it was impossible to afford this type of expenditure. I decided that Walter must have been doing some other jobs elsewhere. If he could hold another position that paid a huge sum, I wanted that too!
Walter seemed to have read my mind, “I could talk to you about it during dinner. Are you free tonight?” he offered.
Of course, I am free.
“Yes, we go straight from here after work. Where would you like to go?” I asked, trying very hard to sound casual.
“The Summerset Restaurant. It is just around the corner, next to the Hourglass Figure.”
“Ok then, let me try and finish off these calls as soon as I can,” I quickly accepted the offer.
“Hello, may I have two minutes of your time, Sir?” I began once more.
The road to the Landmark Mall was straight forward. No turning of side lanes, all you needed to do was to make a zebra crossing. The traffic was not too heavy as this was not strictly a business district. I managed to see Walter’s footwear this time, and it was definitely another designer. It had tussles on it and frankly speaking this wasn’t the type of shoes that befitted telemarketing, not that I wanted to demean myself.
Walter was business like, although this was after office hours and that we were supposed to be casual now. I wanted to ask him why he walked so fast. Wearing my four-inch heals I found it hard to catch up with him.
But nonetheless we arrived at the Summerset Restaurant.
“Sit down,” the moment we arrived Walter ordered me.
I had no reason to defy him, so I took the seat facing the window. I was wondering how he had become so bossy. We were supposed to be colleagues.
And then we ordered some beef ginger and two bowls of hot and sour soup, no vegetables.
“You must help me,” Walter went straight to the point.
This seemed like a deviation. My purpose of dinner was to ask him if he was making money elsewhere. If it were stocks and shares, then I would want to know which counters to buy from. But nonetheless I was patient enough to entertain him, maybe after helping him, he would give me some tips.
“Of course, I would try my best to help you, but how?” I spoke.
“My father is very old, to be precise he is ninety-four this year,” Walter began.
“And then?” I followed suit.
“He wants to see me get married before he conks off,” the man continued.
Not so sure I could help him there.
“You have a girl friend?” I asked, still very indifferent. I was a divorced woman the man couldn’t have been interested in me.
“Precisely,” he was clearer now.
“So, you want me to help you find a girl friend?” I wasn’t offering myself. I was never interested in Walter. He was too young for me.
“If you don’t mind my saying so, you would make an ideal candidate,” the man was unequivocal.
I quickly tugged at my skirt, pulling it lower. Luckily, we were not sitting on the same side of the table.
“Walter, I think you are drunk,” I quickly replied, although we both knew that we hadn’t consumed any alcohol. It was too early in the night. The sun was just setting.
“Carmen, not to worry, I won’t touch you. I am gay,” the man came clean, but I was not so sure if he were telling the truth. For someone cisgender it was difficult to comprehend.
So that I replied, “Listen, you shouldn’t be telling me this, Walter. I would pretend that I didn’t hear,” but I couldn’t help by asking,
“Does your dad know about this?”
“No, of course not. That was why he wants me to produce an heir for him,” the man sounded dejected.
“Do you have any brothers and sisters?” I asked.
“No, that’s the problem,” he lamented.
“Ok, so I see no way out of this,” I wasn’t encouraging.
At this point in time, I could only offer solutions, so I tried my best, “Marry someone with a child, and to pretend that her son belongs to you,” I said.
“Bingo!” he yelled,
“That was why I am asking you Carmen, you have a son.”
How did he know?
I was getting quite perturbed by now, so that I decided to take a sip of the orange juice that I ordered just now on an impulse. I looked at Walter, and this time he stared right back at me, unlike the previous occasions. Flabbergasted at the sudden proposition, my voice came across as soft and hesitant.
“How much are you going to pay me for this?” I said, I had realised by now that I need not trade on the stock market to gain extra income. This was a perfect way to earn money! And I need not even put in any capital!
“How much do you want?” Walter fired the question back at me.
I had not asked for this in the first place, so that I did not know the market price for this type of transaction.
Finally, Walter opened his mouth, “How about three thousand a month?
This was double the pay at Talkative Bureau!
Without thinking I said yes.
Once the deal was concluded, there didn’t seemed any purpose in the dinner. We did not exchange further conversations except to comment on the taste of the food, and then we parted ways at the entrance of the Summerset Restaurant.
There was no purpose in exchanging a goodnight kiss, since there was no guest to witness this. Not to mention that Walter wasn’t inclined.
I left the man and was happy to be able to take a Grab home this time.
Although spending on projected income was not a good habit.
I have missed Rebecca since I started having dinner with Walter. But hey, today she was not in the same position. Rebecca was sitting down. They gave her a chair!
I saw that the chair was a nice looking antique chair, and expensive too.
Time was up! Instinctively I sensed that something was going to change and if I didn’t act fast enough, Rebecca would be changed out of the black taffeta.
Immediately I walked in to the Hourglass Figure.
“Hello there! Is there anyone in?” I sounded a little desperate.
A girl with long hair in a black skirt came out from behind a counter. OMG! She in black too!
“Excuse me,” I said, “Could you let me know how much this piece costs? The one that the mannequin is wearing,” pointing to Rebecca.
The girl went up to Rebecca, all ready to take off the black taffeta to show me. I think she knew that I liked it very much. As she was taking off her arm, she elaborated,
“Oh, it is a pre-loved item. We are selling it cheap. We would release it for less than a thousand, to be exact, for eight-hundred.”
“Sing dollars?” I asked, I couldn’t believe the price.
“Yes, in SGD. And you could pay by instalment,” the girl added.
Without a second thought, I took out my credit card and offered it to the girl, “let me pay for the first instalment, don’t undress her yet! ”
“Ma’am, she is a mannequin, you don’t need to close the door,” the girl looked at me with a queer expression.
Apart from the fact that I didn’t want to undress her, if I paid for the dress now I would have to bring it home. I won’t have a chance to come in here to talk to Rebecca anymore.
Mark came to see me today. He brought some strawberries which I liked so much, with whipped cream and all that.
“The Covid has affected me as well, my salary was halved, and I am living on very little savings …. ” he began. But I wasn’t listening.
“Tell me, what if Claire was a boy … did you know that she was a girl?’ I asked, not following his trend of thoughts.
“Huh?” Mark wasn’t on the same trend of thoughts …
“What did you say?” he asked.
“I said, did you know that Claire was a girl?” I asked again.
“Of course not!” Mark took stock of what I said now.
“Why would I want to abort if I knew that she was a boy?” he added.
“That means that you knew that she was a girl?!” I became enraged.
“No, no one knows the sex of the child beforehand, not when you were only 6 weeks pregnant … and in any case …. ” Mark’s voice was getting louder.
“I thought we agreed that we didn’t want her because she was conceived during Covid times … and it would be difficult to carry it through … you had to take the vaccination … and it won’t be safe for the child …” Mark muttered, it came out so smoothly because he has said it a thousand times.
“I was just wondering … ” I said, I knew that it was futile to argue with him. Claire was already gone, and I was still full of regrets.
“Did you hear what I said about salary?” Mark went back to the original topic.
“Oh? You mean money?”
What is money compared to life?
And then my mind drifted away, I started to chew on the strawberries and lapped up the whipped cream.
Mark sat there looking at me, and after a while when he knew that I wasn’t actually there, he picked up his handphone and walked to the door,
“I will drop by to see you again,” he threw the sentence at me and then he left.
I sat on the sofa, only then I remembered that I always turned on the television whenever I was home.
Finally the time came for me to make the final payment for Rebecca’s dress. I could not delay it any longer. I had to allow the salesgirl to take the black taffeta off Rebecca.
As the salesgirl was trying to undress Rebecca, I saw her take her left arm off. This time without hesitation I yelled,
“Wait! Don’t take her arm away!” startled, the salesgirl turned and looked at me,
“Is anything the matter ma’am?” she said.
“How could you dismantle her arm?” I used the word ‘dismantle’ so that meant that I was still sane.
And then I heard a voice, “It’s ok, I am just a mannequin, I have no life.”
“Wait! Rebecca, you are telling me that you have no life???” I talked to Rebecca right in front of the salesgirl.
“Ma’am, she is plastic and essentially a doll,” the salesgirl said.
I stood in front of the both of them, my pulse quickening, and as I put my hand onto my chest to feel the regular rhythm of my own heartbeat, then it occurred to me that Rebecca was imaginary. The real Rebecca Claire died a long time ago in a remote place in the St. Peter’s Hospital. And the make believe Claire by the given name of Rebecca never existed. How many more ‘Claire’s can I create? How many more ‘Claire’s must be born before I would forgive myself?
To commit an act of abortion you must be brutal and wicked.
At night I found myself alone again, surrounded by darkness but not overwhelmed by it. I liked darkness I like the calmness it brought. In the dark, there was nothing much you could do except to pray. But since Claire died I had stopped praying.
In retrospect, I think it was fair to say that I was naïve. It was mea culpa. I had not given it a second thought I had wanted to take the stress off because Mark didn’t want to admit paternity. I didn’t understand the full implication of my decision, but then no one advised me against it either.
I had thought that when I walked out of the hospital that was the end of the matter. But human beings simply didn’t die. They exist in the nascent state. Their souls hovered over the atmosphere and it decided on where to land. If the person was good, it would simply enter a good man and amalgamate with his present form. The soul and body at once became the same person, with a little change in mood and temperament.
Mark came to see me again today.
“I heard that you have been going out with a guy called Walter lately,” he began, almost like a cross-examination.
What has this got to do with him? We were divorced!
Instead of which I said, “Yes, he is a colleague of mine, we work in the same company,” followed by,
“Do you mind?” as though seeking for permission.
“Of course not, just that it may affect your reputation. Even if you don’t care, George might not like it,”
It was always George. Mark had been using George to blackmail me since day one.
I still needed to receive the maintenance. I didn’t want him to stop sending me the one thousand and eight hundred dollars. So I quickly added,
“Can I see George this weekend?”
“Of course, he has been asking about you,” it sounded like a threat from Mark. I was not ready to see George yet. Not when I haven’t bought him a present.
George knew that I won’t be seeing him until Christmas. I told him that specifically. Surely he knew when Christmas was, it was when there were Christmas trees and carols were sung everywhere.
“No, actually Mark, I am not so sure it would be a good idea, I still need time to adjust,” I said.
“You still haven’t gotten over the operation?” Mark asked.
“Abortion” is taboo in our vocabulary.
“I dream of her every day you know, Mark,” I said, almost begging for sympathy.
“I told you to forget about it,” Mark was firm.
“But I can’t! I still think that I should have carried it through,” I was pathetic.
“Look! We’ve been through this a million times, if it weren’t dangerous I won’t ask you to do it.” Mark started to get angry.
“All my life I had wanted a girl … ” I began to sob.
“Ok, let me put in another thousand dollars for you … you are not short of money yet, are you?”
“Oh, one thousand dollars would be fine, I need it soon,” immediately I confirmed the provision.
“So do you want to see George?” before he left Mark asked.
“Err, if you bank in the cheque later, I can see it the day after, I will have time to prepare something for George, maybe a toy car or something … yes … will Sunday be fine?”
Mark saw that his purpose was being achieved, so he concluded by saying,
“I will bring him around to your apartment on Sunday at around 2:00 p.m. and pick him up at 9:00 p.m., so you could bring him out for dinner as well,” sounded like an order. For one thousand dollars, why not?
The dinner at Summerset Restaurant was now a habit rather than by invitation. I was nearing forty, and under normal circumstances, one would have been too old to secure even a side glance. But Walter was interested in me, for reasons mentioned as aforesaid, best known to the both of us. But he still hasn’t seen George, and now it had become imperative for me to produce George to show his father a stranger.
I worked at a way to secure the meeting, and a logical reason to explain why Walter had hidden George from his own father for so long. George was three and a half now, and when did Walter and I got married?
At this point in time, I realised that I must produce a marriage certificate or at least a birth certificate to prove that George was indeed the biological child of Walter. Ok! Now I know! George and Walter must meet in person.
Without due delay, I took out my handphone and rang Mark.
“Is that Mark?” I began even before he had spoken.
“What is it Carmen? You are not going to cancel the appointment on Thursday are you?” Mark’s voice.
“No, of course not, could I bring another person along?” I asked softly.
“Not Walter I hope,” Mark was most unfriendly.
“Yes, it is Walter,” I confessed.
“Why. Don’t tell me he is going to be George’s step-father.” Mark made it sound as though I was doing something wrong.
“No, it’s a lot more complicated than this,” I said.
“It is complicated enough as it is now already, George needs a mother and I am not sure if I can wait for you indefinitely,” Mark said.
Wait for me indefinitely! I thought we were divorced!
“Just hear me out, Mark, maybe we could meet tonight … ”
“I am busy tonight until Thursday,” Mark gave me no alternative.
“Ok,” I tried to sound cheerful, and then I hung up the phone.
I was in trouble now, and I think that you knew that I was in trouble now. I have made a deal with one man by the name of Walter Sim, and I was still accepting money from my ex-husband so that I was accountable to him for my actions.
How did I solve the puzzle?
How many lies would I have to make in order to put every piece of puzzle in place?
To have Walter’s name as the father on George’s birth certificate Mark would have to give up paternity and let Walter adopt him. This was almost impossible as there was no reason for Mark to disown his son, unless there were sufficient reason and consideration. Walter was rich not on his own accord, but by virtue of his father the old man Sim.
So that now I would have to come clean. Come clean meaning to say that I have to declare that George was Walter’s biological child conceived out of wedlock, and that after giving birth to George I had married Mark. And for that I must seek Mark’s collaboration.
All along my relationship with Mark was cordial but not excellent. Occasionally we brought out the past and we squabbled over the accuracy of the facts. Of course Claire was always the trigger. I always secured a reaction from Mark whenever I used Claire’s name, in order to make him feel guilty.
So now, all I needed was to get George to come out alone with me, and then bring him to see Walter to meet his father Mr Sim. But how do I get George to address Walter as “daddy” and not “uncle”? This was a challenge. Children didn’t know how to play act.
For this, I consulted Rebecca.
So that I arrived at the Hourglass Figure at 7:30 p.m. again after work. No, I did not eat at Summerset Restaurant with Walter tonight. I needed to get a second opinion before I was due to see George and Mark on Sunday.
“Hey, woman, they increased the temperature of the air-conditioning to follow the Green Plan,” Rebecca said the moment she saw me.
I stood outside the display, the temperature outside was lukewarm as usual, “Hi Rebecca, I have a problem now,” I began.
“Speak, woman,” I heard Rebecca.
“I need my son George to change father,” I came to the crux of the matter.
“Change father! Fatherhood cannot be altered!” Rebecca was shocked.
“No, I mean, err, I mean that my son George was actually the son of Walter, but that he has been living with another man by the name of Mark,” I quickly made out a case, a plausible story.
“So now you want to change the fatherhood from Mark to Walter or Walter to Mark?”
“From Mark to Walter, is it possible?”
“I don’t know about you human beings, so far for me you could change my father’s name or even my mother’s name, all you need do is buy over the copyright,”
“And by the way, I don’t have a set of parents, I only have a mother, the person who crafted me was a woman,” Rebecca continued, she looked remarkably relaxed.
Maybe she knew that I had almost finished paying for the black taffeta and that she would be off it soon.
When I was sure that Walter wasn’t going to have dinner with me tonight I decided that I would go and see Rebecca, perhaps make payment for the final instalment. As I was walking towards the entrance I encountered a thin man in a grey tie and dark blue suit. His moustache made him noticeable. He saw me, but instead of walking ahead he paused just before we reached the entrance, and opened the door for me.
Grateful that I was given some accordance, since I was just a small fry in the company, in the lift I quickly pressed for the first floor and then the surprise came,
“I know that you are in trouble,” he said, at that time there were only the two of us.
“Sir,” I addressed him, he was in a suit which meant that he must be higher in hierarchy in Talkative Bureau than myself.
“I am not so sure what you mean?” I had to pretend.
“You must always tell the truth and if you want to lie you must stick to one version,” he continued.
Immediately I linked it to the conversations I had with Rebecca. This man must have heard me. And if this were the case, there was no need to hide it anymore. So I said,
“Maybe you could recommend me a lawyer who could do adoption. And then, is it possible to register a marriage in retrospective effect?” I said it all in one go, releasing all of my anxiety.
“But how did you know of my predicament?” I had to ask, in case it wasn’t because of Rebecca.
“Your husband Walter told me,” the man said as he dished out his name card, “this is me, my name is David,”
The card had his name embossed in gold, very impressive.
And he called Walter my husband. It would seem that there was no way out now.
“Thank you, Mr CEO,” I said, in a bid to curry favour. I was poor, and I was still thinking of my credit card bill.
“Look for me anytime you need help,” with that final word, Mr David Lim the CEO walked out of the lift.
I went home straight from the office and I had a microsleep.
The phone rang. But I didn’t bother to pick it up. Only Mark knew my number, and I was on the way to cheating on him.
“Mummy,” George said the moment he saw me. “Want some ice cream?” I asked. That was one of the ways I used to check if he still remembered our last excursion.
“Listen George, mummy will bring you to see a man, an old man.” I emphasised the word old because I wanted him to pay more attention to Mr Sim when he met him.
“Don’t say too many things in front of him, just be sure to say the word ‘daddy’ a few times in front of him.
“Ok! Mummy!” George was so compliant.
When I reached home after the excursion that night, I found the microwave and reheated the curry puff which I bought from the pop-up café. I could not remember if I had given the toy car to George or was it lost in the tour.
And then without changing out of my clothes I fell asleep on the bed, the comfort of the soft pillows and sheets waiting for me.
There seemed no other place to meet except at the Summerset Restaurant. Walter and I have been so regular that the restaurant had decided to give us a discount for our meals. They also knew what dishes we planned to order even before we sat down so that we need not take the trouble to plough through the menu.
“So you are Carmen,” the first thing the old man Sim said when he saw me.
“Yes, Mr Sim,” I answered differentially.
“No need to be so formal, just call me dad,” the old man said, he looked a bit intimidating.
I saw him take his scarf off his collar, then he adjusted his lapel. And after a long silence, he spoke,
“Why haven’t you come to see me earlier before,”
“Err, oh, err, …. ” I looked at Walter for help.
“Dad, we didn’t think that you would be too happy about the fact that George was born before we were registered,” Walter chipped in.
“Well, it’s not too late now,” Mr Sim, no, dad said.
“I would think that George sounds a little too plain, why not call him Charles, since the name is associated to the first in line to the British throne,” dad said.
“Oh yes of course, anything you say, dad,” Walter was all out to please his father.
“And why not hold a wedding celebration to let all our friends and relatives know that you are part of our family?” dad suggested, looking in my direction.
“It would be superfluous,” Walter came in my defence.
And then thank God the waitress didn’t forget to serve us, so that we could pause conversations.
As fate would have it, Mark walked in at this point in time.
OMG! The minute I saw Mark.
Please, please don’t come here, go have dinner elsewhere!
But Mark didn’t hear my wish, he saw us, and he walked towards our table.
“Nice company you have there, Carmen,” he greeted the rest without looking at me.
“Err, this is Mark,” I said, turning to Mr Sim. And then I looked at Mark pleadingly,
“Mark, this is Walter’s father Mr Sim,” I quickly rearranged the expression on my face before turning to Mr Sim again.
“To be precise, Sim Leng How,” the old man added.
“Oh ok, sorry I didn’t know your full name, dad,” I still had to call him dad. My money depends on my giving the appropriate form of address.
“How did you know that I am here?” I quickly asked, in order to stop Mark from saying anything that would jeopardise the stage show.
“A little bird told me,” Mark was sarcastic.
And then without another word, he grabbed Walter, who was sitting by the side of the two seater, and he punched him with his fist.
Walter fell backwards, his head hit the backrest of the sofa, and then he sprung back. Recovering, he stood up to confront Mark. Now I could see clearly that Mark was taller than Walter. Mark gave Walter another punch using the same fist, but this time Walter was more prepared. He grabbed Mark by his hand, and then he threw him like you would throw a basketball, right towards the other table. The two guests who were seated there earlier on had left by now.
By this time the manager of the restaurant had been summoned. He came and stood in between Mark and Walter, and he shouted,
“Stop, or I will call the police!”
The reluctant waitress also came by. She quickly attended to the rest of us at the table, and with swiftness of actions, she proceeded to pack up all the plates and sauces on the table.
George cried, and then Mr Sim was saying, “What is happening? Who is this?” before collapsing onto the chair and passed out.
Mr Sim died of heart attack on 15 January 2021.
I saw David Lim at the office on 5 February 2021 when I returned to work. As usual we met at the entrance.
“Hello Mr Lim, my problem has been solved,” I was more than cheerful.
“So soon?” he seemed to look too excited for my liking.
“I am going to resign soon,” I said.
“You’ve been given the sack?” the man asked.
“No, I don’t have to work now, and I plan to do freelancing,” I replied.
“Freelancing what?” he was curious.
“I will be selling houses, since now I have collected the skill of selling spaces,” as usual I was making projections, based on the lump sum inheritance that Walter would share with me.
“Great! And I will be your first customer,” the man couldn’t have been serious.
“By the way, I am free tonight, would you like to go somewhere near and eat? I know of a restaurant called Summerset, just inside the Landmark Mall,” an instant invitation.
Fine. Since this was going to be my first customer. As they said, ‘Customer is King’.
We need not walk too far to reach the Summerset Restaurant. The road to the Landmark Mall was straight forward. No turning of side lanes, all you needed to do was to make a zebra crossing. The traffic was not too heavy as this was not strictly a business district.
The same reluctant waitress.
This time she attended to the two of us immediately without due delay.
“A new male company?” she remarked, I could detect a note of sarcasm.
The minute we sat down, she offered me the menu.
“Thank you, Stacy!” David Lim said.
How did he know the name of the waitress?
“Sorry Mr Lim, we haven’t repaired the damage,” Stacy said.
“No problem, we came here only for the food,” David Lim sounded like the boss.
“Mark has been admitted to the hospital, do you want me to give you his room number?” Stacy announced.
Mark!!! He knew Mark!!!
That meant …
…. David Lim the CEO of Talkative Bureau was the informant!!!
No wonder Mark was at the restaurant on the night of 15 January 2021.
Now that David Lim knew Mark, was he also the one who told Walter that I have a son?
I started to get angry, but I told myself I had to stay, since I needed a contact for my new job as an estate agent. Any lead was useful.
“Have some wine, Carmen, don’t be too stressed about your new job,” David Lim said.
“You have set me up, haven’t you, Mr CEO?!” I became inflamed.
“Why. No. Everything that has happened was just part of my duty, I had to let the respective parties know about your situation, I was merely doing HR,”
“You could withdraw your letter of resignation and work for me as my PA … ” David Lim offered,
“ … instead of selling houses, these are Covid times, selling houses are not so lucrative.”
“PA!” I was so elated I shouted, if you still remembered that I said I wanted to move up the corporate ladder.
“Mr David Lim, no, Mr CEO, I will report to your office tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m. sharp,”
“Be sure to wear the black taffeta,” he gave me his punch line.
This man is insane!!!
I picked up my bag, took the fastest route out of Summerset Restaurant, and then just as I passed by Hourglass Figure, I saw that the mannequin had put on another dress. This time it was a red dress with sequins sewn all over, I guess the colour was to coincide with the Chinese New Year festive season. I was a superstitious person. Red was my favourite colour, it symbolised good fortune. But this time I did not talk to her, for she was no longer Claire.
Who is the next Claire?
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