History can be changed by overriding it with a new set of events. And it is not incorrect to say that it is easier to forgive than to forget.
I wake up to the sound of my handphone ringing. My ringtone is set to “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran. I look for Cooper my shaggy dog instantly. He is from New Zealand and has just turned three. As usual he is sound asleep. I know that if I wake him up because I couldn’t sleep it would annoy him, so I lie still.
This morning, I must follow Priscilla and Sebastian to the hill. It is something I dread. Afterwards they would pay for my expensive lunch, and I must deliver what they want. I have no means to eat at the Park Cameron for now. But what they really want from me I have no idea. They must have a hidden agenda. It is not just a long walk, but a strenuous one. I often get sore feet after the exercise, and my ligaments tear. If I continue with this form of torture, I believe I would get ankle dysfunction.
Priscilla is a very determined woman. If I don’t follow her to the hill, she would call me the next day to find out if I was sick. They, she, and her husband Sebastian, pick me up from the bus stop along Davis Road the main road outside my house. Sebastien drives a big black car.
There they are I spot them, and I move up to open the car door. I climb in.
“Hi, Priscilla,” I always greet her first, follow by, “Morning, Sebastian,” they acknowledge me and continue to drive on.
I lean back, after moving their large Pooh Bear to the side. I like soft toys. Several times I resist the temptation to ask Priscilla if she would let me know where to buy the toy from. I don’t think that they would be charitable enough to ask me if I wanted to take the toy home. Why would they want to part with such a nice puppet?
“How’s work?” Priscilla asks.
“Good,” follow by, “I feel bored on weekends, I prefer Mondays,” I reply.
They look at each other, unable to comprehend why I have said what I said.
“Hey! Too fast Sebastian!” “You are too close to the car on the right!” Priscilla yells.
I sit still without moving. I don’t want to be a back seat driver.
Later we arrive at the foot of the Peppermint Hill. I don’t know why it is called the Peppermint Hill. The name reminds me of its fragrance, and it wakes me up. I give a belated yawn. The coffee I had at home isn’t strong enough to wake me up completely. I look forward to the coffee at Park Cameron that Priscilla and Sebastian would bring me to after the walk.
Priscilla opens the car, and she steps out with her Roger Vivier track shoes. I won’t call it track shoes as they are so designer. The diamond buckle stares at me, and I wish that I could own a similar pair. The 2-carat diamond ring on her finger matches the diamante on her shoes.
She wears a country club cap. White with the club logo right at the centre makes it hard not to believe that she is rich. Sebastian on the other hand is low key. He has a large navy round hat that is ill fitting. He adjusts his hat at regular intervals. I try to give him a smile, but he does not seem to notice.
I see Priscilla give him a nudge. He remembers. He takes out the water bottle, a large one, and he closes the car door. The door locks with a beep sound.
I prepare myself for the uphill task.
“Come on, let’s go, Angelina!” Priscilla cheers.
I take a deep breath, and I tell myself it would be over soon.
The first steps are always daunting. The problem is that each step is huge, wider than the typical staircase. We need to push ourselves forward before we could make it to the next. Sebastian walks behind. He waits for us to make each step before attempting his own. I believe that his stamina is better than ours, although he is as thin as a stick.
“Call me handsome,” that is his reply the first time I address him.
“Err, Mr Ng, Priscilla won’t object?” I speak.
“Ask her, she finds me handsome too, and that’s the way most people call me,” Sebastian turns to his wife.
“Ok, I will call you Mr H, H for handsome,” I give in.
“We had done ten,” Priscilla looks at me with satisfaction.
“Yes,” I respond, already tired. And this is just ten steps? We have another seventy-four to go. Omg!
You are right. There are eighty-four steps altogether. And the further you go, the tougher it gets. And there is no alternative path. Only one way. Up. You must reach the top before you come to the descend.
It is a no way out situation.
My relationship with Priscilla and Sebastian is also like that.
Priscilla Ng looks for me every Saturday. She rings me and reminds me that they would pick me up at the bus stop on Sunday at 9:30 a.m.
Often, I wait, and they are late. 9:30 a.m. means 10:00 a.m. sometimes 10:15 a.m. I sit at the bus stop, and each time a black car passes by I stand up, hoping that it is Sebastian’s car. But whenever it comes nearer, I could see that it isn’t his number plate. I sigh.
I don’t pray. This is not the right venue for me to pray. Praying for my friends to turn up on time seems to me to be a rather minor petition. God does not entertain trivialities. I just must be patient.
Ok! SKK8375B arrives. I see them. The car stops and I open the door and get in.
“Hello, Priscilla, morning Mr. H,” I greet them first. They are taking the trouble to bring me for exercise. I must be grateful. Indeed, I am.
Because Priscilla is wealthy, she speaks with an air of superiority. So, most of the time I try not to disagree with her. But there is no reason to, at the moment. As far as I could see, they are a nice couple and staunch Christians. Christians are generally kind and well meaning. Love thy neighbour – their popular teaching.
Yes, I am about to tell you where we go after the Peppermint Walk.
“Ok, we are done for today. Let’s get a quick shower at the club and then we can proceed to the 12:00 p.m. service.” Priscilla exclaims as though we have done Mount Everest. Sebastian hands her the towel. I pretend not to notice.
Why do I always forget to bring the towel?
“Come, let’s get into the car quickly, looks like it’s going to rain,” Sebastian is practical.
“Thank God it didn’t rain just now,” Priscilla says as we settle down in the car.
“And the club has shelter,” she laments.
“Oh yeah, don’t forget to remind Mary to close the windows, she always forgets,” “you call her now,” Priscilla orders Sebastian all at once. Mary is their helper.
Within seconds, “Did you hear me?” she asks.
“Yes, yes,” Sebastian answers.
I get slightly apprehensive at this moment. I am afraid that they might break into an argument. This is not the first time that Sebastian is sullen.
And I couldn’t understand why he obliges Priscilla.
In the back seat, I couldn’t see the expression on their faces. I quickly throw in a question to dilute the atmosphere. It does look like the storm is coming. Inside the car.
“Err, Priscilla, would you like to sit at the front row or the second row this week?” tentatively I ask.
“Anywhere. So long as I can see the pastor’s face. I don’t like to be blocked,”
“Yes, ok, I try and get the front row.” I quickly promise.
The club is not crowded. Sundays most people are either at the market or at the church. If not, they are probably still lying in bed. I rush out of the car to help Priscilla with her tote bag, and I follow her to the counter for her to show the club staff her membership card. If I am not accompanying her, I won’t be allowed in. I try my best to keep quiet. This is not my spot.
“You go change first, afterwards you wait here for Sebastian’s car,” “Get in the car first then I will come out,” Priscilla always gives several orders at the same time.
I am all obliging. If not because of this couple, I would never have a chance to mingle at a posh area like the Brown Turf. The community here belongs to the rich and famous. I am neither.
When Sebastian comes, I enter the car from the back. Sebastian offers, “You could sit in front if you like,”
“No, that’s Priscilla’s seat,” I reply.
“I don’t think she minds it at all, silly girl,” Sebastian gives me a wicked smile.
Strange hearing Sebastian calling me that. I keep quiet and then I pray silently that she would come soon. This is not a trivial petition.
“Look, there she is!” Sebastian says when the woman comes with a bright red top and a colourful flare skirt. I couldn’t help but think that she is too old for that. Yes, Priscilla is born in 1955, so she is sixty-two this year.
“Hi Priscilla, when is your birthday?” I ask.
“Not so soon, but if you want to know, it is Christmas Eve.”
“Christmas Eve!” I exclaim.
All the while Sebastian is looking straight ahead. His mind is on the steering wheel, and he is driving very slowly.
“Step on the brakes, dear, you need to drive faster, we are getting late,” Priscilla orders again.
“We are not going anywhere with an appointment now.” Sebastian says.
I feel tense again, the two of them on the verge of an argument. Nonetheless, I sit still, as silent as a church mouse. In my mind, I am humming the music, “Uptown girl, she’s been living in an uptown world ….”
The Blue Heaven Church is situated right in the middle of the Paddington Road. You would expect parishioners to drop by even on a weekday after their shopping spree. I often get the funny feeling that the owners of the nearby boutiques visit the church to get blessings for more customers.
We arrive. And we are late. Sebastian drops us at the entrance, and I rush out of the car, ahead of Priscilla. The church pews are mostly occupied by now. I walk, gingerly, right up to the front. The first few pews are usually vacant, as most parishioners does not like to be sitting right below the camera. There are CCTVs everywhere in case there are genuine pick pockets.
I find myself a seat amongst a group of young students. They look seventeen or eighteen to me. And then I move myself a little to the left to give some space for Priscilla when she turns up. I place my handbag on the right to signal to the student next to me that he ought to give way. Priscilla is my VIP as far as the session is concerned. If not because of she I won’t find myself here.
Almost immediately, I hear the deliberate and well-paced footsteps of Priscilla. I never miss those steps. Her pumps are usually a Salvatore Ferragamo. Otherwise, it would be a pair of Roger Vivier. Whichever, it is always a thin four-inch heel. I marvel at her being able to balance herself in that footwear.
I wave at the woman. She acknowledges as she walks down the aisle. Once she arrives, I move aside for her.
“Oh, you managed to get front seats. Good of you!” Priscilla sits down without forgetting to say thank you to the neighbours. My mission is accomplished, and I begin to pay attention to the pastor.
Pastor Lucas Ling is a grey-haired man with a benign smile. His delivery is always punctuated with a note of caution. I am told that he is legally trained, and perhaps that is why I quite enjoy his sermons. He is also rather good looking if I may say so. I do research and finds that pastors are allowed to get married and have his own family.
Priscilla nudges me. “Pay attention, Angelina!”
“I am!” I turn.
And then without further ado, Priscilla takes out her large bag, which now I could see is a cosmetic bag – inside is a mirror as you flip open and the box contains cosmetics of all sorts, from eye shadow, eye liner, rouge, power, foundation, right up to lipsticks in several shades. I could have fainted. But instead of which I say, “Wow! What an assortment of makeup! Very nice!”
Upon which, she starts to take out one of the brushes inside and starts to apply make up on her face, using the prop up mirror as an aid. All done in full view of the parishioners.
Priscilla is my mentor, of course I don’t criticize her. If Pastor Lucas notices it he is not reacting.
I observe this and conclude that this is acceptable behaviour. I guess there are no church rules pertaining to the habit.
And then when it is time to sing the adoration songs, Priscilla closes the box. She stands up together with the rest of us, four-inches taller than me with her heals.
We have no idea where Sebastian has gone to.
I have always loved cakes. Mother buys me strawberry shortcakes and I never waste a moment in relishing it. Moments later I would take a coffee to wash out the added calories so that it does not work against my body.
“Let’s go to the Park Cameron after this, shall we?” Priscilla is in a good mood this Sunday morning. Pastor Lucas Ling must have given her some ideas on how to invest her money during his sermon, although I don’t know how this could have happened.
Sebastian looks at me, waiting for my acquiesce.
“Sounds good,” I say.
“Then let’s go!” the dutiful husband says.
We get into the car and this time Sebastian suggests that Priscilla drives.
“No, dear, you drive better than me, you carry on,” Priscilla praises her man.
All this I watch and participate as a follower without any interest in the matter. I am just grateful that Priscilla does not suggest that I invest in one of her schemes.
Now in the car, Sebastian plays one of his Christian DVDs – “As the deer panteth for the water, So my soul longeth after Thee, ….”
It is the same song being played during the service. Haven’t they had enough of it?
At this point in time, I feel I owe it to tell you if I am a Christian. Yes, I generally believe in the existence of God …. but err …. no, I don’t think that the Christian God is superior to the Gods found in other religions. As I said before, God is omnipotent and omnipresent and could be found on all platforms.
But I treasure the friendship that Priscilla and Sebastian have to offer. Not to mention that I am getting fitter by the day from the Peppermint Walk.
Mother tells me that I have lost weight recently.
My mother is a thin frail woman who found me this job at the Brown Woods. They pay me a monthly salary of two-thousand-eight hundred and I report to them every morning at 8:30 a.m. except Saturday and Sunday. I could leave my chair only at 6:00 p.m. Lunch I have to eat in, so that I could pick up phone calls for emergency.
The scope and nature of my work is not well defined. Basically, I do everything that I am told to do – from picking up the mails and delivering them to the respective desks, making coffee for the guests, compiling notes for the meeting, right down to making sure that the cleaners provide regular water refill for the office.
The only thing I am told not to do is to go into Mr. Sam’s office, not even when his door is open.
Mr. Sam is the regional head for this company. I am told that he is Chinese and rather good looking. He does not smile, and he would not greet you even if you chance on him at the lift lobby. I have not encountered him so far.
The only thing I hear of Mr. Sam is that he is a widow with a daughter. And that he is looking for a suitable son-in-law for his daughter right now. That means that Mr. Sam is about my age.
No one in the office knows that I do the Peppermint Walk every Sunday, and no one knows that I go to church either. I don’t hang a cross on my neck and neither do I own a Bible. In fact, Priscilla has mentioned several times before that I should purchase one. I am not awfully short of cash, but it is not an essential book for a non-Christian. I still prefer the thrillers and suspense like “Call Me Mummy”. The Bible is far too profound for me.
I do not enjoy the hill walk. What I enjoy is the sense of accomplishment after the walk, and that is why I do that every week without fail. We are in our summer season now, and the sky hardly ever rains. So that there is no excuse to skip the walk.
This week, Priscilla is in long pants. Her clothes I could see is well tailored and most of the time I suspect it needs dry cleaning. I have never been to the dry cleaners before. Mother does not have curtains in our house.
I am always eager to learn new things and try out on new experiences. I know that one day I would be tired of the hill walk, and of Priscilla and Sebastian altogether. They are a happily married couple, and they could do very well without me. I know that they have children of their own, but they have never mentioned them either to me or in front of me.
Back to Priscilla. She wears a white loose-fitting shirt, with her long black pants and a pair of black Salvatore Ferragamo shoes she looks totally stunning. Oh yes, I did a check, it is called the viva bow shoes. Very iconic but not quite suitable for a church mouse like me. I am only there as a chaperon for the expensive high-class Priscilla.
But I bear no grudges against the lady. Why. She has never been rude or nasty towards me, and the only thing I don’t like about her is the way she seems to be ordering her husband around. Although I know that it is none of my business. I am only there from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., that is provided it does not prolong into tea.
Afterwards, I would go home, and I continue with my humble existence.
Most of my friends at this age are housewives either married or having children to attend to at this age.
I am working because I am divorced.
I have a son by the name of Jonathan. His Chinese name is Fei Kian, so I call him JKF. I have not seen his father Keith for almost seven years by now.
The salary I earn at Brown Woods are insufficient to cover my expenses on JKF’s childcare needs, as well as my basic expenditure. My initial savings I have spent it all on the legal fees for fighting custody. Keith tried to say that I was immoral and unfit to be a mother.
By the way, I notice a booth at the church the other day. They call it a counselling corner and it seems to be set up haphazardly. Protestant churches don’t normally deal with confessions, and the booth being set up is a stand-alone cubicle at a faraway corner behind the piano. If you don’t pay enough attention, you would think that it is just a desk and two chairs for coffee.
So that I find a suitable time and come back again, on a weekday after my work. I want to know why Priscilla and Sebastian have chosen me to be their companion for the Peppermint Walk. For after all, they do have to make an effort to come and fetch me from the Davis Road, which is out of the way.
I find pastor Lucas Ling sitting at the booth, as though he knows that I am coming.
Pastor sees me approaching and he turns and lights a candle behind him.
I look at the flame, my mind a flutter.
“Let me begin, are you here to make enquiry on a lost soul, or are you here to seek forgiveness?”
“Neither, I want to read my friend’s heart,” I say.
“Why do you need to do that? If you have any queries, it best to address them yourself, this sounds rather insincere if I may say so,” Pastor Ling tells me.
“No, pastor, you don’t understand, I want to know why they befriend me,” I ask, this time more forcefully.
“Ok, then let me just pray for you, to ask the Almighty to give you the power of wisdom and discernment,” and then he places his hand on top of his Bible and starts to recite a few lines, presumably from the Book, ending with “Amen.” It is so smooth that I know that he must have said this to many parishioners.
With this, I am more than happy, so I thank the man with several thank yous and leave him.
It is barely a week and I pick up a call from Priscilla.
“Listen, do you want to go out? I have a friend I want to introduce you to,” she sounds excited.
“Oh, what time?” I ask, I am not keen on meeting the couple more than once a week. I’d rather stay home and watch Jonathan play Lego.
“I come and pick you up in half an hours’ time, is it enough time for you to get ready?” the woman already has plans.
I look at mother and she urge me to go.
“The usual meeting place?” I ask.
“Yes, don’t be late, we can’t wait, otherwise we have to go for another big round,” Priscilla orders.
The car arrives with Priscilla driving alone.
I get in, and I ask, “Where’s Mr. H?”
“Oh, he has got a meeting,” the woman is ambiguous.
“Where are we meeting your friend?” I ask.
“Not at the church,” she says.
“Oh ok,” I trust Priscilla, she has no reason to do me harm.
We arrive at the Park Cameron. This hotel seems to be her favourite joint. The man sitting at the far-right corner stands up to greet Priscilla the minute the waiter greets us.
I must say that my first impression of him is not particularly good. He resembles Keith. I follow the waiter to his table, and after pleasantries exchange between he and Priscilla, he smiles at me and says,
“How nice to meet you, Angelina,”
“Yes, thank you,” I don’t get what Priscilla addresses him as just now.
I take the seat opposite him and face the window.
“Would you like coffee or tea?” the man asks.
“Coffee,” I am still half asleep.
“Let me get straight to the point,” Priscilla begins,
“David and I have a job for you,”
“Oh,” I am more than surprised. I think that David is a marriage prospect. Immediately I look at his hand. No rings.
“I already have a job,” I say, and then I add,
“At the Brown Woods, you know Brown Woods?” I don’t like job hopping. I still haven’t figured out how my boss Mr. Sam looks like.
“I can pay you more, how much are you getting now?” David asks.
“David is looking for bilingual talents like you, to do translation,” Priscilla recommends me.
“I am not very good at it,” I confess.
“No problem, can you leave immediately?” David asks.
“I need to give two weeks’ notice,” I say.
“Ok Angelina, you could send a text to this lady, and tell her that you will be meeting her at the airport to pick her up on Christmas Eve, her flight comes in at 12:15 a.m. From there, you are to check her in at the Pamela Suite at the Concerto Hotel.”
The man gives instructions all at one go with the number and name of the lady on a piece of paper, while Priscilla looks on.
“Is this my first assignment?” I ask innocently.
“Take this one step at a time,” David Lim said.
Without asking him who the recipient is, I type on my handphone and tap the send key.
“It’s settled then,” “Cheers!” Priscilla is happy.
They exchange glances and then Priscilla and he talk business. I sit there desperately trying to look interested.
I go home and ponder on what I do today, and then I know that I have made a commitment which I can’t back out from. Priscilla knows where to find me, and if I back out on the job offer from David Lim, I will have to abandon the Peppermint Walk altogether, which is not something I can afford now.
For every action there is a reaction.
The atmosphere is somber in Brown Woods as I step in. Everyone buries his head in the PC in front of them. I settle myself tentatively, as though it is my first day at work.
Don't tell me that the office has gotten wind of the fact that I have accepted an offer from another company.
“Can I pick up my coffee first?” I ask Swee Kim so that she would answer my calls whilst I am away.
Swee Kim nods her head without looking up.
I am beginning to suspect that David has initiated steps to engage me by telling Brown Woods that he has interviewed me.
I get up, take my mug and I walk towards the coffee dispenser. I pull the lever, and thank God there was still some liquid left.
When I go back to my table, the admin head Josephine Tan is waiting for me. We call her Jot for Jo Tan and also because she has the habit of jotting down everything that we say on the spot.
“Here is a memo, you take it to the Philippine Embassy. I give you a copy as well. Don’t lose the original,” she says it in a hurry, as though she has a million more jobs to be done. I take over the paper, and I ask her,
“Do I have to go now?”
“Yes, it’s important and, yes, you have to go now immediately,”
“I have no time to talk to you now, just look at the memo,”
I take over the paper and stares at it –
“To Mr. Sam Wee:
You are hereby requested to come to this Embassy of The Philippines for an interview at 11:00 a.m. on 4 January 1999. Please bring along your identification paper(s) for verification. You may also nominate a proxy to attend on your behalf.
The tone of the note is grave, and undoubtedly Mr. Sam is in trouble. I have not met Mr. Sam before, and this would be the chance to meet him, I dance at the opportunity.
“Sure!” I say it with glee, something good has happened to me.
“Do I need to apply for leave?” I ask Jot.
“Of course not, this is part of your duty,” and then she adds, “We will pay you extra, if need be,”
“Ok, I go now!” I say, picking up my bag and the cardigan I hang on the back of my chair.
“Report back to me when you come back,” Jot says, and then, “Don’t forget to get receipts to claim expenditure.”
My bag is a Gucci bag that day, and my shoes are plain a non-designer not too ostentatious for a consular meeting.
Thirty minutes later I arrive at 34 Canberra Road. The building is old and needs a coat of paint badly. Two lamps stand at the front entrance on top of a large structure to mark the entry. There is a kiosk for the security, but I get the impression that he is too tired and went in to rest. The Philippine flag is flying right in the middle of the courtyard and the wind was particularly strong that day. I look up and couldn’t help making a short prayer, even though I don’t know what I am praying for.
I take a bold step further into the grounds. And then I see the words, “Consular Section”. Then I look at my watch to check if I am late for the appointment.
10:43 a.m. Thank God I am early.
I take my place amongst the group of mostly foreign visitors, and I make sure that I know where each counter is when my number is called.
Finally, I see my queue number being flashed on the screen – 687. I rush forward, to counter six.
“Can I help you?” The girl is most unenthusiastic.
“Err, yes, I have an appointment, on behalf of Mr. Sam Wee,” I say.
“My office sent me,” I volunteer.
“Show me the ticket,” woman says.
Obediently I give her my queue ticket.
“No, not this one, the other one,” she points at my memo.
I fumble for the copy and withhold the original.
“Where is the original?” she asks.
It is time to lie, “No, I didn’t bring the original,”
“Then why you come here?” I can see that she is getting annoyed.
“To see what I can do for Mr. Sam Wee …. Err …. to find out the purpose of you calling for the meeting,” I try to make out some logic.
“Ok, then let me tell you, his helper Ms. Lottie was found dead in a shopping centre, yesterday Sunday morning at around 10:45 a.m. We don’t suspect foul play now because she was alone. But we would like to know if it were a suicide,” the woman says it all in one go, as though she is delivering a report.
As she is talking, I have the chance to take a good look at her. She is very heavily made up, with several layers of eye shadow of blue, green, and brown, as though she couldn’t decide on which colour to use. Her lips are large, but I couldn’t decide if it she has overdrawn her lips with the lipstick. Nonetheless, I give her a rating of seven out of ten for good looks.
“I have not seen the police report,” I say.
“Ok, your office didn’t tell you, let me show it to you,” she says.
And then she passes me a piece of paper with the letterhead of the police force. There and then I decide to be honest with her. I fish out the original of the memo, and I say,
“Sorry I didn’t show it to you just now,”
“You could have done it earlier,” she looks visibly annoyed.
“Employment letter?” she asks.
“I am not Ms. Lottie,” I say.
“No, you are his office staff, right?” woman asks.
“Oh, that, I didn’t bring,” this time it is the truth.
“You don’t seem to be very well prepared,” she comments.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I was only told to come this morning,” I try to defend myself.
“Right,” “off you go,” she says, after confiscating my original memo.
“Hey! Wait! I need to bring it back!” I say loudly.
“690” the woman shouts.
A man comes up and moves me aside. I go away feeling wretched. Jot specifically tells me to keep the original.
With a jittery heart I went back to the office. No one is there at the reception, so I just walk straight to my desk to put my bag and cardigan down. Afterwards I compose myself and go up to see Jot. Jot is on the second floor.
“Hi Jot, I am back!” I say, greeting her with a smile. This is to tell her that I have done my job.
“Oh, what did they say?” she seems disinterested.
“Err …., they took the original,” I say.
“Oh, that means that they don’t expect Sam to attend,” Jot doesn’t seem perturbed.
“I made them acknowledge receipt on my copy,” I am a careful worker.
“Ok great! I will pass the copy to Sam,” Jot takes over the piece of paper.
I sense that it is time for me to leave, so I walk towards the door and close it behind me, and then I take the liberty to use the second-floor toilet. I have always wanted to know how they decorate this toilet.
Three minutes later I am back at my desk.
The next morning, I pick up the newspapers still in my pyjamas. No news on my boss. But when I arrive at the office, Jot is there waiting for me. She stands up from my chair and tells me,
“Can you go to Sam’s house today?”
“Of course, I could,” I am just too happy to be able to see what my boss’s house is like.
“It is not far away, within walking distance. And did you claim for transport yesterday?” Jot reminds me.
That is least important to me now. Nonetheless I say, “Yes, I shall,” and then I wait for her to give me Mr. Sam’s address.
Mr. Sam’s house is large by any standards. I try to memorize the number plate at the entrance.
After several attempts to disentangle myself from the large Alsatian dog, I manage to follow the helper into the house.
The design of the interior is not at all like the office. It has a Balinese flavour, with fresh flowers arranged in a jar on top of rectangular glass piece. It was evident that the owner of the house has lived in an English Equestrian home before. I look at the paintings hung on the wall, and I decide that I must find out the name of the artist before I leave the house.
“Ms. Lottie used to work here?” I ask tentatively, just to show that I had knowledge of the news.
“Yes, Umm .... ma’am, …. But she …. she ....” the rather plump looking woman says, presumably the helper.
“Not to worry, I am here to help you,” Jot doesn’t tell me what I am supposed to do in Mr. Sam’s house.
“Please go to her room with me,” she says, a little hesitant.
Common sense tells me that the deceased’s property must be sent back to her family in her home country.
“Ok, let me help you pack her belongings,” I offer.
The woman leads me through a large dining hall and turns left into a living room before moving into an area with a garden. And then at the end of the garden she opens a door without a lock.
“This her room?” I ask.
“Yes, ma’am, I didn’t go in since yesterday, I was cleaning the pool with the gardener. And then, the call from the police came.”
“Oh ok, you have some luggage?” I get down to business.
She steps in and pulls out a piece of luggage from the bottom of the bed.
I am efficient. Business is the call of the day. “Stay here.” I order the woman.
And then I open the luggage, without so much as looking at the items scattering all over the small room, I pick up everything that I could lay hands on, and I chuck them into the luggage. I am lucky that everything fits in.
“You got a padlock?” once I finish, I ask her.
“Yes, I think it’s here,” she pulls out a drawer from the side table, the only other piece of furniture in the room.
I lock the luggage and then I grab it, dragging it out of the room. I place it outside the door, and I tell the plump woman to help me bring it to the car. All this while I assume that my task today is to bring the late woman Ms. Lottie’s belongings back to Brown Woods to bring it to The Embassy of the Philippines.
I haven’t done estate before, and this is the first time I am doing it. It can’t be complicated, I tell myself.
The helper watches me in silence, and she helps me carry the luggage into the car before closing the car door for me. I am satisfied that my mission has been accomplished without fuss.
Once back at the office, I look for Jot.
The luggage is heavy, and I could barely carry it to my desk. All the other staff in the office stare at me, but none of them come up to help me. But I am not giving up. This is my job for now – to settle my boss Mr. Sam’s affairs for him.
Maybe he slept with Ms. Lottie and wanted to end the affair, which caused her to take her own life?
My mind suddenly starts to work. I have always loved mysteries and thrillers. The affair is the action that caused this reaction of suicide. This must be it! Yes! Yes! Yes!
I am not a P.I., neither have I worked in the police force, but I have read enough Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christies to know that something is amiss in the entire situation. First, why did the office tell me to keep the original, and then the embassy takes away the document. And now, no one in the office wants to take responsibility for the matter.
I need to talk to someone about this.
Some other third party who has no association with Brown Woods and who would not carry tales to the office. Yes, Priscilla and Sebastian are the best persons. I don’t even have to make an appointment; we automatically meet on Sundays.
But this Saturday Priscilla do not call me. I wait until 10:45 p.m. when I am sure that she won’t call, I log off from all my digital devices and switch off the lights.
The next morning, I wake up at 8:45 a.m. and I jump out of bed immediately, until mother speaks to me at the front door,
“Where are you going?” she asks.
Oh yeah! Priscilla didn’t call!
I sit down on the sofa, deflated. My day has no purpose now. But that since I have changed and is all ready to go out, I decide to go somewhere for breakfast. I am tired of eating mother’s scrambled eggs. Today is a holiday for me! I don’t have to go for the Peppermint Walk!
“Sorry I can’t have breakfast with you, mom,” I say.
“Where are you off to?” Mother shouts after me. But I am already outside the front door.
“Take me to the Park Cameron,” I tell the taxi driver. I decide to pay for my own breakfast.
Not a word is exchanged between me and the driver, and I allow the valet to open the car door for me. Likewise, he ushers me into the hotel without another word. I hurry into the coffee house and find a seat next to a man, and I leave my bag by the side to go up to the buffet table to collect my food.
The assortment is fantastic. I must choose between orange juice, grapefruit juice, apple juice, watermelon juice, and tomato juice. For bread, I must choose between white bread, brown bread, Rye bread, Pita bread, etc. For toppings I must choose between bacon, corned beef, ham, sausages, .... There is also porridge with radish, chicken floss, salted fish, and real fish slices …. for toppings. And then there is also French toast, and salad with multiple toppings …. all of which I couldn’t name.
The cook is there to prepare omeletts. He folds around our omeletts, and we are to tell him which fillings we want. The ingredients are all neatly lay out in small trays.
“Which of these do you want?” He says whilst pointing to the chives, vegetables, mushrooms, ham and bacon, capsicum green and red, onions, etc. while grilling an omelett for another guest.
“All of them,” I say. I couldn’t decide which to leave out. And in any case, it is the same price for one topping or all. It is a and/or situation. I am not greedy for food. I am just lazy to use my brains.
He breaks two eggs with one hand into a bowl and beat them up. Afterwards he throws them into his hot frying pan, pushes the yellow mixture around the pan, and then flips them several times, before adding the toppings one at a time, until the yellow mixture becomes a pocket. I marvel at his skill.
“There you go,” he places the omelett on a plate and hands it to me.
“Thank you,” I smile at him and is immediately satisfied.
I rush back to my table, ready to devour the hot pipping cuisine. Just as I am getting my first bite, a man comes up to me,
“Hello, this your bag?” He holds it high up for me to see.
Omg! I left my bag behind!
I snatch the bag from the man.
“Hey! Don’t you think you ought to say thank you?” He isn’t satisfied when I thought he would walk away.
“Oh, ok, thank you,” I respond.
“Would you like to check that nothing is missing before I walk away?” He orders people around, like Priscilla.
Why should I listen to him? I want my omelett!
As though reading my thoughts, he continues,
“The omelett is nice, isn’t it?”
This man is annoying!
“Ok, sir, thank you so much again, I am sure that you didn’t take anything from my bag, may I have your name before I proceed to check?”
“My name is Samuel,” he sounds confident as he mentions.
Samuel as in Sam!
I almost fall from the chair, except that I am sitting at the corner table. My pulse quickens, and I rush to stand up, dropping my napkin on the floor.
“Err, my bag is a cheap bag, there is nothing inside except my MRT card, my wallet with only two hundred dollars, my house keys, and then my lipstick, … that’s all …” and then, “nothing that a rich man like you would want to take,”
“How do you know that I am rich?” he asks.
“Oh, I have seen your paintings, you like horses, don’t you?” I reply, I want to show that I am credible. I don’t say things out of the blue for no reason at all. And I always state the facts.
“And you killed your helper!” I carried on talking.
Justice must be done!
“What helper? My helper had already left,” Samuel replies.
“She killed herself, I know, and all because of you!” I begin to get agitated.
“Since when?” by now the man is smiling.
“Your office told me,” I must give him the grounds to substantiate myself.
“I don’t think so,” the man becomes quite triumphant now.
“How did you gain entry into my office as well?” He begins to question me.
“I am a member of your staff, Mr. Sam!!!” I was beginning to raise my voice.
“Any evidence to show me?” He isn’t easily fooled.
By now I am desperate. On a weekend there is no reason for me to carry my office ID card. I always leave it at home in my Gucci handbag, and this morning I come out with the exercise bag which I always carry as though I am going for the Peppermint Walk.
“This is ridiculous!” I tell myself. I don’t know him in the first place, he takes my bag without asking me, and then now he wants me to show proof on where I work.
Without further ado, I walk out of the coffee house, leaving my delightful and delicious omelett behind.
Out in the hotel entrance, the valet again opens the car door without a word. The taxi driver tries to ask me if I want to turn right or make a left turn, I am so distressed I merely say,
“You are the driver you ought to know,” and then I begin to check my bag, something which I should have done when the suspect was around.
Mother is waiting for me at the living room the moment I get back.
“Why didn’t you go for the walk?” she asks.
“Oh, they didn’t ask me,” merrily I say, although I have had a scare just now.
“They came here looking for you,” mother says.
“Oh? Priscilla? What did you tell them?” I am hoping that mother didn’t tell them that I went to her hotel without her.
“She said she rang and couldn’t get a response from you,” mother is getting upset with me.
I must report this to someone. Someone in authority who would take over this matter from my hands, someone who would take the culprit to task, and relieve me from all this analysis, and fact-finding. I want to end this speculation on my part. I begin searching in my head for a good, honourable, and reliable person. That person must also believe what I say to him.
Finally, the answer comes.
It is none other than the pastor at the church room whom I have spoken to the other day.
I jot the encounter on a piece of paper, and I make a short prayer before I put on a nice navy frock. The navy dress is slightly off-shoulder, but I don’t think that the pastor would mind. I also take the trouble to apply two layers of lipsticks and wear my usual Miss Dior.
The counselling session I book online is on Friday night. I tell myself that after work I will go straight to see pastor. The church sanctuary is closed by the time I go there and there is a piece of paper with a note stuck on the wooden door –
“Kindly be advised that church service has now ended for the day. For counselling sessions, you are directed to the enclosure at the rear end beside the fountain.”
I wait patiently, all the while rehearsing what I have to say. Finally, a man opens the door.
“What can I do for you, my child?” a different pastor, no longer Pastor Lucas Ling. He is not wearing church attire but a black shirt with a pair of denim jeans.
“Wait! Before I begin, are you a pastor?” I demand.
“But of course, else I won’t be here,” he turns and light a candle behind him.
I decide to take this man into confidence. Although his rugged look disqualifies him from a pastor ab initio. He ought to be a seaman or at least a pirate.
“I am not sure, but this is something important. And I am not sure if I am accurate in saying that a murder has taken place ....” I start, with a kind of uncertainty in my tone of voice, as though I can’t believe what I am saying.
“Before you begin, I need you to sign this declaration form,” the man hands me a piece of paper.
On it is a statement which permitted him to release the information I give him to the relevant authorities if it is found to be illegal or unlawful.
“What if it was merely immoral?” I ask.
Mr. Sam didn’t kill Ms. Lottie. He merely ditched her, and she killed herself.
“Then you would need to ask God for forgiveness,” he says.
“But this is an immoral act committed by someone else,” I quickly absolve myself from guilt,” and then I add,
“Although, I am not sure if it was criminal.”
“Ok, then let’s hear it!” the man sounds unusually cheerful.
“The company that I work for … I think my boss has killed his helper,” I begin my story.
“What makes you think so?” he seems to be interested now, and at the same time he takes out a piece of paper.
“Err, … it’s a long story,” my thoughts begin to fracture. Is this criminal?
I stand up, decide to leave.
“Why?” the man suddenly grabs hold of my arm, in order to stop me from leaving, “What do you think you are doing?” he asks.
“MOLEST!” I begin to raise my voice, not shouting.
“I have turned the CCTV off, and the entrance and exit to this hall is closed, you can shout for all I care,” the man says.
I look at this man, now it seems clear to me that he is an imposter. And I notice that he has a scar on his neck by the side of his chin. It is not a very long line, and a little faint perhaps due to the passage of time. Otherwise, I would say that he is quite handsome.
There is a clock on the wall. I could see the second hand ticking away. In no time the counselling centre would be closed, and no one would be able to rescue me from this predicament.
So, I pretend to be interested in his affairs, “How did you get this scar?” I speak.
“You really don’t remember, do you?” the man’s eyes narrow, emitting a hateful blaze, as though he is going to consume me.
“For heaven’s sake, this is the first time I am meeting you, sir!” I decide to call him sir instead of pastor, since he is an imposter.
“We were school mates in junior high school, then you left without saying a word,” he begins to talk.
“Did I say I was going to meet you? After graduation it would be natural for us to part ways, I should think,” I try to reason with him.
“Yes, for everyone else, but not you and I,” his voice deep and hollow, with a strange kind of resonance.
“Ok, but really, what was your name?” I pursue the trend of thought.
“Oh, you even forgot my name!” now the man looks visibly upset.
“Listen, pastor, or whatever name you might want to call yourself now. My name is Angelina Chan, and I am here to do counselling. If you let me out now, I promise I won’t breathe a word to anybody.”
“Ok, but do you remember me?” he softens.
“Ahh, I remember now, you the one that plays the guitar?” I say, with a kind of affirmation that even I couldn’t believe it.
“Exactly!!” the man beams.
I hit at the jackpot!
“Ok, can I come back and do this another day, say next Tuesday?”
“No, Tuesday I have another session, how about next Monday?” he checks his handphone calendar.
I am getting there, I am close to it, I take one step away from him, nearer towards the door, my thoughts racing ….
And then suddenly it clicked!!!
Yes, he is Wee Soon Seng! The guy who sat at the last chair on the second row. We used to make fun of him and called him, “we will soon be able to sing”.
And then …. And then …. Omg! I forget the rest. What happened? Did we date? Did we exchange farewell gifts? Have I ever been to his house?
“Ok, see you on Monday then!” Pastor, no, Mr. Wee says. This man is satisfied. He gives me a broad smile and he uses his remote control to open the door. The door fling opens, and I tiptoe to the exit when in fact all I want to do is to run out.
“See you ….” I say, if I say Goodbye he might come after me.
Back in the safe confines of my home, I do not relate this misadventure to mother, and frankly mother couldn’t help me either.
Neither do I confide in Priscilla and Sebastian on Sunday during Peppermint Walk.
I go to work as usual, remembering that Ms. Lottie’s luggage is still at my desk.
But when I go to my desk, there is no luggage. I panic and curse myself for having left it there, “How could you trust the office staff?!”
I begin to ask around. No one pays any attention to me.
And then Jot comes up to me. Jot is the only friendly soul in this office, she always helps me whenever I am in trouble.
“I brought Ms. Lottie’s belongings back …. in some luggage …. but the luggage had disappeared,” I could have cried.
“Oh?” Jot looks genuinely surprised.
“Mr. Sam would like to see you, in his office,” Jot mentions.
“Now?” I am shocked.
“Yes, now,” Jot says.
Immediately I head towards his office. And I drop by the toilet to refresh the powder on my face and touch up on my lipstick. I must look my best. I make sure that I put on a good makeup. I examine myself again and see that I am wearing a cream-coloured dress and a pair of high heels, the whole attire suitable for such a meeting. And then I sprayed Miss Dior on my wrist.
I have no difficulty finding the boss’s room. His name is neatly written on his door, the words embossed in gold. I raise my scented hand.
Knock, knock, I hold the doorknob at the same time.
No sound from inside. I wait five seconds before I attempt again.
Knock, knock, I tap.
Finally, I pluck up the courage to open the door.
The door is kind of heavy, I must use some force to push it open, what on earth ….
Inside is a large desk, a man is sitting there on a highchair, he seems to be busy reading some papers. Beside his table is a blooming palm, on top is a large painting of a woman on horseback.
Finally, the man decides to put down his newspapers and breaks the silence.
I see him, my boss, the boss of Brown Woods.
Mr. Sam is none other than Wee Soon Seng!
And he is not the man Samuel at the Park Cameron coffee house! I have assumed that Samuel was Sam!
“We said we were going to meet on Monday, right?” he asks, gentle and reassuring, unlike the man who calls himself pastor the other night.
“Yes,” I begin to like him now. I have confirmed that this is my childhood friend. They call it the puppy love. Is he my first boyfriend? I have no idea. But in any case, he could do me no harm. We are playmates.
“Oh yes, Jot told me you went to my house the other day, was it Thursday or Friday?” he looks a little unsure.
“Friday.” I confirm.
“And you took some things from my helper’s room,” he says.
“Yes,” I have no reason to lie, I want to know where the luggage has gone to.
“Ok, here is a memo from the police, you look at it yourself,” he slit opens an envelope and passes me the letter inside –
“To Ms. Angelina Chan:
You are hereby charged with the murder of Ms. Lottie Del Rosario, a Philippines National, on the eve of Christmas 24 December 1998 at 2:00 a.m., thereafter disposing of her belongings in an unknown neighbourhood ……”
Sweat begins running down from my forehead, I could almost taste the salt concentration.
“Why did you frame me?” I yell; I could not contain myself.
“Why didn’t you go to the airport on the 24th of December 1978? You know how long I waited? Do you know how hard it is for me to forget you?!” Sam Wee asks.
Twenty years! It has been twenty years!!!
I wish I could plead dementia.
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