Story by Lee Su Min

Christmas is a time for gifts

Christmas is a time for gifts

I have no Intention

Chapter 1

Every murderer will tell you that he had no intention of killing the victim. And nobody knows how your mind works except yourself.

Chapter 2

I did my inventory check list for the last time and found that no items had been missing today. Then I took out the little cash box to count the monies that I had collected for the day.

As usual, I have collected about five-hundred dollars. Not many people came in today. I spent most of my time in the day on my iPhone looking at the Facebook.

At 8:00 p.m. sharp, I took the cash box, locked myself out of the shop, and I went to look for Winnie.

Winnie was my supervisor in this hotel and the admin manager. I was always relieved to see her sitting at her desk waiting for me to appear.

“Hi, you are done for today?” she asked.

“Yup, as usual,” and then,

“Here is the collection, five hundred and twenty-seven dollars,”

“What did they buy?” Winnie showed some interest.

“A soap dish and a cigar case,” I said.

“Oh," "We still have stock, right?” Winnie asked.

“Yup, three of each left,” I answered.

“Ok, don't forget to make requisition later,” Winnie reminded me.

I let her count the cash and noted the initial next to the figure on the little notebook, then I picked up the cash box and strolled out of Winnie's office after bidding her good day.

It’s time to see Andrew and I was glad.

Chapter 3

The gift shop of a hotel was not a boutique that people usually frequented. It was more like a quaint place where people just came in and browsed – to look see.

After work I would drop by at a cafe located inside the Willshire House on my way home. The cafe was a new joint, tucked in at one obscure corner. No one realised that it was there unless he was going to the stall around the corner to buy newspapers and magazines.

It was there that I met Jeffrey.

The minute this man sat down beside me I knew that he was not an ordinary customer. The waitress was unusually deferential towards him. I saw the way he dressed, a black polo shirt exposing a thick gold chain on his neck and a bold engraved gold ring on his finger. I guessed that he must be at least a millionaire, or some CEO in a large organisation.

I was still a church mouse. If he were a celebrity I won’t have known.

I was careful not to spill coffee onto my knitted blouse, so that I tucked the napkin on my neck under my blouse. When my tiramisu cake came, I used my fork to poke into the pastry and was just about to relished it when my neighbour said,

“Shouldn’t you be taking off your mask?”

“Oh, I see,” I smiled back, and then obediently I took off my mask.

“Nice mask you have there,” he said, “the design is very special,”

“Yes, my friend had it made for me,” I volunteered.

“Must have been a very good friend,” he lamented.

At this time, the waitress at the counter offered me my drink – a cold coffee with milk – they called it an iced mocha coffee, as the coffee was mixed with some powdered chocolate, to the right amount. I grabbed at it and I tried to ignore the man. But he did not give up.

“After work?” again he ventured.

I told myself I had nothing to do with this man, I was here only for a cup of coffee, and after coffee I would go home. So that I did not encourage him.

He spoke again, “It must be difficult for you, not being able to travel,”

“Yes, of course,” I said, as a matter of fact.

“Have you been to Korea?” he asked.

“No, I am sorry,” I said, although there was nothing that I needed to be sorry for.

“I guess you don’t have to, most people go there for plastic surgery,” the man continued.

Seems like a compliment, so I smiled.

And then suddenly I thought of Andrew again. So, I hurried on with my coffee, and finished it with one gulp.

“I got to leave,” I said, although this was a public café, I was under no duty to inform him. I could just walk up and leave.

“You haven’t given me your number,” the man said quietly.

“Oh, we might meet here again, next time!” I was reluctant. He was still a stranger.

And then I walked away, with a certain amount of confidence.

Chapter 4

Tonight, after I consulted the Bible, I went to the bureau and adjusted the calendar. I turned back the pages, back to the date that Andrew was here, on the night of 25 December 2014, when we celebrated our last Christmas together. I knew that it was a futile attempt to bring back time, but looking at the date it comforted me, at least for a while. And then I called out some Christmas songs from my Google Nest.

Chapter 5

It was only in the morning when I arrived at the office that I realised that I haven’t paid the café for my iced mocha coffee yesterday.

I tried to look for the café on the internet, hoping to call them and tell them that I would drop by later after work to make payment. I remembered that it was called the Monster Café. But that it was a small café, and I was not surprised when I couldn’t find the telephone number.

Just as I was about to lapse into a state of bad mood, a man walked in.

You couldn't say that I was observant or that he was striking. But I remembered him – the man at the Monster Café yesterday. He was here at the gift shop!

OMG! I am being stalked!

"Hello," the man smiled the moment he came in, I knew that he was greeting me.

Of course, I was the only one in the shop.

“Welcome, please feel free to browse around. Let me know if you see anything you like,” I said, I was told to say this the moment a guest turned up.

And then I moved slightly aside, so that my customer could walk around freely and hopefully he would see something he liked. And hopefully it was something expensive.

“Fancy this set of wine glasses?” I ventured. I was eager to make a sale.

“They look nice,” the man didn’t object.

“I could pack it up tightly for you, with foam and two layers of tissue paper,” I offered.

“Yeah, not to worry. I only need to bring it into a taxi,” my customer said.

“Huh?” I was a little surprised.

“I am only here on a staycation,” he explained.

“Oh, no wonder you sounded local,” I commented.

“By the way, I do not need to have so many glasses. I do not entertain. I am not married,” he carried on, and then,

“I am just browsing .... ”

“We have some very nice ashtrays,” I said quickly, adding, “they’re all here,” pointing to the few porcelain ashtrays displayed next to the newspapers. I was eager to make a sale. I still couldn’t hit my daily target of one thousand dollars.

“I don’t smoke,” my customer sounded apologetic.

I began to study this man standing right in front of me now. I could see that his necktie was not very straight, perhaps done in a bit of a hurry. But I was wondering if he were telling me the truth, that he was a non-smoker. I went a little closer to see if I could smell nicotine from his body. But instead all I got was the Cologne he lavished on himself.

Standing at close proximity we became acquainted immediately.

“Fancy this pair of cuff links?” I asked.

The man picked up the box, frowned, picked up the stuff, studied it, and he put it back again, saying, “Nice, but I have one too many.”  

Before the man got tired of browsing, I had quickly brought him to the gift cards rack, in an attempt to detain him until he bought something.

“These gift cards are nice, limited edition, printed locally, on our local scenes,” I took out a few cards.

“No need to elaborate, I can see very well,” the man said.

“See very well what?” I asked.

“I can see very well that we are both having our masks on,”

And then we both laughed.

The atmosphere at once became cordial.

“Listen, if I buy up all the items at this shop, would you come home with me?” he fired me point blank.

Startled, “you must be joking,” I stammered. That must have been the most intelligent response I could give.

And then I stormed out of the gift shop leaving all my merchandise at his disposal.

Chapter 6

I still couldn't help thinking of Andrew. The last time I saw him was yesterday, and I am due to see him again later, which was pretty soon. Andrew and I have not been on talking terms, simply because he was in a coma now. He couldn’t talk to me. I saw him every day after work, just before I was due to go home for dinner. Dinner I ate alone, because Andrew couldn’t eat with me.

Yes, my husband Andrew had met with an accident since the day he was knocked down by the bus. The date I remembered very well – 20 April 2015. I rushed to the hospital from my office to see him, but I was just two minutes too late. The lapse was an eternity, without a proper goodbye and no clue as to when he may wake up to talk to me again.

Today after work I was at the Greenland Hospital again. The room was in complete darkness when I entered, so I automatically walked up to the window to draw the thick velvety curtains. The nurse in baby blue uniform was changing the drip for Andrew.

“Mrs Choo, do you have any children?” she asked.

It was a little intrusive, so I replied, “No, why?”

“I was thinking …” she continued, sort of hesitant.

“He will wake up, won’t he?” I began to sound desperate.

“In due course, I guess,” the nurse replied.

I walked up to her and looked at her name tag, and I stared at it, hoping to use her reassurance as some sort of certainty.

She backed off a little, and she quickly turned away and walked out of the room, before shutting the door behind her.

I stood in the semi-darkness, curtains half drawn, and I made a silent prayer. Afterwards, I went to the side table to pour myself a cup of water, the water was actually meant for Andrew.

I will drink the water of life for him. I said to myself.

Half an hour later, Dr Jason came in.

“Good evening! Good that you are here!” as usual he looked happy to see me.

“Most family members would have stopped coming by now,” Dr Jason said.

“Why?” I was surprised.

“They see it as futile …” Dr Jason spoke softly.

“But … the nurse said …” I tried to challenge the doctor, I knew what was coming.

“It has been more than two months, if there was any hope, your husband would have showed some response,” Dr Jason elaborated.

“So, you mean to say that we should just leave him in this state forever?!” I was getting hysterical.

“As you know, the law here does allow for euthanasia,” Dr Jason continued,

“and the cost of maintenance is high,”

“unless you want to continue … but there are other patients who might need it …” he spoke with a kind of stammer, done deliberately to dilute the severity of his words.

I couldn’t put an end to Andrew’s life, that would be murder. I had no right to decide if he ought to live or die, these matters are best left to God. But God wasn’t talking, He has to make a decision! If nothing else happens, Andrew would continue to live day after day by virtue of the life support machine. The machine cost three thousand dollars a day. I would never in my life spend three thousand dollars a day.

Chapter 7

This morning I woke up after the alarm sounded for the third time, on repeat at a 5-minute interval. And then reluctantly I got out of bed. I went to the bathroom and realised that I had not prepared a clean set of clothes.

Never mind, I will wear what I wore yesterday, no one would notice. I told myself.

No one came into the gift shop today.

Chapter 8

On my way home, I dropped by to see Andrew again. Today I brought a recorder. I wanted to make sure that I recorded the last moments that Andrew shared with me.

When your spouse died, a part of you died with him. But when he was alive by artificial means, and lived indefinitely, your relationship with him was a spoof, as he was only technically alive, and you didn’t know how long the status quo was going to be. You wanted him to be alive, but at the same time you wanted him to die as quickly as possible, just so that you could move on, back to the real world, the world in which you shared with other real people, no matter how unrelated they were to you.

Yes, I have resolved not to wait for Andrew to wake up. As Dr Jason had put it, he would never wake up. What he would do was to continue lying there, in a state of consciousness connected only to himself. Everyone else couldn’t relate to him.

For this I consulted several church leaders. I wanted to know if I should be the one to put an end to Andrew’s life – meaning to order the doctor-in-charge Dr Jason to turn off his life support machine. Decision making has never been harder.

Over time, I found myself confronting with the prospect of life without Andrew. Already I am running the house all by myself, I made all the necessary decisions, like getting this job at the hotel, like what to eat for dinner, what to wear in the mornings.

I knew that Dr Jason was waiting for me to pull the plug. But telling him to turn off the life support machine is murder civilised. They call it Euthanasia. But actually, it is cruelty in its most severe form. It is an affront to mankind. I don’t want to be known as “the woman who killed her husband”. No, I am not going to play God!

Chapter 9

Doing my quiet time, I invariably came to the Book of Ecclesiastes:

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, … a time to kill and a time to heal, ….”

The words jumped out at me. The time for decision making has come. I felt the Almighty telling me.

And then I thought I heard a voice – “Life is short, don’t waste your time on Andrew anymore.” Startled, I got up from my kneeling position, and then I walked up to the altar to blow off the candle as a signal of my resolution and determination.

Tomorrow I will speak to Dr Jason.

Chapter 10

No one knew this. Not even the counsellor with whom I was in consultation with. But I guessed I had better tell you now, before I changed my mind.

Every relationship has its ups and downs. You must endeavour your best if you wanted it to last. Andrew and I have been married for three years for now, and we have been childless. I was told that there was nothing wrong with us, that both of us were healthy and normal. I yearned for a child, but not Andrew.

On 20 March 2015 – exactly one month before Andrew met with the accident. I received a report which informed me that Andrew was ill. He was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer. The tumour will spread if he did not go for an operation straight away. I was shocked and devastated. But I did not tell anyone. Neither did I confront Andrew. He should tell me himself.

Nothing came. No news. No word from Andrew. We sat at the dining table every night, and we exchanged information on what we did in the day. We talked about the latest news and sometimes we even ventured into politics. But no, nothing was said about the doctor’s report.

Of course, I had contemplated calling it quits. But I couldn’t divorce Andrew now. It would make me look very bad. What ground could I use? I had promised to stay married to him “in sickness and in health” just three years ago at the altar.

I still had not spoken to Dr Jason.

Chapter 11

Ideally, I should drop Andrew and start a new life with Jeffrey. For after all Jeffrey was a very eligible man, rich and good looking, and unattached. But I found myself addicted to the notion of loyalty. I told myself that unless Andrew died, I won’t remarry.

Andrew existed on a contingency, a contingency that he did not die. But that he also had stage 3 cancer. He would die of cancer, a cause unrelated to the coma. According to the medical science, he was brain dead, his body was winding down. Did that prevent the tumour cells in his body from spreading? No one could answer me as I did not speak to anyone about Andrew’s cancer. Andrew never told me he had cancer!

I was not supposed to see the report from the oncologist. It was marked Private and Confidential. Although I did not have permission to read it at the time, I guess in the current context I could give myself access retrospectively.

I didn't think that you could point to the one moment that was the straw that broke the camel's back. It was the increase in the stress and anxiety over time and, at some point, you said enough was enough.

I picked up the name card that Jeffrey gave me at the gift shop.

And then I rang the number and waited for the other end to pick up.

I was going to tell Jeffrey about Andrew’s cancer.

Chapter 12

Nobody has the right to forbid you from doing anything you felt like doing, if it was not illegal or immoral.

I knew that soon I would become a widow and I have to say that I was actually looking forward to it. No one knows how your mind works except yourself.

For reasons best known to myself, I started to log into the website. I typed on the search bar of the browser – will cancer spread in a person in a coma? – how much time does a person in a coma have with cancer? does a person in a comatose state die faster if he already had cancer?

And the answer I got was that it was not faster than if they were awake. Andrew had been in coma for two months and ten days by now. Time was running out for him.

So, logic told me that it would be best if I married Jeffrey.

The call that I made that day went unanswered.

But two days later Jeffrey walked into the gift shop. And he brought along a pendant which he opened right under my eyes. It was a butterfly engraved in diamonds!

I knew what that meant. They said that a when a beloved departed, she came back as a butterfly. So, it wasn’t a proposal it was only an invitation to a fortuitous relationship. How long it would last depended on my performance. I saw this as a rejection for a long-term relationship which is marriage. For if he were sincere, he would have brought a ring. Jeffrey wasn’t married, according to him. Why couldn’t he have proposed?

I was careful not to offend Jeffrey, since I already knew that he was an important man. Pretending that it was what I wanted, the pendant I meant, I picked it up from the box and I said thank you to the man. But then I quickly added,

“You know, I am still married,”

Jeffrey was shocked, taken aback, he said, “Oh, I don’t mean to sound rude, but why haven’t you mentioned it before?”

“There was no reason to,” I said simply.

“So, you have set me up for this? To buy you an expensive gift in order that you could reject me??” I could see the man’s face turning red.

“I, err, I, …”

And before I realised, Jeffrey walked out on me.

I stood in the empty space, holding the box, the pendant still inside staring at me, as though making fun of me.

I knew straight away that I was in trouble now. My prospect has walked out on me, and the current one was fading away, albeit through no fault of my own. Should I have accepted Jeffrey’s indecent proposal? After all it was just a beginning and the ring might come later. No one could tell these things.

True enough, when I reported for work the next morning, Winnie was already in the gift shop waiting for me to turn up.

The life support machine for Andrew cost three thousand dollars a day. My salary only paid for my food and lodging. I transited at the hospital everyday, my transport cost has also increased. This morning I was just telling myself if I should avoid coffee at the Monster Café even though I needed to destress very badly.

To cut the long story short, I was running out of cash.

Winnie wasn’t unkind. She told me that it had nothing to do with my performance. The hotel was shutting down the gift shop due to a fall in sales. Covid-19 wasn’t good for the retail business, and new guests for our hotel were not visiting in the near future.

But I knew that it had something to do with Jeffrey.

Chapter 13

Now I was given a good reason to discontinue Andrew’s life support. I simply could not afford to support Andrew anymore. Our common funds were being depleted. I calculated that the balance, if Andrew died now, minus the testamentary expenses, would only be enough to support me for another two years. And the fact was that Andrew was terminally ill and was going to die in any case.

As I lay in bed, having banked in the last pay cheque in the day, I took one more pill, an extra, to help me fall asleep. I have been suffering from insomnia since the news of Andrew’s cancer broke. The oncologist who gave me the news of Andrew’s diagnosis, was also allowed to prescribe sleeping pills. I fell asleep telling myself that I had better check with him on how long a cancer patient in a coma can live.

I had not told Dr Jason that Andrew also suffered from cancer. Initially I was afraid that he would not supply us the use of the life support machine if he had known that Andrew was terminally ill. So, the decision has been made, backed by logic. God really has a way to plan these things!

Chapter 14

With no work to do, this afternoon I took a bus to Willshire House again. And I arrived at Monster Café.

I told myself to relax a little, three sleeping pills made me very sleepy the entire day. I only woke up at 12:30 p.m.

“Good afternoon, Sir!” the waitress announced.

I was just about to reproach her for calling me a man. What was wrong with her? I was wearing long hair, clearly, she could tell that I was a woman not a man!

And then I heard Jeffrey’s voice!

“May I know your name? The last time you said that we might meet here again …”


Ok! I have never given Jeffrey my name!

I quickly groped for the butterfly pendant. It wasn’t on my neck. But it was too late to wear it now. I fumbled in my speech …

“Err … hi … Jeffrey ……”

“Why are you so afraid? Have you ordered your coffee?”

“I was just about to … ” I said.  

“In that case let me order it for you,”

“It is iced mocha coffee, right?” he asked.

“Your … husband … why are you always alone?” the enquiry came.

“He is dead, I mean, he is dying,” I confessed.

“You are sure? Not joking?” the man looked surprised, and somewhat elated.

“I mean, he was in a coma, now on a life support machine,” I looked genuinely miserable when I said this.

“Then, how are you managing your funds?” Jeffrey became concerned.

“I don’t know, that’s why I am here,” I said.

“To look for me?” the man laughed.

“Obviously not! How would I know that you are here?!” I smiled as well.

“Ok, live with me and let me pay for all the hospital expenses. We can’t get married whilst your husband is still alive.” Jeffrey took the lead.

And then he lamented, “it could take a long while, people on life support can last forever.” 

No! Not Andrew!

I needed to tell Jeffrey the truth now. Andrew has cancer. An aggressive cancer can metastasize in 3 months of time. Andrew has been in coma for 72 days by now. He will soon die. That was a certainty. Andrew will die!

“Wait!” I said.

It was time for disclosure. I will tell Jeffrey about the oncologist’s report.

“My husband has cancer,” I said quietly.

“What?!” his face changed, followed by,

“I thought you said coma.”

“Then why did you reject my proposal the other day?” he sounded confused.

“I wanted a long-term relationship,” I told the man the truth.

“My wife just passed away, I wanted you to emulate her, just for a time, until we get married,” he explained.

Then our eyes locked.

We knew what we had to do now.

In any case Andrew will die, to put it in chronological terms, in 18 days’ time, assuming we could actually time death.

The life support machine cost three thousand dollars a day, plus all the hospital expenses including consultation, it will come up to no less than seventy thousand dollars. We will just wait for time to lapse.

Chapter 15

At night after my shower, it was my quiet time. Again I found myself drawn to the verse in Ecclesiastes: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, … a time to kill and a time to heal, … a time to mourn and a time to dance, …” I told God I did not need a ring from Jeffrey. He has paid for my peace of mind and calmed my troubled soul. I need not be known as “the woman who killed her husband”.

And then I lit the candle at the altar and let it illuminate the entire night.

Hope you enjoyed the story you've just read. I wish to write more stories to amuse my readers!