It was not uncommon for couples to quarrel with each other soon after marriage or even immediately after the wedding ceremony.
I could hear my neighbours quarrelling again. It was the woman who was shouting, as always. I couldn’t hear the exact words but from the tone of the voice I knew that this time it was going to last for at least an hour.
The last time they quarrelled was last night, at about 8:00 p.m., just after dinner. Tonight it was now 8:37 p.m., a little later. Yes, they have been on schedule. Like the local drama it came on every night regularly after dinner. They were behind schedule tonight.
The voice was getting louder. I could only hear the woman scream. No sound from the man. The man never argued with his wife. I have seen Emily before. She was a petite woman. I meant she didn’t smile at you even when you came into contact with her face to face. Of course I did not attempt to greet her. We met only outside along the narrow lane that ran along all thirteen houses at this terrace housing estate.
At first tonight I thought it was the end and that they were not going to quarrel anymore. The man has walked out on the woman. I could hear the car zooming out from their compound next door.
Emily was rather pretty if you asked me. I wouldn’t mind having a girlfriend like her. But then when I thought of her loud voice in their quarrels my mind started to doubt. You never knew a woman until after she has opened her mouth. But, on the other hand, she might not quarrel with me if I were her husband instead. Yes, it must be her husband’s fault. I was partial to Emily.
I didn’t know her at all. I knew her to be Emily because the postman delivered one of her letters into my letterbox. It was marked:
Mrs Emily Lim 9 St Sauveur Terrace Singapore 286913
I hoped the SingPost man hasn’t delivered any of my letters into her letterbox instead, too.
I often wondered whether I should intervene in their quarrels. Maybe one of us should ring their doorbell and woke them up to the fact that the entire neighbourhood could hear them. And frankly in heated quarrels like that, people did get carried away to the point where they simply quarrel for the sake of quarrelling without a purposeful object. I wondered if they ever remembered what they have quarrelled over. And was it over the same subject every night?
I was very curious as to the topic of their quarrels. I wanted to know what exactly they were quarrelling about, as I would like to be their mediator, to judge if the man or the woman was right. Probably both of them were in the wrong. In the first place, husbands and wives should not enter into any protracted arguments.
Have they taken their marriage vows? But on the other hand, marriage vows only told you, “for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health,” the solemniser never told you that you must not argue with your spouse. I have been married before and I could still remember those lines.
I looked at my watch. It was 9:45 p.m. They have been at it for more than an hour. I thought someone must stop her ugly outbursts. So far tonight the man hasn’t said anything and I was very surprised at his remarkable control. She was usually the one who was shouting. I have often wondered how the demure looking Emily could muster such a loud voice. She must have been very angry.
I was a divorce lawyer so I knew from experience that this couple must be estranged. Maybe one of them was having an affair and the other one was confronting him or her about it. It was more likely for the man to be having an affair rather than the woman. I have observed that Emily seemed to be a housewife for she rarely went out. The car belonged to the man and it was out early in the morning and came back before I was back by 7:00 p.m.
I was living at the immediate neighbouring terrace house. The other adjoining house was vacant, so I was the one neighbour who heard what was going on.
Actually I liked Emily a lot. I looked forward to bumping into her in Chancery Supermarket just outside our estate. It was a small setup and only the daily essentials were on the shelves. I went there every Saturday afternoon at about 6:00 p.m., just after I have woken up from my nap. The store was usually less crowded at this time for by then most people had gone out for their weekend dinner.
The first time I chanced on Emily I didn’t know that she was my neighbour. She was wearing a loose dress like she was carrying a baby but at the same time you could see that her stomach was flat. Her hair was loosely tied up and it gave her a lazy and trendy look at the same time. She wore a pair of high heels, which gave the impression that going to the supermarket was not the only activity for that appearance. I noticed her at once.
On my way back from the supermarket I met her again by accident. I usually took the long and winding road by foot, as it was not too far a distance. It took less than forty-five minutes one way. And then just as I arrived at my street, I saw her standing at the gate opening the padlock. That was how I knew the woman was my neighbour – Emily.
The next day promptly at 8:00 p.m. again I heard a woman shouting from inside the house. It must be Emily the same woman. Fact that she has the keys to the house showed that she lived there, and unless she lived there, she won’t be shouting at the top of her voice. You didn’t go into a friend’s house and started shouting. My logical deduction told me that the woman I saw at the supermarket was Emily my neighbour at number 9.
Since I have seen her, something compelled me to move in, to check on them. Quickly I grabbed my own set of house keys and I went to her front gate. I pressed the bell. I told myself if she asked me why I was there I would simply tell her that I was told that my mail was wrongly delivered to her house.
I rang the doorbell. I stood patiently waiting outside. If they had been quarrelling, they would not hear my visit, or rather intrusion, and a friendly intrusion out of concern. I wished I had a watch with me at the time. I came out of the house on impulse and it was just to the neighbour so apart from the Esprit t-shirt and shorts that I was wearing I carried nothing with me. My handphone was also left in my own house.
I didn’t know how long I waited, but after about fifteen minutes there was no reaction. I could still hear the woman shouting, and it was even louder from just outside the gate. I rang the doorbell a second time, this time a little bit more insistent. Still there was no answer. But on that night at that particular point in time I felt I had to gain entry.
So, I waited for a little while longer and when on the third attempt there was no immediate response, I tried to open the gate manually. All our gates were sensor operated, which meant that you usually use a remote control to open it. But you could also pull it open manually. Surprisingly when I stretched my hand inside and felt the latch, there was no padlock, which meant that the gate wasn’t locked at all.
So, since there was no opposition I walked in with trepidation. I had entirely forgotten about the word “trespass.” Inside the lights were on. Standing at the garden I could not see any figure there. I expected them to be at the dining room. They must have been in the bedroom, probably with the door locked. But then the noise seemed like they were situated on the ground floor.
The bedroom was on the second floor. I knew because I was the neighbour. I lived in a house built to the same architectural design. By this time I couldn’t contain my curiosity any longer. I knocked on the front door and at the same time without waiting for a response I attempted to open the door.
To my surprise the door opened at the turn of the doorknob. I peeped my head inside and I saw no one. By now I could see clearly that no one was downstairs where the lights were on. But someone must be inside the house. No one would have left his house unlocked and vacant at the same time unless he was inviting a thief. I was very sure that I was not a thief, so I became bolder. I was just a friendly neighbour trying to settle a dispute between two persons who were married and who shouldn’t be quarrelling.
As I was thinking I walked up the spiral staircase that led to the second floor where the bedroom was. Still there was no one. Two doors faced me as I reached this level. I knew exactly which was the door to the master bedroom. This door was left open. The other door was also ajar.
With firmness in thought and spirit I stepped in, I had not prepared my speech I had no idea what I wanted to say. All I knew was that I had a mission to accomplish. At that time, I haven’t thought about the fact that I might be perceived as a thief. In any case I felt that I was just an uninvited guest.
No one was inside. The bed was a double bed, and the sheets a dark green. It was actually kind of awful. Most people chose a lighter shade and possibly linen. Then just as I was about to step out, I heard a sob in the bathroom. It was unmistakably clear that someone was crying. At this time, I did not know whom it was, but I knew that I had to look inside and saw to the person who was in need of sympathy. I walked in. And there I saw a woman with long hair, her hair over her face as she was sobbing away.
“What happened?” I asked her.
“My husband left me,” she said.
“But that is no reason to cry like that! Just file for divorce and ask for money,” I said matter of fact.
I was mercenary. I was a divorce lawyer and I handled a lot of these cases.
“No, I don’t want a divorce, not now,” I had forgotten entirely about the image of the Emily I met earlier at the supermarket.
She looked different under the dim bathroom light, and frankly she was not the firm strong character that I thought I knew. I took a step back and I told her I would like to speak to her again. This time properly.
“Wash your face first. Can I talk to you downstairs?” I ordered her politely.
And then I walked out of the master bedroom. I waited for her downstairs in the dining room, but she never came down. Half an hour later I decided to leave the scene to go back to my own house, my mind still thinking of the sobbing woman.