Story by Lee Su Min
Wallet in the Rain
My father tells me to always carry sufficient cash with me.
I did not know what he meant until the day it was raining, and I was caught without an umbrella. Usually I carried an umbrella with me. But that morning I woke up feeling severely depressed, and I wanted to do something different. By that I meant I wanted to change my outlook for the day.
So, in order to put together a different image, instead of wearing pants I decided to put on a skirt. I opened my wardrobe and found that all my tops were in white. My skirts were all black and grey. Very unimaginative, I had not realized it until then. I was working for an interior designer and the office wear was always either black white or grey. In order to blend with the office crowd, I had inadvertently chosen the same colors.
Since it was raining I decided that I must catch a taxi. I usually take the bus unless it falls under one of the three categories: raining, I was late or if I had heavy things to carry. So, I made a quick calculation, it was raining and so I was entitled to catch a taxi. Taxis are expensive, but not so if you compare it with other cities.
I proceeded to walk towards the nearest taxi stand at Liat Towers. It has no shelter. The queue was short, only four people waiting and I think two of them belong together. I stood next to one of them but before that I casually asked the man standing there with an umbrella if he were at the head or the end of the queue. He looked at me nonchalantly and said, “the end”.
I stood next to him. Many taxis passed by. All of them had the Hired sign displayed. I stood in the rain and I could feel my hair getting wet. But I was more worried about my handbag. I had just bought it yesterday and it was Gucci. I had saved up for ten months for this item. It is leather, and it couldn’t afford to touch water. I took a look at the man beside me. He had an umbrella.
I was sure that he will not mind me sharing his umbrella with him. The umbrella was large enough for two persons. So I squeezed my way up next to him, standing close enough for the temporary shelter.
Two taxis came and stopped at the queue. Some people got up and we became the first in line. We waited for another five minutes before another taxi came by. But it drove past without stopping. I was getting hungry and I looked at my watch. Five past six. The rain had delayed me by thirty-five minutes. Good thing it was a Friday night and tomorrow was the alternate Saturday where I get an off day.
Finally, another taxi came. It stopped, and three passengers came out. They looked all dressed up, I was sure that they came to this part of town for some Friday night fun. And thank God they came. I quickly held the door open for the man to go in, he was standing closer to the car. But before he closed the car door, I rushed into the taxi with him. I didn’t want to lose his umbrella. If I allowed him to leave with the taxi, I would be left standing in the queue without an umbrella.
So, I got in. I closed the door shut.
“Where do you want to go?” the man looked shocked.
I was wondering if he realized that I was sharing his umbrella with him all this while.
“Anywhere,” I said.
I just wanted shelter from the rain. The driver turned around to look at the both of us, wondering if we were together.
“Maybe you just bring me to a shopping center,” I quickly said.
I haven't decided where I wanted to go. All I wanted was a means to go home without getting wet. The rain was heavy.
“Miss … are you together?” the driver asked, beginning to sense that something was amiss.
I looked at the man. He didn't say a word. I think my white blouse was all wet and looking transparent.
“Bring me to Holland Village,” he ordered the taxi driver. I kept quiet.
That's not where I wanted to drop. It was still far away from my home. I live at Farrer Road, and if he dropped at Holland Village I would have to take the taxi back again. I was not sure that the driver would oblige. At Holland there is no shelter either. I wanted to go somewhere like ION Orchard where I could queue up again.
The driveway there is covered all the way. The thing was that afterwards the man ignored me completely, as though my being with him in the taxi was the most natural thing. He didn't attempt to get me out of the car. Neither did he deny that I was with him in the queue. All I wanted just now was his umbrella and now I wanted his taxi.
So, I turned to him and asked, “Can you drop me at Farrer Road after you go to Holland Village?”
“Sure. You can tell the driver where you want to go after I had gone down.”
At this point in time the taxi driver interrupted, “You have two destinations?” he queried.
“Is it ok?” I pleaded with the driver.
“It's not on the way, I would have to go up Holland then come down again,” the driver grumbled.
But then he drove off, leaving the taxi stand. I relaxed in the car. This taxi did not have a radio installed so it was quiet. I wondered if it was necessary for me to make small talk with the man since he did me the favor of giving me a ride. But short of thank you I had nothing more to say to him.
I let the silence dominate the atmosphere as I started to feel a little uneasy. The rain was getting heavier and I could hardly see the view in front of me. It is uncommon for Singapore to rain like this, especially at this time of the year in October.
“Fancy going to Holland Village with me?” I knew this was coming.
This man is making a pass at me. Of course, I asked for it, I followed him into his taxi. But then in Singapore it is very safe. Nothing bad can happen to you if you are careful. No one can force you into doing anything you don't want.
“No, I am going home,” I volunteered the information. I shouldn't have let the man know that Farrer Road is my home address.
“I will pay for the fare.” I said, in an attempt to change the topic of conversation.
I knew that that was not what he was concerned with. As if he were to drop first then naturally the meter will run until the taxi reached the final destination at Farrer.”
“Ok then.” I was surprised he did not offer to pay the journey to Holland. I had expected to put up with an argument on this topic.
We carried on without a further word. I had my objective achieved now I just want to be home for a quick hot shower. Rover is waiting for me at home. He needs his chunk of beef and I can't walk him because of the rain. Rover is my golden retriever and he is only one-year old. When the taxi reached Holland Village the car pulled in at the curb just right in front of several passengers.
I could feel a sigh of relieve as the queue began to move. The first one in the queue stepped up to open the door for us even though it was unnecessary. But when only the man got out and then I had to tell her that I was taking the journey elsewhere I could see her muttering under her breath swearing. The man my fellow rider walked away and was nowhere to be found.
I sank back into the upholstery and gave the taxi driver my address as Level Z. He did not reply. But I was pretty sure he heard me. Then suddenly I saw a black wallet on the seat. The man had left his things behind! I have to find him and return it. What was his name? I reproached myself for not having asked him. We had all the time in the car.
Why didn't I? Yes, I was afraid that he might think that I am making a pass. Getting into a car with a complete stranger and striking a conversation I could easily be mistaken as a hooker. In the beginning I wanted shelter in the rain I couldn't be bothered with what he thought.
In order to return the wallet, I had to open it and trace the name and address of the owner. This information has to be somewhere inside. Immediately I took over the article and I open it without hesitation. The leather was smooth it must be an expensive item.
Gosh! They were all notes inside, all of which were fifty dollars bills. The notes were seasoned and the whole stack could easily come up to one thousand dollars. I had never carried such a large amount of money with me before. Anything more than three hundred dollars I would use a credit card.
One thousand dollars is not a lot of money. But one thousand dollars is a large sum of money to lose. Or leave behind in a taxi for that matter. Did the man leave it behind intentionally? But he couldn't have. It was by chance that we met at the taxi stand. Even if he had wanted to give it to me in exchange for a favor he couldn't have anticipated that he would meet me earlier on. So, I concluded that it was pure carelessness.
There were several compartments. I examined them one after another. One had two credit cards and the other was a membership card to the Singapore Island Country Club. That membership costs at least two hundred thousand. No wonder this man is so careless about money. And then there was also a Club 21 discount card. But what got me really amused was the MRT card which I saw. The rich man takes buses too!
And then I saw his pink IC. The photograph on the IC showed that the document was unmistakably his. I could see his address as 3A Holland Drive, Singapore 287664. Man lives in a landed property. Now I want to know if he were older than me. If so, then maybe I would really want to befriend him. Never mind if he thought I was a hooker.
Some of them do marry rich. Pretty Woman was one instance. I am still single, and I do need to get married one day. 18 June 1968. Ha! The man is going to be forty-seven soon. He is definitely older than me. The next question is, is he married? The identity card does not provide with this information.
Frantically I looked at his other cards to search for the answer. But none of it contains his marital status. If he is single I can easily drop in at his house and get myself acquainted to him on the pretext of returning him the wallet. If he is married than I might as well throw away all his stuff and just keep the cash. It is his own folly that he left his possession behind in a taxi. But then I would not know if he were available unless I dropped in at his house. Yes, unless I take a chance.
I wished I had taken a look at his ring finger when I was in the taxi with him just now. Why didn’t I? Why wasn’t I curious? I suppose the man wasn’t attractive looking enough. The proposition of getting to know him only came when I found that he had lots of money. Anyway, he did not know who I was, and if I were to take his money now he would never be able to trace me.
Hold it! The taxi is about to turn into Level Z.
“Hey uncle, don’t turn in.” I raised my voice, almost shouting at the driver.
I must not let the driver know where I live, in case the man has the taxi driver’s car number and tracks me down. But I remember clearly that he did not pay the fare then there was no record at all. So, I was safe. The purpose of me getting into this taxi in the first place was to avoid getting wet in the rain. If I were to drop off before the turning into my condominium that would defeat the purpose entirely.
I said to the driver, “Uncle, go in.”
“But just now you said no.” The driver sounded cross.
“You want to go in or you don’t want to go in?” He jammed his brakes.
“Err,” I was stuck. I wanted to order him to go back to Holland Village the 3A Holland Drive address and return the man his wallet.
There seems to be an urgency now. If I kept the wallet and waited, who knows the man might accuse me of taking some of his cash even when I did not. I didn’t count the money exactly, but it is his word against mine. No one would believe me even if I had not taken a cent from his wallet.
Come to think of it, if this were the case, then maybe I should help myself to one or two notes. If one thousand dollars is a lot of money, then one hundred may not be. This is consideration for my taking the extra effort in returning the man his wallet, cards and all. If he had to replace them it would incur a lot of admin work and inconvenience, money and time spent.
In any case this is a rich man by all standards. “Miss, do you want to go in or not?” the driver was asking me again, this time his voice a little louder. I could hear the annoyance.
“No, can you bring me back to Holland Village?” I requested.
“What?” he shouted.
“Let me pay you the fare until here, but I don’t get off your taxi, and then you start the meter again.” I made an offer.
“So now you want to go back to Holland?” the driver confirmed.
In the rain I didn’t want to get off and walk the slope up into Level Z. The rain has died down somewhat, but the drizzle was still strong. If I take a detour and return the wallet now I could get in touch with the rich man instantly, and then carry on from there. I have an inkling that he was still unmarried. As if he was he would have stopped me from getting into the taxi with him. Didn’t he say ‘Fancy going to Holland Village with me’ just now?
I wished I had taken up on his offer that would have made things a lot easier. So, I made an instant decision to meet the eligible man. The man must be home by now. He had an umbrella so most likely he walked from the taxi stand at Holland Village to his home. I let the image of him walking in the rain fade away into another image of him sitting in front of his television set having a cup of hot tea.
The taxi driver drove along with his meter ticking away. I think he felt sorry for me. And I think he didn’t see all the activity at the back seat of his taxi all this while. I certainly did not inform him of my discovery. The rain was heavy, and the driver had to concentrate on the road, no time to spy into his passenger. I opened my handbag and I put the black wallet into my bag. I had not taken any money from it yet. So far, I am still honest. The thing that kept me going was my curiosity.
If the man was alone at home at this hour chances are that he is single. If a woman answers the door, then maybe I shouldn’t return him his wallet. What shall I do then? Ring the doorbell and then ask for Mr. Chia. I saw his name on his NRIC.
If Mrs. Chia appears I would just say I found the wrong house. No, don’t ask for Mr. Chia, ask for John Smith. In that way if Mrs. Chia opens the door I can very well pretend that I found the wrong house. Ok, that’s it. I made a sign of the cross and prayed that I would make the right move later on.
The journey back to Holland Village wasn’t so long after all. In no time I arrived at the same taxi stand.
“Ma’am, here you are,” the driver said.
“No, I want to go to Holland Drive, number 3A.” I insisted.
“I thought you said you wanted to come back to Holland Village. Ma’am, I have to drop you here.”
I think he has decided that he wants to be rid of me by now.
“Sir, it’s raining,” I started calling the driver Sir, pleading with him.
Luckily for me the guy spoke good English, but there is a communication break down here. There is a serious mistake.
“Let me pay you fifty dollars for this entire trip and you bring me to Holland Drive.” I opened my bag took out my purse in order to pay him. Help! I only had two ten dollar notes and one two-dollar note.
Yes, if I had taken the taxi from the Liat Towers taxi stand to Level Z I would have more than sufficient cash to pay the fare. I remember that I wanted to withdraw cash at the ATM but didn’t make the trip because of the rain. I have some cash at home.
But I know that I can’t make the taxi driver bring me back to Level Z, wait for me to go up to my apartment and collect money, and then come down and pay him. It would be beyond him. No taxi driver in the world would do that for his passenger.
My father tells me to always carry sufficient cash with me. And I think he is right this time. What can I do now? For the first time I looked at the meter.
“Twenty-four dollars and forty-eight cents.” Even if I alight now and paid the driver the fare was more than I could afford it. I unzipped the coin compartment, dug out all the coins and I gave it to the driver. He took it somewhat reluctantly, then he started counting.
“Ok, that’s enough,” the driver was satisfied, and he returned me two ten cent coins.
I took the returned change and took my time to get out of the taxi. The passenger at the taxi stand was just waiting to get in. This time there was no man with an umbrella that I could make use of. I tugged my handbag under my arm hoping to shield it from the rain. Life is hard. At thirty-six I am still single. And no close boyfriends either. Even if many people have said that I was attractive and that I consider myself educated. Actually, I have a degree from the Faculty of Architecture, but I don’t know why I ended up in an interior design firm. I suppose the firm pays well. Well enough for me to travel by taxis daily.
As I walked I kept my thoughts to myself, almost forgetting my purpose here to Holland Village. I even walked past the DBS Bank where I could put in the one thousand dollars. The bank doesn’t close until seven p.m. One thousand dollars or the chance to meet the man of my dreams. If he were married, then all my efforts to return the wallet would be wasted. doesn’t provide an answer under the circumstances. Even if I read the Bible from cover to cover I still won’t find the answer.
Finally, I gave up as I stood right in front of 3A. Then I realized that I had reached Holland Drive. The house was not very large. But the car that was parked in the narrow garage was formidable. A BMW. White. I looked at it and I wondered why the man had to resort to taxis.
Could this be his house? Then the answer came. This must be his wife’s car. So, the man must be married. Why would a single man buy an expensive car and use public transport? It makes no sense. I peeped into the window and I could see the lights on. The upper floor was also lit. Invariably I took the wallet out from my handbag and I slipped it into the letterbox by the side of the gate. Then I started to walk away.
The rain was getting smaller. And I must get home for dinner. Rover must be hungry but suddenly I realized that I had no more money to go home. I couldn’t very well walk from Holland Drive to Farrer Road. So, I turned back, and I came up to 3A again. This time I rang the doorbell. I did not have to wait long before a man came up to the gate. It was him! The man in the taxi with me. The man with the umbrella.
“Oh God! I have been calling the taxi company.”
“You got my wallet?” immediately he asked.
“Yes, it’s here,” I said, pointing to the letterbox.
“Why did you put it there?” he was a little surprised.
“Oh, I wanted to return it without telling you.” I told him the truth.
Without further prompting, the man opened his letterbox from inside his house. “No, there is nothing inside,” he said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“The letterbox is empty,” he said affirmatively.
I did not believe him, so I stepped into his house and together we looked into the letterbox. Yes, he was right. It was empty. There was nothing inside. So, somebody must have taken the wallet away from the letterbox whilst I was away, between the time I dropped it and when I came back the second time. But who could have known that I had put the wallet inside. I don’t think anyone saw me, although I must say that I didn’t look around before I did it.
So, I merely said, “I am sorry, but I really don’t know, Mr. Chia.”
I have never been so dumb, I knew then straight away that I made a mistake. I shouldn’t have called him Mr. Chia. Unless I had peeped into his wallet I won’t know he is Mr. Chia.
“I am going to report you to the police,” Mr. Chia quickly grabbed hold of my hand.
“No, I didn’t take it,” I struggled.
“Then who could have taken it?” he replied.
“And you have no reason to put it in the letterbox,”
“Hey, if I had wanted your wallet I won’t have come all this way,” I retorted, putting some sense into this man.
Just at this time, a woman came to my rescue.
“Who is she?” she asked.
“A thief,” Mr. Chia said.
“She stole my wallet.” Now it was my turn to become furious.
“You left it in the taxi yourself,” I shouted back.
“What? You took a taxi back with her?” the woman said.
“You gave me the car this morning because you wanted to go out with this woman?” the woman also became angry.
It seemed that there was already some discord between the two of them and that she was suspicious of him. In that case this must be Mrs. Chia. I got my answer now. Mr. Chia is married. But first, now I must get myself out of this shit. The man’s wallet is lost once and for all, and I had no means to return it. On top of it all, I am accused of having stolen it.
“If you didn’t take my wallet, how did you know my name?” that’s a good question.
“And how did you know my address?”
“You must have looked into the wallet and found the information.” Arguments were strong one after another and I could only say that I did not take his wallet.
“Search me,” I offered.
“No, you would accuse me of molesting you, besides, who knows where you have hidden it?”
“Alright, if I had your wallet, why did I come back here again?”
“Only God knows,” was the reply.
The woman was watching us all the while, contemplating if she should call the police. The rain was getting lighter turning into a drizzle. But my fate was getting into a downturn. I had to think fast to get myself out of this shit.
“Look, I only discovered your wallet after you had alighted,” I continued,
“I ordered the taxi driver to come here to return it to you, then I dropped it into your letterbox, because I didn’t want to come in to disturb you. I walked away and came back because I realized that I had no more money to go home, so I was hoping to come in and borrow some cash from you since I did you the favor of returning your wallet, I had no idea that it was stolen.”
By now the woman standing next to him was satisfied. She gave me a queer look and she pulled Mr. Chia inside, “Come here, I want to tell you something,” she said quietly.
I wanted to run away when he stood aside. But if he had called the police from his house I won’t be able to go far. So I waited hoping for them to believe my story. After all it was true. And then suddenly the mystery was solved.
“So, you had the wallet!” Mr. Chia said to the woman.
“Yes, I was the one who took it from the letterbox,” woman confessed.
Of course, only a person from inside the house could have opened the letterbox. Why did his wife take the wallet and not tell her husband she found it? It was clear by now that this couple is having marital problems. I wanted to give her a tight slap, but I wasn’t a bad-tempered person. I simply turned and walked away from the two of them, disgusted with the whole episode.
“Wait a minute, did you say you had no cash left with you?”
Mrs. Chia shouted after me, and at the same time she held out two fifty-dollar notes, “thank you for the trouble, a small token.”
I wished that I had just taken it from the stack when it was in the taxi.
Normally I am very proud, and I would rather steal than to accept charity. But this time I simply took the notes from the mad woman. This is because I decided that I must listen to my father’s advice: Always carry sufficient cash with you.
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