Story by Lee Su Min
This was my Money
Most people thought that money was important, and as I tried to conform, I told everyone that I liked money.
So, the day that I found a bag of notes inside a large brown envelope lying at the far end of the Wisma Atria MRT station, I naturally picked it up and hid it inside my other, larger Dexter bag. First, I pretended that I was bringing the envelope to the control station to report the loss, then as I got closer I saw that there was a queue at the counter.
So, I lugged the bag over the exit barrier and walked away, telling myself that the envelope belonged to me. Luckily, no one stopped me.
When I arrived at Chomel, a shop that sold costume jewelry and cheap clothes, I bought a cheap carrier bag large enough to stuff the brown envelope in. I couldn’t zip up the Dexter bag as the brown envelope was protruding out. Then, after I had paid for the new carrier bag, I cut the label off and put the brown envelope in, careful to zip up my Dexter bag so that the contents were not exposed.
Once I had done this, I was satisfied that the owner would no longer be able to find his lost goods, even if he were looking.
I didn't know how much money was inside, but I was quite happy about the discovery. The brown envelope was large and full of notes, so it must have been quite a sizable amount. I was just too happy about the windfall and had no time to think if it were stolen money or what. I told myself that in any case, it was finders keepers.
The next thing I needed to do was to count the money. To do this, I needed to bring the bag to a safe place, somewhere where no one would see. All I could think of was where to keep the money after I had determined the amount.
I maintained a savings and current account with the DBS Bank. I also had another account with the UOB. My month-end average balance with the DBS Bank had usually been more than two hundred dollars, and the UOB account never went beyond three hundred.
So, if I put in a large sum of money with either of these two banks, an alarm might be raised. I thought about it and decided that it would be wiser if I opened another account with a third bank, someone who did not know of
At that time, I was walking towards Takashimaya, and I came across the OCBC. I had never opened an account with the bank, so I was sure that they knew nothing about me. I was only a salaried employee with the Singapore Times. As a journalist for the newspaper I earned about one thousand and five hundred dollars a month, and I got about a one-month bonus at the end of the year. I had very little savings and no investments.
But there was something I wanted to buy badly. A Tiffany’s watch. The watch cost three-thousand-five-hundred. It was not expensive by the rich man’s standards, but it was a lot of money for me. I had been eyeing this watch for some time. I was in love with the watch, but not with the price.
I told myself to save up money for it, which was why I had been so thrifty lately. I had taken to eating at hawker centers and taking buses even when it rained. My balance was at eight-hundred dollars. I still had a long way to go.
I was very stressed. With so much money in my bag, if a policeman confronted me at any time, I would have no explanation. I could be mistaken for a bank robber, or a thief. So, on the spur of the moment, I decided to walk into the OCBC and deposited the cash.
I walked into OCBC and dropped the Dexter bag in front of the girl at the front counter. She told me I had to queue up for the service counters. It wasn’t very long, and I waited for a while. Then, as I arrived at the head of the queue, I became more anxious. When I stood in front of the bank cashier, I was considerably stressed. First, I unzipped the Dexter bag, then I zipped it up again as I forgot that it was no longer in that bag.
Thank God the new carrier was still with me, as I was lugging it around with me somewhat carelessly. I took the brown envelope out from the carrier, and then I unloaded all the notes right in front of the bank staff. The bank cashier at the counter saw the amount and was quite reluctant to touch the money at first, then after I said, “I just withdrew it from the UOB,” she decided to touch the notes and put them over to her side of the counter.
She waited a while before she started to count them. They were loose pieces and not neatly arranged. I looked at her as she proceeded to start counting. Only then did I see that they were hundred-dollar bills. I still had no idea how much money there were.
I waited patiently. When she had finished, she wrote the total amount on a piece of notepaper. “84 x $100, 5 x $10, 3 x $2 = $8,456.” She told me to wait before she walked away to the back, presumably to check with her superior. I stood alone at the counter in silence, oblivious to the other people around me, some of whom I was sure were watching me, wondering why I had so much money.
Having a lot of money was not unusual. It was only unusual when it was displayed in bulk in cash form. I knew that I couldn’t explain the source, for if I did it would expose the fact that I had stolen it from someone. My conscience told me that I should have left it at the MRT station, and that when I found it I should have brought it to the control station to report to the station staff.
But then I was poor. I had very little savings to get by, and I really wanted the Tiffany’s watch. So, I stood at the counter trying to prepare for an answer should the bank staff came back and asked me where the money came from. I knew that, as a matter of fact, banks were supposed to take deposits and not query. When you opened an account with a bank you were not obliged to give the source.
I waited for ten minutes, and then when the bank staff did not come back, I started to get impatient. I wanted to bring the notes to the next counter but then would have to queue up from the last person again. Since I was already attended to, I might as well wait.
I looked at my watch: 3:28 p.m. The bank was closing in just two minutes’ time. I stood and waited like a fool. I noticed that the security officer was watching me. I was not afraid of being watched. I did not steal the money. I merely found it. It was lying around, and even if I had not taken it, I could not guarantee that the next person would report it. So I was clear.
Immediately, I walked straight to the taxi stand. The nearest one was at the Wisma Atria. The queue was not long, so I waited there. I decided not to call for a taxi, as now I didn’t want my movements to be traced. The police might be after me. At the bank, they had no opportunity to ask me where the money came from. Now they might just stop me and question me. Before any police confronted me, I needed to get home.
If I had booked a taxi, they would know my location with the taxi number. And from there they could trace where I lived. Finally, my turn came. The taxi man wound down the window and asked me where I wanted to go. I was afraid of disclosing my home address, so I merely said, “The north.”
The guy was not satisfied, and so quickly he drove off. I was getting more and more nervous, so I decided to go to the newsstand to get myself some sweets. At the same time, I was wondering if I should take the bus. If I boarded the bus I would be able to drop at my destination without it being disclosed.
So, I walked towards the bus stop. No one was watching me. I did not encounter the authorities. The money was still safe with me. I was still in possession of it, but I was considerably stressed. I was perspiring, and it was not a good sign. When I came to the bus stop, I saw Annabel. Annabel was my classmate in the secondary school, and I kept in touch with her every now and then. She had been to my house once or twice, and I to hers. I had no choice but to greet her.
“Where are you off to?” she asked.
“Oh, nowhere.” I didn’t want to tell her that I was going home.
“Do you want to come to my house?” Annabel asked.
“Err, I am not free today,” I said.
“But you just said you were going nowhere?!”
Annabel knew me too well. She knew that I was not used to telling lies and that if I said I was going nowhere that meant that I had nothing to do. I knew that I was stuck. If I declined Annabel’s invitation, I had to give her my intended destination, which would have been a false one.
I would have to pick a place fast, before my bus arrived. Otherwise Annabel would hop onto the same bus with me and followed me home. I would have to think of what to do with the money only after she had left my house. But then having her around would ensure a bodyguard for myself during the journey on the bus from Wisma to Farrer. So, I said, “Why don’t you let me go home and change into something nice before we go out for dinner at the Maximum Cafe?” The Maximum Cafe was a place where she and I often went.
Annabel was enthusiastic. During the journey I decided that I could not take the stress any longer, as I was too overwhelmed by the windfall. I had to confess to Annabel. So, the moment I stepped into my house, as I was locking the door, I told her to sit down by the sofa, which was just in front of the LCD television. I was just about to tell her when she turned on the television herself. They were showing some American singers vying for votes. It turned out she had something to tell me.
“Jacob is seeing someone.”
“Oh, dear. You saw them together? Someone else told you?” I was shocked, as Jacob has shown himself to be a loving husband throughout.
“No, his neighbor told me about it.”
“And you trust the testimony of this neighbor?” I asked.
“If I were you, this is only hearsay.”
Annabel paused for a while and then asked for a glass of water.
I only had orange juice in the fridge, apart from some coffee powder. It was the Florida Orange in packet form. There were still two packed in the fridge, so I could afford to be generous. I picked a large crystal glass from the kitchen cabinet, poured out a full glass, and added some ice. I brought it out to the living room, passed her the glass, and said, “Hope it is not too sweet for you.”
I liked the Florida Orange because of its sweetness.
Annabel took a sip and continued, “It happened after we came back from the cruise.”
“Oh, okay, you went on a cruise together. You had a row on the cruise.”
“Not exactly. They met on the cruise.”
“Okay, I get the picture now. You know who she is.” I tried to find out as much as possible as I sensed that Annabel needed my advice. I had a similar situation before when Michael was seeing another woman. Michael and I were now back together again.
As I thought about Annabel’s problem, I went into the bathroom. I didn't know what Annabel was doing outside, but I knew that I must get her out of the way soon, maybe immediately after dinner. She wouldn’t leave my house now, as I had promised her dinner. I wanted to take the money out from the bag and lock it up in my drawer, but it would be odd if I did that right in front of her.
When I stepped out of the bathroom I saw that Annabel was making herself comfortable. The bag of money was still lying on the sofa. It was safe there. “Let’s go for dinner, I am famished,” Annabel yelled.
I picked up my Dexter bag and said, “Hey, let me change my bag first, I can’t go into the restaurant with this bag.”
Annabel was still thinking of her situation with Jacob. “What do you think I should do?” she asked. I opened the door to my private lift lobby to pick my shoes for the outing. And then I saw the Ferragamo shoes again, though I didn’t remember buying them. And then I heard Kaiser’s bark. Annabel got into the lift and was holding it open for me.
“Shut up!” immediately came the reply of my neighbour.
Kaiser barked at me whenever I entered the house, the moment he heard me at my lift lobby, usually the minute I slipped my key into the keyhole. And then she would say,
“Shut up!” “Shut up!” as though talking to me directly.
It would have been different if she had said, “Kaiser, shut up!”
In fact, I wanted to tell her to shut up instead. Then I removed my key from the main door and stuffed the key pouch inside my bag. I walked straight into the lift where Annabel was waiting.
Once we arrived at the first floor we walked past the pavilion to the pebbled path passing by the neighbors who lived on the ground floor. Mr. Yeo, who lived in unit 01-03, was having his leisurely dinner with his newspapers. I was wondering if he could still read the print under the dim balcony light.
Then Annabel asked me, “Shall I ask for a divorce?” “
Obviously not,” I said.
“Your children are still young.”
Actually, I was no expert in this matter, as I myself never had children. I continued to walk until I reached the side gate, and I let both of us out of the estate. Then we took the long walk along Farrer Lane, where, if we were lucky, we would be able to catch a taxi. But we had no such luck tonight and we had to walk down the slope to reach the main road. I could see that some of the shops had prepared themselves for diners. Their decorative lamps were visible from inside the restaurants.
Dinner was quick, as Annabel was in no mood to eat. She was silent throughout, engrossed in her own thoughts, whereas I was eager to get home to see to the bag of money. When dinner ended, we parted on cheerful terms. I promised her that I would be in touch if she needed any help or counseling. I told her I knew of one psychotherapist who worked in Camden. After that, I almost wanted to take a taxi home.
I wanted to hurry home as quickly as possible to look at my bag. By now I realized that with the windfall I could well afford the Tiffany’s watch. I walked as fast as I could, and when I reached my estate I almost bumped into one of the neighbors with her German Shepard. She gave me a glare as though saying, “Watch where you are going.”
I quickly said sorry and continued to walk to my apartment. As I arrived at the lift it was already waiting at the first floor, so I didn’t have to waste any more time. I swiped my access key card and the lift took me to the fourth level. It opened, and I realized that I had forgotten to switch on the lights at the lobby area. My lift opened to my little lobby, where only I had access. I slid my key into the keyhole, and surprisingly, I could push open the front door even before I turned the key. The door was not locked!
Was there someone inside? I turned on the lights located just by the side of the wall as I entered, and then realized that I had forgotten to turn off the TV. The volume was low, and I could only see the screen showing the local drama. Annabel’s glass of juice was still sitting on the side table. Automatically, I walked to the carrier bag and tried to take out the brown envelope.
What! There was no money inside! All the notes were gone! I dug deep inside the bag again. This time I almost tore the entire bag. But there was no brown envelope, and the bag was empty. How could this have been?
My heart was pounding. I panicked. Where could the money have gone? I was in the house with Annabel all the while! Could she have taken it whilst I was having my shower? If she did, she showed no sign of it. And how could she have known that there was money inside the bag? There was no reason for her to unzip my bag to look into it.
Besides, I was only in the shower for a few minutes. What should I do now? Shall I call Annabel and confront her? To do that, I needed to be absolutely sure that she had my money. However, I must be careful how to phrase it. I can’t accuse her of stealing my money, for the money wasn’t mine in the first place. But, come to think of it, I had carried the money so far, from the Wisma Atria MRT station to my house at Park Lodge. It should have been mine already. Between the two of us, I was the more legitimate owner.
My mind was arguing with itself on whether I should call Annabel and asked her about it. However, I was really not sure if she had taken it. And then, as I came in, the door was unlocked, so someone could have come in during the time we went out for dinner and took the money. But then the chances of anyone knowing about the cash and following me home were almost nil.
Since we came back by bus and no one knew that there was money at home, who would come in? Security was very tight there. Nobody came into my lobby area except the security guards, and only if I lost the lift access card and needed them to bring me up. But even if it were the security guards, he didn’t have my door key, either.
So, was it I who left the door unlocked? Yes, Kaiser was barking loudly just now, and the neighbor was shouting, and with Annabel waiting for me inside the lift, I was in a hurry to leave the house. Perhaps I didn’t lock the door. All this was quite careless and could have been avoided.
There was nothing I could do. I could never report the loss to the police. The money was stolen money. Now the money was not mine. I only owned it from the Wisma Atria MRT station to my house. I was sad and disappointed.
Three days later I saw a notice on the condominium board. I usually took a look at the pin-ups whenever I was waiting for my lift to arrive, as it was prominently located on the wall just in front of the lift.
“A sum of Eight-Thousand Four Hundred and Fifty-Six Dollars was found in a brown envelope along the pathway outside the unit of 01-03. Will the rightful owner claim the money before 10 March 2015, otherwise the entire amount will go to the sinking fund, as it was found within the condominium’s premises.”
My heart jumped, missing a beat. This was my money! This meant that I had lost it whilst I was carrying it back home from Wisma with Annabel. I must have dropped it. How careless I was!
My immediate reaction was to claim the money. The amount was exactly the same amount as that which the bank staff had counted for me. It tallied so that it must be from my brown envelope. It can’t be so coincidental. Furthermore, I had lost it, and it was found along the pathway where I had walked the day I came in thinking that I had it with me. But on second thoughts, how would I make the claim? What evidence did I have for saying that the money belonged to me?
I cracked my head. I tossed and turned the entire night when I saw the notice board. I knew that I had to make the claim soon if I ever wanted the money back. But then it was stolen money. Although I did not actively take it away from somebody, I took possession of it knowing very well that it didn’t belong to me. And then I had no proof to show the management office that the notes belonged to me either, after I had taken hold of it.
I called Annabel straightaway to make her an alibi. Finally, I thought about the Tiffany’s watch and decided that I must be brave. I woke up early the next morning and called my office to report sick. And then I went to the management office to see the condominium manager. I began,
“Mr. Tan, I believe you found a bag of notes along the pathway inside this estate at Park Lodge.”
Mr. Tan looked at me impatiently and did not wait for me to finish. “Someone claimed it already. She gave me the note from OCBC with the amount written on it, all that was missing was the signature from the bank staff. Which means that that amount was correct and that she was about to bank it in.”
“Who was it?” I was shocked beyond belief. “
Her name was Annabel, she said she dropped it when she went to your house a few days ago.”
Yes, her shoes. Now I got the picture. The pair of Ferragamo shoes was hers. Annabel knew that I had the bag of money all the while. She certainly saw me at the OCBC bank. And then when I was having my shower, she looked into my carrier bag and found the money missing so she took the bank note from my Dexter bag. I shouldn’t have called her yesterday. She came back to Park Lodge to claim the money. And Mr. Tan gave it to her.
From then on Annabel never took my calls again. I sent her three messages, all of which I typed: “This is my money.” No reply, no calls from her either. What was my loss? Apart from the emotional stress, it was the seven dollars and fifty cents I spent on the Chomel carrier bag, and a friendship not worthy of mention.
But out of habit now, I would always walk to the end of the Wisma Atria MRT to wait for the train, ever so ready and on the lookout for any unwanted articles. If I find anything this time, I promised myself I will return it to the control station staff. But I have never been so lucky and unlucky again.
I decided that I was going to arrive at Annabel’s house to ask her for the money. If she was having problems with her husband, then he must logically be my friend. After all I knew Jacob too. I thought of the things I would say when either one of them opened the door. If Jacob answered the bell I would tell him Annabel owed me money. And if Annabel was at home then I would go straight to the point.
I thought about the matter very seriously and I felt that I could not allow Annabel to take advantage of me this way. The money was rightfully mine. I found it and if I had been successful in depositing it in OCBC it would have been mine at my disposal. It was just carelessness that I dropped it in the estate. If Annabel had not been around I would not have been distracted. So, she was the culprit. And in any case no one else saw me pick it up who was to say that the money did not belong to me?
In the first place Mr. Tan had no business to hand it over to Annabel. Annabel was just a visitor to the condominium. If she had lost anything it would be for her to look for her host to claim her property, not directly with the condominium manager. I decided that I must write to the management corporation to complain about Mr. Tan and get him dismissed.
Three days later I found a note in my letterbox. A meeting will be called to convene the matter. I was surprised that the management took the matter seriously and I made sure that the day was kept free. After that I went about my daily activities whilst waiting for Saturday to arrive. Eight thousand four hundred and fifty-six dollars was not a small sum I couldn't possibly forget about the money. Even if it was a surprise the fact that I had brought it all the way home meant that somewhat I was entitled to it.
On June 25th I rushed home from work. The meeting began at 2:00 p.m. I showered and changed into a set of attire, which gave the impression that I was some kind of a CEO in a large organization. I had not been mingling with the residents in the condominium, so I didn’t know any of them. Occasionally I greeted Mr. Yeo in the ground floor unit whenever he was sitting in his foyer, or when Mrs. Yeo, Julia, is hanging her clothes to sun dry.
At 1:45 p.m. I walked into the function room located by the side of the swimming pool. I took the seat next to the chairman. He was already there with his notes laid out nicely in front of him. I cleared my throat as I was offered a Coke by Mr. Tan.
“He is still doing his job,” I thought to myself.
I had Annabel’s address ready for him if the management should decide that Mr. Tan got the money back from Annabel. After all he made her sign for the note. The note was enforceable in a court of law to prove that she had taken the money. Then I sipped the Coke.
After ten minutes the meeting began:
“Today we are called here to discuss the matter of a sum of money which we found at the condominium,” Mr. Tan began, “and this is the only agenda for this meeting.”
“To consider and if approved, resolve that the 8th Management Council for the year 2015 directs the Strata Residential Manager Mr. Danny Tan to recover an amount of eight thousand four thousand and fifty-six dollars from Ms. Annabel, visitor to unit 03-09 occupied by Ms. Daisy Wong.”
“Ms. Daisy Wong being a personal friend of Ms. Annabel, we would appreciate it that she provided us with the contact details of Ms. Annabel. As the amount of eight thousand four hundred and fifty-six dollars was found in the condominium premises, the amount rightfully formed part of this management fund.”
I was going to raise an objection at this point. This was my money. How did I put it across? I cursed myself for not having gone to Danny Tan to claim the amount before Annabel did. Just at this time Yeo Kok Leng spoke:
“This money belonged to me, I dropped it outside my apartment.”
Mr. Yeo was the one who lived at unit 03-01.
“Would you have any evidence that the money belonged to you?” The Chairman asked.
“Am afraid not,” Yeo Kok Leng said.
“Then the matter is settled. Although it was finders keepers, a visitor to the condominium had come to make a claim from the present Management Corporation. However Ms. Daisy Wong of unit 03-09 had reported that the money actually belonged to her. Kindly approve and resolve by way of an ordinary resolution, to direct the Strata Residential Manager Mr. Danny Tan to recover the sum of eight thousand four hundred and fifty-six dollars from Ms. Annabel Wu of 19 Evans Road #05-05 Singapore.”
“There being no other business, the meeting is called to an end. As there was no written notice received and no further issue raised, the Chairman expressed his appreciation to all subsidiary Proprietors present and declared the Meeting be closed at 2:45 p.m. with a note of thanks to all present.”
The money is still not mine. The tussle is now between Annabel and the Management Council. My claim for the sum of eight thousand four hundred and fifty-six dollars was further down the line as Yeo Kok Leng had mentioned that it was his. At the same time, Danny Tan had Annabel’s contact so that if Annabel told him the truth, which was that I picked up the money from somewhere else, I would be in deep trouble. I could be charged with dishonest misappropriation.
So, I rang Annabel. This was the wisest thing to do now. She did not pick up my calls anymore. I sent her a text: “Dear Annabel, Mr. Danny Tan will contact you regarding the sum of money you took from his office the other day. Please do not entertain him.”
And then I realized once and for all that I had parted with eight thousand four hundred and fifty-six dollars for good.
This was my money.
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