I walked around the compound. The area was quiet, as it was rather late at night. But there was no sign of either one of them. I peeped into the gents but only knocked on the ladies. It was a single cubicle, and after the door unlocked and a woman came out and left the door ajar, I could see that it was empty.
I couldn’t say that I was disappointed, as the brown bag would be mine if Pearl did not come back. Once I found that both of them were not in the toilet I quickly went back to the table at the lounge. I walked fast and regretted that someone else might have taken it while I was away.
When I arrived at the lounge, I was shocked. True enough, some other people were occupying the table now. It was a completely new scene. I looked around and found that another group of people were occupying my table. Where was the brown leather bag? I wanted the brown bag!
I went up to the people at their table and said, “Excuse me, I haven’t paid the bill,”
They ignored me completely. And then I went to the cashier and tried to tell them that it was my table.
“What did you order?” the waiter asked.
“A beer, no, two beers,” I said.
I didn’t count how many beers he had.
“It had been settled already, ” the waiter went on to attend to his other business after telling me.
I had no choice but to leave the lounge now. My object of getting myself distracted after the quarrel with Sarah had been achieved, as I was very upset with myself now instead of with her. Why did I walk away from the table?
And then my handphone rang with an unknown caller. I picked it up, thinking that it must have been Sarah calling to apologize.
“Where is my money?” the voice on the other side said.
“Huh?” I was completely taken aback.
I was standing at the lounge wondering if I should walk in and settle my own bill, as I had not paid yet.
“This is my money.” The voice over the phone was louder and more forceful.
I began to get worried. Automatically, I replied, “I didn’t take your money,” like any other person would.
I felt like hanging up the phone. This was a nuisance. But then there was some urgency in the voice, and it was a woman’s voice. Okay! It was Pearl! She wanted to get her brown leather bag!
So, I merely said, “I don’t know where it is,” unleashing a lead.
For this suggested that I knew what she was talking about. And I didn’t realize that Pearl sounded like this. I could now piece together the expressive face earlier on in the night while she was at her table and the voice now. I waited for her reply.
“I saw you take it away,” she said.
“No, I didn’t.”
“Look, I am not going to spend the entire night arguing with you, I will see you here again tomorrow at the same time. Return it.” And the line went dead.
I was completely taken by surprise. How did all this happen? Now it had come to the point that I was acquainted with Pearl and was meeting her tomorrow night. The only problem was that I must produce another brown leather bag with some cash inside which matched the amount.
I couldn’t say I wasn’t infatuated with Pearl. She looked very stunning in that string of pearls. And I liked the way she flipped her hair. By now I had completely forgotten about Sarah. I didn’t even want to go home. I walked to the nearest taxi stand at Orchard Towers and waited there behind some people already in the queue.
The Sir Raffles Hotel was just nearby around the corner. If all the shops had not been closed by then, I would have gone on straight to buy a bag and gone to the bank to withdraw the cash.
I told the driver to take me home.
At home I kept the cellphone with me and brought it into the toilet when I went to shower in case Pearl rang again. Sarah was already asleep. Good woman, I thought to myself. I also made sure that my phone was not in silent mode and that the “do not disturb” function was not activated. Throughout the night I was only half asleep. I was not normally a light sleeper. At dawn I woke up without the alarm.
Straight away I went into the kitchen to make myself a cup of coffee. Sarah was already out, and I had the entire day to myself. This was the Christmas week before school began in January. I was a secondary school teacher of mathematics. Figures and numbers were my cup of tea, and I liked counting money. I started to think of how many pieces of notes I must procure for my appointment tonight at the Harrods Bar.
When I arrived at the Standard Chartered Bank I was ready with the figure. “Five thousand dollars, fifty pieces of hundred,” I told the bank cashier. I was putting up my entire month’s salary for the gamble. If Pearl did not show up tonight I would just keep the cash and put it back in the bank account. If she appeared, then I would pursue her. I refused to entertain the thought that she might just grab the brown leather bag with my money inside and left immediately after meeting me.
Once I got the money I went on to Takashimaya to shop for a brown bag. There were several expensive shops there. I told myself that if I bought a designer bag similar in color and design, Pearl would just be too happy. She was unlikely to be annoyed. All she wanted was the money. The bag was secondary, just a container for the money.
So, I took my time browsing and finally found one that I would like. I paid for it by credit card, as I had exhausted two-thirds of my funds. I walked out of Takashimaya at 2:25 p.m. and went home to prepare for the evening.
As I was showering I reproached myself for not having bought a new tie at Salvatore Ferragamo at the same time when I bought the new bag. I wanted to impress Pearl. The outfit for tonight had to be casual but not too cheap looking. I was not a rich man, but as I said, I was not poor, either. Keeping a mistress was within my means. But actually, that was not how I began. I didn’t begin wanting to sleep with Pearl. I had in fact wanted her money.
Now it was role reversal. I was collecting money for her. What a change! At no time did I entertain the thought of not showing up for the meeting at the Harrods Bar. She knew my number and could call me again and pester me if I didn’t show up tonight. And I didn’t want Sarah to pick up the call.
I found myself sitting at the same table again. Then I suddenly remembered that I had not paid for the bill last night. Two hot chocolates would come up to at least twenty-five dollars. I dug into my wallet and found several ten-dollar notes.
The waiter came up to me, “Hot chocolate, sir?”
I smiled and really appreciated the fact that he knew me by now. So, I fished out three ten-dollar notes and offered to pay. “For last night,” I said.
“No, sir, we closed the account already.” He carried his tray and walked away.
I looked at my watch and the two hands told me that it was 8:00 p.m. I remembered that I was here at 9:00 p.m. last night, so I was at least an hour early.
I kept the brown leather bag with me by the side, guarding it carefully.
Pearl did not let me down. She arrived on time, promptly at 9:00 p.m. She saw me before I waved at her. I was glad that she was alone. The hot chocolate was almost finished, and I immediately ordered a pussyfoot for her. I didn’t want to make her drunk. She sat next to me without a word. Tonight, the string of long pearls was gone.
“Pearl,” I began, “This is your bag,” I pushed the bag a little forward, closer to her.
“Oh, this is it?” She glanced at it and sat there waiting for her drink to arrive, as though her purpose here was to have the pussyfoot.
She didn’t object to my calling her “Pearl” . Or did she hear me? I started wondering if her name was indeed Pearl.
Then I opened my mouth again, “What makes you think that I have your money?”
“The bag is here, isn’t it?” she replied.
“Yeah, but it is not the same bag,” I had to confess.
“Then you do not have my money?” she looked at me in bewilderment.
“I have the money that you want,” I said,
“but it is my money.” I emphasized.
“And this is not my brown bag?!” Pearl raised her voice,
“You are a con man!”
Without another word, Pearl got up from the table, and without taking the brown leather bag she walked away. I went after her.
But before I could leave the coffee house the waiter caught up with me. “Sir, you can’t do this again tonight,” he advised me.
Flabbergasted, I fumbled for my wallet, dug out my credit card, and gave it to the man. I knew that I had to sign for it and it would take quite a while, so I told the waiter, “I need to use the toilet; I’ll be back.” He relented.
This always worked. I rushed out of the hotel lounge in the direction Pearl had gone. But when I came out there was no sign of her. A car sped by and left a loud thud. I was completely lost.