Story by Lee Su Min

I am not at the lamp post

I am not at the lamp post

Waiting for Me

I found her waiting for me at the lamp post again.

In the dark I could see her silhouette. Her shadow cast on the floor by the small but brightly lit moon. Something told me that she was waiting for me. But I could not be sure. If I wanted to know I would have to approach her and talk to her but I was not inclined to do so. In my line of work, people came to me every day to ask me to help them. And I only helped them when I have decided that the case was interesting enough. Money was never the consideration for me to decide on whether I wanted to take on a case. But I was not about to play the role of a solicitor now. No not after office hours. Yes, it was already eight p.m.

I tucked my MacBook under my arm and turned left. If I continued to walk straight I would have to confront her face to face. I wanted to avoid her at all costs. But how could you say that she was waiting for me?

After I reached the traffic lights. I stopped to let the cars pass, and then I continued to walk until I reached the bus stop. I have nowhere to go except to drop in at The Winsor Café for my regular pumpkin soup and lamp chop and then browse around the shops before I finally called it a day and went home. Tonight, Claire was busy.

Life has been kind to me. At thirty-eight I have a secure job and I didn't depend on anyone for money. At the way I calculated it, I would have sufficient passive income for retirement, so long as I didn't fall ill suddenly or fancied a house which cost ten million dollars. I was contented with the state of affairs now and I didn't want anybody to disturb me. Claire wanted me to propose to her, but I was keeping her waiting. If I put her off completely she might then decide not ever to talk to me again. That would be inconvenient as Claire was my financial consultant.

By this I meant that I had decided not to get married. I have been married once before and it ended in a separation, so I didn't want to make another attempt. Cupid has failed me once and I didn't trust him anymore.

After my dinner I walked around. I saw a picture, which I liked very much but the price was way out of range. Annoyed at the fact that I could not afford a simple painting I went home by the Grab. Usually if I was alone I took the bus home. I arrived home at nine p.m. sharp when I heard the cuckoo chime. I switched on the television and heard the news of an impending air strike against Syria.

But still the image of her standing at the lamp post played on my mind. Was she waiting for me? Was she still standing there? Singapore was a safe country so that even if you were out at midnight no bad thing would happen to you. But then it did not mean that there were no crimes …. I almost wanted to go back there and speak to her.

Then I switched off the television, annoyed that my sense of peace had been disturbed. I went to my drawer and took out a diary. Claire’s bank gave me this diary and I had not used it before. It was already August. Now I decided to use it to record the days when she was standing at the lamp post waiting for me. I assumed that she was waiting for me.

After I have taken my sleeping pill I fell asleep on the bed effortlessly. Since Rashida walked out on me thirteen months ago I have been relying on these pills to help me sleep. The next morning, I woke up feeling refreshed. And by the time I walked to the office from the bus stop where I last saw her I had already completely forgotten about her.

Many people came to the office today. I was not always the decision maker so there were times when I had to KIV the matter. But overall I was satisfied that I could persuade most of my clients to take my line of defence or to pursue the matter to fight for their rights. Nora, my secretary lost her temper again today but luckily it was just with the courier who came to deliver some files from another lawyer’s office.

I rang Claire, wanting to tell her over the phone that I would be late this evening. I have been working on a very unpleasant case. My client was charged with rape as he reportedly forced his pregnant wife to have sex with him to satisfy his own sexual fetish. Under the law, a man cannot rape his wife. But pregnant wife? It seemed that it varied from case to case, depending on whether the pregnant woman consented to it. But the problem happened when the woman seemed to have consented and then later on made it a big deal after the event. Did she say yes? My client was a decent office worker. You could imagine him in one of his suits of jacket and pants along Shenton Way in the middle of the day. He could not be a rapist.

At five p.m. when Nora was about to go home, she came in and told me that Claire had rung several times to look for me today whilst I was attending to Terrence Ng’s case. Terrence was my client who had been accused of raping Margaret, his pregnant wife. So when Claire picked up the phone I immediately apologized. I had bought her our anniversary present and I wanted her to wear it there and then. It was the pair of pearl earrings, which she has been eyeing for a long time. The sales girl tried to explain to me why fresh water pearls were so special, but she that did not impress me. A pearl was a pearl, as far as I was concerned. It was either white or black, not fresh water pearls vs. non-fresh water pearls. Black pearls were so much more expensive, so I bought the white ones.

After I spoke to Claire I decided to go to the toilet to clean up before I finished with the defence’s case and then went downstairs to meet Claire. She worked nearby. We often met at the café called The Winsor Café just opposite the building and then we would take the Grab home together. This was just to save ten dollars and sixty cents. The draft affidavit would take me at least another hour and Claire told me she could wait.

I almost forgot the time when I finished. And then as I was walking towards The Winsor Café I saw her at the lamp post again. She was wearing a loose dress and her slim figure made her look haunted. I wondered if she was waiting for someone. But something told me that she was waiting for me. I did not know where she came from.

As an advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court, I met with clients every day. Sometimes I was fighting against people whom I have never met before until the day of the trial. I often sketched a drawing of my opponent’s face on a piece of paper when I did my submissions. Invariably I was right. Yes, I did have a knack for reading people. Today her dress was completely white, which made her stand out in the dark. I saw that she was wearing a pair of Ferragamo shoes. I knew how much that pair of shoes cost. I often saw Claire in them too.

Then as one of the cars sounded the horn, I woke up from my thoughts and I turned left once again and continued walking ahead until I reached The Winsor Café. Claire was already there.

“You are fifteen minutes late,” she announced.

“Oh, sorry,” and then, “I have this for you,” I passed the parcel to her, still tightly wrapped.

“Are they real?” Claire asked as she was opening the box.

“Of course, they are, silly.” I chuckled.

“Did you want the black ones?” out of curiosity I asked.

I remembered that Claire took quite some time at the boutique when she was deciding on the black pair.

“No, I don’t wear black, although the black ones are nicer, but they don’t match my clothes.” Claire finally commented.

I left her at that and ordered my pumpkin soup with lamb chop. No dessert as we often bought a tub of ice cream from the convenience store further down the street.

“You seem preoccupied,” Claire looked at me and enquired.

“Err, yes, a little ….” I was thinking of the woman in white rather than my client.

Could she be pregnant? She was wearing a loose dress and it could well be her wanting to tell me something. I brushed the thought off and then finished the lamp chop. Claire was not satisfied,

“Shall we go for dessert?” she asked.

“I think I am tired,” I said, “I want to go home.”

Claire was my female companion. We lived together on the same floor next to each other in an apartment block called Blue Heaven. It was not a satisfactory state of affairs but for the time being this was the best arrangement. Rashida walked out on me a year ago and it would be at least another two years before I could file for divorce from her under “irreconcilable differences”.

Then I chanced on Claire when she moved in next door and I fell for her. I didn’t know what Claire liked about me but all I knew was that I sat outside my apartment for hours waiting for Claire to come home whenever she went out just so to chance on her. Yes, Claire was very pretty. She had the beauty of an Indian Bollywood dancer.

I could not say why. But I fall in love easily. I was easily intrigued by situations and circumstances pertaining to women who are lonely. You could say that I won’t have been in love with Claire if she were not a foreigner. And this time, again I found that I was engrossed with this lady by the lamp post, the she who was standing at the lamp post waiting for me every night.

I was handling another case of a woman who killed her husband after being forced to do pornography. Murder was an offence punishable by death. Capital punishment was still being practiced in this country. The female murderer, Sushila, told the police that when her husband was under pressure to repay money to a loan shark, so he ordered her to act in porn movies. The investigator was my colleague in law school, so it was easy dealing with him on the case.

He told me straight away that my client could not use “self-defence” as being forced to do porn movies was not an act which could endanger her life. Actually this client of mine, if she had performed in the porn movie she might one day have become a Bollywood queen. I got the file from the public prosecutor’s office as pro bono work, so I haven’t met my client at all although in my mind I had already sketched her.

After I left Claire at the front door and saw to it that she had locked herself safely in her apartment I went inside my own. Tonight, I wanted to try without the sleeping pills, so I poured myself a cup of warm milk to fall asleep and I lay staring at the ceiling wondering if the lady at the lamp post was im pari materia to any one of these two cases. She could be pregnant.

I had no way of knowing until and unless I met with her and spoke with her. But Claire would see it; Claire would see me talking to her. And Claire would get jealous sensing that something was amiss. I knew that my mind was preoccupied with she now. And I knew that I was fast falling in love all over again.

It was dangerous falling in love with someone when you did not know where she came from. With Claire at least, I knew her to be living at Blue Heaven and I had an address to trace. I didn’t know the whereabouts of she. All I could rely on was the lamp post which she was leaning against. Ok, the lamppost would be there for good. But would she be there again tomorrow night?

I fell into a deep sleep with the warm milk. The next morning I was late for the office. It was my own office, so I could go in at any time. I usually arrived by ten a.m. Nora was always already there waiting for me. I commented her on her punctuality although even if she arrived late after nine, I would have no means of knowing.

This morning I was impatient and irritable. I wondered if she would be there this evening. And what colour would she be wearing. By now I knew that she must be in need of something from me. Something which I was able to give her. Was she pregnant like Margaret? Could she be in Sushila’s shoes? I had not yet met either of them.

The file on the table which read: Public Prosecutor vs. Terrence Ng stared at me boldly, as though telling me that Terrence Ng was not at fault. Come to think of it, it was a grey area. Some wives still had sex with their husbands whilst pregnant and if they did who was to say that it was wrong? It was only when the pregnant party was unwilling that a problem arose.

I thought hard about my defence for Terrence Ng.

“Did she say ‘yes’ initially then turned him down later?”

“Was this the first time that she said ‘no’?”

To know the answer, I would have to talk to Terrence Ng. I wanted to speak to Margaret Ng too. Now Terrence Ng’s wife had turned him into a criminal her baby could be having a father who was serving sentence when his child was born. I must speak to Margaret as her action was most unwise.

Immediately I conjured up the face of the shadowy figure by the lamp post. I thought that she must have be pregnant, in the loose dress like that. Immediately I rang Claire and told her I wasn’t meeting her for dinner tonight. I wanted to talk to her tonight. My curiosity got the better of me and I couldn’t wait any longer.

At dusk, at around seven I took my briefcase and MacBook and walked out of my office. I had no prepared speech. I knew not what to say. All I knew was that I wanted to ask her out for dinner. And then she could tell me if she were pregnant. This time, I was sure that she was waiting for me. I was impatient for the lift, which stopped at almost every floor to pick up workers from the lower floors. My office was on the sixteenth floor, so it took a long time for me to arrive at the first floor.

It was past seven when I finally got out of the building. No, she wasn’t there. She wasn’t there today. My efforts had been futile.

“Never mind, I shall try again tomorrow,” I consoled myself.

I tried to get Claire back on the line, but she wasn’t picking up the phone, so I knew that tonight I would have to have dinner all by myself. I was still having the pumpkin soup and lamp chop. The restaurant knew my orders by now. The waiters had stopped showing me the menu two months ago.

A little frustrated, I took out the file to read. I sometimes brought work home, and this was one occasion. This time I wanted to interview my client to find out if her husband had used force on her, or had he threatened her life in any way.

Sushila was an Indian name so I knew even before I met her, that my client might not speak English. She was still in custody, so I had no chance to see her yet. She must be pretty, for otherwise she would not have qualified for porn. I did not have as much sympathy for this client.

Murder was a serious crime, much more so if it a pre-mediated act. Apparently, my client gave her husband some poisoned milk. And that was only after he demanded that she took part in group-sex. All the other pornographies she did not refuse. This looked like a loose woman even if she might look glamorous.

I made some notes by the side and then I closed the file to concentrate on the food in front of me. The waiter had placed my pumpkin soup and lamp chop on the table silently and walked away. They knew that it was my habit to take the soup and the main course together.

When I paid for the bill he asked me, “Where is your wife?”

“No, she is not my wife,” I quickly corrected him.

“I am single,” I emphasized.

“So sorry, sir” came the reply.

I had not realized that Claire and I had been behaving like a married couple.

Feeling let down I walked along the street hearing my own footsteps. My shoes were expensive and the rain in the day had made the pavement wet, soaked with mud. I almost tripped over a beer can. And then I bent down to pick it up. There was no trashcan in the vicinity, so I just held the empty can until I reached the lamp post, the one that she had been leaning against for eight nights.

I needed someone to talk to. I was handling two sensational cases. Although I had a first class honours I was poor at handling love affairs. I was a weak character when it came to romance. I succumbed to women easily.

When an empty taxi came by, I put out my hand almost as an automatic reflex to hail it down. It didn’t stop for me, but instead it went on to join the long line of taxis further down the road where the taxi stand was. It was just past eight p.m. so many taxis were waiting to pick up passengers now because of the extra three-dollar surcharge within the restricted zone. I had just walked past it. No wonder the taxi did not want to stop for me.

I had no idea what to do. I needed to caution Margaret Ng to get her to see sense. But that was against the rules. Her testimony was deemed to be more reliable as she was apparently the victim. I tried to apply for an order that would grant me an interview, but it did not succeed. Then I wanted to spend more time today with Sushila, but she had to go back to the cell. I was only given ten minutes.

The police were afraid that I might coach her. The only thing I looked forward to today was this evening. I thought that she might be at the lamp post again and that today I would approach her.

When I arrived back home I saw that Claire’s door was ajar. That meant that she is back home and that I could peep in on her to see what she was doing. But tonight, I wasn’t in the mood. My mind was cluttered up with the three women: Margaret, Sushila and she.

Their images appeared on my mind like pictures rotating at random display. I wanted to help all three of them. I always wanted to help women. Most of my clients were women. This lady by the lamp post could be in the same shoes as that of my client’s pregnant wife or that of the potential Bollywood porn star. Tonight, I didn’t want to see Claire. Not yet.

When I gave Claire the pearl earrings I knew what she wanted. She did not want earrings. It was a ring that she wanted and an engagement ring. And tonight, I had disowned her. I had announced to the waiter of The Winsor Café that Claire was not my wife. I could have told him that she was my fiancée. After all, neither one of us was dating anyone else. This meant that in my mind I had worked out that I wanted to see she.

Yes, I wanted to give she a chance. Something told me that she was waiting for me.

Again, I did not take the sleeping pills. I fell asleep at four a.m. and got to the office late. Terrence was waiting for me already as I came in. I told Nora that I didn’t want to take any calls. Once I shut the door I interviewed my client.

“Did you know that she was pregnant?” I asked.

“I thought that was undisputed? What are you trying to get at?” Terrence said.

“How many months pregnant was she at the material time?” I asked again.

“Three, possibly four …. I’m not sure.” He said.

“Listen, what I am trying to say is that she must be looking rather unattractive with a big belly … that it was unlikely you want sex from her,” I was getting at it.

“If she was only three months pregnant it would be a little tricky to be having sex, did she want the child?” I continued.

“No, she came out of the bathroom naked …” Terrence began to recall,

“then she told me that this was going to be the last time before the baby gets bigger, and then … it just happened.”

“Why do you think that she did that?” I asked my client, looking at him directly.

“I really have no idea.” I could see that he was getting very exasperated.

I wanted so much to help this man sitting in front of me. I wanted to know the truth. I told myself that I must get to the bottom of this. I was prevented by the code of ethics not to see his client. But already I have sketched a wicked image of her.

Why would a woman want to put the father of her unborn baby in jail? Unless … unless he was not the child’s father. Yes, I have stumbled on the truth. There was no logic to it unless this was the fact. I was a lawyer. In all situations, logic must prevail. I put this matter aside for the time being until I found the missing link, the woman’s lover.

It was not unusual for me to bring clients to Jasmine’s Inn for lunch. Most of them like Szechuan food. Half way through lunch, Terrence suddenly said,

“Now I remember. Margaret was a little strange at the ultrasound scan … when she found out that it was a boy, instead of turning to me, she took out her handphone and she messaged someone.”

“Did you see who the recipient was?” I asked.

“No,” Terrence replied.

“And why not?” lunch was getting serious,

“I am not in the habit of prying on her,” Terrence confessed,

“although I should have, in hindsight,” he said.

We were getting somewhere now. The deceitful woman was contacting her lover. I was sure of that.

“Do you want to hire a PI to trail her?” I enquired of my client.

“How much?” he asked.

“A few thousand dollars, but it’s worth it.” I urged him.

Terrence thought about it, “No harm done. Although I didn’t think she is seeing another man.”

“Do you have a picture of Margaret?” Terrence paused for a while, then he brought his wallet out,

“I don’t have a recent one,” he held out the photo.

I stared at the picture. It looked a splitting image of the lady at the lamp post, except that the subject in the picture had cropped hair and she looked a little fairer.

“Is she Indian?” I asked.

“Yeah, a classic Indian beauty, we got hitched after three weeks.” Terrence seemed proud of the fact.

I rang Spider’s Bureau the private investigation agency. Preoccupied with Terrence’s case now I have since stopped buying little gifts for Claire and I hoped that she had not noticed it. If I could identify malice as a motive, then I knew that Terrence and I had won the case and then all we need do was wait for the Attorney-General’s Chambers to withdraw the charges. Although I knew the director of Spider’s Bureau very well I had never been to the firm. 

The lady at the lamp post was at the same spot as I walked out of the office to meet Claire at our usual joint at The Winsor Café this evening. I couldn’t say that I was happy to see her at the lamp post as I had expected to see her almost every day now. She looked like Margaret, Terrence’s wife, and she looked like Sushila the Indian Bollywood dancer. And I was not sure whom she resembled more.

The fact of her standing at the lamp post waiting for me had become a scheduled event. I had started to buy a few new neckties, as the ones I was wearing did not make me stand out. I bought a pink tie and a turquoise one to compliment my grey pants and as for shirts I had always worn white. By now I had decided that I was not going to marry Claire. Was I wrong in eliminating Claire? I was not cheating on her. So far, I had not spoken to she yet. I only looked forward to the glimpses of recognition on the street on the way to The Winsor Café.

It took only one week to establish that Margaret was seeing another man. And according to the taped conversation, that man was the father of the unborn child.

“No wonder she wants to put me in jail,” Terrence woke up.

“Yes, and whilst you are serving sentence, she could file for divorce without having to be separated from you for three years.”

I never saw a man break down before.

“I loved her,” he sobbed.

As though it was not affirmative, he told me he recently bought a house in joint names.

“The more reason why she wants to be separated from you,” I hit the nail on the coffin.

I knew that I was also stupid like Terrence. I told myself I didn’t want to fall into the trap again. I managed to resist Claire so many times. I was getting a divorce soon and I didn’t want to be involved with another woman. But this time, this woman standing at the lamp post, looked different, like a changed person.

I went to church on Sunday and spoke with my pastor. He was happy for me that I had decided against Claire.

“You were married in church, so you have taken the sacred marriage vows, divorce is unacceptable in Christian marriages.” He proclaimed vehemently.

I listened and at the same time I wondered if when an Indian married a Christian in church would she be regarded as having renounced her Hindi faith.

The case of Sushila was still pending and I knew that there was little chance that she would be found innocent. There was no question of guilt as she confessed to the crime. Was there any way to establish that her husband had beaten her up before? I thought of the lines of defence.

And as I walked along the streets down at the office thinking of the case it was the same evening, the same moon casting a shadow onto her thin long figure. She was across the street under the lamp post.

In the dark I could not see if she were wearing black or navy. Then I wanted to walk right up to her; I wanted to say hi tonight. Just then I saw a silver Mercedes crossed a median and went straight for her. With my own eyes I saw her fall onto the pavement. I rushed up to her as another bystander rang for the ambulance.

Together we waited for the paramedics to arrive. Immediately they went into action. I heard the paramedics asked her,

“Ma’am, you have just met with an accident. Can I have the telephone number of your next-of-kin?”

“Nine-eight-three-six-nine-one-eight-four ….” with that I saw her close her eyes and at the same time my handphone rang almost instantly.

I picked up the call and I saw the caller’s identity as “unknown”. I listened to the caller from the civil defence force,

“Your wife has just met with an accident. Please go to the nearest hospital at Alexandra Road to see her.”

Yes, this woman, this lady who had been waiting for me at the lamppost was Rashida my wife. We were only separated now after she walked out on me and I told myself I would not talk to her again. We were not divorced yet. If she died divorce would not be necessary anymore.

Silently I prayed to God that she would come out alive. I promised God that I would honour Him by making the marriage work this time. And I realized that I still loved Rashida, perhaps that was why I had refused Claire.

Claire was waiting for me again at The Winsor Café, but I knew that I would not be eating pumpkin soup and lamp chop tonight for once.

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