Story by Lee Su Min
If you were nice to someone you must be consistently nice to him. Likewise, a thief must be apprehended if goods have been stolen.
I have a bag that is transparent. I put my wallet, my key holder, my MRT card, my tissue pouch, my pink lipstick etc. inside my bag. And I carried it wherever I go. I never left it on the chair next to me, I never put it on the floor and I always slung it over my shoulder.
In my office where I worked, I sat in a large room comprising the seven of us, apart from Mr Mori. Asaki has one large table and a side table. Seats were arranged so that he sat at the head facing us. We have two tables facing each other and my table with Angela was nearer the exit. The rest of the staff were seated at the other table. Our tables faced each other and not Asaki.
Mr Mori could be very demanding if he wanted to be. He would come around and stand behind us and looked at our papers from behind. His shoes were dark brown and leathery but that always gave me a creepy feeling and I always felt a chill running up my spine. They reminded me of my late husband Dan’s shoes.
When I got on the bus this morning, I sat next to a guy with ear plugs on. Most people always chose seats that were single and far away from others whenever they had a choice. But I normally sat at the entrance near the driver. I was afraid of being alone since Dan left. I smiled at the bus driver, but he ignored me. I put my transparent bag on my lap and not on the seat next to me even if it were empty.
When I arrived at the office. I greeted Angela, but she ignored me. I didn’t know why she gave me the cold shoulder. Was it the clothes I was wearing that put her off? Maybe because I was in black. Or was it because she was envious of my transparent bag? Angela was my immediate supervisor. She was middle-aged married to a businessman. When Angela smiled, you could see a set of small and evenly arranged teeth, which made her very attractive even for her age.
It was raining so heavily this morning that I instantly decided not to leave the house. I rang the office and Jackie the admin officer picked up the phone. I coughed a little,
“Hey, I can’t come in today, I got the flu,” my voice was sounding a little hoarse, trailing away …
“Oh yeah of course, take care and be sure to see your doctor.” Jackie said. She sounded sympathetic.
Jackie smoked a lot and was married to an air-steward.
“Yes, yes, I shall,” I quickly ended the conversation.
I knew exactly where to get the medical certificate from.
I still could not forget the quarrel Asaki had with Mr Mori the other day. Mr Mori called Asaki into his room. The room was large, and it has venetian blinds on its glass wall. No one could see what was going on inside, but everyone could hear what was going on inside.
“What is this that you have done?!” I heard Mr Mori asked.
We strained our ears, but we couldn’t hear a word from Asaki.
“Do you know that this is a very serious error?”
Omg what has Asaki done?!
“You have leaked a very confidential information, as well as mutilation of personal property.” Mr Mori was angry, I meant ANGRY.
All of us outside were quiet. It was after 4:00 p.m. so that the counter was already closed for operation.
“What has happened?” outside Joanna asked.
“Quiet,” Junie said.
“You think Asaki would get the sack?” again Joanna asked.
“Wait till we see Asaki come out,” but the one that came out was not Asaki, it was Mr Mori.
“Tell Ah Chee to give me a cup of green tea,” he said, not looking at anyone of us.
Ah Chee came, and that was the end of the matter.
After that I thought that Mr Mori cooled down.
Mr Mori was an angry man. I meant, he looked angry all the time. He had this perpetual frown on his forehead, and his eyes were intense and large. When he stared at you, you got the feeling that he was trying to eat you up. I never liked to be in Mr Mori’s room, but I was the one who brought Japanese tea to him every morning. He was usually not in at the time before 10:00 a.m., and I would leave the tea on his table just next to where he put his pen holder. No one told me to serve him, but just that, as a secretary to the department I thought it only fair that …. Hold it … The pen! My pen!
Dan’s Cross pen was inside Mr Mori’s pen holder!
Lunch time we usually ate together, without Mr Mori of course. Today I looked at Asaki and he was staring at me, so that I managed a smile. But he didn’t return my gesture. Instead Junie spoke, “where are we going for lunch?”
“The usual I guess,” Asaki said, talking to Junie instead of me.
I took out my transparent bag, ready for another round of chicken curry. Joanna was always amazed at how I could eat curry without rice. And she greatly disapproved of it. Her opinion didn’t matter to me, so that I continued with my habit. As usual we were going to the Bhaha Curry stall for chicken curry with papadum. That seemed to be Asaki’s favorite.
At lunch, Angela bought a plate of fruits for all of us to share. Before she put the plate on the table, she remarked that she chose the fruits based on its colors – that she got a colorful plate of fruits rather than a savoury plate. She chose apples, oranges, kiwi, papaya and banana, to make up for a multi-colored plate. And then she announced that this was the way I decided on things – looks mattered most to me rather than the actual value.
I couldn’t agree with her more. Asaki has this boyish good looks and he has a strong physique. Asaki also spoke two languages proficiently. If I were ten years younger I think I would have fallen for Asaki. But Asaki did not own a car.
As I was coming home today, I felt someone following me. I turned around and true enough Asaki was behind. I lowered my head and quickened my steps. My transparent bag I lugged it under my arm. I did not want Asaki to catch up with me. He was bound to talk to me about Mr Mori, and that would get me involved in his problems.
Although Mr Mori didn’t have CCTV in his room and that he couldn’t see what we were doing outside, sometimes I did get the feeling that Mr Mori was watching us all the time. I tried my best not to be distracted by Asaki, who sat at the head of the section all the time.
Whenever there was something bothering me, I always confided with Angela. She might be bad tempered, but she always gave me good advice. I decided to talk to her about my encounters with Dan. Dan was my late husband.
Two nights ago I thought I saw Dan. It was at the poolside. He was reading a book and I wanted to go up to ask him if he wanted to come up to the house and have dinner.
Then later on I saw Dan with me on a boat. “Do you want to jump?” I heard Dan ask me.
“No, I can’t swim,” I said.
And then I woke up.
In the morning Dan was gone. I made some coffee and quickly left for work. Any delay in the house would incur further conversations with Dan. Fifteen minutes later I was at the bus-stop. The bus arrived on time and I chose a seat near the driver. I wanted to be visible. I was afraid of being alone.
Dan died in a car accident. The police refused to divulge further information except that he died on the way home after some drinks with a friend.
Today as usual, I walked out of the office punctually at 4:30 p.m. I turned into Caterpillar Road and then out into the main road. As Asaki caught up with me I asked him about his family. Just to test him.
“Is your wife working?”
“No, why?” Asaki became a little defensive.
He didn’t deny the existence of his wife. That meant that he was married!
So what Angela told me was true … then why was he pursuing me like this?
In order to pretend that I was not jealous. I asked, “what is she doing?”
“Nothing at the moment, she looks after the baby,”
Asaki must have read my thoughts. He added, “baby is only one month old,” as though this could mitigate the fact that he was already a father. A month-old Dad is also a Dad!
I couldn’t say that I wasn’t disappointed. So, in order not to show that I was disappointed, I tried to be practical, “Would you have to wake up in the middle of the night to feed the baby?”
Not everyone you talked to talked back to you. It was not that every time you addressed a person he responded. Asaki, and I were like that.
We would walk the length of Caterpillar Road. I would say something, and he would decide if he wanted to reply. Whenever we walked past house number 44, we would see a large parrot perched on the only tree in the house. His neck was long, and his thin fingers resting precariously on one of the branches made him looked as though he was ready to sing at any time. I always greeted him, and I often wondered if he were there waiting for us.
And when we arrived at the main road we would part company.
“See you again tomorrow,”
“Yup, see you tomorrow.”
We never said bye to each other.
On one occasion I wanted to ask Asaki to take a picture of myself with the parrot but that would mean that I have to walk into the house. The house seemed unoccupied … but if the parrot lived there, surely some other person did too. It could mean trespass, so I refrained. I was sure that the parrot was willing for the shot.
By now Asaki and I have formed the habit of walking out of the front gate of our office into the street.
“I have a house in Japan,” today Asaki said, as we were walking along the road before we greeted the parrot.
I looked at him, a little puzzled. Asaki was a Japanese from Japan. If I were not mistaken, he just arrived not too long ago. Obviously, he has a house in Japan! Why did he need to give me this piece of information? Why was he giving me this information? Was he trying to ask me to go and live with him in Japan? Wasn’t this a little premature?
I quickened my steps, hoping to lose Asaki and arrived at my usual joint for coffee. The café was newly set up and brewed the most fragrant coffee beans apart from the set of tea with two scones. The coffee would help me to stay awake for another six hours, so that I would have some useful time after work.
But Asaki was insistent, “My wife’s sister has come from Japan,”
“So?” I couldn’t help replying.
“She wants to stay at a hotel,” he said.
“Then stay in a hotel.” I said. I had nothing to contribute.
“They are usually very expensive,” Asaki said.
“Then the problem belongs to you and your wife,” I said again, as a disinterested third party. Of course, Asaki knew that I was a widow and have an empty room in my house.
I want to have my coffee.
Three more steps. Then we reached the end of the road.
Once we hit the main road, traffic became heavier, the sound of the car engines would muffle up our conversation so that it became less intense. I knew that Asaki was trying to engage me in his plans although I was not so sure what his plans were.
I continued to walk to the bus stop. No one was following me except Asaki. I thought that after the parrot we would have already parted company.
“Let me Google it for you,” I decided to say.
“Try one of those new hotels,” Asaki suggested, and then he hopped onto an oncoming bus. I wanted to see where he was going but that the bus had already left.
I continued with my coffee after work, and then I arrived at home just in time to see the security guards change shift.
My transparent bag was nice, and I usually swung it up to show the guards that I have nothing to hide. I was a loyal faithful servant of the Lord. I read the Bible and I followed the ten commandants, and I saw Dan at the Columbarium at church every Friday.
This afternoon Asaki started the topic:
“I heard that Mr Mori has two wives,”
“What do you mean?” My eyes rolled big.
“He was in Sri Lanka before this,” “she killed herself.”
“One would have thought that she was killed by the natives.” I said.
“And apparently he still has a family there.”
“Oh, dear, what a complicated situation,” I said.
I thought about it and I still couldn’t believe it. Mr Mori looked like a disciplinary master. His face was thin and gaunt and when he spoke to you, he stared straight at you without blinking, the magical spell in his eyes always made you tell the truth.
I often got the feeling that Mr Mori was hiding something from me.
His has another wife .... she killed herself when he was posted to Sri Lanka ...
“Oh ok, she died,” I tried to remain disinterested.
Then out of curiosity I couldn’t help myself asking,
“There could be several methods to suicide. Did she point a gun at herself? Did she jump down from a building?” I gave Asaki a few examples.
I sensed that Asaki was not ready with the information, so that I quickly added, “let me know when you are ready, I know that this is P & C.”
I sensed that Dan was with me in the same house, although I couldn’t say for sure which part of the house he was occupying. I have a double bed and Dan used to sleep on it with me. Of course he was not there with me now, he was stuck somewhere in a niche in the St Francis Church. But fact was that Dan left on a sudden note, almost in a hurry. He didn’t plan to leave, that was for sure.
Every morning when I was at Mr Mori’s room I saw my Cross pen staring at me. It was a gift from me to Dan shortly before he died. The pen has the engraved words “I love you Dan,” on it.
When you have done something wrong usually you didn’t tell other people about it. So far, I have done no wrong. I have no intention of entering into any relationship with Asaki, assuming that this was what he wanted. And if anything, it was always he who followed me out into Caterpillar Road.
Today we walked further down the street and we arrived at the Fur Café located just as you turned right from Caterpillar Road into the main road. Asaki attempted for the first time,
“Want a cup of coffee at Fur Café?
I usually have my coffee there anyway after we parted company. Our office closed at 4:30 p.m. so that it was not yet crowded as most other office staff were still working. I took the initiative to go up to place the order for the afternoon tea.
When I brought the coffee to the table where Asaki was seated, he said,
“Do you know that if you drink too much coffee you are prone to cardiovascular disease compared with those who drink less?”
“Rubbish!” I said, “I drink in moderation. Moderate coffee consumption could have cardiovascular benefit.”
“According to research.” I was adamant.
Today I decided that I wanted to show Asaki that I trusted him, so that I left my transparent bag with him.
“I’d only be gone for a while,” I said. And then I took only my wallet from the bag. Surely, he would wait for me until I returned. He won’t run away with my bag. He was my colleague not a thief. I walked to the cashier.
“How much is the food?”
“What are you having?”
“A set of tea, two scones,” instead of coffee I decided to take tea today.
“Any other orders?” the cashier was meticulous.
“That will be fifteen twenty,” she said, thus I dug into my wallet to take out the change.
When I went back, Asaki asked, “what is this that you have in your bag?”
“Oh, that’s nothing, that’s just my jewelry pouch,”
“How did you know that I have it in the bag?”
“I can see from outside. Your bag is transparent!”
Yes, my transparent bag. My bag was transparent.
“Is it for sale?” Asaki tried to be funny.
My transparent bag is not for sale!
My transparent bag was my life. My identity card, credit card, and discount cards, etc. …. they were all inside, so that if I lost my bag I was gone. The bag contained all worldly possessions to tell people that I was Rachel Wee of Chinese descent, aged thirty-six this year, and in possession of some amount of money.
In retrospect, I should have realized that the office suspected something going on between Asaki and myself when Joanna spoke to me out of the blue one afternoon. She leaned over and whispered in my ears, “Try to tell lies if you can,”
“You mean to say that I have something to hide?” I retorted immediately.
“Nope, I am just saying it as a general principle,”
“Ok, got you,” I nodded my head and carried on with my food.
I thought that the others did not hear us.
As a said, there was no reason why I should not like Asaki. He has this boyish charm and baby good looks. He looked young for his age, and he talked to me as though I were his age, even younger so that I was not so sure why he liked me, or why he chose me to be the subject of his affections. But one thing I knew for sure, he was not going to give up until he got what he wanted, which was still quite undefined now.
Today Asaki and I walked the length of Caterpillar Road in silence, each in our own thoughts. I was nursing a wretched cold, but I didn’t know why Asaki was quiet. Perhaps he was thinking of his wife, maybe even his new born baby. Angela had told me to give him a birthday card for his baby – to register with his wife of my existence. Like a caveat.
Co-workers in the office were not supposed to engage in romantic affairs. I had not done anything with Asaki except to walk the distance of Caterpillar Road. No one was a witness of our interaction except the parrot.
So that now I found out that he has a wife I didn’t know what to do with Asaki. He seemed genuine. And fact was that my husband Dan had just died. It was too soon for me to enter into a new relationship with anyone. Dan’s belongings have not yet been cleared. All I wanted was to keep my job. I have rent to pay, and I needed to foot my groceries bill.
I have no intention of doing anything romantic with Asaki, apart from having tea with him, even though I much preferred coffee. He always paid me back for the scones and tea. There was absolutely no exchange of favors from him to me, and vice versa.
How do I end the relationship with Asaki? How do I put a stop to the stroll along Caterpillar Road?
Before Mr Mori discovered our acquaintance borderline on romance, I had better tell Asaki that I wasn’t keen on him. If I lost this job, I have nowhere to go to. I would be out of a job for at least six months. Moreover, this was a special skill that I acquired – to read other people’s passport and make judgements on whether there were valid reasons for accepting their applications for travel to Christmas Island.
I conducted myself as though I were going to exit anytime. I stopped buying new clothes to impress and I counted every cent that I spent. Mr Mori stopped smiling at me, but I still continued lunch with Joanna and the rest. Of course, Asaki was always present.
I didn’t know why Dan came back last night.
I saw his shoes - the same shoes as Mr Mori’s – at our entrance. But I didn’t believe my eyes. I ignored it and went into the house as though Dan was not in. I made my own dinner - some fried pork and pickled vegetables. Then I went out to the balcony to take in some fresh air. I needed to think about the relationship between Asaki and myself. It was clearer now. Asaki was interested in me.
The lights in the bathroom were on, to give the feeling that Dan was still living in the house. Dan might come back anytime, that was for sure. He left this place in a hurry, after a car knocked him down at the traffic junction. I kept his things here as they were before, still kidding to myself that he was coming back. I was not yet used to his absence. Last night I distinctly felt his weight on the bed.
The next morning when I picked up my transparent bag from the kitchen counter, I found that it was lighter than before. I didn’t think it mattered. After all I was the only one in the house, nothing could have happened to it. And then I left the house closing the door behind me.
My front door could be locked easily. Once you slammed it, it locked itself and you could not open it unless you have the keys.
I had mentioned it to Dan before. To change the lock system. But Dan refused. Dan was a particularly difficult man. If he said one you were not allowed to mention two. If he told you that Susan was pretty you could not deny the fact even though she was fat and grumpy. I thought about Dan and suddenly felt unhappy about him. I thought I might be beginning to fall for Asaki. Or wasn’t I?
As usual I took bus 174 from Beatrice Point. The journey was short and took me directly to Poets Road where I worked. Mr Mori would be there to receive me. I meant, he would be in his office siting at his desk, waiting for me to get the password to start my computer, my Cross pen staring at me.
Today I had lunch alone. After lunch when Angela came to collect petty cash for the department, I found only a hundred dollars in my wallet. I thought I had two hundred. I couldn’t remember where I spent my money on but I was quite sure that I had five pieces last night. I didn’t buy anything yesterday after work. And the wallet has been in my transparent bag the whole time.
The phone rang. Angela picked up the phone.
“Hello,” she began.
“ …. “, from the other side.
“Are you working tomorrow?” she asked, her voice was getting loud.
“ …. “, we could guess what the other side was saying. It must have been a no.
“If you are not working, why should I be working?” and then she followed this by slamming the phone down with a loud Bang!
We were all taken aback. Why was Angela so angry?
I sat frozen. Was tomorrow an off day?
When you were working for someone, you must follow his line of thinking. Angela was obviously in a bad mood. Did she quarrel with her husband last night? Or was it simply just that she didn’t wake up in time for breakfast this morning?
The weather was colder today so that I picked a knit wear for myself.
“Your blouse is nice!” Joanna was the first to notice.
“Yup what a nice color,” Junie said.
I went to my desk. I sat down. Angela said nothing. Then after a while she got up from her seat and came to my side, she touched my sleeve briefly, and she said,
“Nice texture. Did you buy it yourself?”
At half past four, we waited for the rain to stop. There was sun, but the temperature was cold, masked by the moisture that came with the rain. Asaki and I decided to brave the rain.
I normally carried the umbrella with me. Asaki told me to share his with him,
“We don’t need two umbrellas, two persons with two umbrellas is strange, come, I hold it, I am taller than you.”
A car passed by and splashed the water on the ground collected from the rain right onto my shoes, my pants was soaked with rain water. The car zoomed past without even saying goodbye.
“These careless driver …. “, Asaki said. But I got this vague feeling that perhaps it wasn’t pure carelessness.
Then I saw the car number plate. It was Mr Mori!
Once in a while the office fumigated the grounds. White fog filled the entire area outside our large carpeted room. The plants at the corner shivered with the loud noise generated by the fumigation machine. We paused at our work using this as an excuse.
When it was time to go home, Angela remarked,
“I wished I had a bodyguard,” as though referring to Asaki.
But we didn’t do anything! Fact was that Asaki and I walked in silence without much conversation. We looked forward to the parrot each day, that’s all!
I found money missing from my wallet again. This time it was twenty dollars. I was sure that no one handled my wallet. So, I decided to make a record to keep track of my money. The only time I left my wallet unattended in my transparent bag was whenever I went up to pay for the afternoon teas with Asaki. But Asaki couldn’t have stolen. Why would he want to steal from me? It was such an insignificant amount for him!
As usual Asaki followed me out of the front gate into Caterpillar Road. I saw a police car passed by and I noticed that it seemed to slow down when it passed by Asaki and myself. I decided that I could not report the money loss to the authorities. For one, I could not confirm if it were indeed taken from my transparent bag. How do I record the things in my bag and put a stamp of ownership on them? True that the bag was transparent and that you could see what was inside. But why did you leave your bag with Asaki? Who told you to trust him?
Mr Mori never came out of his office. He would intercom us to go in. We were told to pick up the phone on three rings - not too long and not too short. Basically, we were service oriented. We decided on who could travel to Christmas Island. We wanted to give the impression that we were very efficient.
When you were old no one wanted to go out with you. I was old, so that Asaki going out with me fed my vanity. But I was more interested in Mr Mori’s affairs. They said that Mori’s wife killed herself because of him. Could it be true? Could Mori be a regular assassin?
Today I decided that I wanted to explore on this mystery.
Mr Mori had his chauffeur as his trusted confidante. So that I went up to have a chat with Mr Muru. Mr Muru usually sat at the area just outside the pantry reading the day’s newspapers.
“Do you know that Mr Mori has two wives?” I began.
“Two? I thought three,” Mr Muru said.
Then he continued, “Mr Mori is a very rich man …. doesn’t need this job, he owned several properties in the West Coast ….” before going back to his newspapers.
“Are they all legally married?” I asked, meaning Mr Mori with his wives.
“Are you ok? What a silly question! How could he be?! You should know that bigamy is not allowed under Australian law.”
“Then are his wives all still alive?” I ventured further.
If Mori were my boyfriend, then I wanted to know who I was competing with.
“I don’t know, it seems that the first wife died in India, or was it Sri Lanka, I can’t remember …. she killed herself …”
So, it was true! Mr Mori’s first wife committed suicide.
“ …. but don’t tell anyone,” Mr Muru added.
“Promise,” I raised my right hand and put an oath to my assurance.
At the same time, I needed to use the toilet, so that I decided to make Mr Muru a gratuitous bailee. Maybe if I showed him that I trusted him he would furnish me with more information.
“I’ll be back,” I said, and then I walked away.
“Don’t leave your bag behind,” Mr Muru shouted after me.
When I came back, Mr Muru wasn’t at his spot anymore as he was sent to fetch Mr Mori. My transparent bag was there but my key pouch disappeared. The net result was that I had no keys to enter my house.
I checked into the Paloba Hotel located at the Poets Road, the one just opposite my bus-stop. I used my name Rachel Wee the same name as I have used for the booking of Asaki’s sister-in-law who never turned up.
Whenever you have made a mistake you must always say sorry immediately. Otherwise you made the other person feel that he was to be blamed. I had to tell Asaki that I was staying at the hotel now, the one that I had booked for his sister-in-law. Asaki asked me for the room number and insisted on paying for the bill. I accepted it as I had not enough money to pay, even though it would appear as though Asaki stayed with me for the night.
For this I confided with Jackie. Jackie dealt with admin and she was pretty good at this sort of thing.
“Just make sure that you check-out alone,” “If no one can get a picture of you with Asaki, they cannot say anything,”
Err, did Jackie know about my non-existent affair with Asaki?
When you were older you read people faster, as you have acquired a certain kind of instinct that came with experience. Mori might be old and pigmented, he was attractive in a very strange way. He was intense and deeply profound, maybe because he was very well read and thus very well informed. Nothing missed him, and he was always full of reserved energy.
Today Mr Mori issued a statement: I have a private life which I do not permit interference …. it must be respected.
I went back to the hotel puzzled. Surely Mr Muru did not tell Mr Mori about my enquiry?! And even if he did, surely Mr Mori would not have cared.
But I had things to do. I needed to open my house door and I called for the locksmith from room 762, the hotel room which I booked for Asaki’s sister-in-law. It was a quick fix to my problem. I borrowed some money from Asaki and bought two sets of new clothes and I went to the office directly from the hotel. No one knew about this except the security guards at my house who hadn’t seen me for several days.
And of course Mr Mori.
The coffee tasted a little bit more bitter at Fur Café. I finished it nonetheless. And then I went back to the hotel to sleep again.
… I need to pay the locksmith for opening the door and … my wallet is missing …. No, my whole transparent bag is missing. But one thing was … for sure. I cannot report the loss to the authorities, they already suspect me of having … an affair … with Asaki.
… The past needs to be dealt with, signed sealed and delivered. Dan’s death must be classified either as a car accident or … as an unnatural death by other means … Dan cannot continue to live in my house … as a free spirit coming and going as he pleased. I have to … find a new partner …
But Rachel Wee never woke up from her sleep. The last person she saw that day at the Paloba Hotel was Mr Mori, and the last conversation she had was with him,
“You slept with my subordinate,” Mori said.
“No, I didn’t,” Rachel could barely protest.
“You deserve to die, just like your husband,” Mori was angry.
“Why? Why did you kill my husband?” Rachel’s voice trailing away …
“He killed my wife,” this time Mori was angry.
When Mr Mori was angry, he was ANGRY.
As Asaki examined the contents of Rachel Wee’s transparent bag in front of Mr Mori, he quietly said to himself,
“Everything is for sale. The only issue is the price.”
Hope you enjoyed the story you've just read. I wish to write more stories to amuse my readers!