I was still yet to find out whom the rest of the people living in the block were. First floor I knew it was Elaine with her golden retriever, the second floor I knew Lydia and Emma, and then on her side the third floor was Johnny and Florence. Florence was pregnant and due any minute and was in most of the time. The other side of the block on the first floor I knew David and Elizabeth. They have two young children and I particularly liked the younger one baby Lucas.
On the second floor was Tommy Lung which you already knew, and on the third floor 3B was a tenant of obscure origin. He kept his door shut all the time and rarely came out. His balcony was also shut as you could see from far and that there seemed to be no activity inside.
The one I most often saw was Mark and Suzanne. I found Mark aloof. On the contrary Suzanne greeted me whenever she saw me in the common area and I always looked forward to the chance of seeing them, singly or together. The ease with which Florence did things attracted me to her. Like the way she would fold her umbrella and the way she clipped her handphone under her arm whilst her hands were carrying the groceries.
I told myself it was good to be married.
Cancer patients suffered from a kind of anguish, as it was as though God has given them an ultimatum of when they must return, so that their journey in life no longer held any more surprises. There was nothing to look forward to except death. Needless to say, that put a mask on everything that they did.
I was also angry myself. I had thought that Mother could enjoy the rest of her life with me here, at this time, in this small estate grounds. I thought that every day would be Christmas as I had just quit my job as a data analyst with Hewlett Packard, after having saved up sufficient retirement funds.
And then one night I heard someone moving his furniture. I was sure that it came from upstairs. The movement was loud enough for me to determine which direction it came from. It was from the upstairs not next door. It must have been 5A. Number 5A was Stuart.
I wanted to charge upstairs to tell number 5A to stop being so loud. We didn’t often make friends, but we couldn’t help making enemies. If I went up now I would make 5A our enemy.
True enough Mother did not sleep well last night. She complained of neck pain which only Brother Joseph’s oil could help sooth her nerves.
Today I saw Mark and Suzanne again, Mark holding out the umbrella for Suzanne. The image of them together played in my mind, and the sparkling diamond ring on Suzanne’s finger did nothing but created a certain kind of jealousy in me. How much did it cost? Were Mark and Suzanne legally married? I noticed that the diamond ring did not come with a wedding band to secure it.
The next day late at night I returned, and as I got out of my Grab, I saw two figures in the dark and I saw that it was a man and a woman. The two figures entwined together I could see that they were deeply in love. I recognized Mark’ umbrella on the ground.
In the distance I could hear the birds chirping as though they were cheering them on and I could almost hear music in the background. And as I knew that it was none of my business, I walked past them and headed straight back into my apartment. Mother was waiting for me.
I dropped my shoes outside the front door before I got into the house. We have a shoe rag and we left it outside the house for we didn’t think that anyone would want to steal our old shoes. For one, our feet were smaller than most, and the thief had to be sure that it fitted her.
The entire night I wondered if the woman was Suzanne, and if it were so they need not conduct their intimacy in the dark in the garden. They have their entire fifth floor at their disposal!
The rain suddenly came on my way home. I had not expected this, and that the driver dropped me at the porch behind the garden. The minute I arrived, something moved, and it was two figures who separated themselves. I didn’t want to confront them as it was not in my habit to confront anyone. I lived quietly on the fourth floor with my mother who was suffering from cancer and I really have no inclinations to invite more trouble.
But one day as I met Mark on the ground floor, he suddenly approached me and started conversation. Mark never spoke to me.
“Are you going overseas recently?” Mark said.
“Not in the near future, why?” I replied.
“I thought that you could look after my plants for me while I am away,” he said.
Before I could reply. Mark continued,
“Why haven’t you married?”
“That is really none of your business,” I said quietly.
I don’t want to water his plants for him.
I gave him one of my toothless smiles and I turned and walked away, straight up to the apartment where mother will be asking why I took so long.
But I felt distinctly uncomfortable after the interaction with Mark. He asked me for information which was not relevant to my relationship with him. I need not declare my marital status to him to water his plants. And I thought that he, including the other eight apartments, already knew that I was divorced. He was only my neighbor, it was really too personal.
Again, Mark attempted to talk to me,
“Do you have any siblings?” he went straight to the point.
“No, why?” naturally I was more guarded this time.
“No reason, I don’t see anyone visiting you so was just wondering,”
It was as though he had prepared himself each time. I asked myself if I should continue to meet him like this even though I had no choice in the matter. But I didn’t have that many friends. At forty-four most of my friends were already married.
A person who was good looking knew that he was good looking. Number 5A Stuart was like that. It was no surprise that he worked in the Japan Airlines as an air steward. I was also impressed by the fact that he spoke Japanese.
One day hanging my clothes in the backyard I found a pair of jeans and a black t-shirt. I took the jeans and examined it. It was large and clearly a man’s trousers. At the same time when I was unfolding it something dropped out of the jeans pocket – it was a passport!
Curiosity got the better of me, and I immediately turned the pages to the biodata page to see to whom it belonged. It said,
“Stuart Lin Chi An”
I quickly put it back in the pocket for the document was semiwet soaked with water. It must have gone into the washing machine. Chances were that the apartment on top was sunning the pair of jeans and that it had fallen into our backyard from his. I pondered on the thought to return the passport back to the rightful owner.
Hey wait! Stuart gave me the impression that he was Singaporean, and to all intents and purposes he spoke Singaporean English. But his passport was a Japanese passport!
Did he have dual nationality?
As usual I found my way home after I had gone for some coffee. Coffee has become my source of food rather than rice, since the kitchen was no longer in operation for me. I usually started to count the steps once I was at the entrance of the estate. That was to make walking up to the fourth floor a less awesome task.
“Mother, I am back!” I yelled, making myself sound as cheerful as I could.
I walked further in, to her bedroom. Maybe Mother was sound asleep. But hey! Mother was gone.
In panic, I rushed around the house to all the other rooms to see if she were elsewhere. But alas, no!
Immediately I went to her room to see if her handphone was there. No, she did not bring it along with her, so that meant that she was uncontactable. I saw her Rosary. It was lying there right in front of me staring at me. Now I have no choice but to resort to using this as a tool to relieve stress. I picked up the Rosary and started to meditate. I have been to the church I was seeing Father Jeremy Koh, so I knew how to pray the Rosary. I have no other resource. I was her only child, I have no siblings to confide in.
I sat in semi darkness for at least an hour before I heard the front door open and someone coming in.
It was Christian.