Story by Lee Su Min
Wear Your Masks
I took off my mask, adjusted my collar, tucked my hair behind my ear and put on my most solemn expression. After a deep breath, I turned the doorknob and I walked into Court 23 again.
The only thought on my mind was that it won’t be long before my enemy found me again. The man was still at large, and I had reported him for a criminal breach of trust. I resigned and he resigned. Of course, the authorities knew where to find me, I had given them all my details and also all the information I knew about Dennis Chan.
Today I had to defend a woman in long hair. I called her “a woman in long hair” simply because I couldn’t remember her by any other name, her long hair covering all her features. Justice Suzie Temple was the presiding judge. The moment I saw her Justice’s expression I knew that my client was guilty. Clients didn’t usually tell you the truth, when they actually expected you to defend them.
The charge was that my client Christine Wong stole a pair of sandals from an expensive boutique. And the staff described her behaviour as being weird when she walked in. The first defence that came to my mind was that she was a kleptomania. But then the staff said that she asked to see the item and had in fact tried it on, then later on she wore the pair of sandals out of the boutique “in broad daylight”. The question remained – why didn’t the sales staff stop her? Was there a conspiracy to frame her?
Christine Wong came from a well-to-do family. At the time of the arrest, she was in possession of at least two thousand one hundred and forty-six-dollars cash in her wallet. There was absolutely no reason for her to shoplift a pair of sandals. Why would anyone want to shoplift when they could afford to pay? I checked with the officer-in-charge to find out what else she took. And the answer came back as “no other items”.
At the material time Christine Wong was living alone. Although she was unemployed for at least four months, it was difficult to establish a motive save as to say that she was a kleptomania. But this being the first time that she stole, I could not use it as a defence.
I knew that it was hard to explain human behaviour. You needed to talk to several people before you could read a criminal’s mind. And most importantly her religion. We all have a God, a faith, who was Christine Wong’s God? And why had He done this to her? Did she idol worship? Clearly her mind wasn’t telling her the right thing at the material time. As I was talking in my mind, I tripped on a stone and I fell flat on the ground.
No one came to my aid, I had to crawl up then pick up my files on the ground. They were scattered all over the place. Law was my bread and butter. The files were more important than my injured knees. I had to get my files home and kept them safe. No one should be allowed to have access to its contents. My injury wasn't severe enough for me to see a doctor or call for an ambulance immediately.
When I arrived at home, I put all the files on my dining table, which had become my worktable as well. I was too tired to do any sorting out. I left them there and I went straight to give myself a hot shower.
After the shower I went straight to bed. but it had not been my habit to fall asleep immediately. I lay in bed, and suddenly the image of a man came to my mind, at the bus-stop where I always alighted on the way home. The man was in a black shirt and black pants. I remembered that I looked at him, and he turned away. Later on, he looked at me again, I stared back at him wondering why and how I could have attracted his attention. The strange thing was that he made a 90-degree bow, facing me, pretending to be looking at his shoes. I stared at him. I had never seen him before. And why was he there in the first place?
Fear was a natural response to any threat, especially when it was a threat we didn't completely understand. At the time I had this vague feeling that I was being followed.
The streets were quiet today. About one in ten of the people who were out was wearing a mask. I collected my masks at the government hub yesterday. It was smooth and no fuss. I watched with dismay how the authorities were trying to trace the contact points in order to stamp out the transmission. Covid-19 was by far one of the most contagious disease. I hurried on with my groceries then I went home.
Once I reached home, I quickly washed my hands and then took a quick shower to get rid of the layer of germs mapping on the surface of my clothes. I had never been so conscious of hygiene before. Afterwards I went back to my PC to start on my affidavit on Christine Wong.
“… law is the basis of everything that governs human behaviour, and nobody wants to be a criminal for a minor misdemeanour. Christine Wong was just careless on the day of the incident. She was preoccupied with … and had in fact wanted to make payment. In her mind, she had expected the staff to ask her to pay, but that since none of them did, she thought that she had already made payment when she walked out. My client Christine Wong was not hiding the fact that she had the pair of sandals on. If she had intended to steal, she would not have walked out of the boutique with so many pairs of eyes watching her. We could only conclude that she was merely forgetful. Perhaps she was nursing a broken heart …”
And then before I went to bed after I had put on the dressing for my knees I prayed before the miniature statue of Mother Mary at the altar.
Everybody was tense. I tried to smile at the security officer who was scanning my briefcase. She looked beyond me.
“Anything inside?” the lady in navy blue uniform asked, the badge on her chest shinning.
“The usual,” I said, thinking that she would recognise me, I was a regular here I came to court at least once a week.
“Open up,” she said, I opened my handbag. The woman used a stick to poke at its contents. Then she put a sandwich bag on the conveying belt. I looked at it, inside was a surgical mask.
“Put it on,” she said.
“I ...,” I wanted to argue with her but refrained. How could I present my case in court if I were to be wearing a mask?
I had to attend court. I was representing Daphne Lim this morning. Representing Daphne was no easy feat. It took me five phone calls and thirteen text messages to get her to agree to come to court. If not because of her mother, I would have discharged myself a long time ago.
Daphne Lim’s mother was my ex-colleague. To tell you the truth, I was shocked when June Chia came to my office. I haven’t seen her for almost twenty years, I didn’t even know that she was married.
“So, who did you marry in the end?” I asked, the first thing I said when I saw June at my office.
“I am divorced,” June was direct.
“And the purpose of your visit? I was impatient. I was having several files to attend to, and two affidavits to write for the case on Christine Wong.
I carried on, “So, you are not asking me to do a divorce. Then wills, probate? Or property?”
June looked dishevelled, “Ok then I get to the point, my daughter is being scammed,”
“Have you reported the matter to the police?” I asked. Scams were a matter for the police.
June shook her head.
Why not? I asked.
“My daughter is a very educated woman, if word gets out that she is being cheated, we might all sound very foolish,” June said. And she was right after all.
“So then why are you here? I became a little irritated. She couldn’t have come here to ask me to support the scammer.
After a pause I said, “Oh then, you want me to represent her?”
June put an envelope on my desk. I glanced at it, and I said,
“I don’t accept cash,”
“Open up,” she ordered me.
All lawyers were in the habit of opening mails on the spot. We couldn’t leave anything sealed lying around.
Inside were several letters. I saw that they were in my own handwriting. I picked up one of them and started to read its contents. They were my love letters to Dennis Chan.
“How did you get hold of them?” I was shocked.
“Believe me, I know where your lover is,” my new client June Chia told me.
The Covid-19 virus had no agenda, neither did it discriminate, there seemed to be nothing to stop the virus from spreading. No, we hadn’t found a vaccine yet.
More confirmed cases had been identified, and tourism and retail industries had been badly affected. I watched with dismay every night on television that new cases had been reported.
As I was sipping coffee at Black Brewers, several messages from friends came. One was a forwarded message from the Archbishop Gerald Fong See Beng. He was being interviewed, and he gave his reasons why he had decided to suspend all Masses. Sounded good and logical, but frustrated parishioners had resorted to online attendance. I was not in the habit of going to Mass, and simply had no time to do so. So actually, I was in absentee for a long time. The suspension did not affect me one way or another. So long as the courthouse was still open, I had a job to do and a purpose. Life must go on cases must be resolved.
I changed into my slippers the moment I got into the office. The 4-inch heals were meant to give me an edge over my opponents. Over the years I had acquired the habit of holding my head up as I was always looking up at the bench.
Leena had prepared my lunchbox. I went to the fridge, took out the salad and dressing and I gobbled at the vegetables. Since Christmas I had been trying very hard to lose weight. My weight had been on the constant rise and very soon I would turn into a fat woman.
One of my old clients looked for me again. It was Edward Leong. He wanted to know if I were able to act for his son, this time a divorce. Frankly speaking, I had never been married before and I didn’t know how to do a divorce. But both Edward and his wife Penny were very insistent, saying that I was the best lawyer in town – something which I myself had never heard off.
I kept myself free in the afternoon so that I could meet with the family. I had never met the young man, but I was taken aback when I saw Penny Leong. She was Omg bejewelled. From top to toe she had diamonds decorated, looking like a Christmas tree.
Penny carried with her an air as though she were superior to me. Frankly speaking I didn’t see her as being any better than myself. The only plausible reason for her to look down on me would be that she had more diamonds on her body.
After the consultation, I became very unhappy, and I rushed out to Tiffany’s to look for some jewellery to upstage Penny the next time she came in to see me again. At Tiffany’s I chose the first diamond ring I saw, and I put it on my finger even before the salesman had swapped my credit card.
I was almost late for the hearing this morning. A large queue had already been formed at the entry points. They usually scan our bags and belongings, which I had gotten used to. But this time they were also funnelling us through a few entry points, to detect if anyone of us was febrile. Obediently I stood amongst the crowd. Silently I prayed, hoping that I wouldn’t be late for Justice Suzie Temple.
“Your Honour, my client Daphne Lim Yoke Lin was … young and naïve, thinking that she could find love from a man whom she had never met, and he took advantage of that. There was certainly no intention on her part to deceive anyone but herself … Daphne Lim was estranged from her own natural family and was devastated when she discovered that she was actually an adopted child by her mother … so that she sought consolation from an outsider …. ”
The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. There were 118,000 cases, more than 4,000 deaths, the agency said, and the virus had found a foothold on every continent except for Antarctica. Vietnam is no exception.
I found the streets no less crowded. People minding their own affairs were already masked with a glum face. I wore my surgical mask but knew that it was just a useless self-precaution.
If you asked me if was afraid of anyone, I would tell you it was Leena. Leena my secretary was my confidant as well as my alibi. Whenever there was a call say from a troublesome client whom I didn't want to talk to, I would tell her to tell him that I was in court. Over the years, being in court had been one of my best excuses for absentee, although when actually I was watching a film at the cinema.
There was this film “Knives Out” that I must see this week. I bought the tickets for 1:40pm and tucked it in my LV bag. The tickets were purchased online and had my credit card details although if I went on a weekday, I could get a fifty percent discount. I preferred to do everything online so that I could capture all my expenditure by looking at my credit card monthly statement. Yes, I was on an austerity drive.
And then I was almost late for the show. The door to Hall 3 was already closed. I drew the curtains apart and immediately a woman in torchlight came to my rescue.
“Show me your ticket,” she said. I put my hand inside my LV and tucked at the paper. There were no tickets!
“I booked it online, let me show you the booking,” I tried to remain calm. Thank God my iPhone was obedient, and I retrieved the booking on the spot. J9. The woman let me in, and I crossed over the legs of several patrons before I could find my seat. Luckily the screen was just showing what was coming soon. At least I could relax for a while quietly without my clients and Justice Suzie Temple.
When the show started, I already knew how it was going to end, so actually I was just using my time in the cinema to send some unread messages on my WhatsApp.
I braved the rain to take the bus after the film ended. The weather was fine when I boarded and frankly, I thought that the weatherman won’t have expected it to rain either.
After I arrived at home, my clothes were soaking wet with rainwater. My first instinct was to take off the diamond ring before I washed my hands. As usual I left it on the vanity counter.
When I was falling asleep on the bed at night, I thought about the booking at the cinema, and was wondering how a mistake could have arisen from an online booking. Did someone tamper with the internet?
I read with dismay that several countries had imposed a lockdown. In the evening after work I rushed out to buy instant noodles and toothpaste, some can food and whatever that came to my mind, including fresh milk. The supermarket was crowded, and the shoppers’ faces were miserable. I managed to grab some toilet paper as well. The joke now was that toilet paper was greater in demand than a diamond ring. I looked at the Tiffany’s diamond ring on my hand and I toyed with it.
When I stepped into Black Brewers, I ordered my usual coffee and it came in a paper cup, which only served to remind me that there was a pandemic. Nevertheless, I finished the brown liquid and was about to leave before a young woman sat in front of me at the same table.
“Are you the lawyer who is acting for Christine Wong?” she asked.
I was stunned for a while, and I wanted to walk away. But curiosity overtook me. How could she have known? Was she at the hearing? It was an open court, so that I couldn’t help replying,
“Yes, indeed I am her solicitor. You have something for me?” I asked.
“I can confirm that Christine Wong was framed,” she looked straight at me.
“How? You were there at the boutique?” I became interested.
“No, I am a staff. I can tell you that the boutique does not have CCTV,”
“Huh?” I was taken aback. Lawrence the public prosecutor had said that he had a recording of Christine walking out without paying.
“Can you prove that to me?” I became excited, I needed hard evidence.
“I’m afraid not,” the lady said.
“Then can you give me your name? Can you swear an affidavit?” I wanted this badly.
The lady merely shrugged her shoulders. I put one foot forward and sat down in front of her again.
“Look. You could save a person from going to jail if you would cooperate with me,” I began pleading with her. I must win my case.
“I don’t want to lose my job. I can’t give evidence.” She was firm.
“Then what is your purpose here now?” I became irate.
Before I went out this morning, I took my hand sanitizer and masks. I packed three masks as once you had used it, you must change into a new one.
If you did an activity often enough you were bound to get tired of it. I was getting tired of going to court. Of course, my four-inch heels had a lot to do with it. The only thing that motivated me was the fees I received from my clients.
In order for me to make out a case that my client was a kleptomania, I tried to ask Christine if she had seen a shrink before.
“Indeed, …. ” she said.
“I go for confession three times a week ... at different venues, to more than one priests. Father Damien Cheng is very forgiving, and Father George Lim is benevolent, so is Father Jason Wong … in fact Father Damien is a great listener, and I particularly liked the penance dispensed by Father Jason Wong … he never made me recite more than two decades of the Rosary as penance …
So that meant that the woman used the priests as psychiatrists! I shrugged at the thought and decided to check with the church if priests had actually gone through some sort of psychology training.
In the meantime, I was glad that the hearings were going on as usual.
I only had one mode of transport – the bus. And I only took Grab when it was either raining or threatening to rain.
When you put on sunglasses you gave other people an eerie feeling, as though you were trying to do something for which you didn't want to be caught. I saw a woman sitting directly in front of me on the bus. She was looking in my direction, but I couldn’t tell if she was actually staring at me. The journey to the office seemed longer today as I wanted to be out of her range.
Was she another woman who could help me with my client’s case? Or was she a proxy of Dennis Chan?
I knew that I was beginning to draw conclusions without any cogent evidence in support whatsoever. But that so long as Dennis Chan was at large, I could not feel safe.
As I stepped into the lift, I found several workers inside the lift. A pandemic team with hazmat suits was doing disinfectant cleaning. It lifted my spirits immediately seeing for the first time a cleaning crew in full personal protective equipment. But that also meant that a suspect or confirmed case had been in the area. I had not been paying close enough attention to the news lately as I had been too busy with my cases.
At the time a little coronavirus was lurking in the corner to latch onto Irene Ng ….
The promise from the Christian God wasn’t sufficient for me. I went to the Kwan Im Temple to seek guidance – you shake at a tin for a divination stick to spill out, then use the verse on it to refer to the Buddhist prophecy in the Scriptures. Dutifully I did the ritual and true enough the result said that it won’t be long before my enemy found me again.
At this point in time, I wished that I hadn’t reported on Dennis Chan. Surely, I could have pardoned him. It wasn’t my money that he took, it was his client’s money. Why was I being such a busy body?!
If you think that you were being followed, go into a ladies’ room, no man will follow you there. I found a man walking closely behind me on the way from the office to the bus-stop. I couldn’t see his face clearly as he was wearing a mask.
It must be the diamond ring. I thought to myself. I wanted to take it off and hide it in my handbag immediately. But then the man could pick pocket it from my handbag, I thought. If I wore it on me all the time, I would know straight away when it was gone, assuming that the robber could snatch it out of my finger. I turned around to confront him,
“What do you want?” I was brave.
This was a safe country, all robbers were bound to be caught, sooner or later. At the same time, I put my left hand with the ring in my pocket, not willing to expose it.
“Wear your mask! For heaven’s sake!” I yelled at him.
“I want to commit suicide,” the man said.
Without another word, he flashed out a knife, pointing at his own chest.
Suicide was decriminalised, but abetment to suicide was still punishable.
This man wanted me to help him end his life! If he had wanted to harm himself, he need not have involved me!!
I became disgusted, and I quickened my steps, hurrying down the road, in order to disassociate myself from the onerous man. I thought that perhaps he wanted me to stop him, otherwise why would he warn me of his intent beforehand?
But right now, the police were too busy arresting people who flout the stay-home notice, if I were to call for help, they would probably ignore me, I thought – Huh? … a stranger on the street telling you he wants to kill himself … are you serious?
I walked as fast as I could, not willing to look back to see if the man was ok. The bus came right on time and I boarded the bus without as much as a pause. It was not crowded as most people were at home doing self-isolation.
Why was the stranger putting on an act? I was certain that suicide wasn’t on his agenda, neither was my diamond ring. In the semidarkness I could not see his face very clearly.
All activities have slowed down, people have been advised not to conduct large scale events, I took it that this was one way in which God was telling me not to worship Him in public. I had not attended Mass for a long time and frankly was quite tired of the Rosary. My prayer on having Dennis Chan caught had not been answered.
The most frustrating thing was that I couldn’t even go out to seek the protection of my other help the Goddess Kwan Yin. The Kwan Yin Temple was also closed so that I went ahead to the shop located just next to it to purchase a statue. I brought it home hugging it tightly in my chest carefully not to trip over the flight of steps on the way up to my unit. And then I found the most prominent spot in my house and placed it right there. Afraid that I couldn’t see it at night, I moved my lamp by the study table to the side of the statue, and then I let the statue illuminate in the night.
Scientists said that the Covid-19 was a zoonotic transmission not a human virus and that it was an animal virus that got into the human population.
Some days I was in top form but someday I really didn’t feel like going to court. I dragged myself out of the bed this morning and decided to say a short prayer before I went to work. This time I prayed in front of the statue of the Buddha at the corner of the bedroom.
When I prayed with Mother Mary, I had one agenda for each decade of the rosary. Basically, I asked God to help me win all of my cases in court. So far, the Almighty had answered ninety percent of my prayers – the outstanding one being on Dennis Chan. Of course if Dennis was arrested and put in jail, the chances of him marrying me would be nil.
If you found something irresistible you must go ahead and buy it. I had suddenly found the desire to buy the same pair of sandals that Christine Wong was accused of stealing. And so, after presenting my case in court, I went straight to the same boutique Graceful Legs to see if I could find a similar pair.
The salesman at the door refused to let me in, unless I was properly attended to, so I waited until he could summon an available salesperson. The girl who came with an iPad in hand was most obliging.
“Oh yes, let me check if I got the colour you want,” the salesgirl said, and then,
“It’s shocking pink, isn’t it? We call it the Rose or Fuchsia.”
I took out a random pair of sandals on display and I tried it on. It was obviously too large for me. The girl quickly checked the sole of the sandals and ordered me to try on another smaller size, before checking on her iPad for availability.
“Yes! We have size 35.5 for this colour!! Just wait here!!!” she was in ecstasy.
When the sandals came, I felt like Cinderella when I slipped it on.
“Indeed, it looks very nice. Do I pay here?” I immediately offered.
“No, you go to level 1, one level down to make payment,” she said.
And then it suddenly came so clear to me! This was the street level, the section where sandals were displayed, so naturally Christine walked out thinking that the cashier counter was just around the corner. The entry to level 1 was obscure. Christine must have been very absent minded. I thought about this and decided to use this argument as my defence, instead of advising my client to plead guilty.
“Before I pay, do you have CCTV here?” one last thing.
“Oh no! Purchases here are strictly confidential, clients’ records are not subject to public inspection … even the Sultana of Brunei comes in here sometimes ….” She declared proudly.
Dutifully I followed her to the cashier and made payment for my most expensive pair of footwear.
At night whilst writing my affidavit I pondered over the arguments. Would Justice Suzie Temple buy it?
On the PC I typed: “… the accused Christine Wong had meant to make payment but had absent mindedly walked out of the boutique thinking that she was on her way to the cashier … ”
And then I deleted my notes on the screen. DPP Lawrence said that they had the CCTV record, which meant that the authorities had intended to prosecute my client. There must be some other reason. Who was Christine related to? Was there something about Christine Wong that they knew, and I didn’t?
It was an innocent and calm afternoon, nothing contriving about the scenery or the crowd, the people on the streets were in single digits with their bags hanging loosely over their shoulders. If you detached yourself from the picture before you and looked at the scenery from the outside you would see mostly dark colours.
I took my usual seat at Black Brewers.
From the corner of my eye I saw the stranger again. The man who followed me that day after “Knives Out”. My immediate instinct was to look at my diamond ring – it stared back at me as though telling me it wanted to change owners. It was my own purchase not a gift, so that there was no sentimental value attached to it and I need not offer any explanation to anyone. Wait! Now I remembered, the man wanted to kill himself! It wasn’t my diamond ring that he wanted …
Quickly I grabbed my coffee and my files, and I rushed out of the café.
It was beginning to be clear to me that I was being followed.
I could only tell you my story haphazardly like this, as my cases brought me from one venue to another. My schedule was not always well rehearsed, I was not always where you thought I might be. But one thing was for sure – I was being followed. Why? I was a solicitor, not a rogue.
As the Covid-19 entered into its aggressive phase, many countries were imposing a lockdown. The enemy was potent, invisible and intelligent. I braced myself for an imminent announcement from the government and wondered if I should shut my office and gave everyone a break. With a lockdown, the courts would be closed. In any case, the attention of the authorities was diverted elsewhere focusing on temperature screening for incoming arrivals on our borders and issuing stay-home notices. A courtroom was a public place so naturally it would be closed if there was a lockdown.
Which meant that Christine Wong would be kept in limbo without knowing if she were going to be sentenced or released. My principal had always been that you should not plead guilty for an offence for which you did not commit. But I was not she I could not be absolutely sure as to her state of mind on the day of the alleged offence. I could only make out a case to convince the judge that she was not guilty, that she did not have the mens rea – the intention to commit a crime, and without the element she was not culpable.
And now that I also knew that there was no CCTV in the boutique, there was no actus rea!
Yes, there must be a mix up somewhere.
Were the authorities trying to fix Christine Wong or her solicitor? Were they following me because I was acting for Christine Wong? Or was it Daphne Lim that they were trying to fix? Who was Daphne Lim’s natural mother?
When you were dealing with an influenza virus-like transmissions, it's like trying to control the wind change. You had no idea who had influenzas unless he coughed. Crowded places seemed more dangerous and as far as I was concerned, I couldn’t avoid Court 23.
As I went for my hearing this morning, I packed my sanitizer and masks. The consolation was that there were still people out in the streets, although the population outside were considerably less. Faces were buried in handphones and no one would smile in return even if you greeted them. I took my usual seat on the bus at the row facing the traffic. I tried to rehearse my submission in my mind, so as to make it sound more powerful and convincing to Justice Suzie Temple.
Our Hanoi chef had come out with a coronaburger. They called it a coronaburger for hard times, in an attempt to boost morale in the city by selling coronavirus-themed burgers. They said that it was easier to make friends with the coronavirus than fight it. Once you encountered it, it followed you and looked for all of your contacts to make itself more popular. Yes, this Covid-19 was the most popular disease by now surpassing cancer. Everyone talked about Covid-19 and nothing else.
The moment I arrived at the office I called Leena into to my room and took our respective temperatures. Temperature taking had become our habit and daily routine. If I had accidentally touched the metal railings on the bus and got it from another passenger, the virus would follow me into the office, and then travelled from my system and into Leena before infecting Judy and Bee Geok.
Nothing can be sadder than seeing your countrymen being inflicted with illness one after another, even if you didn’t care about the rest of the world.
When you were at a certain age you wanted to be someone rather than yourself. If you were Chinese speaking you wanted to be Jack Ma, and if you were pro American you might wish to be perceived as if you were Bill Gates. I wanted neither, I only wanted to be Mrs Dennis Chan. I was certain that God had nothing against adultery. In the Bible they said that God had sent His Son to pardon people like me.
The Covid-19 is spreading exponentially. Once we had finished calculating one set of data, another news came in and we had to redo the statistics to convince ourselves that the pandemic was under control. Everyone was worried and no one was left to chance. I went to the grocers and did my last round of shopping as I had decided to go into self-isolation. But in reality, I was hiding from Dennis Chan my enemy and my associate.
I could see crowds of people at Fresh and Frozen when I went in. Panic had set in the supermarket and I could see staff busy replenishing the shelves as shoppers were busy picking up the food. Most were wearing masks by now as people were beginning to take this virus seriously, like when you suddenly found that your opponent in court were no paralegal.
Covid-19 was beginning to take its toll on the population. Looks of frustration were written on every shopper’s face, probably because many people were unable to get the food items that they wanted. All I wanted was some tom yam paste with fish balls so that I could cook it with some instant noodles. Many people frown on it when I told them that I survived on instant noodles, they said that it was bad for the health. But that was the fastest that I could prepare in a short span of time. For someone like me, where my eating hours depended largely on my timeline for the affidavits, I really could not make a regular mealtime.
Of course, as a solicitor I had my own issues. Solicitors were not immune to problems either.
I hurried home after I got my groceries, which apart from the above, consisted of some pork, potatoes and vegetables together with strawberries my favourite. And as I was having my dinner with the radio on, I heard from the news that almost every country around the globe were talking about flattening the curve. This phrase has become a cliché by now.
But at the same time, the coronavirus had become a convenient excuse for cancellation of meetings, contracts and all forms of social gathering. Clients have called in to enquire if their cases had been adjourned.
When I reached home, I took out another item – a watch which I was wearing when Dennis Chan was around, and I drop it into the chute. Since I decided that I must break up with him, I had systematically transferred every conceivable item that reminded me of Dennis to a drawer that I marked as “Dennis and I”. Dennis had not bought me any gift for me to throw away, so that I could only use this method to disassociate myself from him. I needed to erase all thoughts of our past together. One more item and that will be all!
We finally had to lockdown. There seemed no other way to break the chain of transmission. The virus was moving from the traders’ screen to the real economy. No one went out, no one shopped, everything was done online, every dish on my table was an online order. The only people that came out from hiding were the deliverymen. Even the newspapers were slipped into the letterboxes instead. I missed the delicious white rose dumpling at the food centre on the way to the bus stop.
As I was toiling in bed falling asleep tonight, I thought about the much hated Covid-19, and had to agree that it was a fair demon after all. The virus didn't differentiate between persons, young or old, rich or poor. It just latched onto you and attacked! And, not even distinguishing between the good or bad. Like HIV, you could try to conclude that it belonged to persons who were “immoral”, and if you avoided certain steps or certain classes of people, you were relatively immune.
It was not easy to extricate out of a relationship, much less easy to change religion, especially if you had friends who used to share the same faith with you. No, I had not abandoned the Catholic Mother Mary. But tonight, I began to speak Mandarin to Kwan Yin when I prayed. Since it was the first time I offered my prayer, I ended it with “Amen”. I had not found out how I should practise my chant to close with Kwan Yin.
Kwan Yin was beautiful, radiant in the night, I fell in love with her smile. For the moment, I had temporarily forgotten about Dennis Chan, until someone knocked on my door this morning. It was too early for me. I went to bed past midnight writing my affidavits, and unless the alarm screamed at me, I did not get up from my bed. So that when I went to the door to open it, I spotted a man in his thirties with a package in his hands.
“Mind if I come in?” he said.
“Why?” I asked, I was still in my pyjamas, although a very reserved one, an old t-shirt and a pair of track pants.
“I was told to hand deliver this to you,” the guy said.
“Fine, just pass it to me through the railings,” I didn’t want to open the door.
“Let me in first,” he insisted.
“Do I need to sign for it?” I was still half asleep.
“The parcel is too large, and the sender wants me to see that you open it in front of me,” the guy in jumpsuit said again.
I now began to recognise him as someone from the DHL.
So, he was a proper delivery man. I opened my front door and let him in.
The man stepped in. He took of his mask and unveiled his true identity.
It was Dennis!
I was finally confronted with the truth.
As far as I was concerned, I preferred not to revisit upsetting memories. Dennis turning up at my doorstep had once again revived and unravelled the past, from the first day I met him, to the last meal we had together at the Fish Burger Restaurant …
“Darling, I miss you,” the man in the jumpsuit said, the minute I opened the door.
“God damn it, where have you been?” I couldn’t contain my surprise.
Dennis Chan was still alive!
“You know about the case, right?” he asked.
“Where have you been?” again I asked.
“China, of course,” Hanoi is very close to China, just below.
“You could have told me?!” I confronted him, although this was not the best thing to say at the moment.
“I was not supposed to have any contact with you, remember??” he said.
“Ok, now that you are back, why don’t you just wash your hands first, take a hot shower and then relax for a while, and then I want to hear your story,” I continued, I had not forgotten the standard practice for protecting ourselves against Covid-19.
“You mean what I have been up to …” Dennis mumbled.
“Were you able to deposit the money in my account in Hainan?” I was supposed to let him rest but couldn’t help asking the man as he was washing his hands in the toilet.
“Oh my, I miss the familiar scent of your toilet …” Dennis gave a swoosh.
“Don’t deviate, I want to know where the money is,” I pursued.
“Not to worry, it is safe with me,” he tried to reassure me.
“No, I am concerned. The account is in my name. What documents did you have to show them in order to put the money into my account?” I was very curious and was concerned about this all the while.
“Darling, you know me, all I had to do was smile at the bank teller!” Dennis grinned and showed me his front teeth.
I became a little annoyed but knew that the information would come out from him sooner or later, so I went to the kitchen to prepare him a hot drink.
I must admit, Dennis’ sudden reappearance had injected a certain amount of stress and uncertainty in me. As I was boiling water in the kettle, my mind racing, I asked,
“Where is your passport?” – this was to find out if he had actually been to Hainan, where he said he was.
“Oh, it’s in my trouser pocket,” Dennis said, nonchalantly.
I rushed to the washing machine, the equipment was churning, and the red button is on showing that the door is locked and could not be opened anymore. I started to get frantic.
“Help! … “ I yelled, “Dennis, come here … help!” I shouted.
“What’s the matter, dear?” he sounded unbelievably calm.
“Your jeans … it’s in the washing machine … your passport … “ I cried.
“Let it be, I am here to stay, I won’t need it for the time being.” The man said, with a faint smile over his lips.
Dennis looked good to be here for stay, so that I ignored the matter for the time being. I told myself that I would have more time later on to cross-examine him. For now, I had my man back and I was quite happy with the status quo.
I looked at Dennis, this was the man that I had wanted to marry and the same man that I had wanted to be put away in jail.
I didn’t know what was wrong with me this morning as I had felt faint since I woke up. It could be the mint tea that I took last night, or maybe the fruit juice this morning wasn’t fresh enough. I rushed to the toilet to ease myself.
At 9:00 am when Dennis woke up, I told him that I was ill and needed to see a doctor. He was neither here nor there.
“Stomach ache?” “Just take some charcoal pills, Irene,” he advised.
I couldn’t tell you that I was not disappointed. Dennis wasn’t the old usual self. He used to get very worried whenever I fell ill.
I went into the kitchen and took out some of those small tiny little pills. They had always been able to save me from going to the doctor. Although I couldn’t quite tell you what the composition was as they were some TCM products. TCM stood for Traditional Chinese Medicine.
After a while my symptoms subsided and I went back to my PC to work. We were all told to work remotely from home now.
It didn’t take me more than 60 seconds to know what was happening to my body.
Immediately I rang Dr Lu to make an appointment. Dr Lu was my regular gynaecologist. He did my peps smear and breast examination including X-rays every six months, and I remembered that I saw him just early this year. He told me that everything was alright, by that he meant that my tests showed no signs of cancer.
Dennis came in to check on me.
“What happened dear? Who were you talking to?” he asked.
I knew that he was afraid that I might be talking with the authorities. I kept my mouth shut. I was not going to let him in until I found out the truth.
Dr Lu told me I was pregnant.
One usually got elated over such an event. Rather, I was miserable.
No, not now. Not in this social climate. I told herself.
The first thing Dr Lu told me was that the Covid-19 was unlikely to affect an unborn child if a pregnant woman contracted the virus. Of course I had to believe him, and of course I didn’t believe him.
“I couldn’t have been pregnant!” I was in denial.
After I left Dr Lu’s office, I went to the pharmacy to purchase a pregnancy test kid. I wasn’t convinced by Dr Lu, although one usually got themselves checked on these things before seeing a gynaecologist. I brought the pack to the counter, dropped it in front of the salesgirl. The girl gave me a wry smile, took the item and collected the change.
“I have no basis for believing that it is true!” Dennis said to me when I told him that I was pregnant.
“Why?” I asked.
“I came back on May 20, and today is only July 29 …. OMG!” my boyfriend did a quick mental calculation.
“What shall we do now?” that was my next question.
“ … the coronavirus, is it harmful for the baby?” he began to show some concern.
I decided to keep mum.
Silence in the face of so egregious a claim signalled agreement.
By now most businesses and all schools were shuttered. And I have used close to a hundred masks over the last three months. That was an average of three a day.
But the whole time I was worried that my baby might not turn out healthy. I pondered on how to talk Dennis out of it. Honestly, when I broke the news to Dennis, I had expected him to tell me to go for an abortion. But since he had consented to be the father of the baby, I seemed to have no choice.
I started talking more egg coffee, and I also took to drinking alcohol together with Dennis in the evenings, at Dr Lu’s advice, something which all health professionals said would be harmful for an unborn foetus.
I tried to give the baby a name. That called for me to determine the gender of the baby.
“You would only know the answer at 14 weeks, by which time it would have been illegal to go for an abortion.” Dr Lu stated in no uncertain terms.
“So that means that I have to make a choice now,” I asked, my hands fidgeting.
The minute I arrived at home I went straight to the drawer marked “Dennis and I”, and I packed all of its contents into a shopping bag, I brought the bag to the nearest dustbin in the house, which is the rubbish chute located at behind the kitchen, and I dropped the not so heavy bag into the opening.
Then, I took out Dennis’ jumpsuit, together with his dirty socks and the pair of jeans which I had ironed for him, lumped it inside his luggage, and I brought his luggage and threw it out of the front door, signalling it’s time for him to leave. I completed the task almost in less than ten minutes.
No one saw me, except Dennis who was just waking with my noises.
“You are in hiding, remember?” I said, “You should not even be here,” trying to be as calm as I could.
“Yes, and no,” “and how did you know that I was wanted?” he started to question me.
Only then did it struck me that Dennis Chan was not supposed to be in the know. I had reported him to the Criminal Bureau anonymously. And only God and I knew that it was I, Irene Ng, Dennis Chan’s lover and associate, who turned on him.
“Were you the one who told the police that I took the money?” he started getting agitated, and I could see his temperature raising.
And then POP! Suddenly the man collapsed right in front of me.
Of course, I rang the ambulance. The matter was serious enough to call for it. I followed Dennis in the ambulance to the Greenland Hospital, and then I waited outside the operating theatre until the surgeon came out to give me a satisfactory answer – which was that Mr Dennis Chan Eng Chee, a 46-year-old Chinese national, died of unnatural death at the Greenland Hospital at 7:30pm.
I was just needing a good class of champagne to celebrate the birth of my would-be-born baby – my usual glass in the evening. Of course, Dr Lu was the first to know since he was the father of my baby. He still insisted that I would have to wait another 4 weeks before he would tell me the gender of our child.
And the man who told me he wanted to kill himself the night at the bus stop outside my office was none other than Mr Dennis Chan. Of course, I could recognise my ex-lover in the dark, and of course, it was I who dropped the cyanide in his drink whilst I prepared the cocktails in the evenings with my associate who took the money and banked it into his own personal account in China. The fact that he deliberately tried to mutilate his passport showed that he didn’t want me to know his whereabouts. And guess who told me? Of course, it was none other than my ex-colleague June Chia who was now working for the Criminal Bureau to whom I made the report to!
And it was just as well that Dennis Chan died of a massive heart attack, for otherwise he would have been arrested by the authorities, and I now knew why I had been followed. The police knew that Dennis would come back to look for me in the end. But my money was now frozen in Dennis' bank account in China. Or was it, Thailand that he went to?
This, only Dennis Chan knew.
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