My Short Stories

Fiction

Story by Lee Su Min

A quiet place for confessions ... they can last forever!

I Knew the Truth

They say that when you have murdered someone, only you and the deceased knew that you have killed him.

No one else knows.

Chapter 1

No one can say with any amount of certainty that you put an end to his life. Not the police who subsequently surveyed the scene, not the inspector-in-charge, not the coroner, and certainly not the victim’s family.

I knew that I had been dead before.

Norman didn’t wake me up before he went to school this morning.

It wasn’t unusual, as he didn’t normally wake me up.

What was unusual was the fact that he left a cup of coffee for me at the dining table, together with some food. I won’t call it breakfast, for it was not cereal or cornflakes or anything like that, it was not toast and not butter. I took a look at it, and decided straight away that I was not going to touch it. And then I would just leave it in the dustbin outside until just before Norman was due to come home this evening.

After the coffee, I felt a little queasy and I decided to wait thirty minutes before I got up again.

If the meat was not thawed by then I could defrost it again. I told myself. They say that the bacteria multiply in the meat if you reheat it too often. Frankly I didn’t really care. I never thought that I would die of food poisoning. Heart attack maybe.

I knew that I have no good reason to be here.

I was only a student. Once I finished my course I would have to go home. I have a ticket bound for Christmas Island where I came from. When I applied for my visa I had to produce a two-way ticket.

My family knew that I was here. But no one else did. Not my classmates nor my relatives, in general the people that I knew before did not know that I was here. Since I came here, I have stopped talking to them.

There was no reason to. They were too far away.

Chapter 2

Dinner was cooked. Dinner was served. Norman and I ate it. But Kenny and Shaun preferred to have their own cooking. They did mash potatoes and fish fillet and I did steak and broccoli.

Chapter 3

I find that the more often you confessed your sins to your priest the more sins you have. It’s like digging up your past. You could go up to the day you were born, or even the time before you were born. But that would require a very good imagination. It’s like telling a story, after a while you have many things to say, and you just talk rubbish. The priest who hears just listens and nods in agreement, for it is his duty to pardon.

I could remember the day very well.

I could remember the people who were there when it happened. I couldn’t blame them but that since they created the environment by being present, I would find them culpable.

Chapter 4

The house was quiet, at least until 5:30 p.m. when either one of the three of them Kenny or Shaun returned from school. And then Norman usually came back by 4:00 p.m. Shaun was usually coming back early before 3:00 p.m. I could recognise the way in which he opened and shut the door.

Shaun came in through the living room door, as it was always open, we shut it only at night when we have declared it to be time for bed. Once he was in, he headed straight to his own room, opened the locked door with a loud jerk, the door slammed against the wall, and he shut it again.

Then I knew that it was time for me to prepare dinner. I forced myself out of bed, walked to the kitchen, and opened the fire on the stove. With some reluctance the fire ignited. I watched the flame moving slowly and I made it a little larger.

But actually I shouldn't have done this first. I should have taken the meat out from the freezer. So I opened the compartment and took one chunk out. It was hard and I ran some tap water over it.

“Maybe I should turn on some hot water,” I told myself.

Then I remembered that I have a microwave oven. The appliance could do the trick. I saw the time – 01:34 – this always annoyed me. I hated inaccurate reporting. “It is completely misleading,” I cursed under my breath and I decided to adjust the time. The date was 16 May 1983.

I walked away to look at the radio, it was 3:47 p.m., and then back to the microwave. I took my time to reset the hour. Once the time was current I set the microwave to thaw. I usually tried 30 minutes first so that if the meat was not soft by then I could defrost it again.

Chapter 5

Once Norman came back the place came alive again. Invariably he would switch on the television and decided on the channel.

I stayed on the sofa, unable to move, waiting for Norman to inject some life into me. But Norman was still talking on the phone. I could only hear his side of the conversation.

“So he is ok?” “Did he need to stay overnight at the hospital?” “Give me a call tomorrow morning once he wakes up,” and he ended the conversation.

“Ah John our neighbour is in the hospital for SARS,” Norman said.

“What is SARS? You mean the Hong Kong passport?” I asked.

“No, not the Special Administrative Region thing, I am referring to some bacteria by the name of SARS,” he corrected me.

“Oh, which hospital was it?” I asked.

And then I decided that it was best to concentrate on the script in the movie, in case Norman should ask me. He has the habit of asking me in the middle of the show what happened in the story.

Overtime, I had decided that Daniel in “Falcon Crest” was far more important to me than the neighbour in Christmas Island who seemed to be in the ward at the Alex Johnson Hospital now.

When I woke up in the morning, I often had this feeling that I was drugged. It couldn’t be the food that I ate the night before. It was just fish and chips, and there was no wine either. I just couldn’t understand why I could not get up. Maybe it was the air-conditioning, or maybe I did not open the window.

I told myself that I would drink some coffee tonight, so that the after effect of coffee would carry me through to the next day when I was supposed to wake up.

“Why are you drinking coffee at this time of the day?” Norman asked.

Why was he watching me? I became a little annoyed. And then three minutes later I made a cup of decaffeinated coffee which defeated the purpose entirely.

“Why drink decaf?” again Norman asked. I hated his inquisitiveness. He was not supposed to ask so many questions, it was none of his business.

Chapter 6

I had a class today. The class started at 2:00 p.m. but I was there at 2:30 p.m. I took thirty minutes from the class. Usually I didn’t hear it. But I knew that I had class today. The teacher was always very keen to teach me, as though imparting knowledge to me her mission would be accomplished. I knew why. I was the only one in the class who knew Chinese. The other students were non-Chinese and they could not read and write the Kanji in Japanese so easily. Kanji is the Chinese character equivalent in Japanese, but the same meaning in different pronunciations.

Yoko-sensei saw that I was a good student.

I knew that I was stuck. I meant, there was nothing else for me to do here but to study Japanese. Norman was here. I got the special student pass by virtue of the fact that I was married to Norman. Before I left Christmas Island I told New Zealand that I was married to Norman. I managed to produce a wedding certificate without the ceremony.

You could say that the marriage was a sham. We haven't told anyone about it yet. Not before we left, not since we left. I used the piece of paper to make my name change in my passport, so that I could rightfully be called Mrs. Foo. But that it was not allowed. The name included my maiden name. I became Monica Foo nee Li Swee Tin.

I wanted to establish that I have a legitimate purpose in the country. I have never been abroad before.

New Zealand is far. It is far away from anywhere in the world. They have more sheep than people and land is in abundance so that they never need to depend on anybody.

Our relationship was strange as it bothered on the fringe of matrimony, as no one could say with any amount of certainty if I were married. Yoko-sensei had to drum into me: watashi kekkon shite-imasu. I liked to say watashi kekkon imashita. She somewhat knew that Norman was not actually my husband. But she could never know what went on in the room upstairs between Norman and I.

In fact, I thought that Kenny was so upset by the absence of sex that one day he started throwing raw meat into our trolley whilst we were at the supermarket. I didn’t know if I guessed correctly that this was some kind of innuendo from him, as there was no way in which he could know that Norman and I have not consummated our marriage.

We have not had sex. But everywhere I went I told people that I was Mrs Foo – Norman’s wife. Norman did not object to it. All the while I was wondering when he was going to propose to me. The wedding ring that Norman and I bought haphazardly at a small jewel shop stared at us, and at everyone else.

Chapter 7

In this town there was a chapel nearby. It was small and the same faces appeared. Every time I was there they ignored me completely. But actually they were supposed to ignore me.

At the entrance to the sanctuary, there was a notice, prominently displayed, meant for anyone who had any confessions to make. I passed by the notice every time I went in to the sanctuary. It stared at me, like someone had decided to tell me that I should talk to a priest and tell him about myself.

I have nothing to tell you, I told the writer of the note, except that I would want to wake up early. The days passes me by and I had nothing specific to do each day. I told the note. All I wanted was to wake up early. 

Chapter 8

Today I decided to go in and see what it was all about. There was a small room and few chairs were arranged neatly in two rows. A lady was sitting there and she looked at me ready to smile. I felt the need to make some conversation.

“Do you come here often?” I asked.

“Good heavens no, one doesn't have so many sins to confess,” she looked appalled.

“Do you worship regularly?” she asked.

“No, as a matter of fact, this is the first time I am here,” I replied, whereupon I added,

“I don’t feel God is talking to me.”

“He is there! Just that you don’t see him,” lady said to me.

I felt the lady making fun of me so I took my Bible out of my bag and flipping at it pretending to be reading at the pages.

“We have a Bible Study reading every Friday night, 7:00 - 9:00 p.m.” the lady ventured. I was not too keen on this for I wanted to be left alone, but 7:00 p.m. in the evening is ok for me, I would have been awoken by then.

So I said, “maybe I will come.”

Chapter 9

We go to Cob and Co. for dinner every night. The food is Asian as it is not as bland as most Western food. We like it there but they are slow. The waitress greets us, she brings us to a table, then she puts us there. Immediately she walks away. You can’t find her, she disappears into the kitchen and is nowhere to be found. We sit there like some lost kids and is at the mercy of the waitress. We waive our hands but no one takes any notice of us. We sit and wait for our food.

Today Yoko-sensei told me that I seemed to be worried about something all the time. She asked me if I missed my family back home in Christmas Island. And she started speaking to me in Japanese which I did not understand.

When I went home, I started reading the Bible.

The Bible says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, do not be afraid, ...” and then I fell asleep on the bed. Norman was still watching ghost movie with Kenny and Shaun.

Chapter 10

Since the Bible says so, and the Bible is the Word of God, what the Book tells me must be true.

I decided to see the priest who presided at this church. He would be a good person to talk to.

I made an appointment with the priest for confessions at the chapel. It was easy as all you need to do is write the preferred time on the guest book.

“I have evidence of murder.” I finally got the courage to tell Father James Crawley when I saw him on Friday.

“You saw him put the knife in her throat,” Father looked at me, appalled.

I realised that I had said something dangerous.

“It was a recent film that I saw and a fragment of my imagination.” I quickly threw the sentence at him before leaving.

Chapter 11

Today I found an interesting article on my email. It was sent by somebody from India:

The laws of Reincarnation state that there are certain things in your past lives, both good and bad (known as Karma), that may be “erased” or, on the contrary, “activated”, thus affecting your present life to a considerable extent.

I can’t remember the author of the note. I cut it out and put it in my Bible.

When Norman came in after watching the ghost movie, he told me to pray for Ah John’s recovery.

“Are you sure that he wants to carry on?” I asked casually.

“It could be that secretly he wanted to die,” I said.

“And it could just be that he was asking God for permission to end his life, one never knows these things,” Norman agreed with me at once.

“But it is our duty as Christians to pray for sick people,” Norman corrected me.

“Amen.” That was all that I could mutter.

I didn’t know any other words of prayer. I still believed in Buddhism, even though I ate meat.

Chapter 12

This afternoon I rushed to see Father Crawley immediately after Yoko-sensei’s class. Surprisingly Father was there waiting for me.

“Do you get bad dreams?” He asked.

“Not at all, I sleep through,” I said.

“I am not surprised, since you take sleeping pills,”

“No, I don’t,” I said.

“But I do take those white tablets ... and they are contraceptive pills.” Thus emphasising my marital status.

Who told him I took sleeping pills?

“I really want to wake up early,” I declared again.

“It is up to you, why don’t you set the alarm?”

“I do set the alarm,” I began to get a little frustrated.

“Listen, unable-to-wake-up is not a sin that we, as spiritual leaders, know how to deal with. Perhaps you should seek medical help.” Father Crawley gave me an alternative.

And then he continued with our old thread and asked, “were there any blood stains?

“Why? No,” I proclaimed.

“Then, were you there?” he asked.

“No, I wasn’t,” I had to confess.

It suddenly dawned on me that a witness to a murder, or any other type of crime, must be present at the scene.

“Then how did you know that a murder took place? Assuming that you knew.” Father Crawley looked at me intently, with a piercing voice.

“In any story, you must decide if you are the victim or the villain.” Father gave me another piece of advice.

I couldn't answer the question on why I was dead and then now I was still alive.

“I am not whom you think I am,” I said, emphasising.

I knew that I was Victoria, the wife of the President of Christmas Island. But that Father Crawley didn't know about this, and I was not about to tell him. It was a state secret, it still was. No one knew about this. No one knew who I was, except that I was Mrs. Foo – Norman’s wife. And then I allowed Father to decide if he wanted to pursue the thread.

Father told me the number of decades I should pray and what to say for penance. A decade is ten beads of the of Rosary consisting of fifty beads.

I walked out of the cubicle, and noticed that the lady that was in the waiting area was no longer there. I took my time to walk back to the apartment. I knew that I will be having steak for dinner again tonight. I had already brought the meat out and put it in the basin, as I walked past the mall, I saw that the shop at the corner selling winter clothes was still having the same items on display. I wanted to go in and ask for the price except that I might feel obliged to pay for it later on, so I stopped at the window and admired it for a while before deciding against it.

Shaun was already in when I arrived at the flat and I was surprised that he was early today. The door to his room was closed. If he wasn’t back, he would leave the door open. The radio in the living room was on, news of the new American leader making another surprise move was announced. We were too far away to be affected by him, and I haven't decided if I wanted to go back to Christmas Island after my course. A two-way ticket did not mean that I could not later on secure a job in the country and change my mind.

Chapter 13

“It’s good to believe in God.” The lady at our regular meeting place told me. By regular meeting place I meant the waiting area outside the confession room.

“And all murderers must be punished,” I replied.

“They usually are, no one gets away with murder,” the lady continued, as though stating that it was going to rain tomorrow. I wanted to tell her that I knew of someone who was off the hook – the one who murdered me. But that she did not know that I was Victoria. Victoria was dead. Victoria Li was Bill’s wife. Bill Young was the President of Christmas Island. Christmas Island is a country in the South Pacific.

Victoria died of a heart attack, just after she had given birth to a half-Indian boy. Nobody could explain how two Chinese persons could produce an Indian baby. Both Bill and Angelina swore on the Bible that neither he nor his late wife Victoria had committed adultery. The newspapers were hiding the information, with only one short paragraph released about the death. And even then it wasn't clear if Victoria had died of heart attack or suicide. There was even a mild suspicion that Bill Young killed her. Angelina Leong is the second wife of Bill Young.

Chapter 14

I went in to do my next round of confession.

“I can’t wake up again,” I said.

“Is there any way you could help me get up?” I looked at Father James Crawley, helpless.

“Even Norman could not wake me up in the morning.” I lamented.

“Why can’t you wake up?” Father asked. Whenever I woke up in the mornings I felt like I was being drugged.

“Could it be the food that you ate at dinner?” Father asked.

“You must remember to give thanks to the Lord before you partake the of your meal,” Father Crawley told me.

“It is only right,” he said, and he continued,

“since all good things come from Heaven,”

“I often forget,” I had to confess.

“But I am sure that doesn't account for my being drugged,”

I was thinking of what happened eighteen months ago. I haven't told Father Crawley that I was Victoria yet. I am a deceased Victoria and I am posted to heaven.

I arrived at home, the steak waiting for me. I sprayed a layer of soy sauce and rubbed some pepper in, making the meat more succulent. For sure I was not a Buddhist. Buddhists don’t eat meat. But I believed in their theory of reincarnation. I was yet to decide if I was going to cross over to become a Buddhist, if Father Crawley couldn’t help me wake up in the morning.

Chapter 15

This morning after I woke up I felt compelled to see Father Crawley again.

Father James Crawley knew who Victoria was and I thought that he could help me. I didn't want to get in touch with Bill Young and Angelina as I didn’t think that they would welcome me. The minute they saw me they would lock me up and put me away for good. So therefore I was very sure that Bill Young killed Victoria, since I was the Victoria that he killed. I woke up after Victoria died. And only I knew that I was Victoria, no one else did. Surely I knew how I passed.

It had been eighteen months. I left Christmas Island and arrived at New Zealand after Victoria died. I didn't know why I did that. It was clever to run away from the killer to another country. For if he didn't succeed in destroying you the first time he would want to do so again. He had to silence you. So why was I here?

I was not sure if Bill Young knew that I was still alive.

But every dead person woke up in another’s body. It is fact.

So I kept quiet and I merely told Father that there was this frock I wanted to buy.

“What made you not buy it?” Father asked.

Before I could answer, Father continued, “A desire for some material things is a simple want, I doubt that we can call it a sin. It is not like your covert the flowers in your neighbour’s garden and you climbed over to pluck it.”

I listened, and then I knew that he didn't know who I was. One day I will tell him. And then that would expose Bill Young.

Bill Young would be formally charged and then he would have to be sentenced. But then how would it benefit me? I thought about it seriously and then decided it best not to talk about it. Father discharged me today without making me do penance and I was extremely pleased. 

Chapter 16

Norman told me to clean his car today. That was a difficult job as I didn't know how to extend the hose from the tap to the garden.

I was always on the inside looking out, as I was driven around most of the time. Norman always drove and I let the three of them watch horror movies on television whilst I picked up my knitting. I had to make my own outfit since the shops were slow in producing new ones.

I got up from bed this morning and I made coffee straight away. At this moment I was still Victoria. I was dead. I knew that I was a corpse. A living person didn’t feel this way. If you were alive, you could wake up in the morning. You didn't feel drugged.

Norman didn't know this. He thought that I was Monica Li his fake wife all the time. As I said, only I knew that I was Victoria Young. But as far as Bill was concerned, his first wife Victoria was dead and now he was into his second marriage. I was envious of his second wife. It could have been me. It was me!

I decided to go and make another confession with Father James Crawley. He understood me most. He had been with me since I came to New Zealand. He knew the ins and outs and all the goings-on here. Maybe he could help me.

“Child, what do you want?” Father Crawley has decided to adopt me.

He called me child! “Father, what do you do when you are confronted with the truth?” I started.

“Do you carry them to the grave with you?” I asked.

“I am afraid so. It is a heavy burden,” he sighed.

“.... and sometimes it is better not to know the truth.” I followed the lines.

“You have something to tell me? Father asked.

“Err,” I stammered a little.

“No, but then if you think that I need to know then tell me. I am here to listen to your woes.” he lowered his voice,

“Listen, I too know that he killed her.” Father repeated what I said, or rather what I wanted him to say.

Which meant that Father Crawley decided to collaborate with me.

“I am Victoria,” I began.

“If that is the case, who is Monica?” Father asked. “Monica is me too.” I continued.

“So do you know when you are Victoria and when you are Monica?” Father asked.

“Yes, you can say that.” And then I asked Father for some coffee as he went to the pantry and poured me a cup. I liked his mug, it has a black cat on it.

I liked Father James Crawley’s coffee. His coffee has a special flavour which made it fragrant. I always made sure that I finished the cup before I left him.

“Sometimes it was best to forget about the past,” watching me sip the coffee, Father said.

“I knew some people who made themselves drunk simply because they couldn’t stop thinking about their enemies.”

“They could take sleeping pills, I suppose.” I said.

Chapter 17

Confessions with Father James Crawley became a habit by now. I went to the chapel automatically on days when I did not have a class, and strange things was, that Father was always available. In the beginning it was limited to the hours displayed on the notice.

“Were there any blood stains?” Father opened topic.

“Why? No.” I replied.

And then, “how could that be?”

“Did you see your own body lying on the bed after you stopped breathing?”

“Yes, I remembered that I was sitting just outside the room, and then I was telling myself: Victoria, if you want to wake up, you have to go back to your body, but I was too tired to walk down the steps, and then that was the time I heard a click.

“What kind of clothes were you wearing?” Father tried to help me recall my memory. I thought he was trying to ascertain if I were wearing hospital clothes to establish the scene where I said I died.

The truth was getting closer.

Chapter 18

A dangerous liaison occurred when a man was sleeping with a woman and one of them was married. There was a cloud of mystery in the whole situation, we didn’t know for sure if the affair took place, as it was usually done in secret hidden behind some hotel doors. But when an ordained man was having a special relationship with his ward - the person whom he was counselling – then what was their relationship?

And if they are so attracted to each other, why couldn’t God make an exception? Surely rules can be broken. Priest in principle are not supposed to marry but long term relationship without marriage? One where he sleeps with the woman without publicly acknowledging her as his wife. He himself is unmarried, so how could he be committing an adultery?

Having sex is like eating, drinking and skiing. You are just activating some part of your senses. Surely you couldn’t blame the parties for making a mistake.

Monica, or Victoria as you might like to call her, was an extremely attractive woman. She has no failings except that she slept long hours. And it might also be true that she has never slept with Norman Foo. So that it was not totally inconceivable that Monica liked Father James Crawley.

It could just be the very reason why Monica went for confessions so regularly.

“You should move on and not continue to live in the past, wake up and live in the present, the future is there for you,” Father Crawley had this prepared when he was waiting for Monica today.

He wrote the note and left it on his table.

Chapter 19

As usual we began the session today. “Father, I know that Bill Young has forgotten about me. I mean, he didn’t know me at all. As far as he was concerned I was dead. He laid the last wreath on my coffin. I was asleep throughout.”

“Nobody knew how I died. There were only the three of us in the hospital room – Bill, myself and Chandrasen. Chandrasen was a baby so he could not remember a thing. A baby in a cot. He would never have known that his father killed his mother.”

“And how did he kill you?” Father Crawley asked me.

“He turned off my life support ventilator.” I said plainly.

“But then if you were dead, how could you have known?”

Father looked me straight in the eye. “I am the one! He turned me off, of course I know.” I almost cried.

“You mean to say that you knew which methods you were used to put to sleep?”

“Why not?” I looked him in the eye.

“You are crazy, my dear child,” Father concluded and gave me some more of the coffee.

He sprinkled some substance into the beverage before he passed the cup to me.

I went home happily after the priest called me child again. I wanted to feel loved. I was alone in a country where no one else recognized me except Norman Foo. But I wasn’t afraid. I trusted Norman. Norman would never play me out.

Chapter 20

“Was there any communication between you and the perpetrator after the killing took place?”

“No, none whatsoever,” I had this to confess.

“So you are telling me that Bill Young does not know who you were,”

“But why should he?” I asked.

“Oh yes, I forget. You, as Victoria, woke up in Monica’s body some miles away.”

“You got it, Father!” I was elated.

“What happened on the night when you said something strange happened to you?” Father James Crawley became interested in my story.

“On that fateful night, I suddenly decided to turn on all the switches in the house, I started with the bedroom, the living, the study then the dinning, the toilet, I went in search of all the lights, including the table lamps and the wall lights. Who gave me the idea I didn’t know. Maybe I was dreaming of a wedding party for myself where I imagined guests joining me. I just wanted all the lights on, it wasn’t Christmas or anything, or that I was expecting guests in the house ...”

“… and then I heard my dad's voice, I did not hear the car driving into the porch. My mother was with him. They were shocked when they came in and they asked me repeatedly what happened. I couldn’t open my mouth and talked, like I was dumb.”

“So that you came to the illogical conclusion that someone else has turned off a life support ventilator elsewhere in another house, is that it, Monica?”

“Yes, however, I realised that there were perhaps three other million switches out there being turned off at the same time. So I couldn’t say for sure that it was Victoria’s life support system that was being turned off.” I could use logic now.

Father James Crawley suddenly took my hand, and then he held it and warned me severely, “You know you can’t report this to the police.”

“Yes, I know. It’s not like I was hit by a car, got up and walked away subsequently. I died. A dead person cannot walk, sleep or eat, neither can he talk.” Monica said.

“And a dead person cannot usually remember what happened to him before he died.” Father Crawley supplied me with the next statement.

So I carried on, “And even if I did, my identification documents showed that I was Monica Foo nee Li Swee Tin and not Victoria Young.”

“You are finally sane,” Father finally concluded.

I picked up my bag and walked out of the cubicle. Disappointed that Father Crawley did not make any further move since he held my hand the other day. And then as I passed the mall, I walked to the cosmetic section and bought myself a lipstick.

Chapter 21

“If he killed you, assuming that he did, would you like me to send someone to assassinate him?” Father James Crawley asked me today.

“Is it possible?” I looked at Father, my eyes rolled big.

“Nothing is impossible if you prayed hard enough,” Father Crawley said.

“You could write a petition and place the note in one of the boxes in the chapel,” Father advised me.

Thoroughly bored with my time, I decided to give it a try.

I am not here just to cook steak and broccoli.

At night, after Norman, Kenny and Shaun has eaten, I went up to the study room and quietly took out a piece of paper and penned my thoughts: Dear God, please teach me how to let Father James Crawley know that I am sexually interested in him, and then I continued, I want to marry Mr. James Crawley if possible.

I appeared at the chapel and placed my note in the little box located outside the confession room the very next day. And then for the next three days. The note the next day I wrote: If Mr. James Crawley does not want to marry me, God please give me the courage to tell him that I love him by bringing him out for dinner.

No one was there in person to receive my note, but I knew that it was read.

On the third day, after I had come back from the chapel having sent the petition note, I received an anonymous call. I picked it up,

“Are you Monica Foo?” the voice on the other end said.

“Yes, I am,” I was happy to reply.

“You are invited to a cocktail at the Huntington Park this weekend, it is our open house,” a woman said on the phone. I immediately knew that she was going to rescue me from cooking steak and broccoli at night.

“When is the date?”

“8 July, it is a Saturday”

“So it’s confirmed,” I wrote the date on a piece of paper and then I slipped it inside one of the pages in my Bible.

Chapter 22  

July the eighth came. I put on the piece of knit wear that I had completed just the day before, and the lipstick that I bought at the mall the other day. It was a new colour bought on the spur of the moment, inspired by the feelings I had for Father for what he said the day.

I waited for Father James Crawley at the lobby of the hotel. He saw me and he quickly ushered me to the restaurant. The girl at the reception seemed to be expecting us but nonetheless she asked him,

“May I know which name the table is booked under?”

“Mr. James Crawley,” as Father was speaking he held my hand.

“I thought you were Father,” I said teasing the man.

“Priests are also human beings,” he replied firmly.

I immediately concluded that he must have read my note, for otherwise he won’t have called himself a Mr. and then I quickly excused myself and said that I was going to the toilet.

“Where is the ladies?” I asked the girl.

“At the end of the corridor to your left,” she gave clear instructions.

Three minutes later I was back.

Chapter 23

“What food did you order?” I was famished.

“Steak and broccoli,” James Crawley replied.

By now I couldn’t decide if he were Father. or Mr. It was safer to err on the side of caution.

“I cook this at home too,” I said.

“You know Norman, my husband?” I offered his name.

I always used it to protect myself whenever I wanted to not sleep with a man. James Crawley looked awful tonight. Maybe it was the lighting, or maybe because he was in ordinary clothes. Usually he wore a white robe with a sash over his neck.

And then he began telling me a story. There was some uncertainty about the way he spoke, he never looked me in the eye for any length of time, and he would stop himself suddenly in the middle of the sentence to pour some red wine into his glass to quench himself. I watched and listened. When he offered me some red wine as well I decided to accept it even though it was not my favourite drink.

I felt a sense of relief, almost exhilarated, after having heard James Crawley. It was definitely not a confession, just some facts that came out from a man who had a very sad past. I almost wanted to sleep with him the very night but for the fact that he refrained. At the end of the dinner, he took out his wallet and handed the waitress a three-hundred-dollar bill. I was surprised that he paid cash. And then I asked,

“Mr. James Crawley, do you always remember what I said during confession?”

“Yes, I always prayed for you, my dear.” James Crawley responded, as though tapping a note on the piano key.

“Thank you so much,” I was happy and then I waited for him to walk me out of the restaurant, past the lift and I knew that he wasn’t going to sleep with me. Not tonight, but perhaps tomorrow.

Chapter 24

Norman woke me up before he went to class this morning, “You should know that a particular situation has happened, and that you no longer need to pray for a particular person,” I was taken aback, then I asked, “Ah John …. ” Norman quickly said, “he has passed away,” and then he continued to say, “last night, at about 10:00 p.m. local time.” There and then I realised that the bottle of red wine Father Crawley and I took last night could actually be interpreted as some sort of celebration in Ah John’s passing from this secular world. Then where has he gone to? 😱

As usual I rushed out of Yoko-sensei’s class once time out and I went to the chapel for the next round of confession. Having a heart-to-heart talk with Father James Crawley had become my daily habit, my highlight of the day. I wanted to break the news to him. I always chose different knit wears. I knit fast and I churned out more than one piece per month. “Daniel” on “Falcon Crest” was no longer my idol. Spiderman was also fading away.

As Monica arrived at the chapel, she saw a note:

Father James Crawley is on sabbatical leave and away until further notice.

Which meant that he was away indefinitely. The dinner we had the night before was one of the most memorable evenings I ever had. I found my father. I found an honourable man – James Crawley. You are at liberty to call him “Father”, or simply “Mr. Crawley”. But to me he was always my counsellor my best listener.

God, were you privy?

I was, I am, and I will be.

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