Story by Lee Su Min
An Unread File
Some people sleep with lights on, but some people don’t.
I preferred to sleep with the lights off. I was sure that nothing bad will happen to me when I was asleep, as all my money was locked up in properties and any leftover liquid assets were in fixed deposits. I didn’t leave cash lying around in the house. I was living in a small one-room apartment so I didn’t think that anyone would want to break into my home. Thieves usually went for big bungalows and rich occupants.
Although I was not a thief by profession, I had been interviewed on a charge concerning theft. This was most unfortunate. Theft was not a compoundable offence, so that I wasn’t let off the hook. However, the police officer in charge of the case, Superintendent Wong, told me that there was a possibility that the Public Prosecutor might not entertain the case, that if I didn’t hear from them again within six months, I could assume that the Attorney-General’s Chambers was not taking it up.
On the day in question, I was severely sedated. I took the items I wanted to purchase to the counter and unloaded all of them from the basket onto the conveyor belt. After the cashier put them into the bag, I walked out of the supermarket whilst she was answering a question from the next customer, who wanted to know where the plain flour was. I thought I went through the motion of paying, and the sensor for detecting unpaid merchandise must have been switched on, so I walked out of the supermarket without realizing that I had not paid for the goods.
After a while, when I was well out of range from the supermarket, one of the cashiers came up to me.
“Ma’am, you have not paid for the items,” she said.
Startled, I gave her fifty dollars for the items and continued on my way back home. I did not know why on that day I did not immediately accompany her back into the supermarket to make payment for the items. It must have been because the groceries were heavy.
The next day I went back to the supermarket to buy things as usual. This time they did not have to chase after me when I was out of the shop, as this time I had already paid them before I walked away.
One week later I received a letter from the police that I had been caught stealing. As I had never contemplated stealing things from anyone in my entire life, naturally I was shocked.
“I remember the cashier coming after me once, and then I think I took fifty dollars out from my handbag and paid her there and then along the road,” I told Superintendent Wong, who served me the papers.
He was not impressed. “No, you did not pay for the goods,” he said.
“Yes, I did pay the cashier,” I recalled.
In the end I was still charged with theft.
Several days later my lawyer came to see me. They showed her the CCTV in which I was pictured taking the following items out of the store checkpoint: a packet of instant noodles, two bars of soap, one Häagen Dazs ice-cream, and a pack of lithium batteries. I had no recollection of any of these. They were things that I would normally buy, but I could not recall having gone to the supermarket to buy them. I could only remember meeting one of the cashiers along the road.
Yes, I was suffering from amnesia. Amnesia was a kind of condition that hits someone who has had a shock so severe that the brain automatically forgot that part which was unpleasant. And during the process, a lot of other memories were erased too. This was what doctor Mathew Walker diagnosed me with. When I was five, my mother had an accident with me in the car. She died, and I came out alive.
I was a housewife, so one of my jobs was to keep the house clean. I had a silky terrier, so I must walk him daily to make sure that he did his business outside the house. My husband was a civil servant, so his working hours were regular. He worked nine to five thirty, and by six I could hear him putting the key into the keyhole and turning the lock. He rarely talked about his work. At dinner time I sat with him and no word came out of his mouth. At the end of the meal all he did was put the spoon and fork back on the empty plate and then walked away to watch television. No, our relationship was cordial. He still told me he loved me.
At around 4:00 p.m. every day I met with my neighbour Jennifer downstairs at the gardens. My house was one of a hundred and eighty-one apartments in a large estate called Emerald Mansion. We chatted, usually over what we had to cook for dinner and whether our husbands were having an affair outside. We compared our husbands’ behaviour towards us, and any symptom which deviated from the norm raised a red flag. But that day, it was not my husband that I was concerned about. It was the crime that I was charged with, the theft.
Jennifer Price was a staunch Christian, and she had this solution:
“Go and get deliverance. Pastor Kumar specialized in this. He would be able to put it right for you, one way or the other.”
I took Jennifer’s advice.
“Where can I meet him, Pastor Kumar?”
“Come to my church,” Jennifer offered.
On the twenty-second of May, Sunday, at 9:00 a.m., Jennifer rang me to wake me up.
“Hi Christine, time to go to church.”
“What time is service?” I asked Jennifer, still sleepy.
“Ten-thirty. But we must go there early to get the best seats,” Jennifer was eager.
“I’ll see you at the benches downstairs at nine-thirty sharp,” I promised Jennifer.
Usually, I took just half an hour to get freshened and changed. This morning I took out a denim skirt and a white shirt, sober yet casual for the occasion.
On the way there I tried to ask Jennifer what Pastor Kumar would do in order to deliver me.
“I can’t say .... wait ‘til you get there.”
The church was crowded when we arrived. Many people were gathered around the podium. You could not tell whether the people had already attended the earlier session or were just waiting to go in. Jennifer and I squeezed through the masses of people all the way to the front row.
“Sit here,” she ordered before disappearing back into the crowd.
I took the aisle seat and realized that I did not get a church bulletin, so I didn’t know the program for the service. This was the first time I had been to a church service, and I felt out of place. Ten minutes later, Jennifer returned with the church bulletin and sat next to me.
“I have already told the church worker your special needs, and they will look out for you later.” She reassured me that my trip would not be futile.
“You are the salt of the earth. When you hear the gospel, you must tell others about it, otherwise you are like a seed that does not grow,” Pastor Malcolm preached.
I listened with a pinch of salt. Frankly, all the time, I was wondering how Pastor Kumar looked like. The stage was decorated with pots of plants, and there was a band waiting to play their instruments. Finally, when Pastor Malcolm finished his sermon, the band struck, and music came flowing. I felt mesmerized by the whole thing.
While I was still trying to absorb what Pastor Malcolm was saying, a man in his twenties came up to me.
“Are you Christine?”
“Yes,” I said. There was no need to lie.
“Go and stand in front so that Pastor Kumar can see you,” he said.
“Where is Pastor Kumar?”
“He will be here shortly,” the young man said.
“I came for deliverance, what does ….” Before I could finish my sentence, the young man walked away. At the same time, Jennifer pushed me to stand up and moved to the front.
Once I stood in front, I could see the stream of people queuing behind me, and I was a little apprehensive that I should be the first for this treatment. From what I had gathered, deliverance was a kind of treatment offered to those possessed by evil spirits. So far, I was just having some problems with the police. No evil spirit had gone inside me, and I was sure of that. But nonetheless, I was there, so I would try what Pastor Kumar had to offer me.
By the time Pastor Kumar came forward I had contemplated walking away from the queue several times. He saw me, said nothing, and immediately he put his hand on my head.
“What is your problem?”
“The police.” That was all that I could mutter.
“Right. Shiri guru alamande furusong sansi,”
And then with one push of his right hand, I felt released and decided to fall backwards onto the ground.
I knew that someone was standing behind me holding my shoulders. Once I was on the ground, they left me and proceeded to other parishioners.
I thought of nothing but the fact that if there hadn’t been anyone behind me, I could have injured myself falling backwards. I started to count. On the count of twenty, which was pretty fast, I got up. I saw that no one was interested in me anymore, so I walked back to my seat. The people who had queued behind me were lying on the floor as well now.
Jennifer was all excited,
“Do you feel better now?” she asked.
“I suppose so,” I couldn’t say that I didn’t feel any different.
That would have been a disappointment for Jennifer.
“You have just been slained by the spirit,” she elaborated.
“Come, let’s go home. If we leave late, we might have a problem getting out. There is still another service at twelve p.m.” Jennifer then added.
I followed Jennifer out of the sanctuary wondering if all that I needed to get myself discharged from the police was just getting someone to push me backwards and falling onto the ground. It all seemed so effortless.
“The church worker will be in touch with you later on,” as Jennifer dropped me back at my place, she told me,
“The good thing about going out with you is that I don’t have to make a special trip to drop you off elsewhere.”
Jennifer always told me this whenever she drove the two of us back to Emerald Mansion.
When I walked out of her white Nissan, I somehow felt that this wasn’t the end of my encounter with Pastor Kumar.
True enough, on Tuesday Jennifer called me,
“Pastor Kumar says that you need to be delivered again. He is prepared to come to your house to do it, as I told him it is an urgent case.”
I had no qualms about that except that I didn’t want Pastor Kumar to see my Buddhist painting. I have a picture of a Buddha in my house.
Although it was not painted by a renowned artist, it was the work of a delicate and skilled hand. Immediately after I put the phone down, I went to the painting and removed it from the wall. I didn’t want to offend Pastor Kumar. After all, I needed his help. Superintendent Wong hadn’t called me yet, so the case was still pending. Anything I did with Pastor Kumar would affect my case, either favourably or adversely. I definitely needed help from the supernatural. I replaced the Buddha painting with an old Impressionist work.
Jennifer was my best friend. Like me, she was a housewife. We often exchanged recipes for the best way to cook sweet and sour pork, or where to find the most genuine tom yum paste. Going to church together was a new way of passing time for the two of us. Sometimes we talked about the inequality between men and women, that our respective husbands seemed to get the better of us.
“My husband is the one who decides when to sleep,” I once complained to Jennifer.
“We will both be reading, then he will switch off the lights for the both of us when he wants to sleep.”
“So, you sleep with the lights off in complete darkness?” Jennifer was a little surprised.
“I always leave a small lamp on. Why can’t you leave the lights on so that you can continue to read?” Jennifer said.
“The switch is on his side,” I said.
My husband treated me in this chauvinistic manner probably because I did not work. Since I decided early on in the marriage that I did not want to go out and compete with the rest of the black skirts, I was also forced to use his surname. My house was tidy but not very clean. If you put your finger on the windowsill you would trace a layer of dust.
Since that Sunday, Jennifer and I had been going to see Pastor Kumar regularly. Pastor Kumar was a young, athletic-looking man of about thirty-five. He was into this profession because he seemed to have a calling. He was not very well educated in the English language and apparently knew no letters of the alphabet. He talked in English, but he could not write.
His hometown was somewhere in the North of India near New Delhi. I found him rather good looking. He talked to me in a very personable manner, so that was how I got to like him a lot. But still our relationship remained that of pastor and parishioner. When he decided to start a small Bible study class, Jennifer and I were the first to sign up for it. Once he got the signatures of ten people, he started classes every Tuesday afternoon.
We were both very happy that we got deliverance once a week and lessons on the Gospel every week. By that time, I had already mastered the technique of falling backwards. The fact that I was interviewed for theft and waiting trial was almost completely forgotten. It looked like Pastor Kumar was doing wonders for me.
Moreover, Pastor Kumar’s knowledge of the Bible was fantastic. His explained the Gospel in the most secular manner, and I was beginning to wonder if a pastor could get married and have a family. This year, my husband was even excited enough to want to host a Christmas gathering at our home and celebrate my birthday at the same time as well. The guests were mainly his colleagues from the office. I immediately signed up for a Christmas turkey course to prepare for the event.
That night, after we had all eaten and finished the sherry trifle, George walked around the house. George was my husband’s superior. This was the first time I had met him, and, of course, I showed him around the flat. As George came to the tall coffee table, he noticed a stack of notebooks on it. My husband rushed over to explain, “See how well-trained my wife is?” He ran his finger atop the table and pointed at George.
“Look at this layer of dust. She hasn’t read any of the contents. She can be trusted with confidential stuff,” he proudly proclaimed.
George and the others laughed.
It was a good evening, and all of us enjoyed ourselves, including Jennifer and Pastor Kumar. After the guests had left, I decided to clean the table that had been the topic of conversation. As I tried to clean from the bottom of the notebooks, I suddenly felt a little curious. I flipped open the pages and saw the following:
To The, Public Prosecutor Mr. Anthony Seow:
For Your Consideration:
The Criminal Procedure Code 68
Revised Edition Sections 123–125
Subject: Christine Seow
ID No.: CI7861264N
Female: 33 Years Old
D.O.B.: 28 April 1981
Nationality: Citizen of Christmas Island
You are hereby charged that you on 08 day of May 2014, at about 11:40 a.m., at Green Leaf Supermarket located at Wallace Court a building used for custody of property, did commit theft of the following items: …...”
I didn’t bother to read what the items were, for I already guessed. Six months had already passed, and it was clear that the Attorney-General’s Chambers had decided to drop my case.
Somebody had sat on it.
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