“I already have a job,” I say, and then I add,
“At the Brown Woods, you know Brown Woods?” I don’t like job hopping. I still haven’t figured out how my boss Mr. Sam looks like.
“I can pay you more, how much are you getting now?” David asks.
“David is looking for bilingual talents like you, to do translation,” Priscilla recommends me.
“I am not very good at it,” I confess.
“No problem, can you leave immediately?” David asks.
“I need to give two weeks’ notice,” I say.
“It’s settled then,” “Cheers!” Priscilla is happy.
They exchange glances and then Priscilla and he talk business. I sit there desperately trying to look interested.
I go home and ponder on what I do today, and then I know that I have made a commitment which I can’t back out from. Priscilla knows where to find me, and if I back out on the job offer from David, I will have to abandon the Peppermint Walk altogether, which is not something I can afford now.
For every action there is a reaction.
The atmosphere is somber in Brown Woods as I step in. Everyone buries his head in the PC in front of them. I settle myself tentatively, as though it is my first day at work.
“Can I pick up my coffee first?” I ask Swee Kim so that she would answer my calls whilst I am away.
Swee Kim nods her head without looking up.
I am beginning to suspect that David has initiated steps to engage me by telling Brown Woods that he has interviewed me.
I get up, take my mug and I walk towards the coffee dispenser. I pull the lever, and thank God there was still some liquid left.
When I go back to my table, the admin head Josephine Tan is waiting for me. We call her Jot for Jo Tan and also because she has the habit of jotting down everything that we say on the spot.
“Here is a memo, you take it to the Philippine Embassy. I give you a copy as well. Don’t lose the original,” she says it in a hurry, as though she has a million more jobs to be done. I take over the paper, and I ask her,
“Do I have to go now?”
“Yes, it’s important and, yes, you have to go now immediately,”
“I have no time to talk to you now, just look at the memo,”
I take over the paper and stares at it –
“To Mr. Sam Wee:
You are hereby requested to come to this Embassy of The Philippines for an interview at 11:00 a.m. on 4 January 1999. Please bring along your identification paper(s) for verification. You may also nominate a proxy to attend on your behalf.
The tone of the note is grave, and undoubtedly Mr. Sam is in trouble. I have not met Mr. Sam before, and this would be the chance to meet him, I dance at the opportunity.
“Sure!” I say it with glee, something good has happened to me.
“Do I need to apply for leave?” I ask Jot.
“Of course not, this is part of your duty,” and then she adds, “We will pay you extra, if need be,”
“Ok, I go now!” I say, picking up my bag and the cardigan I hang on the back of my chair.
“Report back to me when you come back,” Jot says, and then, “Don’t forget to get receipts to claim expenditure.”
My bag is a Gucci bag that day, and my shoes are plain a non-designer not too ostentatious for a consular meeting.
Thirty minutes later I arrive at 34 Canberra Road. The building is old and needs a coat of paint badly. Two lamps stand at the front entrance on top of a large structure to mark the entry. There is a kiosk for the security, but I get the impression that he is too tired and went in to rest. The Philippine flag is flying right in the middle of the courtyard and the wind was particularly strong that day. I look up and couldn’t help making a short prayer, even though I don’t know what I am praying for.
I take a bold step further into the grounds. And then I see the words, “Consular Section”. Then I look at my watch to check if I am late for the appointment.
10:43 a.m. Thank God I am early.
I take my place amongst the group of mostly foreign visitors, and I make sure that I know where each counter is when my number is called.
Finally, I see my queue number being flashed on the screen – 687. I rush forward, to counter six.
“Can I help you?” The girl is most unenthusiastic.
“Err, yes, I have an appointment, on behalf of Mr. Sam Wee,” I say.
“My office sent me,” I volunteer.
“Show me the ticket,” woman says.
Obediently I give her my queue ticket.
“No, not this one, the other one,” she points at my memo.
I fumble for the copy and withhold the original.
“Where is the original?” she asks.
It is time to lie, “No, I didn’t bring the original,”
“Then why you come here?” I can see that she is getting annoyed.
“To see what I can do for Mr. Sam Wee …. Err …. to find out the purpose of you calling for the meeting,” I try to make out some logic.
“Ok, then let me tell you, his helper Ms. Lottie was found dead in a shopping centre, yesterday Sunday morning at around 10:45 a.m. We don’t suspect foul play now because she was alone. But we would like to know if it were a suicide,” the woman said it all in one go, as though she was delivering a report.
As she is talking, I have the chance to take a good look at her. She is very heavily made up, with several layers of eye shadow of blue, green, and brown, as though she couldn’t decide on which colour to use. Her lips are large, but I couldn’t decide if it she has overdrawn her lips with the lipstick. Nonetheless, I give her a rating of seven for good looks.
“I have not seen the police report,” I say.
“Ok, your office didn’t tell you, let me show it to you,” she says.
And then she passes me a piece of paper with the letterhead of the police force. There and then I decide to be honest with her. I fish out the original of the memo, and I say,
“Sorry I didn’t show it to you just now,”
“You could have done it earlier,” she looks visibly annoyed.
“Employment letter?” she asks.
“I am not Ms. Lottie,” I say.
“No, you are his office staff, right?” woman asks.
“Oh, that, I didn’t bring,” this time it is the truth.
“You don’t seem to be very well prepared,” she comments.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I was only told to come this morning,” I try to defend myself.
“Right,” “off you go,” she says, after confiscating my original memo.
“Hey! Wait! I need to bring it back!” I say loudly.
“690” the woman shouts.
A man comes up and moves me aside. I go away feeling wretched. Jot specifically tells me to keep the original.