Mummy, What is Love?


Mummy, What is Love?

My daughter was an inquisitive girl. She loved to ask questions and hear different stories. Every night, I would sit at the dining table, reading stories to her. Sometimes, she preferred to listen to my stories instead. Other times, she would ask me, eyes bright with curiosity, whether do ants sleep, or why do leaves turn yellow or even why flowers have petals. This night, after reading her Cinderella, she asked me yet another question.

“Mummy, what is love?”

“There are all kinds of love,” I told her. “There is love between friends, love between siblings, love between families… All kinds of love. I gave my love to someone when I was eighteen. Mummy can tell you how it feels like.” Little Charlotte nodded eagerly and walked over to sit on my lap, ready for another story.

“I was a young student back then,” I began. “Days being a student were fun but stressful, and Mummy did not have a lot of time to read stories. I had to study hard for my examinations. So instead of playing and reading stories, I stayed back in school to study even after lessons ended. Mummy had few friends, few close ones, and they did not like studying in school at all. So usually, Mummy was left alone in school.

During those days, there was another boy studying alone too, somewhere near the place where I was studying. The first time I saw him, Charlotte, was the only time I took my eyes off my books to peek at something else for so long. A few days later, the boy walked over to my table and we started studying together. I was elated. And do you know, Charlotte, that every time he looked at me, my heart just goes thumpetythumpthumpetythump!

After we graduated, we would hang out together almost every day. During the times when I didn’t get to see him, I felt sad and lost, like something was missing from a part of my life. I wasn’t used to not meeting him since we had been hanging around together every day since our schooling days. He came to look for Mummy whenever he could. Months passed and we would continue our usual routine: watching movies, baking cookies or cakes … Even though we did the same thing almost every other day, I never got tired doing them. I felt like I could go on for ages, until I grow old with white air and missing teeth. But I know that this was not to happen forever, because there came the day when he had to leave for army. It broke my heart, my dear Charlotte, it really did. I could no longer see him, or even talk to him. He was sent to another island for military training. No matter how hard I tried to bake cookies on my own, they didn’t taste as nice as when he was around. Baking was no longer fun. I never wanted to bake alone every again. Every night I would lie in bed, unable to get to sleep, wondering if he was thinking about me too, somewhere on the island. I would wonder if he was asleep, if he was well and uninjured. Sometimes, I cried myself to sleep because my heart ached from not seeing him for so long. I wondered if I could ever see him again.

Less than a month after he was gone, however, he turned up on my doorstep in his army uniform a bunch of sunflowers. Mummy loved sunflowers, Charlotte, and I was so happy to have them. ‘I just came back,’ he told me, his eyes shining with tears. He did not seem to care that he was hurting all over and was tired. All he cared about was that he could see me smile and hear my voice again. Mummy was happy too, very happy, and that moment was all it needed to make up for the sadness and loss I felt ever since he left me.

While he continued serving the country, I went to university. It was harder to meet up and have fun together again. I felt sad that I had to neglect him for studies. I wished we could go back to the days when we could study together again. ‘Don’t worry,’ he would reassure me. ‘I’ll wait till you are done what you wanted to do and we could bake again.’ He would sit in my room and watch while I studied. He would prepare lunch and dinner for me when I did not feel like taking time off to eat just to finish studying as fast as possible so I could keep him company.

When Mummy had completed her studies, she went out to work. But nothing was smooth-sailing for me, Charlotte. I aspired to be a scriptwriter, but I got turned down again and again. Finally, when my work was recognized, another scriptwriter accused Mummy for having the same script. Plagiarism, was what they called it. I could no longer survive in the industry. I ended up with nothing due to my tainted reputation. I was upset. I cried and cried, but he was there the moment he heard about it, trying hard to cheer me up. For two years, Mummy worked as a sales assistant. I did not like the job at all, but he was always there to encourage me. A few years down we focused on our own work. Those years of baking and watching movies were gone, Charlotte. Those were the things young people do. Mummy was not happy at all. I was stressed, unhappy and angry most of the time.

Then one day, he suggested that we go on a holiday. We went to China and he took me on a really nice and expensive dinner on a ferris wheel. While we were at the peak, he pulled out a ring and he proposed to me. He did not care that I was angry, a lot less happy these days. All he cared about was that he wanted to make me happy. Fireworks shot up into the sky and I said yes. It was the happiest day of my life. After we got married, we opened a little bakery from whatever savings we had. Although it was hard work, but Mummy loved working with him, doing what we liked to do best. It was like returning to our youth again and I thought it was the best thing that could ever happen to me.

Two years after the bakery opened, however, he left. He met with a car accident and he never pulled through. I thought I could never survive without him, sweetie. It was like he took a part of me with him. This was not like him going to the army, because he could no longer come back again. Sometimes I would take his clothes out just to pretend I could still hug him to sleep. Sometimes, I would still call his handphone to tell him what was going on in my life, hoping he could hear me wherever he was. I wait up at night hoping to see him walk through the door and tell me he had come back for me again. But it never happened. I worked hard in the bakery because I knew he would be happy watching me continue doing something I like. I promised to keep him happy forever, no matter where he was, till the day I die. This is love, my dear Charlotte, this is love.”

“Aww… There’s no happily ever after, Mummy?” Charlotte asked, disappointed after hearing my story.

“There is, of course, a happy ending, sweetie. You see, when he left, he gave me a present I could keep forever. He gave me you.”

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Crossroad


Crossroad

The afternoon was warm and humid. Never before in Singapore had the weather been so bad. The sun shone through the windows of the bus, searing into his bronze skin. He shifted his hand ever so slightly to keep it out of the sun. The bus ride had been bumpy all the way. As the Sunday crowd was starting to thicken, crowding up the bus and causing it to feel stuffier than it already was, he moved uneasily in his seat, taking a deep breath and trying to clear his mind.

Jin was a tall, thirty-two-year-old businessman. Recently he had started a business, what he called a clothing line. In actual fact, he was selling clothes pegs. People in Singapore usually hang their laundry to dry in the sun on bamboo sticks and that would be where his products would come in. They would hold down the laundry, not just preventing them from being blown away by the wind, but from theft too. His pegs, after all, were different. They were made of metal clasps with two plastic handles in which tiny security buttons were attached to them. Once activated, any slightest touch of it would trigger off an alarm that would alert the owner that someone else was trying to steal his or her laundry. The security buttons would run on solar power, generated from the solar panels attached on the outer side of the metal clasp. Jin always thought it was the best idea, since his wife had always complained about someone stealing her lingerie at night. Even though they had found out that the thief was their three-year-old cat, Nibbles, the problem had inspired Jin’s creations. Little did he know that his invention would backfire, landing him with huge amounts of business debts. Not only that, his wife’s chemotherapy bills, which he had expected to clear once he made money from his business, were slowly piling up. His wife’s situation had also deteriorated over the weeks since he started working on his inventions and she had decided to listen to the doctor’s advice to move into the hospital instead. In order to cope with these bills, he had to sell his jet-black Audi convertible and his three-storey landed property in Sixth Avenue. And that was not all! He was also left with a whole bedroom, kitchen and storeroom of pegs and had no idea of what to do with them.

With the failure of his only investment, he had moved into a modest flat in Choa Chu Kang, next to a tiny heartland mall called Sunshine Place. He had changed his entire closet of Armani Exchange suits and Crocodile polo shirts into Giordano cotton tees. As he sat there in the bus on the way to the nearest MRT station, he was wearing his favourite white shirt from Giordano that had a smiley face on it that said, “Cheer You Up!” His wife had suggested them to get identical ones for couple shirts, since they could no longer afford expensive apparel. To their utter astonishment, they found entire streets of Singaporeans wearing them wherever they went. His wife had stopped wearing the shirt since then, but he continued wearing it out whenever he missed her too much.

The bus turned into the bus interchange and he hopped off, tapping his Ez-link card as he went. He made his way to the MRT station, passed the gantry and up the escalator, taking care to keep to his left as he cruised up to the station platform. He felt weird not having his wife by his side when taking the train, or even when going anywhere at all. He was used to holding her hand tight and looking into her soft, tender eyes ever so often. The warmth of her hand was still lingering on his fingers even as he thought about her. She was so frail when he last saw her that it broke his heart.

He stared at the electronic signboard that counted down to the train arrival as he stepped onto the platform. Three minutes to the arrival of his train. He closed his eyes and in his mind, he could still see his wife. Her sweet smile, the fruity scent of her perfume, her tinkling laughter…

A gentle tap on his shoulder woke him up.

“Excuse me,” a bossy voice rang out from the back. “I might be mistaken. But you are Mr. Jin Sway, aren’t you?”

He whirled around to see a middle-aged woman, dressed in plain tee-shirt and jeans and wearing Nike sports shoes standing in front of him. As their eyes met, the woman’s face lit up with glee.

“You really are! I saw you in the papers and bought your pegs! They’re great!”

“Really? I’m flattered. Thank you,” Jin replied modestly.

“But they are a little on the expensive side. It took up my entire month’s pay.”

“I understand,” he continued.

“What inspired you to make them?” the woman questioned.

“My wife,” he told her simply. He recounted the story of the stolen lingerie.

Suddenly at the back of his mind, the laughing image of his wife faded. It was replaced by her thinning face, head bald from the chemotherapy, her eyes filled with pain, sadness and fatigue. Just recounting things to a stranger made him realize how much time he had lost just doing the business while she was so critically ill and how much he actually missed her. He was going to meet her now and this thought made him even more excited than ever. Most of the time he tried to retain memories of his wife’s happy moments. It was what that kept him going after she moved away. Although his last visit was only a day ago, his eyes sparkled with excitement as they flickered to the electronic signboard. One minute. He followed suit as the woman moved to queue up to get onto the train. He had not told his wife that he would be going to see her that day. It would be a pleasant surprise.

His hands fiddled with the wedding ring still sitting on his ring finger while a smile played on his lips. He could remember the first day they met in school, under the old tree filled with ants. He could recall the first time they went on a date, sitting on the grass patch next to the giant canal where he caught pretty fighting fishes for her. He could still feel the pain when they fought that day over moving out of the terrace house and into the small apartment… But no matter, he was going to her now, going to apologize for all the pain he had caused her. Without her, he would never have come this far, even if he was left penniless. She was something, someone he could never do without.

“Where are you heading to, Mr Sway?” the woman’s voice rang out again, turning round to address him once more as the electronic signboard started flashing and the train moved into the station. But Jin was no longer next to her. He was moving, fast, towards the edge of the platform, shouting something no one could hear – for a horrified scream had drowned his voice as he took an intrepid step off the platform and disappeared beneath the train.

Crossroad © 2010 by Ms. Auby Sparksfield. All rights reserved.