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 a metal clasp with two plastic handles in which tiny security buttons were attached to it. 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 really expensive ones. 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. It had been months since he held her hand. 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. Honestly, he had no idea of what he should bring to meet his wife. There were things that she wanted very much ever since she fell ill, but he could no longer afford them after his business had failed. What are cheap, good and lasting things that she could have and she would like? He loitered around the platform, thinking hard.
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, he finally understood what his wife needed. What she had really wanted had cost him nothing. It was so simple that he felt guilty just knowing how long it took him so long to figure it out. All the while she just wanted to spend more time with me, he thought. 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. To top it all, he had never really been there for her ever since she moved to the hospital. Travelling was way harder without a car, but she had been really understanding about it to the extent that he wished she wasn’t. He smiled at the thought of it, the sweetest reunion. 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 could hardly wait – it had been so long! He had not told his wife that he would be going to meet her. 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… He was going to her now, going to apologize for all the neglect. 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 once more as the electronic signboard started flashing and the train moved into the station. “Mr. Sway? Sir?!” she cried in alarm – for Jin was no longer next to her. He was moving, fast, towards the edge of the platform. Looking skywards, he shouted something which 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.
*** *** ***
I must be dreaming… What is this place?
The place was warm, with white walls and marble floor. It looked so familiar… There was a piano at the corner of the room, a couch and a large swing stood in front of what looked like a balcony. Jin was lying on the floor, eyes open and back aching. He got up gingerly and took a few steps towards the balcony. He was supposed to have died, or was this death? Unbelievable. He let his fingers touch the swing. It felt solid. It had to be real then.
His eyes travelled to the fields below the balcony. From here, he could clearly see that he was in a big house, a house bigger than his private property in Sixth Avenue. But it looked nothing like Singapore. Where were the streets and busy traffic? But instead, there was a river with clear blue waters and white swans. Birds were singing from the trees nearest to him. As he studied them, he realized they were doves. A woman with long, black hair was pacing along the river bank, back towards him. He descended down the steps towards her, walking slowly in case he startled her.
“I was wondering when you would come, my dear.”
Jin froze in his steps as she turned. And there he was, standing along a riverbank and looking into the familiar soft, tender eyes. He cried.