(continued from part 1, which you may want to read first)
In the vast and wonderful amounts of free time I have enjoyed in the past six months (the most in nearly fifteen years), I have spent much of it pondering about which serious endeavor I will next give my focus. During that time, I have realized how much I have always enjoyed telling stories. In fact, I believe it has been a large part of my professional success in addition to being something I’ve been gently mocked about in my family since I was a child. The ability to understand a situation and then communicate it in a way that allows others to understand how it relates to them is something I enjoy (to me it is a fun puzzle) and believe I do well.
As part of that process, I have decided to explore writing as a way to tell stories. Below is the second in a set of four short stories that cover a morning in Singapore from different perspectives.
Juliet awoke with a start, hearing rushed footfalls directly outside the open windows of the living room where she was sleeping. The uncharacteristic warmth and humidity created a sheen of perspiration that brought back memories of her childhood, most of them of a similar temperature. It had been nearly ten years since she had slept in a Housing Development Board (HDB) room, as both her and her husband had well-paying jobs and their parents had helped them to purchase a newer condo as soon as they were married. She nearly took air conditioning for granted these days.
She listened carefully for sounds from the other room. “Father? Are you well?” She queried loudly, expecting an undecipherable but equally loud response. Besides the colorectal cancer surgery and chemotherapy her father was recovering from, he suffered from myopia and his hearing had been deteriorating quickly in the past year. It was difficult to see her father like this, especially when she had pressured him so frequently to go to the doctor when he was complaining about his digestive and stool issues. Why hadn’t he gone earlier?
“Ai tzai, Juliet.” The voice surprised her, coming from outside the front window looking over the street. Why was her father outside? When she was a child he would sit outside, smoke and talk with his friends for hours. The smoking is what gave him the cancer in the first place, and she desperately hoped that wasn’t what he was doing out there.
“I’m not smoking. I am just enjoying the breeze and letting you rest. You seem to be so exhausted these days and can use the sleep.” He opened the front door and smiled fondly at Juliet. “Why don’t you call in sick this morning and have breakfast with me?”
She felt a bit ashamed; her father still knew her so well. Though of all the mornings for her father to be in a good mood, why did it have to be this morning? She had so many things to do before noon, and was afraid she would be late for all of them if she didn’t keep to a strict schedule.
“I’m sorry, father, but I need to be home at 8 to let in the contractors. How about we do it on Wednesday?” Juliet almost physically cringed upon seeing her father’s expression sag, but there was just no way she had time for an hour at Kopi Tiam today. She frowned in frustration at how her schedule was so unfair to her. Why couldn’t David have been home to let the contractors in? It seemed like he was always flying away on some emergency business trip when she was the busiest.
“Of course, that will be fine. Let’s see how I feel.” His quiet though nearly petulant response corresponded with what seemed like a slump in his posture, though she almost hoped it was because of the chemotherapy he went through yesterday instead of her priorities. How in the world could she hope it was because he was feeling bad due to his treatment aftereffects? That’s not who she was. She was a loving daughter, though guilt had some very frustrating side effects on her thoughts.
“I’m really sorry, father, but I just have too much to do this morning.” She started gathering her things and putting the bed back in the couch, thinking it was almost convenient she needed to return home so she could shower and change there instead of at her father’s HDB flat. She was quite happy with their new home and the bathroom size and layout was a big part of that. It was a big investment for her and David to make, but they both had good jobs and attractive prospects for advancement.
A few minutes later she had finished tidying up the living room, chatting all the while with her father and making sure he wasn’t suffering from any unexpected side effects from the chemotherapy. She checked again to make sure he had enough food in the refrigerator, even though she knew he had been living by himself for nearly three years since her mother had moved into the nursing home. She felt like she had many of her mother’s responsibilities now, and knew it was part of the reason she and David kept putting off having children.
Her schedule was too busy to devote too much of her brain to thoughts of children. Pushing them aside, she said goodbye to her father and went to the street to catch a taxi. Normally she would take the MRT, but it was nearly forty minutes’ home in the train and she needed to take a shower before the contractors arrived. It was going to be close. She stared at her smartphone intently and started reviewing the material for her presentation this morning. One or two more rehearsals definitely wouldn’t hurt.
Arriving at her condo fifteen minutes before 8, she quickly peeled off her loose-fitting dress and adjusted the water temperature to a lukewarm spray. It was refreshing after a night spent in the humid warmth of her parents’ home. No longer the parents who raised her, she considered sadly as she briskly washed the conditioner through her hair. Her mother was not herself these past years due to the dementia; she always wished she had spent more time with her. So many questions she never asked. She thought of her mother frequently when she was washing her hair, and was thankful she inherited the thick and full hair without any of the thinning of which so many of her friends complained. Hair treatments were expensive and she and David were always trying to cut expenses when they could.
A sharp knock at the door startled her. Had she missed the doorbell again? Of course not, that is why the contractors were here. Fifteen minutes went by quickly. She stepped out of the shower and yelled from the bathroom, “Relak lah!”
Her contractors were quite good, but always in a hurry. Better to be in a rush than always late! She smiled to herself and realized it was the first time something had made her smile all day. Being positive was going to be very important for her meeting to be successful. Cheerful and positive! Mentally reviewing her material again, she quickly dressed and went to the door to let in the contractors.
After discussing and explaining the work to be done with the two handymen, she gathered her laptop bag, purse, phone and the binders of her presentation. She appreciated the fact her husband explained the wiring issue to her in detail on Saturday. Both the security camera and doorbell hadn’t worked correctly for most of the week, and it seemed to be related to the day when their entertainment system was installed.
As she walked out the door, she texted the building manager to let him know to check on the workers every thirty minutes or so. She didn’t like leaving them in her home without her there to supervise, but she had no choice. Looking up from reading her phone, she noted Arthur standing by the elevator at the end of the hall.
“Please hold it!” She said loudly, noticing too late Arthur had his headphones in his ears. As usual, he seemed a bit oblivious to the rest of the world around him. As she waited for the next elevator to arrive, she wondered if she and David would meet many other people from their building. At least Arthur was friendly enough when they did speak. Like most other expats, she was sure he would be gone after two or three years and he moved on to another job and city. It took a lot of effort to make friends, especially when it was almost a certainty the expats would be gone after a couple of years.
Arriving at the MRT station, she noticed Arthur waiting in line with the rest of the crowd, the same somewhat distant half-smile on his face. She said quietly to herself, “Rush all you want, Arthur, we are still ending up on the same train.” She smiled to herself again. Twice in one morning, a good sign for the rest of the day. Moving towards the same line he was waiting in, her phone buzzed and glanced down to read a text message from her boss.
“Juliet! How are you doing this morning?” Queried Arthur, startling her slightly and stopping her typing on her phone.
“I’m fine, thank you. How about you? How was your weekend?” She was sure it had to be more fun than hers, spent painting the second bedroom and trying to finish setting it up as an office. Then all day Sunday with her mother and then father. It had been a busy weekend and today was more of the same hectic schedule.
As expected, Arthur started talking about a weekend of leisure and parties. She listened somewhat enviously, then wondered where his parents and family were living. She did appreciate being able to be so close to her parents when things weren’t going well. She explained what her activities had been for the weekend. "We spent a lot of time working on our condo on Saturday, then on Sunday we spent time with my parents. They are older and my mother has been ill for the last two years."
Before Arthur could respond or she could ask him about his parents, her phone rang with the special tone she had set for her boss. Great. She frowned as she listened to her boss explain there would be another C-level at the presentation this morning, along with two senior aides. Her boss seemed stressed and flustered and it was rubbing off on her.
“It will be fine. The material is all set and doesn’t need to change.” She attempted to comfort her boss, as she was sure if he kept panicking it would be obvious to their customers and would get the presentation off to a bad start. Her comforting platitudes seemed to calm him down and she was able to hang up the call just as the train alighted at her station.
Slowly working her way with the crowd, she happily accepted the Today paper from one of the two aunties who seemed to have been giving her the paper every day since she started working at this office building. She smiled in thanks and continued towards her office. The fourth smile. The signs were pointing towards a good morning.