Changing tyres in Old Tampines Road
“You’re late,” said Bernard. “The party has started and the beer is getting warm.”
When I shook his hand, he exclaimed: “Holy cow, you’re cold, man, but why are you sweating like a horse? What happened?”
“I ran a flat in Old Tampines Road.”
“The god-forsaken place that is supposed to be haunted?”
“Don’t remind me. There was heavy traffic at Tampines Expressway, so I slipped into the old road thinking it would be faster to get to town that way. All of a sudden, I felt the thump-thump-thump under the car telling me I had a flat.”
“So you stopped, alone in the dark, to change tyres? You are a very brave man, my friend.”
“No, I’m not. But what to do? I knew I could change tyres fast, 12 to 15 minutes if I just concentrate on the task and not think of anything else…”
“Like a pontianak swooping down from the overhanging branches,” Bernard suggested.
I shook my head. “Nope, no pontianak with gleaming white fangs came. There were lots of spreading trees though, so I looked at them carefully when I got out of the car.”
“Come to think of it, it was really weird. You know how easily I sweat whenever I exert myself. But as I was trying to jack up the car, I started feeling cold. I dare not turn around but just concentrated on what I was doing. The nuts were screwed extremely tight but I was able to wrench them free.”
“Fear is a great enabler,” Bernard intoned.
“Yup. Anyway I pulled out the flat tyre, shoved in the spare one and screwed the nuts back, all in less than 10 minutes, I think.”
“You want a cold beer to calm down?”
“No, just cold water will do. And… maybe a cup of hot latte.”
“Hey, if you see Sam, tell her you have a flat on your way here to explain why you were late, but for goodness sake don’t mention Old Tampines Road,” said Bernard when he returned with the glass of water. “Her brother’s dead body was found there.”
There was too many noisy people in that cramped pub in dingy Mohamad Sultan Road I couldn’t even hear myself think. I gave up talking and Bernard wandered away with other friends. Samantha was our agency’s star employee. She was still “relatively” young (in her early 30s), hard-driven, slender and with a winsome face. In a year she sold more insurance policies than the rest of us put together. Jealous colleagues attributed her success to her porcelain skin that rich old men like to fondle. The night’s event was to celebrate her million-dollar achievement.
It was past midnight when the crowd was thinner that I saw Bernard again. He was swaying from side to side but insisted on accompanying me to the car park. “You don’t have to come with me,” I said. “I’m not afraid of the dark any more.”
“Don’t you want to hear more about Sam and John?” he asked
“John was the dead brother, remember? Gimme a ride home will you, and I’ll tell you the whole story. I can’t drive although I’m not drunk but the police won’t agree if they stop me and smell my stinking breath. See how coherent I am talking – definitely not drunk, while you’re disgustingly sober, drinking latte the whole night. Too much kopi gives you diarrhoea, guaranteed!”
I ignored the last remark: “Okay. Get in.”
“Was it an accident? Old Tampines Road usually doesn’t have much traffic,” I asked, referring to his remark about John’s body there, as I inched the car out to the exit.
“No, I think he committed suicide.”
“He raped Sam.”
I stepped on the brake violently.
“Ouch,” Bernard cried, although his head didn’t hit anything as he was belted up.
“Sorry, a black cat just dashed across.”
“What cat? Anyway, you want to hear Sam’s story or not?”
“Sure. Concentrate on the rape part.”
Bernard sucked in his saliva, pursed his lips and began: “Actually they were not brother and sister. When Sam was a teenager, her mother ran away with another man and the father re-married. Sam’s new stepmother was also previously divorced, with a teenage son about a year younger than Sam. Let’s call him John.”
“You mean it wasn’t his real name?”
“No. I can’t remember his Chinese name, it must be at least 15 years ago. We were classmates in secondary school and I always thought of him as ‘John’.
Anyway, when John set eyes on Sam, he fell headlong in love with her.”
It is irritating to hear people using cliches like “falling headlong in love”. Is falling in love such an injurious experience? But I let Bernard continued.
“He was always hanging around her. Remember they were teenagers then with boiling test’rone.”
“Girls don’t have testosterone,” I said, taking care to enunciate every syllable of the last word.
“Don’t interrupt. You want to hear or not? Anyway one night he went to the toilet to pee and passed her bedroom. The door was ajar and there was a noise. So he tiptoed inside. Sam was mumbling something in her sleep. By the gleam of the moonlight from the open window he could see her clearly. Her pyjamas blouse was partly unbuttoned and the soft curve of her breasts drove him wild. He climbed on top of her.”
“And then?” I asked, after waiting a full five seconds for him to continue.
“What else? She woke up and struggled. He was stronger and eventually he raped her.”
“How come you know all these?”
“John told me later.”
I was incredulous.
“John was both frightened and sorry for what he has done. Sam didn’t tell their parents but from that night, she hated him. She cursed him and hoped he would burn forever in the 18 Hells.”
“I thought one Hell is bad enough.”
“If you’d paid attention when your parents brought you to Haw Par Villa when you were a kid, you would have noticed there were 18 Hells there. The victims had their tongues sawn off, their bellies ripped out and their ass roasted like char siew, for lying, cheating in exam, selling faked Viagra pills, stealing coins from blind buskers, libelling government ministers, and screwing their own sister, and …”
When Bernard got irritated, he could get descriptive.
“But John and Sam were not biological siblings,” I reminded him.
“Sex between stepbrother and stepsister is just as incestuous. Anyway, John was extremely depressed after that. It must have been terrible for him to know that the girl he still loved deeply now hated him. I was his good friend in school, so he told me everything. We were Boy Scouts together, see, and used to go on camping and hiking trips in Loyang and Tampines, before all the HDB construction started.
“John was a sensitive soul. He liked to wander in those areas, the last few places in Singapore where nature was still untouched, he said.”
Sensitive soul, my foot, I thought. Sensitive enough to force himself on his own step sister.
“John began to do badly in school. He became moody and bad-tempered and his parents gave up on him. When Sam went to university, she dated one of her lecturers, a pot-bellied middle-aging man whose hair smelled of coconut oil.”
“No wonder her clients are all middle-age or older,” I said.
“Well, older or middle-age men are in cushy jobs like professors and lecturers who are quite happy to dole out extra marks in exam if offered sexual favours,” Bernard added. “Anyway, one day, Sam brought this professor home and everyone freaked out. John told me the next day that she did it purposely to get back at him. The following weekend he left home and didn’t return. His body was discovered a few days later under one of the trees in Old Tampines Road.”
We were silent as I drove on the highway towards Tampines New Town where Bernard lived. “Why don’t you turn into the old road to pick up the flat tyre and tools that you left there?” he asked.
For the second time that night I braked suddenly. “How you know? I didn’t tell you I left anything behind,” I said after we have recovered.
“In the pub I got your text message on my phone saying you were in such a hurry to get out of the place that you left your tools and flat tyre on the grass verge.”
“I swear I didn’t send you any text message in the pub.”
Bernard looked at me. “I think it’s a good idea to pick up your stuff in the morning.”
Published in Women’s World Magazine, August 2004, for $200 – Francis Chin