Penelope dreamed of her husband’s girlfriend/ mistress. That was the start of a beginning descent down the rabbit hole. This means things went from bad to worse. This story is in its draft form. It has to be told, even in its raw draft. Please excuse the lack of editing.
Penelope saw Andrew standing by the side of the road.
“Andrew!” She called out but he didn’t respond. Perhaps the din from the traffic overpowered her voice. She hastened her steps.
As she approached, it became clear Andrew wasn’t alone. A woman faced him. She flicked her with long flowing hair to call attention to her luscious locks. It never occurred to her to be curious why he managed to get out of office at that hour, and why he was talking to someone along the pedestrian path.
“Andrew!” Penelope tried again to catch his attention. He started walking away. The woman linked arms with him and they walked away.
Penelope couldn’t believe her eyes. There was something wrong with her eyes. They stung with tears. She blinked rapidly as Andrew and his female companion were fast disappearing from her line of sight. Her vision was interrupted by tears. She rubbed her eyes. She couldn’t see Andrew, nor the woman. She looked around .They had melted into nothingness. In those few seconds, Andrew and the woman had disappeared.
Penelope cried. She blinked her eyes and she was in her dark bedroom. That was a dream after all. Or was it? A dream could have been a replay of a real event which happened. Did her Oracle or Spirit Guide send her that dream to tell her about Andrew and his girlfriend? How could he do that to her? He had promised to leave that woman.
What happened next …
Her eyes got adjusted to the night light that was turned on by the wall power socket. She glanced over to the other side of the Queen sized bed and Andrew was snoring. How could he have disappeared only to reappear beside her? If his soul was still walking on the road, his body would not be able to wake up.
Penelope couldn’t resist the urge to try to wake him up. She wanted to know if Andrew’s soul cared enough to return quickly to her side.
“Hmmm.” He muttered while struggling to wake up to consciousness.”Wake up. You were dreaming.” If he’s taking so much time to wake up, it might mean his soul was traveling in another dimension. Perhaps he was still walking with that long haired woman in her dream.
“Huh?” He blinked and then shut his eyes again.
“You were talking in your sleep. What did you dream about?”
“Nothing. I don’t remember my dream. What did I say?”
“You were mumbling. I couldn’t hear you properly.”
“What time is it? Is it time for me to wake up now?”
“My bedside clock says its 2:30 am. Go back to sleep.”
“Okay. But first, I need to use the bathroom.”
Andrew slowly got up from bed and walked unsteadily to the toilet. His pillow was sliding dangerously down the edge of his side of the bed. Penelope walked over to right his pillow and spied his cell phone under it.
If he was attending to his hand phone closely, it could suggest his girlfriend was already in the country. Maybe that was the dream interpretation. She saw dream imagery of the woman, because she has arrived in the country. She may have seen dream imagery of a real event where Andrew was meeting up with his girlfriend. The Universe or Spirit Guide may have sent her this dream imagery to warn her. Penelope could hardly breathe. Her heart was racing as it pounded in her chest. “Relax,” she told herself. “I have to compose myself. Andrew is walking back to bed soon.” She forced herself to take deep breaths. She struggled to hold a deadpan face and this was not a moment too soon as Andrew walked back to bed. She confronted him.
“Why did you put your cell phone under your pillow?”
“I don’t want to miss important phone calls.”
“Do people call you at odd hours?”
“Yes, when its important.”
Andrew plonked himself into his bed and closed his eyes. Penelope had to stop questioning him. He had to get enough shut-eye as he had to go to office later that morning.
Penelope wished she could return to sleep as easily as Andrew. She tossed and turned. She tried to find a comfortable position. Her head was full of thoughts on reminding herself o check Andrew’s cell phone when he wasn’t around.
She gave up trying to fall asleep again and decided to arise from bed to start her day. She moved slowly and quietly to avoid disturbing Andrew.
She used the bathroom in the common corridor so that the noise wouldn’t disturb Andrew. She sat on the commode and then did her toileting routine. After a quick wash, she brushed her teeth and ran her comb through her hair. She couldn’t bear to look at herself in the mirror. She didn’t like what she looked like. Her chronological years aged her beyond her biological years. She consoled herself by being proud of her work. She wasn’t entirely a housewife. She worked from home to earn some money. Grant it that it was a paltry sum, but it was money nevertheless.
Penelope turned on the kitchen light. She took her mug from the tray on the kitchen counter and filled it with tap water. She carried her mug to the microwave oven and turned on the setting to boil the water. The hum of the microwave was loud in the quiet of the pre-dawn hour. Looking out her kitchen window, she saw darkness all around her. None of her neighbors was awake.
“Ding!” Her microwave called out to her. She removed her mug and placed it on her kitchen counter. She fetched a teaspoon from the dish drying rack and unscrewed the bottle of instant coffee powder. She dipped her teaspoon into the bottle for a scoop of the aromatic coffee. The fragrance wafted up as the coffee powder made contact with the hot water. Now, for the sugar, thought Penelope as she took a clean spoon for this purpose. Dumping the sugar into her mug, the soft plop hardly made a splash as it slowly sank into the depths of her mug. Penelope gave her coffee a few quick stirs and impatiently took her first sip.
“Mmmm … delicious.” She thought to herself as she appreciated the kick of the caffeine. Coffee is her life savior. She immediately apologized to God. “You know I don’t mean it that way. I need coffee to prop me up to function the whole day. Thank you God for coffee. Thank you God, for allowing me money and the privilege to buy and drink this coffee.”
Penelope carried her mug to her work station, a small round dining table re-purposed for this function. She switched on the electric socket to power up the modem and router. Then she turned on her desktop. She was happy with her seven year old friend. She almost couldn’t believe how her ageing computer managed to connect her to customers from all nooks and crannies, to scrap together some money for her. Sometimes, her tears flowed down, just by thinking of how her computer toiled for her. She was grateful for having a working computer, or she would be near penniless without a personal source of income.
She browsed through a few news websites and gathered enough vibes to understand the current trends. She opened her MS Word file and started typing her first article for her customer.
One of her long term customers was a woman who owned a website promoting branded sports shoes. This customer was smart, running a string of websites based on the same principle of promoting specific commercial products. Every morning, Penelope would search for new releases and feature them. Penelope couldn’t afford to buy any of them but she enjoyed writing soft copy ad sell for them. She learned so much about Nike, Adidas, Converse, Puma, Reebok, Asics and etc.
The average man wears out his sports shoes in 3 months. He has to walk in them from the minute he walks out of his home, to the minute he walks back in, at the end of his day. If he values his shoes and his feet, he would change into home slippers or some other footwear when he is at home. Still, the average Joe wore out his shoes in 3 months. People searched for the latest models of shoes, before deciding on their purchases and heading to the stores to buy them.
Penelope thought about the times when Andrew made her pay for his sandals, dress shoes and running shoes. He often feigned ignorance or being short on cash, to avoid paying for his shoes. It was bad luck for the spouse to buy shoes and footwear for the other half of the couple. It was a cultural taboo, suggesting that the receiver could run off in new footwear. The newer the footwear, the more roadworthy and reliable they would be, for dashing away. Andrew didn’t believe in folklore, old wives’ tales, or cultural taboos. He was more concerned with protecting his pocket. Since a pair of footwear would cost anything from $50 up, he would try to defray the cost by passing it to Penelope. There was at least once when he didn’t wear the running shoes he asked Penelope to pay for him. Penelope was hurt because she paid good money for that pair of Reebok. She was very tight for cash but coughed up $200 for that pair of running shoes because he said he needed those shoes to run. He never did.
She was preoccupied and time flew. It was time to wake up Andrew. Penelope always carried his mug of water to the bedroom for him. He needed to drink warm water to prepare to rise from bed.
He was sleeping like a light out. Penelope gently shook his shoulder.
“Andrew. Wake up. Its time to get ready for work.”
“Hmmmm …okay … I’m waking up.”
“Here’s your mug of water. I’ve put it on the bedside table.”
“Hmmmm … okay.”
Penelope walked back to the kitchen. She boiled a mug of water and a small bowl of water. The mug was for tea and the bowl was for oats. Both were instant and required self-soaking to mature. She placed them on the coffee table and returned to her computer table. She heard the creak of mattress springs as Andrew heaved himself up from bed, to walk into the bathroom. With any luck, here was her chance.
Penelope walked into the bedroom and retrieved his phone from under his pillow. She pressed a few buttons and viola! She was able to check and read his text messages. Her heart was racing.
“Come here. I just washed my hair.”
This was exactly what he liked in a woman; long hair. This could be that woman in her dream. Her name saved in the text was Magdalene.
Penelope tried to think. The writer of the message must be somewhere in the same city. How else could she try to summon Andrew to her side? She had encountered Magdalene before when Andrew briefly asked her about buying a domain name called magdalene.com. She asked him, “Why do you want to buy a domain with that name?” He said, “It is a special name and sounds nice. I think it will attract visitors to the website.” She was skeptical as she countered, “There are thousands of nice sounding names and there is no end of special names to buy.” Andrew stopped talking to signal that was the end of the conversation. It was infuriating but she could not get another word out of him.
Was Andrew carrying on a relationship with this woman? They were texting each other. The way she suggested meeting up meant they were already seeing each other. Was he having an affair with her? What should she do? She needed Andrew for financial support. She required primary needs like food, water, and shelter. She could not earn enough money to support herself. Wait, this was not about only money. She had invested eight years of her life in this marriage. She should fight to save her marriage. She can’t lose Andrew to another woman. She scrolled down his contact list, looking for other female names. There weren’t any more. Maybe he hid other women’s names using male names. She tried to click on one male name to read the text message. It was a discussion about work and trivial matters.
The sound of the shower in the bathroom stopped. That meant Andrew had completed his shower. He would be coming out soon. Penelope replaced his cell phone under his pillow. She didn’t want Andrew to catch her red handed spying on his cell phone.
She knew she had to act normally, as though she never knew any of this. She had to return to her work desk. She struggled to breathe slowly, to be mindful of her present moment, and then to return to her work. There was a lot of material to scan through and select for her research. Work helped to take her mind off Andrew and Magdalene.
Andrew came out of the bathroom wearing his towel. He dressed in the bedroom. He walked over to his breakfast and polished them off in a matter of a few minutes.
Then, out of the blue, Andrew said, “Penelope, I’ve something to tell you.”
She was concerned as he looked serious. She stopped typing and went to sit next to him on the sofa.
“What is it? I’m all ears.”
“I’ve resigned from my job.”
“No! You can’t do that! How are we going to survive?”
“We have to learn to manage somehow.”
“No! Please don’t quit your job!”
“I can’t carry on. I can’t manage my project and my team members can’t do the work.”
“Can you write the computer code to help out the programmer?”
“No. I’ve forgotten how to code.”
“Have you found a new job?”
“No. I’ll start looking soon.”
“We need money.”
“Can you hire a programmer who can write code for your project?”
“My boss is trying to recruit new team members.”
“Please don’t quit your job.”
“We’ll see what happens. You can borrow money from your Dad.”
“No, I can’t. He’s not the type to lend me money.”
“You should try to ask him.”
“I know him. He said before that he won’t be lending me any money.”
“You can try to get more freelance gigs to work from home.”
“They pay little. I can’t earn enough for one month’s expenses.”
“My friend found a job in Thailand. He says there are jobs there. I’m going there to take a look.”
Andrew’s face was deadpan in the way he assumed when he didn’t want arguments.
Penelope felt as though her world came crashing down. Andrew was leaving her to get his freedom. Being alone and free meant he could date and unite with any women he desired. This is how men dumped women. This is how the slighted woman felt. “I know why you’re leaving me,” Penelope thought. She had been forewarned in her dream. She knew it was a lost cause trying to persuade Andrew to change his mind. He had left her for a fortnight at a stretch, when he wanted to visit his parents in his hometown. Penelope functioned on her own. Now, he was going to leave her forever. She hadn’t the faintest idea he was running his trial before leaving her for good.
“I have to try to dissuade him,” Penelope thought to herself.
“Thailand! You can’t just leave me here alone!”
“I can’t get any other job here. I’ve got to go.”
“How will I manage this household on my own.”
“Ask your customers for more work to earn more money. You can advertise yourself as a freelance writer to get more paying assignments.”
“But that means I have to work extra hours. I’m already working from 2:30 am every morning.”
“You should only accept good paying work. Then, you don’t need to slave over menial odd jobs that pay peanuts.”
“If you’re going away, I want a divorce.”
“You can file for divorce as long as you pay for it. I don’t care. Or we can stay married, but live in different countries. At least, I can earn some money to send back for you.”
“Its difficult to manage on my own.”
“You’ll have more time for yourself. You don’t need to cook for me.”
Penelope cried. Andrew couldn’t care less about splitting up. She had sacrificed so much for their marriage and this is what it all boiled down to. She gave up her job in a private company because Andrew requested her to WFH (work-from-home). She couldn’t afford to buy new clothes for home use and going out. She bought cheap clothes from the local neighborhood store that lacked the correct size for her. She bought ridiculously large Tee shirts which were sold for a song because nobody else was ready to be humiliated wearing them. She wore flip flops because they were cheap. She wore socks while using flip flops to protect her feet from feeling the elements of cold weather or air-conditioning in the stores. Sometimes, people talked about her from a distance. “Look at that woman”, someone would say. “Why is she dressed like that?” “Can’t she afford a pair of shoes?”
Penelope held her head high. She was poor but she was living her own version of an honest life. She never cheated anyone of money, time or resources. On the contrary, her neighbors tried to ask Penelope to provide free tuition to their kids, give them free childcare and donate a share of her freelance work or money. Penelope was horrified and sad. She kept silent because she could not respond to these anticipations. The neighbors could see and understand she was poor. She lacked material goods. So they resorted to asking for intangible resources like her time and energy. Penelope decided to break away from this particular group of neighbors.
“We’ll talk more when I return from work tonight.”
“You never have time to talk.”
“I’ll make time somehow.”
Andrew felt he said his piece to pacify Penelope, and was free to go. He wore his socks and shoes and picked up his office bag. He walked to the door and let himself out.
Andrew made his choices. He wants out of his marriage. He chose to contact women, communicate with them, establish relationships and make himself available to pursue them. If he didn’t contact the women, how could they establish relationships with him? He had considered his reasons for starting new relationships. He wanted a new woman. His daughter was not sufficient reason for him to stay in the marriage, or stay in the same country. He chose to run away from it all. He had systematically walked through all the steps leading to his flight to freedom. He found women girlfriends, quit his job, found a new country to search for his next job, and undoubtedly will arrange for his choice of new woman to meet him there.
Penelope allowed herself to grieve. Her tears flowed freely. Her marriage of eight years was over. Andrew was unconcerned over how she was to fend for herself. The common prophesy of the Seven Year Itch had claimed her husband and marriage. She had to try to stop him from leaving.
Penelope searched for Andrew’s passport. She hid it in a secret hiding place. She thought that if Andrew couldn’t find his passport, he wouldn’t be able to leave the country and he would continue to stay with them. Of course, this was wishful thinking. he could always make a declaration that he lost his passport, and make a replacement passport. Then he would be traveling abroad. Hiding his passport was only a temporary delay.
She struggled to continue her day. She found it hard to concentrate on her writing. She was hungry but didn’t feel like eating. She was thirsty but did not feel like drinking. She felt like Andrew had dug a hole in the ground for her. He was leaving her to fend for herself. In essence, he was leaving her for dead.
That night, Andrew returned. He hardly looked at Penelope He failed to notice her swollen eyes. He ate his dinner with BBC News. After he skimmed the last little bit of food from his plate, he started to talk.
“Penelope, I’m going to book my ticket online now. I need to key in details from my passport. I can’t seem to find it. Have you seen my passport?”
“You can’t have it. You can’t go and leave me behind. I have no one to help me.”
“You can go and ask your Dad for help.”
“He will not help me. He has never helped me in his entire life.”
“I have to leave. Please give me my passport.”
“Let me think about it” Penelope wanted to play for time to cook up a plan. She went to her computer. She logged in to the internet and typed an email to Andrew’s sister, Andrea.
Andrew said he wants to leave me to go work in an overseas job. Can you persuade him not to go?
Penelope glanced at her table clock. It showed 9:30 pm. This was getting past her bedtime. She had to wake up at 2:30 the following morning.
Penelope had to summon all her will power to leave her email alone and attend to her bedtime routine. Life had to continue no matter what Andrea would reply to her. Andrew was seated at his desk, spending time on his laptop. She had to go to bed because she kept such early morning hours. He could sleep late because he could afford to wake up at 6 or 7 am.
Penelope washed her face, brushed her teeth and completed her bedtime toilet routine. She laid her weary body down on her side of the Queen sized bed and closed her eyes. She knew it was pointless for her to expect Andrew to go to bed at the same time as her. She left it to his discretion to decide when he was ready to retire. She was too tired to spy on his movements. She didn’t have money to hire a private investigator to spy on Andrew. There was nothing she could do. Sleep only came easily because she was dead tired.
Penelope saw Andrew walking ahead of her. He was pushing his trolley. His stack of bags included his medium sized luggage, and cabin suitcase.
“Andrew, wait! You forgot your laptop.” Penelope found herself trying to attract his attention.
Andrew was preoccupied. His attention was diverted. He was walking towards the ticket counter for Air India. Penelope felt strange. Andrew said he was flying to Thailand. It would make economic sense to buy his ticket from Thai Airways. She was stunned. Andrew was speaking to the woman manning the ticket desk. He handed his passport to her. She checked his particulars and printed out a boarding pass for him. Then he lifted his medium sized baggage on the conveyor belt next to the customer service staff. He also placed his cabin sized bag there. He planned to check-in his cabin sized luggage.
Andrew walked away from the customer service counter. Penelope couldn’t speak. Two men approached Andrew. One said, ” Excuse me sir! Are you flying to India?”
Andrew nodded his head. Penelope felt stupefied. She wanted to call out to Andrew. She wanted to ask him what this was all about. She was mute and paralyzed. She wanted to attract Andrew’s attention, but she couldn’t speak nor move.
The man said to Andrew, “I’m also on the same flight. Do you have spare weight allowance? Can I put my luggage on your baggage allowance?” Penelope knew this was a common strategy to carry more baggage on a flight, without coughing out cash to pay for excess baggage weight. The airlines staff kept quiet and allowed this to happen.
Andrew said, “No, sorry. I myself am short of space.”
The man said, “How can that be? You only have two pieces of luggage.”
Andrew said, “But they’re heavy luggage.”
The man became angry. His tone became loud. “I think you’re lying. You’re not giving me your free weight allowance.”
Andrew defended himself. “I’m not lying. I need my own luggage weight allowance>”
Then suddenly Andrew and the man were fighting.
Penelope didn’t know what to do. The two men exchanged blows. They moved long distances as they tried to dodge and hit back intermittently.
Penelope woke up with a jolt. She felt afraid because of the violence she saw in her dream. Andrew was at the airport. This means he would be traveling overseas without her. He would be leaving, despite her having hidden his passport. He might go to the police station to make a police report about having misplaced his passport, and get another made. He would be leaving her, no matter what. What is the use of hiding his passport away from him? It would only entail spending more money to make a new passport. Andrew would be delayed but he wouldn’t be spending his time at home with her. He would continue to go out and spend his days and night somewhere else.
Her eyes adjusted to the dark. She turned her face towards her bedside table to look at her table clock. It said 2:30 am. It was no coincidence that she woke up at her regular time. She woke up at 2;30 am because her body clock was accustomed to waking up at the same hour every morning, be it a weekday or weekend. She ran through her routine, like clockwork.
When it was time to wake up Andrew, she steeled herself. There was no point in broaching the subject. He had made up his mind. He went about doing his routine morning grooming to get ready for office.
Andrew gave no indication if he was upset about having to wait for Penelope to surrender his passport.
Andrew went about his daily routine. He left home early in the morning and returned late at night. He said he had to do overtime to clear his backlog of work. He had a deadline to complete his tasks before he does the handover to the new project manager.
Penelope logged into her Yahoo email. She visually scanned her Inbox for Andrea’s reply and clicked on it.
Don’t allow him to leave. That woman Magdalene will enjoy the freedom to visit him when he is alone in a foreign country. I can’t persuade him but you must try.
Penelope shivered. Magdalene had a secret friendship, relationship and maybe affair with Andrew. She stole Andrew away from her right under her nose.
When Andrew was home and logged into his personal computer, he often left his seat to go to the toilet, to bathe or to the courtyard to smoke. Penelope secretly searched for his Yahoo Messenger. She found some text messages in Andrew’s computer chat. She also scanned his cell phone for text messages. She discovered he had been communicating with a few women. She confronted Andrew.
“I saw you texting women using your pc.”
He said, “Okay, I’m caught. I won’t do it anymore.”
Penelope heaved a sigh of relief. She believed in him. Andrew used to be as good as his word. When he said something, he would do it. If Andrew said he would quit texting women, he would keep his word.
He was low key about it. He knew how to avoid arguments by not escalating the issue. Penelope wasn’t sure that he would be sincere in his proclamation but she gave him the benefit of the doubt. She wasn’t clever enough to deal with this situation. What could she do to ensure that Andrew would do a clean break away from that woman? Was it a coincidence he was leaving her to work overseas? Was the woman the reason why he wanted to live apart from her?
Penelope dreaded the conversation but it eventually came. Andrew once again broached the issue of his passport.
“Can I have my passport?”
“No. You can’t go. You should look for a job here.”
“I can’t find a job here.”
Andrew was insistent. Andrew said he had to continue working for one to two months in lieu of paying a penalty for resigning. He said he had to endure poor treatment from his boss and colleagues as everyone knew he was leaving the company. Andrew continued to go out every morning, returning late at night. Penelope asked him why he had to stay back for overnight.
He said, “I have to finish up whatever I can do for my project. I also have to clean up my computer by removing and deleting files.”
When he returned home every night, he asked, “Can I have my passport?”
He won eventually. He knew more about persistence than Penelope.
He didn’t have time to pack his bags. He had quit his job yet he spent all his time outside. He left home early in the morning and never returned home to sleep. He said he slept in his office because he had to rush to clear his work before handing over to his fill-in. He acted as though he had tons of work to do because he had to clear up his backlog of pending matters before he leaves. He only returned home to shower and change his clothes. Then he left home again. He did this every day.
One morning, he left for office and then called home to instruct Penelope to help pack his luggage.
“But I don’t know what to pack! You have to come home to pack your bags yourself.”
“You can pack for me. Office shirts, pants, home T-shirts and shorts, socks, spare shoes, towels and toilettries.”
“I think you should come home to pack your own suitcase.”
“I’ll be coming but I think I don’t have time to pack. Please pack for me.”
As usual, he had his way.
Penelope chose his newer and less worn dress pants. He had three pairs of dark blue pants. It never occurred to her that she shouldn’t pack pants of the same color as that would give people the impression that the wearer didn’t change their pants for consecutive days.
On his last day in the country, Andrew didn’t even spend time with Penelope. He didn’t return home from the previous night. In the middle of the afternoon, there was a knock at the door. Andrew entered the front door for the last time. Penelope’s heart felt heavy. She couldn’t understand why he chose to leave. He was so secretive, she didn’t even see his air ticket to Thailand. She had always believed him and she didn’t suspect to question him to verify his air ticket.
Andrew appeared distracted.
Penelope said, “You should check your luggage and repack if you want to change some items.”
“No, its okay. I don’t want to take out anything since you’ve already packed everything for me.”
“Please call a taxi for me.”
Penelope was told that a cab would arrive at the ground floor of the main lobby of their apartment block. She accompanied Andrew downstairs to send him off. There was very little time left. Andrew gave her a non-committal hug. Maybe he didn’t trust himself to hug her.
“Maybe I can earn some money to send you.”
Penelope could only hope in her heart.
“Here’s some cash to use until you are paid your first month of salary” Penelope gave Andrew $250.
“Is this enough?”
“I’ll manage it. I can use my credit card for some expenses. My friend is there in Thailand. He can help me.”
The time had come. The taxi had pulled up the driveway.
“Bye. Its time for me to go.”
Andrew loaded his luggage into the truck and quickly got into the back seat. He told an instruction to the driver before the cab sped away. Penelope wasn’t even sure he said to head for the airport. She had very little cash and she didn’t want to spend it on transport going to the airport.
Penelope was sad. “This is it. I’ve gone back to being alone. Its back to only me.” She had already grown accustomed to being left alone in the weeks leading to Andrew’s departure.
Penelope walked back to the elevator and returned home. An unspeakable sadness cloaked itself over Penelope. The first thing that caught her eye was Andrew’s glass mug which he used to drink water. He had insisted to obtain a large glass mug. He said that would be his measure of water he needed to drink each time his glass was refilled. Penelope couldn’t bear to wash his glass. It stood at its pride of place on the dining table. It was the first object that caught her eye whenever she walked past that table. It was a remnant of him.
What remained of the afternoon passed. Night fell. Penelope ate a small dinner and then went to bed. She felt strange being alone. Andrew had left her before, but those were for brief pockets of time, like a fortnight each time. He used his annual leave for those two weeks, which he spent overseas visiting his parents.
Penelope heard the loud ding, ding, ding of the microwave. It was her neighbor’s microwave. It was so loud, that it sounded as if the ring was inside her kitchen. She heard the contraction sounds of metallic connections that contracted at night and made singular sounds. She closed her eyes. The next thing she knew, she had to get up to go to the bathroom. She walked slowly in the dark.
Penelope stretched out her left hand to switch on the night light beside her bed. Her index finger felt a very sharp pain. Time slowed down. It was as if she was electrocuted by the wall switch. The ceiling light was turned on. She looked at her left hand. It was fine. Why did she feel pain? Maybe it was due to a stiff joint? She had suspected herself of having a touch or rheumatism or arthritis whenever she felt stabs of pain in her fingers, toes, elbow, and knee cap. She looked at her left hand. There was no burn mark. In fact, it looked normal and there was nothing extraordinary. Was it a dream? Had she been dreaming and sleep walking? What is her reality? She looked for Andrew. He was no longer sleeping beside her. “This is real. This is not a dream” She rationalized that if she saw Andrew beside her, she would be dreaming, since she consciously knew that he had flown overseas.
If she wasn’t dreaming about suffering an electric shock, then what happened to her left hand? Maybe she had rheumatism or arthritis which caused the jabs of pain.
She returned to bed and blanked out her mind. She needed to sleep in order to function the next day.
Penelope woke up to her alarm ringing at 2:30 am. She looked at the single cot bed next to her Queen sized double bed. Empty. Andrew had left. Maybe forever. She quickly eased herself out of bed to avoid disturbing Yvonne. She went to the toilet to wash her face, brush her teeth, and do the rest of her early morning toilet routine. The water was cold. She splashed several plastic scoops of water over herself and applied soap. Then she poured several more scoops of water to wash away the soap. That was her shower.
Walking to the living room, she switched on her modem, router and then computer. While the equipment whirred to life, she fetched her mug of water to microwave for coffee. Whether she dumped in instant coffee powder and sugar into the water first, and then boiled the liquid, or boiled the water first, before dumping in coffee powder and sugar, they all tasted the same. She was careful to measure out one teaspoon of the coffee powder. She had to make that bottle of coffee powder stretch for as long as possible. Strong coffee powder was expensive. Penelope was grateful for the coffee. Silently, she mentally composed a simple prayer to thank God for giving her this beverage. It was her prop to hold her up from 2:30 am until 9:30 pm. Crazy hours was the bane of work-from-home freelancers.
Indolina, one of her neighbors in the same estate, wanted to know why she didn’t find a real job that requires working at the company premises. “I can’t do so many part time assignments while maintaining a 9-to-5 job. I have to work on Saturdays too.”
She was prepared for the subsequent question, “Why can’t you give up your part time work? They don’t pay much anyway.” She always explained that her employer could terminate her anytime because the company was a private one who fielded work to employees when there was enough demand for their services. Recently, their only franchise had to close down because of low enrolment for their services. The office was located in a lonely area with low footfall.
Penelope didn’t understand why Indolina could be so insensitive. Then again, she had her own domestic helper who did all the chores, while looking after two children.
Penelope snapped out of her reminiscence. She spotted her day’s work laid out for her. She saved the resources for referencing. Her morning’s work had to completed and submitted online, before she could give herself the luxury to remember old memories.
Penelope barely managed to complete three short articles, before it was time to wake Yvonne. The girl was often eager to rise early as she resented being left out of anything exciting or eventful, while she slept. She would try to wake up early if she could. Otherwise, Penelope had to wake her up on the mornings when her school started earlier for extracurricular activities.
She walked into their master bedroom and gently patted Yvonne’s head.
“Rise and shine sleepyhead.”
Penelope smiled and sat down by the edge of the bed. Drawing on her reserves of patience, she carjoled her daughter to wake up. Never a morning person, Yvonne was a slow poke in rising from her bed.
Penelope pulled a fresh sheet of wet wipe from the tub by the bedside table and proceeded to wipe sleep off the girl’s face. She coaxed Yvonne to take her first sip of water for the day, from a mug. She went through the morning routine like a zombie.
After breakfast, Yvonne changed into her going to school clothes , wore her socks and shoes and lugged her school bag to the door.
“Have you packed your books for today’s time table?”
“Do you want to pack an extra box of green tea?”
“No. I won’t need it.”
“Do you need anything else?”
“No. Let’s go. We’re running short of time.”
With that, they both walked out of the front door and headed for school. Penelope was grateful to have Yvonne enrolled in the nearest neighborhood school. This saved enormous amounts of time traveling to and fro from school. With a quick wave, Yvonne bade her mother goodbye and walked past her school gates.
Penelope walked back home. It was abnormal Andrew was gone forever. He had not mentioned when he would return. He took on a job and would be working at it for as long as he was gainfully employed.
Penelope turned her key into the keyhole and opened the door. She always felt relieved to walk through the door. She loved living in this home. It was sparse but it was her home. She was free from verbal abuse, fear, emotional turmoil, mental torture and social injustice from living in her natal family home. Anything could become a trigger
The first day without Andrew was strange. Overnight, Penelope became a single parent without Andrew. Her world of emotions turned topsy turvy when Andrew walked out. Why didn’t she pay more attention to the dream of Andrew walking on the street with his girlfriend-mistress? Dreams! She had studied dreams. She knew dreams could foretell the future, not because they were prophetic, but because they were triggered and invented due to the brain’s intuitions. There could have been indications that Andrew was cheating and having a woman on the side. He often returned home late. He placed Penelope and Yvonne second behind whoever he worshipped. Heck, he left Penelope and Yvonne waiting in the dark night, on a deserted road, while he hailed the first taxi that passed by. He said his friend was waiting for him. Penelope assumed it was a male friend. Too late, she realized she must have been wrong. Men are generally not so conscientious as to arrange for late night meetings to talk about work. She was too innocent. She had trusted Andrew. Now he has discarded her.
She had to maintain the facade of normalcy. Yvonne and herself had to continue living.
Penelope felt alone. Yvonne occupied her time and attention, and distracted her. When Yvonne was away at school, Penelope had to do her freelance work on her computer. Little pockets of time were created to cook, clean, run errands and do whatever else necessary to maintain her small household. Soon, it was time to walk to school to fetch Yvonne home.
On Saturdays, Yvonne got to go out to the mall where her tuition school conducted language and essay writing classes. On Sunday evenings, she had art class. Having activities to engage in on weekends made time pass faster. These enrichment classes helped to fill the void Andrew left behind. Still, Yvonne might sometimes say, “I don’t have a father.” Penelope felt sad but there was nothing she could do. She was exhausted from working at her computer, at housework and in childcare.
Yvonne’s classmates knew her dad had traveled overseas. Penelope warned her not to speak of it. It was too much for a young girl to keep secret. She told her friends that her dad traveled overseas to work in a job there. He never visited because air tickets cost money and they three were poor.
The men in the neighborhood stalked lone women. They didn’t work in regular jobs. They had time to hang around the neighborhood and watch women and men as they go about their ordinary lives.
Andrew never remitted any money for her household or for their daughter. He didn’t keep to his bargain to leave their homeland. Penelope excused this to his cost of living and his low salary in the local currency of renminbi. She was used to his style of flippant statements and never keeping his end of his bargain. She was gone from his sight and it was the usual case of out of sight, out of mind. His earlier promise flew out of is mind when he flew away.
Penelope thought of ways to earn more money. The first was to explore squeezing her present customers to yield more fruits. The second would be to venture farther afield to search for paying work.
She clicked on Yahoo mail and logged in. Composing an email, she typed:
Do you have more freelance writing work for me to do? How much more money can I earn by doing the extra work?
She crossed her fingers on her left hand and with her right hand, clicked “send”.
Penelope logged into her online bank account. She looked at her account balance and shook with fear. She has to budget this month. She quickly opened her work file and websites. Scrolling down several web pages, she found her subject material and started work.
After several minutes, Penelope was alerted to an incoming email. She clicked on the icon and was taken to Yahoo mail. Her boss (and client) had replied.
You may write an additional two posts per day and get paid 25% more than your present wage.
Penelope cried. That meant double the work and half the pay for this extra load. It would be better not to accept on this term. She has to try her luck elsewhere.
Would her wage improve next month?
Penelope emailed Andrew as a last resort.
Hi. I’m not making enough money to sustain my household. Can you come and help?
He replied: Let me see what I can do. Its not easy to leave my job because I want to quit. I’ll inform you. We may need to change our landline telephone number to avoid getting calls from my boss.
Morning after morning, Penelope worked hard to improve her financial position. There was nothing she could do but type as much content as she could. She felt it was a losing battle. Her finances didn’t improve. She was in constant stress and pressure to do better.
One night, she dreamed she was hard at work in her kitchen. She was using her rolling pin to knead a small ball of dough, to make roti, or flat bread. She dropped her rolling pin on the floor. To her horror, it started rolling away. The rolling pin had kinetic energy and rolled farther away. Somehow, it garnered potential energy too, and this consequently was changed into kinetic energy. Penelope chased after it.
“Hey, come back! You’re my rolling pin!” The ground which Penelope was standing on, became a slope downhill. The rolling pin sped downhill. She ran down the slope and suddenly, she fell with a hard splat. She hit her lower jaw on the ground.
“Owww … oowww,” she moaned. She was aware of having fallen on the ground. “How did I get here?” She touched her jaw and was aware of acute pain. She ran her tongue over her teeth. They seemed to be all intact. “That dream!” She thought. “That dream was so real. I even fell down from bed as a part of the dream!”
“What’s the meaning of dreaming of a rolling pin? Its only a kitchen utensil. If I were to use a rolling pin, it can mean I would be busy. But what would I be busy with? Will I be busy with a new project? Where would I look to get a new project?”
Penelope lay in bed pondering these questions.
The days passed. As difficult as it was to pass the time while Andrew was gone, time and tide waited for no man nor woman. Penelope had to keep on doing her work. Her Yahoo email was always logged in and Andrew communicated to her via Yahoo! Messenger. Like the way he used to send text messages to Magdalene. He had no qualms using the same medium to communicate with the two women in his life.
Andrew made it clear he was gone forever because he had a job and a life in China. Chatting with him online was only a matter of keeping in touch. Like saying hello to an old friend. He wasn’t ever coming back.
The days turned into weeks and the weeks, into months. Soon, the months became one year. Then she was back to counting the days, weeks, months and years.
Life was hard but there was money to be made. There wasn’t enough money to be saved. Penelope couldn’t believe she was able to make money with work from home (WFH) assignments. In her mind, WFH wasn’t legitimate. People in society didn’t respect this niche. Indeed, some neighbors were incredulous when they heard her telling them about getting work online through emails and sending in work online.
Cindy, a neighbor living in another block, asked her for leads. Penelope gave her the website name of a company who bought non-fiction articles from writers.
Mindy, another neighbor from a neighborhood in another district, told Penelope she was job hunting. Cindy wanted a job in a computer company. She was conversant in Japanese language and wanted to use her ability to get a job that would credit her skills.
Penelope was grateful for work. She knew there were cases where there was no money to be earned even when there was work. Many women couldn’t find suitable work that they could do on a part-time basis.
One day, something happened that slowly brought down Penelope’s world. The search engines changed their algorithms that trawled the internet for web pages. Web writers who used the old method of boosting their webpages to attract web traffic tasted pure fear. Their old methods failed to work. Google used a different programming to stop sending traffic to websites that capitalized on simple tricks to attract web crawlers. Writers and operators experienced plunges in traffic volumes. Gone too were the ad revenues. Penelope began to shake with fear. What was she going to do? She tried to change her style of writing. It didn’t help to bring in the numbers. She emailed Andrew for help.
I’m having trouble making enough money for my household expenses. Can you come back to help me?
Penelope didn’t sign off with her correspondence with Andrew. She left it open ended because she felt that was the way with him.
I’ll try to come if my boss allows me to take some leave. I’ll inform you later.
Penelope felt her heart sinking. She didn’t think Andrew was committed to return.
Penelope resumed her daily routine. One morning, she was typing out a piece of work when her concentration was interrupted.
There was a strange knocking at the main door. It was a characteristic combination of raps in a beat. Knock-knock-knock-knock-knock. Knock-knock. That was Andrew’s signature rap on the main door.
Her heart skipped a beat or two.
“Andrew?” Penelope thought. She rushed to the peephole and peered through the tiny aperture. Yes! She threw open the door and ushered him in. He was pulling two luggage bags on wheels. These were originally taken from their home. The large sized luggage had frayed seams. It has seen three years away from its homeland.
“Why didn’t you call or write to inform me?” She already knew the answer. He wanted to check on her to see if she had a new man living inside their matrimonial home. After all, it has been three years since he last stepped into it.
“I wanted to surprise you.” This was a white lie but she let it slide as usual.
“You’ve gained weight.”
“Yes. Its very cold there. I had to eat to grow a layer of fat to insulate against the cold.”
He was fat. He beefed up to insulate against the cold winters.
“Where’s Yvonne? Is she at school?”
“I want to go and fetch her from school. I want to surprise her.”
Andrew sat at their hanging swing seat. He liked to rock the swing and use that motion as a distraction. He liked to distract himself while he talked. It seemed to allay the seriousness of whatever he was talking about. That was one of his annoying habits. Penelope sometimes thought he didn’t place respectful attention to serious concerns.
“How are your finances?”
“Not good. I’m not earning enough money to cover my expenses. I’ve started to use my savings.”
“Maybe you can try cutting down your expenses.”
“No. I’m only making $400 a month. There’s no way my household can run with lesser money.”
“What have you been eating for your food?”
“Noodles. Instant noodles are my best friend.”
“I see. Can you do something to adjust to the search engine’s new algorithm?”
“I’ve tried my best but I’m losing out to Google’s new algorithm. I’m not getting enough traffic for paid advertising revenue.”
“There must be something you can try.” Andrew’s face was blank. Was that due to unconcern?
“I’ve tried everything I could think of. Adding content, adding images, using keywords … all the SEO tricks of the trade. I’m not earning enough traffic for money.”
“You should sue Google for spoiling your income.”
“I don’t have money to start an expensive lawsuit against an oligarchy.”
“Google should compensate you for your loss in income.”
“I think I want to sell our apartment. We don’t have money to continue living here.”
“Selling this home is a big move. Where shall we go to live?”
“Can we go and live with your parents? Can you ask them?”
“Yes, I can ask them. I’m sure they’ll say yes. But this is a drastic action. Maybe I should move back here and get a job here.”
“You always say you’re moving back here but you never do it.”
“I need time to think.”
“I’m running out of time and money. I’ve used up all my savings in my bank account.”
“OK. I’ll see what I can do to speed things up.”
“I want to sell this apartment so that we have money to earn interest for our monthly expenses when we are living with your parents.”
“Selling our only home is very serious. We’ll have no home to return to in case the option of staying with my parents does not work out.”
“We can buy our own house in a cheap place.”
“Yes, but you’ll be committing yourself there. You might not like living there and you’ll want to move away. Then you’re stuck with your house until you sell it. Its always easier to buy than to sell.”
“What other option is there?”
“We can stay in my parents’ house until you’re sure about living in that area permanently.”
“So I can contact the housing agent to tell him to start marketing this unit?”
“Okay. Who is your property agent?”
“His name is Dante. He’s Polly’s friend.”
“So your herbalist Polly has used his services before?”
“Yes. Polly said we can trust Dante to do his best.”
“Okay. You should fix an appointment while I’m still here visiting. I want to meet him.”
“Okay. Are you planning to get some sleep before Yvonne returns home from school?”
“If I sleep now, I’ll crash and won’t be able to wake up until tomorrow morning.”
“That bad, huh?”
“Yes. I didn’t sleep properly for about 2 days. I tried to catch a nap while in a transit airport but it was very uncomfortable to sleep on a chair.”
“You can catch some winks before Yvonne gets released from school. I’m sure you plan to fetch her and surprise her.”
“Yes. That’s my plan. What time does she get off?”
“I have plenty of time to spare. Let’s talk about your finances.”
“They’re bad. Ever since Google changed their search algorithm, my site does not get traffic from visitors.”
“Can’t you do something about this problem?”
“No. I lack technical knowledge to handle this.”
“How about asking your friend Erros? He’s an expert in SEO.”
“He’s not interested to do website development. Money can’t buy his time. I’ve asked him for help but he said to continue doing what I do and maybe traffic will pick up after the algorithm steadies.”
“Maybe you can write in to Google and ask them what’s the problem with your website?”
“No. Google is a giant and they won’t help me.”
“I read that some people are suing Google for loss of earnings after it changed the search engine algorithms. Maybe you should consider filing a lawsuit against Google.”
“No. I don’t have extra money to blow on a lawsuit against a huge organization.”
“How will you carry on? What will you do for money?”
“How about using money to make money?”
“What kind of investments can you do to make enough money to support yourself and Yvonne?”
“How about learning from your parents? They’ve been supporting themselves from mutiple income streams for the past 20 years after retirement.”
“Yes. They’re having income from fixed deposits and bonds.”
“Maybe that could work for us too? I plan to continue to search for work as a freelance writer.”
“I see. Its good to have at least one backup plan.”
“Are you coming back to live with us here? You can help by contributing to household expenses.”
“I’ll have to see how I can leave my teaching position. My boss recruited me and its difficult to resign and leave just like that. They’ll have to find a replacement for me.”
“Please start to prepare to leave. Send in your resignation letter.”
“I’ll start working on that when I get back there. Can you ask your father for help?”
“No. He’s not the type to pass handouts. He always says children above 21 years old must take care of themselves.”
“I didn’t know he was so strict. What time is it now? Is it time to fetch Yvonne yet?”
“You have one hour. Would you like to eat lunch now?”
“Yes, please. If it is not too much trouble. Do you have anything to cook at home?”
“Yes. I always keep some vegetables in the fridge.”
Penelope wasn’t too hopeful after this short discussion. Andrew didn’t offer concrete ways that might resolve her financial problems. She walked into her kitchen and opened her fridge. There was always broccoli. She took out the bunch. She also had a small cup of store bought yogurt. She opened her kitchen drawers to search for beans. She found a small bag of rice and several small packets of beans. She chose the smallest sized beans for easier cooking. She always kept a small basket of onions and garlic. Andrew liked his vegetables friend with onion and garlic. He also liked a side of raw onions.
Penelope pulled out all the vegetables and beans she kept in her fridge and pantry. She had sufficient ingredients to whip up a meal.
Initially, Penelope was worried about cooking in the style Andrew was used to eating at home. It has been three years since she last cooked for him. Can she remember how to cook for Andrew?
She peeled a big onion and cut it into quarters. She washed the beans in a pot and covered them with double the quantity of water to make a soup.
Two quarters of the onion went into the bean pot and the remaining two were placed on Andrew’s lunch plate. She washed and cut the broccoli. Not too fine or else the flowers would soften and get mashed during cooking. Nobody likes to eat gluey greens.
She peeled onions, garlic and ginger. She sliced these thinly for frying to make the base gravy thick. One vegetable, one bean gravy and one carbohydrate which was rice.
She stuck her head out of the kitchen and said, “You can rest or use the mini-computer in the spare bedroom. It’ll take some time for your meal to get cooked.”
“No problem. No hurry. I’m not that hungry.”
Penelope felt strange as she started her routine. She had not cooked vegetarian cuisine since the day Andrew left their home. She wasn’t sure if he told his cab driver to head for the airport, or any other destination. She didn’t know for sure if he left home to fly overseas or maybe he left this home to live elsewhere in the same country. Her head was filled with thoughts. She stopped cooking Andrew’s food since he left and she wasn’t sure she could remember how to cook food the way he preferred. It has been three years since she last cooked vegetarian meals.
Smells permeated the kitchen. She had forgotten what it was like to smell beans cooking in the pot.
Penelope was profoundly curious about Andrew’s luggage. She walked over to his large suitcase which was open on the floor. Andrew had unlocked it to take out a fresh change of clothes. He had been wearing his clothes for the past few days when he was at airports, in transit, for the flight back to his previous home. Shiny packages caught her eye. He brought presents despite Penelope telling him she didn’t want any. Perhaps these are for Yvonne? Penelope lifted a package. It was addressed to a female name. She was crestfallen. He didn’t leave his old ways.
Penelope sifted through layers of shirts and pants. She found two large Manila envelopes. Opening them, she say they contained certificates of attendance for a seminar, conducted at Andrew’s place of work. One certificate was addressed to Andrew. The other certificate was dedicated to a female name. The same female name that appeared on the lettering on the present.
So Andrew lied. He arranged to quit his job to move overseas, so that Magdalene could visit him in peace without her interference. Penelope felt cold. Like somebody had walked over her grave. Her marriage was essentially over.
While Andrew was in the bathroom, Penelope went through his personal carry-on messenger bag. She searched for his passport. She leafed through the pages of immigration stamps. She looked for his entry into Thailand. He said he flew into Thailand to visit his friend who found a job there. He said he would ask for help to get his job there. Penelope’s heart was racing as she flipped through the pages. She found an entry into India and its corresponding exit. There was no entry stamp into Thailand.
Andrew lied. Where did he go if he didn’t go to Thailand? He went straight to India. Why did he lie if he went straight to India? Why did he have to lie?
Andrew’s passport had an opague plastic cover. The front cover had small windows of clear plastic. These windows allowed the view of some words on the front cover of the passport. The back cover was opaque. There was a slight raised bump on the inside of this back cover. It looked like there could be something inside this back cover. Se put a finger into the the space between the plastic cover and back page of the passport. Yes, she was correct. She felt the edge of paper. With her two fingers, she gripped the paper and pulled it out. The paper was a passport size photo. A woman stared at her. Her passport photo was glued to an immigration card for social visit travelers into the country. Is this the woman named Magdalene? She must be for Andrew never mentioned any other woman’s name. What was her photo doing inside the jacket flap cover of Andrew’s passport? He must have placed it there. Why was the immigration card torn? Maybe she had visited and before she left, she might have given Andrew her card, because it had her passport sized photo on it.
Penelope was pained. There was nothing she could do to prevent Andrew from socializing with that woman. He chose to work and live in another country. She had no money to retain Andrew by her side. She could try to talk to him again about moving back to live together.
Penelope removed the woman’s photo. She knew Andrew had a short memory and would not be looking for it in the next few days. He would be busy here and would not be thinking of that woman. Penelope kept the woman’s photo in a secret place. She heard Andrew opening his bathroom’s door. He would be walking out in no time. She should not let him catch her ruffling through his personal belongings, especially since he had secretly hid his girlfriend’s photo in his passport’s protective jacket flap.
She walked quickly to her computer desk and sat down. Why wasn’t she upset and crying? She had expected it. She had suspected it all along. Andrew left her under mysterious circumstances and he didn’t even have a confirmed job when he went searching in Thailand. That Thailand story was sheer fabrication to move away from her.
Andrew walked to the swing seat. It was a rattan basket seat made for one and the whole basket was suspended on a strong metal stand. The basket seat was a low two feet off the ground. People with long legs found no problem sitting on this suspended basket. Penelope was short and struggled to position herself to sit in it.
*Penelope steadied her nerves to prepare to talk to her real estate agent Dante. He was recommended by a mutual friend, her herbalist, Polly, who had been treating her poor health for many years. Polly bought her homes and sold them through Dante. She said Dante was honest and that was very important in a property agent.
Andrew was in the guest room, using the computer. She used the landline in the living room. She dialed his number and immediately felt a tinge of regret. She almost wanted to hang up. The telephone was answered after several rings.
“Hello, Dante. My name is Penelope. My friend Polly introduced your name to me because I needed a property agent”.
“Hello. Its nice to know that Polly thought of me.”
“I need to discuss with you about selling my apartment.”
“Okay. Have you found your real estate agent to market the apartment?”
“No. I thought I would give you priority over others because you were highly recommended by Polly. I called you because I need you to fix an appointment to see my apartment and bring the forms over for me to sign.”
“Okay. How about the day after tomorrow? That’ll give you one day to tidy up your apartment before I come to make an informal appraisal.”
“Okay, the day after tomorrow will be fine.”
“Thank you. I’ look forward to seeing you soon.”
“Yes. Thanks for accommodating my request at such short notice.”
“No problem. This is a part of my job. Be seeing you soon. Bye.”
The line went dead with a click.
Penelope felt sad. This was her first real home as an adult. She experienced peace and freedom away from her Dad, who used to rain criticism on her. She had great memories in this home. Tears dripped down her face. He didn’t offer to help with her finances. She ought to feel disappointed. He didn’t think to ask how she would manage after moving out. He didn’t ask where she would go to live. He didn’t offer his home to her. He was a strange father. He was always taking care of his pocketbook.
Penelope washed her face and dried her eyes. She smelled the aroma of cooking vegetables, signaling the dishes were ready. She walked into the kitchen to switch off the gas burners. Fetching the plates from the kitchen’s overhead cabinet, she scooped out portions of the steaming food. These were dishes Andrew used to eat every day three years ago. Her head was filled with nostalgia. Much has changed with each of them and between them. During these three long years apart, she toiled for Yvonne and herself, while he toiled for himself and who else?
Penelope set the table for lunch. She left Andrew alone to eat quietly in peace. He had his habit of concentrating on his food while eating. He would not be making any conversation while chewing his food.
Penelope returned to her home work station, which was her computer table. She tried to resume where she had left off to attend to this new change.
Andrew still maintained his habit of chewing his food slowly. Eventually, he got up from the table and went to the bathroom to comb his hair.
“How do I look? Do you think she will be able recognize me?”
“You look fine. Of course she can remember your face. She has been looking at old photographs of you.” “Okay. Its time to go.”
“I’ll be accompanying you but I’ll hide away from her line of view.”
“Yes, that’s the plan. I want to surprise her by greeting her at her school gate.”
“Yes, this is an opportunity of a life time. Let’s go.”
Penelope switched off all electrical appliances and grabbed her handbag. She slipped on her pair of slippers and followed Andrew out the main door.
The school children were already streaming out of the building. The lower grade classes were the first to be dismissed. A few teachers stood at attention as they watched for parents to walk up to their kids to claim them.
Andrew walked slowly to the front. He spotted his daughter and waved enthusiastically. Yvonne was too shy to say anything. She walked up to him in silence. Penelope thought it was very good of her to recognize him after three years.
Yvonne looked for her Mom. “Daddy’s home. Why didn’t you tell me that he was coming back?”
“I didn’t know about it. He kept it a surprise.”
“Daddy? Why didn’t you tell us you were coming back?”
“I wanted to surprise you.”
“Did you bring me presents?”
“Yes. They’re in my suitcase.”
“Yay! I can’t wait to see them.”
It was a short walk back home.
“Where’s your luggage? I want to see my presents!” Yvonne flew through the door.
Yvonne was very excited to see the presents her Dad brought back for her. She opened his large suitcase and immediately pounced on some shiny gift wrapped packages.
“Those are not for you.” Andrew said.
“Whose presents are they?” Yvonne was shaking a large, thin package.
“They’re for relatives.”
“Who are those relatives? Do I know them?” Yvonne was curiously fingering the wrapped gifts.
“We have many relatives whom you have yet to meet. Here, let me take out your gifts.”
Andrew enjoyed his time with Yvonne as he pulled out many things from his suitcase. Her gifts were unwrapped as he wanted ease of identification.
When Yvonne was busy opening her gifts, Penelope took the opportunity to speak to Andrew.
“Are you going to meet the real estate agent with me? He will come to see our apartment soon.”
“Okay. I’ll make the arrangements then.” Penelope breathed a sigh of relief. Andrew would provide some moral support for her by his mere presence. She would be less likely to get emotional or breakdown with him around.
She went into the guest bedroom to call the property evaluation firm. It was necessary to obtain a formal evaluation to prove to the apartment viewers the gross worth of the apartment. One single visit from an agent would cost her a cool $500. She would be handing over that check on the day the evaluator showed up. Penelope sighed. Her meager savings would shrink. She didn’t even dare look to Andrew for financial help. He also never thought to offer any help. He had never sent any money for her or Yvonne. He assumed she was managing well.
Soon, Penelope received a call to fix an appointment for the evaluator to assess her apartment. Penelope was nervous. This was the first concrete step in the journey to sell her apartment. Luckily, Yvonne was away at school when the evaluator arrived. She was saved from the emotional trauma of knowing she would be parted from her first home forever. Yvonne was very attached to this home. She was too young to know they barely had sufficient furniture to serve their needs.
Penelope and Andrew discussed the upcoming visit and they decided not to tell Yvonne. She would be at school and none the wiser. The company sent a female evaluator who was cool and unfriendly. She looked over the apartment with ill concealed disgust. Penelope was almost embarrassed at having to invite her over, because she was destitute and required the evaluation to sell her apartment. She didn’t want to be influenced to mention a higher than fair evaluation. She made some handwritten notes in her file and promised to send the formal evaluation letter soon.
Yvonne enjoyed her days with her Daddy. He walked her to school and dropped her off at the school gate. At dismissal, he was waiting at the gate to claim her. It was as if he never went away to live in another country. The days and nights passed quickly.
Soon, one week was over. The long awaited formal appraisal arrived in the mail. Penelope opened it with bated breath. It was a fair amount based on what the other apartments in the same neighborhood were getting.
With her apartment evaluation in hand, Penelope called up Dante to book an appointment for his viewing and informal evaluation. She dialed his cell phone number. It was busy. She went to do some housework, before dialing his number again.
“Hi. May I speak to Dante?”
“Yes, I’m Dante. How can I help you?”
“I want to sell my apartment and would like to appoint you as my agent.”
“Great. Text me your address and we’ll talk when we fix an appointment.”
“Sure. Thanks. Be seeing you then.”
Yvonne talked with her Dad. Penelope barely heard what they were chatting about. She was busy thinking about their upcoming meeting with the property agent Dante. She tried her best to push thoughts of Andrew’s relationship with the other woman away. Whenever she looked at Andrew, That woman’s face was there to mock her. She won. She had Andrew for three years when he was overseas. She had freedom to visit Andrew during those three years, while they languished in uncertainty and hardship. Penelope worked as a freelancer without expectation of a base pay. In a good month, she earned a decent sum which was sufficient to afford tuition for Yvonne. In lean months, she scrimped.
Penelope’s staple was Ramen, frozen cod nuggets, broccoli, biscuits, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. She fed Yvonne her favorite vermicelli, Ramen, biscuits, fruit juices, spinach, Fuji apples, oranges, strawberries and the occasional McDonalds, Burger King or Popeye’s.
She hardly bought any clothes. Her clothes were weary and faded from washings. She wore Japanese slippers everywhere she went. Sometimes Yvonne asked for shoes and Penelope cried inwardly. A pair of Converse sneakers cost $70 and she couldn’t really afford them but she had to buy them for her daughter.
“How many days are you staying with us?” Yvonne’s question broke through Penelope’s meandering thoughts.
“Many days. Daddy will stay with you for many days.” That was Andrew’s way of evading the real answer. Penelope knew he would be leaving soon.
To the young kid, many days seemed like eternity. She was satisfied with his answer for now.
The three of them returned to their old ways. The day ended with nightfall. Dinner was uneventful. Andrew took his old bed beside the queen sized bed for the females.
“Daddy is sleeping in his old bed.”
“Yes, I still fit into my old bed.”
Andrew looked at his brand new old track shoes sitting at the shoes rack. He lifted them up and examined them closely. They he tried them on his feet. He walked around in them for a bit.
“I’ll have to start wearing them,” he told Penelope. “The glue has dried and the soles may detach at any time.”
Penelope nodded because she was too sad to say anything. She paid $200 for those shoes to sit on the shoe rack for as many years as Andrew was away and now they are condemned to spoil and be thrown away soon. That’s the problem when one does not pay for something himself. He does not feel the pinch for spending the money and has no qualms for tossing away good money.
“Tomorrow is the last day of my holiday here with you two. I have to catch my flight out tomorrow evening.”
“When will we see you again?”
“Let me see. I’ll inform you when I can get my next leave.”
Andrew stayed with them for 14 days before he flew off. He left as quietly as he came. He had no regrets leaving his daughter again, for an indefinite period of time.
Andrew returned to his unreliable self. He was un-contactable when he desired to ignore Penelope. He never spoke of moving back. Penelope pressed for an answer. I’m running out of money, she wrote him.
Dante, the housing agent, was slow in finalizing a deal. He partnered with co-brokers to widen his business circle of contacts. He used Penelope’s apartment as a stepping stone to gain entry into her housing estate, where he networked with other agents who had clients also desiring to sell their apartments in the same estate. This way, the agents pooled together their clients, who also enjoyed more units to select.
Dante’s wife, Emerald, was generally suspicious of all his female clients, even when they looked old and unattractive to men. She was fiercely jealous and protective of her husband. She would wear the shortest dress whenever she went house viewing with her husband. She took the pains to study the required courses, and sat for the exams, to become a real estate agent. She had to have valid reason to shadow her husband, instead of appearing as the nagging wife clinging to her husband’s boxer shorts.
Emerald accompanied her husband when he made an appointment with Penelope to conduct a house viewing for Penelope’s apartment. Emerald behaved coldly. She refused to introduce herself as Dante’s wife. She walked in behind him and checked out the apartment. She was looking for tell tale clues of marital discord. There were no wedding pictures, nor family photographs on display. That was reason enough for Emerald to frame suspicions on Penelope. Furthermore, the apartment was sparsely furnished. Penelope wore cheap clothing bought off the racks and open air market stalls. What Emerald could not appreciate was that Penelope spent her honest, hard earned money to obtain what she had. Penelope had no rich husband to gift her branded luxury clothing. Emerald had no qualms on spending her husband’s money to show others how she had him under her thumbs. In fact, Dante was so domesticated that she could manipulate him with only one thumb.
Penelope was too innocent for this sly woman who was falsely accusing her of impropriety. She was innocently happy to see Dante’s wife. She thought it was a pleasure to be introduced to her. Instead, she was met with cold behavior. She couldn’t figure it out until the whole scheme of accusation, jealousy and gas-lighting came clear.
Dante tried to sell the apartment on his own. He eventually learned it was tough as some odds were stacked against him. The unit was located opposite a hospital and that was taboo in some cultures. The superstitious people refused to even step in to view the unit because they believed the spirits of dead people could be roaming about.
Dante turned to his colleagues to do co-brokering. He promised to share his 2% commission with any of his partners if they could manage to sell his client’s apartment.
The first client he brought was a successful business woman. She was searching to buy an apartment for her mother. She was young but showed empathy for Penelope. She understood that the condition of the simple bare furnishing meant the owner was poor. She understood the hardship of selling. This woman brought her mother to view the apartment. The older woman hated the place because it was directly opposite the hospital. She was afraid of the bad luck it could bring.
She was so pissed off that her daughter brought her here to view, that she took it out with everyone.
“This apartment is angular. I can’t do anything for its furnishing and decoration,” said the old woman.
Dante tried to persuade her by touting the merits of the architect’s floor plan .He said, “Angular designs give you more space.”
The young woman looked apologetic as she glanced at Penelope. She was young, sincere and sweet enough to show empathy.
Penelope knew the woman tried. She was touched by the viewer’s attempts to console her.
Dante brought many more prospective buyers to view the apartment. There were even her neighbors living in the same estate. An Indian woman who viewed the apartment but never said anything nor made any offer. Penelope recognized her as a neighbor as she had seen her before, walking from the main gate out to the train station 1 km away. This woman appeared like clockwork because she stuck to her regular schedule to leave home. Just like Penelope did, to send Yvonne to school and run her chores before returning home.
Dante was not informed. Penelope didn’t like to talk too much to him. She was an introvert and didn’t socialize with her neighbors beyond those who had shared interests. Dante wanted to know about her immediate neighbors on the same level as her apartment. He thought he could make a big deal out of boasting about good neighbors. He wanted to make that his selling point. He brought another neighbor, who made his voice heard. This was a Caucasian man who tried to be too clever. He alleged that the master bedroom’s attached bathroom’s ceiling was leaking. He even pointed out damp door frames, damp bathroom cabinets and moldy bathroom ceilings. He said he thought the pipes running overhead behind the false ceiling, had leaked to cause the dampness. Then he used the defect to ask for a discount of at least $150 000. Penelope’s heart was heavy. She wanted to cry. She needed to sell her home for money. Here was this man trying to bulldoze his way.
The courtyard had a damaged wall from a repair many years ago. The apartment was less than two years old and still under warranty. The estate management took responsibility for repairing the external wall and waterproofing. The wall’s paint and plaster were damaged. The management said they didn’t have the same color of paint to touch up the wall.
All the potential buyers who viewed voiced their concern over the appearance of the wall. It looked bad. None would take the explanation at face value. They believed their eyes.
Penelope hired her own external small job contractor to paint the wall for $180. She sent a text message to Dante to inform him that there would be no viewings until the wall was painted. He mistrusted her. The first time he returned for a new appointed viewing, he was on edge or uncomfortable. He was suspicious as to why viewing was stopped for a particular day. he thought Penelope had arranged her own appointment for a viewing, or maybe she allowed another real estate agent to conduct a viewing on that day. Penelope had texted him to explain that she was having the courtyard’s wall painted. The first time Dante came again after the wall was painted, he immediately made a beeline for it. He wanted to see the evidence for his own eyes. He asked Penelope how much money she paid to touch up the entire wall. She told him. He kind of whistled. He reacted as if that was a big amount for a small bit of work. She knew but she was at the mercy of the odd job contractor. Who else would scrape the wall and paint it for her? She had to hire the professional.
Dante’s expression suggested she could have left the defaced wall as it is and let the new owner pay for the small repainting work. However, Penelope had suffered stress, anxieties and other negatives when the apartment viewers complained about the sorry looking wall. It looked as if it was damp and the plaster and paint had cracked and peeled away.
Dante did his networking to team up with other property agents who were selling units in the same estate. They would show the same client, all their combined properties in the same estate. This way, the client could see a few properties in the same estate, on the same day and almost within the same time slot. The client could then decide if they were interested in one choice out of this bunch of units. If the client signed the option to purchase and really followed through the purchase, all the agents would share the commission earned. The probability of the client choosing an apartment from the group of apartments was increased because of the availability of choices. Some units were beautiful because the owners could afford to spend money on interior decoration to spice up the look of their home.
Some viewers brought assessment sheets which were given to them by their respective agents. They had to rate and grade their responses to each property they viewed. At the end of the combined viewing, they would go through all their assessment sheets to see which property they gave their highest rating. That would be the closest match for their needs. A tornado of house viewers came and left. Either the apartment wasn’t attractive enough to sell itself, or the buyers actually lacked ready cash to sign the deal. The unit was quite bare, with just essential sticks of furniture. There was no interior decoration. From the minute you walked in, you could a function small round dining table. This was hijacked by the computer and became Penelope’s computer desk. The living room had a small sitting set which comprised of a glass top table, two single seaters made of hard wire twine, and a double seater sofa in hard wire twine. This set was arranged along one wall of the sitting room, while its opposite wall was honored with the placement of the TV console. Penelope bought the sitting set because it was small, portable for easy arrangement and affordable. It was originally made in Vietnam or Myanmar. The TV used to be on top of a heavy duty TV console but the screen gave out after seven years and it was tossed out. Now the heavy console with its display cabinet and side cupboards was used to store an old DVD player, discs and audio discs. A study desk shared this wall with the old console. A decent office chair on swivel partnered this desk.
The master bedroom’s built-in wardrobe left only half the room available for placing the Queen sized bed. Penelope put a small coffee table by the wall. On it stood a table fan and other things like the bedside alarm clock, jug of water and a cup.
The guest bedroom opened to a built-in wardrobe by the side of the door. A desk was by the second wall. Its partner was a simple chair. On its opposite wall, there was a single bed. The last remaining wall had three tall windows that looked out to the opposite blocks and downstairs, where the pedestrian paths skirted the buildings. These windows took up the entire wall. Curtains were essential to afford privacy and decency.
Bathrooms are meant to be functional and Penelope left them alone. She had no spare cash to renovate those.
Dante and a few viewers noticed the master bathroom ceiling looked dirty, dusty and maybe moldy. He asked Penelope to get a plumber or contractor to check it out. This process of selling an apartment was starting to drain money. She had paid for an evaluation, painting a damaged wall and now this. She had no choice but to agree. Dante would be suspicious if she didn’t get him the official opinion on what caused the ceiling to look bad.
Penelope called Polly, her herbalist who introduced Dante to her. She told her about Dante’s tactics. The physician felt obligated to provide feedback to Dante since she was the introducer. There was tremendous change. Dante became committed to persuade potential buyers to choose her unit.
Dante brought an older woman and her real estate agent to view the apartment. The client wanted to buy a property for investment. She was living in another apartment block in a district nearby. It was a prestigious address. The woman was well groomed and well kept. She lived her life well.
This woman asked for a second viewing with her sister and contractor and housing agent. The contractor’s opinion was sought for minor renovations like changing old fixtures of windows, polishing the parquet floors, kitchen cabinets and etc. He was greedy. He gave his opinion to change everything that could be detached. This was his chance to make his bucks. He said the parquet flooring had been polished twice and would not take another polishing. He inserted his opinion to sway his potential customer. He desired to get as much as possible out of minor renovations of one apartment. Simultaneously, he painted Penelope in a bad light. She understood and didn’t mind so much but for the fact that he was trying to fleece the buyer.
The only reason why this older woman bought the apartment was because there was a mistake in the floor area stated by Dante and Penelope. The former didn’t check while the latter was too busy and naive to check. She wasn’t holding the title deeds of the apartment and could not read the document to verify the floor area. The viewer’s real estate agent immediately pounced on this error and used it to her client’s advantage. She told her client that the seller made a grave error in calculating the price of the apartment and was selling it at a loss of at least 100 square feet. The buyer immediately seized to capitalize on this mistake. She agreed to buy the apartment.
The buyer’s broker reminded Penelope to clear the apartment before the handover of keys. Penelope got the message that they thought she was dirty and her possessions were equally filthy.
Penelope began the long, tedious and sad process of cleaning the apartment and tossing away stuff they didn’t want to bring with them to their next home.
Penelope started with the utility closet, which they had nicknamed The Cockroach Cupboard. They called it the roach cupboard because they used to see at least one cockroach crawling out every time they opened this small, narrow, walk in closet. It was very dark because this closet was situated along the corridor which led to the bedrooms and common bathroom. There was no window that could give this corridor natural light. There was a ceiling light but it was insufficient to shine into the built in closet. The main joy of the closet was that it could remain sequestered in darkness due to its position built into the wall.
The closet’s ceiling lamp was not working. As usual. It had been repaired at least four times in the space of 11 years. One of the electrician told her there was a short circuit. No amount of fiddling could persuade the lamp to stay in working condition for long. As soon as the electrician left, this particular ceiling lamp would not be turned on. Penelope gave up. She bought a ready made light that was activated by sensor. When someone opened the closet door, the movement would activate the light to get switched on. It could be stuck on anywhere via sticky tape. She would not have to use a ladder to climb up to reach the ceiling to paste on this light. She adhered this small light bulb to the middle shelf of this closet.
No sooner had she felt triumphant at cheating the cause of darkness in this closet, her victory was short-lived. The light bulb failed. She checked it. She waved her hand in front of the sensor. No light. She replaced the battery. No. The battery was not the problem.
It was spooky.
Maybe she bought a malfunctioning light bulb. So she bought two more sets for good measure.
She pasted both light bulbs on the shelves of the closet. “Take that,” she said to the closet. When she opened the closet, her movement activated both bulbs. The lights were bright.
Today, she appreciated the bright light in the closet. She could see properly.
She hated this task but it had a ton of stored items and many of them had to be discarded. She was new at packing and cleaning. This was her her first real home and she had moved into this apartment with merely a few plastic bags of clothes. She started buying kitchen utensils, crockery and household items after she moved in. It was easier to fill up an apartment, then to clean out the same said apartment.
Penelope began with the lower tier of the closet. It was at floor level. She took out plastic bags of stuff. She forgot she had those items. What a pity. She could have made use of them and enjoyed their functionality long ago. There was a banner of mango leaves which Andrew brought home. It was for good luck. If only they had strung it up across their main door. Maybe enough good fortune would have entered and her present day circumstances would not have befallen on her. After dreaming about her husband’s mistress, he abandoned her to her own devices. She had scrapped by for as long as she could, before succumbing to circumstances beyond her control. She had depended so much on freelance writing. She failed to set up an alternative source of income. Now she was destitute.
Thoughts ran through her head as she cleared the lowest tier of the closet. She carried the bags to the courtyard where the refuse chute was located. It was painful to toss out stuff which they had bought with their scanty pool of money. Some bags contained freebies which they had collected and accumulated. Those were fun items for leisure and recreation. They never got down to using these because they were so orientated towards doing work for money. The items were dated and worthless. If someone else was around to help her, she might have hauled the bags down to place by the main door of the rubbish collection center. There, residents who walked past may salvage items for their personal use. However, being alone, Penelope could not muster the energy and courage to haul the bags downstairs. She was shy of the neighbors, security guards and other staff of the estate. They would be around to notice and make snide remarks.
Residents were constantly in a state of flux moving out and into this apartment complex. The staff usually spoke derogatorily of residents who moved away. People who couldn’t afford to live in the estate moved out. It was a money issue. Movers were perceived as poor and unable to afford living in the estate. The last snide was to look at these movers with disdain. Penelope didn’t wish to face these gossipers.
Penelope consoled herself. At least, she was able to make herself toss out these. They were junk because they could not be utilized. She lifted the lid of the refuse chute and heaved the bags into the mouth of the dark tunnel. The bags slid down with noises that were proportionate to their weights. The lighter bags fells down with soft sounds. The heavier bags fell with loud crashing sounds.
Discarding these bags did not lighten her load.
Penelope fetched her broom and dustpan. She walked back to the utilities closet. The lowest tier was now visible. Now devoid of the plastic bags that covered its entire floor space, the area looked dirty with dust and cob webs. She gripped the broom and used its bristles to sweep as much of the dust as she could get. It was a small area measuring about three feet wide and two feet deep in. She swept the floor as best as she could. The broom stick knocked against the boundaries of this perimeter as she tried to reach every nook and cranny. It was noisy. She was determined to disturb as much of the undisturbed dust that was allowed to settle there for a large portion of the eleven years they had lived in the apartment.
It was odd that while this closet was famous for harboring cockroaches, not one of them has emerged out of its hiding.
After a few sweeps of the area, Penelope grew obsessed with this sweeping movement. The momentum stuck in her hands. She continued to sweep the area several more times.
Then something flew out. It was a bright ball of light. It was the size of a tennis ball. It flew and floated along at chest height. Penelope recognized it as an orb. The ball of light that allegedly was the existence of a ghost who had low level of energy and couldn’t afford to manifest the appearance of a human shape.
Penelope was too shocked to react. She knew it was an orb but what was it doing in her utilities closet and in her apartment? She stood still while the orb flew out of the closet, along the wall and disappeared.
She was frightened and decided to stop cleaning this closet. She quickly tidied up whatever was necessary to shut the closet. She walked into each of the two bedrooms to search for the orb. Both bedrooms had open windows. “Maybe the orb flew out,” Penelope tried to comfort herself. She kept away the broom and dustpan. In order to stop thinking about the orb and feel fear of ghosts, she knew she had to change the thread of thoughts. She walked to her computer table and sat down to do her work.
She tried to imprint into her mind, the reminder to talk to Andrew about the orb. She decided not to clean that closet again. She would tell Andrew to takeover the task of cleaning the utilities closet. @
After Dante sold the apartment, Penelope emailed Andrew. He could not commit on the date he would return. She had to clean out the junk. She reminded him that she was afraid to touch the utilities closet. He said he would clean it out after he returned.
Andrew returned. Penelope and Yvonne went to greet him at the airport. His return was at night at around 10 pm. They had Burger King at the airport’s fast food restaurant. He had given them information on his flight arrival because he wasn’t going to spring a surprise to catch them unawares. His luggage was surprisingly light after spending four years in China. He pulled along a large luggage and a small cabin suitcase. His desk top computer was in his messenger bag which he carried on his shoulder. Penelope thought it was odd. She couldn’t understand why.
“Is this all you got after four years?”
“Yes.” He was quiet.
They planned to spend a few days in their former apartment before their appointment with the packers to clear the apartment. After that, they would have nothing to use in the apartment, and would have to move to a hotel room.
After their meal, they returned home in a taxi. It was around 12 midnight. There was no time to talk.
Penelope and Yvonne had packed all their belongings into large suitcases. They planned to move into a hotel room near the airport. That way, they would be saved from another trip of transporting volumes of luggage to the airport.
She called a disposal company to come cart the furniture away. A lone man came. She was shocked at the drastic reduction of manpower. There used to be at least two men to attend on every single job. Now, only one man came. He taped bubble wrap around most of the pieces of furniture. He had a heavy duty industrial grade trolley to wheel away the furniture downstairs, where his truck was parked.
They should have told the utilities company to cut the power and water on a day closer to their departure from the apartment. In that way, they would be able to use the apartment until the very last day possible. That would save them money on their hotel board and lodging.
She asked Andrew, “When should I tell the utilities company to cut the supplies?” Penelope had no idea. She was paralyzed by uncertainty.
He could not answer for a long time.
“What’s wrong? When is a good date to disconnect electricity and water?”
“Okay, tell the utility man to disconnect on the 7th of the month of – .”
Penelope wrote down the date.
All too soon, that day came. The utilities worker was punctual. He read their meters for the last time and left.
Then Yvonne had a stomachache. She had to use the toilet to poop. The cistern had no water to flush.
Andrew said, “I’ll go downstairs to the clubhouse toilet to fetch water. Give me a large bottle to collect water.”
Penelope looked in the kitchen. She had a few large plastic bottles and handed one to Andrew. He returned after some time.
“I couldn’t get water from the clubhouse toilet. I had to ask the gardener to give me water from his hose. I was lucky to find him watering the plants outside the clubhouse.”
“We’ll leave immediately after I get water to flush down this mess. We shouldn’t stay here a minute longer. She might poop again and then I’ll have to continue the cycle of fetching water to flush the toilet.”
.Penelope laughed. It was just like Andrew to re-phrase the situation to make it sound humorous.
When Penelope, Andrew and Yvonne first moved into their next apartment complex, the security guards despised them. Andrew started off on the wrong foot. He gave the impression they were very poor, when he walked for miles dragging their luggage trolley laden with cardboard boxes. He said he wanted to save money by walking and exercising. He said by walking while moving their personal belongings, he would save money from taxi trips and bus fares. The guards gossiped about him being too poor to afford a moving truck.
Moha, a burly man in his 30s, had black patches on his face. The fearsome black patches which were secondary clinical symptoms of skin disease caused by a primary factor so deadly that the name would send shivers down the spine.
He tried to befriend Penelope, but failed. Consequently, he was angry and spiteful. He wanted to take revenge. He spread malicious gossip about Penelope being a loose woman. After a few years, Moha eventually discovered he had the fearsome disease without a permanent cure. He tried to befriend Penelope because he needed money to treat his illness. He required medication to decrease the viral load in his body. He used thought waves to send his message to Penelope. “Do you want?” he signed. Penelope ignored his message. She was disgusted. She knew he was terminally ill. She was never turned on by him. She had no intention of messing by the side and picking up the deadly disease. Moha had no scruples about infecting women and men. He only cared about himself; to get money to buy medication for his continued survival.
Moha’s vulnerable colleagues believed his lies. How could their trusted colleague lie to them? How could one of their kind hoodwink them and use them as weapons against a woman who lived in the very estate they worked in for their survival? Of course they believed Moha and his gossip. The men stayed away from Penelope. They even slighted her intentionally because they believed she was immoral and dirty. They would ignore her when they walked past her. They would say “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” or “Good evening” to anyone else but her.
Penelope knew they discriminated against her because Moha had slandered her. Initially, she was puzzled and hurt. Later, after she heard Moha gossiping even in front of her, she understood his ego was hurt and he was exacting revenge. Penelope was humble and she didn’t think she needed to be greeted and accorded respect. She didn’t need lecherous men to greet her. She didn’t need to correct mis-information propaganda about her.
What good would it do? What good would it do to have lecherous men corrected on their views about her? They would only be encouraged to disturb her more often. At least, when they fear catching infectious disease from her, they would avoid her.
Old Man Jim made big efforts to avoid touching her if they crossed paths while walking through the estate and neighborhood. He would turn his body away from her. If he was walking along a wall, he would turn his body towards the wall and skirt the wall like a spider. He showed his disgust on having to share the footpath with Penelope. Spider Jim, who pretended to be clean and virtuous, would turn his body to face the wall, to show he was avoiding touching Penelope as they passed each other along the narrow pedestrian footpath.
Karma is a righteous divinity. In 2018, Jim was diagnosed with a blood disorder. It would be fatal for him, as it will be for anyone who contracts this disease. He who was afraid of catching diseases, has contacted one to preempt other people from passing a disease to him. Now that he was infectious, he was no longer afraid of touching Penelope or other people. He had power. He had the power to infect his enemies with disease.
He was scared. He was afraid of death. He wasn’t ready to die. He wanted money to buy his life back, in dollars, one day at a time. The amount of time he could buy was proportionate to the number of dollars he could pay for his medications. He needed meds every day. He would live for yet another day if he had money to pay for his medication for that day and the number of days ahead.
Jim was ready to backtrack and sacrifice his ideals in exchange for cash. He decided he would try to date Penelope to extract cash from her. When he saw her walking up the footpath from far away, he would walk towards her direction. He smiled his most gleaming grin. To save himself from humiliation, he turned his face sideways, so that only his profile would be visible to Penelope. He watched her reaction from out of the corner of his left eye.
Penelope was surprised to see Jim loitering around the start of the footpath heading out to the main gate. What was he doing there? Why was he smiling? He had never smiled at her before. he was often gruff, to the point of rude.
Penelope was suspicious and ignored him. She walked past the main gate and was off on her way.
Jim staged a conversation with Rhonda at the main gate, while Penelope was returning back to the apartment complex. The drama was for her benefit, because Penelope missed the main event where he had set her up to see him smiling like a crocodile. She didn’t respond to Jim because she knew he hated her and ditto for her. When your enemy backtracks suddenly and wants to befriend you, there can be nothing good to come out of this.
Apparently, Rhonda was asking Jim about his health. He spoke in his low tone. Rhonda’s higher pitched voice was audible.
“Go and ask for donations.” she said to Jim.
“She doesn’t care,” he replied.
Penelope felt the hairs on her arms standing. She was always afraid when people wanted to ask for money. She had been down that path. When she was penniless, nobody even recommended a credible part-time job for her. On the contrary, several women and men neighbors in the old estate had asked her to work for free. (Like she could live on air and water.) They wished she would take care of their children and give them tuition so that they would perform well academically in school. Penelope couldn’t say a polite rejection so she kept quiet instead. She wished she could have more time to do more work, to earn more money. She didn’t want to donate her time away. Besides, these women and men were affluent enough to hire their own maid, nanny, tutor and whoever they require. She, on the other hand, lived from hand to mouth. They had at least two adults in their family. She had only herself.
Eventually, she lost the apartment. She hatched the plan to take shelter with Andrew’s parents but that didn’t work out. Her mother-in-law from hell verbally abused her. Then it progressed to physical abuse. Penelope had high blood pressure and skin disease. The neighbor were retired doctors. The woman doctor came to see Penelope. She brought her sphygmomanometer to take her reading. Then lied she had perfect pressure of 120. Andrew too her to his friend’s wife, a lady doctor who diagnosed her as having malnutrition.
Penelope realized that after moving into a new neighborhood, little had changed. The location had changed but the category of people remained the same. In this present estate, the staff are trying to con money out of her. Rhonda earned a cool $8000 per month. She should be donating towards Jim’s medical treatment. Penelope wasn’t earning that much. She was lucky if she made a fraction of that amount. Rhonda was instigating Jim to beg for a donation from her personal savings.
Old Man Jim was really old. His head of hair was shockingly snow white. He refused to concede to impending old age and its medley of accompanying illnesses. he insisted he was younger than Penelope and had a good many years ahead of him.
Hanson was standing nearby. He tried to console his colleague. He said, “She’s still young. She needs money.”
“She’s old. She should give her money to me for my medical treatment.” Jim said loud enough for Penelope to hear. She ignored him because she knew this was a psychological warfare to break her resolution of avoiding entanglement.
Andrew’s parents were aware he had left Penelope and was living in another country. They were a party to his cheating. They could have talked to him about his wilful separation from his wife and daughter. They could have used their influence as his parents, to condemn his cheating behaviors. Instead, they allowed Andrew to be the king of his own life.
People who are witnesses to events happening and don’t intervene are participants in the misdeeds too.
Penelope was an enabler for Andrew to cheat on her.
Andrew was an enabler to his mother’s treatment of Penelope. In turn, Penelope’s mother-in-law was an enabler for Andrew to continue cheating Penelope. Everyone else was an enabler for Andrew to conduct his affair.
After Andrew returned to Penelope, he cheated on her in a different way. He left her to face the wrath of his mother, who had explicitly asked the both of them to adopt two other teenagers. His mother abused Penelope in every way she could. She verbally harassed Penelope. She would walk up to Penelope and start ranting her angry tirade. Sometimes, she would season her talk by spitting on the ground.
The old woman could not accept the fact that Penelope was unsuitable to adopt children. She repeated her abuse on a daily basis. She began to develop O.C.D. on abusing Penelope. Not one day passed without her abusing Penelope. She became habituated to enact this particular behavior every day. She did different types of abuse to fulfill her addiction of abusing Penelope. It was like she had to do her daily fix of abusing Penelope.
Penelope was as quiet as a mouse while her MILFH abused her mentally, physically, and emotionally. The old woman instigated other family members to disrespect Penelope. She denied meals to Penelope, who had to prepare food for herself. She intentionally neglected Penelope. When Penelope performed extra chores like washing the dishes, mopping the floors or cooking the extra set of meals for the in-laws, credit was not acknowledged. Instead, the MILFH pretended the housework was done by someone else. The old woman acted like there was a Doblin in the house who allegedly did all the housework.
She disallowed Penelope to cook in the kitchen for her own meals because the latter was disinterested to adopt more children. A secondary reason was because the stove had only two functional burners and MILFH wanted to use both burners simultaneously whenever she was in the kitchen to do her cooking chores.
The old woman desired to starve Penelope into submission. Penelope had to eat raw food because the kitchen was not accessible to her to cook food for her meals. She was happy to eat fruit as they were meant to be eaten raw and tasted good. She bought vegetables that could be consumed in their raw form. Veggies like carrot, cucumber, lettuce, turnip, tomato. She ate as much raw greens as she could until the day her stomach rebelled against her. She suffered a bout of diarrhea. Then she thought of a ruse to bypass her MILFH’s objection to cook in her kitchen. She would wake up as early as possible in the wee hours of the morning, to cook her food for the day. She would cook a pot of carbohydrates to last her three meals. She would boil a soup of mixed vegetables to eat with the carb. She would be able to complete her cooking before her MILFH woke up at 6:45 am. Using this strategy, she would win at the game of denying her the use of the kitchen for cooking. She would be ensured of having cooked food to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. How cool is that?
The only days when Penelope could use the stove during the daylight hours which was not from 6:45 am to 9:30 pm, was when MILFH was too sick to get up to do cooking. On these days, Penelope had to use the kitchen from 7 am to dinnertime, to cook or warm up food for MILFH and father-in-law. Andrew sometimes ate with his parents. Other times, he ate Penelope’s stash of food which was cooked earlier in the wee hours of dawn. Sometimes Andrew went out to see his friends and he ate outside home.
Eating food is not an entitlement with MILFH.
This story is not complete. It all began when Penelope dreamed of her husband meeting with his girlfriend. How will it end? The writer will continue this narrative. Please return to this webpage if you’re interested to know what happened next.