He had seen her often, at functions in the constituency. A short bob, hued an artificial reddish-brown. A dragon tattoo on the left forearm, wrapped around a tiny bicep. He thought at first that she was gay, until he caught her glancing at him too.
Too bad she was in the other camp, handing out their craze-filled newsletters promising constituents the sky and moon. She might be cute but she must be stupid and therefore, not worth his time. Him, a member of the elite Administrative Service corps, up-and-coming political star. What would an Ivy League scholar like him have to do with an Ah Lian who can’t tell the difference between a minimum wage policy and total economic destruction?
Still, his glasses fogged over. He was emitting heat, just looking at her. He was in a daze, or was it the haze?
Clutching the sheaf of papers, she waylaid residents on the way to catch the train, shoving a newsletter into sometimes less than willing hands. A bright smile for everyone, she reminded herself as she broke into Hokkien, Cantonese, pasar Malay and halting English. That soft-looking four-eyed geek was looking at her again. That running dog! That mouthpiece! That pig! Still, he looked interested in her and she wondered why…
It was a week later that Ah Lian and The Geek bumped into each other. It was a forum at the constituency. The MP was fielding questions and he was up there as a moderator. She, on the other hand, was sent to spy. Floppy tee-shirt and shorts she wore as she sat in the back row. She had heard it all, the usual questions about cost-of-living and medical bills, about construction noise and getting into good schools. So silly, these people. Why bother asking questions? Just vote opposition!
On stage, he was getting irritated. There was his boss doing his best to give the whys and wherefores of Government policy, but why don’t these people ever listen carefully. Questions are repeated and so are answers. That old man who kept complaining about bus fares….doesn’t he understand that the G had no influence? It the transport operators which decided, or rather the Public Transport Council. Yet, the old man is asking for even more concessions. His patience was being strained to the limit. There goes his boss trying to steer the old man’s attention to the Pioneer Generation package that will be announced next week. But the old man still wanted to know about bus fares…
He was tempted to say “shut up and sit down’’ – until he spotted her in the back row, legs crossed, furrowed brow and some kind of dark-eyeliner. She looked Gothic, he thought, so unlike his circle of colleagues and friends. Omigawd, she was actually waving her hand at him! At him! It hit him then that she really wanted to ask a question.
Quickly, he waved her to the mike.
Finally, she thought. Got four eyes and still cannot see me, she thought. Blind or what? “Mr MP, I want to ask you this question. Why ministers get paid so much? You know how many people are having a hard time? I think you should set an example and go stay in a rental flat and see how real people live.’’ She went back to her seat, satisfied that she had made an impact given the low murmurs that now reverberated round the multi-purpose hall.
He was aghast. She is as stupid as I thought, he thought. Gamely, his boss went into the whole long-winded explanation about why high salaries were needed to attract talent and keep ministers “clean’’. He fidgeted. No explanation would do. This topic was taboo. Likewise topics on GIC investments and private questions about the Lee family. He had been briefed to cut short such questions.
He managed a weak “I think we now understand the reasons Sir. We should have the next question now…’’ He could see she was unhappy. She had been enjoying the consternation her question caused. Oh dear, she’s walking out.
She didn’t walk far. She was going to get that four-eyed geek! The MP should speak for himself and not get saved by the moderator! Still, it was good and loyal of the geek to do so. Loyality was a quality she admired. But he’s so, so awkward and probably a snob. Just listen to him and his big words! Still quite cute lah.
Ah… There he is. Stupid long-sleeve shirt in Singapore weather…
She (belligerent) : “Oi! Why you stop him speaking like that? He cannot answer the question properly right?’’
He (awkward): “Er, he already explained the policy. There’s no point going over old ground anyway.’’
She (obstreperous) : “What old ground? Which ground? He was just going round and round. You fellas really too much! My hair salon pay me so little! Last month, PUB cut off my flat electricity.’’
He (concerned) : “You know that you can go to the CDC for help? ComCare? You live around here? There is a Family Service Centre in the next neighbourhood…’’
She (angry): “What neighbourhood? Talk in blocks lah. Anyway, you think I need your help ah…Government never help poor people.’’
He (frustration): “Okay, okay. Do whatever you want. Don’t say I don’t care…’’
On the single bed she tossed and turned…”Don’t say I don’t care…’’ What did he mean? He cared for her? Haha. Good joke. The four-eyed snob! But maybe he’s really okay…even though he works for the other side. Wait a minute…isn’t it Meet-the-People session night tonight?
She got up with a start, threw on a tee-shirt (her best Hang Ten) and a pair of shorts (her best Giordano) and combed her hair. Housekeys in hand, she crossed a number of blocks before hitting the right void deck. She was right. They seem to be shutting up for the night. There he was… still in that long-sleeved shirt. He was rubbing his eyes behind his glasses. Poor thing. Must have been a long day for him.
She stalked up to him, thinking of a quick reason to see an MP. Write a petition to PUB? HDB? Restore electricity? Pay in instalments.
But he had seen her.
He (stern): “Why are you here? Need to see the MP?’’
She (stern): “Why cannot? My MP what!’’
He (softening): “Is it about the PUB bill? MP just going off. You can just tell me what you wanted him to do, I can do it for him.’’
She (impressed): “Wah, you so powerful ah. So powerful but still so skinny!’’
He (shyly): “Actually I have been working out at the community centre gym…You go there?’’
She (shyly): “Sometimes. I also play badminton there in the CC.’’
He (courageous): “Let’s go to the kopi-tiam and get coffee. I can write your letter for you there.’’
She (courageous): “Okay, but don’t think I owe you a favour after that!’’
That was three months ago.
Last Saturday, he was in the gym and she was playing badminton with Ah Seng. He was getting irritated watching her laugh with Ah Seng. She was enjoying watching his face flushed with exertion? Or was it jealousy? She and Ah Seng go way, way back in primary school and later ITE.
He (stern): “I told you I can play badminton with you. How come you always with Ah Seng leh? ”
She (stern): “Eh, can speak English properly or not? How come you start speaking like me?’’
He (sterner still): “I think coz with you too often. Okay, okay. Your company seemed to have influenced my way of speaking. Happy now? Anyway, you know that Valentine’s Day is on Friday right?’’
She (puzzled): “You mean…the day when people buy expensive flowers ah?’’
He (smiling): “Yes. You like roses? What colour? I take you to Orchard Road to eat.’’
She (smiling): “No need. You save your money. I can make my own plastic or paper flowers. And we can go to the town centre to eat.’’
He (smiling): “Where did you learn to make flowers?’’
She (smiling): “At the community centre.’’
They held hands, much to the consternation of their respective camps who were out in force distributing flyers. She was handed one, which she handed to him. He gave her the one he had received.