Monday, Aug. 31, 2009 - 1:14 a.m.
Did she somewhow discover his presence? Was she trying to communicate with him that their unspoken and presumed contract was annulled? He looks around. No policemen spring out of the wardrobe.
He takes one step back, unsure of what to do next. He leaves the flat quietly.
That night at work, his friend pats him on the back, hey have you eaten? But he is exhausted. He hadn't slept at all. All around Jurong Shipyard, the basal hum of crane motors is interspersed by regular clinking and tinkling, the sound of metal against metal. Men greet each other in Bengali, Tamil and Keralese. The dry dock is dotted with little yellow hard hats, welding the sides of ships while perched on scaffolding, carrying metal pipes into boiler rooms. A Chinese foreman below a crane is shouting into his walkie talkie, don't try to alibaba me! You better hurry up stop ali-baba-ing, or I'll send all you ali-babas home!
He turns a knob and the oxy-acetylene flame roars to life, drowning out the surrounding noise. But he is lost in his thoughts, and spends a little too long staring at the flame. He closes his eyes, and there is an amorphous red shape, just like when one stares at the sun for too long. He used to do that when playing cricket, staring into the afternoon sky, looking for arc-ing travel of the little red ball, while his retinas were being burned by the sun. Those were the good days, before the private school closed down, and all the teachers had to look for new jobs. Almost overnight, he went from teaching English in Kerala to repairing ships in Singapore. His thoughts suddenly lost all their metaphors and life became a lot more concrete.
The following morning, he goes to her flat again. The bed is made. Untouched since the day before.
When she returns from Hong Kong a week later, she goes straight to the office from Changi Airport. She works another ten hours before she leans back in her chair and closes her eyes. Just before she leaves the office, she decides to check the video from the surveillance bear. She has been so busy she hasn't had time to check it for a week.
Despite the grainy black and white video, she can make out the surprise on his face on the first day he encounters the made bed. She had made the bed as she would be away in Hong Kong for work. On the second day, he has the look of a man with a plan.
She moves closer to the computer screen to see what he's actually doing. He goes to the bed, and removes the bedsheet, blanket, and all the coverings. He folds them neatly and places them on the dresser. The surveillance bear watches as the man pries the mattress from the wooden frame, lifts it up, and carries the mattress out of the edges of the picture.
She leans back in her chair, and thinks about where she can go to buy a mattress now, at 11pm. Maybe that Mustafa Shopping centre place. She knows that she will not see him in the surveillance video, in the subsequent days. She knows that she will not see him again. She turns off the computer screen, and wishes him all the best. She takes the lift down from her office in Raffles Place, and gets into a taxi. Can you go to Little India? she asks. The driver nods silently.
At that exact moment, a ship is on the Indian ocean, midway between Singapore and Kerala. Below deck, in a cramped bunk, reeking of a special brew of Taiwanese motor oil, lies a man fast asleep on a stolen mattress. His body is perfectly supported by the ten thousand springs underneath him, each absorbing the undulating rhythm of the waves as the ship crashes through them. The rhythm forms the strucutre of a song that is transmitted into his body.
Tonight, as the moon reaches the middle of its arc over the Indian ocean, a bed-less woman is lying on the floor of her flat, and a man is in the middle of the sea, lying on a mattress bearing the imprint of a missing woman. They are both incomplete creatures, both fast asleep, and each, thinking of the other.