Women is...: Morning After

Morning After

When Desiree|| woke, it found it itself only one, its nakedness, taking shelter in the cocoon of sweaty white leaves on the bed of the greatest Size of plush. Slivers of light, looking at oneself squinting through an unsolved blind, bringing in thick gold bars over through the walls of light-blue bedrooms. Desiree||, turning to other end of bed, and squinted in an alarm clock: 11:53 a.m, it blinked.
Still morning, she thought drowsily, and sprawled back onto the bed. She nodded off for another half an hour, drifting in and out of a hazy dream about beating her best friend Bethany at tennis. Eventually the rumble in her stomach grew too much to bear and Desiree forced herself to sit up with a sigh.

She made a mental note to delete Shaun's number from her phone if he didn’t ask her out on a decent dinner date before the end of the week. A girl needs to maintain high standards, she reasoned, even if the guy does drive a Lexus and live alone in a semi-detached house in District 11. At least when you went home with an ang moh expatriate – and she had only gone for white guys after getting out of junior college – you didn’t have to worry about sneaking past the master bedroom where the parents were sleeping, or having awkward moments with poker-faced mothers the morning after. Instead you could sleep in on a gorgeous king-sized bed, and take a long, leisurely bath with organic bath salts flown in from Down Under. Sublime.

After drying off and shimmying back into her shiny purple Mango party dress, which fortunately had not gotten torn or stained this time, Desiree decided to be sweet and make the bed. Poking about in the study table, she found a pen and a piece of paper. Hey Gorgeous, she wrote, Sweet dreams, Desiree. She propped the note up against the pillows and admired her handiwork. For a moment she regretted not having taken English literature at upper secondary level, so she might actually be able to quote some love poetry off the top of her head. In junior college some boy in the arts stream sent her beautiful love poems that left her breathless, until Bethany told her that she had seen him copying them out of a book by a poet named Pablo Neruda in the library after school. After that Desiree told him that he was just not her type, which was the truth. Puppy love, with its silly love notes and useless little trinkets, smacked too much of secondary school. By junior college Desiree had moved on to men who drove flash cars and had wallets thick enough to take her out on shopping sprees. She made a note to re-read those letters for inspiration, if she could still find them.

With her Prada purse tucked firmly under arm (a farewell gift from the American guy she had been seeing on and off until he returned to his wife and two kids in Michigan a month ago), Desiree took a final, wistful look around the stylish bedroom. Then she turned the air-conditioning off and closed the door firmly behind her, her silver Nine West heels clicking loudly as she tottered down the marble stairs. In the living room a Filipina maid was mopping the floor. When she saw Desiree she put her mop aside and wiped her hands on her oversized t-shirt.

“Miss leaving now?” the maid smiled politely. “I open the gate for you.”

It seemed to Desiree that the maid was well accustomed to dealing with Shaun’s female visitors.

“Yah, is there any place to eat around here?” asked Desiree, speaking louder and more slowly than usual. “I’m very hungry.”

“Sorry Miss,” replied the maid, “You must to take the bus one or two stops to go to the hawker center.”

“Never mind then.”

The maid smiled again, led her to the main gate of the house and unlocked it. She closed it after Desiree without so much as a goodbye, and headed back into the house to finish the mopping.

Outside the heat was stifling. Desiree’s stomach rumbled and she looked at the time –already 1:40 p.m. Her mother was under the impression that she was at Bethany’s place, where she usually stayed over after a night out as Bethany lived much closer to the club district. Desiree couldn’t wait to move into the NTU hostel when her degree in accountancy started in June, even if it was located all the way in Boon Lay.*

The sound of a bicycle bell rang behind her and Desiree quickly stepped to one side of the pavement. A young Chinese woman cycled past with a baby in a basket. I wonder if she’s a single mother, thought Desiree, most women don’t have kids when they’re that young nowadays. She remembered how surprised she was to see the clips of Maia Lin on Singapore idol, completely unabashed about being a single mother at the age of 21. Desiree imagined herself with a blonde-haired blue-eyed baby in three years’ time, which made her screw her face up in amusement. The whole point of dating ang moh men, she reminded herself, was so she didn’t have to deal with the idealized endpoint of marriage and babies so well ingrained in the middle-class Singaporean constitution, which made it so difficult for everyone to just have fun sleeping with each other. At some point, someone would have to bring up the subject of “where this was going” and “the future.” When she caught herself doing that, even if it was just in her head, she made sure she got out the door, fast.

As the road rounded a bend, she saw a Malay man clambering through the trees beside an imposing house that stood on its own and had a large wrought iron gate adorned with curlicues. The man stumbled onto the pavement and looked rather sheepish when he saw Desiree. Glancing over her shoulder at the house, Desiree saw a young, dark-skinned girl in a pink tank top and white shorts standing at the gate. Their eyes met for a moment, and the girl scampered back indoors. When she turned back to face the road, the man had already disappeared from sight. Tsk, tsk, thought Desiree. She remembered that the neighbors who lived a floor below them had sent their maid of two years home when they discovered that she was pregnant. She had cried and begged loud enough for the entire block to hear. She had a husband, two children and a sick mother back in Java, she wept. Her husband would beat her to death. Desiree wondered what had become of the maid now. Some people, she thought, just have no self-control. But can you blame a young woman for feeling lonely far away from home? If expats can do it, why not maids? She gave herself a little pat on the back for contributing to the nation’s progress by helping foreign talent alleviate their homesickness.

At the junction of the main road she caught up with the Malay man, and they waited together for the pedestrian light to turn green. He pretended not to notice her at all. An old Indian woman bent over to half her height shuffled past them, dragging a bag full of empty aluminum cans that made a melancholy noise as it scraped against the concrete. Wow, mused Desiree, feels like racial harmony day. It occurred to her that she didn’t have any good friends from the other races, even though she had had Malay and Indian classmates in secondary school and junior college. Do white men above the age of 35 count? She laughed at her own cleverness as the light turned green and she crossed the road.

The bus stop was surrounded by trees and absolutely deserted. Desiree plopped herself down on the shiny metal bench and started going through the messages on her cell phone. There was one from Bethany, that said, “Hey babe wanna go for manicure? Dennis stuck in camp tonight. Call me when u get ur lazy ass up.” That’s what you get for dating boys our age, thought Desiree. She wondered if their relationship would survive the long-distance. The next message was from a number that wasn’t saved in her phone. “Hello this is Alex,” it said.,“We met at Rouge last Wednesday. Would you like to have dinner sometime this week?” Alex, Alex, Alex… Desiree scrolled through her mind and tried to remember what he looked like.

Suddenly, Desiree realized that there was someone sitting beside her on the bench. She looked up from her phone and saw a little Chinese girl in a white uniform carrying a Power Puff Girls school bag. Where had she come from? Desiree didn’t remember seeing her get off the buses that had passed. The girl turned and gave Desiree a bright smile. Desiree realized that the girl was from the same primary school she had gone to. Staring at the girl’s delicate face framed by a neat bob, Desiree had the uncanny feeling that she was looking at herself from ten years ago. The girl stretched her arms out towards Desiree, her palms upturned.

“What do you want to do with your life?” she asked.

Desiree sat speechless, bowled over by the vastness of the question from a complete stranger. Then she burst out laughing, wildly.

“I don’t know. Get a rich husband and become a tai-tai.”

The girl looked down at her scruffy canvas shoes. Then she announced, “I think I want to become a counselor. So I can help other people.” She said the word “counselor” slowly and clumsily, as if it were a word she had just learnt and wanted to cherish.

Desiree turned away from the girl and stared intently at the cars whizzing by. They sat in silence until Desiree finally saw her bus. Then she picked herself up, waved at the girl with a smile, and boarded the bus without looking back.