Draft Excerpt 8 Jan 2012
As was often their custom on late Sunday afternoons they took a walk up the hill at Bukit Timah nature reserve. They both enjoyed the hill. He liked to imagine the last tigers on the island taking refuge while Japanese soldiers surged through the undergrowth on their way to victory over the colonial power. She liked the hill because it looked the way she felt: dark, green and tangled up inside.
Clambering through the rain forest was their means of preserving the weekend for as long as possible. It was their method of coping with the melancholy, in between time when the weekend wasn’t quite over but they knew it soon would be. Walking was the best way to keep thoughts of work away. However at the close of that Sunday in October, he was unable to stop thinking about the important project his team had just started working on.
He always took the view that getting ahead depended on the disciplined suppression of primitive urges seething just below the surface. In the unfortunate event such desires were given free rein he believed chaos would be the inevitable consequence. This philosophy laid the foundation for his role as Junior Under Secretary, Scenario Planning, Civil Defense Department. He drafted protocols, policies and procedures to mitigate the adverse impact of island wide natural disasters. The government needed to know how to react to unforeseen events. He relished the contemplation of unimaginable horrors and the writing of reports on the necessary strategies, tactical and mass communications response. He especially enjoyed the public relations aspects. “Keep Calm & Carry On” was his motto. The people needed this. The State required stability and logical cohesion to support consumption. To preserve the nation the people needed to believe that no matter what happened everything would be alright in the end and every sacrifice worth it. He loved his work. Every nightmare scenario required analysis, a plan and a competing narrative to placate the populace. It was the most satisfying aspect of his role to play a part in developing that narrative.
He did not believe his wife understood these things.
As they walked up the steep slope his wife tried to talk to him about having a child. Obviously he was only half listening as he was thinking about the project. His Department Head sent for him and told him they needed someone to lead scenario planning for the government’s response to a grave and threatening crisis. Of course, he could not share any details with his wife. Just like most things he worked on there were ‘national security implications’. He thought she would not understand. In fact she understood too much. That Sunday she was concerned how best to challenge his priorities and remind him of the child they did not have.
He did not believe it was the right time for them to have a kid. They should wait for better times. In his life he often held back, denied himself many things and felt the better for it. His desires were folded neatly in plastic storage containers and placed beyond reach high up at the back of shelves to be accessed only when things became just that little bit too much. At those times he treated himself to a cigarette, a bottle of whisky and an occasional girl at Joo Chiat. Of course, he never let things get out of hand.
They met many years before on an SDU cruise. He first saw her in the glare of the late afternoon sun leaning against the guard rail looking out over the sea as the boat drifted around St Johns island. Everyone else was inside enjoying their air conditioned conversations. She turned the wide brim of her hat upwards, closed her eyes and set her face towards the sun. He joined her outside and told her it was not that bad but she should wait until they reached international waters before she jumped. She laughed and he liked the way that set her apart. He was wearing oversized sunglasses and she couldn’t see his eyes although she glimpsed her reflection in his lenses. She liked what she saw. She told him this was her first time at one of these events and she did not usually do this sort of thing but a friend needed company and although it was hot outside she felt hotter inside and she could not stand making an effort to mingle. He smiled and said he would avoid making small talk with her. He just grinned and she laughed and side by side they faced the brightness of the sun. They dated for a year and ended up together much to the delight of their friends and family. He determined they were adequately compatible and she found herself content being in love with someone who did not love her. He valued her companionship and the sense of emotional security she provided. Over time he kept persuading himself that the comfort they shared was love. However much he tried to be caring and passionate, often he behaved as though he could not remember he had a wife. She knew this, could not bring herself to leave and wanted to have a child.
... To be continued
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