This is a piece of autobiographical fiction. Space and time have been rearranged to suit the convenience of the book, and with the exception of public figures, any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental. The opinions expressed are those of the characters and should not be confused with the author’s.
This story is written as an example to anyone who wants to believe that we are more than the patriarchy deems us to be, more than our limitations, and more than our fears.
27th December 2019
I have to work today – my phone calendar reminds me.
I work part time as a bartender in Ah Sam’s Cold Drink Stall, a local speakeasy bar in Singapore. It was very confusing for most to know that I had quit a well-paying insurance job to work in a bar and earn $10 an hour. But I wanted to bartend simply because I loved bars and had always wanted to try bartending.
Usually, going to work would be really exciting for me. Every time I stood behind the bar, I felt happy. I loved making drinks for people. I loved having conversations with people I’d just met. I loved it when I made them something they found delicious. I even loved being on the floor – taking people’s orders and serving drinks to them.
It didn’t matter who walked through our doors, staff at Ah Sam’s always treated them equally.
We had many regular customers, mostly bankers and people who worked in the finance hub since our bar was in Boat Quay, a 10 minute walk from Singapore’s financial district.
Today however, our bar was packed with tourists as well. Christmas had just passed but New Year Eve’s was right around the corner.
I showed up to work looking the same as I normally did, but inside, I was completely broken.
“Hey Simon,” I say hi to our bar manager. “Hey Shu-Ann” I wave to our senior bartender.
“Hey Jane, how are you?”
“I’m good! You?”
“Good! Cool. Just wanted to ask you – when are you going to the US again? I’m just making the schedule for January. How long would you be gone again? Oh! If you’re going to Mexico as well, you have to – ”
Simon stops midway, and everyone in the bar turns to look at me.
I’ve completely sunk to the floor, hiding my face in my hands. I don’t have the energy to get up. The only 2 regular guests who are sitting at the bar set their drinks down and stare at me.
I feel the tears rolling down my cheeks. Hot. Hot and salty. I can’t stop them but I try really hard because this is not the time to break down. This is not the place.
“What happened, Jane???” Simon asks me. He’s lifting me up with his strong arms and together we walk to the back of the bar, tucked in a corner where I tell him briefly what had happened just 13 hours ago.
“Take your time to process things Jane, don’t worry about work today, I doubt it will be busy. I got you. ” I hear him say to me. I’m propped up on a bar stool, back against the wall, my eyes staring blankly in the distance. I look at the seats at the bar where Gideon and I sat on once, where I told him about my decision to leave my insurance job to find my passion in life. “Do it baby, Go for it!! I support you 100%” He had told me.
Yet, 13 hours ago, he blamed me for leaving my job. He blamed me for the failure of our marriage.
My heart can’t take this.
I grab my tote bag and I tell Simon ” I’m so sorry, ” and I bolt down the stairs. I stop when I reach the first floor and turn left – No, There are too many people, so I turn right and go down the alley. I usually hate walking through these alleys because rats often prowl them. But today, my pain is greater than my fear of rats. Today, I just need to walk it out.
So, I walk. I walk and walk and walk.
I walk past OCBC building, along Chulia road, where I went to work for 3 years on the 37th floor. Where I took my first job after graduation and learned that I’m good at doing sales – but that I wanted more in life. I enjoyed the interaction with clients but didn’t enjoy the stress that came from a demanding boss.
I walk past UOB building, where at Si Chuan Dou Hua, the restaurant at the top of the bank, we held our Chinese wedding reception, one that his mother had requested for, but which I had to plan for entirely on my own. A memory flashed across my mind – while we were addressing our guests on stage, everyone’s eyes were on us except his parents. They kept their backs to us even while we were speaking and continued eating. Why did I never realize that was a red flag? How many more red flags were there?
I walk and walk and walk until I reach the Supreme Court and I sit under the shade of a tree while I whip my phone out to text my friends.
“I need you girls. Gideon is leaving the marriage.” was all I could type before the waves of tears came crashing down on me again. These waves didn’t stop coming. Instead, they grew bigger and bigger, crashing louder and louder onto my chest.
I let myself cry, while tourists walk past me. It felt like the worst day of my life.
Little did I know that today would only be the start of a very very very long journey. A journey of finding truth and love.