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.
June-August 2020, Leicester, England
After leaving Amy and her mother in Oxfordshire, Lucas and I arrive at our 2nd workaway job together.
The job is a more labor-intensive one and I am the only girl out of the 3 of us volunteers. There is already another volunteer who has been there for two years. As we arrive, Mark shows us to our room. We couldn’t believe it. It was such a huge upgrade compared to the sofa bed we had been sleeping on for the last month.
Mark basically grew up in this Victorian house. When he was a teenager, he would come over to John’s place to help with restoring and maintenance of the estate. The house itself came with a servants’ quarters along with 5-acres of land.
John lived alone in the big estate after his mother passed on and never married. He was a schoolteacher and retired after a while. Having seen Mark grow up from a teenager, he asked if Mark would look after him in his old age. In return, he would give the estate to Mark and his family.
Mark got married and together with his wife Cazza, raised their two sons in this house.
” I’m living my best life. Everyday, I pinch myself to check if it’s real. But I love my love, I really do. Me and cazza go down to our beach house in Norfolk from time to time, and we drive to Scotland once in a while. But really – my every day life is a dream for me. ” Mark tells me and Lucas. We are driving to the minimart just 5 minutes away.
Having lived in this neighborhood all his life, the cheerful disposition of Mark has won him many friends all over town.
The owners of this minimart save all the near-perishable items for him everyday – items they cannot legally put on their shelves. Every morning, he collects them and stocks them in two deep freezers at home. There are all sorts of goodies in there – boxes of milk, packets steaks, fries, salmon, ready-made meals, burgers and pizzas.
Our work starts at 9am in the mornings from Mondays to Fridays. We work until 12pm and have a break till 2pm and then finish around 4pm. We get public holidays off and sometimes if the weather is too hot, Mark ends the day after lunch and we all hang out in the shade under the trees – near the summer house.
The work varies everyday. Some days we sand down bricks, some days we mow the lawn. Some days we chop down trees for firewood in preparation for winter, and other days we do weeding. Mark is very proud of his garden – as he should be. There are many types of flowers and herbs all around the estate.
There are all sorts of pets too! The family has 3 dogs, chickens, 2 pigs and 1 pony. The pigs they bought at a carboot sale for 50 pounds, they were on sale because they were too old to be culled for meat. The pony was left behind by her gypsy owner and the chickens are a way the family gets fresh eggs.
For 2.5 months, Lucas and I have found family.
Because of the pandemic, all the shops and restaurants are closed in Leicester. But it doesn’t matter at all.
Work is tiring enough so after work, Lucas spends hours reading while I write and pick up sketching as a hobby.
After making our own dinner, we would take walks around the 5-acre estate and visit all of the animals. First we would take all of the leftover food, usually thrown into a metal bucket and we take it to the pigs. Pigsy would eat first and then make way for Wigsy who is bigger than her – hence a bully!
Next, we would visit Storm and bring her some weeds to snack on. Once in a while, we would see a fox run across the garden!!! Foxes are so beautiful.
Every weekend, Mark would offer to drive us to a nearby town or a park where Lucas and I would spend hours walking around, climbing hills, reading, talking, laughing and simply enjoy each others’ company.
Neither of us had data on our phones. We weren’t hooked on our phones like most people are nowadays. When we were out walking, that was all we did. It simplified our lives so much. We were able to be in the present all the time.
Every other week or so, we would have a bonfire in the background.
People from all over the neighborhood have come to know that Mark has a big ground for throwing old scraps of wood and furniture. One of our jobs would then be to remove pieces and scraps of metal from this big pile of discarded furniture.
Then every other Sunday, the family and some of their sons’ friends would gather around the bonfire and we would all watch the fire burn as we drink and listen to Keane, Oasis or Coldplay.
I felt so blessed to have found this family who took Lucas and I in and treated us as family.
To show my love for them, I would often cook Asian food for family dinners. John, the retired teacher loved my food. Nothing was too spicy for him. Mark loved the curries but hated bak kut teh. Cazza loved learning how to cook Thai food with me.
Amidst the pandemic while everyone was struggling with cabin fever and lockdown restrictions, I considered myself to be so blessed that I could hideout here in an oasis.
My parents also felt really relieved and happy that I was safe in England.
I asked myself why more Singaporeans don’t do this – work for 25 hours a week in exchange for a bed and a meal. But the truth is half of the people I know have too many obligations to take on. The other half wouldn’t want to give up whatever luxuries they have gotten accustomed to.
Still, I knew of a small percentage of friends back home who would have loved to try this.
I write this story for them – so they may one day find the drive and motivation to try this out for themselves.