"Ni Na Me Ai Ta, Wei Shen Me Bu Ba Ta Liu Xia, Wei Shen Me Bu Shuo Xin Li Hua…"
“Ok la, whatever you say la. I won’t be coming back for dinner la. I already collected your jeans lor. You see when free then come and take lor. Where can I be? I am always at the beach house mah. ” Wei Lian strolled towards the direction of the front entrance of Daysprings Shopping Center, tapping his white cane with ease as he talked with an uninterested tone to the caller at the other end.
Amidst the busy hustle of the Daysprings Shopping Centre, Wei Lian felt the warmth of the sunrays coming from the clear glass roof top of the atrium as he navigated his way to his destination-the taxi stand. He turned his face away from the bright, warm rays of the sunlight. What kind of weather is this man? So bright and so hot until I can feel the sunrays coming my direction! The air-con not working is it? So hot! He complained grudgingly in his mind as he cocked his head from left to right slowly to ease the tiredness of his neck.
Frankly, if he had a choice, he wouldn’t agree to step into the mall again. He didn’t like to come here. But he reckoned he had no choice, for he was here to run some errands for his mum. No matter how he had tried to make excuses and push it away, his mum just wouldn’t relent.
“I just dozed off. You collect yourself la.” He grabbed his handphone from his pillow side and placed it close to his ears, feeling so sleepy and annoyed that his mum called just when he dozed off. “Mum”, read the speech reader software installed on his handphone.
“Wa Boy ah, I only want you to help me collect the altered jeans from Giordano, very difficult meh, still must beg you until like that is it?” Mrs Tan bellowed from the other end of the phone.
“I not free la, ask Dad la, or ask Jake. Or anyone except me.” Which mum would call at 7 am to ask her son to go Giordano and help collect the jeans she sent for alteration? “You make a trip there cannot ah? Go there walk walk and buy some clothes as well mah. I help you think of excuse for you to go and buy some new clothes leh. Why? Don’t want to help me is it? So near your beach house mah. You always hang out there mah, now the place is as old as you, you don’t want to go liao ha?” Want me to help so say help me think of excuse to go buy new clothes? What kind of reason is that? He clutched his hair with both his hand. Mrs Tan’s words stung his mind.
Ya. I don’t want to go there anymore. I hate that mall. His lips twitched, biting the corner of his lower lip. For a moment, he felt really tempted to reply her with that sentence. But he eventually kept quiet. He just didn’t want to elaborate on his reluctance to help. He doesn’t want her to continue her nagging. What he wished for now is to go back to sleep and forget about the jeans she made him collect for her totally.
“Iyo, why? What kind of son is this? I so difficult then bring up this son, now so big already then refuse to help his mother do a simple thing. Hai! What’s the use of having a son?” His mum started wailing. This is her pattern, always resorting to this method whenever she couldn’t make Wei Lian budge. “You help me can die is it? I am talking to wall or air ah?” She continued lamenting.
“You help me can die is it?”
“I am talking to wall or air ah?”
He shifted uncomfortably under his thick and soft blanket when his mum sprouted these two sentences. Those were exactly Fang Qi’s frequent retorts when he refused to help her or refused to reply her and ignored her. He sank deeper underneath his blankets and held the handphone slightly away from his ear.
“Ha? I ask you, you help me can die is it? Hello? I am talking to the wall or air ah?” Came his mum’s impatient tone.
Iya please stop it la. He begged inside his head. Finally, he relented. “Hai. Okay la, okay la. But I go after I sleep enough okay?” Wei Lian gave a weak reply. He was desperate to get off the phone. If he didn’t agree, she will nag till the cows come home. Should have ignored the call, he grumbled as his finger hovered over the “End Call” button.
It is not that he didn’t want to help his mum. It has been months, and the scenario at the shopping centre - the place he used to frequent and hang out with Fang Qi, Cherie and Jason remained freshly and deeply-etched in his memory.
Lest he gets emotional again, he has been trying his best to stay out of that place as far as he could. He rejected Cherie’s requests to accompany her to the mall and instead made her travel further down the beach house to the city area to buy her stuff. Cherie has been mad with him for a day because of that as she had been unable to buy the cardigan she wanted.
“Why me? Ask Jason la.” He tried to dissuade her from dragging him along.
“Who ask you to be free now?” She insisted that he stepped into Daysprings Shopping Center with her that same evening to pick up the cardigan she had reserved over the phone. And as soon as she left the boutique and suggested having dinner at the food court, he scooted out of the mall before she could finish her sentence. “I go home and eat noodles.” He still remembered Cherie shouting and screaming after him. And for that, she refused to talk to him for three days.
But he just couldn’t help it. It was here that he had wonderful times with Cherie and Jason. It was here that he had unforgettable squabbles and digging at each other with Fang Qi. And it was here that he sort of realized that the one he really cared for is Fang Qi. He couldn’t control himself. The memories just came flashing back. That same thumping feeling in his heart that he so frequently experienced when he thought of Fang Qi. He could imagine how hurt she was by his words so much so that she left the country. The feeling of closeness to Fang Qi… it all just felt so near yet so far. If only he didn’t hurl those insensitive words at her. If only he had realized reality earlier. If only….but he already ruined it by saying nasty things to hurt her. He just had to ruin it by saying nasty things to hurt her!
It’s just him. Not knowing how to express his feelings and blurting out things he didn’t mean to say. He really regretted his words. He had been missing her so much every single day. The pain in his heart was unbearable. He doesn’t know what to do. He tries not to think about her. But not a day passed without him hearing in his mind Fang Qi’s voice shouting at him. Every night he has been resorting to drinking her favorite coffee in hope of getting her out of his mind. He thought that by doing what she likes, it would have a reversed psychological effect. That he would stop thinking of her and forget her. Everyday he tries to bury his free time with heaps of engagements. He had been taking up almost every show that Granny Gin had offered him, working himself to the bone, and denying himself any time to think about other things. But his efforts were futile because no matter how hard he tries to shut her out of his thoughts, memories of her just keep creeping back. Failure. In the end, instead of getting her out of his mind, he ended up missing her even more, leaving his heart to ache even more. He longed for her to be by his side.
“Iya, I said I don’t want to come here already,” Wei Lian tried to shove away his emotions as he waited patiently for his regular cab driver to pull up at the taxi stand. He just wanted to get out of the place fast. Immediately.
In a matter of minutes, the cab pulled up at the stone pavement leading up to a stretch of beach houses of different structures and sizes. He got out of the cab with swift motion and allowed his legs to do the walking slowly. He was so familiar with the surroundings that he need not use his white cane to help him navigate the way up to his beach house. It’s a few steps away anyway. One, two, three……four…five. He counted the number of steps in his mind quietly and raised his left foot to step onto the heightened pavement to the back gate of his beach house when someone called out to him.
“Hey Kelvin, hey, long time no see!” a guy called out. Stopping in his tracks, he turned his head to the direction of the voice. It was the shop owner of the rings and gifts accessories shop opposite his back gate. He can still recognize his voice, even though they only met a few times.
“Ya lor, I recently busy mah, so never come lor.” He said it matter-of-factly as he tapped his way into the shop with his white cane. He decided to visit the shop since he had nothing to do anyway. The last time he talked to this guy was when Fang Qi disturbed his peace. He had walked out in a fit of anger to the shop to buy a bottle of cold drink to cool himself down. He clearly remembered her turning the TV set volume so high that it disturbed his song writing process and she had stubbornly refused to adhere to the rules he set for her.
“What. What?? This kind of rock music is supposed to turn the volume up then shiok one what!” She had refuted his demands to switch off the TV set then.
“You better turn down the TV volume now. You go out and smoke la! Or you go to the beach and swim la!” He retaliated and tried to chase her out of the house. The further the better. And the later she comes back the better. Whenever he had the inspiration to work on his music, she is sure to disturb him. His inspiration is running high now, she better don’t come stay in the house and disrupt his thoughts.
“I don’t want lay. No mood to smoke now lay.” She refuses to budge a single bit.
“Your favorite activity what! Go la! Not anytime also can one meh? Smoke la. This one anytime also can one what.” He screamed at her at the top of his voice.
Unreasonable woman. Such a nuisance She is just bent on disturbing him. Eventually, it was him who walked out with his guitar.
“Where’s the girl who is always with you?” The guy asked, offering him a cold drink from the refrigerator.
Girl? Cherie? Or….Fang Qi?
“The girl with shoulder-length hair, the one who talks with a loud voice.” The guy described.
Oh. Cherie has long hair and she doesn’t talk as loud as Fang Qi in public. “Orh, why?” He replied.
“Oh, it’s like this. She bought a ring from me some time back. Already paid but she never came to collect it.”
“She didn’t tell me if she wants to engrave anything on the ring or not. I was telling her about engraving a name or some initials. All the while, she was staring blankly at the ring and then she paid for it and left without saying a word.” The guy continued, explaining to Wei Lian that they provided free engraving services to all their customers.
He recalled that day when Fang Qi came by his shop. She was actually just looking blankly around when her gaze just fell upon this ring in the showcase. “I could see that she loved it at first sight as she immediately requested to have a look at it.”
Feeling the ring that the guy had placed in his hands, Wei Lian suddenly requested, “Erm, you were saying you can engrave name right? You help me engrave the name Fang Qi on the inner side of the ring can or not?” Out of the blue, the words just came out from his mouth before he could think. Eh. Iya, what is he doing? Engrave name on her ring? This is the first time he did such a thing. Somehow, he felt awkward. He felt his cheeks flush.
“No problem! Eh, are you rushing for time? You want to come back in an hour’s time? I can do it for you now.”
“Ok la, I very free now, can sit here and wait for you to finish.” Wei Lian quipped and made himself comfortable on the high chair that the guy had offered.
The guy noticed his awkward look and his mumbling. He took the ring back from him and laughed. “Iya Kelvin, your first time doing such a romantic thing for a girl is it? This kind of thing is very normal la. Don’t shy la.”
“Huh. What romantic thing? Like that consider romantic meh? I where got time to do romantic things? Wait for her to decide, might as well I decide for her. I decide for her faster la.” He denied defensively. But almost immediately, he regretted and wanted to kick himself for saying so. He knew what was wrong. He sounded too defensive.
The guy gave a knowing smile as he proceeded to prepare the tools needed for the name engraving. It is after lunch-time now, so the crowd is slowly dispersing. As the guy started to work on the engraving, he chatted with Wei Lian at the same time.
“You want your name also?” he asked while concentrating.
“Huh? No need la, just her name enough.”
“She is your girlfriend right?”
“Ya ya, my self-proclaimed girlfriend!” Just the thought of it made him want to laugh out loud. Wei Lian started reminiscing about the memories of the beach house days. That woman. Since when did he agree to let her remain as his girlfriend? They were only acting for Ah Ma and she actually use it as one of her frequent retorts too. “You my boyfriend mah. Of course you do for me la.”
“She is a joker la, gamble, talk loud loud, for nothing go around kicking and hitting people. So many bad habits, then hog the toilet for don’t know how long. Sometimes she just bathe only can take up to two hours! No matter how I shout for her to get out, she will just continue and start singing away. I always scold her, so rough, where got people will like her, then she will go like, “I ya, I like cannot meh, I so cute sure got people will like one…” Wei Lian continues in his usual fast talking speed. It was like he was pouring out all his grudges and complaints about Fang Qi. But yet the feeling was so sweet that he did not realize he has been smiling all the way as he spoke of her.
“I ya I’m so cute, you cannot resist me la.” Fang Qi’s words rang in his mind.
“That girl ah, she really have the weirdest ideas. You know how she pours out the chili sauce that refuses to come out or not? Haha!”
With a swift of an action, Wei Lian mimicked Fang Qi’s “brilliant” way of getting the chili sauce out of the chili bottle and articulated his motion with the bottle of cold drink that the guy had offered him. “The sauce cannot come out, she can straightaway crash the bottle against the table edge, to break the bottle neck. Iyo, think only she will do such a thing lor.”
“Eh. Irritating la. Why the chili sauce doesn’t come out? Then how I eat my fried eggs??” She had glared at the bottle of chili sauce angrily and complained in her loud voice.
“This bottle is new la. You got to……..” Wei Lian’s voice trailed off from the sudden shock he got when he heard a loud crash and bits of glasses cracking apart. He didn’t dare to imagine what she had just done but, she really just did it.
“Iya like that la, can liao lor. So easy. Ya, what you want to say?” She poured out the top part of the chili sauce to check if any broken glass has gone in. Iya. Discard this part la. She used her metal spoon to scoop off the chili sauce she poured out. The most bite the glass lor and her mouth bleed lor. She cannot live without chili sauce. She is a chili addict.
“Nothing la. I where dare to say anything?” Wei Lian shook his head and refused the chili sauce she offered.
“You scared got glass ah? Thought you love chili in your food also? Please la, I already pour away the top liao la. Even if got, eat already also won’t die one la.” She raised her voice at him.
Really noisy la, this woman. “I don’t want chili sauce on my fried eggs. Iya, I don’t want la. You eat yourself la.” She must be joking. I already cannot see liao. She broke the chili bottle like that, who will dare to eat? If he is fortunate, he would escape unscathed from the glass bits that might have possibly gone into the chili sauce. If he is unlucky, she might even play a prank on him and put some glass bits into the chili sauce and his mouth would bleed! Wei Lian chuckled in his mind, “Haha, don’t think she will be that evil to me la…”
“And she is one lazy bum loh, eat canned fruit out of the can itself, after eating, some more can just leave it there and wait for me to clean up. When drinking from the straw, she can slurp her drink until few blocks away also can hear you know! Confirm she does it purposely one la, because she knows I hate it when people disturb my thoughts. She just trying to irritate me lor, I know her la.” He recalled her different methods of irritating him.
“She can really do the most unexpected.” Recalling the many times Fang Qi had out of nowhere pounced on him to hug and kiss him, catching him unaware, Wei Lian broke into a bashful smile.
“Ok, done” the guy passed to him the ring engraved with Fang Qi’s name on it.
Before he knew it, he had talked non-stop for about an hour while relating to the guy about Fang Qi. This is the first time he had ever talked so openly and naturally about Fang Qi to an outsider. He was alarmingly surprised at himself too. But he felt much better. Really.
For the past few months, he had been trying hard not to think of her, let alone talk about her. He thought that could work and maybe she would slowly fade away from his memory. But he had been feeling miserable deep inside. Especially so, when the night falls and silence engulfs, when he is about to retire to sleep, those were trying times.
How many times he had forced himself to close his eyes to sleep when his mind wandered to Fang Qi. He clearly misses her. A great deal. He did not know that by bringing down that barrier in his heart and talking about her openly and freely as his emotions could bring him, he really loosened up. His heart felt lighter. He knew that by talking about her, he had already unwittingly accepted her in his heart. He is ready to face his feelings.
Holding the ring close to him, Wei Lian carefully slipped it into his bag. Eh, cannot. His bag was full of things, what if the ring got lost or dropped out of his bag? He hesitated for a second, and slipped the ring onto his last finger. It was too small to fit but he was afraid he will drop it accidentally. He lifted his hands behind his neck and started to fiddle with the clasp of the chain he was wearing. He removed the chain, carefully removed the ring from his finger and strung it through and wore the chain back. That was the best way to keep the ring for her, he thought. Until I find her.
“Ahhh, now I remember!” the shop owner suddenly exclaimed. “I remember I’d sketched a drawing of her on that day. “She looked very sad that day and was adamant on letting me draw her portrait.”
The guy clearly could not forget Fang Qi’s sad expression then, bitter and so resigned. “Why you look so sad?” Fang Qi just shrugged her shoulders without answering him.
Wei Lian played with his hand phone as he listened to the guy. His fingers traced over the shape of the hand phone, feeling its titanium casing. Suddenly a gruff male voice from the speech reader said with a fast speed, “Gallery.” His finger had accidentally hit the “Gallery” button. Suddenly as if thinking of something, he quickly accessed the gallery function and pressed down the “Next” button until he came to a certain picture. “I am Fang Qi.” The gruff voice read again.
Fang Qi had grabbed his handphone without his permission and snapped her own picture with it. “Hahaha! Now my picture will follow you wherever you go and haunt you! You cannot escape from my clutches liao!” She had teased him.
Wei Lian held up his handphone and showed the guy the picture displayed on his handphone screen. “Is she smiling or frowning?” He asked.
“Smiling.” The guy peered at the photo on the screen.
Hearing what he said, Wei Lian quipped. “I will bring her back and let you sketch her again when she is happy. “ That is a promise. He definitely will. Wei Lian smiled and assured the guy. But when will that be? He didn’t have the answer. He doesn’t even know if he is ever able to find her. He knows her inside out. If she wants to hide deliberately, no one will be able to find her. Even Fang Tong did not know her whereabouts. He tried calling Ah Ma. But she said that Fang Qi hasn’t come by. He really had no idea where she was. Hai! He could only wait.
“Ah! This reminds me of something. Then as I sketched her, I realized I first met her a few years back when she came by the shop. Ahhh…I had a deep impression of her because of the song Ai Shi Ni Yan Li De Yi Shou Qing Ge”. The guy tapped his fingers on the glass showcase under his fingers and sighed.
Wei Lian’s heart almost missed a beat upon hearing the mention of this song. That was Fang Qi’s handphone ringtone.
“She was really crying sadly then, while listening to the song. The song just happened to be played on radio and there she was, standing in the middle of the shop with tears trickling down her face. Anyone who looked at her then would have wanted to go up to her and give her a hug or a pat on the shoulder. Hai! What a small world. Got at least four years plus I think. Yeah, I think it’s about the same time you bought over the beach house from Uncle Jimmy and started coming here frequently.” The guy related and counting in his mind how many years ago was that.
“Four years?” Wasn’t that about the same timing when Jake left Singapore without explaining why? A lot of things happened four years ago. Cherie and Jake had left suddenly. Then……suddenly he felt the unexplainable closeness he felt with Fang Qi surging back. Same time as he bought the beach house? Maybe I might have even walked past her then….
His mind started to go into a whirl again. Lately he had been thinking of so many things that his thoughts have become jumbled. Confused.
All of a sudden, memories of a short brush with the irritating girl on the streets came running back into his mind.
“Can you sing “Ai Shi Ni Yan Li De Yi Shou Qing Ge?”
“Why are you acting so aloof? Don’t you know it’s rude not to look at people when someone is talking to you? Unless you tell me you are blind.”
“I’m sorry, but can you please sing that song for me? Please?”
The similarity is uncanny… don’t tell me it’s…
So she was that irritating girl who had begged him on the streets, not less than once, to sing the song. That was four years ago, he remembered. That day, he was feeling upset and fidgety over Cherie and Jason’s date when he met this girl. The pieces suddenly seem to fall into place. Have their fates been linked to each other since then?
His lips curling into a smile, he thought… silly girl.