It is an old HDB building with a strong smell of urine inside the lift. I press the 10 button because there are only “5” and “10” buttons available where my destination is 9th floor. I say a little prayer that this lift won’t break down, again feel so ironic since my goal in this life is being dead. After I reach 10th floor, I go down the stairs to 9th floor. I still remember every detail of the yellowish floor and which step of the stairs that’s crooked. I’ve lived in this building for eleven years but I haven’t set foot in for the last 5 years. And I don’t miss it at all.
I knock the door because I know the bell doesn’t work anymore. After about a minute, no one opens the door. I knock the door harder and louder. “Anybody’s home? It’s me, El!”
I see my hand bruised a little when somebody finally opens the door. “It’s late. What are you doing here?” he asks me.
“It’s not late. It’s still 9 o’clock.” I argue.
“What do you want?” He doesn’t bother to counter my argument.
“I need to see Dad. Is he home?”
“Why? What do you want?”
“None of your business. Is he home?”
“It’s funny how you never talk to us and now you suddenly need to talk to him?” He chuckle cynically. “It’s like you’re dying or something.”
He opens the door and lets me in. I stand just about 2 meters from the main door, so if anything happened, I could just run.
My father comes out from his room. He’s tall, skinny and looks very wasted, but I knew he isn’t. It’s just the way he looks. He looks surprised seeing me. I guess it’s been years since the last time I saw him so I kind of thought that he missed me.
“Hi Dad…” I greet him awkwardly.
“Eloise…” He says my name softly. “You become more and more like your mom.” I can see he smiles a little. “What brings you here today?”
Dad takes my hand and asks me to sit on the sofa. He asks my brother to make some tea and he straightaway refuses. He tells my brother to have some manners but then he replies that I came here because I kept something fishy. My father is mad at him and he is mad at my father back and they keep arguing for a while until my dad realizes I’m still sitting in front of him.
“Sorry about that.” He says.
I just nod a little and start to tell him why I come. “I don’t request for your permission. I just wanted to tell you this because I think you must know. So I will cancel my Singapore Permanent Residence and withdraw all my CPF money. You can’t look for me because I don’t know where I will live.”
Dad is surprised again. So is my brother, who has been listening standing 5 meters from us.
“But why?” My dad asks me.
“I don’t belong here, Dad. You know that. I never did.”
“I made a mistake. I supposed to do this long time ago. I was just too chicken to get out from this comfort zone.”
My dad and my brother are just quiet now.
“Do you need money?” I asks him, breaking the silence.
“Yes” My dad and my brother answers in the same time.
“No. We don’t.” My dad turns his head to my brother.
“How much, Jerome?” I, too, turn my head to my brother.
“How much is your CPF money?” He answers rudely.
I take a deep breath not to lose my anger to him. I grab my bag and stand up, looking directly at Jerome, “Listen you punk, I will not be here anymore. I can’t help you anymore and I will never come back. So you better stop acting like an asshole and be a man! Stop doing whatever you’re doing now and start looking for real job because I won’t be around anymore. Register for Dad’s Casino exclusion when I cancel my PR and start to take care of him. You heard me?!”
Jerome doesn’t say anything. He just stares at me with a confused and angry face. He won’t understand now but he will eventually.
“Can I take one thing from you, Dad?” I ask.
“What is it?”
“I want Mom’s journal. The one that has buttons on the cover.”
I come back to my rented room around 11 at night but not too tired to read my mom’s journal. I’ve been reading it for couple of times but I never get bored. My favorite is the time when she lived in Paris for two years. She dated this guy named Remy, a Parisian guy who literally serenaded to my mom on her 22nd birthday. He was the exact definition of a living romance. My mom fell in love head over heels with him but then he cheated on her with a waitress in his restaurant. He was a chef and that time he was 7 years older than my mom. I guess my mom was a naïve young lady. Then mom stayed in Paris another 4 months to finish her NursingSchool and came back to Singapore. She met my father in Singapore, followed him to Indonesia and got married there. She didn’t write about my father as much as she wrote about Remy though. But in a journal entry on her wedding day she wrote, “I love this man and I can see my future with him. I want to take care of him and make him happy always.” So I believe that the feelings that my parents once shared were true.
She didn’t write so many entries after she married my dad and the blue journal ended on 1983, one year before I was born. She stopped making journal then because she worked so hard as a nurse. I love the way she wrote, always full of details and passion. I could really tell she loved Paris so much because the journal itself spent 70% of her Parisian stories even though it was only 2 years of her 7 years journal span.
My mom loved Paris so much that she named me and Jerome after her two favorite Nurses when she was in a NursingSchool. She told so many inspirational stories about how Eloise and Jerome would sacrifice their personal lives for patients. I never meet theses people in person though and never been to Paris too but Paris always sounds so good and somehow gives me hope.
I feel a small fire burning in my chest every time I think about Paris. A feeling that could make me smile, dream and look forward to live. Now I will never see Paris because I will die soon.
I close the journal and go back to reality. I apply online for my CPF withdrawal and prepare documents and stuffs to give up my Permanent Residence Status. Resigning from my job turned out to be so easy since I have my doctor’s report stating that I’m dying. My company let me leave at once and even gave me two months compensation. I applied visa for my journey which was also approved very fast given the fact of $116,224 CPF money plus all my savings for the last 6 years in my bank account. I also took part in flea market, selling all my clothes, accessorizes, and all the petty stuffs that could be sold for $5 to $2. Some things I even sold for 50 cents! I sold my laptop, printer, TV, old cameras and DVD player through ebay. That adds up about $5000 more to my fat account.
The next thing I know, I’m standing here in a Singapore airlines counter at the Changi airport, holding only one polka dot suitcase and a backpack. “May I help you, Miss?” the lady in the counter greets me politely.
“I want one way ticket to Paris please.” I say.
“May I have your passport?” She asks. I give it to her and she does some things on her computer. She sees my 6 months tourist visa and smiles at me, “That’s a beautiful destination you choose.”
“I know.” I smile back at her.
“How would you like to pay?” She asks. I give her my credit card.
I can’t stop smiling. I will die within 6 months, even though I didn’t die then, I could always suicide. Me dying is inevitably, but at least I’d die in a place I had always wanted to see.
I would die in Paris.
Footnotes: In Singapore, the residences must give 20% of their salary to Government (the institution is called CPF). The only way to get the money back is waiting until 55 years old to become one’s pension fund, or give up the residence status.