The air-conditioner cranked loudly, blowing warm and cold air in cycles. I sneezed. This office smelt musty, like rotting carpet. On one side of the wall, reminding everyone who’s the boss, was an imposing oil painting of the company’s founder looking so highfaluting it was comical.
Someone walked up the perforated metal stairs; the sharp clacking sounds from the metal tips typical of expensive shoes echoed up to the top floor. Inside, three large offices crammed into the space flanked by two large glass cabinets full of trophies. On the production floor below, metal cutters screeched, grinders rasped and compressors hissed.
My colleague, Qian, cleared his throat. The time on my phone showed 11.45AM.
The door opened. I spied the Accountant strolling in with a cup of coffee. She looked up, startled. She made a sharp turn and walked out again, hollering at someone to hurry up before re-entering.
“Hi. I didn’t know you were coming. Jam,“ she fretted. I shrugged. Excuses. It would be a cold day in Hell before the city roads were devoid of roadworks and traffic jams.
“Is E.H working today?” I asked icily, looking pointedly at my watch.
She stared meekly at the direction of the door.
E.H entered the meeting room with an exaggerated swagger. “Hello sweetie.” I flinched as he tickled my palm with his index finger. He gave me a knowing smile as though we were sharing a private joke. I pretended not to understand.
“Good to see you, buddy, “ he bellowed, slapping Qian on the back. “Thanks for the stock tip the other day. Made shitloads,“ he continued. I noticed Qian mouthed something frantically.
“The big boss has asked me to introduce you to Lilly here. She is his new Fixer for our investee companies, although I don’t see the point because she is managing his small personal stuff.” Qian declared pompously, vigorously rubbing the arms of the sofa with his hands.
E.H wagged his finger at me, “Sweetie, you should meet my wife. She is driving me crazy with her endless reno—, “
“Thank you, I am sure I will meet her sometime soon,“ I interrupted, “I am working on a proposal to unlock asset values in our investee companies either via a Real Estate Investment Trust, or an Initial Public Offering in the stockmarket,“ I smirked, noting with utmost satisfaction, the daggers on Qian’s face.
“Hey, Qian. Maybe we can get rid of those shoplots we bought by injecting into this Trust, eh?” E.H blared. I glanced at Qian. He reddened. Hmm..interesting..I don’t remember there being any shoplots in this company’s list of assets.
“My friend, REITs are con-jobs…only the managers make money. I won’t be too happy if I were you. Mark my words, your shareholding in this company will be majorly diluted.” Qian sneered, his unsmiling eyes glinted dangerously at me.
I drummed my fingers on the table impatiently and stood up to leave. “Well, we won’t know for sure if there will be a dilution as yet.”
Qian jumped and pointed at me accusingly, “What do you mean by no dilution? This…is the only asset in the company’s portfolio.“ He waved his arms wildly and glared at me darkly, “Unless..Oh don’t tell me.. you are planning to relocate this factory and sell this prime land.”
E.H arched his back and puffed his chest out, glowering. “Nobody is going to touch any of my company’s assets,” he snarled, pushing his face mere inches away from mine and jabbing me at my chest. He grabbed the sleeve of my blouse and frog-marched me out of the office. The metal stairs shuddered as the door slammed.
The stork balanced itself on the top of the lamp post as I waited for the pedestrian light to turn green. Against the fiery sunset, the stork looked like a one-legged sentinel watching the traffic snarling below.
I patted the Appointment Letter that was in the pocket of my blazer. At last, I am Top Dog. That parasite colleague, Qian, is out. Tonight, I am going to draft The Plan for the company. By this time next year, the company will be mine to twirl around at the whims of my beautiful fingers.
Someone rushed by and shoved a flyer in my hand.
Ladies Night. That figured. No wonder the pubs were crowded at this early hour.
I turned instinctively and spotted two burly men watching me intently. I quickened my pace; one hand clenching the sling of my handbag, another grabbing the pepper spray in my pocket. One can never be sure in this parts eventhough it’s broad daylight; eventhough there are lots of people milling around; eventhough there are …
A policeman was standing outside the small police beat up ahead. I shall ask him for directions to places I know to be on my left. I want to have the excuse to stop and look around me.
Something cold pressed at my neck. “Walk on,” the voice growled, “One scream and you will be dead.”
Few days of evening rain and the weeds have taken over the garden.
I looked up from the weeds I was trying hard to pull. Their long stems were too strong for my limp hand with its four worthless stumps.
A woman was peering over the wall. She must be standing on a stool. She looked like the Michelin Man in pink staring down at me in the garden.
“Lilly, the man buying old newspapers was knocking at your gate. You know which one, right? The one in the van with the loudspeaker shouting kow kow poh chi. Old Newspaper. paper lama. bateri lama. tilam lama. computer lama. You want to sell that or not?”
I looked at where she was pointing. A large pile of old newspapers sat on a patio chair. Its pages warped from dried-out rain. I glanced at the buckled page on the top. It reads: 23 Feb 2016.
Was yesterday 23 Feb 2016?
“There are two old newspaper man plying in this area. One is tall and thin. The other is fat and short. I like the fat and short one. He is more polite. Calls me tai kar cheh. Big sister.”
What is the date today?
“The old newspaper that you want to sell has no fixed price. You must bargain. I can help you bargain if you wish.” Mrs Wong said
I closed my eyes tightly.
I was going home.
Now I am here.
I ran hand across my face and caressed the rough fibrous tissue running along the side of my face from my forehead to near my ear.
“Before you open the gate, you must ask the newspaper man – How much? Then he will make pitiful face and say “Now the prices have dropped alot”. Says the same thing everytime.”
“What day is it today?” I asked.
“Huh? Today is Wednesday. How come you don’t know what day it is?”
“I mean, date. What is the date today?” I demanded.
She counted her fingers. “Ten May”
“10 May 2016?”
“No. 2017! How can you forget?” She shook her head in disbelief.
I turned to go back inside the house, dragging my useless foot with me.
It is so confusing.
“Lilly.. do you want to sell your old newspaper or not?” I heard her shout.