Love over politics
By Bertha Henson
ILLUSTRATION: LORAINE LEE
She stood out with her dyed blond hair that stood up in spikes. Then there were those baggy bermudas over black tights. And those tattoos up both arms. He couldn’t imagine a more unattractive female. Then there was that cigarette dangling from her mouth.
“Hmm, no smoking here. See over there… got sign.’’
“She pouted, stubbed out her cigarette underfoot, picked it up and said: “You throw it away for me.’’ Then she flounced away.
“This was really too much, he thought, two fingers wound around a lipstick-stained stub.
It will be a busy day for him. He was the emcee at a community event. The MP, or rather advisor to community groups in his neighbourhood (must get it right!) would be giving out Edusave bursaries. The hall was filling up with parents and children. Then there would be some “makan’’ for the residents.
He had started volunteering his services at the community centre after graduating last year with a computing degree. He conducted workshops on coding for primary school students, helped out at the free health screenings for the elderly and attended closed door dialogues with ministers. He was being good and doing good. His friends had ribbed him, asking if he wanted to be an MP one day. His answer: Why not?
But that female was there again, wedging herself in the crowd surrounding the VIP. His instincts told him trouble was looming and he got to the VIP’s side post-haste.
She was yelling: “So why can’t the police see he is a first-timer? Warning enough already. Got police record, can’t get job.’’
He could tell that the VIP was struggling to be polite to this harridan with criminal connections. He stepped in : “You should let the law take its course. Our police are efficient and won’t step out of bounds.’’
“What out of bounds? Out of jail lah.’’
“Then just come to our Meet-the-People session on Tuesday night. Don’t action here and spoil people’s party.’’
“Can you mind your own business?’’
She did the flounce.
He met her again the next week. While on a walkabout. Or rather, he was in one walkabout and she was with another, helping to hand out oranges on behalf of an opposition party. Big smile on her face. Familiar Hokkien words, interspersed with Mandarin, English and even a little Malay. The char kway teow man was handing her a packet – gratis. All very pally, he sniffed although at heart, he was envious at the way she seemed so carefree and casual. Their eyes met, like swords drawn. They held each other’s gaze for several seconds, each daring the other to look away. She looked away first. He considered it a victory. Then she came forward to him : “Want to fight is it? Meet me later at about 5 o’clock behind the CC.’’ Again, that flounce!
He wasn’t sure if he should keep the date. Heck! Her criminal connections might be laying in ambush. Then again, he found that she had quite nice eyes and a certain gamine quality. He decided he would make her his “project’’, convert her to his point of view, set her on the right path and so forth. Or maybe not.
She didn’t know why she said what she did. Surely, if he turned up, she couldn’t punch him in the face, could she? Maybe he’ll come with his high SES friends all dressed in white with mata mata hiding somewhere? Then again, he has such nice eyes. That shirt, however, was too tight for him.
She went back to her three-room flat for a change of clothes. She should at least smell nice. She would make the date, even though she doubted he would. She had watched him as he emceed his way through all those names. How he tried to help the girl in the wheelchair get up the stage and how he spent time talking to the children during reception, even offering them free tuition. He’s not so bad, although he’s stiff and hoity-toity. But he’s still a chenghu person, she thought angrily. They would be rowing immediately about politics. Or maybe not.
Rather nervously, she rounded the corner where the CC was. He was there, looking at his cellphone. She could smell the cologne he must have poured all over himself. She called out an “Oi’’. He replied: “Ya. Here.’’ There was a silence before he asked: “You got name or not?’’ Of course, she had a name.
They started talking.
He about his work as a technology expert in a start-up, she about her present circumstances as a neighbourhood hairdresser. They agreed that no one knows what the future would bring.
He talked about university. She talked about ITE. They agreed that there was nothing like getting your hands dirty in the real world.
He talked about living in his parents’ condominium. She talked about sharing a three-room flat with her two brothers. They commiserated with each other about not having their own place to do as they like. They agreed that they should keep family close, but not too close.
He wanted to know about what her row with the the MP was about. She told him about an elder brother finding it hard to get a job after getting out of jail. He gave her a few numbers to call and said he would see what’s available. She asked him where he got his hair cut and wouldn’t he rather have a professional stylist do his hair. Maybe a perm?
No cellphone numbers, email addresses were exchanged. But they arranged to play badminton next week. He would book the court at the CC.
That was how their love story started. They never talked politics.