An SG50 Tale

this pavilion isn't the one at the story's location, but the design is the same.
this pavilion isn’t the one at the story’s location, but the design is the same.

Housewives took in their laundry poles and shut the windows, even though the cool air that the rain brought supplied refreshment. The rain had seemed to randomly befall the country, maybe to celebrate the Jubilee week along with the nation.

SG50 sales, SG50 discounts, SG50 dishes.

Who knew, maybe this had been ordained by the secret Singapore weather conductor – SG50 rain.

It wasn’t that heavy sort that later left puddles humidifying the air, nor was it the irritating light drizzle that somehow occurred when the sun was still at its peak. This was the clean, aromatic and cooling rain that refreshed the earth and made Singapore weather delightful for once.

It was raining in Bishan Park as well. The darling of the media, of the camera’s trained lens. Tony Abbott had been there. But now the only people there were probably enjoying cappucinos in McDonalds. But wait. There, under that pavilion designed as a leaf, were a huddled couple on the white stone bench.

“It’s cold,” said the female, whose ponytail was dripping water down the back of her pinafore. Her male counterpart was soaked as well. “Why didn’t you bring an umbrella?”

“I forgot lah,” he said. “Anyway I didn’t think it would rain so fast.”

“Huh.” She tried in vain to smoothen out a wrinkle in her skirt. Then looking up brightly, “I feel like eating a vanilla cone.”

The boy turned to stare oddly at her. “I thought you were cold what.”

She refused to look him in the eye, but in flirtatious tones said, “Well…I just wouldn’t mind one right now.”

“Why don’t we just cheong to McDonalds?” he suggested. “We’re so wet already that it won’t matter.”

“No! Obviously not!”

“Okay fine, I’ll go, but how am I going to carry it back? Unless you want rain on your ice-cream.”

She sulkily conceded, and continued idly wringing her ponytail. At length the boy looked up. “Fiona, look!”

“What?”

“I’ve got an idea.”

In the distance, coming towards them, was an elderly woman, slightly hunched over in her effort to hold the large umbrella steadily over her body. She advanced slowly, but eventually reached the leaf pavilion.

“Ah Ma,” the boy called.

She turned and noticed the stranded pair. She jerked her chin up in question.

In Mandarin he asked, “Can you help us to buy two vanilla cones from McDonalds?” He extended a two-dollar note to her.

His Mandarin was not fluent, so she spoke back in English. “No, no. You go buy yourself.”

Fiona looked archly over her shoulder at him and whispered in his ear: “Wait. I’ve got a better idea. I don’t really need an ice-cream after all but I’m bored.”

To the woman she said, “If you help us buy two cones I’ll give you this” – she opened her wallet and fished out a fifty-dollar note – “but only when you come back.”

She watched the woman’s face as she caressed the money and placed it back against the leather folds of the wallet. “So?” she purred.

“Hao,” the woman said. “Give me the two dollars I go buy for you.”

To her companion Fiona murmured, “Don’t ask yet.”

And they watched as she trudged on, holding her umbrella with one hand and clutching a purple note with the other.

_________

The McDonalds’ vanilla cone, slowly raising its price at ten cents per increase, from sixty to seventy to eighty cents. Coloured cones now seem the new intrigue that McDonalds has decided to add to the popular dessert. Now it’s a pinkish-red cone. Would that be a coincidence or is it purposely engineered in conjunction with SG50?

I ask the lady at the counter, who replies in pronounced Filipino accent.

It’s for SG50, only this week. Fifty cents per cone till Monday.

It has fallen thirty cents. I pay up.

_________

The woman shook the water off her umbrella and leaned it against the wall outside to drip dry for a short while. All the way to McDonalds she had continually seen Fiona’s coy face in her mind as she had pulled out the fifty dollars.

“Siao zha bor,” she had muttered to herself.

Rich zha bor as well. With fifty dollars she herself could buy food for at least one week, but with this amount the girl was splurging it on ice-cream. But the money, if duly given, would definitely come in handy. After all, she only had to buy two ice-creams.

She stepped in and got into one of two available queues, two dollars still clutched in her right hand. Ice-cream was eighty cents, said the screen.

“Hi, may I have your order?” the friendly staff member said.

“Two vanilla ice-cream,” she said.

On the small black screen in front of her the order flashed up. But the price said 1.00.

“I thought it’s eighty cents?” she asked.

“SG50 offer,” he said.

“Orh.” That meant a whole dollar as change.

“Anything else?”

“Wait ah…” Out of the corner of her eye she saw a sign that said Apple Pie of My Eye. Her grandson had been doing well for his exams, and she had wanted to treat him but could not afford to waste money on junk food. But now, perhaps she could buy that for him.

“Apple pie how much?”

“One dollar.”

Of course this was only being based on the guess that the two teenagers didn’t know about the SG50 offer. But how could they? Had they known they would have only given her one dollar.

She would buy the apple pie for her grandson and refund the girl forty cents, unless she was allowed to keep the change, and then it wouldn’t matter at all. She was that rich anyway. Fifty dollars!

“Auntie? You want the apple pie or not?”

“Wait, wait.”

She tried to piece together the fragments of thought in her mind. It wouldn’t matter if she ‘cheated’ the girl. It would only be a few cents. And plus, there was a nagging feeling at the back of her head that the girl would not give her the fifty dollars at all. Wouldn’t it be better to at least get something for her grandson and nobody would need to know?

But even though the girl’s condescending air deeply offended her, it did not give anyone the right to cheat.

“Just the two ice-creams,” she managed at last. She passed over the two-dollar note and received a new one-dollar coin as change.

A young woman passed her the two cones with carefully spiralled peaks of whiteness atop strawberry cones. Only then did she realise that she had no way to carry the cones back while covering them.

But it was only drizzling now. Surely it would be all right.

And she couldn’t possibly let the ice-creams melt, could she?

_________

The rain is being fickle. It suddenly lets loose an unprecedented shower, accompanied by strong winds. The trees and leaves wave their tahnks for the additional supply of water. The fat pigeons hop and fly to shelter.

A stooped figure slowly moves forward, aiming towards the white leaf pavilion. In her hands are two ice-cream cones, peaks no longer perfect but whipped off by the rain. She’s desperate now, hoping that the siao zha bor will at least give chance.

Confirm cannot liao.

_________

“You can ask me now,” said Fiona, when she saw the woman making her way to them from afar.

“Are you really going to give her fifty?”

She broke into laughter.

“Of course not, you goondu.”

_________

The old woman’s steps had gradually become slower and more laboured as she went on. By the time she reached her destination, the rain had dwindled to a trickle again.

She had planned to say this: I’m sorry. I didn’t know it would rain again. But there’s SG50 offer for fifty cents, I will give you one dollar back.

But the two were nowhere to be seen. She was drenched from head to toe looking like a fool, carrying two red cones with milky white liquid dripping down from her hand onto the grass. All for nothing. So much for morals. So much for not cheating. She should have just bought the apple pie and gone home.

She was very cold, very tired and very sore.

_________

From behind a nearby tree the pair giggled.

“Some people are so stupid,” said the boy.

“Yes!” cried Fiona. “She actually believed me! What a joke.”

Shaking with suppressed laughter, they continued watching to see what she would do. And then the old lady placed the two cones on the white stone bench, and from her pocket took the new one-dollar coin and placed it there as well.

And she looked up and straight at Fiona behind the tree. Her gaze was steely and bladed; her chin raised and steady with a clear message.

It said, There you go, siao zha bor.

_________

The sun comes out, and the housewives are putting the poles back out.

And two teenagers feel the slightest twinge of guilt for trying to have fun at the expense of an old lady.

__________________________________________________________________

I’ll admit that that was a rather morose story to post on such a jubilant day, but that’s how my stories always flow. If you liked this story, please share it on Facebook or any social media that you have. So on a happier note, happy SG50 to all fellow Singaporeans! (And yes, vanilla cones are 50 cents till Monday, so if you didn’t know that you can thank me and rush off to get one.)

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