she’s in her kitchen chopping the garnishes and skilfully cranking the pincers of the mud crab. she throws in a dash of salt and pepper, pours in the ketchup and sprinkles the spices into the boiling pot.
he’s in the common room. seated on the holey-designed plastic chair, he stares deeply into the places unseen.
day in and day out, the same routine as one orchestrates her meals while the other waits in the common room.
lugging the chair after him, he makes his way to the gate. “anne ah! anne!,” he croaked in hokkien. “lock the gate!!!”
“yes, yes,” she replied back from the kitchen as she finishes the final touches to her chilli crab masterpiece. she walks over to the ironing board and grab her keys for the gate.
from the entrance of the house you only see the grey concrete of the corridor. stoned and still, sitting faithfully next to him is the family bulldog, nameless and peering out with him. the scenery can only get better if a neighbour exits the lift and greets him as they make their way home.
back in the kitchen, she scoops the ember thick gravy from the pot and transfers the crab to the serving plate. at the dining table she sets the dishes neatly with the chopsticks and spoon.
they eat in silence. one pulls the shell apart without much force and offers the flesh to the other, yet the other refuses. “no, no. no.”
after lunch, she reclines on the two-seater sofa while he reclines on the brass framed queen-sized bed in the next room.
every few minutes he coughs and hollers for her “anne ah anne!” she responds “oei!” in acknowledgement and a way of telling him she is on the way. she proceeds to hit him hard on the back to clear the phlegm that was irritating his body.
by dusk, they are seated at the same dining table. the television was reporting the usual evening news before the empty sofa ahead; but the old folks’ ears were attentive to every word the news anchor said.
“oh Iraq, every day there is something about it,” she exhaled in mandarin.
the moon comes up, glistening in the pure darkness of the night. comfortably, he lays in bed while she sits on the edge of the bed. they talk about their children and grandchildren’s future. oh how time flies, they are growing up and moving on to different phrases of life.
“so that’s how you say ‘future’ in mandarin. you lousy teacher, don’t teach me properly,” she complained to him. the casual remark sparked the youthfulness and playfulness of their long companionship.
it reminded me of how I used to watch her look after her mother when she was wheelchair bound. she would nag at her and stand by her faithfully.
after tucking him in to bed, she walks out of the room and as she was about to close the door, he said: “leave the door open!” she replied harshly yet lovingly: “ya la!”