This is another one of Gigi’s letters. The tone has shifted into something more polemical, an essaying of disparate ideas, like scattered fragments. The exposition or its posture is not deliberate. It might be a voice distilling itself from Gigi’s evening talks with her lover, only the talks seem so one-sided now, with Gigi distracted in her own thoughts, still listening but mostly formulating her new theses about the world. She is beginning to question, even distrust, the readymade sense of what is good and true that has come down the ages. She will need a new pen soon enough, now that she’s used up all the extra pens in the box the mendicant left behind. “If Weber perceived Buddhism as socially irrelevant in a ‘this-world’ practicality, Ariyaratne’s Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement is testament of an explicit Buddhist vision to awaken all through good social reform. His is the vision of a “no-affluence no-poverty” ideal. Seems like a viable developmental model that has been time-tested with formidable success in theory and practice. Maybe the people here will like to know more about it. The farmers should like the sound of it. But the lesson will seem ridiculously anchored in the ways of the world, something the mendicant would disapprove of. Quite intensely. Would you disapprove of this, my dear friend? What would you have said if I asked you this when I had your counsel and everyday attention?”
There is sand everywhere in my house.
It’s not a house; it’s an apartment.
It’s public housing, so I guess it’s a house.
Many of these houses along this corridor are rented.
There’s an old auntie who needs a helper to wheel her.
The helper is nice, but she has a hard time with the auntie.
Another house has a couple who rents for less than $100 a month.
They’re millionaires because they sold their terrace house.
That was in the 1990s.
I would’ve sold it for $4 million this year, the uncle said.
He didn’t look sad when he said it.
He said it as if it was that day’s news, something about stocks.
He talked about sharing, and how he had to share his living space.
My wife is a good woman, he said, as if to validate.
His wife looked up from the couch to smile at me.
This couple is in their 70s, and they take long walks in the morning.
There is sand everywhere in the four houses along this corridor.
The sand gets under the tarpaulin rolled out as a pathway.
The tarpaulin stretches from the front door to the bathroom.
The tarpaulin is white and blue, with large mosaic patterns.
There is sand on my cabinets and pots and pans and books.
The sand will not come off my books.
The sand will eat into the pages of my book.
The sand will still come off those pages when I open them to read.
I gave the uncle a book, which I said was something he’d like.
I didn’t know if he’d like it, but he seemed to agree with my choice.
It was an old book by Sasha Steensen.
It was a long poem, with each page placing only one line.
All those lines snaked around each other in the end.
All of them followed a neat lineation, but also told their own story.
I saw the green on the cover, but the uncle saw only the black.
It’s an expanse of black, thick and impenetrable.
It looks like the day my father died, the uncle said.
The auntie looked up from the couch and smiled.
She didn’t say a word, but he looked at her and smiled too.
She nodded to agree, as if that day wasn’t like any other day.
She pointed to the darkening sky, and nodded.
The uncle pointed to the darkening sky too, and said it would rain.
I need to shut the windows, the uncle said.
He walked back into his house, and shut the door behind him.
How could work become such a drag, Siew Mee said.
Siew Mee didn’t have to work but thought work would be fun.
Bookstore clerk had a ring to it.
She loved reading horror.
She loved talking to authors.
But there were boxes and boxes of books to carry.
Serena was a nurse, and her days were no better.
Meghan and Melissa worked in sales.
The boss was always bringing in new products.
If it wasn’t a new fragrance, it was luggage or laptops.
It seemed they were selling everything that could be bought.
Stuff that was sold on the cheap.
We can’t behave like a bunch of princesses, Meghan said.
There’s no other way to behave, Melissa said.
How much more sick can it get? Siew Mee said.
She kicked a box of boxes but screamed when it hurt.
Mum says the ticket is to marry a rich man, Siew Mee said.
That’s a stretch, Serena said.
How about trying to find a man to marry, she said.
How about trying to find a man anywhere, Meghan said.
Things had become tough for women around here.
There was a shortage of men on the island.
The gender ratio was worrying.
One man to 2,000 women.
The newspapers called it the scarcity pandemic.
What’s a girl got to do around here to get hitched?
Serena said this while making herself a gin tonic.
What’s a girl got to do around here to get laid?
With such numbers, the men had a field day.
They could choose the women they wanted to date and bed.
Even old, paunchy men could snag twenty-somethings.
It made Melissa want to hurl.
I vote that we start a group, Melissa said.
I vote that we sell pink lemonade, Serena said.
I vote that we organize trips for retail therapy, Siew Mee said.
I vote we start a women’s group, Meghan said.
I vote for that, Melissa said.
Like a feminist group? Serena asked.
Didn’t figure you for the bra-burning and breast-beating.
No, Meghan said, a group to get us a man and get married.
That’s sick, Siew Mee said as she leaned on Serena’s arm.
I vote for that, Melissa said.
I vote that we start a group to get us laid, she said.
Enough of this skulking around and parading for them.
I say we grab what we want, and do with it what we want.
I vote for girl power, Siew Mee said.
I vote for love, Meghan said.
I vote for you doing Dae-Jung, Serena said, giggling.
I’d do Dae-Jung, Melissa said.
I’d do Dae-Jung any day, any time of the week.
He’s got the most beautiful ass ever.
And the way he walks into a room.
I get wet just thinking of it, Melissa said.
That’s nasty, Siew Mee said.
He’s a nice guy, Meghan said.
Nice guys never stopped nobody from fucking them.
Melissa said this while signing off on the bill.
She then signed her name on a napkin too.
She passed it around the table, and made the other girls sign.
That’s our new beginning and new start to life, Melissa said.
That’s our way of reclaiming what’s ours.