Dawn had just arrived. The morning mist was cool in the warm, tropical Singapore on Saturday. Usually, I would be in the wet market buying the fish, meat and vegetables to be served on the dining table for the next one week.
But not today. It was not because today was Valentine's Day. Rather, it was because my hubby was out of town so I had to take on the role of both father and mother singularly.
"Really, daddy is not around today?" P regaled and explained. "Wow, that's great. Daddy can be quite a tyrant at times." Though, R was probably too young to express in sentences, his eyes were beaming with joy.
I was not surprised. His daddy was the authoritative figure at home as I was often too soft-hearted to use the rod. When my hubby returned home that evening, I told him his sons' reaction. I gathered that it must be hailed from his childhood days where his parents were strict with him to make sure he stay on top of his homework. There is nothing wrong with this approach. He is what he is today because of his upbringing. On the other hand, I had a more carefree childhood days.
I used to stay in a one-room rental HDB flat "on top of a hill" at Bukit Ho Swee near Tiong Bahru Estate where the pre-war flats were. It was not a hill but a little slope which I enjoyed pretending that I was trekking up a hill.
We later shifted to a two-room rental HDB flat just down the hill, as the tiny one-room flat became too small with arrival of my little brother and later, two younger brothers. A queen-sized bed, just above the bed was a baby sarong cradle hanging from the ceiling, a bunker bed with a pull-out bed and a manually-operated sewing machine which I later understood to be my mom's dowry (hmm, that should be antique by now), jostled for the tiny space in the bedroom. Our living room was more luxurious in space as we only had our prized television, a wooden dining table and a coffee table which was discarded by its previous owner but my father had rendered it still sturdy and hence given it a new lease of life at our spartan home. Scattered around the living room were a few bamboo stools. Those non-eye catching little stools were our favorite after a hard day of playing hide-and-seek and police-catch-thief games with our neighbours. They provided us with the much needed prop on our butts and we would always push them against the wall to get a good, cooling back support. As our flat was on the ground floor, it had two doors. One facing an open space, the other the dark corridor which my father had locked it up.
Even though we were poor, we had a fair share of joy and even had pets. During those days, there would be people hawking bread, cooked food such as "niang dao hu", ice-cream and even chicks at the alley in front of our flat. Yes, those yellow, chirping chicks. And we used to rear them in our flat. My mother would haggle from the fruit seller in the wet market for the paper box which was used to contain fruits, after buying some fruits. And the paper box would be the home of our chicks. We would usually have two and we even walked our pets around the neighbourhood.
There was an occasion, when my pet was a little, yellow chick no longer but a plumy, white hen. Against our warnings, it roamed out and ventured at the turn into the dark corridor of our flat on one stormy evening alone, never to return. My mother told me that it had probably found its way into the stomach of other people.
I remembered I used to scream and scrambled onto the table when our pets grew big and found cardboard home too restricted and jumped out for a breath of fresh air. I was scared because the hens felt so warm yet soft on my hand that I might squash them and break their bones unknowingly. My mother would always come to my rescue getting the hens back to their home and covered them with the other part of the paper box. Besides offering companionship, the hens were also our alarm clocks, albeit at times, cock-a-doodle-dooing at the weird hours - in the afternoon fortunately.
When I was about ten years old, I was heart-broken when my mother slaughtered my pet. When she cut it up, we saw many rubber bands that clogged its gizzard. No wonder it was so skinny! After that I refused to rear anymore more chicks.
During those times, I even had a dog as a pet. It was a stray, black little dog which we kept it for a mere two to three weeks. I bathed the dog and played with it. But my father told us that our flat was too small to have a dog and so we had to let the dog go. My memory was hazy as to where the dog went to, but that sour feeling still lingered.
Our family later moved to a three-room homeownership flat this time round when I was in my teens. That also marked the end of our pet-owning days.
I supposed that was why I had a more creative streak compared to my Valentine. He was the rational guy and me, the fun-loving one. This brings balance to our family.