In the last moments of my life, I notice everything, hear everything, see everything – the glint on the crooked teeth of the smiling doorman when he opens our car door, a guttural “Welcome back, Chairman Chia” from the hotel manager, the glaring Singapore sun forcing my eyes shut as my young wife wheels my flu-weakened 89-year-old body into the air-conditioned Epic Hotel.
Yes, I own this luxury six-star hotel located on Orchard Road, and the Cathay Hotel and the Paragon Hotel, and yes, I own Singapore’s largest bank too. And yes, you’d be right to call me a self-made man, a filthy rich tycoon, a Forbes-listed billionaire and philanthropist who first came to Singapore with just a singlet on his back.
I’ve made it big. Very big. But I’m quickly dying and sadly unresolved. The elevator doors slide open. My stunning wife interrupts my thoughts.
“Chia dear, you okay? You look pale. We get you up to the penthouse now.”
Mei Lan hovers over me, dabbing my feverish forehead with her embroidered handkerchief, pretending to care. But perhaps hers is not pretense. I’m no longer sure.
She’s still a looker at sixty. I met her thirty years ago. She was a beauty queen, a celebrity. I knew I had to have her. So I ditched my ex-wife faster than the time it takes for this elevator ride, and married Mei Lan.
The elevator doors open. Mei Lan wheels me into the penthouse and stops me by the floor-to-ceiling glass window as she orders on the phone. Colonial houses, office buildings, cars and trucks in the sizes of bugs crawled painstakingly through the various downtown streets. I feel the traffic’s slow motion in my veins, my arteries, my pipes. I see dust specks float and flitter. I look up at the sky and see light, drifting pale clouds. They seem carefree, anger-free, guilt-free.
“Chia dear, happy birthday,” Mei Lan pecks me on the cheek, and hands me a drink.
“I’m dying, Ah Lan,” I take a sip and murmur in her ears.
“Aiya, don’t talk like that please.” She puts her finger on my cracked lips, tells me I’m just tired and helps me to bed.
She then takes off her heels, the sight of her so endearing my heart aches.
“I know… you’re having an affair…” I speak slowly, taking a labored breath.
Startled, Mei Lan looks up from the silk stocking unfurling down her right leg.
“How… how you know?”
“I just know.”
“I’m sorry, I’m soo.. sorry.” A tear drop streams down her smooth cheek.
“I forgive you Ah Lan. I can’t say… I’ve been a saint myself.” I’m trembling now, flooded with emotions and ill health.
By now, she was on her knees, grabbing my hands, then hugging my torso, saying sorry over and over.
“There is… one last thing you can do for me,” I manage to say.
I gesture for her to bring me the phone. She puts a call into my ex-wife.
“Wo Ai Si Liao.”
In our native Teochew, I tell my first love I’m dying, then I whisper my last words, “forgive me, my wife.”
I can’t see her face. But I imagine the pain in her heart lifting from her. I see the pale light clouds outside the window. I am one of them – carefree, anger-free, guilt-free.
Sharon Y. Sim runs a communications firm based in Los Angeles. When she isn’t donning her business hat, Sharon writes short stories, creative nonfiction and is also working on a novel titled “The Tiger Baby.” She has a masters of professional writing degree from University of Southern California and has been published in The Straits Times (Singapore’s leading daily), Thousand & One Stories, Reed Magazine, AsianWeek, Silicon Valley Business Ink, PR Week, Daily Texan, Lone Star Events, Justice, Tribes and others. Follow Sharon at Twitter or Instagram at @sharonysim