Friday, October 13, 2006

The Gold Watch (A work of fiction)

The gold watch

It was mom’s pride and joy. A Titoni gold ladies’ watch. Gold platted strap with a handsome gold casing. A good Swiss mechanical watch. With a 21 jewelled movement. It does not have batteries that wear out. Or a sophisticated computer chip board that once broken is irreparable. It steadily, faithfully kept time.

The gold watch is to be taken out of its hiding place and displayed on her wrist only during wedding dinners, Chinese New Year’s eve reunion meal and other grand occasions.

A long time ago when they were still young, in the first flush of business success, dad bought mom the gold watch. His one gesture of extravagance. His business however wax and wane many times over the years. He finally went out of business.

The gold watch’s fortunes waxed and waned with dad’s business. In bad times, to put food on the table and clothes on the children’s backs, all eight of them, the gold watch had been pawned time and time again. Always, miraculously however it got redeemed.

Mom fiddled with the watch constantly. Perhaps she feared losing it again and this time forever? Sometimes in the night when she thought I was asleep, she would go to her bedroom wardrobe. Taking up her chain of keys that she kept constantly in her trouser pocket, she carefully selected one, and opened the drawer where all her earthly treasures are stored. She does not have much. A pair of pearl earrings. A jade bangle. A silver locket. A few hundred ringgit frugally and carefully hoarded for times of emergency. And the gold watch.

One night, awakened by the sound of the key being turned, I got out of bed to be at her side looking at her trinkets in the drawer.

“Is the watch very expensive mama? Can I wear it? Can I take it to school and show my friends?”

Laughing out loud, she teased and said “it is a ladies’ watch. You cannot wear a ladies’ watch, son. You wait. One day I will buy you a gold watch.”

“When?” I asked excitedly. “On my next birthday?”

“No. When you finished Form Six and go to university. Then mama will buy you a gold watch.”

“But what happens if I don’t’ make it to university?” I anxiously replied.

“Don’t worry you will”, she reassured me.

“Did papa buy you the watch then because you did something special? Did you pass a special exam?” I was curious to know.

“No,” she gently replied. He just wanted to give me the watch. He says I deserved it.”

“Papa must love you very much” I replied.

Mom did not answer me. Instead taking a oil soaked handkerchief, she lovingly, slowly, carefully polished, oiled, and wound the gold watch up.

“Mama, why do you need to oil the watch?” I would ask.

“So that the gold strap would not lose its lustre son”, she would reply.

After giving the watch a final polish, she would put in on her wrist. Looked at it a long while and then with a sigh, put it back into the drawer. In that special honoured position, on the upper right hand corner of the drawer which belongs only to the gold watch.

The years passed. Years of plenty intermittently follow more years of hardship. Soon the children grew up. One son in particular became successful having the business acumen the old man never had.

The gold watch’s fortune at last was secure. It need never be pawned again.

Tonight the gold watch is to be taken out for the grandest occasion yet. Mom and dad’s golden anniversary dinner at the plushest restaurant in town, followed by the obligatory photographic session at the studio.

Mom looked grand, in her green translucent silk blouse and elaborate flower motif sarong kebaya. The materials specially bought and sewn in Penang.

“Only the Peranakan people in Penang really know how to sew Nonya clothes”, fussed eldest sister. And as usual she got her way.

The gold watch glittered on her wrist. She looked happy and pleased. Her beloved children around her, fussing over her, delighting in her.

“Mom you looked like a thirty year old woman tonight”, teased her favourite son who had returned from overseas just to attend the golden anniversary dinner.

Dad was his usual quiet self. Still ramrod straight at 70 years, he looked good in his suit and bow tie. These days the old man does nothing much except read his papers and listen to his “light and easy” Chinese songs from the fifties and sixties.

Dinner over, the entourage adjourned to the Studio for the family photograph. The brood of eight children had multiplied. All married, with at least two children, you do the maths. At least thirty two people were present!

The poor photographer had a hard time getting the people together and pose for a good shot.

Jackson, where do you think you are going! Come here NOW!” yelled third sister at her youngest son.

“ Where did older brother go? He was here a moment ago,” worried mom.

In the confusion, dad sat by himself in a chair by a corner, some distance from his noisy, boisterous brood. The old man took out his wallet. For he too had something that he treasured. That was his pride and joy.

It ‘s a photograph that he kept in his wallet. He often take it out to pour over the picture lovingly. The photograph is faded by now, creased and fragile through long handling. But the black and white picture is still clear. It shows a young Chinese lady, smiling for the camera, in the strained stilted manner, favoured by the photography studio in the old days.

And no. It is not the picture of mom, the woman at his side for fifty years. It is a picture of the old man’s mistress. Acquired by him in his brief golden period of youth and wealth.

Where is she now? Well, her commitment to him was only for better, not worse; for richer, not poorer, in health and not sickness and certainly not until death do they part.

She is long gone from his life. Yet the old man still dreamed dreams.

“Happy golden anniversary pa! Happy golden anniversary ma! Time to take pictures!”

Startled from his reverie, the old man peered up at his children and mumbled, “thank you son, thank you daughter”.

The golden anniversary picture occupy pride of place in my home today. Mom and dad sitting together, side by side, smiling. The rest of us beside, around and above them. Mom’s gold watch glinting in the camera’s flashlight.

1 comment:

Teresa said...

Lukas' comments:
I tried to look at the story from the perspective of a reader who just picked the book out of Kinokuniya or Borders:

Was the watch a gift from a loving heart? Or out of a guilty conscience...? Or as a feeble means of appeasement...?

"Because he said I deserved it..."

Not "because he said he loved me..."

Or is she leaving out what he really said for the little boy's sake...

But if it were an appeasement gift, would she take such care of the watch? Wouldn't it just bring back bad memories?

Or does she look at the watch, wondering what the true motive was behind the extravagant gift? Or maybe she was blissfully unaware... but no... to be married for 50 years... with evidence of an affair in his wallet... not the best hiding place, if he is even trying to hide it...

Or it could be that she keeps the watch as a reminder to her husband... to remind him of the pain he caused her... or maybe to remind him of the love he once had for her...

But to show such love and care for the watch... to me, that probably shows that she knew that it was the last true gift from her husband... the last gift she received from a husband who loved her. And she clung to that...

The old man still dreamed dreams... and so did she.