I fitness-march through the gates of the Botanic Gardens. It’s early in the day, not crowded yet. Usually David walks with me, but his back is giving him fits, so this morning I stride alone, which is fine with me because tomorrow the movers are coming to pack up our possessions, and the next day we’ll fly back to Houston, leaving this beautiful and vibrant city, Singapore, which I have loved; and with this change looming, I need time inside my head.
I hear flapping footsteps behind me and feel a whoosh as a hard-bodied woman races past. A cloud of Chanel wafts in her wake. Mademoiselle. I know this because it’s the scent I wear, though I tend not to waste a spritz before I go sweat-walking in the park.
The woman has a small child at home, a three-year-old girl, who right now is having her breakfast mess cleared away by the helper, who plays with the child and talks to her and wheels her to and from play school. The live-in nanny is from the Philippines, a jolly dutiful woman, though uneducated; and this morning, right before pounding toward the Gardens, the runner heard her daughter say words using the idiom and inflection of the Filipina, who learned to speak English in one of her country’s rural schools; and she misuses pronouns and doesn’t understand tenses.
The hard-body has had a disturbing realization. She is going to have to become more active in the raising of her child, who is picking up questionable habits and lackadaisical attitudes and dietary preferences and improper word-pairings from a foreigner with dark hair. This knowledge makes the mother so sad and frustrated that she is near tears as she brushes between a picture-taking tourist and the sprawl of newly blossomed bunga (boon-gah) lilies. She has so little time for herself, and now she will have even less.
Her husband travels for his work. KL, Jakarta, Beijing, Chengdu, Taipei. He’s all over the damn place. He’s even been sent by his company to advise people in Pakistan, a dangerous country where he might be killed! And does he think about her and their daughter, how devastated they will be if he’s yanked violently from their lives? No, he does not! And she’s here, in this faraway city, taking care of absolutely everything without his encouragement or advice. When he’s home she loses her temper over his absences. She rages and accuses, shrieks even. Why is she here if he is not? She might as well have stayed in London.
Three mornings a week she runs here in the Botanic Gardens; three mornings she plays tennis with the women at the club; and on Wednesdays she golfs, which takes up the major portion of the day. At least twice weekly tennis extends into lunch, which means a glass of white wine, and then another. The cost is sixty dollars and she’s exhausted when she gets home. But these lunches are her pleasant time, when her friends listen as she bemoans the unsynchronized lights at the crosswalks and the dark-eyed construction workers who stare as they take their breaks on the curb across the street from her building. If she doesn’t spend time with the other ex-pat wives, what will she do? Who will she see? What will be her outlet? She will become a woman who speaks to strangers in the shops. She will become a frump who cooks and makes quilts and is too apathetic to accessorize.
Fifty yards ahead of me now, her firm butt barely jiggles as she bounds forth. She takes the curve and is gone from my line of vision. Good-bye thirty-something, hard-bodied, self-absorbed, and unreasonable.
Look. A huge monitor lizard crossing the path right in front of me. Cool.