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Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Ghosts

It has snowed since Saturday morning. Everything is covered in whitest shade of white, from the trees to the rooftops and from passing cars to the swing in the playground. Everything that was brown, dirty and old, like the road works happening in front of my apartment, is now all white and beautiful.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could have an emotional snowing, emerging on the 3rd day when you are all blemish-free, pristine and as pure as fluffy snow from the sky?


*

There comes a time when everyone packs their bags and head out into the archipelago, just a little bit off Stockholm. It is like a date that the Swedes have with themselves. 3rd Saturday of June, pack your bags and go into the forest. Prance around the fertility poll, clap hands and sing drunken men songs, sauna and skinny dip with friends accompanied by lots of barbeque and booze.

‘Skål!’ The tiny bottles clinked. Nasty little packages, they are. Nothing starts the day better than 7 a.m. wake-me-up droplets of terribly cheap booze. Come to think of it, maybe that spelt the beginning of doom.

The Scandinavians love potatoes. They have potatoes from Monday to Sunday and on special occasions such as the Mid Summer, they have boiled potatoes with dill. Given the fact that I was a spoilt (still is) little brat that never lifted a finger back home in Malaysia, I was quite a good girlfriend, peeling a bucketful of potatoes with a Korean girl and a Swede.

Don’t feel too happy for me. It wasn’t an international party despite I being totally clueless when it came to Swedish. A Swedish couple adopted the Korean as a baby, so she was oblivious to the fact that she wasn’t really white (or European, if you must) afterall. (We’ll talk about that phenomenon in another story).

Everyone has jabbering in Swedish. One shouldn’t take for granted how little you understand when you understand approximately everything 5th word. Words like “this”, “the”, “one” (and the sequence of numbers), “white”, “come here” and of course, the very famous “potatoes”.

SwedishLove was missing somewhere. He went to help the boys, so I was stuck with two girls jabbering in Swedish. They spoke in English, perhaps 5 minutes of each dreaded hour. Although silent through the whole of their conversation, we managed to skin all potatoes, poured them into an even bigger pot, filled it up and covered the lid after placing some dill in the pot of bubbling hot boiled potatoes.

Everyone gathered and took a walk into the forest. Here is the romantic part, guys. Part of the Mid Summer’s tradition involves girls wearing a garland of wild flowers on their heads. We looked somewhat like earthly princesses, with flowers of every colour sitting in a circle on our heads. A crown of freshly picked and weaved flowers sat on each and every girl’s head. Like icing on top of a cake, I guess.

Henrik and I walked around, searching for little wild strawberries. They were tiny, the size of a large bead. Red and similar to the ones we buy off shelves in supermarkets. Just that they are wild and perhaps taste a little sweeter than the commercial ones. Then again, I think they were meant to be bitter, since they were wild.

‘This is yours,’ he said, then placing the chain of wild strawberries on me. ‘It is traditional to make a chain of wild strawberries for your loved ones.’ He gave me a kiss. ‘Happy Mid Summers.’

It was so romantic, being surrounded by the greenest green forest and wild strawberries on the ground. Summers in Sweden are amazing. The sun rises at 2 a.m. and sets at 11 p.m. With the sun up 20 hours of the day, everything in your soul wakes up. Everything feels more alive and everything is a whole lot more exciting. There were others around but the world felt as if it had stopped. And in that one moment, there was only my SwedishLove and I.

Obviously there is a spoiler to this romantic story. The ghost broke the little moment we shared. ‘So you ready for the barbeque?’ she asked him. She stood a distant away, her hands urging us to join them at the table. The Ethiopian was SwedishLove’s first girlfriend and somehow or rather, they shared friends and were invited to the same Mid Summer party.

Not a problem for the two of them, obviously. But I felt like the 3rd person on a very small bed. The whole lot of them, going on and on, singing and talking in Swedish through the lunch barbeque did not help one bit. Everyone at the party were friends from years ago and they got on like they have never left each other. By then, I wasn’t only the 3rd person on the very small bed. I wasn’t even a person anymore.

I broke down after a few hours of numbness. You will never feel lonelier than the isolation you feel in a sea of people. Loneliness is when you sit at a party where everyone is clearly enjoying himself and you are the only one left at the dock of the unknown. I called the evening short and went back into the dead silent city. Oddly, I didn’t feel lonely despite being alone.


*

It was my first encounter with the 3rd kind - the ghost of past relationships. Obviously everyone has a ghost (or two) but not everyone has to deal with it in the face. Mid Summer party in the company of boyfriend, his ex-girlfriend and 10 other old friends is not recommended.

It did not end there.

‘Let’s clear up the space in the basement,’ he said. We went down 3 flights of stairs and opened the little cage-like space. I remember how the space looked. It was a corridor with space for each occupant to store his soon to be forgotten 6 months later rubbish.

I opened up a black plastic bag and there were numerous clothing articles in it. Dark navy blue, army green, dirty brown, sweaters, trousers and some odd looking t-shirts. ‘What’s this?’ I asked him, showing him the bag. ‘Do you want to keep it?’

‘Put it in the corner. It’s Jenny’s.’

Such a sweet name for a ghost, don’t you think? I hope that you are like me, thinking ‘What the hell are you doing with her clothes still?’. We didn’t speak about it until the day I left for Malaysia at the end of summer.

‘What would you like to see the next time you come back?’ SwedishLove asked.

‘I want all of Jenny’s things gone.’ And it wasn’t even negotiable.

The ghost of Jenny came and went as she pleased. No utter respect for the living, I am telling you.

‘Singapore is so much more advance than Kuala Lumpur.’

‘You can live in Singapore, for all I care. In Jenny’s panties, if you like.’

‘Jenny’s in the US at the moment.’

‘Like I care.’

‘Jenny’s a very smart girl. She speaks Swedish.’

‘I don’t consider speaking Swedish ‘smart’, especially when you have lived and studied here for 4 years.’

‘Why do you pronounce the word like that? Jenny speaks better English.’

‘Well you can be with Jenny then. I don’t give a fuck. Malaysians have Manglish and Singaporeans have Singlish.’

‘She speaks like you when she’s with her friends. But she speaks perfect English with me.’

‘Well then she’s not being her true self with you, isn’t it? She’s more honest with her friends than with you. I speak to you exactly I speak to the rest of my friends. You go figure that one out.’

I can be a bitch when I need to be. But soon though, I was also a ghost in his life. Now my clothes sits in a black plastic bag somewhere downstairs in the basement, right next to Jenny’s. And together, we are the ghosts that will haunt the next girl. I’m smiling because I know that at least I have some amount of taste in fashion.

You can betray your upbringing by changing the accent you speak. But your clothes will never lie.


*

Sometimes the ghosts popped up at truly unexpected places. Like last Saturday at the party. Nothing is more frightening than a ghost in her wedding gown. Damn unlucky, if you ever have to look at a ghost in her wedding dress. It helped that her dress was ugly like Princess Diana’s OTT Cinderella-ish pom-pom sleeve dress. She smiled, one hand holding a bouquet of red and yellow African Daisies and the other hand resting on the groom.

I saw the ghost when Kitty took me on a tour of the summerhouse by the lake. Not allowing me a moment of peace, eh, I thought to myself. Actually I was quite shocked to see the ghost bride. She was dead 4 years ago, so she had no place in the house anymore. But there she was, standing pretty in her wedding dress, next to all the family’s wedding photos.

I did not sleep well that night. The whole house smelled foul with her presence presiding over it. I knew in my heart that I had no place there in the house if she lived there. She haunted me, even if she was just an empty memory sitting on wall. That is the scariest, isn’t it? Of all the ghosts you can ever find (in secret locations such as a box in the basement or a photo album) one that sits openly and proudly on the wall to remind you that she is there, watching you every day is of the worst kind.

‘Why are you so quiet?’ he asked, then giving me a little rub on my upper arms. We were walking around the small supermarket, searching for alcohol and extra booze to boost the party.

‘Nothing,’ I said, mucking about. ‘It’s cold.’ It was a blatant lie. I have not felt cold when I cranked up the thermostat to the max in each and every room. Often time, I have to take off my layers of clothes once I arrive in the shops because it’s too freaking hot indoors.

‘Hey you! How’s everything?’ the voice came and tapped him on his shoulders. It was a friend commonly shared by the ghost bride and him. Blonde and wrinkled eyed, I thought to myself. Don’t worry, I was not the only one rudely checking from head to toe. She looked at me too. It was moment like this that I thanked God for dressing up, even for short trips to the grocer’s. In total I met 3 friends they commonly shared on a 10 minute trip to fetch more alcohol.

Bloody photo, I thought to myself. Whenever I was alone, I found myself staring at her, nitpicking and interpreting every little expression on her face. Same hairstyle from 16 until 38 years, I thought to myself, noting how her hair was the very same as the photo I saw of her when she was only 16. I would hang myself if I had the same haircut for half my life. As it is, I morph myself on average twice a year – hair colour, cut and shape. It is a symbolic metamorphosis of who I am and what I am becoming, shading the dead layers of my old self, emerging brand new.

I faked tiredness and retreated to the bedroom (to sulk). Bloody ghost stared from across my bedroom door. It’s like she planned all of this years ago. Sitting there to haunt anyone who dared to walk into the house. The whole house smelled of her, her presence never left the place and her photo was there to remind everyone that she is alive and living in some dark corner of his mind.

I slept and got up only when there was some noise downstairs. I found myself in a situation, similar to what I experienced during Mid Summers a long time ago. A room full of friends shared by the ghost bride and him, ten thousand eyes staring and judging me. I imagined that they were comparing me to her and decided in their minds that she won. You can never win when they have been friends since childhood. (Biased, biased, biased!)

Again I found myself at the sink peeling potatoes. He spoke and I replied, never looking at him. My lungs felt starved of oxygen as each minute passed. It was the most silent 20 minutes of my life - standing there, thinking, smelling and breathing the ghost. ‘Are you ok?’ he asked.

I nodded, unable to say a single word. The whole world will crumble if I spoke. I knew it. I felt a little tear nesting at the corner of my eye. ‘Damn it. I hate peeling onions,’ I said, then wiping the tear away. 'It's not onions....' a voice said in the background. And there was silence when the pots, pans and plates did not make noise.

‘Can you please remove your wedding photo?’ I asked, in the calmest voice I could muster. I must have sounded like a mouse, afraid that the ghost bride would hear. ‘What?’ he said, straining to hear what I tried so hard not to utter.

‘Can you please,’ I said, then crumbling emotionally a little more. ‘Please remove your wedding photo.’ I looked away, sensing that I have been defeated by the ghost bride. The ghost bride must be happy now, I thought to myself.

‘Pardon, Love?’ he asked again, looking at me in the eye. The tears rolled down immediately. Don’t look at me. I will die if you did. My heart will waste away when you do. I took a deep breathe and said, ‘Please remove your wedding photo. I am disturbed by it. You can place it back on when I am not here.’

‘Of course, Love. Of course, I can. This is why you are quiet, isn’t it?’ he said, then washing his hands. Great, crying in public again, I scolded myself. I walked away and hid in the bathroom for a very long time. I looked at my eyes. Do you know the defeated have red and swollen eyes? I was defeated. I let her win. The ghost won.

The photo was gone by the time I opened the bathroom door. She no longer stared into my room and her presence no longer loomed over me. The whole room felt lighter and I found myself breathing for the first time since arriving 18 hours ago in my powder blue jacket and sexy black boots. But she was still there. She will always be there. That is what a ghost do – hang around, judge you harshly and make your life a misery.

I found myself seeking refuge in the bedroom an hour after dinner. They were speaking gibberish, as far as I am concerned. I don’t get it. Why invite someone to your party if you are not going to speak to her in a language that she understands? It’s the 2nd party when they went on and on in another language, when they knew I would not be able to participate. ‘Sorry, I don’t speak English’ doesn’t cut it for me. In my most generous self, I call it rude.

Then again, I guess this is expected. They will not be easily won seeing that they are friends with the ghost bride now ex-wife. Friends stick by friends, right? Even if the relationship is dead, you still mourn for your friend’s dead relationship, won’t you? You cannot replace your friend with someone new. It’s like betraying the memory.

So even if the dead is dead and the person is nothing more than a ghost in the past, you can count on the living to remind you of their presences. The ghosts will never let you go.


*

‘I’m sorry, Love. I did not know that the photo was there.’

No matter how many apologies you make, it does not go away. It never does. It was very symbolic, the fact that she was still there, hanging and happy. This would be an altogether different story if the photo tucked somewhere in an album or slipped between the pages of a book. But a dead wedding photo hanging next to living marriages is so great a sin, it will live on forever like the ghost.


*

Is your ghost dead?

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