The soft, morning light percolated through the blinds in Chee Seow’s HDB apartment. His eyelids fluttered momentarily, in a physical debate between wrestling them open or succumb to another five minutes of sleep.
He rolled over to his side, shut-eyed, to where his wife Chew slept. Expecting to feel her soft, plump skin beneath his stubby fingers, he was surprised to find the sheets empty. He opened his eyes.
“Ahh, already 8 o’clock. Time for breakfast,” he mumbled groggily to himself while lifting his squat frame from the bed. Chew must have already been up since morning, waiting for him to join her at breakfast.
He shuffled his way to his bathroom, blearily squinting his eyes at his murky reflection on the mirror. He grunted and stuffed his frayed toothbrush into his mouth and began brushing his teeth, staring dully at his reflection in the mirror marred with water stains. It surprised him how the years have transformed him into someone he now only vaguely recognized.
Splashing water on his face, he felt adequately fresh enough for the day and opted to skip a bath. Chew wouldn’t mind, he smiled to himself. He noticed the office staff in the building he worked at sometimes held their breath when he walked by during his patrols, but Chew never seemed to mind. It was one of the perks of a three-decade old marriage, he thought.
He shuffled out of the bedroom and made his way into the kitchen. There she was, Chew, at her usual spot by the kitchen table, with that familiar trace of forlorn in her eyes. His eyes softened when he took her in. There was no food on the table, he noticed. All that was left on their wooden kitchen table was the candle stump from the day before.
“No breakfast, ah Chew?” he asked cautiously.
She remained silent.
He got up and walked to the stove, deciding that he would boil some eggs for the two of them. Chew used to make breakfast for the two of them. The classic kaya toast, half-boiled eggs and kopi spread was simple, but it was their routine every morning. Things were different now.
The kettle on the stove whistled, prompting Chee Seow out of his thoughts. He scooped the boiled eggs from the pot and brought them over to the table. Chew still had not said a word. But he was used to the silence that had now wedged itself into their relationship.
“Hungry, Chew?” he asked.
Her eyes were still fixed ahead, unmoving.
He replaced the candle stump on the table with a fresh stick and lit it up. It stood awkwardly between them and the eggs on the table. She still had not responded, barely noticing the plate in front of her. Frustrated, he shoved the eggs from the table and began pounding his fists on the table, heaving loudly.
From outside, the neighbours began whispering.
“He’s at it again,” Cik Salimah from the 9th floor whispered to Angela from the 3rd floor. It had become somewhat of a neighbourhood spectacle. It all started by a chance encounter Cik Salimah experienced on her way back from the wet market. She still distinctly remembered it. It still sent shivers down her spine, and she took care to tell everyone who came by her house about it.
“He will feed his wife’s portrait every morning lah. His dead wife! At 8 A.M. I seram you know!” Cik Salimah would tell her wide-eyed friends. “I was walking by one morning and saw him talking to the picture. Tak betol!”