True Wealth

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Genre:  Narrative

Title:  Write a story beginning with: “In my haste, I disregarded everything else…”

In my haste, I disregarded everything else and decided to follow him upstairs.  I lifted my right foot and as I set it down, the ancient plank creaked beneath.  I looked up and gazed into a wobble hunched back.  He was mumbling to himself and I could barely make out the content, something about how he had expected all these.

I retrieved my sight and tried very hard to concentrate on my steps.  The dim light was not enough for me to walk confidently; instead I had to watch my steps like a toddler that has just learned how to climb the stairs.  I dared not use the railings as I had always have unknown fear for dust.  It reminded me of infectious diseases, not to mention what my Scout Master had constantly told us to “look before we touch” as there might be poisonous creatures.

The staircase was steep and by the time we reached the top, it was even darker.  At the end of the staircase was a tiny door, made of wood and chained with a huge padlock.  As he pulled out the keys, they rattled incessantly, and he was muttering to himself about the right key.

“Do you need help?”

“No, no, in fact, I remember, I remember the key, it must be this one.  And young lady, be careful that you don’t fell down the stairs.  It has been so long.  I thought you would have come sooner…”

I decided to keep quiet and let him do his work.  I saw his silver hair flickering under the dim light forced through the gaps in between planks.  His hair reminded me of his old age and how he had faithfully guarded this inn even when his service had been long dismissed.

“Click.”

The padlock came loose and as he pulled the chain away, the sound echoed in the limited space, almost amplified to a deafening level.

“Come, come.  It’s opened.”  He pushed the door open and stepped into darkness.  I quickly followed him.

Suddenly, there was a ray of strong light, causing me to experience a short period of blindness.  As my eyes got adjusted to the light, I could see that we were in a very confined area.  The attic was small with piles of old documents, cases and boxes.  The air smelt stuffy and mushy.  I brought my camera closer to adjust the setting.

“Can I take a picture?”

“Oh yes, oh yes.  Now, where is it?”  He continued to rumble through the boxes and cases.  According to him earlier, he was supposed to look for a suitcase.  I guessed he would need some time to find what he intended to.  In the meantime, I took several pictures of the attic.

And then I heard him hauling a heavy suitcase.  I turned around and saw the suitcase in real for the first time.  It looked exactly like what she had described to me.  An old Victorian suitcase, square and sturdy.  It was about 2 foot high with a heavy ancient lock in front.  I quickened my steps to Uncle Koh and helped him hauled the suitcase under the bulb.

“This is the suitcase my Xiu Jie brought along with her, when she came from Shanghai.”  Uncle Koh wiped away the cob web and the dust on the suitcase with his hand.  “It was her favourite.”

“All these years, the suitcase has been kept here, in the attic?”

“Yes, ever since that incident, her belongings were instructed to be packed and burnt.  But I have taken the risk to try to safe her belongings.  I hid some of her things here in the attic.  Nobody comes here except me.”

I gazed into his eyes as he spoke these.  The wrinkles around his eyes seemed to tell me that how faithful and loyal had he been, to his master all these years, guarding her last bit of memories and properties.

“I need to take this with me.”

“Oh sure sure.  I’m sure Xiu Jie will be glad to see this.  I’m sure she will miss this.  Oh yes…” he pulled out a small ancient key and opened the lock of the suitcase, “In here, is her favourite gown, the one she wore on her wedding.”

He pulled out an ivory gown, lacy and heavy.  The gown had turned yellow over the years, but I could imagine the young Ms Lim in it, all white and pure, waiting to be taken to the altar and handed over to the man that would marry her.  But fate was not on her side, she had been betrayed.

“I will take this too.”

“Yes, yes, Madam Chew.  I will help you to bring this down.”

“It’s ok, Uncle.  I will bring it down myself.”

“Sure, sure.  Let me hold the door for you.”

I put the gown back into the suitcase, locked it and carried it with me.  I walked down the stairs and bid Uncle Koh goodbye.  As I stepped out of his lodge, I turned back once again to look at the mansion, my great grandmother’s mansion.  Though I had never stayed here, it was just as familiar.  I remembered how my great grandmother had detailed every corner of it to all her great grandchildren.  And how she revealed her true identity to us.  We were often stunned and bewildered.  We questioned her about her rights to seek for justice, to reclaim what belonged to her.  She often brushed all these aside with a chuckle and patted on each of our face saying, “Boys and girls, true wealth is in our heart.”

My cousins had always persuaded me to right the wrongs due to my profession.  However, I know that is not something my great grandmother is seeking.  She is now 94 and most probably will not make it through this week.  I have, frankly speaking, abused my authority to get her precious wedding gown back.  I think this remains her treasure, her true wealth.  The time when she was loved and had a happy family. When she was chased out of the mansion by her husband and his newly wed mistress, she was not saddened by her material lost but rather the happiness and blissfulness that had been taken away from her.

I looked at the suitcase on the passenger seat, and decided to accelerate to the hospital …

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