Murder at the Haig
Glimpsed in passing feeding the pigeons and only once upon the lady did the realisation strike. You could not stop and stare. Possibly the woman had made a more certain ID herself immediately. A couple of weeks before she had been met in the yard out front of the house. A rather awkward meeting in fact. This is her, Helen had announced proudly with some kind of winner’s smile. The pair had been chatting by the greenery while two or three cats weaved between their feet. The English had surprised, together with the visage the woman presented. You assumed an old Chinese battle-axe, surly and sharp. On the contrary, once again here was an altogether classic soft Balkan Babushka—they were legion around the place. First word of the notorious lady had emerged about a month before: there was a convicted murderer living up at the Haig blocks, someone reported. It would turn out the deed had been done right there at the Haig—a woman who had killed her husband by her own hand. Ten or twelve towers of so many storeys, it stood to reason; the odds were perfectly in order. Hmm…. Interesting of course. Had one on the scent a little; casually, lazily. The fruiterer Mr Lim was asked, making conversation more or less one morning over the purchase. Yes, knew the lady. Quiet type; a little screwy. People kept away from her; a bit batty. What had happened? Why? How? None could bring themselves to ask, Mr Lim answered. More or less same again with Helen: gabbing one evening when she was feeding the cats on the near corner opposite the house. Here though, in this case, Helen unexpectedly declared she was in fact intimate with the party. I know the lady, answered Helen with her usual judicial air. The story went she and her husband had looked after the elderly ahma, the grannie; hubbie’s mum. Of course the work all fell on the daughter-in-law. Hubbie/son had been a bit aged himself by that stage, doddery and weak on his pins. In time god took back the old soul; they had done their best. Afterward the usual scramble for the cash. Those who had been absent before, visitors of their mother earlier at elder brother’s place, gathered now for the spoils. And promptly. Words exchanged; recriminations. How to grab the loot quick and get away? (They were lucky not to have the flat sold from under their feet.) Over that term of money-grabbing, the old, doddery hubbie had begun to echo some of the criticisms of his siblings. Blah blah blah. The wife had not done this or that right. Blah blah blah. One night continuing by the kitchen sink where the daughter-in-law/wife was busy preparing dinner. No, not dicing veggies the tired housewife; pounding chilli it must have been. In hand the mortar and pestle. Pounding. The old guy unrelenting. One word too many tipped the boiling bucket. POW! Crack! Like a lubenica, watermelon, they say in Serbia. One strike was enough; dead pretty much on the spot the old jawbones. Lady did five or seven years of her sentence; early release; temp. insanity whatnot. Here she was back at her former dwelling, returned to the neighbourhood. Auntie Helen lacked no gumption; a JW with lots of firm spirit; one who had done her own time over a matter of principle. Helen got it straight from the source. All the feeders in the neighbourhood naturally knew each other. There were alliances, as well as animosities and demarcations. Fed more than just birds this lady. (Helen herself had recently begun adding the crows that gathered on the near corner.) The sweet, redemptive part came at the end a few years later; few years back. The son, one of the children of the victim and of the killer, must have been a Buddhist. One advanced some good way in his studies and devotions. With enlightenment attained after proper reflection, the chap, the son, comes up to Mum one day in order to announce: Mother dear, when I come back, I want you to be my mother again.
Haig Road, Singapore
About the writer:
Australian by birth and of Montenegrin origin, Pavle Radonic’s almost eight years living and writing in Southeast Asia have provided unexpected stimulus. Previous work has appeared in a range of literary journals and magazines, most recently Entropy, Map Literary, Citron Review, Orca Journal, and La Piccioletta Barca.
Image: Guru Rinpoche, Tantric Buddhist master and emanation of Buddha Amitabha by Suman Kattel. Acrylic on canvas. 33 x 25 inches. By permission. The image is a traditional Paubha (Nepalese) sacred painting used in support of meditation. Suman Kattel is a student of Thangka and Nepalese traditional art at Srijana College of Fine Arts (SCOFA) at Tribhuvan University.