Losing my papers

I’m sitting in the office of Potong Pasir Community Centre, waiting with my father for my mother’s ukulele lesson to end. She is a bit of a ukulele fanatic, my mother, and shuttles from one jamming session to another throughout the week.

It is September 12, the morning after the elections, and Potong Pasir, once a long-time opposition stronghold, has just been turned over to the ruling party for a second term. 

My mother woke up at 6 this morning to buy the papers, but they hadn’t been distributed yet. When we finally bought a copy at a 7-11 near the coffee shop we had breakfast in, it was 9. 

The newspapers were a disappointment. There was a front cover story of the elections and a promise about a special afternoon general elections edition. I read through the articles, mostly a repeat of things I’d already read online or slow news day type things. 

Then a Chinese ah pek came in.

Him (in gruff Mandarin): Is that the CC papers? 

Me: No, but you can read them if you want

He snatches them out of my hands and stomps out. 

My father looks over. “Why did you let him take the papers? It’s our private papers!” After rearranging the various community events and advertisements for performances in the magazine stands, he is valiantly trying to read a hardcover book he has found in the office. I can’t see the title but it looks like one of those idiot’s guide sort of books. His spectacles are perched on his forehead and he frowns at the words. If we were at home, he would be napping in 5 minutes.

The newspapers were $1, and there was no news in them. But suddenly, this whole newspaper thing became a matter of pride. I’ve never heard the term ‘private papers’ before and now I’m wondering if I’ve foolishly given away $1 of my family dignity.

“You still want to read them? He wants, let him take lah, but why must snatch until like that.” 

An Indian uncle is standing close by, looking at the papers with interest. I hand the rest of the sections to him.

“Uncle, you want to read? Nothing much about elections though.”

“I take out there and read ah? Over already what. Everything already said!” He gestures to the 37-inch television that hangs in the office.

“There is a 30-cent edition coming out at lunch time,” an aunty nearby offers. “Maybe New Paper has more.”

I glance at the copy of the New Paper next to my dad. My mother had bought it just after breakfast.

“Ah,” I say. “Maybe.” 

The Indian man nods and strides out with the rest of my papers. 

I fold the 7-11 bag the papers came in, as my father, still reading the book, shifts and partially sits on the New Paper.

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