The cult of following bo.., p.1
The Cult of Following, Book One, p.1Barbara Jaques / Humor
The Cult of Following
Editor: Moz Walls
Copy editor: Lydia Davis
Cover: Ed Knox
Formatting: Elizabeth Freeman
This is a work of fiction. While locations are real, events are not. Claims and opinions expressed are not those of the author. Reference to Singapore law is interpretation and should not be considered fact. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
First edition published January 2017
Copyright © 2017 Barbara Jaques
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 COUNTDOWN
Chapter 2 TO MAKE A CHANGE
Chapter 3 EXPOSURE
Chapter 4 SLIPPERY FOUNDATION
Chapter 5 A NICE DAY OUT
Chapter 6 GARDEN OF EDEN
Chapter 7 THE FIRST COMING
Chapter 8 NORMAN SULLIVAN
Chapter 9 MEETINGS
Chapter 10 NORM
Chapter 11 SOCIABILITY
Chapter 12 WHEN LOVE AND LUCK PART
Chapter 13 ALL CREATURES
Chapter 14 GREAT AND SMALL
Chapter 15 IDOL CONFESSION
Chapter 16 PULAU UBIN
Chapter 17 A REVELATION
Chapter 18 MACRITCHIE RESERVOIR PARK
Chapter 19 THE NORM
Chapter 20 THE GIFT
Chapter 21 THE MATTER OF WORDS
Chapter 22 CHANGI
Chapter 23 ART
Chapter 24 GLENEAGLES
Chapter 25 JOYANN TAN
Chapter 26 FLOCKING
Chapter 27 THE PASSION OF NORM
Chapter 28 KEEP AWAY FROM THE LIGHT
Chapter 29 A CHRISTMAS APART
Chapter 30 WITHOUT CAUTION
Chapter 31 THE RETURN OF JOYANN
Chapter 32 LETTERS
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The Cult of Following
‘So you’re going?’
Percy Field swilled his drink round and round, collecting miniscule bits of foam from the sides of the glass, making the most of the warm beer he so enjoyed. ‘Yes,’ he said.
His friend pressed him. ‘And it’s the right thing to do? You’re sure? Isn’t it full of snakes and malaria and other crap like that?’
‘No. Well, not malaria, anyway.’
‘So you’re just going, just like that? To a swamp.’
‘Just like that, to a first class city. It’ll be fine.’
‘So you’re sure it’s the right thing to do?’
Percy’s eyes lifted to meet the concerned gaze. He wanted to say, no, it’s the wrong thing to do, I am absolutely sure it’s the wrong thing to do. ‘Of course,’ is what came from his mouth. Tonight was not the night for sarcasm, not with Art. Tonight was for beer, companionship and peace.
‘But you hate travel, Fieldy.’
‘I don’t hate it. And it’s not travelling. It’s moving.’
‘Yes. Moving. To Singapore, for Christ’s sake! What if it doesn’t work out? You can’t just pop back here to cheer yourself up.’ There was a pause. ‘Well, you could.’
‘Yes I could.’
‘But not easily, or without spending a load of money.’
Releasing a long, steady sigh, Percy observed his friend. How he would miss Art. How he enjoyed these long evenings sampling craft ales and beers. Craft. It wasn’t even the correct term. They used it only because at some point in the distant past they had learned it was wrong, which meant using it became funny in some obscure way. This was not a replaceable friendship, but then, were any?
‘And Sal?’ Art persisted. ‘What does she think, now it’s really happening?’
Percy frowned. ‘Sal was happy enough to carry on as we were. But with her out there all the time, and me back here. It was making things tough. Not just the distance. The time difference. You know.’
‘So she wants to go? She’s choosing it? Her company isn’t forcing her hand?’
‘Maybe a bit. But yeah, she wants it. More than I do, anyway. It’s a step up for her.’
‘Visit, Fieldy. Be a tourist instead of an expat. Let her carry on with her travels and you stay in England. Just tag along every now and then.’
‘I can’t. I told you, we need to spend more time together.’
‘That would be more time together.’
Conversation paused while they each drew a mouthful of beer, followed by the obligatory ahhh that comes with satisfaction.
‘So when did you check it out?’
‘Check what out?’
‘Singapore. To see if you like it.’
Percy slumped a little.
‘I knew it! You see! I told you so! You hate bloody travel. You haven’t even been to Singapore and you’re planning to live there. Who does something like that?’
‘Come on, Art. What’s the point of a trip like that? Sal and I need to be in the same place, so whatever I think of that place is irrelevant. It could be the fucking jungle and I’d go.’
‘It is the fucking jungle.’
‘You know what I mean.’
Art shrugged. ‘Another?’ He pointed at Percy’s now empty glass.
Nodding, Percy shoved it towards him and watched Art take the few steps to the bar.
While Art leaned on the counter waiting to buy the next round, Percy rested back in his chair and looked about. There would be no pubs like this in Singapore. Sal had told him so. Maybe an Irish bar or two, but no real pubs. No dark brown furniture, questionable carpet, old panelled walls and studded bar stools, all made darker still in the dim orange light of wall lamps. But then, there weren’t many pubs like this left in England, either, so who cared. And anyway, he could come back and visit it sometimes. Couldn’t he?
Percy wasn’t sure what he could and couldn’t do, once they had moved themselves across those thousands of miles. Sal had told him about perks and privileges, flights home and bonuses, but he hadn’t been listening, thinking only that he suddenly felt trapped. If Sal carried on as she was, travelling so frequently, or if she moved to Singapore alone, the marriage would end. It made Percy’s heart sink to think of it, and so did his lack of choice.
How many thousands of miles was it, he suddenly wondered? He looked it up on his phone and drew a sharp breath. Nearly seven. Phone pushed back into his pocket, he shook his head a little. One thousand or seven, it made no difference. And it could be a good thing, that distance. It might offer a different kind of space, one where he couldn’t accidentally bump into someone expecting him to stop and chat. Cities in general were great places to be by oneself while not actually being alone; a foreign city could only enhance this, he decided.
There would be people-watching, of course, which he enjoyed and was easy in a city. Sal had said as much, suggesting he could hide himself amongst the masses and observe life there. A solitary activity perhaps, but one that suited him for Percy was a man who enjoyed his own company, though truthfully when he was at home he enjoyed being alone less and less. These days the place seemed to creep with emptiness, a sort of isolation that touched on desolation. He knew it was to do with his marriage. He brightened at the thought of having this chance to fix it.
His gaze wandered across the sprinkling of patrons. Sal hated this pub, he mused, and he knew why. It wasn’t good enough for her, for more and more she enjoyed the finer things in life. Compared to Percy she was sophisticated, and from what he had heard, Singapore would suit her very nicely. For Sal, the pub didn’t contain anyone of worth. There were the annoyingly smiley bunch coming for the real ales and beers, and even Percy thought they were dull. But there was also Fat Malcolm, Young George, Big Geoff and Little Geoff, Pete, Mary, Scabby Edith and the bloke whose name none of them could ever remember; rarely all present at the same time as they were tonight, but always represented in some form or another. Percy rarely spoke with any of them, merely nodding and occasionally exchanging pleasantries, but unlike Sal he enjoyed the sight of them. Their presence brought with it a sense of reassurance and security. Home was a quiet place and here was often quiet too, of course, but home offered no security, only unease.
And there was Art. Art was like-minded. He and Percy could be as sour as they wanted to be, and neither man judged the other. They just laughed at one another, with one another.
Percy caught Art’s eye as he turned from the bar, and smiled. With a large bag of crisps wedged under his arm, his friend returned and placed two brimming pints on the table, before tearing open the crisp packet into a makeshift platter.
‘Got a big head on it.’ Percy remarked, indicating the beer.
Crunching a crisp, Art offered the name of this latest sample. ‘Dogg’s End.’
Percy took a mouthful, ‘Taste’s like it.’ After wiping the foam from his lips, he held out his glass. ‘A toast…’
‘A toast,’ Art repeated, unsmiling, ‘to the future.’
‘To the future. Will you come out?’ Percy asked.
‘No, Art, as gay. Yes, to Singapore.’
Art paused, and a smile grew. ‘Yeah. I think I might. When I have some money.’
‘Good.’ Percy cracked a smile of his own. ‘It’s going to be weird.’
‘Fucking weird,’ agreed Art. ‘But you’ll be all right.’
‘I know. I am looking on it as an opportunity.’
It was true, over the previous few weeks Percy had thought a lot about what he was leaving behind, and on realising that it amounted to his job, Art and some people he barely spoke to, decided that Singapore might offer something more. It didn’t mean he wasn’t sorry to be leaving England, nor did it much relieve the melancholy this coming change had provoked, but he recognised the worth in trying something fresh; something new in the light of something old staggering dangerously near demise.
For a few moments the men chose silence, drinking and eating companionably.
‘So when do you go?’ asked Art, once he had gathered the last tiny fragments of crisp on his fingertip.
‘End of the month.’
‘Shit! That soon?’
‘What about your stuff?’
‘Some into storage; some will follow us out.’
‘Where will you live? Have you found a house, or a flat or whatever?’
‘Sal’s sorted something.’
‘And what about work? For you, I mean.’
Percy released the second long sigh of the evening. ‘I’ll be able to work. Not doing my actual job or anything, but it’s allowed.’
‘Work. It didn’t used to be. Not for dependents.’
‘So what will you do?’
‘What would you do?’
Art shook his head, ‘Dunno. I’ve never been there. What is there to do?’
‘Exactly.’ Percy downed a huge draft of Dogg’s End, and once more his glass was empty. He pointed at Art’s, still a quarter full. With a wide mouth, Art finished what remained and passed it to Percy.
Percy had finally matched the position of the key with the keyhole, when the door ripped open.
‘You couldn’t make anymore noise, could you?’
‘Oh, hi Sal.’
‘You and Art had a good evening, I gather?’
Percy staggered in. ‘Not bad. You?’
His wife closed the door and turned to the piles of stuff covering the floor and any other available surface.
‘What’s this?’ Percy asked, slurring a little and following his wife, before carelessly emptying a chair and sitting down. He ignored her astonished stare.
‘Sorting,’ she said, lowering herself to the floor. ‘We don’t have long before the packers come, and I don’t want to store a load of crap anymore than I want to take it with us.’ She tossed a tee shirt at Percy. ‘Take, store, or charity?’
Percy picked it off his chest, and held it up. ‘Ah! I love this. Where did you find it?’
‘The back of a drawer, with the programme.’
‘Brilliant concert, that one. What a man!’
‘Take, store or charity?’
‘Percy! Take it or store it?’
‘Uh. Take. I’ll need a tee shirt.’
‘Why don’t you go to bed?’
‘You don’t want a hand?’ Percy clutched the shirt as if it might throw itself into the ominous black bin liner Sal was filling. Worse, the rubbish bin next to it.
She smiled a pissed off smile. ‘No. It’s late. I’ll be finishing up for tonight soon, in any case.’
‘It doesn’t seem fair that you have to do all the sorting yourself, Sal.’
‘No, it doesn’t seem fair, Percy, does it.’
He felt himself sober a little. ‘You okay? You still want to do this?’
Sitting crossed legged on the carpet, surrounded by their things, Percy’s wife pushed away a rolling tear with the back of her hand.
She shook her head, and waved him away, though he hadn’t been preparing to stand and comfort her. ‘Of course,’ she said. ‘A fresh start is what we need. We agreed, didn’t we?’
Percy stared at her. She so often looked hard these days, with a dismissive air. But tonight, there on the floor, looking small, she reminded him of when they first met: her, an ology student, a lively creature passionate about anything and everything, especially him, loving him for the man he was; no pretentions for either. Him, a young man of craft and skill, a genius with wood, absolutely besotted by her, by that beautiful physical form, the flashy smile and intelligence. In that order.
‘I still want you, you know,’ he said. ‘Want us.’
‘Me too,’ she added.
TO MAKE A CHANGE
After six weeks of doing virtually nothing, Percy Field realised he was not cut out to be a househusband. He knew he was not the only one in existence, particularly in a country like Singapore; there were many, since women seemed now to hold all the cards. He did not miss the daily grind of getting out of bed and travelling through the grey misery of rush hour to reach the peaceful place of work he loved so much. But the stimulation of like-minded companions – more precisely, Art – was another matter. Although Percy knew himself to be introverted and understood that his personality fell on the slightly miserable side of morose, he’d always felt that other sour souls made for interesting conversation. It was one thing to think a thought, but what use was a thought not shared? Somehow, nearly seven thousand miles from home, the single redeeming feature of a new life he did not choose and did not want, was not the self-indulgent pillow he hoped it would be. This new form of seclusion was not working out, and he was fed-up.
In the awful drawn out weeks before leaving England, determinedly focussing on the joyous prospect of being conveniently inaccessible to all, he had forgotten his need for others. Inaccessible to all was not what he had wanted. What he’d wanted, if he’d stopped and thought about it, was inaccessible to most. Yes, he planned to email Art and no doubt Art would email him, but it wasn’t the same as griping over a pint.
He had come to realise there was only so much coffee a person could drink alone, only so many beers it was possible to sink without sharing idle comments. Only so many temples, shopping malls, districts and museums one could wander without a foil for cynical remarks. Sal was working long hours, and quiet days drifted into quieter evenings and often into lonely nights. By the time the weekend finally arrived, Sal was usually too tired to leave the house, or she went back to the office. It was, indeed, a solitary existence. So he decided to concentrate on his new country, and Percy had to admit that despite his best efforts not to like it, the coffee, at least, was good in Singapore.
Within the space of a relatively short time, he stopped hiding away in the cold inner sanctum of his favourite café, The Bean, and sat as others did, outside, where the sound of traffic mingled with the whooping call of the resident koel. He was extremely uncomfortable in the constant warmth and suffered it because, in a way, that sticky air brought with it a little happiness. It gave him something specific to feel cross about, at a time when his usual, more generalised irritation was proving a little hard to direct. Had the coffee been poor, he might have stayed indoors and moaned about that instead.
Even as the fortunate child of delightful older parents, Percy had always looked about himself for fault. Endlessly tolerant, they had been generous people supporting him in everyway they could, latterly so he might move out and set-up home on his own. Both long dead, he’d thought of them little over the years, but the sound of the koel brought to mind his mother, and her shrill greeting. It was a shame they were not alive to come and visit, he thought.
Percy was a morning man, and the morning faces at The Bean changed little. A woman of Indian appearance and indefinable age, with short, straight, orangey hair, almost the same mid brown as her skin, was always there by nine, piercings adorning nose and eyebrows, tattoos decorating her ankles and arms. She never spoke. She sat, read, drank and left. Two forty-something women whom Percy decided were Australian, also regularly met at nine, wearing what appeared to be evening attire with sunglasses arranged like tiaras on a coiffure bed, jewellery dripping, nails gleaming, much talk of school and babies and maids. Three other regulars at The Bean looked Chinese-Singaporean, one woman and two men, and they always shared a good breakfast and a good joke, laughing cheerily. The order of their words sometimes made it hard for Percy to understand as he eavesdropped, especially so given the thick accent, but it was English they spoke. Sal suspected it was something the locals called Singlish but neither could decide if the term was considered derogatory or not. Sal said she would ask someone.
There were also less frequent regulars. Every few days, at ten o’clock, an English woman dragged in a sweaty pink toddler and a stringy baby for a cold drink. She was not groomed to perfection as the women around her, and Percy discussed this with Sal, for he had little else to talk about other than the people he watched each day. He and Sal had to talk about something, Percy felt, for if they sat in silence they might as well be back in England.
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