I awoke in the stuffy heat. The fan failed to dissipate the all-pervasive tropical humidity. Summoning my strength, I raised my hand to squeeze my cheek – the pain merely confirmed that it was reality, and not a dream. This was the new normal, a life devoid of luxury. My two older siblings had already left since they studied further away. It took some time getting used to life without Father’s car: becoming accustomed to public transport and once even getting stuck due to a train fault. In any case, I got ready quickly. It would soon be time for school. I stepped into the claustrophobic kitchen of our recently purchased three room flat to take breakfast prepared earlier by Mother. She too had to re-enter employment. This was another consequence of Father’s failed business. It was something we all had to adjust to…
I had the usual day in class. The sole highlight was that I topped the class in Physics and Malay. I had put in extra effort as grandmother reminded us the best way to help our parents was to excel in school. I hoped that the news would lift the gloom ever so slightly for them. Perhaps I would seek entry into a polytechnic next year and join the workforce in order to reduce the family’s burden. But first the stomach had to be filled, so I made a stop at the nearby food court for lunch. Satiated by the meal, I went to the toilet. As I was about to leave the toilet cubicle, I noticed a thick brown envelope on the ledge (for the placement of personal belongs) above me. Curiosity hit me and I took the envelope to peer inside. I saw the words ‘Negara Brunei’ with the numerals and symbols ‘$100’ – the envelope was filled with them! This must be Bruneian currency, and I remembered Father telling me that it enjoyed parity with the Singapore dollar: the contents of the envelope were worth around five thousand dollars at least. The first thought that came to mind was to keep it. Was it not said that ‘finders were keepers’? The money could pay for an entire year of spending with extra left over. The allowance I received from my parents could be saved and then given back to my parents later on. On the other hand something pricked me. I recall Mother’s constant refrain to be honest; and she indeed walked the talk. She always returned the incorrect change when buying things and she never took more than the amount she paid for. And there I stood stumped by the dilemma. In the end, I reasoned with myself that I could decide later. So I stuffed the envelope into my bag and exited the food court.
On my way home, my thoughts were filled with ideas of how the money could be well spent. Putting that aside though, I stopped to buy a newspaper to run through the sports news; a small pleasure that I could still afford. But as I flipped through the pages, I saw a story on about a taxi driver found and returned a bag filled with a sum of $20,000 US dollars left behind by a passenger. The driver when interviewed said: ‘I did not hesitate to bring it to the police station…the money was not mine after all.’ It turns out that that money was urgently needed to pay the medical bills for a visiting medical tourist. The accidental loss had brought so much anxiety while the return provided immense relief. I knew not whether the article was a coincidence, but I realised someone out there was the owner of the money, and right now he or she may be going ballistic upon the discovery of the loss. Perhaps their situation was even worse than mine, just like the one described by the journalist. I halted in my tracks and took the turn to the police station. At the front door I hesitated for a fraction of a moment but something in me got me through, and I reported the misplaced cash. That was one week ago and I have thought little of the incident since. But today I received an envelope with a cheque for $300 and a little note: ‘Thank you honest youngster! I wished my country had more people like you!’ So I reckon that honesty does pay, it definitely did for me and I was glad to openly share the news with my family.
Note: a hybrid of recount and reflection