When I go out, I usually take the stairs instead of the lift in my HDB block as I live on a low floor.
On several occasions, I would see a man talking on the phone and smoking in the stairwell on the second storey.
Not only do I get nary a neighbourly nod or wave, he avoids eye contact with me altogether.
I suspect that this is because he knows that I know that what he is doing – smoking in the stairwell – is prohibited by law.
And to acknowledge my existence is to acknowledge his own guilt.
Even when I don’t see him in the stairwell, I often see cigarette butts on the steps.
I want to tell him to stop.
But even though I am a non-smoker and frown at such law-breaking, I know that confronting him would just make it unpleasant for both of us to continue living in that block.
So I would just walk past him with a resigned smile that he pretends not to see.
In a way, I feel sorry for him. He is probably forced to smoke in the stairwell because his family don’t allow him to smoke in his own home.
Last week, my sympathy became empathy as I was similarly treated like an outcast by my family and co-workers because of something that emits an odour apparently even more objectionable than a burning fag.
Ironically, I don’t even eat durians that often.
Sure, I rushed to McDonald’s to get the D24 Durian McFlurry on the first day it was available, but I’m not one of those hardcore aficionados who can tell the difference between Mao Shan Wang and Chen Show Mao.
It’s just that with durian prices dropping to the point where a couple of sellers were literally giving them away, I didn’t want to miss out.
The problem is that when it comes to buying durians, I’m a virgin. All the durians I’ve ever eaten in my life were bought by someone else.
And being a virgin, I’m afraid to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous durian sellers.
So I did what any 52-year-old man would do – I called my mommy.
Two days later, mommy called back to tell me she had bought 20 mini durians for $1 each (not free but close enough) and I should go to her place to pick some up for myself.
She even packed them in a convenient plastic container for me so I didn’t have to deal with the thorny husks.
I collected the package on the way to work and planned to eat my haul at my desk.
As I was opening the container, I was interrupted by a co-worker who had sniffed something in the air-conditioned air. “Come on lah, you’re going to stink up the whole place,” he said, almost like a threat.
I guess he wasn’t a durian fan. So I sheepishly put the container away without eating anything.
For the rest of my shift, people around me kept asking in disgust: “Why do I smell durian?”
I would admit in shame: “It’s me.”
I had fallen for the myth that if you’re a true Singaporean, you must like durians.
Shockingly, there are actually many true Singaporeans who can’t stand the stuff.
I know my wife hates durians, but I always thought she was an aberration. You know, like Singaporeans who don’t eat spicy food.
As it turns out, the king of fruit is also the forbidden fruit.
When I got home, the reception was even more hostile. My wife wanted to burn my clothes because of the smell, with me in them if possible.
Our two children also loathed the fruit. They were presumably brainwashed by my wife.
She told me if I wanted to eat the durians, I had to do it “like a thief”.
And that was how I ended up in the stairwell with my plastic container of $1 durians from my mother.
It may not be as illegal as smoking there, but if anyone walked by, I would probably avoid eye contact.
At least I didn’t leave any durian seeds behind.
- Published in The New Paper, 23 July 2018
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