“If you could please initial this page you missed, thank you, then we could proceed with the inventory,” the real estate agent’s voice was a mix of friendliness, excitement, and professionalism as he directed H to each room. Ray* punctuated his statements with a chuckle, apology, and information as he pointed out the curtains, the lights, the vanity mirrors, etc. in the 2-bedroom apartment we’ve agreed to rent minutes ago.
Our landlord and landlady provided nuggets of information but allowed Ray to do the transaction. It had been 12 days from the day we landed in Singapore to the day we received the keys to our place – our home for the next 12 months.
For those who’ve experienced moving, regardless of whether it’s a new country, a new city, or a new town, the challenges, I would gather, are the same. First, transporting your entire life into boxes and suitcases, hoping none of your plates get broken or your furniture gets damaged. Next is getting to know your neighborhood amenities, especially the closest coin-operated laundry in case your water or electricity gets cut. Finally, figuring out who among your neighbors you can rely on or avoid.
My clearest memory of my family moving was when I was 5 years old. I’m sure we had moved earlier but I didn’t have a clear memory of it. The move was prompted by a break-in to our tiny apartment. My mother was surrounded by a few men and telling them how she woke up to find a guy trying to cart out our TV. She had a suspicion they were in cahoots with our landlord; thus, prompting our immediate departure. I wasn’t involved in the actual packing. One moment, I was playing with my friends and the next, we were on a rented vehicle with all our belongings.
Over the next few years, I’ve moved. I’ve moved to different apartments, to different cities, and to different countries. Each move was filled with a mixture of excitement, trepidation, and determination. I met different people from all walks of life. I was excited because of the adventure that awaits. I was afraid that things would go wrong. At the same time, I resolved that I would make the best of whatever situation I’d encounter.
Face them, I did. There were strange encounters like M. Looking back, I realized she was not all there.
“Call me Mommy,” she said.
She tried to pimp two of us girls who shared the apartment with her to her boss and when that didn’t work, she tried to borrow money whenever she can, defaulted on her rent share, then tried to manipulate us into signing a lease for a condo where she wanted to move to but didn’t want to pay. Last I heard, she sent a relative to her new landlord to inform him of her death when she ran off with her employer’s money and when her unpaid rent piled up.
There was S, who fed us her cakes and pumpkin soup and talked to the family of magpies who waited outside the kitchen door for their daily scraps. In her late 70s, she would be yelling for her long-time partner and I’d wonder whether they were arguing.
“No, baby,” H would say. “It’s just the German language.”
We stayed in her unit for a decade. I still keep in contact with her, though I’m worried as her last letter informed me her illness had been lingering.
Now, we’re in another country. It’s only been a few days and I haven’t fully unpacked. Our boxes and furniture are enroute to us now, if the shipping company is to be believed. The apartment, or condo, as they call it here is the smallest we’ve stayed in in our years of being together. Regardless, this will be our home for the next 12 months.
For two restless souls, home is where we make it and what we make of it.