By Meira Chand
‘Of course it was a plant,’ said Tanya, who was essentially a logical woman. ‘And so stupid those parents were taking a 10 year old child on something like this. So scary. Now, poor little thing, he’ll dream all night.’
Tanya stared at the row of recently vacated seats in the bus before turning back to her husband.
‘And you’re so gullible. And just look at us all here: a busload of fools! There is nothing in life that cannot be explained scientifically.’
‘But you heard the noises. And I saw you were scared, damn scared,’ replied Kee Long who was tired at this stage of life of listening to his wife’s opinions and finding she was usually right.
‘Of course I was scared. Just like I am scared in those ghost houses at fairgrounds where skeletons and monsters jump out at you. You know it’s not real, but you still feel scared, otherwise why would people go in there?’
‘So then, how do you explain those noises?’ Kee Long asked sullenly.
‘They can plant a speaker anywhere they like. If they don’t want you to see it, you won’t.’ Tanya shrugged.
‘Yeah. Probably,’ Kee Long conceded ungraciously.
‘You know it has been scientifically proved that what many people see as a ghost, especially in places with lots of vegetation, is no more than phosphorous rising up from the ground from rotting leaves and stuff. I saw a TV programme about it once.’ Tanya was growing steadily more scornful of the tour, determined to see it for what it was, a tourist gimmick.
‘Okay. You win. But keep your mouth shut in front of Lay Lin. Don't spoil her pleasure with all your scientific explanations,’ Kee Long warned.
‘Of course I won’t, stupid,’ Tanya replied.
This conversation had been carried out in low voices some rows from their daughter who had moved away briefly to chat with Kelly the tour guide.
The bus began to move again. The lights of a shopping complex and a Cold Storage passed by. A hawker centre, deserted and shuttered for the night, appeared and quickly receded. Great blocks of HDB flats grew before them now on both sides of the road. Tanya stared out of the bus at the seemingly endless floors and endless windows, each small unit holding a family busy with its own activities and problems. Modern Singapore had no place for ghosts. They just did not fit in at all. Perhaps that was why these kinds of tours intrigued people. They supplied a mystery Singapore now lacked and had obviously once been full of. Even as she thought these thoughts the bus turned off the main thoroughfare into a side road and they were suddenly transported into a different world. There were still streetlights at odd intervals along the road. They illuminated the thick growth of trees in the gardens of the large houses that dominated the area. The facades of these could occasionally be glimpsed, opulent if unimaginative. Once or twice they passed an older type of house, comfortably dilapidated amidst its more wealthy neighbours. Tanya continued to peer out of the window, her nose pressed to the glass. The houses petered out and then seemed suddenly to cease and she was left with only the black density on both sides of the road, pressing in about her. Once a street light lit up a tall tree whose trunk was constricted by a muscular vine. She thought at once of the thick body of a snake squeezing all life from the plant. Now against the darkness all she could see was the illumination of her own face in the glass of the window, drifting like a ghost itself, against the blackness of the trees. The darkness trapped by these thickets of vegetation seemed to harbour a life of its own, something knowing and waiting. It was as if the very blackness watched her. With a shiver Tanya turned her attention back to the lighted interior of the bus and laughed in sudden relief.
‘And here we are at our last destination,’ said Kelly brightly through the loudspeaker, cutting short her conversation with Lay Lin. ‘And I warn you all, I think this one’s really the scariest!’
The bus turned abruptly into a gravel driveway and stopped. The door of the vehicle was opened and they all clambered out. Several strategically placed lights illuminated the spacious grounds of the place. There had once been a fine garden here but now it was long overgrown, thrusting in towards the house that stood at its centre. Some dim lights had been lit inside in preparation for their arrival, but these only seemed to deepen the melancholy of the old house. It was built in the style Europeans so admired in a not so long ago colonial time. A tall porticoed entrance faced them; it had once been a splendid place. Now, the crumbling stucco, blackened by age and neglect, green with lichen, presented a sad façade. It stood as the remnant of a past era, its memories lost in time.
Kelly gathered the group about her. ‘There was a suicide in this house in the 1940’s. She was a young girl of seventeen who fell in love with someone her parents disapproved of. She ran off with him but was soon found and brought home. It was a great scandal at the time for she was from a well-known and wealthy family and the young man was a penniless clerk. The girl’s father paid for him to disappear; no one knows what happened to him. The young girl, her name was Madeleine, was so distraught that she hung herself. That upper corner right hand window was her room. And that’s where we’re going, to the very place where she died. The bedroom is still just as it was on the day she hung herself. Her dolls still sit on the chest of drawers. One of them, it is dressed in red velvet, they say was her favorite and her ghost inhabits it. Be careful everyone, better not touch that doll. On the night of each full moon they say you can sometimes see the silhouette of Madeleine’s body hanging from a rafter, through the window of her room.’ Kelly gave a quick laugh to lighten things. She turned to lead them to the house.
QLRS Beta Issue