Tuesday 3 August 2021

The Riser Mummy

A typical dry riser outside a HDB flat: full of junk.

When a mummified body was found in a HDB riser, serious questions were raised. How come a resident can be so dehydrated and skinny when NTUC were giving out food vouchers in the area? Second, are residents avoiding state sanctioned columbariums to make their own closer to home? And were the residents so green conscious that  mummification was preferred than to be cremated in an (often useless) coffin?

Many questions were raised, and kopitiam talk bounced about like a steel ball in a pinball machine. No simple answers were found. One thing for sure, HDB residents had been using their risers as their 2nd or 3rd storerooms after the main ones in their homes. Often, husbands were asked to throw away their 'toys' only for them to feel unwilling at the last minute and stuff them into a riser for later "consideration" - often forgetting that they'd left stuff there.

And young parents were guilty too, often stuffing dirty and sandy stuff into the riser then bringing them home. Things like spade and pail, sandcastle building materials, etc. Beach stuff. Picnic stuff. Sports stuff.

A hurried investigation by the HDB unearthed many strange things people were keeping in their riser cabinets. Many items had nostalgic value, or TV resale, such as those Ab Busters, HappyCall frying pans, Power Juicers, etc. There was even one air mattress that somehow inflated itself into the confined space. Folks wondered if a certain Ms Josephine Teo and her hubby had used it to heisho-heisho, given their penchant for making love in tight spaces. With the mattress inside, the space was even tighter. People wah-say and acquired new respect for the oft-beleaguered ex-Manpower Minister.

"They should put her in-charge of family planning!" someone said. "Then we'll have a Riser Generation... One that can rise up to anything!" Malaysia might Boleh-kan. But Singaporeans can show they are even more Boleh kan-kan. Hokkien people can be forgiven for sniggering at that. 

Turns out, many cyclists also kept their spare tubes and tires in the risers too. And those who cycle and cook, pots and pans.

Recalled Mr Ayer Sampah, a HDB water meter reader: "I tell you ah, very jialat. Often we open the riser cabinets not knowing what will fall on us. If soft toys, fine. But one time, I had a ten-piece frying pan set king-klang king-klang fall on me, waking up the whole neighbourhood. Damn paiseh. Turns out the makcik dared not tell her husband she'd bought the set - macham maha like $300, and so she hid the set in the riser thinking to recover them after her hubby had gone to work. Guess what? Her sister kenna Covid and she plain forgot all about the matter!"

Another meter reader, Mr Dian Shi-nee, too had a similar encounter. "I've found bottles of medicine, pills...viagra, placenta, etc. Even protein powders...You know those huge black plastic containers of muscle building powders/shakes. That's how I become so buff and my hair... see, still black black and shiny. All thanks to these residents who treated their risers as their medicine cabinets. I've not felt better in years! I've also learnt that expiry dates don't mean a thing. As long as the stuff smells ok, I eat. See how the companies are cheating us by making us throw away stuff well before their actual expiry dates? Sure, I get skin rashes sometimes but that's a small price to pay for total wellness. And I also lao liao. Where got money buy from Guardian?"

The discovery of the mummy, cloaked in school uniform, national flag and a final layer of saffron robe - in that order - also stoked consternation within the Buddhist fraternity here. Which branch of local theological thinking supports mummification? Certainly not the Om-Padmi-Om-Mercedes Benz one? And is the mummy really Buddhist, despite the saffron robes? Is there plagiarism at work here? Who can we sue???

Was the mummy making a statement with the school uniform? A long demolished government primary school in Mattar Road with the enviable record of having the first ever aircon library (with terrazzo flooring as well). Why was such an elite school torn down? Oh, the building of the CTE. At this, people recalled fondly the old National Library that was torn down for the same reason. Cannot move brick by brick to another location one meh? The still-bitter ones complained.

To date, many who have gone there to pak-tor or draw on the toilet doors still reminisce about the place, obviously still a venerable spot of learning for many.

Recalled Mr Dick Prodigee: "I did call one of the many 'referral' telephone numbers listed on the toilet doors and got a great lesson in human sexual relations. I wouldn't have passed my A-levels bio if not for the old national library."

Another former library user was not so enamored: "Every time I smell old books, I want to berak. Every single time. Why I can recall intimate details on those door panels, including much original 'student art'. I knew from an early age that Singapore has much artistic talent!"

National philosopher of Singapore, Mr Pickam Saydem, mused that "maybe this is a moment of existential awakening for all Singaporeans." 

"The ascetic nature of the mummification is antithesis to our current consumer buy-and-throw nature. Perhaps this person is yearning for a return to minimalism and the non-desire for patented goods. But isn't an adherence to a theology a selfish desire too?"

With this remark, Mr Pickam Saydem received many brickbats. "Apa cakap orang goondu ini? Say one thing mean another....?"

Then there was the greater matter of what to do with the body, or bodies. A total of 50 more riser mummies were discovered including 10 of cats and dogs.

Was there a movement going on here? An underground movement of sorts to depart this world and yet not?

In Thailand and Japan, mummified bodies of priests seeking such a path to nirvana were royally worshipped. Did the Singapore mummies sought the same? As there were no names nor any sort of ID on these mummy persons, folks could only guess at the intention of these perpetrators.

Did many of these folks just want to be enshrined in a place they only knew their whole lives, aka the HDB flat? And their encasement inside the riser is a way to reach out, to escape (to rise above even) their human condition.

So, don't say the Singaporean only knows how to eat, sleep, and shop. They also know how to transcend. Transcend dying in an old folks home. Even a riser is the better option.

- the end (by TC Lai, 28th July 2021 (original date))

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