The Bloke next door wants to sell his house! He made his shocking announcement over breakfast yesterday. “No! You can’t sell this house!” The Mrs screeched in pain. She briefly forgot the laws dictating property rights in Australia. It is not even remotely possible that she is one of the First Nations peoples who may have a case to traditional ownership of the land next door. “No! I won’t allow you to move from here,” she beseeched her sister, The Lady of the house. The couple looked bemused, not the least confused about their legal right to do as they please with their property. Munching at the yummy deep-fried halloumi cheese without revealing my thoughts, I wondered why the sudden decision by The Bloke. Just the other day, he sounded so pleased with his ‘resort-style’ house and garden as he proudly showed some guests around his property. “Where is the cellar?” I vaguely heard someone ask. Nope, the house has no cellar! The rumours had been rife for years that I could simply walk down their wine cellar and help myself to an orgiastic party of the best reds and whites. I mean wines here, lads, not ladies. The Lady had vetoed the idea of a cellar, citing the irrefutable reason that we are located right in the middle between the best two wine-producing regions in the world, the Barossa Valley and the McLaren Valley, a mere fifty minutes’ drive either north or south. Behind us is the Adelaide Hills, home to more top calibre vineyards. Why have a cellar when we can simply duck out for a few bottles of the best wines?” she reasoned. Even though The Lady’s original plans were to build a “cute cottage”, the eventual house design, although by no means palatial, spanned over 390 sq metres of floor space.
There are no sesterces in their pond. I know that for a fact, because I have been the one looking after it all these years. The Bloke, being professionally trained as an engineer, is the least inclined amongst the people I know to throw coins into a body of water for good luck. No, his brain is wired scientifically. Yet, I could not fathom why the sudden change of heart in deciding to offload his house in a weakening real estate market. Maybe he thinks interest rates will go much higher in the coming months and wreck all the big gains we have seen here. Maybe he is looking to please his wife and down-size to the “cute cottage” she had dreamt of for a long time. Maybe he feels the garden and the pond are demanding too much of his time and energy. No, I look after the pond, remember? Maybe he pities me. Maybe he thinks my old age is advancing too quickly and his garden will be too physically demanding for an old fella like me to cope with. Maybe he wants to divest from real estate and invest in real money instead? I told him Bitcoin is the only real money today. Fiat money is simply created by the central banks from thin air. “Isn’t Bitcoin also created from thin air, a scam?’ he challenged me a few days ago. So, I spoilt everyones’ appetite that day by harping about the merits of Bitcoin and how billions of dollars are being pumped into mining the coin. “You can’t mine what isn’t real,” I argued unconvincingly. Lacking the nous and oratory skills of a Raoul Pal or Michael Saylor, incredibly smart gurus who have converted me to study the blockchain phenomenon in more detail, and accept that the internet is going to be built on blockchain technology at an exponential rate in the coming years, I got nobody interested in what I had to say. “Bitcoin is a scam,” The Bloke repeated, and thus ended our conversation.
So, why would he sell his house, I wondered. Maybe he finds his neighbours intrusive. We are often still forgetful that they have returned from overseas and habitually cross the boundary of the house and therefore cross the boundary of civility. Well, it is not me who usually transgresses – not in the early mornings anyway, I am acutely careful in case they are walking about on their property stark naked or in their briefs. Murray, my son’s dog, must have wondered for the past weeks why I no longer allow him the pleasure of gnawing his doggie bone whilst I do my Qigong on their putting green each morning. But, The Mrs is less restrained. After all, her sister has no surprises to show her, and The Bloke doesn’t have anything extra that she hasn’t seen in a man.
Maybe The Bloke just wants to have a good time, find something exciting to do. A change is as refreshing as a holiday, they say. Sell the house. Build a new one. A better one. Maybe he wants a good day. To have a good day, do good. Any other source of joy is outside our control. But, doing good is within our control, and when we do good, we feel good.
If you want some good, get it from yourself.Epitetus, Discourses, 1.29.4
“So tell us, why do you want to sell?” The Mrs asked in a demanding tone last night. Visibly still upset at the idea of being separated from her sister soon, The Mrs crossed the boundary by asking the question that does not entitle her to an answer many hours after the initial shock. Still despondent, she showed her unhappiness over dinner last night. I think she genuinely likes their garden. It is literally our garden of Eden, a paradise where a single apple tree can bear hundreds and hundreds of fruit – I stopped counting at four hundred and fifty. The persimmon tree gave us over three hundred. “What if the new owner is a thug? What a disaster!” she groaned. “What if they play rowdy music all day long?” “What if they smoke weed?” She fired off so many ‘what ifs’ The Bloke raised his palm to stop her. “Sister,” he said. “Do you think I want to sell?” he asked in his deep and rich voice.
The Lady had been too shocked to say a word. She loved the house and the rose garden was exactly how she imagined it to be. The U-shape design of the house was also a style she desired as soon as the seed to build her dream cottage was planted in her mind. The pond and its mini waterfalls were never part of the original plan but once she saw how they would, from the focal point of the ‘U’, draw a person’s attention in the living areas of the house towards the beautiful garden, she quickly embraced my suggestion to situate a pond there. She remained tight-lipped for many hours after The Bloke’s shocking announcement. I asked The Mrs if she had heard from her sister. She shook her head in a crest-fallen manner. The Lady’s persistent silence indicated a determined suppression of her emotions, I thought. All is not lost, she has her ways of making her husband bend to her wishes, I suggested to The Mrs. “IT IS ALL YOUR FAULT!” The Mrs said loudly and firmly, her sharp finger gesticulating wildly at me and her sharp tongue brutally tearing me into tiny bits. “You and your stupid ghost stories!” she accused me this morning even before I was fully awake. Last night, The Bloke revealed his decision to sell was due to the ‘Boogeyman’ in his house.
“And oh, in a pandemic, humans are more scary. Ghosts cannot infect us with the virus! I’d rather see a ghost than a stranger in our house in the middle of the night,” I concluded, I thought quite convincingly. The Lady had heard enough nonsense from me. She simply twitched her nose and in her usual menacing voice told me to stop talking about ghosts. Or else.
The Bloke is a trained engineer. A very intelligent man with a scientific mind and a brilliant business acumen. “He would never believe in ghosts,” I began my defence. “He believes in science! Ghosts aren’t real, even Bitcoin isn’t real to him,” I said. “Besides, I am a poor story-teller,” I added. For The Bloke to believe there are paranormal activities in his house, the stories would have to be super compelling. Sure, we Chinese celebrate the seventh month as the month of the hungry ghosts but that is simply folklore – a good story for kids to be extra careful when they venture outside their homes in the northern summer to play. “Have there been any paranormal experiences there lately?” I asked The Mrs. In fact, there have been more unexplained ‘happenings’ in our own house and she knows it. There is of course no legitimate reason to fear ghosts, if in fact they do exist. From my many experiences, they are only playful and mischievous and perhaps even more frightened than us to stumble upon our presence. I know the feeling. I have occasionally given myself a fright when I accidentally looked into the bathroom mirror. None has ever threatened me physically or shooed me away. Logically, they would deem my house to be theirs, right? Possession is nine-tenths of the law. Do we not say a person or place is possessed? “They could therefore quite convincingly argue that legally, they are the true owners of our house,” I closed my defence quite spiritedly, “Pardon the pun,” I added unwisely. “Do you know how silly you sound?” The Mrs sneered and waved me away. I knew better than to hang around when she was in that mood when her words were mostly contentious.
“What boogeyman?” I asked The Bloke. He looked at me in disbelief and must have felt I was really stupid. I was the one to confirm what his wife saw. I may have called ‘it’ “a man in white” or a “white-haired man” but it was clear to him I meant ‘ghost’. The Bloke would remain scientific throughout and call it the ‘boogeyman’ instead. The Lady had seen a strange apparition last Sunday afternoon as we partied raucously under the pergola of their house. From the corner of her eye, she was sure she saw a white-haired man in a white shirt stopped at the side gate of her front garden and suddenly disappeared. She rushed inside her house, her footsteps sounding more and more like Murray’s. She got to the front room and peered out surreptitiously from her Queen Anne window. Why surreptitiously? Who is the owner of the house? I thought to myself. Their English Baroque style curved bay window is a beautifully crafted work of exquisite timber trimmed with small decorative leadlight window panes above large simple panes of glass. There was no white-haired man to be seen anywhere. Biting her lips unintentionally, she winced from the sudden bleeding to her moist lips that were smeared with lip balm just moments earlier.
I was ruthlessly but deservedly mauled by The Mrs whilst still in bed this morning. My stupid prank to childishly but falsely confirm The Lady’s sighting of the strange man was well, stupid. No, I did not witness the apparition or ghost or whatchamacallit thingamajig. “Why did you say you did?!” The Mrs repeated for the tenth time. Yes, it felt like an interrogation and no matter how I tried to summon my intellect to come up with a clever retort, I remained silent. I was dumb to play-act and therefore dumb-founded by my own stupidity. “Telling fibs about ghosts is childish!” The Mrs kept stabbing me with her truthful words. “It is your fault if they sell their house!” she said accusingly, making her final judgement unambiguous and ominous. I knew I had to act quickly and spend more time next door lurking in their garden. Hopefully, the boogeyman will happen to see my reflection on the pond one day and that would be enough to frighten ‘it’ away.