“May I have a word with you about Edward?” Blue Eyes pulled Wu Yong away from his work the other day. Blue Eyes, ever the cautious one, declined to meet with Wu Yong even from a safe distance of a telephone call. He tested positive for Covid that morning and had already informed everyone he wasn’t attending the weekend’s big party. “Why don’t you write to me then,” Wu Yong texted after Blue Eyes did not pick up his phone all morning.
Blue Eyes, who wore a rather dejected look, was upset to miss RU9 that day, their ninth school reunion of Lasaints58 brothers. The LaSaints58 is a group of La Salle School and St Xavier’s Institution students born in 1958. While it is true that some were able to keep in touch with one another since leaving school and occasionally meet up in small groups, by and large, the majority were dispersed far and wide to all corners of the world after their Form 5 or Form 6. It took many decades before many were able to seek out long-lost childhood buddies. Their first reunion, RU1, was held in 2008, i.e. some 33 years after they left school. The more recent pre-pandemic ‘RU’s attracted about 200 ex-students including girls from sixth form.
This year’s reunion was held after an absence of two years due to the disruptions from fighting the Covid virus. RU9 was held on 23 July 2022 in their hometown of Penang. The organisers were pleased with a turnout of some 130 members including fourteen ex-teachers, despite the worries about Omicron variants and hassles in arranging flights and visas. A major event for RU9 was an exhibition by Malaysian artist, Anne Koh.
The KL-based artist whose paintings of orchestras and musicians are highly sought after by collectors presented her series of portraits of some LaSaints58 members whose stories will appear in a book titled ‘Urghhlings Vol 3 – Brothers of The Urghhlings Marsh’. The author’s name is Wu Yong. The theme of the stories is borrowed from Shii Naian’s classic novel Shuihuzhuan, The Water Margin – Outlaws of the Marsh. Blue Eyes and Wu Yong were the first two LaSaints58 guys to join the brotherhood of the Urghhlings Marsh. To call it a brotherhood is rather apt since they have all been calling one another ‘brothers’ since their first year of school. The Christian Brothers taught them to be brotherly to one another and instilled in them a sense of platonic love and brotherly care in school.
Blue Eyes wanted to introduce a close friend of his to the gang of brothers. “All men are brothers, is that not so?” Blue Eyes asked. Wu Yong recognised that although the proposed inductee was not a member of Lasaints58, he could not dispute the simple statement.
All men are brothers.Shi Naian
Blue Eyes wanted to share a story about the journey of a mate who tore himself away from the grievances of a troubled early life in a broken family and in his journey to find a clear path for himself, encountered many battles with the Devil himself. Will he be triumphant ultimately or will he perish in unconsolable anguish?
Blue Eyes’ mate was from ACS (Anglo Chinese School). Edward Goh was his name. Edward was a smart chap from a well-to-do family. His dad passed away while he was in Secondary School. His mother met another man and remarried soon after. Edward couldn’t fit in with his stepdad. To further his tertiary education, he would have had to continue living with his family which included a brother and a sister and a half brother. Life was unbearable with his stepdad, so he opted to get the National Service over and done with. That way, he figured he had two years to reassess his situation whilst in camp. A year in, he enrolled into the Air Engineering Training Institute.
A bunch of the engineering trainees decided to stay back for a weekend to gamble and that was when Blue Eyes first met Edward, over a poker game. He was a year their junior but somehow the two chaps clicked from that moment on.
Months went by and life was good for the larrikins. A year later Edward changed his last name to Tay by deed poll.
“Why?” Blue Eyes asked.
“I do not want my family to find me,” Edward replied simply.
He was a true friend. He would always have your back no matter right or wrong. A very generous bloke, he gave whatever he had if asked. No questions asked.
“His only fault, one and only, was his love for gambling,” Blue Eyes said.
“Pharque that …. he was passionate about it!” Blue Eyes corrected himself.
“You name it, he’ll play it!……from horses at the tracks to two ants running across the dining table to see which one reaches the edge first,” Blue Eyes sighed as the distant memories played in his mind. Wu Yong let him wander off.
Edward stayed with Blue Eyes in Singapore for a couple years after he graduated as it was tough to come up with the monthly rental payments on his measly wages. Blue Eyes managed to convince his mum and stepdad to take him in.
“He’d give my mum a token sum,” Blue Eyes said.
“She would make sure his clothes were washed, bed made, food on the table at any time (emphasising that her kitchen never shut) .…uhm that applied to me too,” he added.
Although the two young men lived under the same roof, they seldom met up due to different assigned squadrons and shift hours. Edward landed a good job with an oil company as a bunker specialist after his Airforce stint of seven years.
“There’s a third friend who is integral to this story – Steven Leong, whom I’ve known since Secondary School right up to being in the Air Force together and we remained close friends since,” Blue Eyes continued his story after a multitude of puffs from a cigarette on his balcony.
Through the years all three of them would meet up occasionally but there were also times when it was either Edward with Steven or Edward and Blue Eyes who met up. “The only trouble is gee whiz, those ‘duo meetups’ happened only when Edward was in dire need of funds,” Blue Eyes said of the times that felt like yesterday.
“We regretted helping him out but there was no way around it for us at that time. If we didn’t, he would have probably ended up borrowing from a loan shark,” Blue Eyes explained.
Years went by and we got the occasional greeting from Edward. Then one day Blue Eyes got a call from Edward’s tenant.
“We were in KL at that time,” Blue Eyes said. His tenant mentioned that Edward was in the General Hospital and the only contact number they had was Blue Eyes’ number.
“What happened?” Wu Yong asked eagerly.
“ Now this is where it gets f’kenly unbelievable!” Blue Eyes baited him, and made him wait longer whilst he sucked in more tar from his cigarette.
Edward had an accident at his worksite. He lost his right thumb while helping a junior inspector. They had to cut off his right toe to replace the missing thumb. On medical leave for six months, he received workers compensation that took care of his bills. With the money he wanted to better himself so he decided to look into furthering his educational level. Based on his calculations, he was still miles off from being able to afford a four-year stint in the USA.
“So what did he do?” Wu Yong asked impatiently.
“He studied the horse He’s Dawan for weeks,” Blue Eyes said. Baffled, Wu Yong pressed Blue Eyes for an explanation.
“He ain’t gonna get any other help so this was the only way he could confirm his ticket out,’” Blue Eyes said.
“He followed her outings, morning exercises, races, his form, the track conditions …..etc, etc. and if he caught this filly right, she would be a guaranteed winner at the race. He was convinced.”
That day came.
Edward dumped all he had on He’s Dawan. He even over-bet with the bookies. “He was one hundred and one percent sure!” Blue Eyes exaggerated.
Blue Eyes pretended to call the race.
“And they are off ……… He’s Dawan is ready to roll, he’s in the pack looking good,” Blue Eyes said in a voice wrapped with heightened emotions.
“Final turn …….He’s Dawan leads by a few horse lengths. They are coming down to the finish and it’s He’s Dawan leading the pack. He’s Dawan is extending his lead! And it’s He’s Dawan well in front by six lengths…she’s a sure winner. She’s gonna win the race!!” Blue Eyes said excitedly.
“Then the gods decided to throw some nitroglycerin into the mix ….. just to get their kicks,” Blue Eyes continued.
He’s Dawan threw off the jockey and literally dropped dead metres before the finish line.
“I don’t think I can even start to understand or imagine what went through his mind. Whatever plans he had were smoked by C3H5N3O9,” Blue Eyes said, using the explosives’ chemical formula for good measure.
Edward was devastated.
“That’s just putting it mildly. Next thing on his mind .. leave this world and try and get an audience with the gods that played this bad joke on him,” Blue Eyes said.
Yes, suicide was the next thing on Edward’s mind.
“How long ago was this?” Wu Yong asked
“I don’t know the date,” Blue Eyes said.
“He turned on the aircon in his bedroom, swallowed over 200 sleeping pills and went to sleep. Woke up a couple hours later and vomited most if not all those pills. Fark! .. First attempt failed!”
“He went down to the nearby electrical store and bought two electrical timers and some wires. Strip the ends of two wires. Connected the other ends in the timers that were plugged into the wall. Masking taped both of the open wires ..one in each hand each ….and waited for the jolt of freedom. It came and with it the agonising heat and pain that seared through his body. The 220V burned through both of his palms. He suddenly fell out of bed and the wires pulled the timers out of the power points. Fark! … Second attempt failed!” Blue Eyes continued, as he flicked the cigarette butt into a red spittoon a few feet away.
Smell of burnt flesh permeated through the air-conditioned bedroom. Edward probably didn’t even realise or he didn’t even care. He found a box-cutter in one of the bedside drawers and slit his wrists. He laid himself down gently on his bed and drifted off to sleep.
“He later told me he saw himself knockin’ on heaven’s door,” Blue Eyes said.
Edward’s tenant came home and was bowled over by the stench.
“Bedroom door was locked – so he called the police and next thing you know, I got a call from him from the hospital,” Blue Eyes said.
Blue Eyes flew down to Singapore on the next available flight. He signed all the necessary paperwork for the hospital and assumed total responsibility for all the hospital bills. Three days later, Blue eyes took his mate back to KL, all the time keeping his eyes peeled for loan sharks’ watchers and feeling like a gazelle evading a pack of hyenas.
Edward recuperated well. Four months later, the two of them went back to Singapore. Blue Eyes wanted to make sure his mate would be ok.
“He seemed a changed man. No form of gambling was allowed during the months in KL and he appeared resolute about keeping it that way. He talked terms with the bookies who could have rearranged his face and misaligned his limbs had they wished to. To the friends’ combined relief, a compromise was reached with the bookies without the usual burden of daily compound interest.
Blue Eyes felt good; Edward had finally given up his addiction and was well on the path to a full recovery. Blue Eyes happily returned to KL and before the year was out, he was on his way to Canada to start a new life there.
“A few years later, I got a call from Edward. He got my number from Steven. He had gotten his shit together – all his debts had been paid. His slate was clean. The company he worked for had transferred him to their Bangkok office. He met a Thai girl there and fell in love. He was gonna get married soon,” Blue eyes said.
“Congratulations and tears of joy from us. Later that same year, we decided to return back to Penang to visit my in-laws in Penang and my folks in Singapore. Stopped in Bangkok on our return leg and together with Steven, we spent a few days with Edward and our nieces – relatives who married Thai,” he continued.
Thailand worked well for Edward because as a foreigner he could not get into any gambling venues or facilities. He was happy as a lark when he and his wife, Emmy, brought Thanyaporn into the world. About two years later, Cherie was born. Blue Eyes was very happy for them – finally, all the planets were lining up for Edward and he did not even have to gamble on that. Not long after Cherie’s birth, Blue Eyes got a phone call from him. He was in arrears in rent for many months besides other debts. Blue Eyes froze, his hair stood on end. Edward explained that he wasn’t gambling. Expenses had increased but his salary had not. He had hired a maid to help his wife and they were renting in an exclusive neighbourhood. He felt he could not short change his family by giving them less. Blue Eyes sighed but his heavy heart could not deny his friend, so he sent him the money he needed. It smelled like the same rabbit hole but being thousands of miles away, who was he to judge?
Blue Eyes returned to Penang for his mother-in-law’s funeral. He visited Edward and his family in Bangkok after the funeral. They seemed happy, and so was Blue Eyes. They spent quality time together but in a blink of an eye, it was time to say their goodbyes.
Edward transferred back to Singapore. He had his young family in tow. He filed all the necessary paperwork for his family to get permanent residency (PR) status. It meant he was serious about resettling in Singapore for good. It also meant he was back in the country where he was once again allowed to gamble. That demons in him reappeared very quickly. Steven Leong had reconnected with Edward and so was able to keep Blue Eyes updated with news.
Marina Bay Sands opens! This spelled great guns for Singapore’s tourism sector but unfortunately not for Edward. The next few years would see Edward slide down a razor’s edge with only his balls as brakes to stop himself from falling into the abyss. Bookies’ collectors would often appear at his doorstep. The wife and kids were continually scared out of their wits by the rough tactics and vulgar threats from the gangsters. The intensity of the harassment got beyond control. They were forever looking behind their shoulders, every shadow was a menace, every sudden noise a bang from a gun. His kids were afraid to go to school but Edward could not stop his addiction. He loved his family but he knew he was at the end of his tether. Their PR application progress was still that – in progress.
Edward told Emmy that he had bought insurance a while ago for a time just like what they were facing. On that fateful day, he instructed his wife to sleep in the master bedroom with the kids. He told her he would not be sleeping there that night. “Don’t come out even if you hear any loud noise or things breaking,” he told her sternly. The kids sensed something was wrong when they kissed their dad goodnight. He gave each of them a long hug and then gestured with an eyebrow and a nod for Emmy to shepherd them into the bedroom. They hugged their mother tightly in bed but did not ask the questions that were racing in their minds. What is wrong? Is daddy in trouble? Why doesn’t he ask for help? Why don’t we go back to Bangkok? That night, Emmy soaked her pillow with her tears. She could hear noises in the other bedroom but she dared not disobey her husband. When the banging and muffled sounds stopped, she mustered the strength to leave her room to check on the next room. She suddenly realised her hand was cold and clammy as she held the handle of the door, fighting the fear to open the door.
Slowly pushing the door open, with one eye wanting to look and the other reluctant to, she remained at the edge of the doorway, as still as Edward’s stiff body on the floor. Emmy rested her hand on the stile for support but her legs gave way and she convulsed in a heap but all the while, her eyes were glued at Edward. She sobbed until there was not a tear left from her eyes. Her body shaking, and whimpers trembling, she was unaware of the snot and mucus drenching her face as she crawled towards her husband. He laid there dead with a thick plastic bag zip tied around his neck over a damp towel. His legs were also tied together at the ankles. A pair of thick socks prevented any bruises to his ankles. His hands were zip tied together. There wasn’t much of a struggle. Only an old badly scuffed vinyl chair was on its side, a sign that he may have tried to muscle his way out of imminent death. There is no bloody scene to describe, no blunt instruments to look for, no spent shells, no smoking gun. Next to his cold body was a sheet of instructions for Emmy to act upon.
Emmy did as instructed by Edward. She kept the details to herself. Somehow, Edward pulled it off. Emmy was able to collect the insurance money. It was a tidy sum, a million dollars actually. But, within the next twelve months, more than half of the money had gone to ‘friends’ who sought help from Emmy for a variety of reasons. Stupid excuses can be made to sound like good reasons when one is desperate enough.
When she woke up to the scams, Emmy took the kids back to Bangkok to the chagrin of her kids. She continued to make some bad choices for companions who ripped her off further. The elder girl was very upset with her mum. So with what little balance she had left, Emmy bought a small parcel of land 450 kms northeast of Bangkok where her folks hailed from.
Steven had lost touch with Edward sometime in 2012. Steven had told him to quit gambling and that he was no longer able or willing to support Edward’s gambling habits. So, neither Steven nor Blue Eyes got wind of what happened in 2014. Edward’s death was reported only in the Chinese newspapers and in a very nondescript column. Someone who knew someone who knew someone else told Steven about a guy who killed himself in a HDB flat. Steven recognised it was Edward’s Chinese name and rushed to the residential block to ask around. Steven was devastated when the neighbours told him the rest of the occupants had left after a suicide in the flat. It was more than a year after his suicide that Blue Eyes and Steven found out about Edward’s death.
“It was as if he was a nobody. Buried somewhere and nobody knew where. As if he had no friends or family. As if he never existed. It was f’kin sad. I asked Steven to look for Emmy and the kids. They were gone with the wind. Evaporated like a morning dew. No one knew anything. I was angry. Our buddy was gone forever and we didn’t know. I cried and cried but shed no tears. So, I drank instead and drank myself into a stupor,” Blue Eyes said.
Blue Eyes was chatting with his cousin in Bangkok whilst in Panama.
“I had asked her before to check out Emmy and the kids and she had tried but to no avail,” Blue Eyes said. Blue Eyes didn’t know Emmy’s Thai name but he knew the kids were Thanyaporn and Cherie.
“So, I was telling my cousin that if I walked around Bangkok and they bumped into me there’s a high probability that I would not recognise them or for that matter, nor would they remember me,” he said.
A month after their conversation, she found a ‘Thanyaporn’ on Facebook. She contacted Thanyaporn and told her that Blue Eyes was looking for one Edward and Thanyaporn who lived in Singapore many years ago. Three weeks later Thanyaporn replied that she was indeed the Thanyaporn in question. Blue Eyes’ cousin gave her his phone number and hoped she would contact him.
It was so very uplifting for both Blue Eyes and his wife, Li. Both were raining tears of joy as they spoke for hours on video chat. Blue Eyes answered every single question the two girls wanted to know about their dad. They had lived with the stigma that their dad was a useless and uncaring gambler who never loved them. “If he did, he would have been around in their lives, bla bla bla, that sorta thing,” he said. “We spent a couple of hours assuring them it was not true,” he continued.
Today, Thanyaporn is in her final year in the university in Khon Kaen, and Cherie, the younger one, just entered uni. Emmy works in Bangkok. She visits them once in a while whenever she can. The pandemic put a damper on Emmy’s income but there’s nothing on the job front in Khon Kaen so she has to remain in Bangkok. Blue Eyes and Li are planning to make a trip north sometime before they head back to Panama. They just want the two girls to know they have their dad’s friends around.
“May I add a word about Edward?” Wu Yong asked.
Rest in peace, brother. You may be gone but you won’t be forgotten in the Urghhlings Marsh Brotherhood.