by Benjamin Khoo (P6 2021)
Ever since I could understand English, my parents would tell me that we had everything we needed. However, recently, I had begun to doubt that. My father, out of the blue, started working from home all the time, or that was what he claimed. I also sometimes heard my parents talking to someone on the phone, most of the time with their hushed voices seemingly containing all the worry in the world. Even a stranger, a man in a neat, navy blue suit had turned up outside our house, asking to see my parents one day. The moment my parents saw him, they were visibly distressed. All these things made me wonder if my parents and I truly had everything we needed and if my parents were hiding something.
A few months after I started pondering these things, Singapore went into a lock-down due to Covid-19. During the Circuit Breaker, which was the term the government used for a lockdown, I used an old desktop computer to access websites for Home-Based Learning. However, after I finished my work, I often had nothing to do.
The unexciting and mundane afternoons gnawed at my patience. So, to cope with the boredom, I read books and drew some pictures. I did not play computer games as my family never owned a game console. I hoped that would change soon, as I had saved up $670, enough money to buy a PS5. All this was the case on that fateful day.
That day, I decided that I was going to do something much more exciting. My house had a basement, which I had never been into before. I planned to explore it that day. Bringing along only a paper clip in case I needed to pick a lock, I sneaked down the staircase that led to the basement.
After I climbed down the steps, I was confronted by a large, rusted metal door. When I tried to open the door, as I suspected, the door was locked, not giving an inch. Remembering what I had read in a book about escapology, I inserted the paper clip into the door’s keyhole and pushed back the tumblers one by one. Within two minutes, I had the door unlocked. I took a deep breath and stepped inside the basement.
The smell of mouldy cheese was the first thing that hit me. The next thing I realised was how the darkness covered me like a thick blanket inside the basement; it was only dimly illuminated by a few flickering light bulbs hanging precariously from the ceiling. It took my eyes a while to adjust to the lack of light, but when they did, I saw cobwebs growing in almost all the nooks and crannies of the basement and mould forming on the walls. The basement’s eerie atmosphere sent shivers down my spine. “Alright,” I muttered to myself trying to add a bit of cheer and excitement to my tone, “time to look around.”
I started looking around the basement, not looking for anything in particular. I was just snooping around for anything interesting – old family photos, or maybe one of my parent’s report books from when they were students. Disappointingly, I found none of those, after a few minutes of searching. Just as I was about to give up and head back upstairs, at the corner of my eye, I espied a stack of letters at the side of the basement wall. I walked over to them and read them.
The moment I read the first sentence, I gasped, dropping the letter. “David Khoo, as of 2 January 2020, has been retrenched from Bank of China,” the letter read. I quickly skimmed through the rest of the letters, fingers trembling as I glared at the subject lines in each letter. Among them was my mother’s retrenchment letter and many letters of demand from the bank my parents loaned money from. The letters confirmed my suspicions and also made me wonder why my parents never told me about our financial situation. So carrying the important letters I decided to confront them and find out the truth behind this terrible secret.
“There you are, James and …what are those?” my mother asked sternly as I emerged up the staircase and into the dining room.
“These are letters that I have found in the basement, covering some rather important truths. Why didn’t you tell me about what’s been going on?” I asked my parents, placing the letters on the dining table. I was on the verge of tears. Asking my parents about the letters released my emotions. My father sighed. He gave my mother a look, implying he was going to reveal something huge.
“Well, Son, as you know, this Covid-19 situation has made things difficult for many companies around the world, especially Chinese companies like the one I worked for,” he finally admitted. “As the company was losing money, the board had to retrench some of their employees. Your mother and I were two of the unlucky few. We have enough money to last until May, but if I can’t find a job, I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Do you remember the man in the suit that turned up a few months ago?”
“Of course. Who was he?” I asked the question that had lingered in my mind ever since he had come to our house.
“He was a debt collector,” my father replied. I felt like I finally had all the pieces to a gigantic puzzle.
My mother broke into tears. “They never paid us well anyway, so we had to borrow money, then he showed up, demanding that we pay him $1000.” She broke into sniffles. I somehow managed to hold myself together, though I was still reeling in shock. Thankfully, I had a plan, and it would start from that moment. I ran into my room, and carrying the piggy bank containing my $670 of savings, I ran back out into the dining room, placing it on the dining table. My father looked at the piggy bank, and tried to maintain the solemn look on his face, but I could see his eyes slowly turning cherry red. “Thank you, son,” he said.
The first thing I did when the Circuit Breaker ended in June was to go to McDonald’s to get a part-time job. Thankfully, I had turned 13 years old in February, so I could work there legally. My father and mother were blessed with new jobs at another bank. My family’s financial situation was now improving.
This experience brought my family much closer and also opened my eyes to the problems faced by so many people around the globe. Most importantly, however, we learnt never to keep secrets from each other again and instead, we should trust each other, and do everything we can to help each other. This nasty secret was the last one ever kept from me by my parents.