Friday, October 06, 2006

Halloween Special: The Red Balloon

My little brother is pretty cool. He often comes up with funny stories that leave me rolling on the floor in laughter. Sometimes he'll interject a little quip into the conversation while my mother is on a nagging roll, a little zip-zap like a bespectacled Zorro, so quickly that she doesn't even notice. Of course, sometimes he's not subtle about it at all, and is rewarded with more nagging. Heeheehee!

The other night I was talking to him about ghosts. South East Asians are a terribly superstitious lot. To demonstrate my point, you only have to witness the incredible popularity in Singapore of a book series with the extremely original title "True Singapore Ghost Stories". People never seem to get tired of them so they're probably up to volume #666 by now. They're basically stories taken down almost verbatim (but correcting some of the grammar and pruning out a lot of "lah"s) from REAL Singaporeans who've met REAL ghosts. Some of them are pretty scary, others are the routine taxi-driver-picks-up-a-chick-who-disappears-but-leaves-behind
-the-scent-of-frangipani variety.

So I said I'd never really seen one, well, maybe the aftermath of one, and I might have seen another during a sleep-deprived hallucinatory episode, but not really anything very concrete or scary.

And so Glen told me about the Red Balloon.

He was in Singapore at the time doing his National Service. This was after BMT (Basic Military Training) so he was allowed to return to my parents' flat for the weekend. It was Hungry Ghost Month, which usually takes place around July/August, following the Chinese calendar. The dates change every year, and I'm too much of a banana to keep track, so you'll just have to bear with my little vagaries where these strange things like FACTS or DATES are concerned :P

Hungry Ghost month is full of smells and bells and whistles; food is left out on altars, people burn incense and paper offerings day and night in large brass cauldrons, and there's a general spookiness in the air. Wah lau, you think you ang-mohs have it bad with Halloween? Imagine an entire MONTH where the gates of hell are open. Eh? EH?

So he was returning home very late at night, no doubt with his favourite seafood yam ring in his arms, wrapped in some waxed paper and ready to devour later.

He was walking across the void deck when something red caught his eye. He turned his head and saw, directly to his left, a red balloon, hovering at eye level next to a pillar a few yards away. Not lolling about on the ground, as helium balloons do after several hours, but floating silently at exactly the same level as his head. And then, even though there wasn't a breeze, it started coming towards him. Feeling a little spooked, he began to walk faster towards the lift, and he reckons it was gaining on him.

So he got into the lift and watched this balloon float closer and closer while he frantically pressed the buttons to make the lift doors close, which they finally did.

"But I tell you," he said to me, "I was expecting to find it waiting for me when I got out upstairs! If it was, I think I would have shat my pants!" [OK, so maybe I ad-libbed a bit there - an9ie]

He peeked out over the balcony, and even though it was a very still night, he could still see the balloon below him, floating around the void deck.

At the end of his story I said "Oi, Glen, come on, it was just a balloon, dude." And he said indignantly "It was one of those McDonald's balloons, Angie, with RONALD MCDONALD'S FACE ON IT!"

So imagine not just any balloon, but one with a face silently following you in an airless night towards a tiny dark lift. I wouldn't be merrily whistling "Dixie" if it were me.

Even worse, what if it looked like this?

"Oh Glen, Gleeee-eeeeen, I just want to be your frieeeeeeennd."

Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of Geoff Fox (