Is it the man’s fault for making himself look smarter, richer and more capable than he really is? Is it the woman’s fault for trying to look prettier, gentler and more caring than she really is? Perhaps it’s just a natural part of the game of courtship. Those who fail to put their best foot forward and show off their strengths would be condemned to singlehood. For S, he thought he knew exactly what he was getting himself into. A mature and level-headed individual who had seen much in life, he was well aware that nobody is perfect and his pretty wife will grow old just as he would. He was mentally prepared for the financial challenges of raising a family. He was not so sure about his starry-eyed bride. She probably thought she had bagged Prince Charming himself and he knew no way of demonstrating the realities without discouraging her from marrying him.
But time soon peeled the opening pages of their beautiful love story away. They had children and the initial elation soon turned into anguish, anxiety and frustration as they struggled to make ends meet. Their aspirations diverged, but some things didn’t change. S was always the easygoing optimist who saw life as a marathon and just wanted to do what he could comfortably manage. Whatever will be will be. His wife, however, sprang from the comfort of the couch and morphed from a trusting, cuddly follower into a roaring tiger mum who aspired to part seas, turn the tides and change the course of fate. When S failed to cooperate, she flew into a rage and turned everything handy into a missile aimed at him.
S was puzzled. He thought he had lived up to everyone’s expectations. Hadn’t he provided the family with a roof over their heads, good food on the table, school and tuition for the children and a year-end holiday every year? Why was his wife always griping about the lousy house, the children’s lousy grades and his lousy business? Why didn’t she complain and compare before they got married? Perhaps she would have gotten herself a better, more suitable man. Or did she get so frustrated because she was no longer able to shop around the way she went to every supermarket in the neighbourhood looking for perfect apples, peaches and vegetables?
At first, S tried to protest and explain, but instead of calming her down, his attempts to reason, console and even compromise only added oil to fire, turning his home into a warzone. Nothing he did was right. Ignoring her made her angry. Engaging her made her angry. His conscience was clear but her relentless attacks on the very core of his dignity clouded his mind. All these seemingly needless fights exhausted and defeated him.
S tried to engage a marriage counsellor. She refused to go. She insisted it’s not her fault. It’s her stupid husband’s problem. He’s the one and the only one who needs help; not her. Once a jovial and talkative guy, S became silent and lethargic. In the past, he would rush home after work, but as the kids grew up and stopped running to him when he came home from work, he started staying up late at his office.
As his kids grew older, S‘s wife grew an even deadlier sting. She kept telling his son before he went of to school, not to end up like his pathetic father. She kept reminding their daughter before she went on her date that she must never marry a man like him. With a less “refined” man, S‘s wife would have ended up as a victim of domestic violence. Tormented by the repeated insults, S was initially suicidal, but later decided to sit at coffee shops after work. He guzzled bottle after bottle of beer. It the past, he could sit there till past midnight. Nowadays, he can only sit there till it was 10.30pm. Where could he go after that?
Our puerile TV dramas often portray these coffee shop drinkers as crass and horny buffoons who ogle and fondle the innocent beer ladies (insulting the ladies is not acceptable in case you didn’t know). Make no mistake, these are not cardboard characters. Every pathetic-looking beer-guzzling uncle at our local coffee shop tells a story and very often a very sad one.
By now, I should confess that S is not a single human being, but a conglomerate of all the characters I’ve met and gotten to know while having beer regularly at our local coffee shops. Fictional as he may be, you have a much better chance of meeting him in real life than running into the crappy characters in our TV dramas. So do not look derisively at him when you walk past your local coffee shop. Reserve your judgement with the full awareness that just like you, he would rather be home.
© Chan Joon Yee