Do You Believe in Ghosts?

I’ve finally got the timeline for my next book The Ash House. It’s about a pipa-playing ghost who haunts a Chinese merchant family, and the clairvoyant nun who’s been sent to set them free. With something like that, I’m pretty sure people will be asking if I’m just spinning a yarn, or if I’m writing from personal experience.

Truth be told, I’ve never actually had a conversation with a ghost. Not one that proclaimed itself as such anyway. However, I have lived in both a Peranakan shop-house and in a development built over an old cemetery. I have had ‘funny feelings’ in certain spaces. There have been incidences. I can’t dismiss all those experiences as mere imagination. There do seem to be fragments and even whole chunks of consciousness from previous times still lingering in our 21st century city. Nothing that can be proved. But…

Take the experience I had in a hospital some years ago.

Husband and I were side-swiped by a right turning car who didn’t notice lights were red on their side of the road. I had concussion. While he hung around to wait for the tow-truck, Civil Defense got me an ambulance and sent me to NUH Emergency. I was triaged, and since judged not in dire straits, sat on a chair to wait for my number to be called.

I’m not sure how long I waited. I’m not sure if I dozed off. It had been a busy time of year. In fact, husband was giving me a lift downtown to a board meeting to finalize some report or other. It felt good to be given a break and to sit in a daze in A&E, with no regard for time passing. My mind wandered. Maybe my spirit wandered too…

Visualize this: A business lady in her dark grey business dress, her shiny black business pumps and boxy black crocodile skin handbag. She has her business jewelry on; business lady sized diamond ear studs and a diamond ring, a nice brooch, a good watch. Not too showy mind. Certainly not showy enough for anyone sick enough to be at the A&E to notice. And yet, there she was, a Nenek veiled in black from head to toe, her face up close and personal, peering at the diamonds on my earlobes.

I moved my head back. She moved closer.

‘Is that real?’ she asked, reaching out to tap the diamond on my ring finger.

I snatched my hand away and mumbled something about it being stuff I wore to work. The rest is a blur. I do remember sliding my ring off and tucking it into the zippered compartment of my handbag and reminding myself not to let go of it.

There’s a logical explanation for this. Maybe she had dementia and the shiny stones attracted her. Maybe she’d also had a concussion and was feeling disinhibited. But how did she appear so suddenly. And where did she disappear to? I remember looking around the waiting room and not finding her. Did she go away in puff of smoke? Or did they just call her queue number?

Those worries are palpable and climb all over us like monkeys

I’ve been in hospital waiting rooms a lot this last year. Taking my dad for pre-op and post-op consultations. Taking myself for checkups for my back and tummy. And in that time, I’ve realized we don’t wait alone in those rooms. We carry our worries and anxieties with us. How ill are we? Is it curable? What will we do if it isn’t? Those worries are palpable. They climb all over us like monkeys.

Maybe I wasn’t as spaced out as I thought. Maybe the Nenek was a manifestation of my worries. And then again, maybe she was someone who got lost between living and dying and now wanders the hospital. And maybe, my shiny littke stones called to her?

I don’t know.

What do you think?

Have you had an inexplicable encounter like this? Have you spoken with a ghost?

Do share.

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