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Tue, Nov 26, 2013
The Sunday Times
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Together at last
by Sumiko Tan

After three years and three months of marriage, I've finally decided to sleep with H, and it's all thanks to the seaweed ghost.

I'll begin at the beginning.

H and I have had separate bedrooms because I can't sleep with the air- conditioning on and he can't sleep without it.

In the first three years of our marriage, we spent more than 80 per cent of our nights apart.

We shared a bed only during holidays (we'd turn off the hotel room's air-con at night), or the occasional Friday and Saturday where I'd spend the night with him - and spend the next non-working day recovering from (and grumbling about) it.

It wasn't an ideal situation, but it gave us a lot of personal space.

All this changed in October.

H, my mother and I were having dinner one Sunday evening when a very strange thing happened.

My mother had cut open a new packet of seaweed which her sister had sent from Japan, and left it on the dining table in the kitchen. I sat at the table and waited while she and H got the rice and cut some chilli.

My mother, who was scooping the rice from the cooker, asked me to eat the seaweed. I looked at the pile of 20cm by 15cm sheets, black and glistening inside the plastic packet. I said I didn't particularly like seaweed.

They sat down and we began to eat. About five minutes later, she asked H to take some seaweed.

Oh, is there seaweed, he asked.

It's here, on the table, she said.

She reached out for the packet, which was next to some dishes, then exclaimed: It's all gone!

True enough, all that remained in the packet were two white sacs of silica gel.

We were stumped.

The packet said there were 12 sheets inside. My mother insisted that she had taken just one. I sure hadn't eaten any, and H didn't even know it was there.

What happened to the rest?

We searched the kitchen.

Could my mother have absent-mindedly taken the packet and placed it inside the fridge while we weren't looking? But the seaweed wasn't anywhere to be found.

The dogs, perhaps?

Deedee the bichon frise was sitting on a chair at the dining table and had been near enough to the seaweed. But I'd been at the table and hadn't seen him reach out for it. In any case, how could he eat 11 sheets of seaweed without us noticing?

Nicky the chihuahua was, as usual, hovering around the table hoping for scraps. Did the packet drop from the table and did he pick it up and hide it? But all 11 sheets? And wouldn't he have left a trail? There was none.

Maybe, I told my mother, it was a rogue packet. Instead of 12 sheets, there were just two or three, and maybe the seaweed was damp and had stuck together and instead of taking one sheet as you thought, you had taken all three?

She pooh-poohed that theory and insisted she had taken just one, and had seen the other sheets in the pack.

I began freaking out a bit.

Was there a seaweed-loving ghost floating around?

I don't believe in the supernatural, not really, but this was a really weird thing to happen, and right before our eyes too. All the scary movies I'd ever watched came flooding back to me.

H, I said, pointing to the sliding doors at the side of the kitchen. Look at the curtains. Why are they moving? I asked.

Indeed the curtains were gently (creepily?) fluttering.

There's a breeze coming in from the back door, he said. Why wouldn't the curtains move?

I recalled that just before dinner, Deedee had suddenly given out an inexplicable yelp. Had he seen something we couldn't? (Or was he experiencing a painful, arthritic twitch? He's nearly 10 and has weak legs.)

That night, I decided to sleep with H because I was afraid - and have been sleeping with him ever since.

My mother wasn't spooked though. She cheerfully declared that if it was a ghost, it was a helpful ghost. She had been eating too much carbohydrates and not taking care of her diet, and had been looking forward to eating a lot of rice with her sister's seaweed. With it gone, she ate less rice that night, which was a good thing.

Maybe it was dad reminding me to eat properly, she said of my late father.

The next morning, I was out in the garden and threw a ball for Deedee to fetch. It fell into the drain. When I went to retrieve it, the ball was nowhere to be seen.

Now, simple physics would explain that because the drain is on a slope, the ball had likely rolled down and disappeared into the covered drain running under the road outside. But my imagination ran wild and I had a scarier theory.

To test it, I threw another ball into the drain. The first two times, it rolled to a halt midway down because a small pipe there blocked its path. Aha, I thought, this proved my creepy theory - how could a ball go missing just like that? But on the third try, it rolled past the pipe and disappeared before my eyes.

Fear continued to prey upon my mind. I felt queasy not only at home but also when I was at the office and everywhere I went.

Fear, I grew to realise, is not place- specific. It is all in the head. You might be somewhere gloriously bright and beautiful, but if you believe there are scary shadows, you will see them, even if everyone else tells you they don't exist.

The next week, we invited the pastor of my mother's church for dinner to talk about what had happened.

He had no answer to the seaweed, but he told us things that made sense and gave me comfort. My fears faded.

It's been a month since the incident. Nothing else has disappeared and I am reconciled to never knowing what happened that night. One good thing came out of all this - I discovered what it's like to go to bed each night with H.

I'm still bothered by the air-conditioning but thick socks and a sweater help. The bed also feels cramped with him, me, my big bolster and Deedee.

But it's been nice.

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Sumiko Tan's column will resume in January.

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