21 Questions


Chapter 1: Let’s Play A Game

Their two room HDB flat wasn’t nearly large enough. Not large enough to contain the despondency that the occupants carried, not large enough to drown out the choked sobs dotting the area and certainly not large enough to drown out the undying guilt Eden would carry around ever since that terrifying incident.

Eden thought her mother was crazy. Always talking to something in the walls, “How are you Derek?” she would sob.

“Mamma, who are you talking to?” a five-year-old Eden had grinned one day. 

“Your papa.” Young Eden, who couldn’t wrap her head around why her mother was talking to a dead person, had run away, petrified. Years later, nothing had changed. “It would be our 20th anniversary today,” her mom whimpered.

“It’s just the wind, Mother,” an older, 15-year-old Eden had scoffed. 

Now, 18 years old, standing in the middle of the small flat, tears cascading down her face, Eden wished that it was merely just the wind.

Eden was a beautiful girl. Her eyes were huge, charcoal black. But they were so astute, so alluring that it seemed as if gold sparks appeared everytime she smiled. And everytime she smiled, everyone around her swooned at the two dimples that popped up. But the one person who had prided her dimples the most, the person who pecked them every night before bed, the one who prodded at them ever so often, was not around anymore. 

So now, it looked like Eden hadn’t smiled for ages. And the spark, that lovely spark in her eyes that everyone fell in love with, it wasn’t coming back anytime soon. 


Eden’s keys clinked as she entered her house. She tried to close the door softly behind her but it squeaked loudly on its hinges. Seeing her mother’s figure sitting on their sofa cum bed in the living room, drifting in and out of consciousness, she tried tiptoeing to her bedroom but her mother’s rough voice caused her to spin around. 

“Eddy… It’s 6 o’clock. Did work end late today?” 

Rustling sounds were clear before she saw her mother clad in a lilac nightgown, making her way towards her. Her long black hair slipped past her hips and she looked as ethereal as ever, the wrinkles around her eyes being the only thing to give her age away. What was new though, was her red and bleary eyes because Eden couldn’t remember the last time she had seen her mother cry. Every night, like clockwork she would hear it through their walls but not once could she remember it actually happening.

“Mom, what’s wrong?” 

“Do you remember what day it is today?”

And then Eden blanched as taut strings wrapped around her heart one after the other. Her hands shook violently as she flipped open her phone, praying that she had gotten this all wrong. It couldn’t be today, her father’s death anniversary. She could not have forgotten.


“Mama! There are so many stars tonight. Can I count them?” A 5-year-old Eden babbled. 

The woman let out a deep chuckle beside her. “Baby, you can try.” 

And Eden did try but too many calculations led to her deep slumber.

“Your papa loves you so much. Derek, how I wish you were here to tell your daughter this.” 

Each year, Eden’s father’s death anniversary found the duo stargazing on their small balcony. Though sometimes Eden’s mother would shut everyone out, this tradition was theirs. Eden hadn’t known her father. She had only known the broken sobs and scarred arms of her mother. At five years of age, when Eden had complained to her mother about being the one of the few in kindergarten who didn’t go to school by car, she had slapped her. Later that night, her mother had broken down in front of her, gathered Eden in her frail arms and kissed her all over, apologising while salty tears trickled down her cheeks. 

“Promise me you’ll never drive. Baby, I can’t lose you as well.”

On those nights, Eden’s mother would go back into the house and whisper, “I’m not enough for her, Derek.”


Eden blankly slid her phone back into her pocket. It was the 17th of January, her father’s death anniversary and the day before her 18th birthday. 

“Mom, Mamma, sorry. I’m sorry I forgot. Work came up and I just completely forgot. I’m sorry. Let’s go stargaze now.”

Mrs Teng shook her head at her daughter sadly. 

“No, don’t do this. Don’t shut me out again. Let’s go now. To visit him at least?”

“Okay okay. Front door in 30 minutes,” Mrs Teng said.

An hour had passed, however, Mrs Teng had yet to exit her room. Eden opened the door to her mother’s room carefully and her jaw clenched bitingly as she grasped her mother sprawled over her fleeceless mattress, nightdress bunched up to her sides and as she spoke to the wall. Fussing about how lonely she was, how she didn’t have anyone by her side.

“I’m right here! You keep talking to a wall, complaining about your problems when your daughter is right here.”

Sluggishly turning around and seeing her daughter’s balled up fists and teary eyes, Eden’s mother shrugged.

“You wouldn’t understand.”

And Eden pounded out of the room, a violent whimper ripping through her throat.

As night fell, Eden was left unaware of the desperate voices around her, “I’m not good enough for my daughter.”

“Yes, you are, she loves you.”

“She shouldn’t.”


The next morning came and brought with it saffron-tinged skies, precious Koels’ song and a very cranky 18-year-old. Eden strutted into the kitchen and pulled out a tin of Khong Guan biscuits from their pantry–if a cupboard filled with two singular tetra-packets of apple juice and the occasional dust bunny could even be called that. Grabbing her favourite lemon biscuit from the assortment and biting into it for breakfast, she tried not to wince. The biscuit was stale. Opening the fridge, Eden reached blindly for the low-fat Meiji milk, and came up empty handed.

“Mom? It was your turn to go to FairPrice,” Eden grumbled.

No reply greeted her so she dragged her feet into her mother’s room and wasn’t the least bit surprised to be greeted by all the windows tightly shut and bed unmade. What was surprising though, was the absence of her mother. 

“Since when did she leave the house this early?”

Something violent churned at the pits of Eden’s stomach and she flipped out her phone, clicking on the ‘Favourites’ section. It was the only contact in that folder.

After five rings, her mother finally picks up.

“…Yes, honey?” An extremely disoriented voice answered, as if the person on the other end was walking through a tunnel.

“Mum, where are you?”

It took 10 whole seconds for Mrs Teng to answer, “NTUC.”

“Buy more biscui–”

But the phone cut violently. She doesn’t even remember it’s my birthday,” Eden huffed as she put on a pair of brandless sneakers and left the house. 

The streets of Singapore looked better at night. At night, the city looked lively, harmonious, almost. At night people left the house, travelled all the way to Clarke Quay. Youngsters visited some kind of obscure bar while families took photos with the Fat Pigeon Statue. Eden longed to be one of those families, still, she wasn’t. Which is why, though Singapore looked better at night, Eden favoured Singapore in the morning. 

Strolling for 20 minutes found her at Redhill MRT. She bounded down the escalators of the station and slipped into the train just as the automated voice beeped, “Doors are closing.”

Eden sat down but got up instantly as she saw a pregnant woman enter. After five stops, “Next stop, City Hall,” Eden alighted hastily. ‘Ghost Hours’ was a small cafe near Raffles City and her boss was an exuberant senior.

“Morning, ah girl!” 

“Morning, Mr Tan.”

As Eden was pulling on her apron, prattling with her coworker, Kai, the storeroom door burst open.

“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you.” Mr Tan and another employee, Lin, came out of the storage room, a huge Pandan cake in tow. Their euphony ended on different notes but that didn’t stop a violent red from spreading from the apples of Eden’s cheeks to the base of her neck. 

“…You remember,” she mumbled, twisting her fingers. 

“Of course lah we remember.” Lin giggled, smacking a wet kiss onto Eden’s right cheek. 

Eden shrieked and just as she tried to wipe off her slobber, Kai pressed an even wetter kiss onto her left cheek. Mr Tan chuckled, eyes folding into crescents as he picked some frosting off the cream lettering that read “Eden, prettier than the Garden of Eden” and smeared it onto Eden’s nose. 

And Eden didn’t realise how easy it was for her to forget about her mother. 


It was awfully warm inside the abandoned Tanglin Hill Brunei Hostel. Vacated in 1983, now a little more than three decades later in 2018, the place still lay abandoned and wasted, just like her own life. Cherie rolled up her half sleeved shirt, wiping off beads of sweat from her forehead. Terrified. Cherie was terrified of being out all alone but she had seen that look of downright chagrin on her daughter’s face the previous evening. Mothers were supposed to be the paddle to their child’s boat, the wind to their sails, not the anchor that held them down to the grimy sand. Cherie loved Eden. She loved her so much which was why she was doing this–running away. 

That’s what Cherie told herself. Eden never needed a mother like her, a miserable, guilt-infested and selfish mother and today, Eden turned eighteen. Eden never needed a mother like Cherie and today was the day she could finally do something about it. So Cherie had left before Eden could leave first. Before someone she loved left her again. 

Cherie rubbed her Rose-Quartz necklace between her fingers. Rose Quartz—the January Birthstone, Eden’s birthday month, Derek’s birthday month, a striking symbol of love and Derek’s death month. 

“Oh, Derek, I’m doing the right thing, aren’t I?”

When no one responded, she reached around desperately. 

“Right … you can’t follow me around on any crazy journey I decide to take.” She chuckled humorlessly. “Well, at least you’ll be able to take care of Eden well.”

Cherie pulled out a pack of cigarettes from her pocket. Fumbling around, she found her smooth brown lighter, with “D+C = Forever” carved onto it. “Look! Now everytime you look at this lighter, you’ll think of me and when you think of me, you won’t be able to smoke.” A 17-year-old Derek had snickered on the swings near their HDB estate. 

Cherie had also removed a letter of procession that stated they had received her $60 fees, her change in name was being processed and she would be mailed a notice of collection within 3 working days. 


“Mum, I’ve got the cake you really like!” Eden removed one slice of Pandan cake Mr Tan had coerced her to take home and placed it on a glass plate. 

She pushed the door to her mother’s room open and a note slid to her foot. 

Happy 18th, my Eddy. You’ve always been the best person in my life. However, I’m afraid I’ve no longer remained that for you. 



Eden’s jaw slackens, as if awaiting a scream. The arm that was digging into her skin momentarily paused to extract her phone. As she waited for the call to be picked up, Eden’s teeth dug into her nail bed, until redness covered the index finger. 

The ringing stopped but instead of her mothers heavy voice, she was greeted by, “We are unable to get a response from this number. Please try again later.”

Eden’s finger fell from her mouth smoothly. The nail that Eden had bitten raw burned, it burned but it was nothing compared to the lapping of flames in her heart. 

Eden’s phone pinged with a message and she scrambled for it. The text wasn’t from her mother. 

Eden pulled at the silky strands of her hair before throwing the glass bowl with cake at the wall, hard. Eden screamed as the fragile glass shattered along with her heart. Her back thud against the wall as she dragged her lithe body down, burying her head in her palms. Drool was starting to fall down her chin, along with thick mucus as she sobbed inconsolably.

“Eddy…” A muffled voice breathed. “Your mother is fine.”

Eden’s sobs grew louder, her distress purging her of any coherent thoughts. She banged the back of her skull against the wall as she tried to get rid of the supposed voices in her head. 

“Don’t be scared… I won’t harm you.”

“Where are these voices coming from? Get out, get out!” She hit her head over and over again. 

“The voices aren’t coming from your head, they’re coming from the wall!” The voice sounded loud, almost desperate. 

And then all movement halted as Eden, who was slumped up against the wall looked up, face full of sticky tears but eyes icy and impassive.

A dry chuckle, “Am I going crazy then?” 

When nothing but eerie silence blanketed the flat, “Answer me, am I going crazy?” Eden screamed.

“Only just as crazy as your mother was,” The voice gulped.

And then Eden started wailing, even louder than before, “Who are you!” 

After a quick moment of silence, “Your father.”

And it was awe-worthy how fast Eden’s mood changed. If she wasn’t terrified a minute ago, she most definitely was now. Her face turned ashen as she surveyed the walls. 

“You can’t be. My father’s dead.” Eden’s voice wavered as a bout of fresh tears clogged her maw.

“I’m his ghost.” 

“You can’t be! You can’t! Is this a prank? Leave me alone.” Eden had gone hysterical now, screaming at a wall.

“Eddy, honey I’m real. My name’s Derek. I died in a car-crash on the way to the hospital while your mum was in labour. I died at the moment both my angels needed me the most and for that reason I’ll never be able to leave these walls. I need to take care of her. I need to take care of you, my baby. Let me… let me take care of you.”

“Okay… Okay.” Muted snivelling made its presence clear. Eden didn’t know if the sniffling was coming from her or the wall. Maybe both.

“I can help you find her,” her father repeats. 

“How–how will you help me find her? She’s gone.” Eden shook her head, tears gushing unyieldingly down her porcelain face.

It went silent for a few seconds so Eden stood, dabbing her forearm on her face. 

“There’s a way.”

Eden jumped up. “What way?” She sighed, frustratedly. 

There was a short pause, before – 

“Let’s play a game.”

Shravya (Class of 2025) writes mostly prose and explores topics related to family and mental wellbeing. She enjoys authors like Oscar Wilde, Jeffrey Eugenides and Ocean Vuong.