Hungry Ghosts

Sara Grace Salley

The first breath of humidity nearly chokes us. We walk out of the Singapore Changi Airport through automatic sliding glass doors, and Mama says, “It’s so hot it feels like the air is sweating.”  We drag everything we own behind us in six mammoth-sized suitcases, two for me, two for Dad and two for Mama. In the fifteen seconds it takes to get from the curb into a taxi, I’m convinced that the heat is going to make my skin slide right off my face. The taxi driver gets out to help Dad play a game of Tetris with our suitcases in the trunk, commenting on how much stuff we brought with us on vacation.

“Oh no, we’re here to stay,” Dad says. I wonder if he means it this time, if this cross continental move, my third in thirteen years, will be our last.

“Welcome to Singapore,” the taxi driver says.

Once inside the car, Dad asks if the air conditioning can be cranked up. “It’s hot as hell in here,” he says, his hand already turning the temperature dial before the driver can respond. The dashboard of the taxi is lined with mini golden Buddha statues and talisman cards of the God of Fortune and Green Tara for prosperity and protection. A mala made of deep jade beads hangs from the rearview mirror and swings back and forth, gently hypnotizing my jet-lagged body into unconsciousness in the back seat.


I wake up to Mama shaking me. “We’re home,” she says, “Time to get out.”

Mama is always quick to call new houses home. We’d only seen the apartment once before, a couple of weeks ago when Dad showed us the virtual tour on the Springfield Condominium website. Gathered around the screen, peering into our future home, I asked if I could have the bedroom with the bright orange walls, my favorite color. Getting out of the taxi and walking through the front door, I knew to head through the living room, past the bathroom, all the way down the hall and to the left, expecting to see the early morning sun setting my room’s orange walls ablaze. Behind the door, blinding white and the smell of fresh paint greeted me. Swiping my hand against the walls, I could see the slightest tint of orange cutting through the white, like someone had smeared melted orange creamsicles into the wet paint and left it to dry.

“Are you hungry, Sadie?” Mama calls from the other side of the apartment.

“Not really,” I say, “I feel airplane gross and wanna shower.”

“I’ll fish out a towel from the suitcases for you,” Mama says.


I stand with my hand under the shower stream waiting for the water to get hot, or even just lukewarm, for what feels like forever. Someone knocks on the bathroom door.

“You in there, Sadie?” Dad asks, rattling the doorknob.

“Don’t come in Dad, I’m taking a shower,”

“Did you turn on the water heater?” he says.

“The what?”

“You have to turn it on 10 minutes before you shower to have hot water.”

I wrap myself in a towel and poke my head out from behind the door. Dad’s circular glasses are nearly pressed up against a small red light that he keeps turning on and off with a switch.

“Make sure this red light is on. You have to give it some time,” he says.

“All right, Dad.”

“And turn it off when you’re done. The electric bill is going to be sky high as it is with us sleeping with the air con on every night.”

I close the door and mumble that I heard him and that yes, I will make sure that the water heater light is off before I go to bed. After I turn off the shower to let it get hot, I can still half-hear him talking about how Singapore is the third most expensive city in the world to live in and how we could practically rent a mansion back in America for the price we would be paying for rent here. I fight the urge to say that he really shouldn’t complain. He’s the one to blame for us moving here, but I know he wouldn’t listen. Beads of sweat roll down my back as I stand in the poorly ventilated bathroom, so I turn the shower back on. I let my towel fall on the floor and step onto the shower tile, the cold water cooling my sizzling skin.