Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The moment of truth

The Swee Cheok Tong (瑞鵲堂) have had this safe in our premises for....goodness knows how long. It had been sitting pretty in an unobtrusive part of the building, minding its own business just like we, the committee members, have been minding ours. But lately, it had become imperative for us to know what was inside the safe. What sort of secrets was it holding that may affect the running of the Quah Kongsi?

It would have been a simple matter of unlocking the safe door to find out but for one problem. Nobody knew where the all-important key had gone to. Nobody could tell who was the last person to hold the key or who had last opened the safe. All our attempts to locate the key had failed, meaning that we had no other choice but to call in a safe cracker. Or perhaps, a master locksmith would have been a more polite description.

So we had this locksmith come into the premises last Friday morning. He fiddled with the handle, then removed it. Peered into the keyhole with a torch, mumbled to himself, then started work to fashion out a makeshift key before prodding it into the keyhole. Nope, it didn't work. He took out his tool, fashioned it again by sawing it down to make new teeth. Then poked it into the keyhole again. Nope, still didn't work. This went on for about two hours before the locksmith decided to give up and call it a day. He needed a fresh mind to rework the key and suggested to continue on the next day. Nothing we could do but agree to his proposal. After all, he is the master locksmith and we are just his clients.

First thing on Saturday, the locksmith came again. Raring to start afresh, he fashioned out another makeshift key. Poked it into the keyhole. Thud, there was a sound as if the lock had been disengaged. He tried turning the safe's handle. It stayed steadfastly engaged. It didn't turn. He tried a few times and then removed his key. He continued muttering softly to himself, then he filed down some of the teeth and tried again. Thud, that sound again. But no, the handle still couldn't move. Back to the drawing board again.

After about another two hours, I grew tired of watching him work. I retired to another part of the premises in order to check my mobile. Suddenly, I heard a different kind of sound. Piak! Almost immediately, the locksmith called out to me. The door's opened, he said. I leapt up immediately and rushed back. With some hesitation, I pulled open the door. The moment of truth. It was heavy but it slid open effortlessly. There, within the safe, were stacked documents in several old envelopes. Some books too. And an aluminium box, filled with more documents. There were two drawers inside the safe but they were empty.

At about the same time, my treasurer came back. So we went through the stuff in the safe as the locksmith began dismantling the lock. We would want a new set of keys since the old ones can now be safely treated as lost.

So what was inside the safe? To our disbelieve, old fire insurance policies. Old property assessment receipts. Old book-keeping ledgers. The documents dated back a very long time, some to the 1920s and 1930s, but the latest were dated in the 1970s. Which means to say that the last time that the safe was possibly opened was in the mid-1970s. But why on earth did the old committee keep all that old stuff? Were they that all-important? What was the purpose?The mind boggled.

I think in the next few weeks, we should get down to the task of deciding whether or not any of these old documents are worth retaining. Personally, I doubt there will be much to keep...

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