A few Sunday mornings ago, my neighbour Chen knocked on my door – an act that led my flatmate, Amanda, to complain afterwards that it’s just such bad manners to show up unannounced at someone’s home. “Especially on a Sunday! I hadn’t even put on my face yet!” she said, giving her vibrant tresses an indignant shake.
My only complaint was that Chen looked annoyingly chirpy for that time of the morning. “Ay, sorry hor, but have you notice how dirty our floor is? The condo cleaner is not mopping!” she said while looking accusingly around the corridor.
I peered out and confessed that I’d not paid much attention to the state of our flooring, but now that she mentioned it, it did look a bit grubby.
“Yar loh,” Chen chirruped. “Every week, hor, I go down to management office and complain. Now they see me, they get scare! So, this week, you go down complain, can?”
I promised I would and was about to shut the door when she suddenly said, “Oh, also, hor, my father-in-law pass away yesterday!”
Which came as both a surprise and a complete shock. I’d rather liked the old man and enjoyed his company. He was always wandering around the grounds in slow shuffling steps, dressed in a scrappy t-shirt and pajama pants. That’s all he ever wore. I often passed him on my way back from walking my beloved adopted mongrel dog Pooch and we’d stop to chat for a while – him in stuttering Mandarin, me in appalling Cantonese, yet somehow we managed.
What surprised me was his death. What completely shocked me was that he’d not died earlier. As Saffy pointed out, he must have been a hundred and ten. “At least,” she added.
But what was even more shocking was how cheerful Chen seemed about the whole thing. My first reaction to the news was dismay. “Oh!” I remember gasping. “I’m so sorry!”
“No, lah!” Chen beamed, waving her hand. “Is OK! Is OK! He very old or-redi!”
“It was like we were talking about the Great Singapore Sale or something!” I said later to Saffy and Amanda. “It was all so casually cheerful!”
“I so don’t want people to talk about me like that when I’m dead,” Amanda declared.
“What I don’t understand,” Saffy said, “is why she thought it was more important to knock on our door on a Sunday morning to talk about how dirty our corridor floor was, and then so casually add that the father of her husband had died just yesterday! Shouldn’t that be the first thing you tell people?”
“That’s why people don’t like daughters-in-law!” Amanda said firmly, a statement that caused even Saffy to turn around and stare.
Which is how, a few days later, we found ourselves sweltering in our condo carpark, under a big white tent with a coffin. We carefully selected a table under a fan, but it only seemed to be moving the hot air around. Saffy, never at ease at a funeral, managed to look everywhere but the coffin at the other end of the tent.
“Someone please tell me that the old man is in a refridgerated coffin!” Amanda said after she’d scrutinized the flower arrangements and what everyone was wearing. Saffy frowned as she mentally replayed Amanda’s words and it was clear she was not liking the ending of this episode.
Just then, Sushila, another neighbour a few floors down from us, arrived and sat down with us. “Aiyoh, that poor old man!” she said, as she peered down at her cleavage peeping out from beneath her low cut dress. “I really liked him. Never understood a word he said, but we seemed to have such wonderful conversations!”
I asked about her children. “Oh, they’re fine. They’re having exams now. But hey, can I ask you guys something?” Sushila said as she leaned forward. By instinct, Saffy and Amanda leaned in.
“Do you notice anything different about me?” she asked. The girls cocked their heads and stared.
“Your hair?” Saffy asked.
“New lip gloss?” Amanda said.
“No!” Sushila whispered dramatically. “I’ve just had a boob job!”
Needless to say, three pairs of eyes shifted south to examine her breasts. “I didn’t want to get them too big, but what do you think?” Sushila asked.
Saffy later said that it had taken all her self control not to reach out to poke Sushila’s breasts. “I’ve always wanted to see what they feel like,” she explained, to which a scandalized Amanda said that she was this close to moving countries.
“We were at a funeral, for Chrissakes!” she blasphemed.