My mother rang me the other evening, right in the middle of “Survivor”. As a rule, I never answer the phone after 8 pm on the principle that if it’s urgent, there’s nothing I can do about it since I’m already in PJs and sipping herbal tea while watching TV. And if it’s not urgent, then why the hell should I be bothered? But this caller was persistent. The phone would ring and ring and stop. Twenty seconds later, it would ring and ring again. It was like listening to a dripping tap. It drove me up the wall. I grabbed the phone and stabbed the answer button.
“Can’t you take a hint?” I snapped. “Who the hell is this?”
“Really, is this what your expensive education has come to?” my mother began, her utterly and maddeningly serene voice floating across the continents.
“I was just…”
“Listen dear, I just wanted to check that you have put a sewing kit in your bank safe deposit box!”
“What? Sewing kit? Who is this? Is that you, Jack?”
“Oh, speaking of which,” my mother went on, “do you know where your brother is? I’ve been trying to call him for hours! He’s not picking up. And neither is your sister! What is wrong with you children? What if this was an emergency?”
“But it’s not an emergency!” I moaned. “I have no idea what you are talking about! What sewing kit? Why do I need a sewing kit?”
Mother sighed. “Because the financial markets are collapsing! Do you not read the newspapers? Really, I don’t know why your father worked so hard for so many years to send you children to such expensive boarding schools and…”
Michelle later rang to complain that as the years went by, she was more convinced than ever that we are all adopted. “I refuse to believe that I am in any way related to that woman!” she ranted.
My flatmate Saffy, on the other hand, has always been fascinated by my mother. “I’m just so amazed that she is able to find her way out of bed each morning,” she said the first time they met.
“Let alone give birth to three relatively normal children,” I’d added.
And now, the issue of the sewing kit. “What’s that all about?” Saffy wanted to know.
“It’s for when World War 3 hits and we’re running for our lives. She’s imagining that I’ll be dashing down to the bank vaults and be busy sewing gold bars into the lining of my pants,” I said.
“There’s going to be a war? When? No one told me! What does your mother know?” Saffy asked, her eyes widening and her breasts beginning to pump pneumatically.
“She’s just saying that we need to be prepared for some economic catastrophe,” I sighed. “The saddest part is that for years, she’s been hounding us all to buy little gold bars as a monetary hedge and I just don’t have the heart to tell her that my safe deposit box just has my first edition Batman comics in it!”
“That’s going to be really useful when you’re trying to barter for rice!” Saffy observed, immediately getting into the spirit of things.
Leave it to Amanda to take the nightmares of an old woman in her stride. “Oh, I totally get where your mother is coming from,” she said later that night after dinner. “I’ve got $50,000 in cash in my safe deposit box!”
Saffy coughed into her cappuccino. “What? Wait, you have a safe deposit box too?” she managed to splutter.
“I think you’re completely missing the point here, Saf,” I said gently and turned sharply to Amanda. “You have $50,000? In cash? How is that humanly possible?”
Amanda shrugged. “It’s my emergency cash fund. A few years ago, I figured that seeing as there’s still no husband on the horizon and between the two you, there might be fifty cents to go around, I figured that the only person who was going to look after me was me!”
I was still trying to wrap my head around the idea of $50,000 cash. Briefly, I tried to imagine what that must be like and what I would do if I had that much money sitting around idly in a safe deposit box. I decided that I’d probably go visit it every other day, just to keep it company.
Saffy looked wounded. “I do have more than fifty cents to my name, thank you very much!”
A few nights later, Mother rang again, this time advising me to store some cash in a Milo tin and store it under my bed. “We must change our names,” Michelle urged.