As children, whenever my brother or I came home crying because we’d fallen out of the tree we were climbing or scraped our knees from skateboarding, our mother would look up from her mahjong table and frown.
Those of you who’ve grown up watching Dettol commercials might expect even the most negligent mother to immediately rush to her offspring, oozing maternal concern while leading them to the bathroom where she’ll gently clean their wounds and murmur encouraging words like “Dettol Antiseptic protects your family”.
Not Mrs Hahn.
She frowned at us and told us to stop being such wooses. “You think that’s painful?
Try giving birth!”
And there was that one time our sister accidentally hit herself with her own tennis racket when lunging for a forehand, and came home with a whopping big bruise on her forehead. Mother took one look at the slobbering mess that was Michelle and said, “Oh, darling, do stop crying. You’re going to get permanent wrinkles if you scrunch up your face like that. Giving birth is so much more painful!”
As Michelle later said, it’s a wonder the three of us didn’t grow up with more emotional issues.
A couple of weeks ago, my flatmate Saffy suddenly announced in the middle of dinner that she had to go for a Pap Smear Test. At first, I thought she was talking about some new entrance examination I’d not heard of. Like the GMAT or something.
“No, it’s a woman’s test,” Saffy explained in her most scientific voice. "Apparently, you’re meant to have them regularly and I’ve never been on account of the fact that I’ve only just gotten the hang of my hand booby test so I’m a little nervous because it’s not a DIY and you need to see a gynae about it and so I need one of you to come with me!”
Amanda looked up from her oyster omelet and blinked. “How you ever hit puberty is beyond me. I go every other year for my Pap Smear!”
Saffy was astonished. “Really? What’s it involve?”
Amanda shifted in her seat. “Well, they just…they just scrap some stuff out of you and look at it under the microscope and if you’re fine, you’re fine, and if you’re not, well, then they do another round of tests. Anyway, I can’t go with you. I’ve got that stupid trial all month.”
Saffy’s bosom inflated. “Scrape some stuff out from where?”
That night, Amanda posted on Facebook that she was living with a complete idiot, to which Saffy commented, “No, seriously. Where do they scrape the stuff from?”
Which is how, a few days ago, I found myself sitting in a roomful of women at Saffy’s gynaecologist.
“I tell you, if I had my life all over again,” Saffy announced loudly, “I’d never have been born a woman. You guys have it so easy. Every month, I have that stupid period. Then every six months, I have to touch my own boobs, which is so sad I can’t begin to tell you. And I’m now meant to schedule a stupid smear test every other year. Seriously, there are no advantages to being a woman! Is this going to hurt?” she asked the receptionist who came to collect the medical form.
“No, lah, Pap Smear Test very easy one,” said Nurse Tan. “OK, you can go in now!”
You could tell Saffy was struggling with herself as she trudged cautiously into the room. Through the thin doors, you could hear her muted nervous chatter and the doctor’s calm, soothing voice. There was a brief silence followed by the soft tinkle of something metal shifting on a tray.
“You’re going to put that where?” Saffy’s question punched through the closed door and hanged in the air with great outrage. Several women looked up in alarm, while I pulled my copy of the Peak higher over my face.
“No, seriously! I thought you were going to just use a cotton bud or something…Well, then why is it called a smear? That’s a shovel you’ve got there. Since when do you need a shovel to get a smear?...Yeah? Well, I don’t care what the correct medical term for it is, but something that huge is called a shovel! You could dig up potatoes with that!...I will not keep my voice down! I broke up with my ex-boyfriend because his penis was way too big and that shovel you’ve got there is ten times the size of his dong! Get away from me! Jason! Jason! Help!”
And, of course, all I could think about was what my mother would have said.