Every night, before I go to bed, I turn off my handphone. For some reason, this drives people insane.
“Alamak, why you off your handphone?” Sharyn once scolded me. “What if I’m trying to call you?”
“Why would you call me at 2am? I’m sleeping!”
“If emergency, how?”
“Call Saffy, she’s your best friend!”
Amanda says she wouldn’t be able to sleep if her phone was off. “I’d always be wondering if someone was trying to reach me!”
I’m not keen at all on the whole ‘I-must-be-contactable-at-all-times’ schtick. It’s not as if I’m the President of the United States. What’s the emergency?
So, a few mornings ago, just as we were all sitting down to breakfast, the home phone rang. It was my mother calling from a hospital in London.
“Oh, darling,” she sniffed. “It’s your father. He coughed up blood last night!”
My legs suddenly gave way and I had to sit down on the sofa.
“They spent hours doing up a whole set of tests,” she went on, her clear voice sounding like it was coming from the next room. “Then at about 10pm, they told us that they’d lost the test results!”
My jaw dropped. I’d still not said a word.
“This is what a first world medical health system looks like,” my mother sighed. “It’s no wonder Mrs Lee flew straight back to Singapore after she had her stroke in London!”
I finally managed to find my voice. “Why didn’t you call, Ma?”
“Oh, it was so late here in London and really, what could you have done? We wanted to be sure before we worried you children. Anyway, your father seems OK, now. They’ve run another set of tests and I told the doctor that if he lost the results again, I’m going to go all Wendi Murdoch on him. He looked so wonderfully scared as he scuttled off towards the lab!”
“I love your mother!” Saffy declared when I’d clicked off the phone and told them what had happened. “How do you lose a test result? A folder doesn’t just get up off the desk and wander off!”
“Are you OK?” Amanda asked.
I said I was, but, of course, I wasn’t.
You spend your whole life thinking your parents are always going to be always healthy, always opinionated, always strong. Always there. And then, one morning, just as you sit down to breakfast, you get a phone call and your whole world changes.
My sister rang from Hawaii where she was having a holiday and bawled for five expensive long distance minutes before she could speak. “If Daddy dies on me, I’m going to kill him!” she wailed. “He’s got to give me away at my wedding!”
I paused. “You’re getting married?”
“Well, not immediately, but one day! And I want him to walk me down the aisle and not my stepfather!”
“Mother’s having an affair?” I yelled.
From the depths of the sofa, Saffy sat up straight.
“Oh, you are silly. I’m just saying. But I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if she remarried. She’s very eligible!” Michelle hiccupped through her tears.
“The women in your family are so practical!” Amanda observed later. I shrugged and flipped another page in the family album that I’d just pulled down from the top shelf of my library.
There I was aged five being swung high in the air by my father. And there he was in our garden watching me wrestle with Prince, our stupid German Shepherd. Sitting with me at the dining table as he helped me with my maths homework, him staring intently at my notebook while I peered at the camera. A dinner to celebrate Michelle’s Judo black belt. At Jack’s stage debut as the pumpkin in his school production of ‘Cinderella’. Picking me up from school in his new maroon Jaguar. At my high school graduation looking so pleased as if I’d just discovered the cure for cancer. I was taller than him by then. At my university graduation – his hairline now noticeably receded and snowy. At the airport, waving as I got on the plane for Singapore.
All in the past.
Last night, just before we turned in, Amanda took my handphone from me and walked towards her bedroom.
“Hey, where you are going with that?” I said.
“I’ll keep hold of it during the night,” she said. “No point you changing the habit of a lifetime now. I’m sure everything is ok, but I’ll keep it on for you. Just in case,” she paused and just as she closed her door, she whispered, “Good night.”