A few days ago, I woke up feeling poorly. The head hurt, my stomach was gripped with cramps and after two mouthfuls of breakfast cereal, I was running to the loo.
“Seriously, are you going to be long?” Saffy called from outside the door. “I really need to shower and put my face on.”
“Go away, I’m sick!” I moaned.
I heard Saffy trudge off towards the other smaller bathroom. “Jason’s sick,” her distant voice reported to Amanda. “I hope he’s not going to pass it to me!”
I spent the rest of the day at home, mostly holed up in bed and feeling very sorry for myself. Eventually, it occurred to me that I needed to eat something, so I dragged myself to the kitchen.
The fridge yielded two slices of week-old pepperoni pizza which turned my stomach just looking at it, a tub of organic yoghurt, two bottles of champagne, three mouldy apples and half a chocolate cake from the birthday party we threw Sharyn.
I looked into the pantry and found assorted mixed nuts, packets of dried shrimp and dried abalone, and three bars of Hershey’s.
If I was the sort, this would be the part where I burst into tears. But I was made of sterner stuff, so I picked up the phone.
My mother was surprised to hear from me. “Who died?” she asked immediately. “I’m not ready for bad news, I’m about to get a seaweed wrap!”
“Mummy, I’m sick!”
And just like that, I was six years old again. Mother might have been thousands of miles away in another country, but somehow, I understood that if I told her that I wasn’t well, she would make things better.
I guess it’s true what they say about children. They never really grow up. When the chips are down, it’s always your mother you go back to for comfort and solace. When my cousin Mark’s bimbo wife left him for an alcoholic mechanic, he was so devastated, he moved back home with his parents. By the second month, his mother was desperately trying to set him up with anyone who remotely resembled a woman with two functioning breasts, just to get him out of their lives.
“He’s driving us crazy!” Auntie Sook-ling hissed to her sister, my mother. “Children are not supposed to move back in once they’ve left home!”
“I don’t know why I ever left!” Mark told me. “I feel so safe again. Like no one will dare hurt me.”
I told my mother who told Auntie Sook-ling. “Well, I’m about to hurt him! You know how small our house is. Jonathan and I can’t even be, you know, intimate!” To which my mother replied, firmly, that this constituted too much information.
“What’s the matter?” Mother now asked.
“I think I have a stomach bug. Must have picked it up on the bus or something. Everyone was coughing and sneezing!”
“Well, are you resting? Yes, I’ll have lavender oil to go with my wrap, thank you! Sorry, Jason dear. Do you have food? You need to eat something clear and light. Like congee.”
“I don’t know how to make congee.” I was aware of a pathetic whiny tone creeping into my voice.
Mother sighed. “Sorry, I’m just going to be a minute longer. It’s my son. Jason? Listen, do you have a pen and paper? It’s really easy. You take half a cup of rice…yes, raw rice…and then you add five cups of water…Yes, you add that much, really, I do wish you’d stop interrupting, my seaweed is drying up!”
It took Sharyn a good five minutes before she could stop laughing. “Aiyoh, make congee, must also call your mother! You men are so useless, one! Why, ah? I hope my Charlie don’t become like you!” At the edge of my bed, she patted my lap with uncharacteristic affection.
“You’re not supposed to be mean to me, Sharyn! I’m sick!” I mumbled as I slurped some of my congee. I wasn’t at all sure that I’d made it right, but it tasted real fine.
Saffy, who is currently Not Speaking to her mother, stood outside my bedroom and sniffed. “You are such a baby! The way you’re going on, you’d think you had the plague or something!”
But I didn’t care. That night, just before I turned off the lights, I slipped Mother’s recipe for plain congee into my journal, next to a birthday card she’d given me when I was ten. Inside she’d written, “I will always be your friend, love Mummy.” The ‘always’ was underlined three times.