Friday, July 27, 2012

Missing in Action

Is it just me or are a lot of people and animals going missing these days?
You can barely read two posts on Facebook before coming across someone whose six year old son has wandered off in the East Coast, or an elderly father who was last seen shuffling around the front garden or a fluffy white poodle that was apparently peeing in a bush before it disappeared or was, possibly, dog-napped.
The first time this happens, you think, ‘Oh, that’s terrible. Poor thing. I hope they’re found quickly!’ But when you read about a disappearance every other day, you have to wonder if there’s a scandalous degree of carelessness at work.
When I was a child, my grandmother developed Alzheimer’s disease. By the time I was old enough to recognise her as a separate human being, she no longer remembered her own name.
She stopped playing mah-jong because she always forgot what she’d bet or which tile she’d just given up and got upset if you told her that it was impossible to ‘pong’ with that kind of hand. You also had to keep a sharp eye on her as she had a habit of wandering out of the house which would spark a panic and a lot of screaming, usually by my mother towards the maids who screamed back that between all their moping, dusting, sweeping, washing, chopping and stirring, they could hardly be expected to keep an eye on an elderly woman who loved walkies as much as her beloved shih-tzus.
The thing is, back in those days, the world was so much smaller. And so were the communities we lived in. Being neighbourly meant more than just recognising someone’s face on the street as you zoomed by in your car. Everybody knew everybody on the street. Children grew up together, played together, fought together and, in the case of my Third Uncle and Aunt, fell in love and married.
Meanwhile, their mothers sat in each other’s homes and played mah-jong and gossiped and match-made their children. And if misfortune befell one family, everyone in the neighbourhood rallied with food, comfort, shelter and money.
I recently read a story of a woman in England who died while watching TV and no one discovered her body till three years later. By then, she’d turned into a skeleton but there she was, still sitting on her sofa and, miraculously, her TV was still on, mindlessly broadcasting its programmes, though no one was watching.
“I bet there was plenty of paranormal activity going on in that lounge room,” Saffy said darkly.
For months, Amanda was haunted by the image. “That could so easily be one of us!”
Aiyoh, choy!” Sharyn cried. “Why you people always talk like this, one? Why you never talk about happy things like winning 4D or something? Why must always talk about loneliness and dying alone!”
“We live in a cruel, lonely world, Sharyn!” Amanda said severely. “Nobody cares what happens to you! I mean, there are six units of this floor and we don’t know any of them!”
“Exactly!” Saffy piped up. “We’ve never seen the neighbour next door, though we hear noises. For all we know, he could be hiding kidnapped children and selling them as slaves to China!”
Sharyn was horrified. “Where got!”
“Why would China be buying slaves?” Amanda wanted to know.
“I’m just saying!”
Amanda later said that if she ever went missing, the only people who would really notice immediately would be Saffy and me, her parents being on a year long holiday in some remote village in Tanzania where they were doing volunteer work, and her office having recently adopted hot-desking. “No one would miss me. No one would know if I was lying in a ditch in MacRitchie Reservoir! No one!” The hysterical tone in her voice grew sharper.
“I don’t even know where that is, so I would never think of looking for you there!” Saffy said, promptly confirming Amanda’s worst fears.
When I told my Mother, she said the world has changed and not always for the better. “When my mother, your grandmother, went missing once, the whole street went looking for her. And you know who found her? A taxi-driver who recognised her. He saw her wandering around Orchard Road and brought her back. That sort of thing would never happen today.”
This cheered Amanda up slightly. “I know all the girls at Prada, Gucci, Ferragamo and Louis Vuitton! One of them is bound to recognise me if they see me wandering around! They’ll bring me home, I’m sure.”
“They better not expect me to tip them!” Saffy says. 

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