Thursday, December 13, 2012

Help Line

I’m not sure if it’s that time of the year when you can’t turn a corner without bumping into a commercial, or a poster, or a YouTube clip about good will towards mankind and all that crap, but lately, I’ve been feeling a strangely familiar warmth in my chest.
            “Maybe it’s heartburn from overeating during Christmas?” Amanda suggested the other day.
            I frowned. “No, it’s not actually a physical warmth. It’s kind of like…well, it’s kind of like that feeling you get when you see a child playing with a puppy. You know what I mean?”
Amanda pursed her lips and searched her emotional bank. “No,” she said eventually, “I don’t.”
“Well, it’s very weird.”
            For days, that feeling has been haunting me and I’m getting a little emotional. I can barely watch an episode of Gray’s Anatomy without feeling a need to sob.
            Saffy thinks it’s hormonal.
            “Since when do guys get hormonal?” I asked hotly.
            “Well, it’s been known to happen. It’s like that study of those female prisoners and they discovered that they all more or less starting having their…uhm…you know, that time of the month…all at the same time.”
            My left eyebrow lifted. “And what does that have to do with me?”
            “I’m just saying.”
            The last time I’d felt like this, I was studying in Australia and, one Christmas, I ended up volunteering at a homeless shelter. Nobody was more surprised than I was to find myself dishing out soup to the down and out. When I told my mother that one of my other duties had been to wash the toilets, she went into such a state of shock she literally couldn’t speak for a couple of hours and had to lie down for a bit.
            “I think it’s the fact that we have so much,” I remember telling her while fanning her forehead. She lay supine on the couch, her eyes closed and every so often, she’d dab some Tiger Balm under her nostrils. “And I realized that these people had so little.”
            Mother opened her eyes and looked at me sideways. “I hope you’re not sitting on my chairs in the clothes you wore to the shelter!” And that was all she had to say on the matter, though I noticed that, every year after, the Christmas cards she sent out came from the same people who organized the shelter I volunteered at.
            So, when I started getting the same warm feeling recently, I was gripped by a sense of déjà vu.
            “And you think that it’s telling you to go volunteer at a homeless shelter?” Saffy asked, her bosom trembling with doubt.
            “Well, it can’t hurt,” I reasoned. “I felt quite good about it the last time I volunteered. There are so many homeless people out there who could do with a bit of help.”
            “Are there even any homeless people in Singapore?” asked Amanda, a woman who rarely ventures outside of Districts 9 and 10.
            “Sure there are!” Saffy said breezily. “But this town is so efficient they’re all probably being homeless somewhere else!”
            “Well, can’t you just donate some money and be done with it?” Amanda asked. “Must you really go and clean bedpans and stuff?”
            Later over coffee at Starbucks, Saffy said that it always amazes her that Amanda still thinks that if you throw enough money at a problem, it’ll go away.
            “If that really worked, I’d be in her face all day!” she said as she casually adjusted her bra strap.
            “Ay, do you mind?” Sharyn demanded hotly. “This is a public space, you know! You don’t anyhow do strip tease, can?”
            Saffy ignored the outburst. “I think we should all give Jason some moral support and do some volunteering work as well. I want to have that same warm feeling he has in his chest!”
            “Eat more sambal, you feel warm everywhere!” Sharyn advised. “That time, hor, my mar-der in law, she make this sambal, hor? I wallop at dinner, wah, kena two day in toilet. Plus, hor, I sweat like mad!”
            Saffy leaned over and patted Sharyn’s hand. “Thank you for sharing. You should tell that story more often at dinner parties.”
            Sharyn blinked. “Really, ah?”
            I’d tuned out by then, and was scrolling through my phone, hunting down places to volunteer at.
Saffy has been telling everyone about her volunteering efforts, basking in the ensuing waves of surprise and respect.
“But you haven’t even signed up yet!” Amanda protested.
“It’s the thought that counts,” Saffy said. “I'm feeling all warm already!”
“Sure it’s not my sambal?” Sharyn asked.

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