Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Touch and Go

A few days ago, Saffy woke up with a severe crick in her neck. She emerged from the bedroom with her head dangling backwards at such an unnatural angle that Amanda, coming out of the kitchen, dropped her bowl of cereal and screamed.
            “Her head was, like, it was just hanging by a nerve!” she later told everyone who would listen. “Her hair was all over the place and she was wearing that awful white night dress. Seriously, she looked like that terrible girl in ‘Sinister’!”
            “Oh, God, please stop screaming!” Saffy moaned. “I must have slept in a funny position because I can’t move my neck now! I need Song! Can someone call him and book me in? Please?”
            Song is our masseur. And when I say ‘our’, I mean ‘my’. Because I was the one who discovered him. Of course, if you want to be technical about it, it was my friend Peter who’d introduced him to me, but why go that far back?
            The man is a miracle worker. He was in his thirties when he started losing his sight. And when you’re that age and a physical disability is suddenly thrust upon you, there aren’t many career options to take.
But clearly, Song was made of sterner stuff, because he discovered he had a talent for therapeutic massage. I like to say he has magic fingers. If there’s a kink somewhere in your body, he’ll find it. Once, after kneading my temple, and without any prompting, he told me that I’d been having headaches.
I was astonished. “How did you know?”
“I got magic fingers!” he said with triumph.
Over the years, he’s sorted out all my lower back pain, shoulder aches, crooked necks, sore calves and knotted glutes.
            The first time I sent Saffy to Song, she was dubious.
            “Are you sure he’s really blind?” she demanded. Unspoken scenarios of perversion hung in the air. Or so I thought. “Because,” Saffy went on, “if he isn’t, then I’m going to have to wear my nice underwear.”
            Amanda’s eyes widened. “That’s what you’re concerned about?”
            “Well, I don’t want him to think I can’t afford nice knickers. So, if he really can’t see, then there’s no point me wasting Victoria’s Secret on him, is there?”
            She came back from her session glowing and with confirmation of Song’s lack of visual acuity. “Yep, he’s totally blind. He never once looked at my breasts. It’s such an odd feeling,” she said, looking a little perplexed at the sensation. “But more to the point, he’s amazing! Within two seconds, he’d located all the knots in my right shoulder! I love him!”
            Intrigued, Amanda made an appointment and schlepped all the way out to Song’s studio in Commonwealth. Later, she reported that she’d spent the whole hour screaming in pain.
            “But good pain, right?” Song asked as he used his elbow to dig into a nerve ending on Amanda’s left glute.
            “If you…say…so…Song!” Amanda gasped.
            “If got pain, that mean got problem!” Song announced happily.
            Of course, over the years, word of mouth has meant that he’s taken on more and more clients. So much so that where you could once just call for an appointment with a few hours notice, now, it’s like trying to get an audience with the Queen of England.
            “Hah? She want to come now, ah?” Song said when Amanda rang with Saffy’s SOS. “Cannot, lah! I got client now. Tomorrow evening, can?”
            Saffy’s shriek could be heard all the way in Penang. “Tomorrow evening? I can’t walk around like a muppet till tomorrow evening! Tell him I’m in pain! Here, give me the phone! Song, I’m in pain! I need you!”
            “Aiyoh!” Song said. “OK, OK, I see if I can shift my next client. I call you back!”
            And so we waited, Saffy, with her head still thrown back in a rictus of agony, Amanda flipping through Vogue, and me, thinking what I could have for dinner.
            “God, what will happen,” Saffy suddenly wondered, her voice directed to the back of the room, “when Song decides to retire? Or…if…if he gets his sight back?”
            Amanda hesitated. “Uhm. That will be bad thing because…?”
            “He might not be any good any more!” Saffy replied in a tone that seemed surprised that Amanda didn’t see the point.
            “Saf, he’s not the Hulk!”
            “You don’t know that!” Saffy said. “He could lose all his magical powers the minute he can see again.”
            From my corner of the couch, I piped up, “Maybe he’ll lose his sight again the minute he lays eyes on your fabulous breasts!”

            From the silent glow, you could tell that the thought pleased Saffy immensely.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Children of the Revolution

The other day, I was talking to my best friend May over the phone. Well, when I say ‘talking’, I mean we’d barely said ‘hello’ to one another before her child Mina, my adored 8-year old god-daughter, began screaming in the background.
“Is that Go-Pa?” yelled the Golden Child. “I want to speak to Go-Pa! I want to speak to Go-Pa!”
“Mina,” said her Tiger Mother in the kind of tone that would normally freeze cream, “that is not how you speak to me!”
Mina barely paused. “I want to speak to Go-Pa, please! Please, may I speak to Go-Pa? What? I said ‘please’!’”
Clearly, her mother must have been exhausted from raising her because there was a shuffling on the phone and Mina came onto the line, her pixie voice crystalline all the way from her home in Munich.
“Go-Pa, hello!” Mina said in a rush. “How are you? Guess what? I’m taking ballet lessons? I go three times a week. My teacher is Fraulein Vett and she’s really tall and pretty. There is a boy in my class too, but he’s icky and no one wants to dance with him. When are you coming to visit me? And can you bring me a present because…”
“Mina, that is not how you speak to your Go-Pa! I did not raise you that way! Give me that phone now!”
There was another shuffle on the phone and you could tell from Mina’s subdued protests that her mother had just given her a Look of Death.
May came back on the line. “That daughter of mine. My God…”
“Listen,” I said urgently. “Why are you wasting that child’s youth with ballet classes?”
“What’s wrong with ballet classes? I want her to learn poise and coordination, though to be honest,” May’s voice dropped to a furtive whisper, “your god-daughter has two left feet. But she looks so adorable in her pink tutu!”
“You don’t want her to learn ballet!” I insisted. “She needs to learn krav maga!”
May paused. “Isn’t that a beef stew?”
“No! It’s martial arts! It’s kind of dirty street fighting!”
“And why would I want her to learn dirty street fighting?”
I sighed. “Because the world is a dangerous place. Especially for girls. You’re always reading in the paper about people being attacked by hoodlums and stuff! So she needs to know how to defend herself.”
“Why is it dirty street fighting?” May wanted to know.
“Oh, they teach you the good stuff like how to gouge out your attacker’s eyes, punch them in the throat and knee them in the balls and then you run away! It’s amazing. I was just watching a session on YouTube the other day!”
“And you think it’s a good thing that Mina learns that?”
“Well, what good is knowing how to do a pirouette when you’re facing off against an armed gangster in an alleyway?” I pointed out, adding, “Or the splits?”
“That’s just ridiculous!” May insisted.
“Don’t you worry about her safety?” I asked.
Because that’s the thing about having children, even if, like me, you’re having them vicariously.
You worry about their wellbeing. You worry about their future. You worry about their health. Whether their school is teaching them the right method to add and subtract. Whether they’re getting the right set of values from watching ‘Kim and Khloe Take Miami’. Whether their friends will lead them astray. You worry about strangers they may meet on their way to school. You worry about them crossing the street as you think of all those drivers out there who have one hand on the wheel and the other texting on their phone.
The list is endless. You just worry.
And if you can just tick one of those worries – like being able to defend themselves against unknown assailants – off your list, you convince yourself that you’ll sleep just a little bit better.  
“But I’m not sure I want Mina to learn how to knee some guy in the balls!” May was saying.
“Well, it’s not going to be just any guy,” I said reasonably. “It’s going to be a predatory attacker!”
“This is real life, not an episode of ‘Nikita’!” May said, but you could tell from her voice that she was wavering, as was, probably, her fantasy of seeing Mina on stage at the Royal Opera House in the lead role of the Swan Princess.
Amanda says the whole thing has made her realize that she, too, could do with a bit of self-defence classes. “I always worry that muggers are eyeing my Prada bag,” she said this morning.
Saffy says she will never get over the fact that Amanda has a Harvard law degree.