Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Death Becomes Her

My mother has always said that one of the first clear signs that you’re getting old is not the ‘Aiyah!’ sound you make when you get up from a squat, but that you turn to the obituary pages first thing in the morning.
            “You should see my address book,” she told me once. “I’ve already scratched through so many names!”
            It says something about the whole idea of nurture versus nature that I immediately went “Awww, Mummy, that’s so sad for you!” while my sister Michelle said, “You still use an address book? Seriously?”
            My friend Alex’s father passed away recently. We never really noticed him much while he was alive. Whenever we visited Alex, his father sat quietly in his wheelchair in front of the massive plasma TV watching entire seasons of ‘Spartacus’. A maid sat by his side. When she wasn’t feeding him juice from a plastic cup or changing the DVD, she’d sit there with him and watch heads being separated from muscled torsos accompanied by dramatic hi-definition sprays of blood.
            “Isn’t that all a bit violent?” Saffy once whispered to me.
            “He seems to be enjoying himself,” I said.
But judging from the obituaries of Alex’s dad in the daily papers, he clearly didn’t always spend his time in front of the TV. In fact, he must have been more popular or more important that we’d known.
“Wow, look at this!” Saffy said one morning at breakfast. “His former company took out a full page obit for him…He was their CEO? That little old man who cheered when Spartacus got all oiled up for the arena? Huh!”
Three sets of eyes looked up at the ceiling as we tried to reconcile the image of the old man gleefully watching arms being hacked off with someone who had run a multi-national corporation for thirty years.
“It just goes to show,” Amanda said. “You can never tell about a person. Not even from their obituary.”
            “Especially these obits!” Saffy pointed out. “All they say is that he was a loving father and husband and that he has returned to God leaving behind a devoted wife, five children, two daughters-in-law, two sons-in-law and seven grand-children! They never say anything about what he was like as a person! What’s that all about?”
            Amanda frowned. “Wait. Doesn’t Alex have two brothers? So, one of them is still single? Is he that cute one? The one who works at Morgan Stanley?”
            As Saffy later said to Sharyn, “It’s just amazing that she could work out the family tree in her head and pin-point the one eligible bachelor in the family in about two seconds!”     
            Sharyn stared owlishly at Saffy. “She got years of practice, mah!”
            “That’s so mean, Shaz!” Saffy said primly, though she spent the rest of the night giggling for no apparent reason.
            Still the obituaries for Alex’s dad continue to haunt her. “They’re just so unsatisfactory!” she said the other day. “His whole life reduced to the number of offspring he had! That’s ridiculous! What if you have no offspring?”
            “And what if you are still single?” Sharyn said, gently fanning the flames of discontent. “Then, how?”
            “Then, it’ll be just my picture and nothing else on the whole page!” Saffy said, her fabulous bosom deflating at the depressing prospect.
            Amanda said all the more we should all write our own obituaries. “We might as well take control of the narrative!” she said sounding just like Olivia Pope.
            “We’re not dead yet!” Saffy said.
            “But when we are, all they need to do is to just print a ready made obituary,” Amanda told her. “And it’ll say exactly what we want it to say. Mine’s going to praise my fabulous fashion style!”
            Saffy pursed her lips as she gave the matter her full attention. “I guess,” she said after a while, “I guess I could talk about my numerous charitable causes and good deeds!”
            I blinked. “What charitable causes?”
            “An obit doesn’t have to be truthful, does it?” Saffy asked, every pore oozing perplexed dishonesty. “Who’s going to know?”
            “Your imaginary beneficiaries, for starters,” Amanda said, clearly regretting suggesting the idea in the first place.
            But Saffy was on a roll. The past couple of days, she’s been working on her obit. When she got up and went to the loo, Amanda sneaked a peek at her laptop and she says if she’d been sitting on a chair at the time, she would have fallen off it.
            “She says she went Harvard!” she told me indignantly. “First of all, who says they went to Harvard when they didn’t?”
            I didn’t dare tell her that Sharyn’s draft says she studied Latin at Cambridge and invented Post-its.

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