Amanda says there was a time when she very distinctly heard the tick-tock of her biological clock. Apparently, it was maddening. Every time she saw a child in a playground, or a baby in a stroller, it was like Big Ben was going off in her head.
“Deafening!” she told me through a blocked nose the other day. Scattered around her on her bed was a snowstorm of scrunched up tissues.
I leaned weakly against the doorframe of her bedroom and sneezed. “Not loving kidth tho much now, I geth?” I lisped.
See, that’s the thing about the whole propaganda of children. Everybody on Facebook is forever posting happy posed pictures of their children. The kid sleeping the sleep of the innocent. The kid blowing out birthday cake candles. The kid racing along the beach. The kid dressed as a Superman at Halloween. The kid dressed in Baby Gap.
“But what nobody ever shows,” said Saffy, her nose rubbed raw and red from constantly blowing thick pea-hued phlegm and her voice sounding just like Darth Vader’s, “is when they’re sick! Because if they did, everybody would just close down their Facebook account!”
And what nobody ever knows either is that you should never ever visit friends whose children are sick.
Last week, our friend Anne-Marie invited us over for dinner. Anne-Marie is a great cook. She makes things from scratch. Like butter. Ice-cream. And shortcrust pastry. She’s that kind of cook. So when she invites you for dinner, you go. And she throws several dinner parties a week, all while holding down a job as legal counsel at a Japanese bank in Raffles Place. In other words, Anne-Marie is the sort of woman who makes Mother Teresa look lazy.
“Well, technically Mother Teresa is dead,” Saffy pointed out in the cab, “so she’s really not doing anything.”
“I wonder what’s for dinner,” Amanda murmured while expertly applying eyeliner in a moving vehicle.
“Aaron is sick with the flu!” Anne-Marie announced as soon as she opened the door. “He got it from Missy who got it from school and I think I’m coming down with it. I hope you don’t mind…”
“What is that divine smell?” Saffy said as she brushed past Anne-Marie and headed for the kitchen.
“We’ll be fine!” Amanda purred.
I should have listened to my instincts and run for the hills. But the smell of the braised boeuf Bourgignon was like meth to a cast member of ‘Breaking Bad’. It muffled the sound of my private alarm and pulled me in.
Looking back, I realize this was probably how the Black Death started: You sat down to dinner. Specifically, you sat down to dinner with Missy and Aaron, otherwise known to history as Patients Zero and One.
They coughed through the whole meal. I guess when you’re five and seven, it’s pointless being told to cover your mouth when you cough. I also guess if this was an episode of CSI: Tiong Bahru, you’d see the sprays of contagion misting in slow motion over the pot of boeuf Bourgignon, settling over the mound of rocket salad, and catastrophically altering the DNA structure of the white whipped cream of the Pavlova.
Two days later, we started dropping like flies. First, a tickling at the back of the throat. Which quickly became so painful it was like swallowing razor blades. Then the fever hit, the shivering followed by sweats that soaked through the sheets. At some stage during the delirium, the hacking coughs arrived, accompanied by thick gunks of phlegm.
Amanda got it first. Then Saffy, then me, and then our cleaning lady Ah Chuan.
“Those pestilential children!” Amanda raged. “To think that I gave them $50 for Chinese New Year!”
“Ungrateful wretches!” Saffy croaked from the sofa, a blanket pulled up to her chin. She later told me that she was comforted by the fact that she only gave them $12 ang pows. “And even that was probably too much!”
Anne-Marie was mortified. “I am so sorry!” she told Amanda over the phone.
“Whatever!” Amanda said as she tapped off the call.
Sharyn came over with home-cooked century egg congee, and chicken soup. “Aiyah, got children like that one,” she said, patting Saffy’s damp forehead. I noticed she was wearing hospital gloves and a mask. “Dat’s why, hor, I always larf when I see pik-cher on Facebook of happy chil-ren. Confirm not real one. Harf the time, hor, my chil-ren are sick and the other harf, I kena from dem! Why I give birth so many time I also don’t know!”
Saffy says Sharyn should be a family planning counselor.