Monday, August 29, 2016

Till Death Do Us Part

Just the other day, Saffy came home to find Amanda sprawled on the lounge with her iPad.
            “What are you doing?” Saffy asked.
            Amanda looked up with a frown. “You know, there are days when I really think I should not be reading the news.”
            Saffy collapsed into the armchair next to Amanda. “Oh, I never read the news.”
            Amanda blinked. “What, ever?”
            “Ever. Unless it’s about the Kardashians, of course. But even then. When they went to Armenia, I skipped that news cycle. Too much reality. And before you ask me what if it’s really important,” Saffy rushed on, her bosom swelling slightly with urgency, “well, if it’s really important, someone will tell me about it. I don’t need to read about it. Spoils my day. Why, what’s happened?”
            Amanda hesitated. “Well…I was just reading about this couple in Germany. Listen to this: ‘A man strangled and dismembered his wife, encased her head in concrete and then used the concrete block as a weight to drown himself in an Austrian lake, police have said.’”
            A silence descended over the room. You could tell Saffy was slowly processing the information.
            After a while, Amanda added, “And that’s just the first sentence!”
            “How old were they?”
            Amanda scrolled down her iPad. “He was…72 and she was 71.”
            Saffy exhaled slowly. “Honestly, you think you know someone. You marry him and suddenly, he’s chopping off your head! I mean, what kind of a marriage is that?”
            “Maybe she was really sick and this was like one of those murder and suicide pacts?”
            “Yes, but why couldn’t he have just given her an overdose of aspirin or something? Why cut off the head and encase it in concrete and then use that to drown yourself with?”
“It’s all so strange,” Amanda said. “Listen to the rest of the story: ‘Postmortem examinations suggested that the woman was strangled between 25 December and 1 January and that the man drowned some time later.’ That’s not very festive, if you ask me.”
Saffy sighed. “You think? You see, this is why I don’t read the news. Such a downer!”
            When Sharyn heard about the story, she rolled her eyes. “Aiyah, some people very drama, one! Engage, must hire a plane to write on the sky or hide diamond ring in the tee-la-mee-soo! Mare-ly, must also do big song and dance. Give birth, must video! How like that?”
            “It’s kind of sweet in a bizarre way,” Amanda said. “He must have loved her so much he couldn’t bear to let her suffer.”
            Saffy was unconvinced. She folded her arms around her ample bosom. “And chopping off his wife’s head was his way of ending her suffering?” she asked. “Please don’t do that to me if I ever come down with a terminal illness!”
            Sharyn nodded. “Hannor! I oh-so say.”
            For days, it’s all the girls have been able to talk about.
            Saffy says the whole episode has reminded her she needs to do a will.
            “Just in case!” she said darkly last night.
            “But you have no assets,” Amanda pointed out.
            “You don’t know that.”
            “But I do know that,” Amanda told her. “You once showed me your DBS bank account statement.”
            “Oh. Yeah, I did, didn’t I?” Saffy regrouped. “Well, I could marry Jason and he could die and leave me all his money!”
            I looked up from my lunch in alarm. “Please don’t kill me in my sleep,” I begged her.
            “What if you’re suffering in a major way?” Saffy asked, oozing innocence.
            “Not even then,” I said firmly. “Knowing you, you’ll make a mess of it.”
            Saffy’s bosom inflated.
            “I’m not defending you if you kill him!” Amanda said, a comment that led Saffy to post on Facebook the cryptic message: “You don’t know who your real friends are till there is a crisis.”
            Sharyn commented immediately: “Why, what happen?! Who? Tell!”
            It’s all made me think that Saffy is probably onto something with her refusal to read the news. I mean, what is the point? When was the last time you read anything uplifting in the newspaper, or watched something funny on Fox News? How about never? Behind every commercial break is something bad waiting to spring on you. Like a grandfather cutting off his wife’s head and then dipping it into concrete. Once you start with that kind of news cycle, it can only get worse.
            So, maybe that’ll be my new year’s resolution. Stay away from the news.
            And, maybe, Saffy too. I’m still a bit nervous about that look in her eyes.


Monday, August 22, 2016

Smoke Detector

I’ve been having some trouble lately with my Sony phone. For some reason, people who should in my address book, don’t show up when I type in their name and then when I try to create a new contact for them, the phone says they already exist and shows me the very number that I can’t find. It’s completely aggravating.
            “Did you sync to the iCloud?” Sharyn asked. Say what you will about the woman. She looks like she just rolled out of bed, but she has a brain that makes Spock look like a hung-over underachiever.
            I stared at Sharyn. “I can do that? Even if it’s a Sony phone?”
            “Oh. Soh-neee.” The way she said it made it sound like I was using a brick to make phone calls. “Why you not use Apple? So much easier to sync all your contact!”
            “I don’t even know what that means, Sharyn,” I told her earnestly.
            “Aiyah, so easy!” she said and started talking at me about system preferences and syncing and uploading and stuff. After a while, it was like being in a Star Trek movie and listening to someone speak Klingon.
            “How do you know all this?” I said eventually.
            “Aiyah, where have you been?”
            I hate it when people ask me that. “Where have you been?” It’s like I’m so stupid that I don’t even know anything, that I’ve been hiding under a rock my entire life. Which I guess is the whole point of the question.
            I once confessed that I had no idea who Gigi Hadid was, to which Saffy puffed, “Oh. My. God. She’s just about the hottest model around and she recently debuted on this year’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Honestly, where have you been?”
            “I wish people would stop asking me that!” I mumbled and buried my face deeper behind the current issue of 8DAYS where I’d been trying to ignore the fact that I had been reading a long article about Ian Fang but I had no idea who he was but didn’t dare admit that fact out loud just in case it turned out he was Singapore’s biggest pop star.
            A few Tuesdays ago, Amanda came down with the flu and had to call in sick. Predictably, she blamed the office auntie who serves afternoon tea. “She is always coughing this wet phlegmy cough all over the biscuits! It’s a miracle the whole office hasn’t died of the plague!”
            “Uh huh!” Saffy said soothingly from behind her Air+ face-mask. “Please turn your head to the other side when you talk to me?” She plugged in our new Tefal air-purifier next to Amanda’s bed, turned it on full blast, adding the ozone function for good measure, and beat a hasty retreat.
            “Right, you’re all set. You have a jug of water by the bed. A stack of Vogue, Elle and Men’s Health. Your phone is fully charged. There’s congee in the hotpot in the kitchen. OK. Bye.”
            “You’re leaving me?” Amanda coughed. Silence. Saffy had already left. I didn’t have the heart to say that she had practically run out the front door.
            Amanda turned her attention to me. “What about you? Are you leaving me alone too?”
             “I’m afraid so. I have meetings all day. I’ve opened all the windows just so you have fresh air circulating. OK. Bye!”
            A few hours later, Amanda called in a spectacular coughing fit. “Oh God! What’s going on?! The whole flat is filled with this foul chemical smoke! I can’t see a thing! And it’s so noisy! Help!”
            It took a while for the various pieces to click together.
            “Oh dear,” I said. “I forgot! It’s Tuesday and that’s the day they fog for mosquitoes!”
            “I’m being gassed to death!” Amanda shrieked over the phone. Later, I remarked to Saffy that for someone who had practically lost her voice that morning, Amanda was demonstrating an amazing vocal range.
            We came home that evening to find Amanda sprawled on the sofa looking like death warmed up.
            “God. First the drilling upstairs and now this!” she moaned. “I couldn’t close the windows because all that smoke was already in the flat, but I couldn’t leave them open either as more smoke was coming in! I ended up squatting in the bathroom for hours with wet towels jammed against the base of the door!”
            I wrung my hands. “I’m so sorry! I forgot they were fogging!”
            “This happens every Tuesday?” Amanda whispered painfully.
            “Since time began!” Saffy said.
            I nodded helpfully. “All over Singapore. But some estates do it on Wednesday.”

            Saffy’s bosom inflated. “Honestly, how do you not know this?”

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Commitment Issues

My mother likes to say that if you ever needed a clear sign that the world is going to the dogs, you only need to look at the number of people getting divorced.
            “It’s just so easy to get divorced these days,” she told my sister recently. “Just look at your cousin Marie. Married for just two years and she’s separating from that lovely Mark.”
            Michelle drew in a deep breath. “Mother, Marie walked into her bedroom to find that lovely Mark humping the housekeeper! What did you expect her to do?”
            “For starters, how about not employing a housekeeper who looks like Miss Universe? How about that?” Mother sniffed at the stupidity of it all.
            “Oh my God, if you start down that road, you might as well say that Mark could only work with ugly women in his office!”
            “And how do you think office romances start in the first place, my dear? Why do you think I have always personally vetted all of your daddy’s secretaries? Men are weak!” Mother announced, allowing herself a slight frown. “A few flattering words from a semi-attractive woman and their knees are trembling for the rest of the day!”
            “That’s not true!” Michelle said but, as Mother later told me, you could tell her heart wasn’t really in it.
            “And why should it?” she told me on FaceTime. “Your sister may have many faults but her genes are flawless! From the moment she was born, she has had perfectly symmetrical features, large eyes and the kind of nose that plastic surgeons dream about! We’ve all seen how she uses her looks to her advantage her entire life!”
            Saffy says my mother is spot on as usual. “Beautiful women get away with so much more,” she said with great dissatisfaction as she inspected her reflection in our hallway mirror. “Actually, what am I saying? That includes men! There’s this director in my company, John Ang? Did you ever meet him? Anyway, he’s dumb as two bricks but he looks like Chris Hemsworth and he’s up for his second promotion in three years!”
            “Didn’t he just get divorced?” Amanda asked.
“Yep, that’s the one. He was having an affair with that Melanie chick from accounts and it was all caught on the office CCTV. Which only goes to prove how dumb they both were. Who has an affair and gets caught on the office CCTV?”
“Yah boy,” Sharyn said from the kitchen. She’d just arrived with snacks for afternoon tea and was busy unpacking the trays of kueh. “Got so many blinds spots in the office security system, but must go into the board room where got all the cam-uh-rer! So bodoh!”
“It all just makes me wonder why anyone would bother getting married in the first place,” Amanda said, emerging out of the kitchen with plates and cutlery.
“Well, no one gets married on the assumption that there’s going to be an affair and a divorce,” Saffy pointed out.
“That’s true, but I just don’t think people are as committed as they used to be. Jason’s mother is right. It’s just so easy to get divorced these days that I honestly think people don’t really try.”
“I don’t believe that,” Saffy said stubbornly. “I think most people really do try really hard. Who wants to go through the hassle of a divorce unless they really want to?”
“I think about die-vorce every day,” Sharyn observed as she speared half a kueh lapis into her mouth.
Three sets of eyes turned to look at her. She paused in mid-chew and turned pink at the sudden attention.
“Aiyah, think only, lah! How to die-vorce? So mah-fan, must sell the flat, split the children custody, aiyoh, sian, ah!”
“But you two love each other, right?” Saffy asked, doubt etched in every word.
“Of course, lah, but meh-lege hor, not easy, you know. Even if got love, must work and work all the time. And sum-time…haiyah, very tiring, leh!”
Later in the cab home, Amanda wondered aloud what the point of marriage is if you eventually get to a point when it just begins to feel like a lot of hard work just so you avoid having to divide the marital assets and children.
“Imagine thinking about divorcing your husband every single day,” she said.
“I think about quitting my job every day,” Saffy pointed out.
“Yes, but that’s your job.”
“Which is what a marriage is, according to Sharyn’s definition.”
“God, that’s depressing,” Amanda said, her childhood dream of the fairy-tale wedding and marriage disappearing like the HDB flats blurring past our taxi window.

Somewhere out there in the darkness, I was sure my mother was rolling her eyes.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Face Time

Whoever said diamonds are a girl’s best friend probably never actually lived with a girl. And if he did, he wasn’t paying close attention to anything she did.
            Because as someone with too much experience in the matter, I’m here to tell you that a girl’s best friend is, in fact, a mirror.    
            “My God, look at the bags under my eyes!” Amanda moaned the other morning as she stood in front of the hallway mirror and scrutinised her reflection.
            Next to her, Saffy put her fingers to the sides of her eyes and pushed back till her eyes narrowed into slits. “I need a face lift. Look how my skin is sagging!”
            “I just don’t understand it,” Amanda went on, “I put on an SKII eye mask every night!”
            “I wonder how much face lifts cost,” Saffy told herself. “Probably more than I earn in a year. Do they give bank loans?”
            “I should get these bags sucked out.”
            Just then, Air Saffy landed in the present dimension. “I’ll go with you to a plastic surgeon, if you want.”
            “Really?” said Air Amanda who had also just touched down at Airport Reality and was now taxiing down the runway.
            “Jean just had a face peel. We should visit her tonight in Serangoon and see what she looks like now. If it’s any good, we can use her surgeon.”
            Later that evening, just as I was sitting down to a new episode of ‘Scandal’, the front door burst open. Saffy and Amanda poured through the door like persecuted wombats, wild-eyed and accountably gorgeous.
            “Oh. My. God!” they both said the moment they saw me. I couldn’t tell if the visit to Jean had been inspirational or a complete nightmare.
            “I need a drink,” Amanda murmured. She headed into the kitchen to make herself a gin and tonic. Saffy opened the fridge and pulled out some leftover coconut cake.
            It took some time for nerves to settle and voices to drop down from hysteria.
            “It was awful!” Saffy said, her bosom trembling.
            Awful!” Amanda echoed. “It was more frightening than…than…last season’s Prada!”
            Apparently, the girls had shown up at Jean’s with high hopes that their old friend would provide them with just the excuse they needed to visit a plastic surgeon to correct their various facial flaws.
            When Jean opened the door, Saffy screamed. Amanda, who went to a Swiss finishing school, was more decorous. She stuck a clenched fist against her mouth and sucked in her breath.
            “Aiyoh, you, ah!” Jean said. “It’s only temporary, lah!”
            “What happened to you?” Saffy gasped. “I thought you had a face peel!”
            “I did!”
            “But you looked like you dipped your face in acid! It’s like a horror movie!”
            “That’s what a chemical peel involves. Chemicals!” Jean sighed, stepping aside to let the girls in.
            “I’m sorry, but I can’t look at you,” Amanda said, pulling out her sunglasses from her handbag.
            That’s what a face peel looks like?” Saffy asked. By now, she’d gotten over her initial shock and recovered her composure. She bent closer to inspect Jean’s red, blotched skin. “You look terrible!”
            “You know, it’s a good thing we’re good friends,” Jean told Saffy. “Otherwise, I’d be so insulted!”
            “How long are you going to look like this?” Amanda asked. From behind her black sunglasses, she stared straight ahead at a point above Jean’s head.
            “A week or so. I took MC. The doctor says it’ll scab slightly and after that, the skin will be snowy white and smooth and blemish free!”
            From the look on the girls’ faces, Jean could tell that they weren’t holding out much hope on that front.
            A thought occurred to Saffy. “What if it doesn’t?”
            Jean frowned. “Why wouldn’t it? This is not the first time anyone’s done a face peel, you know.”
            “Yes, but still…” Saffy trailed off, her vivid imagination filled with images of a horrifically disfigured Jean wandering around NEX and scaring all the children.
            “Does it hurt?” Amanda asked.
            “Not really. It just itches. My sister had it done too, and you should see her skin. It’s flawless!” Jean radiated a calm confidence.
            For days, it’s been all Saffy and Amanda have been able to talk about.
            “I’m not sure I want to get my eye-bags sucked out now,” Amanda said at lunch.
            “Yah,” Sharyn said. “S’kali your doctor suck out a vein and your whole face collapse, lagi worse, ah, I tell you! I suggest you keep your eye bag!” she advised sternly.
Just then, the waiter moved. Distracted, she turned and caught her reflection in the restaurant’s mirror. She tilted her head slightly to the side. And stared.