Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Planned Parenthood

My mother’s guiding philosophy in life is that you should always have a Plan B. Which is basically a back-up plan for every contingency.
            The day my sister came home from school with a report card that said she’d failed music theory – “Michelle is basically tone-deaf”, her music teacher wrote – Mother sat and listened to her wail and cry over her doomed aspirations to be a concert pianist. Finally, she said, “Well, no one is going to pay good money to listen to you mangle Chopin, so I guess that’s the end of your musical dream. You gave it a go, and that’s what’s important. Now, what’s your Plan B?”
            Michelle sniffed into her handkerchief. “I don’t have one!”
            Mother sighed. “Don’t be silly, dear. You must always have a Plan B. When my second boyfriend was suddenly shipped off to the Vietnam War and he never came home, I cried for three days. On the fourth day, I executed my Plan B.”
            Michelle stopped sniffling and stared at Mother with interest. “Her second boyfriend?” she asked me later.
            “If you must know,” Mother went on, “Plan B was your daddy, and look how well that turned out!”
            In spite of herself, Michelle was impressed. “That’s such a great life philosophy!” she told me. “You’re never surprised by anything.”
            Which is why she applauded the loudest when bomb shelters were first introduced into flats in Singapore. “It’s so incredibly sensible!” she told all her friends at her school in Boston. They must have thought Singapore was in Iraq.
            “Which is a nice change from thinking it’s in China!” she wrote to me.
            And the day I decided I no longer wanted to be a lawyer, Mother rang me all the way from Luxor where she and Father were touring the tombs of the Pharaohs. “Such a pity, dear. It was so nice to have a lawyer in the family. So, what’s your Plan B?”
            “I’m going to be a writer!” I replied.
            There was a pause on the line. “Oh dear,” Mother said finally. “I hope you’re not going to be calling me regularly for money. What’s your Plan B if writing fails?”
            I am not my mother’s son for nothing. “I’ll go back to being a lawyer.”
            “Very sensible.”
            A few days ago, my phone rang from an unidentified number. I had barely lifted the phone to my ear when I heard a hiss. “Mr Jason! It’s Sheila here! The security guard at Oleander Tower!”
            “Yes, Sheila?” I asked cautiously. “How did you get this…”
            “Miss Saffy ask me to call you! She say you must come home and….what…?” Sheila’s voice became muffled and in the background, I could vaguely make out Saffy’s voice.
            Sheila came back on. “She say you must come home immediately!”
            Let me just say there’s nothing more stressful in life than an urgent message saying you have to come home immediately.
            “Hurry!” I heard Saffy shout.
            When my taxi screeched up to the driveway, Sheila waved me through. I rolled down the window. “What’s happened?”
            “Just go up quickly!”
            I arrived at our floor to find Saffy hopping about outside our front door. “What took you so long? Oh my God!”
            “What’s the matter? Who died? Have we been robbed? What….” I finally noticed she was still in her diaphanous Victoria’s Secret nightie, her hair was rolled up in curlers, and her face was covered with a mud-mask. She looked like that mad housewife in that Stephen Chow soccer movie. The only thing missing was a cigarette dangling from her lips.
            It turns out that when Saffy came out of the bathroom that morning, she noticed a note under the front door from our neighbour saying he’d left a package outside that had been delivered to him by mistake. Saffy poked her head out the door, and as she leaned out to pick up the box, the wind shut the door behind her.
            “What were we thinking getting a stupid door that locks behind us?” she moaned as I opened the door. “I didn’t have my phone on me and I didn’t know when you guys were coming home, so I had to go downstairs – looking like this! – and get Sheila to call you. And yours is the only number I know by heart because it’s so easy! And guess who I bumped into as I came out of the lift? That gorgeous Australian guy in oh-nine-oh-five! You should have seen him jump back in shock! Oh God. I just wanted to die! I hope he didn’t recognize me under this mud-pack!”
            “Aiyoh!” Sharyn said when she heard. I swear my jaw dropped when she added, “Fail, lah, you all! Why you don’t have Plan B?”


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