When I was a child, I would pass by one of those red slot machines whose Perspex cover held little plastic balls filled with cheap toys, and beg my parents to let me have some coins.
“The last one you got was a plastic toy car. The wheels didn’t work!” Mother would tell me.
“Please?” I moaned. “I want one!”
“He’s so whiny!” she later told my father. “He clearly gets it from your side of the family!”
And as I grew up, my avariciousness for cheap rubbish continued. I especially loved entering lucky draws at shopping centres. Even the third prize of $5 vouchers kept me thrilled for days.
And when credit cards started offering freebies for every dollar I put on the Visa, I was ecstatic. And impatient. I was never able to wait long enough to accumulate enough to buy anything worthwhile. Like, say, a spa treatment. As soon as I had enough points to get a free drink at Swensen’s, I cashed it in.
All of which explains why I ended up with drawers filled with random stuff. Hello Kitty Ezylink card holders. Batman coffee cups. Sachets of soap and moisturisers picked up from those persistent shop assistants at the Wisma tunnel. I had an entire drawer of tissue paper packets.
Another drawer was filled to the brim with stuff that family and friends had given me for Christmas and birthdays. Or people might come to dinner and bring a gift. I’d always be genuinely happy receiving these things, even if I had absolutely no use for any of it. Like salad spoons in the shape of hands. Or a book on bonsai plants. “Oh, I love this!” I remember saying and genuinely meaning every word. “I’ve always wanted to grow a stunted tree!”
Of course, I never used any of it, and yet, if you had suggested that I throw it all out because it was basically junk, I would have stared at you with mild amusement and incomprehension. “But these are presents”, I would say. “You can’t throw presents away!”
Every time I moved house, everything went into a box which I duly marked ‘Miscellaneous’, and they would be unpacked at the new home, and immediately forgotten about.
Then, one day, Marie Kondo came into my life. I opened one drawer after the other, took one look at the magpie collection — a lifetime of patient collecting and filling out entry forms — and realised that none of it sparked any joy in me. So, it all went into the bin or was handed out to various kids in the neighbourhood.
And now I look back at all those years I spent filling drawer, and it feels like it had happened to someone else. It’s an odd sense of disassociation. But it wasn’t as odd as last weekend’s dinner party in our flat.
Things were proceeding as they generally do — in other words, most people were tipsy by the second cocktail Saffy had mixed up — when Amanda’s friend Jennifer arrived.
She held out a little paper bag at the door. “Here’s a little something!” she announced. “I made it myself!”
“Oh, how lovely!” I said automatically since old habits die hard. Peeking in, I drew out two white cubes, each the size of a clenched fist that was covered in what looked like white felt. “What are they?” I asked eventually as I turned the cubes over in my hand.
Jennifer tossed her long blue-tinted hair. “They’re my latest thing! I collect all the fur from my dogs and I mould them into these decorative cubes!”
Saffy, who was just passing by behind me, stopped dead in her tracks and peered around my shoulder. “Wait, what?” she said, pressing her bosom against my back.
“Aren’t they lovely?” Jennifer continued. “I think they’re perfect presents for people who don’t have dogs. Plus they’re so environmentally friendly!”
“That’s dog hair?” Saffy asked.
“It takes ages to collect enough to pack into a cube.”
“Like actual dog hair?”
“I was thinking I could maybe make smaller ones like those dice cubes to dangle off the car’s rear-view mirror!”
“Made of dog hair?”
For days, it’s all we’ve been able to talk about.
“Who gives dog hair as a present?” Amanda wondered.
“Well, to be fair, she didn’t just give a bag of it,” Saffy said in a rare display of balanced criticism. “It can’t have been easy moulding it into a cube!”
“I still don’t know how it’s all held together though,” Amanda said, turning a hair cube in her hand.
Sharyn told Saffy she was convinced dried dog saliva was involved. “How can you give such a present?” she complained. “So kiam siap!”
Saffy shook her head in amazement. “Dried dog saliva!” she repeated.