I remember when The Sixth Sense came out and everyone freaked out that the kid could see dead people and it turned out Bruce Willis was one of those dead people.
The only ones who didn’t think much of the film were my family who collectively sniffed.
“Big deal,” my mother said to her mahjong kakis. “My aunt sees dead people all the time!”
And she really could. Grand-Aunt Maggie must have been in her eighties by then. She was always dressed beautifully, even when she was in the kitchen supervising the cooks preparing lunch. She was the most serene person I knew, always so kind and gentle, and constantly feeding us children with snacks whenever we happened to drift into her orbit.
But she saw dead people. And to hear her tell it, they were everywhere.
She might be in her living room chatting animatedly when she would suddenly get up and move to a different chair. “There’s a woman in the corner and she keeps staring at me,” she told my mother once. “She’s really getting on my nerves!”
“I am so glad I don’t have the third eye,” my mother told Father that evening. “Can you imagine?”
“What did she want?” Father asked.
Mother shrugged. “Apparently, the ghosts just drift in and out like it’s an open house at Christmas. I guess they hang around till they get bored!”
All of which made it very difficult for Grand-Aunt Mary to travel. It’s all very well to have ghosts in your house because, as Mother pointed out, at least, you know them and are on friendly nodding terms. But it’s quite another to have to deal with a contingent of complete astral strangers whenever you go away.
There was this one time when the whole extended family went on a holiday to the Cameron Highlands and Grand-Aunt Maggie had barely checked into her room before she was downstairs at reception insisting they changed her into another room. “There’s a child hiding under the bathroom sink and weeping for her lost mother!” she told the receptionist who stared at her with wide eyes. “I won’t be able to sleep if she keeps that up all night!”
Not half an hour later, when we were at lunch, she suddenly looked up from her plate of fried rice and said to a spot directly over my mother’s head, “Your child is in room 437!”
Mother later said she might have peed a little in her pants. “My God!” she exclaimed to her mahjong kakis, whilst clutching her double strand of Mikimoto pearls. “If I had hair on my arms, they would have stood up! Apparently, the mother and child had both been taken from the hotel during the war and separated and killed. And somehow their spirits ended up back at the hotel searching for each other!”
“Aiyoh,” Auntie Wai-Ling sighed as she scrambled the tiles. “What a sad story!”
“Well, at least there was a happy ending,” Mother said. “They were reunited after Aunt Maggie’s tip-off. Apparently, the hotel had been getting lots of guest complaints over the years about the sound of a weeping child. But after our visit, they heard nothing more.”
Years later, when I told Saffy the story, she couldn’t sleep for days. In turn, she told Sharyn who immediately moaned that this was exactly why she hated going to hotels.
“My mah-dur ever see ghost once when we stay in the holiday cottage in Changi when I was small. She see this small Malay woman standing under the frangipani tree in the garden smiling at her. She say immediately her hair turn white. Before black black. After dat night, wah, all white!”
Saffy closed her eyes and sucked in her breath. Her bosom inflated with force. “Seriously, that is the creepiest thing I’ve ever heard in my life!”
“Dat’s why before I enter a hotel room for the first time, I always knock first and say, ‘Hallo? Is me. Please don’t disturb me hor!’”
Saffy looked dubious. “And that works?”
“I tink so. You must be polite mah when you go into udder people space. So far, I have no problem.”
My mother says that Grand-Aunt Maggie also taught her the trick of always placing a pair of shoes facing the door of the hotel room, but with one of the shoes casually set off-kilter. “That way, if there’s a ghost wandering by, it won’t be tempted to come in because the shoes will warn it that there’s someone else in the room.”
“Ooh, I must try that next time,” Saffy said.
“But what if there’s already a ghost in the room with you?” Amanda asked.
Saffy says she’s not been able to sleep for days.
Photo: TPG News/Click Photos