My mother says one of the reasons she studiously avoids hanging out with people her own age is that they’re always complaining about their ailments.
It all starts innocently enough, she says. Someone might mention, in passing, a little ache in the knee after a round of golf. Or a case of slight breathlessness after walking from the carpark and up the stairs to the club.
“And then, one day,” she said the other at lunch at Crystal Jade, “they’ll say that they need to get their eyes checked because they can’t see as well at night when driving. Invariably, it’ll be cataracts and for weeks, you have to listen about the upcoming operation, and for weeks after about the post-op results!”
From the other side of the table, my father looked up from his dumpling soup. “Who’s this?”
Mother waved a hand, the low light above catching the glint off her diamond ring. “Oh, that Mei-sian! The way she goes on about it, you’d think she had Stage 3 cancer! Which, by the way,” Mother’s voice lowered into a hush, “is what Uncle Charlie has!”
My sister Michelle coughed into her soup. She dabbed her mouth, eyes wide. “Uncle Charlie has Stage 3 cancer? Oh my God! But he’s so young!”
Mother sniffed. “If you can call 84 young, then, sure. The ladies at mahjong were shocked because they all thought he was already dead!” She reached for a siew mai, shaking her head. “Anyway, my point is, that’s all I get to hear about. Ailments. I’m so glad I never became a doctor!”
Michelle later said she wasn’t sure what was worse — listening to Mother’s friends talk about their hip operations and double by-passes, or her own friends about their children.
“A few years ago, every dinner party involved someone who was trying to get pregnant, or who was pregnant, or who had just given birth,” she said as we dodged and weaved our way through the Orchard Road crowds. “And now, they’re stressing about how little time they have with the children and feeling guilty because they’re at work. Or they’re pregnant again, so I have to listen to the pre-natal crap all over again! I tell you, it’s just never-ending drama with these married couples!”
Meanwhile, my Sixth Uncle Harry just announced on the family group-chat that his cardiologist has discovered a potentially fatal faulty heart valve.
“Potentially fatal?” Saffy said when she found out. “I would have thought a faulty heart valve is, by definition, fatal. Isn’t that like discovering you have a hole in the hull of the ship? I mean, surely it’s just a matter of time?”
“They’re running more tests,” I told her. “They’re hoping they can fix it. Uncle Harry says that a few years ago, this kind of thing would have killed him but now, the technology is so much more sophisticated.”
“Isn’t he the one who married his secretary?” Amanda asked, proving once again her capacity to cross-reference family scandals like a true Korean soap opera addict.
“She’s half his age!” I reminded her. “Mother says she and her sisters are on his case to grant them the enduring power of attorney rather than to his child bride just in case she runs off with the loot while he’s in surgery.”
“She’s 45 Amanda pointed out. “She’s hardly a child bride.”
Saffy’s formidable bosom inflated. “I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with this kind of drama as I have no money for anyone to fight over.”
Meanwhile, all this talk about aging and ailments has encouraged Amanda to update her Medisave provisions whilst signing us all up for another comprehensive health checkup at Gleneagles. “You never know,” she says darkly.
Sharyn says that she’s putting off having her check up for as long as humanly possible. “I very pantang! Skali they find I got brain tumour, den how?”
“I’ll come visit you every day at the hospital,” Saffy said loyally. “And I’ll hold your hand during chemo!”
Mother worries that Saffy is hanging out with the wrong kind of people.