My mother once said it made her laugh when someone at a party she’d been to the night before, described himself as a global citizen.
“It was your cousin Marshall!” she told us the next morning, rolling her perfectly mascara’d eyes. “How that boy ever graduated from Yale medical school is beyond me. I wouldn’t trust him to squeeze a pimple!”
Father, whose sister was Marshall’s mother, felt compelled to speak up in defence of his direct bloodline. Which basically meant he coughed in an apologetic kind of way, as if he was at a funeral and didn’t want to offend anyone. Specifically, Mother.
Mother rolled her eyes again. “Well, it’s true!” she insisted. “I mean, ‘global citizen’! Who says that?”
“What’s wrong with being a global citizen?” I remember my little brother Jack piping up.
Mother fingered her strand of pearls and looked at her son with a mixture of love and irritation. “Because there’s no such thing! Just because you were born in KL and went to school in Boston and your favourite restaurant is in Sydney doesn’t mean you are a global citizen! It just means your parents were rich! We are all,” here she paused dramatically, “we are all, at heart, home-bodies! We could be eating oysters in Paris, and the slightest hint of trouble and we’ll go running home!”
Of course, that little sermon was completely lost on us children. We were all barely 10 at the time; but for some reason, the words stuck in the memory and years later, when Michelle was in Paris and the yellow jackets erupted all over the city, I would suddenly remember what Mother said.
“There r riots everywhere!” Michelle texted me.
“Come home immediately!” I replied.
Her reply came snapping back: “What do you think I’m trying to do?! Book a site seeing tour of the Seine?!”
Funnily, we had the exact same conversation when the riots broke out in Hongkong. “Come home, immediately!” I typed as I watched the surge of protestors on CNN.
“I can’t get to the airport!”
Saffy later said she was never going anywhere that Michelle was going. “It’s uncanny! Wherever there’s trouble, she’s there! She’s like Anderson Cooper!”
“Oh God, he’s so hot!” Amanda said automatically.
Of course, when in the beginning of September, Michelle’s San Francisco office sent her to Singapore for a two-month project, Saffy announced the end of the world was approaching.
“There’s going to be trouble!” she predicted.
“Why, ah?” Sharyn asked.
“Jason’s sister is coming to town. That woman is like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse rolled into one but dressed in Fendi! Something horrible is going to happen in Singapore!”
Sharyn flapped her hands. “Choy! Ay, you don’t anyhow say things like that in public can? Skali, the police come and arrest you, den how?”
Saffy’s bosom puffed up. “I’d be telling them to arrest Michelle Hahn and send her on the next Scoot flight out of here before it’s too late!”
Within days of Michelle’s arrival, so did the haze — a thick pall of sooty grey that clogged the sky and turned the sun a dreadful pee-yellow. Saffy was triumphant even as she slipped on her Air+ mask.
“I told you!” she said at home, the windows all tightly shut and the air purifiers puffing at full blast. “I told you and nobody listened! Have you looked out the window lately? It’s like Chernobyl!”
I sighed. “And you were there, were you?”
“I watched the HBO series!” Saffy said stoutly.
“You surely cannot blame her for the haze!” Amanda said. “She’s not an Indonesian farmer!”
Saffy sniffed. “She’s worse! She’s the Mr Bean of disasters. Terrible things follow her!”
As I later said to Amanda, as much as I felt it was my duty to stick up for Michelle, I had to admit Saffy had a point. “The last time I checked, every single wedding my sister has ever attended in her life has ended in divorce!”
Amanda paused. “Shut up…”
I raised an eyebrow. “Every. Single. One.”
“That’s so weird.” A thought occurred to her. “What about your cousin Ben’s wedding we all went to in Sydney three years ago?”
“Divorce finalised last week,” I reported, having just heard the news from my Mother who is Ben’s godmother.
Amanda let out a sigh.
“I’m so sick of being cooped up!” Saffy yelled from the other room. “Send her home!”
“But Singapore is home for her!” I yelled back.
“Well, we don’t want her! And anyway, she’s not lived here in years. Let her be someone else’s problem.”
“Actually, where is Michelle’s home?” Amanda asked.
“Washington, D.C.,” I replied. “She moved there just before…oh…” I blanched as my memories finally connected the dots. Amanda looked at me. “Just before Trump got elected.”
Saffy says she hopes Michelle never takes a cruise to Antarctica. “Can you imagine? As if those polar bears haven’t suffered enough!”