Kitty: OK, Scotty, I know I’m not exactly a cake person, but aren’t you using excessive force with whatever that stuff is in the bowl?
Scotty: No. It’s like your mother said: when the world is shifting, you hold your ground. She chops, and I beat butter and sugar into submission.
– Brothers & Sisters –
My mother likes to send me text messages to tell me the most random things at all hours of the day. I’ll be sitting at my office desk trying to make sense of a poorly-written memo and a message will come in from her: My son* calls a bottle ‘bettol’! Same letters but jumbled up!
Or when I’m sitting in Afham’s living room watching TV: Daddy was cooking and spilt gravy on his foot. My son* couldn’t say ‘your foot’ so she kept crying “my foot you!”
So when a message came in one night, some weeks ago, saying that she and my father had spent the entire afternoon at a furniture exhibition and come away with orders for new bathroom doors for our house, a new shower door for her bathroom, a new grill for the front door and a diamond-coated knife-sharpener, I was surprised, because (a) they have just built their new ‘retirement home’ and if bathroom doors were needed anywhere it would be in that house, and (b) we’ve spent 23 years and 5 months in the same house without having had to change a single door, bathroom or otherwise.
“Why do we need new bathroom doors?” I asked.
“Because the wood at the bottom of the doors are all splintering away, and let’s face it, they’re a hideous color, and these new ones we ordered are all nice and white,” she replied. The hideous color in question was peach — or what used to be peach many years ago.
“But aren’t you going to be moving to the new house at some point? You’ll have no use for new bathroom doors here then,” I argued.
“First of all, I’m hoping we won’t be moving anytime soon, because I dread the packing and clearing out this house. And second of all, until or unless we actually move to that house, we’ll have to live with our horrible bathroom doors, so we thought we’d just get new ones. Anyway, you or Justin will inherit this house one day; you can’t be having dilapidated bathroom doors!”
She paused for a moment, and then said, “Daddy saw the ad in the paper for this exhibition, so we just thought of going. Now that we’re older and y’all are grown up, we can’t really sit around and rot. We have to find ways to keep ourselves occupied, so we go to things like furniture exhibitions. It was fun, and you know how he likes to look all these things. You’ll be like that when you get old too. It’s the cycle of life.” Another pause. “Your father calls it ‘bonding’.”
My mom has always been very accepting of the fact that I moved back here, not as the 19-year-old who was going away for school on her own for the first time, but as a 23-year-old who had her own life to rebuild and live. My dad, on the other hand, ever the emotional drama king, has had a harder time realizing that he can’t just pick up where he left off with me when I was 19, so it means all the more to me that he’s managed to come to terms with the fact that I’ve spent every weekend over the last ten-odd months away from home. Now, when my mom sends me messages saying they spent a Saturday driving to Klang to inspect their new house and stopped for beef noodles in Kota Kemuning on the way home, I think of it as her way of telling me, “We’re OK here.”
So now we have new bathroom doors.
* This is what my parents now teasingly call our Cambodian maid, who still cannot grasp the concept of possessive pronouns, after she started referring to everybody as ‘my son’.