Short story: Martini, please

“Martini.”

She settled down on the green couch after having dismissed the waiter with her order. Gently, she placed her jet-black bag on the other seat in front of her before the sound of the pelting rain drew her to gaze out of the glass window.

Rain drops on the glass – they were pulled by gravity, forming little streams, before sliding down. As she gazed further, she became almost mesmerised by the almost transparent shadows cast by the splatter of the rain that were making patterns on the cement pavement, which was enveloped in a yellowish glow from the streetlamp nearby.

“Your martini, ma’am,” the waiter returned with the brown liquid she ordered.

With a word of thanks, she dismissed the waiter the second time and went back to her window gazing. This time round, the flickering lights of the fake Chrsitmas tree across the road attracted her attention. Under it, she spotted a family of four attempting to take a photo without getting drenched by the downpour. Beside them, a couple, connected at their arms, waited patiently for their turn.

She smirked as she thought how dumb they were, taking photos in the rain with a fake tree. Shaking her head slightly, she took a sip of the martini before a thought crept into her head. Slowly, bits and pieces of scenes began to form in her head. It reminded her of a time when the cares of this world were far away from her consciousness.

***

It was the last photo we took together as a family. I remembered how everything changed within a week. He was my and our world then. We would come running to him whenever he got home and hugged his legs tightly while we greeted him. His rough, calloused hands would ruffle our hair – his right on mine and left for my younger sis. He would then bend down and sniff before making the remark about how our heads smelled good.

Roughly a month before Christmas of 1984, the adults quarreled. We couldn’t understand what went on. But we could feel his rage, see the tears on her face and hear her cry in the deep of the night when she was alone in the room. We grew scared of him and would cower whenever he came home instead of running to him. The smell of alcohol lingered at home long after he stomped out of the house. He never laid a finger on us, although he barely acknowledged our presence when his fists would rain down blow after blow on her.

There was a heavy downpour on the evening of Christmas Eve, 1984. As usual, there was a commotion from their room. However, it was that day when we could hear her calm and firm voice at the end of it. Before we knew it, we were asked to dress ourselves. The magical word – “Orchard” – lifted our spirits.

I remembered singing merrily with my sister in his car, pausing once in a while to wonder why the adults sitting in front were eerily silent. One thing I could never forget were the sounds of the rain lashing relentlessly on the car. When once they provided a sense of comfort and warmth, they meant something else altogether from then on.

Unceremoniously, we were ushered out of the car. I recalled my sister letting out a soft “Pa”, in hope that he would break into his grin which we missed so much. Her hopes were dashed. Her greeting was in vain. There was nary a change of expression on his face.

It didn’t take us long to muscle our way out of the crowd. When we got to the fake Christmas tree which adorned the entrance of Tangs, she found a spot and pulled us over. A few awkward moments ensued when the three of us stood under the tree waiting for him, while hundreds of pairs of eyes were gawking at us. Almost reluctantly, he walked over still without a smile on his face.

As he got into position, she thrust the camera on one of the passerbys, completely oblivious to the murmurs around. A snap and a few minutes later, three of us were slowly making our way to the bus stop. Mei and I played in the rain – unheard of as it would result in admonishment from her in the past – while she watched us. We were soaking wet but somehow, having the rain beating on our heads, faces and shoulders washed away any hint of unhappiness we felt that day.

It was also the last we saw of him.

***

It had been a long time since she carried that photo in her wallet. She didn’t know what to do with it as she got older. Carrying it with her everywhere would remind her of the family she had – warm and filled with love – and the family she couldn’t have now. On days when she felt lonely or after a particularly bad day at work, she would carefully take out the shoe box and stare at the three smiling faces from the photo. Its colours had faded but it reminded her of the last moments when she felt they were still a family.

While allowing the surge in emotions to dissipate, she looked across the road again at the fake Christmas tree with the flickering lights. The family was no longer there, and then it occurred to her that someone could have smirked at them that day, like she did.

In an attempt to dismiss thoughts that would create more emotions than she could handle, she motioned for the waiter once more.

“Martini, please.”

Puritan dresses and nuns

First, let me set the context. I was driving down the CTE with the maternal parental unit and the conversation began with the dreaded wedding dinner of a cousin (from the paternal side) we had to attend in a few days’ time.

The discussion started off with the maternal parental unit grumbling about meeting relatives from the paternal side, to the choice of restaurant (which was considered not very “high class”) before I interjected her with the possibility of relatives from the paternal side not attending the ex-sarong kebaya girl’s (higher possibility) or my wedding in future, i.e., tit for tat.

“You are getting married?” she asked incredulously. Perhaps she was surprised became she has been subjected to incessant declarations from her son about high costs incurred just to declare to the world that you have now the God-given right to carry on the family line and propagate the Earth.

“Why not?” I muttered while trying to keep the speed limit below 100 km/h in the tunnel.

“If you were to marry, I’ll make sure that I’ll let the whole world know. Hack. I’ll even ditch the idea of having just a buffet lunch for relatives after the ROM, and dress myself in gowns and expensive jewellery when attending those cumbersome wedding dinners,” she replied. “Quickly go look for one and marry.”

And then, the inevitable happened.

“You want me to introduce girls to you.”

For a bloke to hear that, it’s akin to extracting all the teeth of the lion (without anaesthesia). Without any bite, you are not far from being utterly useless. A man should do his own hunting and not depend on others, much less his mother, to bring the “game” to him. Effectively, it meant that I have hit another new low in my life as an adult male of the human species.

“No, thank you,” I had to give a matter-of-fact reply. I needed to end this conversation and fast.

“I think I have someone in mind,” She became more specific and it suggested to me that wholesale preparations have been put in place to ensure that the matchmaking mechanisms would be well-primed if the need arises. Put it simply, she has been looking out for prospective daughter-in-laws.

Shivers went up and down my spine, while I kept my peace in what I considered then, a losing battle.

“She’s very homely, very guai. Just the type I liked,” for the first time in my 32-year life as a human being, she spelled out her criteria for the prospective daughter-in-law. “I don’t like those hiao-hiao types. Wear expensive and pretty clothes. Make up, go out and hiao.”

That effectively put the Zouk-goers; immediate, advanced and veteran chiongers in the clubbing scene; and perhaps 70% of womenfolk on this wee island out of contention. Strange images of women dressed demurely (in long Puritan dresses) and nuns (believe it or not) began to flood my mind as I tried to move the vehicle out of the way from a Mazda 6 — painted in an angry red (tinted windows and Mugen stickers included) — which was traveling at 120 km/h in the tunnel.

Fortunately, the sudden swerve of our vehicle might have startled her enough to disrupt whatever thoughts she had of her prospective daughter-in-law. Unknowingly, I liberated myself from a potentially dangerous conversation which perhaps I had no real intention of participating.

Perhaps it is time to join salsa classes.