You know how it feels when people all round you doubt your words, especially your loved ones. Gutted. That’s what I’m feeling right now.
I was just sitting there alone, staring out into the darkness, while everybody else was busy catching up with relatives and old pals from work or school. It was supposed to be a time of mourning, but at the superficial level, people here seemed to be having a whale of their time. From smiles to laughter; from tears of sorrow to tears of joy; from condolences to jokes. This funeral wake was slowly but surely turning into a farce.
Granny whom I so dearly loved was called home to be with the Lord just days before that. Perhaps, it was really the right time for Him to summon her after watching her, for quite a while, succumbing to the worst disease anyone could ever suffer on earth – dementia.
Just the other day, she looked into my eyes and said I really resembled Elmo. Then she woke up one morning and called Pa Ma, both of whom were rather bemused. She went on singing “…she’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes…” throughout that day. Of course, nothing beats that time when she hugged our neighbour, Mr Ong, and said, “I love you!” Apparently, she saw my late Grandpa in our flabbergasted mister handsome.
So, the day must come. She called all of us into the room and insisted that we sat down together with her to have a round of mahjong. We were baffled. She had never played the game before. The closest she had come to the game was those times she spent sitting by my Grandpa’s side while he played. Anyway, we obliged and Pa sat on my right while Ma sat on my left. Granny, who sat at the opposite end, rolled the dice. What happened the next half an hour or so was rather amusing. Granny did not know the rules of mahjong, but she went on telling us how to play the game, her own way. The three of us who could be considered mahjong veterans just tagged along. It was rather fun, except that we never got to win the game. Granny did all the winning, based on her own rules, of course.
Just when we were cheering for Granny for winning the fourteenth consecutive time, she let out a chortle and collapsed onto the floor, hands clutching her chest. We scrambled to our feet and rushed towards her. She never woke up after that.
I could hear the distinct sound of the mahjong tiles on the table not far from me. I looked up and saw Pa with a stick in his mouth talking loudly. He said he was going to win the next game boastfully. His three friends at the table laughed with him as they arranged the tiles neatly before themselves. Pa rolled the dice and another game began. Surprisingly, Ma was not there to watch or play along. She was sitting at the far end with her group of tai-tais. They were speaking very softly to each other, obviously building up their gossip prowess again. I could have joined Pa or Ma, but I had no mood. It wasn’t that I felt terribly sad to lose Granny. Yes, I loved her and I missed her, but I didn’t really feel devastated seeing her gone forever. Not when she kept calling me Nemo in her last days. I just felt that I should give her my utmost respect as a grandson. I might not be crying, but my heart wept bitterly on behalf of Granny. She must be crestfallen to see her son and daughter-in-law enjoying themselves with their companions at the wake.
I stood and ambled towards Granny’s coffin. Through the glass panel, I looked at her sullen face, much aged with wrinkles and faint red spots. She looked calm, and that soothed my heart somewhat. As I was about to walk away, I saw Granny smiling. I was stunned for a moment. My heart skipped a beat. I placed my face nearer to the glass panel and observed. No, there was no smile. Ha, I must be dreaming. I straightened up to get ready to go back home to rest a bit.
Just as I was about to leave the wake, I could hear another set of mahjong tiles being shuffled on the table behind the wall next to Granny’s coffin. Ma must have initiated another round of mahjong with her tai-tais, but why would she want to play the game so close to the coffin?
As I walked towards Ma on the other side of the wall, I could feel a little chill. This weather was getting on my nerves. Hot for five minutes, cold for fifty minutes; and this cycle went on and on. Then, the mahjong table and the group of players came into sight. But what I saw next got me standing there, rooted to the ground. Granny was sitting right there at the far side of the table with three other players. They were all rearranging the mahjong tiles, almost ready to start the game. Granny looked up and our eyes met. There was this strange sense of homeliness and alienation going round in me. I simply did not know what to do next. The moment of silence was interrupted abruptly when Granny opened her mouth and said, “Nemo, come and join us!” Well, she might have died, and her spirit might be haunting me now, but surely her state of dementia remained. I would never ever forget what I was about to see next. As soon as Granny finished talking with the smile I had seen earlier at her coffin, her three mahjong ‘pals’ at the table turned to face me, and none of them had a face.
That totally freaked me out, so I yelled as loud as I could and took off. Pa and Ma might have seen their son running in countless sprint races in school, winning each and every one of them. But I bet they had never seen me run that fast, as I disappeared from the funeral vicinity in under five seconds. They found me some twenty minutes later behind a trash bin on the floor just outside a 7-eleven store, arms over legs, the whole body shaking violently with a trail of white foam from the mouth. I swear that wasn’t vomit.
Guess what? I told Pa and Ma, in the presence of many concerned relatives, about what I had seen earlier when I was finally resting comfortably in my bed. And guess what again? They all laughed out heartily and said I needed a rest. I could not believe them, especially my folks. After watching how I had broken into a canter just an hour earlier and finding me next to a bin in a contorted state, they could actually trivialise my story!
“You sleep tight here, Sumo Lee! I’m going back down there to carry on my winning streak,” Pa said. Every one of them started streaming out of the room one by one, all appeared indifferent. I could hear Ma say, “I don’t think Sumo is taking Mum’s death too well.”
I close my eyes and feel a tinge of disgust. How can they doubt me? But I am too tired and too kind to hold any resentment now. My drooping eyelids are about to shut when I hear someone say, “Nemo, come join us in the living room here. We are short of one player.”