Authors: Kevin Kwan
Most of the guests left five or ten dollars each, except Mrs. Lee Yong Chien, who never left anything. “I do all my giving through the Lee Family Foundation” was what she always said.
Hokkien for “Gotten so old!”
Hokkien for “bear a child.”
Methodist Girls' School, which we Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) boys used to call Monkey Girls' School.
A spicy noodle soup dish served with cockles, fish cake, and thick rice noodles.
Singlish for “cannot endure it.”
RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL, NEW YORK
Patti Smith was in the middle of belting out “Because the Night” when Nicholas Young's cell phone began lighting up like a firecracker in his jeans pocket. Nick ignored the call, but when the lights came up after the concert's final encore, he glanced at the screen and was surprised to find one voice mail from his cousin Astrid, another from his best friend Colin Khoo, and five text messages from his mother. His mother never texted. He didn't think she even
how to text. The messages read:
p lease cakk me at once! Where are y
oy? Why don't you answered any of your phines?
Ah Ma had a massive heat attack!
C allhome now!
Nick handed the phone to his wife, Rachel, and sank into his seat. After the euphoric high of the concert, he felt like someone had suddenly knocked all the wind out of him.
Rachel read the text messages quickly and looked up at Nick in alarm. “Don't you think you'd better call?”
“Yeah, I guess I should,” Nick replied. “Let's get out of here first, though. I need some air.”
As the two of them exited Radio City Music Hall, they hurried across Sixth Avenue to avoid the crowds still milling under the famous marquee. Nick paced around the plaza outside the Time & Life Building to make his call. There was that familiar dead pause for a few seconds, usually followed by the distinctive Singapore ringtone, but today, his mother's voice abruptly came onto the line before he was ready for it.
Nicky, ah? Is that you?”
“Yes, Mum, it's me. Can you hear me?”
, why did you take so long to call back? Where are you?”
“I was at a concert when you called.”
“A concert? Did you go to Lincoln Center?”
“No, it was a rock concert at Radio City Music Hall.”
“What? You went to see those Rockette girls with the kicking legs?”
“No, Mum, it was a
, not the Rockettes.”
, I hope you wore earplugs. I read that people are losing their hearing younger and younger now because they keep going to those rock-and-roll concerts. All those heepees with long hair are going stone-deaf. Serves them right.”
“The volume was fine, MumâRadio City has some of the best acoustics in the world. Where are you?”
“I just left Mount E. Ahmad is driving me to Carol Tai'sâshe's having a chili crab party. I had to get out of that hospital ward because it was getting too chaotic. Felicity is being her usual bossy mother henâshe said I couldn't go in to see Ah Ma because too many people had been to see her already and they had to start restricting the number of visitors. So I just sat outside for a while and nibbled away on the buffet with your cousin Astrid. I wanted to show my face so no one would dare say I didn't do my duty as the wife of the eldest son.”
Ah Ma?” Nick didn't want to admit it to himself, but he was rather anxious to know whether his grandmother was dead or alive.
“They managed to stabilize her, so she's okay for now.”
Nick looked up at Rachel and mouthed, “She's okay,” as Eleanor continued her update: “They put her on a morphine drip so she's sedated at the moment in the Royal Suite. But Prof Oon's wife told me that it's not looking good.”
“Prof Oon's wife is a doctor?” Nick asked, confused.
! But she's his wifeâshe heard it straight from the horse's mouth that Ah Ma's not going to last long.
, what do you expect? She has congestive heart failure and she's ninety-six years oldâit's not like they can operate at this point.”
Nick shook his head derisivelyâpatient confidentiality was obviously not high on Francis Oon's list. “What is Mrs. Oon even doing there?”
“Don't you know Mrs. Oon is the niece of Singapore's First Lady? She brought along the First Lady, Great-aunt Rosemary T'sien, and Lillian May Tan. The entire floor at Mount E has been sealed off to the publicâit's become a restricted VVIP floor because of Ah Ma, Mrs. Lee Yong Chien, and the Dowager Sultana of Perawak. There was a bit of a fuss over who would be put in the Royal Suite,
as the Malay ambassador insisted that the Dowager Sultana had to get it, but then the First Lady intervened and told the hospital's chief officer, âThis isn't even up for discussion.
Shang Su Yi must have the Royal Suite.'â”
“Wait a minute, Mrs. Lee and the Sultana of Perawak? I'm not following youâ¦”
, you didn't hear what happened? Isabel Wu had a psychotic breakdown and kidnapped her children from school and flew them to Singapore and barged into Rosalind Fung's Christian Fellowship Banquet and threw a bowl of extra-hot
at Astrid but missed and it landed all over the ladies but thank God Felicity was wearing one of her
polyester dresses from that tailor of hers in Tiong Bahru so the soup did
to her and slid right off like Teflon but poor Mrs. Lee and the Dowager Sultana got drenched and are recovering from first-degree burns.”
“Okay, you've completely lost me there.” Nick shook his head in exasperation, as Rachel gave him a questioning look.
“I thought of all people you'd know. Isabel Wu accused Astrid of spreading her legsâ¦I mean, having an affair with her husband, Charlie! Right in front of Bishop See Bei Sien and everyone in the banquet hall!
, it's so shamefulânow it's out in the open and all of Singapore is talking about it! Is it true? Is Astrid Charlie's mistress?”
“She's not his mistress, Mum. That much I can tell you,” Nick said carefully.
“You and your cousinâalways keeping secrets from me! Poor Astrid looked completely shell-shocked at the hospital, but she was still trying to play the gracious hostess to all the visitors. Anyway, when are you coming home?”
Nick paused for a moment, before saying decisively, “I'm not coming back.”
“Nicky, don't talk nonsense! You
come home! Everyone is coming backâyour father is already on his way from Sydney, Uncle Alfred arrives in a few days, Auntie Alix and Uncle Malcolm are flying in from Hong Kong, and even Auntie Cat is coming down from Bangkok. And get thisâsupposedly all your Thai cousins are coming too! Can you believe that? Those high-and-mighty royal cousins of yours
deign to come down to Singapore, but I'm telling you”âEleanor paused, glancing at her driver before cupping her hands over the cell phone and whispering rather indiscreetlyâ“
they all sense that this is the end
. And they want to show their faces at Ah Ma's bedside just to make sure they're in the will!”
Nick rolled his eyes. “Only you would say something like that. I'm sure that's the last thing on anyone's mind.”
Eleanor laughed derisively. “Oh my goodness, don't be so naÃ¯ve. I guarantee you that's the only thing going through
mind! The vultures are all circling like mad, so get yourself on the next flight! This is your last chance to make up with your grandmother”âshe lowered her voice againâ“
and if you play your cards right, you still might get Tyersall Park!
“I think that ship has sailed. Trust me, I don't think I'll be welcomed.”
Eleanor sighed in frustration. “You're wrong about that, Nicky. I know Ah Ma won't close her eyes until she sees you one last time.”
Nick ended the call and quickly updated Rachel on his grandmother's condition and the Isabel Wu hot-soup incident. Then he perched on the edge of the plaza's reflecting pool, suddenly feeling drained. Rachel sat beside him and put her arm around his shoulder, not saying anything. She knew how complicated things were between him and his grandmother. They had once been extremely closeâNick being the adored only grandson who bore the Young surname and the only grandchild who had lived at Tyersall Parkâbut it had now been more than four years since they had last seen or spoken to each other. And it was all because of her.
Su Yi had ambushed them during what was supposed to be a romantic getaway in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia, commanding Nick to end his relationship with Rachel. But Nick had not only refused; he had uncharacteristically insulted his grandmother in front of everyoneâsomething that had probably never happened to this revered woman in her entire life. Over the past few years, the gulf had only widened as Nick defiantly married Rachel in California, leaving his grandmother and the majority of his large family off the wedding invitation list.
This girl does not come from a proper family!
Rachel still vividly remembered Su Yi's condemnation, and for a moment, a slight chill went down her spine. But here in New York, Shang Su Yi's shadow didn't loom as large, and for the past two years, she and Nick had been blissfully enjoying married life far away from any family interference. Rachel had occasionally tried to see if anything could be done to mend the fences between Nick and his grandmother, but he had stubbornly refused to talk about it. She knew Nick wouldn't react so angrily if he didn't care about his grandmother so much.
Rachel looked Nick squarely in the face. “You know, as much as it pains me to admit it, I think your mother's rightâyou should go home.”
“New York is my home,” Nick replied flatly.
“You know what I mean. Your grandmother's situation sounds really precarious.”
Nick stared up at the windows of Rockefeller Center, still lit at this late hour, avoiding Rachel's eyes. “Look, I'm starving. Where should we go for a late supper? Buvette? Blue Ribbon Bakery?”
Rachel realized it was pointless to push him any further. “Let's do Buvette. I think their coq au vin is just what we need right now.”
Nick paused for a moment. “Maybe we ought to avoid any place with hot soup tonight!”
The Royal Suite at Mount Elizabeth Hospital was originally built by the royal family of Brunei for their private use, but is now open to other VVIP patients.
Literally “night market” in Malay, the
is a traveling outdoor street market where many bargains are sold. In this instance, Eleanor is implying that Felicity Young's custom-tailored outfit looks like a cheap schmatta from an outdoor street market.
MOUNT ELIZABETH HOSPITAL, SINGAPORE
After five hours at the hospital's intensive care unit, alternately sitting beside her grandmother, managing the visiting dignitaries, managing her mother's nerves, and managing the caterers from Min Jiang that had set up a buffet
in the VIP visitors' lounge, Astrid needed a break and some fresh air. She took the elevator down to the lobby and walked out to the little grove of palm trees adjacent to the side entrance off Jalan Elok and began texting with Charlie on WhatsApp.
ASTRID LEONG TEO:
Sorry I couldn't talk earlier. No phones allowed in the ICU.
No worries. How's your Ah Ma?
Resting comfortably at the moment, but the prognosis isn't good.
So sorry to hear that.
Are Isabel and the kids all right?
Yes. Their plane landed a couple of hours ago, and thankfully Isabel's mother managed to keep her calm during the flight. She's been admitted to Hong Kong Sanatorium and her doctors are attending to her. The kids are okay. Bit shaken up. Chloe's glued to her phone as usual, and I'm lying here next to Delphine while she sleeps.
I have to tell youâthey were such angels through it all. I could tell they were trying to stay composed during the whole ordeal. Delphine dashed to the side of Mrs. Lee Yong Chien while Chloe tried to help calm Isabel down as she was being restrained.
I am SO SORRY for this.
Come on, it wasn't your fault.
It IS my fault. Should have seen this coming. She was supposed to sign off on the divorce settlement this week, and my lawyers were pressuring her. That's why she snapped. And my security team totally screwed up.
Wasn't it the school that screwed up? Letting Isabel walk in and take them out of class in the middle of the school day?
She apparently put on an Oscar-worthy performance. With the way she looked, they really thought there was a family emergency. This is what happens when you donate too much money to a schoolâthey don't ever question you.
I don't think anyone could have anticipated this.
Well, my security team should have! This was an epic fuckup. They never even saw Isabel and the kids exitingâthey only had the front entrance under surveillance. Since Izzie went to Diocesan too, she knew all the secret ways to sneak out.
OMG I didn't think of that!
She took them out through the laundry-room door and they hopped on the MTR straight to the airport. BTW, we discovered how she knew where to find you. Rosalind Fung tagged you in a Facebook pic from last month's Christian Fellowship event.
Really? I'm never on FB. Look at it about once a year.
Isabel's mum is FB friends with Rosalind. She messaged her three days ago asking if you would be at this event, and Rosalind said yes and even told her you'd be seated at the table of honor!
So THAT'S how she knew how to find me in that crowd! I was so shocked when she started screaming at me.
I guess the cat's out of the bag. Everyone must be talking about us now.
I have no idea. Probably.
What did your mother say? Did she go ballistic when she found out about us?
Mum's said nothing so far. I'm not sure she even connected all the dots. When it happened she was too busy dabbing tissues on Mrs. Lee and the Sultana. And then in the midst of all that, Araminta Lee rushed up to us and said, “Haven't you heard? Your grandmother had a heart attack!”
You've really had the day from hell.
Not compared to your kids. I'm sorry they had to go through this. Seeing their mother in that stateâ¦
They've seen it before. It's just never been this bad.
I wanted to hug them. I wanted to get them out of there and fly them back to you myself but it was total chaos with everything happening all at once.
YOU need a hug.
Mmmâ¦would be so nice.
I don't know how you put up with me and all the shit that keeps happening.
I could say the same myself.
Your shit ain't half as crazy as mine.
Just you wait. With Ah Ma in the condition she's in, I don't know what's going to happen anymore. There's going to be a family invasion this week, and it's not going to be pretty.
Is it going to be like “Modern Family”?
More like “Game of Thrones.” The Red Wedding scene.
Oh boy. Speaking of weddings, does anyone know about our plans?
Not yet. But I think this might be the perfect opportunity to start prepping my familyâ¦letting some of my closer relatives know that I'm divorcing Michael, and there's a new man in my lifeâ¦
Is there a new man in your life?
Yes, his name is Jon Snow.
Hate to break it to you, but Jon Snow is dead.
No he's not. You'll see. :-)
Seriously, I'm here if you need me. Do you want me to come down?
No, it's fine. Chloe and Delphine need you.
I need you. I can send the plane anytime.
Let's see how this week goes with my family and then we can really begin making some plansâ¦
I'll be counting the minutesâ¦