An inconvenient time

   “Father wants to go home,” my sister announced flatly over the phone.

   I sat up; almost falling off as my lazy chair buckled and tilted from my sudden movement. “No he can’t.  He has a doctor’s appointment in two weeks’ time.  Besides, his wound after the surgery has yet to heal completely.”

   “But he insists on going.  He says that there is something he must do before Mother goes off on her holiday with her friends next week.”

   Oh bother! Mother and her holiday. Damn! 

   “What is it that is so important that it couldn’t wait?”  I said, a tad too loud.  The young man who was cleaning the swimming pool looked up and threw me a quizzical look.  I reddened.

   “I don’t know. I tried asking but he kept saying “you won’t understand”.  I can fly home with him this weekend but I can’t fly him back here in time for his next doctor’s appointment.  I have got an important dinner party to host.  This is most inconvenient.” My sister let out a big sob.

   I could instantly picture my sister at the other end, eyes welling in tears, smudging her carefully drawn mascara as they rolled down her taut face fashioned under the skillful hands of a popular plastic surgeon. 

    Same old, same old, I thought.  My sister is prone to dramatics to get herself out of looking after Father.

   My 78-year old father has been staying at my sister’s house in Kuala Lumpur for the last two weeks after his hip replacement operation.  After my eldest brother passed away unexpectedly, the responsibility of looking after our parents had fallen on the shoulders of my youngest sister and I.  More me than her.  Purely on logistics.  My parents’ house was a 10-minute drive from my condo compared to the three-hour flight time from my sister’s.

   “I am not free either.  I have an important conference to attend overseas next week.” I lied.  I had recently met a guy online and he had suggested that we meet up in Hong Kong for a no-strings-attached fun holiday to see if we clicked in real life.  It is going to be my first real date since my divorce three years ago. 

  I scrolled down my contact list on my phone and called my sister excitedly.  “Maybe we should call our beloved cousin Min up and ask him if he is free.” 

  “Don’t you think it’s unfair to impose on someone else?” My sister hissed

   “Nah. It’s ok. Cousins are also considered family.”  I heard my sister mumbled something to someone as I watched the pool guy power-hosed bits of algae along the ledge.  His thin wet shorts clinging to his sinewy thighs. I swore he wasn’t wearing any underwear.  He turned and caught me watching him. He chuckled as I quickly looked away.

   “I just spoke to Father.  He insists on staying home alone while Mother goes off for her holiday!  And he doesn’t want Cousin Min to accompany him at home.  Why is he being so stubborn?”

   I pinched my throbbing temple.  “Crazy old man! What if something happens to him at home? Can you imagine how irresponsible we will look?  This is madness.  Why can’t he just stay put at your house until Mother returns from her holiday?”

   “Can you send your maid to Father’s house to take care of him instead?  I mean, I am just thinking out loud here. I would have sent my maid back with Father, but yunno, I need her to help me with the party and all.”  Parties, parties, parties. My sister and her never-ending socialite parties.

   “No, I will not sent my maid over to look after Father.  She was the reason he slipped down the stairs, remember?  This is so inconvenient.  Why need to go home now?  Why at this time when everyone is so busy?  Do you think we can ask Mother to postpone her holiday to some other time?”  

    Yatie, my maid, has vowed to resign if I ever ask her to look after Father again.  It was not her fault, she argued, that he fell down the stairs.  She had asked him to wait at the landing while she rushed back up to collect his forgotten medicine.  But according to her, he decided to walk down on his own, missing a step and tumbling down the whole flight to the bottom.  According to Father, Yatie had deliberately rushed him down the stairs as she was anxious to answer her ringing handphone.  Fortunately for him, the floor at the bottom of the stairs was carpeted.

   “I have spoken to Mother,” my sister continued.  “She is as inconsiderate.  She said that her holiday had been planned since last year and if the old man insists on staying alone at home, we should just let him be.  Maybe it will teach him a lesson.”

   Frustration gripped my chest as the prospect of spending time with my new boyfriend dissipated.  “What the hell! Whatever happened to “in sickness and in health, till death do us part”?  Do you think we can persuade Cousin Min to take time off work and babysit Father?  We can pay him yunno.  I don’t think he earns much as a lowly clerk.  Maybe we can pay him alittle over his daily rate to babysit.”

   “I have a situation here,” my sister snapped.  “The problem is that Father doesn’t want Cousin Min to be with him.  He doesn’t want anyone to be with him, except us.  He didn’t even want us to inform his sisters about his surgery, remember? All of them are not supposed to know, including Cousin Min.  This is so troublesome.”

   I slumped on my seat and inhaled sharply.  “Yes, I agree.  It is a most inconvenient situation at a most inconvenient time.  I still can’t understand why he can’t stay put at your house for the next two weeks until after the doctor’s appointment.  By then, either of us would be free to bring him home.”

   “I know right? What should we do? Are we going to let him stay alone at home and pray that nothing happens to him?”

   I shook my head.  No way am I going to let Father stay home alone, especially when he is recuperating from surgery.  I cannot risk him slipping and falling again.  “I still think that Mother should postpone her holiday to another date.  After all, you and I were the ones taking turns to look after Father in the hospital after surgery; sleeping upright on that uncomfortable chair and eating the tasteless hospital food.”

   “Oh God! I still can’t understand why we couldn’t get a suite.  After all, my husband is a somebody someone, a VVIP!” My sister wailed.

   I rolled my eyes.  “Ya. ya. ya. Tell me about it! I really think you should shoot a strongly worded complaint to the hospital.  But for now, how are we going to persuade Mother to sacrifice her holiday? Hey, maybe we can persuade the Doctor to tell Father that he can’t travel at all.”

   “But that would be lying. The Doctor would definitely not want to lie to Father.”

“Maybe I can get my ex-husband’s brother to write a doctor’s letter to Father, telling him that it is not possible to travel without aggravating his surgical wound.”  I laughed nervously.

   “Your brother-in-law?  I didn’t know you had a brother-in-law who is a doctor?

   “Technically he is a Laboratory Technician.  But he likes people to think he is a doctor. I am sure he can write a medical letter which looks very authentic, complete with the doctor’s official stamp.  I don’t mind paying him twenty Ringgit for that.” I grinned.