Read: Telling Stories (Part 1)
I’m only twentysomething, so there really isn’t much I can go on, especially when it comes to grown-up stuff like writing about growing up. Anyway, I’ll take a stab at it and start with unfamiliar territory: Mr T. I got back in touch with Mr T on Facebook at the advice of an Indian astrologer. “You must contact your father. He might have some heart problems within the next five years. Your father is very important to you,” Dr. Theja insisted. Searching for Mr T after almost a decade of lost contact wasn’t difficult, but believing his stories was. He invited me to an elderly home he claimed he was running. “I’ve also been investing in private columbarium niches. It’s a lucrative market, since there isn’t much room for the dead here,” he wrote me.
There is little space for the living, let alone the dead. Apparently, you wait an average four years for an urn space. That’s longer than waiting for a public housing flat, which, I guess is fair, because you’re dead anyway. For weeks, licensing and regulations for private columbaria was the topic that hung from every reporter’s tongue. We all wanted to know what sort of guidelines the government was planning to impose on businessmen like Mr T, for offering accommodation the authorities failed to provide. While that, as I write, remains to be answered, I’ve got questions of my own.
Elderly Home Builder and Landlord of the Dead are only two of the many roles Mr T has played. He is Father to a teenage son with chameleon hair, hipster glasses and an Instagram pout, and a mysterious thirtysomething woman who is married to a gweilo; Husband to a woman with overdrawn lips who wears leopard print on leopard print and strawberry-tinted shades. He was also White-Collar Criminal, Businessman, Salesman, Driver, and, a long time ago, my father. “You know how I used to tell you your father loved you very much? Forget that. If he loved you, he wouldn’t have chosen his bastard son over you.”
Mom reminded me that I didn’t need to give Mr T a second chance. She had had enough of his stories and was adamant that I kept them where they belonged: the grave. Mr T bragged about being BFFs with President Xi Jinping. “We used to play after school. His dad moved to Shenzhen for retirement. That’s where we met.” He also claimed to be close to a former People’s Liberation Army leader. My aunt, Flora, said the Chinese leader was Mr T’s first father-in-law. When she first met him, he’d appeared to have left the political circle, opting instead to be a commoner with a white Saab. “He had a sexy moustache, and was half his size now. He was tall, too.” Mr T has had a large belly as far as I can remember, but his pooch in his recent Facebook photos rival that of a pregnant woman in her third trimester. I had invited my aunt to coffee at the Excelsior, hoping in vain to learn the truth in one sitting. Flora took the lid off of her iced cappuccino and stirred vigorously. “Your mother and I went to the disco upstairs a lot when we were in our late teens. She was a lot of fun.” I looked at Flora dubiously. “Your dad, though”, continued Flora, “was a troublemaker. He promised to get my boss out of prison in Guangzhou. My boss was arrested for importing leaves and rocks from India instead of tobacco. Your dad cheated my boss’ wife of, maybe $100,000 to $200,000, for the ‘operation’.”
“So did he get your boss out of jail?”
“Of course not. My boss’ wife thought I was in on it, too, although she had no proof.”