Brave New World (The Star)
12 June 2008
"Without exotic foreign holidays, life will no longer be the same."
The sun was setting as the Proton Perdana crunched up the gravel driveway of the bungalow on Jalan Kia Peng. The man sitting in the back seat was oblivious to the gentle glow of dusk that bathed the large well-manicured gardens.
His heart felt heavy and his stomach was knotted.
He was going to break their hearts and there was no way out.
“We are here, sir.”
The voice of the driver shook him out of his deep thoughts. With a barely audible grunt of thanks, he stepped out and with leaden feet walked towards the door.
Before he reached it, the huge oak edifices swung open. A small woman in a blue uniform retrieved his suitcase and collected his shoes as he slipped them off. He hardly noticed her, either.
From within the house, there were sounds of a loud X Box game in progress and young children shouting. The man walked into the living room. Expensive Italian furniture was arranged around a 40-inch plasma TV, its sleek modernity a stark contrast to the gaudiness of the sofas and armchairs.
A boy and a girl were transfixed by the screen, watching monsters get beheaded. A woman lounged in an armchair, her diamonds glittering.
“Listen, everybody, I must speak to you,” said the man.
“Not now, Papa, we are reaching level five,” said the boy.
“No, now,” said the man.
The sombre tone of his voice cut through the shrill screams from the video game. The children and the woman looked to the man, their normal indifference suddenly replaced by unfamiliar concern.
Seating himself, the man leaned on his elbows and stared at the floor.
In a voice quivering with barely suppressed emotion, he started to speak.
“Darling, children, I am afraid we can’t go to Orlando Disneyland this year.”
“Where are we going then?” asked the girl. “England? Europe?”
“We can only go to somewhere in Asean.”
The gasps from the family just about drowned out the crack in his voice as he finished his sentence. Then the barrage of questions started. Why? What happened? How can this be?
As the voices rose to a crescendo, the man snapped, tears running down his face as he screamed, “The oil price has gone up and we can’t go on holidays around the world any more!”
“But, darling,” said the woman, “I already told the girls I would bring back for them oranges from Florida. How can I face them in Carcosa at our high tea tomorrow?”
“Papa, you promised Disneyland. I hate you! I hate you!” shrieked the boy as he stormed out of the room.
“Wait, boy!” he called out. “You must try to understand. The whole nation is suffering. We must make sacrifices. It is for the good of the country and for the future.”
But it was too late; the boy had already disappeared into his bedroom. Soon, the sound of heavy rap played at full volume could be heard.
“Oh, darling. Think about the children. How are they going to face their friends at the international school? Where are we going to go on holiday?”
The man wiped away his tears of frustration and held his head as he thought of what to say.
Suddenly, he looked up and with a smile bordering on the maniacal, he said: “What about Singapore? Or we can even go local. Let’s go to A Famosa in Malacca. It’s fun, they have a theme park and an animal and cowboy show. Malaysia Truly Asia! Heh heh heh ...”
His laugh petered out as the girl and the woman stared at him icily, slicing through his forced jollity.
For the longest while, nothing was said. Then the rap music abruptly stopped. The three looked up as the boy walked back to them.
“I understand sacrifice, Papa. And I think I have the solution,” he said.
The family stared at him, hope shining in their eyes. “We can all go to Hong Kong Disneyland!” he exclaimed excitedly.
The man broke down again and buried his face in his hands. Between his gasping sobs, he cried,
“Oh, my son, my poor, poor boy. Don’t you know? Hong Kong is not in Asean.”
“Arrrgghhh!” the boy screamed and ran back to his room, wailing, “I hate you! I hate my life! I want to die!”
The girl, unable to bear the pain any longer, stood up. She loomed over the broken shell that was her father and said, “I know we all have to suffer because of the oil price, Papa. But why do WE have to suffer SO MUCH?” Then she too stalked away.
The man stared into the middle distance.
His pain was almost too much to endure. The only sound in the room was the clinking of his wife’s diamonds as her bosom heaved with racking sobs.
It barely smothered the sound of his shattering heart, for without their exotic foreign holidays, life would never be the same again.