Aunt from Hell

My Aunt From Hell has finally returned from whence she came and the nations of Singapore and Malaysia may rest in a little more peace for the first time in many decades.

I’m not certain when I first used the moniker of Aunt From Hell, or AFH as we usually shortened it. She’s actually not my aunt, but B’s, on her father’s side. I first encountered her in the mid nineties in Sydney when she came down to attend B’s father’s funeral. B and I were just dating at the time, but I somehow managed to inveigle myself into their household during that tragic time.

AFH resided in Singapore and Johor Bahru in Malaysia, where she and her husband, a very decent, very quiet man, owned houses. B and her family came from Malaysia, moving to Australia in the Bicentennial year. Her father’s side mostly remained there and in neighbouring Singapore.

I have often thought that her father’s side of the family would make a pretty good basis for a sitcom. Her father was the most normal of them, a quiet, good Catholic, which means that he attended church regularly but would no doubt have plenty to confess.

One brother was a full blown paranoid conspiracy theorist, the other lived a hermit like existence. Both had little to do with the two sisters. One I dubbed “Vain Aunt” on account of her marriage into wealth and a love of showing off. The other was Aunt From Hell. The two of them fought constantly, Aunt From Hell being insanely jealous of her sister’s wealth.

About a year after her father’s passing B and her family had to reciprocate with a visit to Singapore and Malaysia to tidy up various loose ends. They were kind enough to include me in the trip, my very first outside of Australia.

Upon arrival into Singapore we were met by AFH and her husband and taken to their home to stay for a couple of weeks.

AFH insisted on accompanying us almost everywhere, though we were quite comfortable exploring on our own. This proved quite problematic.

You see, of all AFH’s faults the most testing was that she liked to talk. All the time. To anybody. Whether they wanted to listen or not. As soon as she opened her mouth her eyes would scrunch shut so that she could not see the suffering that she was inflicting upon others.

She would see a stranger and then suddenly introduce us to them and then talk about her own kids, mostly absent in the United States and their educational institutions and their qualifications. And she would ask about the stranger’s children and their qualifications, using acronyms and then spelling them out in that peculiar Singaporean way.

She’d talk and talk and then shriek and complain as if mortally hurt that the conversation and the answers were not as she wanted. For it was not only about boasting, but an exploration to see if she could take advantage of the other person’s position or assets. For AFH, seemingly like many of her generation, relationships were transactional in nature.

Her husband was very different, quiet and calm. He passed away earlier this year. My favourite memories of him were taking us out to eat roti canai, one of my most loved Malaysian dishes, for breakfast, unaccompanied from AFH.

AFH would insist on us eating bak kwa, flattened barbecued pork, for breakfast every day. Either that or almond jelly made with agar agar. Nice enough in small quantities, which these were not.

She had no skill with cooking. Later in the trip, when the entire family was in Singapore, the Vain Aunt held a banquet at their expensive city condominium, with suckling pork and other delicacies. AFH was very jealous and insisted on having her own banquet at her place. But she only catered one dish.

In the heat of the day she set us all stuffing wonton wrappers with mushrooms and pricy crab meat. This took hours and there was no air-conditioning in the house.

There was no way I was eating them. I decided to starve. Fortunately, I had an excuse, having just recovered from severe gastro brought on by eating steamboat in a restaurant.

Everybody else got food poisoning.

Having the rest of the family around provided a welcome distraction for B and I. Her brother wanted to meet an old friend in the city and invited us to come along. AFH insisted on coming too, hopeful that this friend owned a car or some other service that she could take advantage of.

Now AFH wore expensive tailored costumes, long floral patterned things that were unlike what anybody else wore and quite ugly. The were also very tight. Despite B’s brothers protestations, AFH was hurry after us when she tripped and went face first “like a Jesus on a crucifix” as B describes it, into the pavement.

For a moment nobody spoke. Had she fallen dead? There was almost a guilty sense of hope that she had.

No, she was very much still alive and demanding of just as much sympathy. Fortunately B’s brother got all the blame for it.

As AFH’s own brothers passed away she quickly inserted herself into the affairs of their estates, attempting to seize as much wealth for her own family as she could. When her husband passed she demanded a very expensive funeral for him in envy of that given to the Vain Aunt who had died a couple of years earlier.

One wonders what she will get. Her sons are all stuck in the United States, unable to return to Singapore due to the pandemic. Only her daughter, who cared for her in the end, remains, having to farewell both parents alone.

There are undoubtedly many more tales that could be told, but I am not privy to them and nor do I have much interest, truth be told. But memories, be they good or bad, are the closest we come to immortality, so this is my service to AFH.

One hopes that ghost stories are not true, for if they are, Singapore is in line for one hell of a noisy haunting.

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