, Malaysia

“I told you so.”

or, How mothers are always right about our secret admirers

By Kenny Mah

Posted on

This is not her first boyfriend,” my sister sniffs, usually a warning that she’s about to start, “this boy’s her second one. And she’s only nineteen!”

I want to say “And how old were you when you had your second, your third boyfriend?” but I keep mum, for I know the answer and I know it will not please her.

Instead I listen to her worries about her daughter and her woes as a mother patiently. I nod at the right places. I hum an “Mm-hmm” or two under my breath. I can imagine my eldest niece rolling her eyes. I’m tempted to do the same but this would be unwise while my sister is still at it.

Kids will be kids, I want to say, look at us when we were her age. I remember our mother complaining much the same way when my sister was in high school and I not yet. Too many boys chasing after her daughter, the same story, really. My sister was a pretty one too.

Our mother was relentless in fending the boys off, she was. Certainly it was amusing to me though I suspected my sister didn’t see it quite the same way. There were no prom nights for her and any dates had to be chaperoned by her best friend’s mother. There were rules.

My sister escaped the first chance she could. Married a businessman. Had three kids, my lovely nephew and nieces. Divorced some years later. Our mother couldn’t help it:

“I told you so.”

She did.

And so my sister is taking her lead from her children’s beloved grandma: better to err on the side of caution. There’s no hurry. Study hard. Get a degree, then a job. Then we can talk.

I remember our mother’s cunning ways. Girls were more aggressive back then. (Or perhaps it’s just Malaccan girls, bearing in mind all the ladies in my family are true-blue Malaccans too.) I was too shy to approach the girls during high school but I would get phone calls from them.

Or rather, our mother would.

There were no mobile phones back in the days (at least not in our home), no smartphones. We had a black Bakelite telephone, the sort with the rotating dial, and its place of honour was at the upstairs hallway. I would run fast, but somehow our mother would always get there first, even with her shorter legs.

Never underestimate the speed of an interested party.

I’ll never forget how she deterred a curious female admirer from pursuing further a possible friendship with her son.

“Young lady, why are you calling my son? Don’t you have to study? He has to study, you know.”

(This, obviously, on account of her son becoming a future doctor or lawyer.) (I am neither.)

The young lady, if memory serves, spit a few choice words (translation: expletives) down the line and then hung up. Mother’s grimace had a satisfied flourish to it:

“I told you so.”

Still maybe she (my mother, not the rude former admirer) had the right idea all along. There is such a rush these days to get attached, to find a partner or a spouse, to be one half of a pair. What for? I wonder. What prize will we win?

There are days my sister would say she wished she never got married and this would sadden me. That is, until my eldest niece tells me her mother says this all the time, to anyone who would listen.

My niece shares this bit of information with her favourite and only uncle while rolling her eyes. Her ennui cheers me up considerably; this one I can believe is actually related to me.

This one doesn’t have the time to worry too much about her ex, nor in fact, I would wager, her current amour. Things work out or they don’t. And if they don’t, move on.

I want to tell my sister and our mother we have so much to learn from kids these days. And guess what? I told them so.