“My name is Olivia-Ong Davenport and I am perfect. My name is Olivia-Ong Davenport and I am perfect. My name is…” Olivia stopped chanting and opened her eyes, looking at herself in the mirror. Was that 35 or 36? She’d lost count. She frowned at herself, then stopped immediately when she saw the lines appearing between her eyes.
She took a deep breath and started again.
“My name is Olivia Ong-Davenport and I am perfect.” One.
“I am Olivia-Ong Davenport and I am perfect.” Two. A bit hesitant, still.
“My name is Olivia-Ong Davenport and I am perfect.” Three. Better.
“I am Olivia-Ong Davenport and I am perfect.” Four. Getting into it now.
“My name is Olivia…”
The phone rang. It was Kiki, her best friend. Olivia let it ring out. She silenced her phone, put it aside and took a deep breath. Almost immediately the phone began buzzing again. Olivia tapped “Decline” and put the phone aside, but it began buzzing again.
“Kiki! I’m doing my affirmations!” she barked into the phone. She knew she could repair the relationship later.
“Okay, chill Livvy, geez, just pick it up later. Where were you last night?”
“What’s up with you? Aunty Florence is livid that you didn’t make it to the Tatler Ball!”
“Kiki, you know what they’re saying about me online. I can’t very well be seen living the high life with you guys, selfie-ing and wefie-ing, when I’m supposed to be concerned about the welfare of the Orang Asli!”
“Damn, hon – nobody cares about that! It’s the internet. A new hashtag is born every 2.5 seconds or something. Who gives a shit about you and your Orang Asli nonsense? Who gives a shit about the Orang Asli? We’re off to Paris for the Roland Garros in a few days and there’s always another scandal around the corner. Trust me – nobody’s going to be talking about you!”
“But where are my followers? My Instagram went from 224,888 all the way down to 19,000. People do care, Kiki!”
“Honey, half of us would laugh if we had nineteen thousand followers. Just build it up again. People unfollow on the spur of the moment then they forget all about why they unfollowed you. Basically they forget all about you – hey, are you going to the Glam Societé Awards tomorrow night?
“I don’t know…”
“Can I borrow the Lacroix you bought for it, then? You’re not wearing it anyway…”
Pause. “Um, sure, just send your driver and I’ll tell Lucie to get it ready”.
“Thanks hon! You’re the best! Come out with us soon, we’re off to Roland Garros in a few days – you going?”
“I don’t know…”
“Okay, don’t forget the Lacroix. Ciao love, ciao, ciao…” Kiki hung up.
The phone buzzed again.
“Oh Livvie, I forgot to tell you. We found out who’s behind that slanderous blog which had that story about you. His name is Justin Padma. Aunty Florence has known him since he was little…”
Olivia hung up.
She tapped on her Facebook. No new notifications. Twitter. Ditto.
“Lucie! Lucinda!” she called.
Justin Padma. Justin Padma. Justin…
“Lucie!!” Louder. “Can you get me my scrapbook… please?”
From somewhere in the labyrinth of mirrors, modern art and plush purple carpet, came Lucie’s voice: “Yes, mam!”
“Don’t call me mam! Mam is my mother, call me Miss,” Olivia chided. Lucie was new. Well, relatively new in their household, having taken over from the last helper about six months ago.
Lucie brought in a large leather-bound book, which had so many things stuck in and protruding out of its pages that the cover gaped at a forty-five degree angle, like the lid of a Brabantia 30-litre touch bin too full of empty Veuve Clicquot bottles.
Olivia made her set it on the bed, then, in the way she had always done from the time she was seven, knelt at the foot of the bed and flipped through her scrapbook.
Olivia’s scrapbook was first given to her by her mother, when she was seven. Inside, there were pictures of every single thing a little girl could have hoped for, wished for, or dreamed about. But in the depths of the scrapbook, amidst images of fluffy white kittens and pink Nintendos was one of the most valuable mindmaps in Malaysian history.
Anyone who was marginally interesting had his or her little place in Olivia’s scrapbook. The mindmap, a pullout centre-spread, was a hierarchy of clouds with dotted and different coloured lines connecting each cloud. At the centre of each cloud was a mugshot, name and information of the person of interest.
At the heart of the cloud hierarchy was Olivia and the lines represented how they were connected to her, and to each other; also what their relationships were like – “Feudal” or “Allied”. The further away your cloud was from Olivia’s, the less interesting you were. However, those clouds closest to Olivia’s, such as Barack Obama’s, for instance had yet to be connected with a line. It was in Olivia’s deepest interest to make those connections happen.
Often Olivia would pore through the cloud hierarchy, moving the photos and names around as circumstances evolved. She moved Kiki’s cloud (stuck on with blu-tac for easy removal) several cloud circles away from her, then remembered that Kiki had redeemed herself from her Lacroix faux pas by offering her the tidbit about Justin, and put her back. She pored through the outer peripherals of the cloud hierarchy to find what she was looking for. Before long, she spotted it.
Justin Padma. Mother – the Honourable Justice Padma Logeswaran, former High Court Judge (deceased.) Father – Unknown, of South American origin. Occupation: Journalist – International Herald Tribune, Newsweek, Correspondent for Al Jazeera. Location: Mascarette, Le Canton Aux 10 Sourires, Castagniers, France.
Olivia scrutinised the tiny photo of Justin, taken from the pages of the Tatler. Her eyes narrowed till she remembered that screwing one’s eyes in that manner could cause wrinkles.
Ah, no wonder the name was so familiar. His mother was connected to her stepfather, of course, who was Chief Justice of the Federal Court. So, the little bastard had taken his mother’s name, she observed.
Olivia dialled her mother’s number. It rang out and went to voicemail. Olivia cursed and tried again.
Clothes, shoes, bags, accessories and underwear were splayed out everywhere on the floor of her walk-in wardrobe. Lucinda scurried about packing them up. Olivia sat in the middle of the disarray in her Carine Gilson slip (lace-trimmed silk-satin mousseline, in oyster and shell) and Pigalle Follies Vernis Louboutins (120mm, size 39), phone to her ear.
Her mother would not have approved of this scene.
“No Lucie!” she barked, “Only the Louis Vuitton trunks for luggage, you understand – never the smaller bags! 90 per cent of Vuittons in the world are fake, but you can’t fake the trunks, don’t you know that? Especially if they’ve got my initials on them; I don’t want people thinking I do fakes! For my carry-on, get me Mummy’s Hermes Travel Birkin.”
Voicemail again. Olivia tutted and dialled to leave a message.
“Mummy, it’s me. Where are you? I need your advice, Mummy.” Pause. “I’m going to confront the writer who said those things about me on his blog. He lives somewhere in the French Riviera. Can I use your frequent flyer points please? I’ll fly to Paris, then to Nice and I’ll be sure to stop by Aunty Bee Hong’s to say hello.” She hung up.
Lucie was staring at her incredulously.
“What are you looking at?” Olivia countered her for a moment then ran her hands through her hair.
She tried to psyche herself up for a long trip on her own to the South of France. She couldn’t remember the last time she had had to travel alone.
“Lucie,” she said brightly. “Have you ever been to the South of France? Do you want to come along?”
“Er, it’s okay mam! Better I stay and look after the house!” Lucie replied, a little too quickly.
Olivia sighed. “Perfect,” she said.
While she was getting a massage to prepare her for the journey, her mother left her a voice message. She was safely ensconced in the cool, tinted safety of the car (Audi S3 sedan quattro, 2-ltr, black), on the way home, when she saw the notification. Olivia dialled to retrieve it, a little annoyed. Who leaves voice messages these days?
“Olivia, it’s your mother,” the recorded voice purred in Olivia’s ear.
“Are you absolutely sure that this is the perfect thing to do? That’s what I always, always ask myself before I do or say anything. Is this absolutely the most perfect thing to do?”
Her mother, with her perfect accent-less Swiss-finishing school voice, had a way of emphasising words that tended towards melodrama. (“It makes what one says just that much more important,” she once told Olivia. “That’s how you get people to hang on to every word you say.”)
A pause. Then a staged suffering sigh.
“If you must, Olivia darling. I won’t be able to come I’m afraid, you know very well I organise that shindig for WAO every year around this time. Just remember to be the bigger person. And take care – drink only what you’ve brought in your bag – you never know, these days.”
Then the sign-off.
“You’ll always be my perfect, perfect little darling – kind, beautiful, smart. My perfect little darling.”
Except this time, there was a caveat.
“Oh, and darling, I think it’s time you stopped calling me Mummy. It’s unbecoming now that you’re well past the age of twenty. Not the perfect thing at all. Call me Mother. It’s more grown up. Love you, love you.”
Olivia felt her lungs seize up a little. She scrabbled in her Saint Laurent Classic Sac de Jour (Fog Grey, Large) for her inhaler.
This is an excerpt from Perfect, a short story by Maya Tan Abdullah, workshopped during the Cooler Lumpur Writers Residency 2014.
Illustration by Lyn Ong