Authors: Kevin Kwan
Overhearing the exchange, Oliver added, “I don't think Abdullah ever expected it. His uncle was supposed to be the next king, but Hussein bypassed him on his deathbed and anointed his son the successor. It was a shock to everyone.”
Nancy sat back in her seat, wondering what shocks lay in store for her Young relatives. What would become of all of Su Yi's jewelry? Her collection was said to be unparalleled in all of Asia, so there was surely going to be a battle royal over her treasures.
Sitting in the middle of her row, Astrid heard an urgent little ping from her cell phone. She got out her phone discreetly and read the text message:
First u exclude my name from the Straits Times death notice, and now u bar me from sitting next to my own son! Yur gonna pay for this.
Astrid began texting back furiously.
What are you talking about? My mother and uncle arranged the notice. I didn't even know you were coming.
I'm not a monster. I liked your Ah Ma, ok?
So where are you now? You're going to be late!
Already here. I'm sitting one row behind and across from u.
Astrid swiveled around and saw Michael seated across the aisle.
Why are you over there?
Don't pretend u don't know. Your father's fucking bodyguards wouldn't let me into your row!
I promise you I had nothing to do with that. Come join us now.
Michael stood up, but before he could leave his pew, a cluster of guests walking up the aisle blocked him from moving. Instead, they were being directed into his row, and a lady wearing a chic dark gray silk shantung dress with a silver gray frayed bouclÃ© topper coat and black gloves was ushered into the seat next to him.
Astrid's jaw dropped. She spun around and faced Oliver, who was seated just behind her. “Am I hallucinating, or is that who I think it is over there in head-to-toe Chanel couture?”
Oliver turned and saw the lady who had just taken the seat on the aisle opposite from him. “Holy Anita Sarawak!” he muttered under his breath. It was Colette, sitting with her husband, the Earl of Palliser, and the British ambassador. How stupid of himâof course the earl would attend. His father, the Duke of Glencora, was great friends with Alfred Shang.
Eagle-eyed Nancy T'sien leaned over and whispered to Oliver, “Who is that girl over there?”
“Which girl?” Oliver asked, feigning ignorance.
“The pretty Chinese girl sitting with all those
” As the two of them looked at Colette, she suddenly swept her hair aside, revealing an enormous jade butterfly brooch pinned to her left shoulder. Oliver turned white as a sheet.
Nancy almost gasped, but she stopped herself. Instead, she said, “What an exquisite brooch. Mummy, do you see that lady's lovely jade brooch?” She tugged furiously at Rosemary T'sien's elbow.
“Oh. Yes,” Rosemary paused for a moment in recognition. “How lovely it is.”
Just then, Reverend Bo Lor Yong approached the pulpit and spoke too close to the microphone. His voice came out booming: “Your Majesties, Highnesses, Excellencies, Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, may I present Shang Su Yi's dearest grandson, Edison Cheng, accompanied by the one and onlyâ¦Lang Lang!”
The crowd murmured excitedly at the announcement of the celebrated pianist, and all eyes were on the main altar as Lang Lang walked to the grand piano and began to play the opening chords of a curiously familiar melody. The doors of the cathedral swung open, and eight Gurkha guards from Tyersall Park stood silhouetted in the dramatic arched entrance, bearing Su Yi's casket on their shoulders. Captain Vikram Ghale was the lead pallbearer, and as they slowly began to enter the nave of the cathedral, Eddie emerged from the shadows of the transept and took his place in front of the piano, a lone spotlight on him. As the guests in the church stood up respectfully, the casket made its way up the central aisle as Eddie began to sing in a quivering tenor:
It must have been cold there in my shadowwwwww,
to never have sunlight on your faaaaaaaceâ¦
“You've got to be fucking kidding me,” Nick muttered, burying his face in his hands.
“They cut your speech for
?” Rachel was furious and yet trying desperately not to laugh.
Did I ever tell you you're my heeeeeÂeeeeeÂeeroâ¦
” Eddie belted out, not quite hitting the right pitch.
Victoria turned to Felicity with a frown. “What on earth?”
Felicity whispered to Astrid, “Do you know this hymn?”
“It's not a hymn, Mum. It's âWind Beneath My Wings' by Bette Midler.”
“Exactly. She's a singer Ah Ma would never have heard of either.”
As the guards proceeded up the aisle, everyone in the cathedral suddenly went quiet as they caught sight of Su Yi's two devoted Thai lady's maids. Swathed in dark gray silk dresses with a single black orchid pinned above their breasts, they walked five paces behind her casket, tears running down their faces.
Just count the commas and you'll understand what Eddie means: $1,000,000,000.
A Singlish term meaning “to reserve.” Singaporeans
seats at concerts, hawker centers, and other public venues by placing a packet of tissue paper on the seat.
Chee cheong fun:
a long, limp, rice noodle roll.
You char kway:
a long, stiff, deep-fried breadstick.
ST. ANDREW'S CATHEDRAL, SINGAPORE
After the memorial service, guests were invited to a white tent that had been erected next to the cathedral, where everyone could mingle over an elaborate afternoon-tea buffet. The tent was decorated to replicate Su Yi's conservatory at Tyersall Park. Hundreds of pots of orchids in full bloom hung from the ceiling, while towering topiaries composed of roses from Su Yi's rose garden commanded each of the tables covered in Battenberg lace. A battalion of waitstaff rolled around antique silver carts arrayed with steaming cups of Darjeeling tea and ice-cold flutes of Lillet champagne, while chefs in white toques manned the tables filled with afternoon-tea standards like finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, and
Nick, Rachel, and Astrid sat in a quiet corner reminiscing with cousins Alistair, Scheherazade, and Lucia.
“You know, I used to be deathly afraid of Ah Ma when I was little,” Alistair confessed. “I think it's maybe because all the adults seemed to fear her, I just picked up on that.”
“Really? She always seemed like a fairy godmother to me,” Scheherazade said. “I remember one summer hols many years ago, I was wandering around Tyersall Park by myself when I came upon Great-auntie Su Yi. She was standing at the edge of that pond with those enormous lily pads, and when she saw me, she said, âZhi Yi, come'âshe always called me by my Chinese name. She looked up at the sky and made this clicking sound with her tongue. Out of nowhere these two swans swooped down and landed right on the pond! Su Yi reached into the pocket of that blue gardening coat she always wore and pulled out little sardines. The swans glided up to her and gently ate the sardines out of her hand. I was absolutely mesmerized.”
“Yes, those swans were the same pair that were always at the lake in the Botanic Gardens. Ah Ma used to say, âEveryone thinks these swans live there, but actually this is their pond, and they just visit the Botanic Gardens because they've gotten fat and spoiled by all the tourists that feed them!'â” Nick remembered.
“It's not fair, I feel like you got to know Great-auntie Su Yi much better than I did, Scheherazade!” Lucia said with a little pout.
Rachel shot Lucia a smile, and then noticed Carlton strolling nonchalantly toward them. “Carlton! How did you get through Fort Knox?”
“I may or may not have been slipped an invitation by someone,” Carlton said with a wink, as Scheherazade blushed.
“Astrid, mind if I have a quick word?” Carlton said.
“Me?” Astrid looked up in surprise.
Astrid got up from her chair and Carlton took her over to a corner. “I have a message from a friend. Go to the chapel behind the north transept of the cathedral right now. Trust me.”
“Oh. Okay,” Astrid said, her brow furrowed at Carlton's mysterious message. She walked out of the tent and headed into the church through a side door, making her way to the north transept. As she entered the small alcove chapel within the cathedral, her eyes took a moment to adjust to the darkened room. A figure emerged from behind a pillar.
“Charlie! Oh my God! What are you doing here?” Astrid exclaimed as she rushed to embrace him.
“I just couldn't let you be alone today.” Charlie hugged her tight, kissing her forehead repeatedly. “How are you?”
“I'm okay, I guess.”
“I know this is the last thing on your mind, but you look stunning today,” Charlie said, marveling at her knee-length black dress with a white Greek key motif piping on the skirt and collar.
“This was my grandmother's, from the 1930s.”
“Was the service beautiful?”
“I wouldn't really call it that. It was grand, and it was strange. The Sultan of Borneo talked about the war and how my great-grandfather helped to save his family. He spoke in Malay, so everything had to be translated by this very perky woman. Then my brother spoke, and he was so weird and stilted he sounded like the Manchurian Candidate. The most emotional moment came when my grandmother's casket first entered the church. When I saw Madri and Patravadee walking behind the casket, I just lost it.”
“I know it's been a very sad day. I brought something for youâ¦I was debating at first whether or not to show it to you today, but I think it might actually cheer you up.” Charlie took a small envelope out of his pocket and handed it to Astrid. She opened it up and unfolded a handwritten note:
I hope you don't mind the intrusion, but I want to express how sorry I am to hear of your grandmother's passing. She was a great lady, and I know she meant so much to you. I was very close to my Ah Ma as well, so I can imagine what you must be feeling right now.
I also want to apologize for my actions several months ago in Singapore. I am so terribly sorry for any pain or embarrassment I might have caused to you and your family. As I'm sure you're aware, I was not myself that day. I have made a complete recovery since then, and I can only hope and pray that you will accept my heartfelt apology now.
In the last few months, I've had the luxury of time. Time to heal and recover, time to reassess my life. I know now that I do not ever wish to come between what you and Charlie have together, and I want to give you my blessing, not that you in any way need it. Charlie has been so decent to me throughout the years, and I only want what's best for him now. As we are all only too painfully aware, life is precious, and much too fleeting, so I want to wish the both of you everlasting happiness.
“How sweet of her!” Astrid said, looking up from the note. “I'm glad she's doing so much better.”
“I am too. She gave me the note when I went to drop off the girls last night. She was worried that you wouldn't want to read it.”
“Why wouldn't I? I'm so happy you showed it to me. It's the best thing that's happened today. It feels like one more burden has been lifted. You know, all through the service, I was thinking of my grandmother's last conversation with me. She really wanted me to be happy. She wanted us to ignore all the rules of mourning and get married as soon as we possibly could.”
“We will, Astrid, I promise.”
“I never thought Michael would be the one to hold things up,” Astrid said with a sigh.
“We'll get through this. I have a plan,” Charlie said.
They were suddenly interrupted by voices echoing through the north transept. Astrid peeked out the door for a moment. “It's my mother,” she mouthed to Charlie.
Victoria, Felicity, and Alix skulked through the transept and entered the chapel on the opposite side. In the middle of the room was Su Yi's coffin.
“I'm telling you, her dentures were crooked,” Felicity said.
“They didn't look crooked to me,” Victoria argued.
“You'll see. Whoever the stupid mortician was that worked on her didn't place them properly.”
“This is such a bad ideaâ” Alix began to protest.
“No, we must do this for Mummy. I won't be able to sleep if I let Mummy be cremated with crooked teeth.” Felicity began to unfasten the lid of the casket. “Here, help me with this.”
The three women lifted the lid of the casket slowly. Looking down at their mother cocooned in her golden robe, the sisters, normally such pillars of discipline and resolve, began to sob quietly. Felicity reached over to embrace Victoria, and the two of them began to cry even harder.
“We must be strong. We're all that's left now.” Felicity sniffed as she began to collect herself. “It's funny how lovely she looks. Her complexion is smoother than it's ever been.”
“While we're here, do we really want to let this FabergÃ© spectacle case be cremated? What a waste,” Victoria said, sniffing.
“Those were her funerary instructions. We must honor them,” Alix insisted.
Victoria scoffed at her little sister. “I don't think Mummy really considered the implications when she wrote that. Surely she would have wanted us to remove the FabergÃ© case after the funeral? Just like we removed the gold tiara? You know how she hated waste.”
“All right, all right, just take the glasses out and place them beside her pillow. Now, someone help me open her mouth.” Felicity leaned into the coffin and tugged at her mother's stiff jaw.
Suddenly she let out a shriek.
“What happened, what happened?” Victoria gasped.
Felicity cried, “The pearl! The Tahitian black pearl! I opened her mouth and it rolled down her throat!”