It was a brief visit to Singapore but this time there were no tears streaming down her face – she could care less what the passenger seated next to her thought of her – even before the plane touched the tarmac. This time she was wearing a smile. She was filled with excitement and anticipation, not dread or pain.

Strolling out of the arrival lounge and towards immigration, her mobile phone registered a missed call. He had called while she was airborne. She hit the dial button.

“Finally!”  he screamed into the phone, “I was wondering where you were! I thought of picking you up but you said that your airline was always delayed.”

“Hola slacker! Oh, you were going to pick me up? Thank God you didn’t because our flight was delayed for four hours and all we got was a lousy packed Japanese food from Hoka Hoka Bento,” she prattled.

“So are we meeting up?” was the question that hurled through the phone line.

“Sure, but isn’t it kinda late? It’s already close to 1am.”

“No worries. See, the things I do for you. I’m already in my boxers and enjoying my game and now I have to get dressed,” he said with a chuckle, “Get to your hotel and I’ll see you at Robertson Quay. Call me when you get there.”

All was going well until the walk down Orchard Road the next morning. They were scheduled to meet at Borders but she and her friend found themselves making their way opposite of Borders so he had to walk the stretch of Orchard to get to 313@Somerset and Marché at the basement. The meal was pleasant; he was forthcoming, his usual self, running through one story after another.

“This shirt has made a lot of Filipinos think I’m a Filipino,” he said, pointing to his Nike Manny Pacquiao shirt.

“Oh, Nike’s sponsoring him?” I said.

“Yeah. He’s a pretty good boxer,” he replied matter-of-factly.

It was back to Orchard, to Borders, which was her favourite bookstore. Mid-way through the walk, pass the throng of weekend shoppers choosing which mall to enter, she suddenly felt mildly tasered.

“You demand a lot, don’t you?” he said dead on, stopping to look at her. His face was contorted in a mixture of annoyance and being put upon.

She didn’t see this coming at all.

What demands? A walk down Orchard is a demand? Hanging out with me is a demand? He had no idea what demand meant. Her thoughts were like the whirlpool in the Strait of Messina and her emotions were roiling like dark clouds gathering en masse. She, who delighted in witty retorts, rejoinders and retorts, was stymied, caught between hurling a good one at him and keeping quiet. Was she to ruin this perfect visit to Singapore?

“Yeah, I do,” she said, trying to look like the smiley emoticon and hoping not a trace of disappointment and hurt were leaking out.

The perfect comeback is, well, perfect, conveying the exact emotion and meaning you intended. In one context, it’s the perfect Muhammad Ali-jab on the face that leaves one dazed and disoriented. In another, it’s that one-liner from the debonair of all debonairs, James Bond, which comes out cheesy when said by others. In other cases, it’s that elegant, articulate equivalent of sticking out your tongue at your adversary and making clown faces. A perfect comeback can make or break a situation, friendship and all the kinds of relationships.

In another life, I pinned my frenemy with a simple question-retort and exposed her mendacious ways.  There was a company dinner, which she couldn’t attend. In the morning, she said she had to attend her daughter’s school event; mid way through the day, she said she had to attend to her son’s school event; and at the end of the day, she said she was going away with her husband.

“So which one is the real reason?” I asked her in front of people, reciting the reasons she mentioned throughout the day.

One witty comeback I used helped to fend off annoying people who seemed to think they reached enlightenment just because they tied a knot. To the question “When are you going to get married?” I usually replied, “You’ll be the first to get an invite when he says yes to my proposal” and not within hearing of my late grandfather.  I had another retort to the question but a former friend advised me against uttering that line, spelling the grave repercussion and the need for a lot of damage control given my heterosexuality.

The one rejoinder I liked and which elicited laughter from people had to do with the question about driving.

“Do you drive?” people would ask.

“Yes, I drive people up the wall,” I’d reply with a stoic demeanour.

But this one rejoinder always resulted in awkward silence – for the others, not me.

“What’s your religion?” people would ask.

“I’m still perfecting Liana-ism,” was my stock reply to irksome adults. My reply to students was different; I just tell them I’m still searching for one.

Store staffs are seldom spared the brunt of my acerbic tongue particularly when the only answer they have is “I don’t know.” Looking them straight in the eye, I’d ask in a stern voice, “So do you know anything at all?”

Let’s rewind to that day at Orchard road and my muted rejoinder. What could have been the perfect riposte? On hindsight, I would have said any one of these.

One: “You have no idea what demand is. Go check with Merriam.”

Second: “Shall we go over our contract again?”

Third: “I never thought spending time with me was very demanding. I only ask for your time. What’s that compared to me giving you my time, my heart and my life?”

Fourth: unfriending him in Facebook.


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