Wednesday, 17 December 2014


Isabelle was my accomplice and everything went as planned. My parents had no idea I was in Paris. Only a few friends knew. I had been talking on the phone with my father a couple of weeks ago, telling him how sad I was not to be able to be with the family for the year-end celebrations. For Chinese New Year, certainly, as my father intended to bring my mother to Vietnam in March. My presence would make things easier for him, as my mother usually gladly follows my lead without much of a fuss. Chinese New Year being late this year – on the 18th of February, I could stay a couple of more weeks then we would all fly together to Vietnam. My brother and his family wouldn’t be able to join. Lots of work but no money.
I thought of a various possibility to stage that little surprise. The first idea was to have Isabelle invite them to her place for tea or dinner, then show up in the most natural manner. My parents are quite fond of Isabelle and her family and the big advantage was that she also lived in Saint-Maur.
So my parents were invited for tea at her place. “Not an easy task” Isabelle told me on the phone. “Your father accepted the invitation but wasn’t sure how your mother would react, so I insisted and offered to drive to their place and pick them up so they wouldn’t have to worry about anything.” My parents have been led an isolated life in recent years, this partly due to my mother’s condition and her unwillingness to go out unless very necessary. I recall how a few years ago she had not even ventured as far as the front door for a good two weeks while my father was on a trip abroad. I would come and do all the shopping for her, get the mail and do all the errands when necessary.  
However, after a few phone calls, Isabelle managed to convince them. They certainly found it odd that she would suddenly feel the impulse to invite them for tea to her place instead of paying them a visit as my friends would usually do in that case. I had come earlier for a little chat with her – I always enjoy being at her house. Her garden is gorgeous, and the interior is exquisitely and tastefully decorated. We even had time to drive to the school and pick up her son Quentin. He was delighted to be part of the scheme.
At the given time Isabelle came back with my parents. I hid in the corridor which led to the kitchen while Quentin stood by the window and would inform me of any movements. And there they were, opening the door, taking off their coat as she was leading them into her spacious and elegant living room. From my hiding place I could catch the reflection of their movements on the glass panel of a large framed painting.
“Please make yourself comfortable. I’m going to bring tea.” I heard Isabelle say. I caught the moment to make my appearance. “Oh, can I join you, then?” I said from the corridor and appeared in front of them. It took a few seconds for my mother to register who the male voice belonged to. She looked at me, squinted a little, then delight showed in her face as she walked toward me for a hug. I observed my father from the corner of my eyes. He was beaming silently. His strong and tight embrace said it all.
“Don’t you ever do thing like that!!! Think of my heart! I could have an attack!”
I promised this would be the first and last time.  “But I do like surprises” I heard my mother exclaim from my back. Quentin was observing the scene with a big smile. Isabelle told me a few days later that he was so touched that he would do the same thing when he’s older.
“Let’s play some music!” Isabelle picked Purcell’s songs. Tea was served. I had brought a delicious apple tart – coming to Paris also means a high consumption of fine French pastries, something I seldom find abroad, especially in Asia.
That’s how we kicked off the jolly season.

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