Monday morning, and the first one of 2014 no less. With Murakami’s
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End Of The World tucked under my arm, I
walk down the stairs from my second floor apartment unit and set out
to face my own end of the world. Not “end” as in “finish”, of course –
that’s not something one looks forward to on the first working day of
the year! Though come to think of it, we are all hurtling towards our
own inevitable ends, are we not? Every moment racing closer to death,
from the second we first see daylight. Some faster than others.
But no, “end” here as in “little corner”. My little corner of this
world with many corners. I flip open the book and leaf through the
pages as I walk, my eyes scanning across the familiar landscape of
words, searching for where I had paused the day before. I dash past
the Colonel, the chubby girl, climb the rope towards where I know the
Professor would be waiting, and finally slow down somewhere in the
middle of the elephant factory. With my index finger serving as a
temporary bookmark, I look up and quicken my steps towards the bus
stop, quite eager to spend the next hour and fifteen minutes alone
with my Murakami.
“Young man!” A woman’s voice commands my feet to an abrupt halt. I
turn around to see four ladies – three middle-aged and one a teenager
in her high school uniform – sitting around a table under the void
deck. The girl is holding a styrofoam cup to her lips and giving me a
sheepish, slightly awkward look. I stare blankly, waiting for
something else to happen – perhaps a next command, or a scolding for
some unknown transgression I had carelessly committed.
“Have a drink young man!” The bespectacled lady to the left of the
student issues her next directive, pointing to a nearby hot water
flask standing beside a stack of styrofoam cups. “Tea, coffee, help
yourself!” The grin on her face could be described as manic, to
someone with a weaker mental disposition.
The girl gives me a nervous smile. My mind does some quick early
morning calisthenics, and I realize I have unwittingly become yet
another victim of these women’s overly enthusiastic random acts of
kindness, just like the hapless girl before me. Another innocent,
distracted fly crashing headlong into this invisible web of happiness
spun by three grinning spiders below an unremarkable void deck, in
this unremarkable little corner of the world. The tall, older one
beside the commanding voice stands up with some difficulty and
advances towards me.
“Coffee or tea?” Her grin even wider now.
“Yes, yes…! Got it, thank you very much!” I spring into action,
hurrying towards the hot water flask before the old lady has a chance
to actually serve me. Wincing a little, I take my finger out of page
257 and tuck my Hard-Boiled Wonderland back under my arm. I tear open
a packet of 3-in-1 teh susu and empty the contents into a styrofoam
cup while the women stare happily at me. As I fill my cup with hot
water, the one with the commanding voice speaks up again, “Young man
come, sit down and drink! Plenty of space here!”
On the first Monday morning of 2014, these three women are hell bent
on making people late for work and school.
“No, no, it’s ok I have to rush to work,” I stammer, pointing weakly
in the direction of the bus stop. “Have a happy New Year, all of you!”
Smiling apologetically I bid them a hasty farewell, not daring to look
at the poor girl who must have been sitting there for some time now.
“No worry, come back tomorrow young man!”
A man wearing a suit and a blue tie hurries past, giving us a wide
berth while looking intently at some vague, unidentified object in the
distance. I quicken my pace too, glad to be back on track and, having
put some distance between myself and the three happy witches, silently
congratulate myself for being one cup of milk tea richer without
having to sit down and engage in an awkward morning conversation with
four complete strangers. Then my eye catches a movement that makes my
legs freeze. Looking down, I realize that the tea in my styrofoam cup
is now sloshing back and forth menacingly, threatening to spill out at
any time. I lift the cup experimentally to my lips and discover to
further dismay that the water inside is piping hot. I cannot continue
at my pace, and neither can I finish the tea right now without
scalding my tongue. I am helplessly condemned to walk the next ninety
metres like an old man, inching my way to the bus stop, unable to open
my Murakami until I empty this cup of unconditional morning love. With
a small sigh of resignation I resume my now excruciatingly slow trek
towards the bus stop, now looking very far away indeed, while people
stream past me on either side.
A leaf floats erratically down to my right, borne up once or twice by
the cool morning breeze but nevertheless continuing the gentle, silent
descent towards its demise. Severed from its life-giving stem, it has
nowhere to go but down. An old Indian lady crosses the road, pushing a
trolley of groceries before her. Cargo and crutch. A white van
sputters past, sorely needing some engine maintenance. The sweet scent
of milk wafts up from the steaming styrofoam cup, its contents no
longer churning around like angry waves.
I take a sip, and slowly exhale.
Far ahead, Bus 80 grinds to a noisy halt and throws its doors open to
swallow its morning load. The man in the suit climbs on, followed by a
few others in office attire. I watch as its doors slam shut, and it
thunders off on its clockwork journey, taking its passengers towards
each of their own ends of the world.
Written by Kenneth