by Kenny Mah
There is a story here, somewhere, there always is.
I have been living through terminal transfers and airport arrivals — Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Singapore, Kota Kinabalu, Subang — and I don’t stay long enough before I have to depart again. I check into hotels and check out again. The names and the destinations start to blur. Hotel rooms and deluxe suites and a smattering of stars. They all have swimming pools and air-conditioned gyms. Housekeeping means fresh towels any time you want it, and tiny bottles of soap and shampoo mysteriously materialising everyday, like magic mushrooms.
I have meetings, meetings and more meetings. I can’t remember if I’m pitching to clients or if I am the client myself. I give talks, I stand up all day talking and talking. My feet are weary, no shoes are made to keep me comfortable for these many, many hours. They always run out of water; they always underestimate how much I can drink, how thirsty I can be. They don’t satisfy me much.
And in the evenings, I always return to an empty hotel room, a clean king-size bed, fresh sheets and puffed-up pillows. It looks perfect and is perfectly depressing, you know, to go to sleep alone. There can be no view outside these windows, no beaches or sloping hills or endless sea, that can compare with the sight of you lying in bed beside me.
The story, and I am sure there is one, is about to start, I believe.
One fine day, he decides he is terribly weary. One hotel room too many. One nondescript meal from restaurants that all look the same. The meetings and the clients, they can wait. They can survive without him, they’ll have to. He packs his suitcase swiftly (this comes easy with practice) and grabs his jacket. He wheels his suitcase out of the room, into the elevator and down to the lobby. He checks out with a smile, has the bellhop get him a cab. He tells the taxi driver to head to the airport. Which terminal? The nearest, please.
There is a short but almost interminable wait at the ticketing counter. His number gets called eventually by the LED signboard above. He pays for the earliest ticket he can manage, waits on standby for an earlier flight still. Fully booked, none of the passengers fail to turn up and they fly off without him. Fuck.
Finally he gets on his plane, puts his laptop bag away in the overhead compartment and settles into his seat. There is a nice lady next to him who tells him the time. Only two and half hours more, dearie. Okay, right. Thanks. Two and half hours later, the plane lands and he begins to breathe again.
There is a lesson in this story; I trust it is simply “Do Not Do What He Did.” Your mothers warned you against guys like me, they did.
At the airport, his suitcase is the last to come through on the conveyor belt. Well, that is not true. It is the third last, but that is almost the same as the last, isn’t it? The girl at the taxi counter tells him there is a thirty-minute wait — ohshitfuckityfuckdamnit — but tells him he can take the express train into the city and grab a cab at the central station instead. It’ll probably get you to your destination a lot faster, sir. Thank you. Thank you. Who said customer service was dead? Bless you. Bless you, my dear.
He sits in the train and looks out the window at the world passing by. He sees only one thing and it is not the scenery. Less than thirty minutes later, he is at the station and gets a cab, the first available one, apparently, for the past two hours given the rain and flash floods in the city. The world has been crashing down while he was gone. But now, now things are alright. There is something quite beautiful about a city freshly scrubbed and smelling clean and pure after a storm. It smells of hope.
Raise it up. Raise our game, work it harder. Get the results we want. Raise it up. Raise our standards. We should be living better, fuller lives than this. Raise the lanterns, the beautiful, bloody red lanterns. We should make love like we were new lovers, like we have been doing this together since forever. This is the start of forever, don’t you know?
Raise the curtains and see the world outside, the real world we are living in. Raise the veil and we can stop hiding. This is who we are, this is the sound not of silence, but some sort of wonderful contentment. We are at peace with ourselves. We raise it up.
And I tell the taxi driver to stop outside the guardhouse. I can walk in myself. He’s a nice Chinese uncle, been driving for 40 years, he tells me. Never seen a storm like this, floodwater rushing in faster than you can blink, he had to seek refuge in a nearby kopitiam and just have an early dinner. Taxi drivers don’t often get early dinners, it seems. He took me home through a shortcut, through Brickfields. The smell of jasmine in the air and the giant, bold Bollywood-like billboards and all the bright, bright lights. I felt as though I was in the cinema as a kid again, as though I’m in a movie myself. The crescendo, the climax: Coming soon to a theatre near you.
But now it’s just me. I wheel the suitcase past the guards and to my block. I take the elevator up to my floor. I stand outside my door and I hit the speed-dial on my cell.
“Hi dear, I just got back.”
“Good lor. Was it far from dinner to the hotel?”
“Uhm, no, not that far.”
“Better get showered, ok? You must be tired.”
“You have no idea. Wait, someone’s ringing the doorbell. I’ll call you back.”
I put my phone back into my jacket pocket and hit our doorbell. It rings twice before I hear you shuffling to the door. I imagine the bafflement in your face, then your astonishment when you peek through the peephole. You open the door with a flourish, and I greet you with a smile and softly
Copyright © 2010 Kenny Mah Ying Fye.