The air is hauntingly still. There is no sound, no movement, as if time has stopped. I see her but it’s like staring at a picture instead of being present in this room. Why isn’t there any sound? What happened? I cannot recall. I try moving but I can’t feel my legs. Am I dreaming? I try to approach her slowly. I feel light, floating towards her. I try to touch her. She is still. As still as the air around me. Perhaps if I close my eyes long enough, I will wake up. But this is no dream.
The food court was abuzz with patrons, mainly the working class looking for a simple, quick and most importantly, cheap meal. Vacant tables were scarce and many were forced to share. In a distant corner, a young, impeccably dressed girl sat alone. Her eyes scanned the food court slowly, as if still undecided on what to order for lunch.
Balancing a tray with a bowl of steaming curry noodles, a good looking young executive walked up.
“X’cuse me, is this seat taken?” he queried, putting on his most charming smile.
The young girl gave him a brief, top to bottom scan and shook her head. She could see sweat forming along his hairline.
“Not at all! Please.”
“Thanks!” he replied gratefully and plonked down opposite her.
“No prob! Must be a feat for you balancing those stuff,” the girl said, pointing to his laptop and briefcase.
A businessman! she thought happily.
He nodded. “Yep. Can never imagine getting a table at this hour. Difficult if you are alone. Lucky for you, though.”
“Oh, I am just waiting for a friend. We are taking turns to get our food.”
The young man nodded and proceeded to take in a mouthful of noodles. A drip of curry dangled dangerously for a second on his chin before he wiped it away with a piece of rumpled serviette.
“Since you are here, is it okay if I were to go and order? Keep two places till we come back?”
He looked up to see the girl already standing. Grateful to be offered a seat, he nodded.
“Sure! Go ahead.”
She smiled, but he thought she looked pleased. He brushed off the thought and watched her disappear among the crowd before returning to his bowl of noodles.
Barely a minute later, another girl walked up, a clay pot of noodle in her tray. “You must be the one my friend told me about,” she said, sitting down. “Thanks for watching our place.”
He assumed that she must be the friend the first girl was talking about earlier. She looked just as good.
“No problem. This table was yours in the first place.”
The pair sat in silence, enjoying their food. Occasionally, they would look up to meet each other’s eyes, only to look away again shyly.
The ear piercing sound of melamine wares and steel cutleries falling onto the floor rang through the food court. Startled customers turned instantly to the direction of the sound. A baby started to wail.
The young executive, too, had looked up to see what was happening. Someone had run into a food court staff carrying a stack of soiled plates and cutleries, and now, the floor around them were a filthy mess.
“Gosh! It’s Anna!” the girl on his table gasped.
He came to recognise the helpless girl who stood rooted beside the staff. Getting up, he walked over, hoping to see if she needed help. He could see that her shirt and skirt were soiled.
“Minta maa-aaf!” He heard the girl stammer. Her eyes were red, and tears threatened to fall any moment.
“Can I help?” he asked, interrupting the red-faced worker who was about to open her mouth.
Relief washed through the young girl. Upon seeing a man, the staff promptly withdrew her intentions to lash out at the woman who brought more work.
“Tak pa, moi. Saya bersihkan,” she mumbled grudgingly. Getting down on her knees, she started to clear the cutleries from the floor. The girl was about to get down on her knees to help when he pulled her away.
“Let the lady do her job. Why not get yourself cleaned?”
She nodded, grateful. Her expression brightened again. “I think I will manage. Please go back to your lunch. I don’t want to trouble you anymore.”
The young man hesitated and then nodded. She’d probably take time to clean up. After watching her walk awkwardly towards the restroom, he headed back to his table.
He froze in his step. Someone was clearing the table.
Where is the girl?
“Dik, belum habis!” he told the girl, who was now wiping the table with a piece of ragged cloth. A family of four waited impatiently by the side.
“Oh, tak tau la saya, bang. Ah kak tu dah pergi. Ingatkan dah habis!” the staff replied defensively.
The executive sighed, silently cursing the girl for leaving the table. He wondered if he should buy another bowl or forget about lunch. His heart nearly stopped beating when he realised something else. Squatting down, his eyes scanned the empty space under the table and chairs.
His laptop and his briefcase were gone. Bewildered, he stood up again, eyes searching the food court. The girl was nowhere to be seen. He stood rooted, unable to comprehend what had happened. The family of four pushed their way and sat down on the freshly cleaned table, ignoring him.
It was only after a few minutes of further thinking that he realised what had happened. A scam to trick him. The two girls had cleverly took off with his laptop and briefcase without anyone’s suspicions.
Every time papa had the flu, he will become agitated. His eyes would turn red and watery – just like all the uncles at the joint. She once asked papa the meaning of ‘joint’ and he told her that it was a place where the doctor would give him a shot to cure his flu. I want to become a doctor when I grow up, she said, eyes wide. And give papa his shots so he won’t have the flu. Her papa just smiled weakly and ruffled her hair. The uncles laughed. She didn’t think it was funny and was angry at the uncles. All she wanted to do was to help cure papa.
… not a box of chocolates, but an aimless drive in the countryside – you won’t know where you’ll end up. You start with good intentions, the route (plot) forming perfectly in your mind, and the anticipation at reaching the destination. Then comes the traffic jam (the writers’ block) and you start to wonder why you had begun in the first place and whether it was worth your time sitting in the car (in front of your PC). And when the nerves begin to creep into you and then the panic – you start to think whether the end will really come.
I stared at the screen – words, letters and numerals filling up every pixel of the slight rectangular space. I moved my mouse, wondering on which link I should hover it over, where to click. The myriad of information in front of me was overwhelming. More than overwhelming, actually. In addition to websites after websites of readings, I need to also download pages and pages of articles. And yes, how can I forget the study materials? Critical analysis is the buzzword. How could I even attempt the questions when I don’t understand what are being asked in the first place?
He stared at the miniature cars beneath and swallowed. His throat was dry, his mind spun like a merry-go-round. He could not think straight. The repetitive voices kept coming back; no matter how hard he tried to push them away. How his own thoughts fought relentlessly to keep them away. It was no use. It was a fact. He was useless. He tried not to ponder. There was no use turning back. Well, at least there was something he’s brave enough to do. He’d been a chicken his whole life. This time he’s not. Closing his eyes, he let himself go.
… to do something for a trusted friend. Yes, I really would. I believe that friends – true and sincere ones – are forever and there is nothing more precious than friendship. I might sound like a broken record; or you’d probably roll your eyes in disbelief. But, other than your family members, those around you – those who make you laugh and even angry, sometimes, are the ones who keep you sane. Friends are those who will motivate you but will also smack the back of your head when you do something stupid. So, would you walk a mile for a friend?