- by TC Lai 5th August 2019 (Chinese Ghost Month, lah)
At 5 a.m. John woke with a chill. It was as if he had no clothes on. Strange. It is the middle of the hot season with temps at least 26 C and above. By right, he should be sweating like a pig in his PJs because he did not install air-conditioning and his overworked fan had decided to call it a day (or night), puffing out wisps of black smoke as if to wave goodbye. So long pal, it has been a great 17 years, it seemed to say. John felt a pang of regret as he laid the fan at the void deck for some old PRC fella to come recycle. After all he had inherited the fan from his mom so it did indeed feel like losing a family member to the spiritual beyond. Plus it was the first thing he always headed to after returning from NS duty - the No.4 uniform being thick and stuffy.
John disliked his country's tropical weather and had always wondered why he was not born in a cooler place like the Cameron Highlands. Living in a cooler part of Malaysia he could at least still be able to eat his favourite fruit, the durian. Forget Sydney, forget Los Angeles. The fruit durian was his anchor point.
Wrapping his arms around himself, John wondered where the chill had come from. The curtains were still as was the windchime - a souvenir from his last girlfriend, Melody. "When it chimes, you will think of me," the well-meaning girl had said. Not likely, thought John at the time. Melody was a heavy smoker and her voice was gravelly, as if she was Rod Stewart's dad. At first he had found her voice sexy having spoken to her over the phone. But as the weeks wore on, and the cigarette butts piling up, and John's clothes getting stinkier from second-hand smoke, he had decided enough was enough. He was not about to wait for tar to build up in his lungs, nor his ears to bleed from the constant sandpapering.
When novelty ends, many reasons surface to walk away. In some cases, real physical discomfort.
John remembered that day clearly:
"Er, Mel. I think it's about time we see other people."
John: "Er, yeah."
John: "Er, huh???"
It was not what he'd expected. Too casual. Am I at fault? I am the one breaking up with her, godammit!
If Mel had broken up with him, John knew he would spend days moping about like an injured puppy and be constantly looking for answers, even if the answer was clear.
"John, I am breaking up with you because life with you is so dull." - a GF had once said. Afterwards John spent days like a data analyst going through all past dates to see if indeed that statement was true. By the time he was through all that, that particular GF would have changed her phone number and left the country. John would then have no choice but to file the matter (paperwork) into binder and store it with the rest in his trusty metal cabinet. (No crumbly Ikea shit!) He even marked the binder "DULL".
Looking now at the row of binders inside the cabinet shelf, John realised that he was actually quite colorful. Besides DULL, there was STINGY, VERBOSE (what's wrong with having a great vocab?), NERD, FASTIDIOUS, WEIRD, etc. Haha, mused John. Seven folders. Like names for the seven dwarves in the Snow White tale. Hahahahaha, John laughed heartily (or maniacally), at his own self-effacing joke. He could be quite observant of he chose to.
"Maybe the next one will be my Snow White," he mused. And he puckered up his lips in a strained effort to kiss an imaginary air princess. Oh yes, one of the folders on the shelf was also labeled "LOUSY KISSER".
Feeling chilled, John found himself in foetal position and sucking on his thumb. Odd, he thought. He also felt pain in his belly button.
Then he realised what day had dawned. It was his birthday. It had always been like this without fail since he could remember. And the next day his butt would hurt as if someone had slapped it, HARD.
"Did you do something to my butt?" he had once asked a GF who was sleeping over, thinking she had given him a special birthday "butt bite".
"Hellooo, your birthday was yesterday," she had replied, making a face. She was the one who filled his binder WEIRD.
Now realising the morning was his birthday, John decided to wake and treat himself to a special early breakfast at the neighbourhood kopitiam. But when he got out of bed, his legs felt weak. It was as if he had just learned to walk. Damn those residual ancient memories, cussed John. Through experience and putting one foot forward the other, John managed to make his way down to his block's void deck where the first thing he saw was this pale lady lying awkwardly on the sidewalk. Her hair was long and dark and a little matted. Most people would be a little concerned at that sight but all John thought was "Darn, is that my birthday present? My Snow White?"
The pale lady was indeed wearing something red and fancy. A gown, perhaps? It was a very bright red.
John felt compelled to kiss her like how it should be in a fairytale. Fuck the #MeToo movement. Besides, John was too self-absorbed for that sentiment to register. So, tilting the pale lady's lips to his, he gave her a smackeroo... tender but wholly wet.
The pale lady fluttered her eyelids awake as is wont of princesses who have slept for a very long time. She also slyly covered her mouth to check for toxi morning breath. But we all know that doesn't work.
And in a further cultured manner of that of a royal she also floated gently to her feet. She gave John a coy look before leading him away. John was delighted to play Prince Charming and he also gave lightness to his feet and floated along. Better than stumbling along with two left feet, he decided. And so, in this way "Prince Charming" and "Snow White" made their way to the nearby kopitiam to sit and chat. Their breakfast was fried beehoon, kopi-O and gem biscuit. Not a few people at the kopitiam looked pale at what they were eating and decided to slip away muttering "Cheh meh! Cheh meh!".
Back at John's block, a middle-aged lady could be seen burning paper models of the latest computer, table fan, air-conditioner, etc... and oddly also, file binders. She shrugged when the joss shop boss had asked her why models of two-ring file binders? "Don't ask. My dead brother just likes them, that's why."
That year, the Seventh Month "celebration" was filled with eyewitness accounts of a lovely couple accompanied by seven very short men. Some dismissed it as the local MP making late surreptitious block visits with his RC entourage. Others were more skeptical and said RC people didn't go around singing "Hi ho, hi ho..."
"Eh, maybe they were saying Toto-Toto leh."
"So you want to stop them and ask?"
"No, you stop them."
"No, you go stop them."
Somewhere on the island country, a savant someone (who saw numbers and calculations as colors in his mind) filed his Toto tickets away in a binder for data analysis and coloring in later. "Someday, someday...my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow will come," that person mused.
That person also hoped he'll strike it rich at love too. But that itself we all know is a gamble too. And hopefully not arriving and dressing in red. Bright red, that is.
Background: (Inspiration) Well, it was somebody's birthday and it was during Seventh Month.