Friday, December 30, 2011

DIN AND THE DURIAN

(Dedicated to the memory of my father who was a fine cop all his life.)


It was the peak of the fruit season and Din decided it was the right time to buy his pregnant wife a durian. She had been craving for it but Din had told her to wait until the price of the king of fruit had gone down. At twenty-five ringgit a kilo, it was almost like eating gold he had told her, and way beyond the means of a ‘car-wash’ employee.
“It isn’t like we could make soup with the durian skin,” he was fond of saying.
“But it’s not really for me,” she had said. “It’s for the baby. You don’t want your baby to drool saliva until he’s a ten-year-old, do you?”
No, he definitely didn’t want a drooling ten-year-old boy. But even without that distressing possibility hanging over his head he was willing to spend some money to get the fruit for his wife. After all, one didn’t eat durians every day. But he waited until paying for a durian didn’t mean they had to forgo a week’s worth of groceries.
Having bought the durian and holding it gingerly by its sturdy stalk, Din started for the bus-stop. He was already anticipating the surprise and delight on his wife’s face when he spotted a familiar figure. The cop was a block of shops away but Din recognized him immediately because of the peculiar swagger, the stance and the potbelly leading the way. To Din and his circle of friends he was Cheep because their tongues couldn’t form the word ‘Chief’. An apt name, actually, for a cheapo who was notorious for being obnoxious and stingy.
Most of Din’s friends had had unforgettable encounters with him. Din remembered well his last skirmish with Cheep.

The cop had driven his Proton Saga and screeched to a halt at the Bulibah Car Wash kiosk that late afternoon. Din’s heart sank as it was almost closing time and the car had resembled a giant banana dipped in batter, ready for frying. It would take a long time to clean this car, Din had thought but he would be able to earn a few extra ringgit.
Wash and polish,” Cheep said before he sauntered to the nearby coffee shop to join his cronies. “Vacuum it well.”
It had taken a long time to wash, polish and vacuum the car. After two hours the Proton Saga would have been as good as new if there had been fewer lines crisscrossed on the shiny, red surface.
All the other workers had gone home leaving just Din and his boss when Cheep swaggered over to collect his car. There was a cunning look in his eyes and a half smile played about his lips. He flecked at the stray crumbs on the shirt that stretched tightly above his unbuckled leather belt. No doubt the makcik at Ban Hing would tell them later that Cheep had polished off another FOC plate of fried noodles and washed them down with a tall glass of iced Nescafe.
“How much?”
“The usual,” Din replied. “Fifty ringgit.”
Cheep didn’t asked for a discount but proceeded to open the driver’s door, apparently to check the space under the seat. At least he didn’t ask for a discount, thought Din. But that didn’t stop his heart from beating a little faster. Cops always made him nervous. You could never guess what they’d do next.
Din waited for Cheep to assess the quality of his work, the cleanliness of the carpet, the dust-free dashboard. He seemed satisfied. Then he reached for the glove compartment and pulled it open. He began rummaging for something.
“I left my handphone here,” the cop said. “It’s missing.” The eyes that bore into Din’s did not blink. Din returned the stare.
“I only vacuumed the floor, Boss. Didn’t open the glove compartment,” Din said.
“You calling me, a policeman, a liar?” The cop spoke slowly and deliberately.
“You must have misplaced it. I didn’t see it in the car.”
“You want to be hauled to the Balai for stealing? The phone had cost me one thousand ringgit. Second-hand value could easily be eight hundred. More than your monthly pay.” Din kept quiet. No point getting dragged into an argument in which he wouldn’t even be heard, let alone stand a chance to win.
“Now, how much did you say I owe you?”
Before Din could say anything his boss interrupted.
“That’s all right, Tuan. It’s fifty ringgit but I’ll deduct that from his pay. Aiyaa, I don’t want any trouble in here and it’s long past closing time,” Ah Pui said.
“But my phone… new and branded… I..”
“Tuan, my worker has been with me for eight years. I can vouch for him. He’s no thief. Just because you think he’s an alien, which he isn’t, by the way, doesn’t make him a cunning, lying thief. His pay is little because that’s all I can afford to give him. You know, life is hard. Most people pay us for our services. Others come for free car wash. Daylight robbery if you asked me. But you lose some. You win some.”
Din hadn’t expected Ah Pui to come to his rescue and, obviously, neither did Cheep.
In the dead silence after Ah Pui’s little speech and before Cheep opened his mouth, a phone rang.
Ah, it had been sweet revenge. Whether Cheep had turned it to ‘silent mode’, before chucking the phone to snuggle with his family jewels, was not important. Din remembered how Ah Pui had shook his head as Cheep hopped swiftly into his car, without a hint of his characteristic swagger, started the engine and zoomed into the dark night.

Now the same Cheep was approaching Din as he crossed the road to the idling bus where his mates were waving at the window and shouting: “Laju Din! Laju Din! Adidi, habis lah durian kau kena ambi oleh si Cheep!”

(This is a work of fiction and if any of the characters resemble real people it’s a complete coincidence… so jangan perasan!)

Wishing all my readers a great new year 2012!

4 comments:

  1. Hi Tina,

    Love your writing! You're a talented and meticulous writer! Keep the short stories coming!

    Side notes: I don't mean to sound patronizing, but I would like to point out a tiny first draft slip in the first paragraph.
    It's either "she had been craving(no 'for' here) Durian or had been having a craving for Durian."

    I look forward to more of your stories!!

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  2. Hi Lester!
    Thanks for visiting. I'm glad you liked the short stories. I often think no one really cares for them. But I write anyway because I really enjoy playing with words. Thanks for taking the trouble to point out the... shall I say blooper? Not everyone will care to bring that to one's attention so I appreciate your doing it!
    I'm busy with another project. Hence the irregular appearance here. But I hope to be able to write more here very soon so I won't be deserted by all my readers!

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  3. A wonderful read! You're a great inspiration.

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