In The Hollows Of His Elbows – 1

1 – Taman Seputeh

The Kuala Lumpur traffic stirred like mudslide runoff churning down an estuary, the humidity above it thick, sluggish and rotten sweet; rancid condensed milk leaking from a can. Torpid air, whisked by a futile stand-fan, mulled soporifically, clogging the car-park of Taman Seputeh Towers. A fusion of ripe fecundity and merciless sun had turned the concrete scrap into a desert of baked car fumes, blown with junk.
Picking daging from between his teeth with an elastic band, Jauhari Bahktiar bin Johan shifted his weight on the plastic chair to take the pressure off his haemorrhoids. Sweat ran down the bridge of his nose and dripped on to the name badge pinned to his security officer’s uniform.
The sun was far above the ground, slung high in the bleached sky, and midday traffic was chuntering past on the highway, a glut of mid afternoon chancers trying to catch the narrow lull between the lunch and evening rush hours. All around, concrete flyovers carried the workers of KL to and from their offices and mamaks, and the plaintive call of the muezzin going unheeded, like a snooze button automatically repeating, alerting no-one and signalling only the passage of time.
Jauhari checked his internal clock, and then allowed himself his carefully rationed glance at the plastic watch he’d bought two mornings before at the pasar karat. Six more hours to go. In another fifteen minutes, he’d permit himself to leave the guardhouse and patrol around the building, looking for the phantom interlopers that he had been advised to search for during his brief orientation, twelve months before. Usually, his route took him along the periphery of the condominium, past the dank rows of sparse vegetation, and then back through the lowest levels of the towers, counting off the array of nine, neat black TV dishes bolted above the carpark entrance. Systematically, he would check the storeroom, the tandas, and the two elevators. The circuit took about seven minutes, if he loitered at the farthest corner, from where you could see out over the highway to the monstrous bulk of Midvalley Megamall beyond, then back to the other extreme, where the deserted playground lay like the skeletal ruins of some ancient civilization that enjoyed bold colours. Occasionally he spotted a tree shrew, or the dessicated remains of an unlucky frog.
Azali Gemok was strolling back across the concrete towards him, the bulge of his gut straining under the blue security shirt, carrying a teh tarik tapau in one brown paw. As he approached, Jauhari finished cleaning his teeth, and fired the rubber band at the approaching bulk. Unamused, Azali lumbered forth.
“Too playful you ah,” he murmured.
Jauhari cackled, a noise like dry twigs snapping, and went instinctively to his pocket, finding it empty. With some disappointment, he remembered he had quit. Systematically, he inhaled, feeling his battered lungs creaking like fault air-con as they tried to fill with air, wheezing in the back of his throat as he relaxed and exhaled. He imagined the veins and air sacs black and suffocated with tar, his bronchial tubes scarred and damaged, and the urge to smoke subsided.
As if to rub it in, Azali took a saat from his red packet and popped it debonairly between his rubbery lips, sparking and sucking like a Malay film villain, swollen jackfruit cheeks momentarily gaunt and hollow as he drew deep. The reek of gunpowder and tobacco stung Jauhari’s nostrils with bitter nostalgia, and he found himself whisking the smoke away like a pesky mosquito.
Azali smiled, pig-eyes sparkling under rolls of fat.
“Aiyoh, you forget so quickly Jauhari. How long you stop smoke now?”
“Two days.” Jauhari found himself wanting to slap Azali’s cigarette back inside his mulut and hold his overworked jaw shut whilst in burned in his mouth. Instead he folded his legs and arms protectively over himself and leaned back, hiding a wince as his haemorrhoid caught the plastic seat.
“Good for you, brader. Looks better not to smoke on duty.” Azali smiled, smoke drifting from his nostrils. He didn’t seem bothered about being caught smoking, but then his uncle ran the security firm that employed them to sit twelve hours a day on the car-park door, checking the sparse traffic of tenants that drove in and out to the highway from the muddy yellow block of flats.
Jauhari looked up at the high sweep of the twelve storey building, painted yellow and gold, small black windows and air con vents dotting its side. Inwardly, he counted the money he was earning sitting here hour by hour. Another three days and he would have enough to pay this month’s rent. Another week and a half and he could cover all the bills. After that, maybe even enough to repair his debilitated Wira.
Lowering himself tentatively on to a creaking plastic chair, Azali flicked open the Malay Mail and flicked ash over it. The headline read in bold type: ‘Your Child Porn Star’.
“Terrible what’s happening to kids these days, ah? Internet and ‘sexting’ and corruption. All these kids from bad families, drifting away from Islam, getting into all these trouble. All these Western influences. Hollywood films and liberal attitudes. I worry about my kids getting involved with a bad crowd. The Indonesians bring it all over with them.”
“I’d be more worried about your kids eating themselves to death.”
“Uh?”
“Nothing. Ya, kids these days, uh?”
Before he could stop himself, Jauhari looked at his watch, revealing a mere four minutes had eased by.
Remembering something, Azali took his phone out of his pocket, and excitedly thumbed through it. “Here, tengok sini.”
He passed the phone to Jauhari, some grainy images playing on it and the brash, tinny sound of a 3gp recording playing out.
The images were of a stairwell, a girl of about thirteen squatting and covering her head as three older girls, all Malay, gabbled shrilly and gathered around her. They were taunting her with incoherent squawks. Occasionally they would erupt into patterns, beating and kicking her – in the head, the face, the stomach. The ineffectual blows of children on children – vicious but harmless. The humiliation was greater than the physical pain. They tugged on the girl’s clothes, and as they pulled off her tee-shirt she struggled to cover her dignity, holding with mute futility on to her undershirt over her childish breasts as they tried to strip her down.
Jauhari brushed some of Azali’s ash off his leg and handed the phone back still playing. Azali eyed it right to the end, the garbled shrieks mounting to hysterics of static.
“Terrible, ah? Girls these days. Out of control.”
More sweat was running down his back, pinning him to the chair back. The fan lethargically stuttered around and he caught a swift breeze from what could escape around Azali’s bulk.
One good shove and surely that chair would buckle, thought Jauhari, spying out the exact spot to push to plunge Azali Gemok on to the hot concrete. Instead, he started playing the old game, the pastime he and the big guard had developed:
“I worry more about having a murderer as a PM. What kind of example is that?”
“Suspected murderer. Najib hasn’t been implicated or charged. Anyway, what would you rather have, a murderer or a homosexual?”
Inwardly, Jauhari fought an urge to flip Azali on to his back and pin him to the hot concrete with his foot on his head. Azali was baiting him. He knew that Jauhari pretended to support Anwar Ibrahim – the opposition leader – and they had argued on numerous times about Najib’s seedy background and connections with the murder of the Mongolian national Altantuya. It passed the hours, a merry, repetitive, pointless cycle.
“Tahu takpa.” Jauhari closed the conversation, closing his eyes, refusing to be sucked in, ignoring Azali’s slurping and smoking. It was just another way of passing the time. Instead, he again counted the money, counted the hours, adding up payments and debts, and trying not to convert everything into how much heroin he could buy in Chow Kit.
Looking again, nine minutes till he could go for a stroll.
As the old urge flared inside of him, he ran his fingers consciously over the pin-prick scars in the hollows of his elbows. It was coming up on two years since his last fix. Nearly thirty-three now. A year out of the pusat serenti, means it must be a year sat in this car-park, sweating and waiting for nothing with Azali Gemok.
A year sat in front of the MidValley Megamall: filled with shops and products he could never afford to buy, food he would have to work five hours to enjoy, people wandering around on aimless, empty pilgrimages. When his car was too awkward to start, he sometimes walked through on his way to KL Sentral to get the monorail back to Titiwangsa, enjoying the artificial cool and the vacant expressions of the hordes of shoppers who mutely stumbled around, staring in windows, wondering what to buy. He again pondered the familiar thought of how much forest must have stood there before, how many monkeys living in the tall old trees. Where were they now?
All over KL, hollowed out tombs of concrete stood awaiting tenants that never came and leases that were never spent, and the monkeys that used to live there were driven to await starvation on the roadsides, fed scraps by blandly curious passersby. He thought of his ibu, in a tudung, chasing away cheeky monkeys from the house, and felt again a sorrow at how much time had passed since he had seen her. She’d called once when he had gotten his job, texted occasionally. It must be hard for her.
Azali was undoing the string of his teh tarik, hanging the plastic sack filled with milky brown tea between his legs like a distended scrotum, poking a straw in the top.
Selfish bastard.
“You might have fetched me one.” Jauhari said. His mobile whirred against his thigh. Taking it out, he was surprised to read his home number – his family home number, not his house – flashing on the screen. His parents were calling him at work. He broke into an unconscious, surprised smile of genuine delight. Here was something to speed the time by. He wondered what they wanted, hoping they both wished to chat to him, maybe even pass him on to his sisters. Azali was good enough not to be a stickler when it came to phone calls at work, and the boss wouldn’t be around during the heat of the day. Excitedly, he answered.
“Hello? Apa khabar?”
The tone of his mother’s voice immediately dashed his optimism. He’d heard the strained tones of her speech, the tearful, half-controlled, half-despairing gulps, a dozen times from inside a prison cell, but this time he couldn’t be the cause of it, he was sure. He’d been good hadn’t he? He had a job, he was clean, he wasn’t even smoking. So, it must be dad, or someone else, or something terrible had happened. In the seconds it took for his mother to compose a sentence, false starting several times, he had run a dozen grim scenarios through his mind, and she’d had to repeat herself to get through to him what was upsetting her so much.
“Jauhari, can you come? Something terrible has happened. It’s Ily. Ily is dead, little Ily is dead … can you come? Balik Jauhari, balik sekarang …”

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~ by mightyjahj on May 3, 2009.

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