Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Cab Ride

This includes a number of slangs commonly used back home and is inspired by a friend who was hobbling around on crutches :)

That Friday morning Jarod’s cell phone rang at 6.30 a.m. He had gotten to bed only at 2 after cleaning up the kitchen where his brother had been camped out, working on something called ‘autocad’. Jarod did not know much about computers, he could use one and that was enough for him. His younger brother however was doing engineering and knew computers as well as Jarod knew the backlanes of KL.

Eyes heavy from barely 5 hours of sleep, he blinked a few times as he answered the phone. “Hello?”

“Hi, I got your number from a neighbour, I hope I didn’t wake you?” The voice was hesitant and seemed to belong to girl, probably in her late teens.

“It’s all right, moi.” Jarod wriggled his toes experimentally, trying to wake his sleeping body up.

“Are you free to send me to the hospital, Mr. Tan?”  There was a note of urgency in her voice.

Jarod squinted at the alarm clock on his side table. “Where do you live?” he asked, deciding that he might have enough time to squeeze in one more person before his regular customer, Puan Faira.

“Padang Jawa. My brother…I think he may have broken his leg. How fast can you get here?”

Jarod weighed the options between the highway with the toll charges and the back roads with minimal traffic. 

He sighed a small sigh and concluded that he would have to end up paying the toll-man. This sounded like a real emergency. “Fifteen-twenty minutes, can?”

“Yes. Thank you.” She gave him her home address and hung up.

Jarod washed up hurriedly, scribbled a note for his two siblings, stuck it on the fridge with a magnet, made sure he locked the door to his modest home and jumped into the taxi, dressed in the white shirt and black pants which was the uniform of all taxi drivers like himself.

He was at the house within 25 minutes.

Waiting outside the house were an odd couple: a tall lean man in his late twenties sitting with his legs stretched out in front of him on the porch and a girl in her mid twenties, eyebrows knitted in a worried frown.

Jarod pulled up in front of them and stepped out to open the back door. The man leaned on the girl and he hobbled on his left foot to the opened car door.

“Thanks, man,” he said as he slid inside.

The girl nodded at him and got into the co-driver’s seat. “GH. Take the fastest route, please.”

Jarod nodded back and got behind the wheel and changed his gear and cut out into the road smoothly. The girl looked strangely familiar and he felt puzzled by her voice which sounded much younger than she looked.

He clicked on the indicator and looked left-wards as he tried to cut into the highway traffic that was already building up. As he did so he noticed her uptight manner, her long dark straight eyelashes and the slightly messy ponytail she had pulled her dark hair into in a hurry. She swallowed and he saw the beginnings of a dimple at the corner of her mouth.

“Man, watch it! The motorcyclist!” The injured guy almost yelled from behind.

“Sorry, boss. These motorcyclists ah, they’re a health hazard!” he responded automatically and turned forward to keep his eyes on the road again.

“Maybe you should watch the road and not her.” The man’s eyes flashed with anger in the rearview mirror and Jarod decided it wiser to keep his mouth shut.

Something in the man’s face made him look up twice. There. At the corner of his left eye was a faint scar, a single white line, much like the one on his own face. Subconsciously his left hand went to the scar on his right cheek.

Jarod glanced up again but the man’s face was turned away. “I’m sorry, are you from KL?” he asked over his shoulder.

“How does that matter to you?” The man’s voice was abrupt.

“You just don’t look like a KL-ite,” Jarod said placatingly. “Did you move here from somewhere up north?”

“You ask a lot of questions.” The man’s eyes were narrowed as he stared back at him in the rearview mirror, 
the scar visible once more in his reflection. “This is why I told you I’d drive,” he said at the girl in the front seat.

“With your broken leg?” The girl’s voice was calm.

Jarod’s heart was beating faster. “Kedah? Slim River?” he asked without thinking.

The girl turned to look at him. “Why do you say that?”

“All right, just stop the cab right here. That’s enough. I don’t know who you are but she knows Taekwondo, 
and I have a licensed revolver in this bag right here.” The guy patted a cloth bag they had brought with them.

Jarod could not help grinning. “Yes, yes and your dog’s a Doberman who can follow the scent of my cab, right or not, leng chai?” He turned to the guy in the back seat and pointed at the scar on his cheek, one hand still on the steering wheel. A moment later his eyes were on the road again, but the corners of his mouth were curled up in the beginnings of a smile.

The girl’s eyes widened and became fearful, convinced that they were in the cab of a serial murderer, or stalker or worse. To her utter astonishment she heard a guffaw of laughter from the back, which made her 
turn around to look at her brother.

“How bloody long has it been? Jerry, you ass!” Her brother was doubled over in laughter.

She stared at the taxi driver who was grinning like a madman now.

“You and I are supposed to get married,” he told her, winking.

“What?” was all she could manage. She turned back to look at her brother who had tears in his eyes from laughing so hard.

“Sal, you remember Jerry from primary school, don’t you?” her brother asked, eyes twinkling and ankle pain forgotten.

She shook her head.

“Sure you do, remember the guy I hit with the 7-Up glass bottle? He hit me back, remember? An eye for an eye?”

Sal felt her heart thump against her chest once and she felt her cheeks flush. “Jer? No way…”

The guy behind the wheel was still grinning. “Yes, I’m the one who kissed you and proposed to you la,  before your brother whacked the living daylights out of me, his best buddy.”

“Hey, my body ached for a week after that, all right? Who did the whacking of the daylights out of whom, huh?” Her brother reached forward and slapped the other guy’s shoulder playfully.

Keh-keh! He’s driving!” Sal admonished him.

“Right. I forgot you said ‘yes’ to him. You two always ganged up on me,” her brother replied and leaned back into the seat, eyes crinkled up with laughter.   


Jarod laughed. “OK, OK, you two must come over for dinner tonight. Keith would have just finished his model presentation today and Crystal’s on her school holiday. I cook very well, one.”

“Where are Aunty and Uncle?” Sal asked, without thinking,

“They passed on two years after we moved. Why do you think I’m driving a taxi?” Jarod gave her a half-smile, hoping that his voice did not sound too bitter. He always felt their loss even these many years after the fact.

“I’m sorry,” her brother said, seeing that Sal was at a loss for words. “It must be hard for you.”

“It’s OK. I earn quite well. Enough to put Keith in university and get Crystal things that she wants for school.” He shifted gear and pulled up at the entrance of the reception area of the hospital. “Go ahead, I’ll wait in the canteen till you two finish. Give me a call when you are done.”

“You sure you want to wait, Jerry?” Sal asked, helping her brother out of the back seat.

“Can. No problem, one. Don’t worry.” He gave her a reassuring smile.

The brother and sister got out of the cab and as they walked away, Jarod heard Sal say, “It’s a pity, he was a very good student, wasn’t he, Keh-keh?”

Jarod sighed and pulled out his cell phone and looked for Puan Faira’s number. He was going to have to ask her to take a different taxi to work today.

Word count: 1402 (!!!)
Maybe I should have ended it at at the point marked ‘*****’?


Chavie said...

Don't think it's too long. Loved the story! Sad but still beautiful. :)

rainfield61 said...

What a relief. I break my reading into two parts, first is a brief glance, the next for a detailed reading. Just like what we did in an exam.

What a story.

Me-shak said...

Lovely, I really enjoyed it. And I didn't feel the time going :) Looking forward for more.