22 April 2013

Eight Ringgit

Stories come and go over the week: when I can pin them down, they’re never the best ones. I had a post about my two staff photos called Recovery on deck. The photos, one from January and the next from last week, are clear evidence that things are looking up. At the very least, I've lost some weight. That story, however, slipped away before I could make something of it.

Stephen PihlajaStephen Pihlaja, Nottingham Staff Photo, cropped

The end of our fourth month is coming up soon, but like every end of the month, we are under the strict confinement of the budget. Waiting to get paid is not something I thought I would be doing here, not after finishing my PhD. It will get better, I keep telling myself and Yoko, as we put off buying what we need to buy for another three days: the refrigerator pathetically empty.

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One of the things you don’t notice in the developed world is the efficiency and raw force that occurs when you flush the toilet. It’s a thing of wonder, really. Only in rare, extenuating circumstances will the toilet become clogged.

In our quaint terrace house in Taman Sri Minang, surrounded by the local Malaysia, the toilet is plastic and does not flush with force, but with resignation, like it’s given up. This is Malaysia: it works nominally well most of the time, provided you don't ask too much of it.

That is to say: on Saturday night, the toilet clogged. I stood there, staring down, thinking, Shit and not taking the time to admire the irony of the situation. I told Yoko that the toilet was clogged, and Naomi kept saying, I want to see, I want to see! I got angry with her, shouted: No, of course not what's wrong with you.

The story ends happily, if a toilet flushing solid waste normally is a happy ending. In Malaysia, it is. I was content for about ten minutes— an abnormal sense of peace coming over me as clean water filled the bowl. But the peace only lasted until I had cleaned up.

I have RM8 in my wallet and am determined to make this last until Thursday, a kind of self-imposed minimalism — if everyone in the family has to suffer from this misadventure, I should do the most: this is, after all, my idea. Get up, ride the bus, work, work out, teach, go home, eat, sleep, do it again until Thursday when I will buy some fruit with whatever is left of the RM8. It's stupid, it doesn't make any sense except to me. We have savings, money coming in the next couple of months. But today is 22 April, and the future is the future.

I'm obsessed with these eight Ringgit and what I can make them represent. Five years it's been like this, I’m reminded again, sitting at the dining room table, another stalled conversation in the dull, oppressive heat. Five years, six, seven years is a long time. Maybe money does buy happiness and love: I'm not sure I will ever find out.

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