22 December 2013

Buying and selling

A group of Aunties, led by our Chinese Auntie from three doors down, came through the house, chattering in Mandarin and claiming almost everything that we had to sell. I had diligently priced everything, considering how much we had paid for it and what I thought would be fair, but the Chinese Aunties wanted everything for less than we asked. The starting price didn't matter: they just wanted thirty percent off that. Yoko negotiated while I sat at the table, disinterested in the whole event, playing with the iPad and making final decisions. Sure, why not: we'll take any price. They chattered more, asking again and again about things that had already been sold: to whom and for how much, nothing is done until it's done anyway ah.

On Friday night, three Indian Aunties came on motorbikes and no helmets: five people (including the children) on two bikes. The largest women, the Auntiest of the Aunties, was Mei's Indian Auntie from tadika. She declared happily, I make Mei Pihlaja's food pronouncing our name with a 'jah'. Mei beamed with pride and the Aunties went upstairs to look at beds and negotiate with Yoko some more. Would we take two hundred and fifty for everything? the message came down, and I said, three hundred, Yoko looking uncomfortable bringing the messages back and forth. Two eighty, and how about the refrigerator. It's already been sold, ah? I'll give you 380, ah? Okay with the beds? Yoko looked uncomfortable, went two houses down to confer with Chinese Auntie before coming back and declining the offer: the Chinese Aunties were here on Monday.

After the negotiations, we stood outside -- me, my father in law, and the Aunties and kids -- and made plans for how we would pass of the furniture, and then talked about salaries and the rental on the house. How much? 800! Very expensive. My salary 500: can't eat lah, how will I buy food? They promised to come back with the money and a lorry on the 30th: early lah, before getting on the motorbikes and riding off into the night.

The days filled with moving chores, father in law and I have been smoking and drinking out in front of the house after everyone has gone to bed. When the pack of feral dogs comes through the park, underneath the third world streetlamp light, I go and stand at the gate to watch. Father in law comes to stand next to me and says in Japanese, You know what I think when I see that? They're free -- that's how dogs should be. That's how it used to be: the dogs were free. We stand watching them in the street before going back to drink whiskey from the bottle and look up at the trees.

And then a series of goodbye parties. On Friday night, I squeezed into what used to be my fat jeans and boots and Father in law and I went to the club. The same cast of characters, the same music, revolved around like a record. Play it again: what will the old tune reveal this time. Again, achy breaky heart. Again, 12 year Scotch after mugs and mugs of lager. At some point after midnight, a group of Sikh men entered the club wearing what looked like bowling jerseys and holding a large trophy. They had just won a darts tournament, someone shouted to me, over the sound of music and cheers. Beer was poured into the trophy and passed around. I drank some too, with my arm around one of the Sikh men. Father in law asked me what they've won. I don't know, I said: darts I think.

Eight days in the terrace house in Taman Sir Minang, and then all this madness will stop. No Aunties in Birmingham, I'm reminded. Yes, no Aunties: no Sikh men with darts trophies full of beer. As the plane lifts up into the sky, a kind of silence will fall, I imagine. Everyone must be happy to be going back. I'm not sure: the problem with learning to adapt is that you adapt. And again, people are crying around you saying goodbye, relationships you didn't realise had meaning until they will be gone next week. Yoko and the girls hugging and kissing their friends. Of course, in Birmingham we will have new friends.
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