31 December 2013

The ending

The last week in Taman Sri Minang passed without any of the madness I had anticipated. Yoko's father was here, and we worked each day, bit by bit, to reduce the house to the pile of things that would go on the ship and then the pile that would go on the plane. Before, in the moves I have made in the past, the process of moving has been overwhelming, but this time, it felt less so, like everything would happen. A process of hundreds of steps is still just one step at a time. The tax, then the car, then the pension office, then selling one thing and another and another, until Monday afternoon, at 5:30, there was nothing left, the terrace house as empty as we found it.

There was another, final night at the club that my father in law told Yoko about the next day. We had thrown darts and he demonstrated his skill to Yoko, miming his relaxed stance and the ease with which he threw, contrasting it with my stiff, deliberate form. I was overthrowing, he said, I needed to be more nimble. I of course, only thought of the metaphor. 

Every morning I woke to see him sitting outside, smoking his pipe, and looking up into the trees of the park, a kind of kindred spirit. Everything was easier it seemed, separating things to throw away and then drinking beer and whiskey into the night, talking politics and religion and life in the world. The next morning would come and we could go again, packing, smoking, eating, and then drinking on the patio, until Sunday morning we both sat in Starbucks at the low cost carrier terminal of the airport, quiet and lingering, like something good was about to end.

By contrast, the last days at the University were sterile and empty: everyone gone and all the pictures taken down from my office. I talked to people I had polite professional relationships with, but otherwise it was just me and the void. The worst part of the job, only the relationship with the institution left. I wanted some feeling of finality, of closure, but in the end, I passed off my key and my I heart Nottingham mug and left in the car. I can't remember the last bus trip I had back to Kajang, even. It must have been sometime earlier in the month. I don't remember anything about leaving now. I just drove away.

The neighbours in the taman were so kind in the end, having parties for us and taking picture after picture of the girls. They, of course, are the ones that will be missed, the girls and Yoko, not me. I was the sweaty, frustrated looking white man, never happy, always hunched over my laptop. When we finally left the house, Yoko and I and the girls got in the car and were surrounded by all the aunties and uncles and children of the taman: Indian, Chinese, and Malay. We drove away in a way that we haven't in the past, filled with energy. It was a Walt Whitman moment, a moment of rejoicing. Still, Naomi said it was sad to go, sad to leave people behind. Naomi thought about it and said, It would be like if you died, mom, and we hadn't had a chance to say goodbye. That would be sad. Yes, Yoko agreed, that would be sad.

And the little things in between: a couple of PhD students coming by one night: we drank beer and Venga gave me a statue of Genesh. Christmas night I drank at Indian uncle's with his brother in law and colleague, late into the night, talking about Malaysia and all it's come to mean for me. We went downtown one day. The girls ran around and around and around, laughing and playing. Jiji, Jiji, shouting for their grandpa.

Still, the feeling of failure hangs on, the feeling that I have left something incomplete, that I have let people down. Sean came the last day as well with his brother to take our washing machine, and I tried and failed to say that I was sorry for leaving, because sorry is the wrong word, the wrong feeling. What can you say. We'll see you soon, we'll see you again in England. 

Emptying the house, I took carloads of bags to the hotel, a windowless room with two twin beds in Kajang. When we had adjusted everything and I looked at the pile, I was not sure we would be able to get it all on the plane. Yoko did careful calculations again and again. At 5:40 on Tuesday morning, the taxi called, thirty minutes early, and I came down expecting to find a big van. Instead it was a simple MVP, not nearly enough space, I thought. The old Chinese driver insisted that it would be and packed it tightly, perfectly. Mei sat on my lap in the front of the car, and the driver seemed to being falling asleep the whole trip, swerving to almost hit cars again and again. I thought momentarily that when I left the car the night before with the new owner, when I had thought, Well, at least I am not going to die in a traffic accident in Malaysia, that perhaps I had been presumptuous.

Instead, there was no problem. Chinese taxi driver scratched and coughed his way, racing up the exit to the airport. We unloaded it all on three carts and I pushed them to the Malaysia airlines counter. 149.7 kilograms, perfect, just under the limit. One more bag, can? I said, and he said, Can lah, okay, light one. We walked away and that was that. I took more money out of the ATM, another RM1500. Nothing is left in the country.

On the plane, I went to the toilet, looked in the mirror and was shocked again at how fat I have gotten. I'm sorry, this wasn't the plan. I pulled on the Uniqlo fleece jumper that I bought in Alamanda, and remember thinking when I tried it on, when would I ever feel cold again. Here, it's here now. Mei looks out the window of the plane and declares that she sees snow.

It was all a dream. We wake up now in the snow. Drive north in the dark from Heathrow Terminal 4 to the North, with the determiner on it. The past is just the past.