Writer: Rumaizah Abu Bakar
Published: Fri, 30 Dec 2011
MY guard duty ends at 5.30am on Jan 1. I get out of my army uniform and into my jeans and t-shirt as fast as I can. I grab my wallet and mobile phone and rush out. My stomach growls as I think about my mother’s lontong waiting for me at home.
As I pass by the row of flats, I spot empty cans and confetti on the street, remains from the night’s celebration. These are the last things I want to see.
Then, I feel someone grabbing my left arm. It is a girl in a spaghetti-strap top, unzipped sweater and white shorts. She reminds me of the pretty Chinese teenage masseuse who offered me “special services” with her hour-long massage recently – friends’ treat for my 21st birthday.
I look at the girl, who has tears streaming down her face. Her grip tightens and I have to pull hard to release my hand.
“Can you help me?” she speaks in between sobs. “Can you call the police?”
My heartbeat quickens. I notice the bruises on her arms.
She pulls my arm again. “Can you help me? Can you call the police?”
“What has happened?”
She points towards the bus stop and says, “That man took my mobile phone.”
I turn to look at where she is pointing and see the back of a head behind a pillar. I calmly walk towards the figure as she tiptoes behind me.
A year ago, I would not have dared such a confrontation, but seven months of national service have done wonders. The tough physical training has turned out to be useful. My muscles have developed and I have increased my speed. My confidence has grown, too.
Sometimes, though, I wish it does not take up so much time. That double-shift guard duty on New Year’s Eve was the worst torture.
I do not even have time for girls now. It has been a year since I broke up with Alice, the girlfriend of my polytechnic years. The last I heard, she has already found someone else. It is time that I move on, too.
I stop when I see a young man in a white t-shirt and Bermudas leaning against the pillar. He seems startled to see me.
“That’s him! He took my phone!” the girl screams.
He taps his neck with index finger. “She ripped my chain. She has taken my locket!”
I look down at his feet. There is no sign of a broken chain. “Give the handphone back to her!” My voice sounds forceful enough to me.
“Not until she returns my locket.”
“I didn’t take his locket! He is lying!”
I try again. “Hey man, give the phone back to her!”
“Can you call the police? Please call the police.” The girl sobs and tugs my arm.
I look at her and then back at him. I stare into his eyes and say, “I am the police!”
He jerks his head up, I notice a slight shiver.
“Now, give her phone back. Or…”
He takes out a slim phone with a silver casing and reluctantly hands it to me. I reach for it and give it to her. “Where do you live?” I ask her.
“My flat is just a few blocks away.” She slips the phone into the pocket of her sweater.
“Let me walk you back.”
She nods and wipes her tears with the back of her hand.
The man does not move. He seems stunned.
A few minutes later, we arrive at her flat and she unlocks the door. She steps in and turns around to face me.
“Happy New Year,” I say.
“Happy New Year,” she replies.
“I’m Muhamad. What’s your name?”
“Alice.” She smiles at me before shutting the door.
“Alice,” I repeat. I note the unit number on the wall. 33. I smile, imagining a date with her on my next day off. Maybe this will be the beginning of a great year.
When I reach the bus stop, the man is still there, leaning against the pillar. A defeated look on his face, his sadness hangs in the air. He stares ahead emptily. It is as if he does not see me. I feel sorry for him.
The bus arrives. I call out to the guy, “Hey, man!”
Noticing me then, he slowly turns.
“Are you not getting on this bus?”
He shakes his head. The emptiness in his eyes lingers.
“There’s no better time to start over, man. It’s the new year!” I salute him before climbing up the stairs. I doubt he heard me.