Are you there Jane? It’s me, Anjeli

(Day 9 – A favourite story of your best friend)

It was our freshman year in UPLB. The rain was falling lightly, but because the dorm cafeteria was overflowing with people, my best friend Marian and I decided to eat our dinner in one of the covered areas near what was known as the pink hall then. We lingered on even after we finished our food. I had lots of stories to share and was eager to babble the night away. She’d be all ears — and that was one thing that I found remarkable about her.

I consider Jane Marian to be my best friend. She’ll protest at this point because there were instances when we kinda lost track of one another’s lives. But we’re communicating again, though she’s miles, miles, miles away. I’m glad the communication’s back. You can trace our friendship back to elementary, you see. I like her because she keeps my secrets. I also like her because she listens. And even if we won’t talk for months, it’ll be as if nothing has changed when we somehow get together to catch up. Plus, she has the best reactions when I rant about things related to love love love. She’s full of a quirky kind of wisdom and I give her credit for that.

I mentioned how I like Marian because of her powers to sit still long enough and be attentive whenever I turn into a babble machine. When I get stressed, I either clam up or spill over. When I’m with Marian, I mostly spill over. Don’t get me wrong. I let her talk too. One of the turning points in our friendship was during the 10-day fieldwork before high school, when she told me stories of how Tamahome met Miaka. Haha.

Anyway. It was my turn to tell stories that night. I’m not sure what got the conversation rolling. I think we were talking about Christianity and spirituality when I suddenly began my discourse about Judy Blume’s “Are You there God? It’s me, Margaret.” 

The main reason I brought the story up was because of the protagonist’s conflicting emotions about religion and spirituality. Margaret’s mother was a Christian, her father was a Jew. And then one day, Margaret suddenly found herself stammering on the other side of a Catholic confessional. It was somehow related to our season then, thus it was therapeutic to talk about it. The book tackled other things too. Which is why our discussion lengthened, causing us to relocate to the staircase at the dormitory’s Unit 3 where we continued. And then we talked about Pearl Buck’s “The Good Earth” and Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life”. Okay, I talked. And the books weren’t even connected to one another. I guess, in a way, I just wanted to mule over with her the things that I loved – books, stories, imagined and real places. 

I think Marian was my guinea pig – because of her ability to listen, I now feel comfortable enough to get into “book discussion modes” with other people as well. Ask my friends who’ve heard versions of “Hinds’ Feet on High Places” from me. Or whom I have bombarded with thoughts and insights concerning “Peter Pan” and “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. Or whom I have been pestering about the social and spiritual implications of “The Hunger Games” and “The Chronicles of Narnia.” 

I guess we’re good friends if you can let me talk literature over with you.

And if I babble too much – well, we have Jane Marian to blame. ; )

Huy Marian, Miss na kita!

A Stranger

(Day 8 – A place you’ve travelled to and where else you want to travel)

I met a stranger yesterday*. A fragment of my past. A glimpse of a probable future.

She was wearing a flowered sleeveless dress which fell stylishly just past her knees. Her shoulder length hair was set in a perm and her almond-shaped eyes and porcelain skin showed that she was of Chinese descent.

A lady sporting shorts and a casual boycut introduced me to her. I don’t know, however, if the brief exchange that we had was even a proper introduction.

“Hello,” The sporty lady greeted me. We were at the Putrajaya KLIA Transit station and I was on my way home from work.  She spoke to me in Malay, thinking that I was a local.  “Awak pergi Bandar Tasik Selatan?” It was a good thing that I understood what she said. Was I going to Bandar Tasik Selatan?

I nodded as I fed my ticket into the machine at the station’s entrance. The gate opened and I hurried in.

“Dia nak pergi Bandar Tasik Selatan,” she said, motioning to the girly stranger. “Tapi, dia dari Sydney so dia tak tahu macamana.” She said some other words in Bahasa Melayu which I couldn’t understand. But I was getting a distinct feeling that she wanted me to escort the woman, if not show her the way. “So can you please tell her where to get down later, when you reach the station?” She finally asked.

I didn’t think that I really had that much of a choice. “Okay, okay,” I replied.

“Thank you ah,” the lady in shorts said as she fed her companion’s ticket into the machine and waved goodbye.

“Which platform do I take?” My new travelling companion asked once she walked through the gate. She looked a little lost.

“This one,” I said, pointing to the one we were already making our way towards. I was thankful that she spoke to me in English. That meant it was okay for me to speak to her in English too.

We made our way down the escalator and to the platform where the usual commuters were already waiting. “We still have six minutes,” I told her. She nodded.

“Thank you, ah. So, is Bandar Tasik Selatan the next station or…?”

“Yeah, it’s the next station. After that is KL Sentral. Bandar Tasik is around ten to fifteen minutes away,” I informed her. “I’m Mari, by the way. Where are you from?”

I neglected to ask her for her name, and she neglected to give me that information as well. But she replied to my question promptly. “Actually, I’m from Sydney. But I actually just came there 25 years ago. I’m from Ipoh, originally. But now so many things have changed here. I don’t know where to go and how to get there.”

My eyes widened at the revelation of two significant details. Number one, she was from Sydney, Australia (her friend did mention that earlier, but that important fact became lost in the jumble of Malay words that I didn’t understand) and number two, she had stayed there longer than I had even stayed on planet earth.

“Oh really?” I said, trying to hide my surprise. “I’ve actually been to Sydney. Do you know Armidale? I lived there for a couple of years.”

That got the conversation rolling. In the span of six minutes, we were able to talk about Aussie weather, schooling there, outback schools, the rise of mamak stalls in the city, and the rise of the cost of living as well.

It was funny because I had been thinking about Australia for the past days. And there I was, conversing about the Land Down Under with a stranger whose name I still didn’t know.

“Do you ever think of going back there for a visit?” She asked me at some point in the conversation.

“I do. I’m not sure about the visa though. I was a kid when my parents processed them and everything.”

“Oh, it’s very easy,” she said. “You can just do some applications online.”

That made me think. Occasionally, I did imagine myself walking up O’dell Street again. I’ve had thoughts of the bike track, of the Armidale Town Centre, of the town library, of UNE and of Point Lookout. It would be nice to go back to those childhood memories again, one day.

Our train arrived and interrupted my reverie. “Train’s here,” I chirped. We made our way in and found a seat. I told her she could sleep since she mentioned that she still had jetlag.

She closed her eyes and I, tired from a long week, tried to doze off. I peeked at her through half-opened eyelids. In her, I saw a traveller and a settler. How she managed to stay put in a foreign land for such a long time was beyond me. I guess it helped that she had her husband and kids with her. Plus she was able to go back to Malaysia from time to time.

As for me, it has been barely three years since I have been in this foreign land. I’m betting that I’ll be staying here longer, but how long exactly, I know not. Will I be a settler like her as well?

Of course, I’d still like to go out and about, hop from one country to another. I want to travel to Vietnam. I want to travel to Europe – to France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and England. I want to go to India, to Africa, and all the other nations that I type out every Friday. And yes, perhaps I want to go back to Australia, back to the US, back to Hong Kong, Cambodia, and Singapore. Travelling runs in my blood.

The train slowed down and Bandar Tasik Selatan came into view. I opened my eyes and smiled at her. “We’re here. After this, I’ll escort you to the taxi stand. It’s also on my way, so it’s okay.”

We joined the sea of commuters and weaved our way through them. We continued to make small talk, this time about Malaysian public transportation.

When we arrived at the taxi stand, she said, “Good thing I have you, or I would have been lost.”

I laughed.

She patted me on the shoulder. “Alright, goodbye ah. Thanks again!”

As she walked towards the line of taxis, I just shook my head and smiled.

I had an encounter with a stranger – a fragment of my past, a glimpse of my probable future.

The Stranger.

*Yesterday being a Friday, since I wrote this down on a Saturday.