Peter lay motionless, trying to sleep, and the noise of the motorbikes came up from the street. Back and forth, back and forth. They were like fences of razor wire, blocking his path to theLandofNod. The curtains were thin and the room not dark at all. The light from the neon signs was pinkish blue across the ceiling. He rolled over on the thin sponge mat, and looked at Yin Bee’s sleeping back.
‘I don’t know how the hell you do it,’ he whispered through clenched teeth.
She stirred a little, but didn’t wake.
He sighed and cursed, and lay unsleeping for what seemed like hours.
The following morning, he sat on the balcony reading his New Straits Times. United had lost their third game running. It was a derby too, and they’d taken a real hammering. There were calls for the manager’s resignation.
Yin Bee came out, bringing a tray of coffee and orange juice. Her hair was up, and wet around the fringe and neck. She was going down to the food hall to buy their breakfast.
‘I’ll have the Wan Tan if they’re crispy,’ he told her. ‘If not, just use your initiative.’
‘It’s past eleven,’ she said. ‘They may be all sold out.’
‘Like I said, use your initiative. So long as you don’t get something with those bloody Sambal fish, I’m sure it’ll be okay.’
He watched her leave, and went back to his New Straits Times. Nothing new on the exchange rate, the pound was still as weak as ever. The coffee tasted good and strong. He yawned, and his jaw made a pleasant cracking sound.
When she came back, their food was in translucent orange bags. She went to the kitchen for metal forks, and came out to the balcony.
Peter opened his polystyrene container. The crispy Wan Tan rested on top of the noodles. The noodles were dark, and rich with soy. Seven small medallions of barbequed pork loin were tucked into the corner. He declared that he was tired.
‘No sleep again?’ she asked.
‘Well, a little I suppose, but not enough,’ he told her, through a mouthful of noodles. ‘Those motorbikes are a bloody nuisance.’
‘It’s like that everywhere here.’
‘I can’t believe it’s legal. Half of them are only kids.’
‘Their parents make them go for shopping.’
‘Well, that’s ridiculous,’ he told her. ‘One of these days there’s going to be an accident. You never see them wearing helmets.’
She agreed with him, and hoped he wouldn’t say any more about it.
They finished eating in relative quiet.
He polished off her leftovers and smoked a cigarette.
They spent the afternoon in an air-conditioned shopping centre. To find a parking space took quite a time, and Peter swore at the other drivers. When Yin Bee turned the radio up, he reached over immediately and switched it off. He parked too close to another car, and when he got out, the alarm went off in the too-hot car park.
They ate in the restaurant with the smallest queue.
While Yin Bee was trying on shoes, Peter went to a moneychanger. He reluctantly passed a small amount of notes through the scooped metal gap beneath the Perspex screen. The woman at the counter was a big fat Indian. Her face had no expression as she passed him his Ringgit. Her eyes seemed to take great pleasure in the poor exchange rate.
That evening they ate in the local food court, under high ceiling fans that stirred the air without cooling it. The food was tasty and inexpensive. They drank Chinese tea in thick glass beakers half filled with ice.
‘I pray to God I get a better sleep tonight.’
‘Maybe you can get some earplugs,’ she said, picking the meat from a chicken thigh with her small thin fingers.
‘I get a headache with anything in my ear,’ he told her.
When they had finished, they headed home. Peter walked half a yard in front of Yin Bee. He turned and gave her a look as he reached the pavement opposite their apartment. They lived on a one-way street, both long and wide.
‘Come on, slowcoach,’ he told her. ‘I’m dying of heatstroke here.’
She trotted a little to catch him up.
He stepped off the pavement between two parked cars, holding his arm out behind him until he felt her little hand grasp his fingers. When he moved out into the road, a motorbike flew past and almost hit him.
‘Fucking cunt!’ he shouted. ‘Can’t you read the signs? It’s a one-way system.’
Yin Bee put her arm around his waist, and hoped he wouldn’t say any more about it.
Back in the apartment, Peter opened a can of Tiger. ‘The traffic in this country is a joke,’ he told her. ‘Sooner or later, one of those bastards is going to have a serious accident. And I for one won’t be bloody sorry.’
In the cool of the evening, they lounged on the worn out sofa. There was a movie on the television about a mute assassin. Yin Bee enjoyed it, and Peter said the script was very poor. He told her it was because twoHong Kongbrothers had written it. Asians didn’t know a thing about developing a plot.
That night, the ceiling was the same old shade of pinkish blue. They hadn’t made love, because Yin Bee had forgotten to buy contraceptives. The motorbikes contravened the law, and Peter didn’t sleep at all well. He watched the rise and fall of Yin Bee’s slender midriff. It must have been almost three before he finally nodded off.
On the morning balcony, Peter took a pause from his New Straits Times. He leaned across to the small pine table and took his coffee cup. The coffee was good and strong, as usual. Yin Bee was out getting breakfast. As he was reaching for his New Straits Times again, an awful crashing sound came up from the street. It made him jump, and some coffee spilt on his dressing gown.
He looked over the side of the balcony. He’d had to stand to get a proper view. A boy of ten or eleven had hit a delivery van. There were propane bottles in the back, and several of them had rolled off into the street. The motorbike lay on its side, the throttle cable stuck and revving wildly. When he saw the boy, and his head broken open, Peter couldn’t help but feel bloody sorry.
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