And then like a flash, it came to me. This man, who barely an hour ago didn’t exist in my universe, now occupies the very centre of it, and at this very moment, he has me and my king in a very awkward position while ten of his friends stand around and watch voyeuristically.
When I woke up this morning, I had no idea that I was going to be playing chess with a middle-aged Malay man out on a bench at Putrajaya Sentral. Come to think of it, neither did he.
About an hour earlier, my friend Imran and I took a cab from Putrajaya Sentral to Cyberia Condominium. It was eleven in the morning. I contemplated getting either a roti canai or something quick from the convenience store. The convenience store won. I was in front of the counter when, like a scene from some silly British sitcom from the 90s, I realized that I didn’t have my wallet on me.
I paid for the cab. The cab was five minutes ago. Now I don’t have my wallet. But I paid for the —
OH MY GOD I LEFT MY WALLET IN THE CAB!
I quickly borrowed some money from Imran and took a cab back to Putrajaya Sentral. Once there, I rushed to the taxi counter and asked if anyone had brought a missing wallet. The lady at the counter said no. She said that almost never happens. She told me that my best shot would be to try and find the driver myself and ask him.
So I walked over to where all the drivers were sitting — mostly waiting for their turns — but before I could even say anything, this one driver points to the counter and says to go get my ticket there.
“No I don’t need a taxi,” I told him, “I just took one to Cyberia and I think I dropped my wallet in it.”
He asked if I remembered what the driver looked like.
I thought about it for a second.
“Sure. Elderly Malay fella. He wore a white cap and had mostly gray hair.”
“Was he a big guy?”
I closed my eyes and pictured him. From the backseat, I could see the side of his stomach protruding, which meant he filled up the front seat real good.
“He’s big alright.”
“It must be Muhaimin. Don’t worry, he’s a good guy.”
Cool. I relaxed.
There was nothing much to do, so I just stood there waiting. Fifteen minutes or so passed, and this other driver came over and asked what I was doing there. I told him. He asked if I remembered which make the cab was.
“It was the standard red and white,” I told him.
“No, the make: Was it the old or new Saga? Was it a Wira?”
I realized that I don’t remember. Luckily, at that precise moment, the first driver came over and explained to this new guy that I was actually just waiting for Muhaimin.
“But he said the car was blue and white,” the new driver said. “Muhaimin’s car is yellow.”
Oh, sorry. My bad. Of course the cab was yellow. Now I see it.
The first driver asked if I was sure. I told him I was, but just to be extra sure, I decided to call my friend Imran, the guy I shared the cab with, and ask.
“Do you remember the make of the cab we took?”
Imran said that it may have been the one with the flat headlights or the round trunk. Internet marketers aren’t this vague.
“Fine. Do you at least remember the colour?”
“It may have been red and white. Or red and blue,” he said.
“Or yellow, maybe?” I asked.
“No. It was definitely red.”
And with that, I started to doubt everything. Did I actually pay for the cab back in Cyberia? Was the wallet actually on me this morning? Did we fake the moon landing? So I asked, “Was the guy big?”
“Did he wear a hat?”
“Was he at least Malay?”
“Yes,” Imran confirmed.
Phew! At least I got that right.
It was at about this time that this other driver — a third driver — came over and pointed at the chess board sitting on the bench just behind where I was standing. The guy didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to.
All my life, I’ve identified myself as a very keen observer of the human nature, and here I was getting everything wrong about a man who I’d met no longer than an hour ago. What does this mean then? What else am I lying to myself about?
I’ve always thought I was pretty good at chess too. But my thoughts got cut short when I heard –
I countered the move, and then drifted off again. I realised that at that precise time, my wallet could be anywhere, literally. Chances are, the driver won’t see it, but the passenger he picks up will. It just so happens, at least in my head, that this next passenger is a student with a drug habit, and voila – with my rent money in the wallet, Christmas just came early for the druggie.
The way I imagine this guy, he’s got long shabby hair with lice in it, and maybe even has a tick or two up his nostrils. I don’t even know if it’s possible for humans to be that dirty, but this guy is. I see him laughing at my picture ID as he uses my card to crush some cheap over-the-counter medication. Also, he kicks babies just for the heck of it.
More likely though, the next passenger will be a decent enough human being who genuinely wants to return the wallet to me, but because I don’t have my phone number or e-mail address there, his only option would be to mail it to the address on the back on my ID. He’ll decide to go to the post-office the next day, and when he doesn’t, the day after. Eventually, life will take over, and he’ll forget all about my wallet.
Defeated, in more ways than one, I give up. I get up to leave, accepting the fact that my wallet is gone forever never to be seen again. Then, a tall, lean Indian guy with black hair approaches me and hands me back my wallet.
Turns out, he saw the wallet a little after he dropped Imran and I off, but because he picked up another customer, he couldn’t come back to Putrajaya Sentral in time.
“I was hoping you’d be back here,” he said.
And I was so glad I had come. Overjoyed, I wanted to hug him, but I shook his hand instead and offered him some money. He wouldn’t take it, and immediately, I felt terrible because here’s this guy doing a very noble thing, and I’m over here trying to cheapen it with money. I apologised, shook his hand again, and just as I was about to leave, I turned around and asked,
“Which one is your car again?”
He pointed to a red and white Waja.
Al Ibrahim is a writer, photographer and filmmaker based in KL. He blogs regularly at Failed Imitator, where a shorter version of this blog was first published.