Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Through The Godless Hours (3)

…Staring absently into space as he went about his routine, Anath drifted away to an earlier time in another place… An image that was lodged somewhere deep inside his mind slowly emerged until this, and not the familiar backdrop of his freshly assembled newsstand, was what he now saw… There was a man riding a bicycle over a bridge traversing the small brook on the outskirts of the village of his youth… Hiding among the reeds in the belief this made him invisible, the kid he once was sat on his haunches, observing…

…Barely understanding that he was on the cusp of an understanding that stretched far beyond his tender years, the boy marvelled at the shiny spokes glinting in the low afternoon sunlight, as the man’s feet pedalled in circles… Spellbound, a smile slowly began to stretch across his face… And, processing the information set out before him, he sensed he had embarked upon a voyage of discovery… For in that moment, the realisation came to him that this moving object was more stable than when at rest… Yet how..?

It was mostly during these quiet moments of automated physical activity that Anath was visited by daydreams – flashbacks to a boyhood of discovery and wonder, where every day seemed to take another eternity and even the setting sun appeared willing to oblige its grateful onlookers by hanging an extra while, for maximum joy. His subconscious thoughts this morning returned him to an encounter with the man who sometimes rode past the outskirts of the village, on his way to the nearby plantation. Mostly concealed by the reeds along the bank, Anath had been squatting at the river’s edge watching the current carry leaves downstream when the man rode towards him across the small wooden bridge. He had often observed the visitor from this vantage point, noting that he would occasionally affect an unusual movement with his head. Not quite a twitch, but a motion he would use as a device to convey a greeting, or emphasis. And there was something familiar about this undeniably handsome man, whose deep tenor boomed as he spoke, as if in resonance with nature itself. Yet on this particular occasion the object of Anath’s interest was not the rider, but the bicycle itself. For it seemed clear to the young inquisitor that the stranger’s frail conveyance was much easier to balance whilst moving: it was, in fact, almost impossible to balance when still. And although there was no guiding light in his life – no father figure to help him analyse such thoughts – this gifted boy patiently filed away the information in his developing mind which, free from the constraints that conventional rote-learning would otherwise progressively have imposed, grew without borders.

With his newsstand assembled and the dailies, weekend supplements and glossy periodicals arrayed, Anath paused to sit and take his first nourishment of the day: a simple meal of rice and a boiled egg, prepared under bulb-light in the pantry before he had departed his lodgings. The pangs in his stomach had already asserted their growing impatience, but he nibbled at his food with little enthusiasm, returning over half to its packaging. In the first light of dawn he knew there would be a long day ahead, during which the heat would soar to its unbearable afternoon peak. Well accustomed, at such times he would while away the sweltering hours by reading from the transient library that constituted his wares, or striking up banter with some of his more affable regulars. It was Sunday, which meant a busy day for the staff of Sate Blora, as a legion of families from the city’s growing middle class assembled to gossip about the week’s events, while taking advantage of a buffet that was famed for its succulent generosity. The gathering’s excited babble was commonly audible from without the restaurant’s external walls as secrets, rumours and lies were eagerly traded around the large dining hall. Anath had sometimes been fortunate to be slipped a small package of food by one of its fawning waitresses, which he would savour whilst eavesdropping on the tittle-tattle of Jakarta’s foremost families. Recalling these sporadic treats his hunger pangs announced their return, so that he was relieved when his train of thought was broken by the arrival of the day’s first customer. “Morning, ’Pak,” he respectfully acknowledged the anonymous man who, bleary-eyed and vacant, simply picked up a copy of The Jakarta Post, tossed some coins on top of the remaining pile, and moved off without so much as a grunt.

As the light continued to improve and the day slowly creaked into life, the busy street in front of his stall began to fill with an armada of motorised vehicles that brought their own inimitable cacophony of horn-blowing, bell-ringing and – of a particularly harsh intensity – the shrill and incoherent yelling of the coarse men whose job it was to garner business for the cramped municipal minibuses. Sat at his stool, Anath watched in fascination as these rowdy crewmembers leaned from the narrow doorways of moving vehicles, bawling abbreviated place-names and routes at their long suffering would-be passengers. A moment’s hesitation and the unsuspecting traveller was collected up, pushed inside and en route to what was perhaps an unintended destination. Whilst each bus was almost identical in appearance – suggesting some kind of organised public transport system – Anath had come to know that the individual vehicles were rented daily by each crew, whose motivation in consequence was the collection of as many fares as possible during the short course of their tenure. From his roadside location he would frequently overhear their complaints of successive rent hikes that meant it could now take all day for them to collect sufficient fares to just break even. In their unending search for passengers, these minibuses raced one another along the city’s main thoroughfares. Generally ignoring official bus stops, they would instead slow to a crawl anywhere a prospective customer was sighted. Routes that were too remote were neglected, meaning a long walk or rickshaw-ride for many commuters to the nearest main road. And once scooped up into the worn-out vehicles, the passengers were then subjected to a frightening ordeal, risking life and limb as their drivers hurtled along pot-holed streets in pursuit of what amounted, ultimately, to a paltry reward. And all of it, Anath reflected, conspiring to create the maximum dose of misery in the daily commute of thousands.

posted by Kirk at 8:52 am  

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