Friday, May 15, 2009

how i met the stranger

when i left work yesterday, i still hadn't decided exactly what to do or where to go. since raymund was in some steamboat resto for his colleague's farewell dinner, i knew i'd be wandering off alone somewhere else. i was thinking getting some soya ice cream first from mr bean, just across the road (i have this coupons that'd make you pay 30 cents less, haha!). but when i got to the lobby, they were fixing the carpet, which blocked the way and led me to exit from the other door. just outside that other door was the queue for the free shuttle that goes from our office building to city hall to suntec city. so i found myself queuing too, while trying to read one of neil gaiman's short stories to kill time.

then i got off at city hall. it's been quite a while since i took that shuttle bus, and when i got off i wasn't entirely sure which way to the mall. i wanted to go to MPH, this bookstore in raffles shopping centre, that's connected to the city hall mrt station. so i just walked, and followed this other guy in front of me. i had to restrain myself from walking my usual pace (which is relatively fast) so i wouldn't get ahead of him. but i guess wherever you are, it's quite easy to know where the mrt station is cos everyone's headed for it.

so i got into the mall, thank goodness. wandered to the basement cos i remembered that's where the bookstore was. got sidetracked at watsons, cos my night time moisturizer had already changed consistency and was bordering on sticky, so i wanted to get a new one.

then i got to the bookstore. i decided i wanted to read murakami again, this book i saw from casual poet's blog (although i still have neil gaiman to keep me occupied for at least a few more days). since it was still early to have dinner, and i couldn't rack my brain on where to have dinner alone (i do mind eating alone outside!), i felt it would be fine to just search for the book without asking for assistance from the staff. i browsed through each shelf of popular fiction, which i thought was the most apt category for the book. but it was taking much longer than i expected. so i went to the counter and asked where i can find murakami's books. the girl pointed me to asian novels, at the bottom of that shelf, she said. so i was scanning the books quickly and got to the bottom part, when i was interrupted by a man who was sitting on a small chair with a pile of books on the floor. initially i thought he worked in that store and was just arranging the books. he asked me if i read murakami and what i thought of japanese authors and to recommend one of murakami's books. i said i've only read a couple, so i pulled out a copy of after dark and gave it to him. apparently, he was the chatty type and had such a loud voice that i found myself answering his questions, giving my opinions on stuff and getting weird looks from other customers. i don't even want to enumerate all the things that we talked about. he's a self-confessed "mad" person and evidently he was. from what i've gathered, he's a cook, an english teacher, a poor old but important man, and had suffered from a recent stroke/heart attack. that explains why he had a walking stick with him.

he's not like those really old men you'd take pity on cos they can hardly walk. he's not that old, he's in his 60s, was enthusiastic, a little too friendly, obviously eccentric, opinionated and a bit too demanding! he's the type of person who can see a situation clearly, and has a well-defined picture of his personality, that much i can say. he invited me to join him for dinner, at a food centre outside cos he can't afford to have dinner in the mall, which he reckoned, would easily cost him about $10. he's poor, he said, so his dinner budget was only around $3.50. okay, i may be too naive or just plain stupid to not have declined. i actually got out of the mall and accompanied him cos at the time, i couldn't find any reason not to, except that it's completely bold and unusual. i thought well, he just had a stroke, seemed to be needing some company, and i had nothing else to do and didn't want to eat alone, so what the heck. i ordered fishball noodle and he ordered his tofu and veggies. he asked me to do him a favor and buy a cold barley drink for him, which of course i didn't ask him to pay. he kept asking me to "do him a favor" such as speak a bit louder (he's partially deaf) and let him hold my hand/arm when crossing the street. when we're on our way back to the bookstore, i was already a bit annoyed although the things he's asked of me were fairly reasonable. he invited me to this film and this session with a playwright, cos he thought i was interested in these kinds of stuff and felt that i'd also find him interesting once i get to know him more. i'd say his friendship was too much for someone whom you've just spent 2 hours with (which he also recognized).

back at the store, he took a lot of books - about $300 worth, which he can pay for thru some means, like charge it to some organization or something, i dunno. he asked me to include the book that i wanted to buy so i'd have 20% discount too since he's a member and was entitled to it. personally i didn't want to, cos at this point i didn't want to have anything to do with him (like some debt of gratitude). he was asking the staff to do this and that, like check his book list, make him an invoice - much to their annoyance. and he can see that. the guy from the counter was a bit rude to him, clearly he's pissed off. that guy asked if he can have a word with me and i said okay. he told me that this old man i was with (he knew that i went out with him for dinner, and i felt embarrassed and stupid now), was "not right up there" (he meant his head), and it's better that i don't have connections with him cos he assumed the old man would just be a nuisance to me. i knew he meant well. i told him that i know he's mad, and that i agree with him, cos i really don't want to have connections with someone who's practically a stranger. so i paid for my book, and the girl at the counter gave me an apologetic, or rather a pitying smile, probably felt sorry for me for what i had to put up with in the past couple of hours when i had really just planned to buy a book.

i bid the old man goodbye, told him i had to go and headed for iluma, where coffee bean was open til 11pm. it was a pretty neat place to hang out, and i felt a bit irritated for having allowed that thing to happen to me, which took so much of my time. but then i asked myself, what's wrong with it anyway... other than it's completely bold and unusual and made me get weird looks from people. oh well, i'd just be more on guard next time, and not be swayed easily regardless of how harmless everything seems.

i have the murakami book now, turns out it's in the biography section after all. if only i've specified the title sooner, i wouldn't have gone to the asian novels. but it was meant to happen. i was meant to meet the stranger, for what cosmic reason, i'm not so sure. i don't really care now. i just want to start reading and eat ice cream.