It’s almost noon at Lebuh Pantai. Jen has circled the surrounding streets and the back lanes multiple times, looking for an elusive parking lot. There’s a dip in the row the cars ahead seem to be ignoring. She inches her MyVi closer, only to find a tiny white Kancil.
One more loop? No. Lay Cheng will be annoyed, grumbling as always about Malaysian time and lack of respect.
Jen glances at the clock on her dashboard as she turns left into the multi-storey carpark where she parks on the fifth floor. The heat blasts at her the moment she opens the car door. She takes a moment to wipe the fog off her glasses. By the time she walks over, she’ll probably be late anyway.
Back out on the street, the humid air smells of spices from Enrico; she walks briskly past racks of onions and little brown pottery that jut out into the five-foot way. She lifts a hand to block the glare of the sun as she navigates the narrow space between storefronts—alternating between dilapidated and carefully restored—on her right and rows of parked cars on her left. Momentarily, she regrets not bringing an umbrella.
Ahead, a car pulls out of a lot and she curses her timing; that would have been twenty sen per hour saved, plus a shorter walk. Dust billows from the street with a spurt of warm, petrol-tainted air as the traffic light somewhere behind changes and the cars and buses continue rumbling by.
Past the gigantic plastic bowl of cendol in front of the Wonderfood Museum is the banking district. CIMB is on her right with Allianz across the street, RHB and OCBC ahead on the left, the last three looking slightly more modern than the rest of the colonial-era buildings on Lebuh Pantai. Right in front of her, as she squints down the road before crossing, a building proclaims 1923 in curly black numerals.
The five-foot-way disappears for a short stretch, blocked off by zinc sheets. The new hotel being constructed will probably look like every other building in this heritage area—stark white or grey stone, fancy cornices. A brief block of beige past the construction softens the glare.
Would Lay Cheng glare at her? Silly question.
Jen avoids the scattered clumps of tourists who block the way studying paper maps. The street art is down that way, she wants to say, but doesn’t. It’s the main thing foreigners look for now: Ernest Zacharevic’s famous ‘Little Children on A Bicycle’.
Back on the five-foot-way, she walks almost hugging the wall, partly to get whatever shade she can find, but also to catch brief bursts of air-conditioning that escape from open doorways. Someone blares a horn. Jen looks to see who it is. Some idiot, as usual, has stopped his car in front of the money changer’s. The Indian Muslim owner shakes a calculator in front of the open car window as impatient drivers pull out around the obstruction. US dollars, she overhears, four point something.
Groups of office workers are emerging from their cold caves into scorching sunlight and blue skies in search of lunch, filling the air with chatter—Hokkien, mostly, interspersed with English and Malay. She picks up the pace as her phone buzzes again—Lay Cheng must be there.
Jen can feel sweat dripping down her shirt when she finally arrives at the Sri Weld Food Court. It’s bustling; the smell of oil and frying food hits her. Her clothes are going to stink when she gets back to the office. There’s still a long line of cars waiting to park and she’s glad she’d decided not to park here. Two ringgit per hour saved.
She snags a packet of nasi lemak from Ali’s, shelling out one ringgit eighty sen in coins before she heads into the main part of the eatery. She scans the tables and the food stalls, wondering both what to eat for lunch and where her friend is.
Lay Cheng isn’t anywhere and Jen frowns, standing uncertainly by the beef noodle stall. She pulls out her handphone to find that she is late, and there’s a series of WhatsApp messages from Lay Cheng.
11:45 – Rushing report. Sorry. U there d?
11:55 – Leaving soon!
12:01 – Boss caught me at lift. Have to fix some stuff. 10 mins. U ok for time?
12:04 – Jennnnnn replyyyyyyy.
12:05 – Ur late rite I know u r
Jen spies an empty table and hurries to it, sitting just before a large group of four arrive. They stare at her as she plonks her banana-leaf wrapped rice on the table. She sucks the chilli oil off her thumb before replying Lay Cheng.
12:08 – HAH for once earlier than u! M ok for time.
12:09 – Hurry up. Ppl are staring like I’m hogging the table cos I’m not letting them share
12:13 – Cheeennngggggg replyyyyyy
12:14 – OMG this is the first time I get to do this to u hahahaha
12:15 – Idiot. Almost there.
Jen wants to order a plate of wan tan mee, but has nothing to chup the table with. The umbrella would have come in handy. She’ll just have to wait for Lay Cheng. She’s almost finished her nasi lemak when Lay Cheng finally arrives, huffing and sweating.
“You know, I’m the one who had to brave traffic and find parking to get here. All you had to do was leave your building and walk over,” Jen says in greeting.
“Yah, gloat when you can. You’re the one who is always late,” Lay Cheng snipes back. “Have you ordered? Or is that it?”
“Not yet. What you getting?”
Lay Cheng shrugs.
Jen tells Lay Cheng to order wan tan mee for her then continues to savour the last bits of spicy sour sambal and salty anchovies on fragrant rice as she waits for her best friend return. They only have thirty minutes to gossip before they have to head back to their frigid offices.
Because I finally wrote something new that's not for like publication or submission or something.
Week 1 homework:
Setting & place: Bring a street, city or town to life through all your senses. Have your character walk through the city, describing it through the eyes of the character. Interweave description as part of the character’s journey & tension.