Saturday, December 15, 2007

Daily Chivalry

"The motto of chivalry is also the motto of wisdom; to serve all, but love only one."

Honoré de Balzac, French novelist and playwright

I woke up this morning at about 9:45 pm with a metallic tang in my mouth and feeling like a badly constructed simulacrum of Pinocchio with the joints screwed on too tight. I went to bed at about 5:00 pm yesterday and at a total of almost 17 hours, that was the second longest slumber marathon I ever had. I've been feeling this strange tiredness in my bones for the past week or so, and no amount of rest was able to make it go away. It ran deep into my mind and thews, and every conscious moment I spent was an effort - infinitesimal yet burdening in the whole. That 17 hours I clocked in for Morpheus yesterday must be a stern warning sign that my sleep debt cumulated over the years is in imminent danger of collapsing on me.

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The empty bucket of cheese-flavoured popcorn I had. I always wanted to take one home.

I returned from Mangalore yesterday after a matinée at the cineplex there with Yew Kong and co. We caught I Am Legend, another post-apocalyptic flick with zombies a la genetically-modified-cancer-busting- miracle-cure-measles-virus. And instead of following the half of the group that was heading to Hao Ming (one of the few decent Chinese restaurant run by a genuine Chinese bloke in India) for lunch, I tagged along Nick and Vince to Pizza Hut for a bit of good old-fashed imitation Italian food. Their new fusilli with Stroganoff sauce dish was surprisingly good. Surprising, because the last time I had pasta there it tasted like the collective scraps they scraped off pizza pans the week before.

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Why can't signs in Malaysia be this witty?

Anyway, I followed that duo because they were leaving Mangalore early while the sun was still up to avoid the Night of the Living Nightmare Bus Ride. We were lucky to a three-seater for ourselves, and in spite of the ghastly noonday heat, mechanical rumble and almost-constant infernal horning from the rabid driver - drowsiness crept on us and we fell asleep in no time.

I woke up about an hour later with an almighty headache, a stiff neck and the sensation of having my head hitting the top of the steel headrest for every pothole the bus trucked over for the past 60 minutes. I peered blearily out of my eyes and lo! A tall, dark figure loomed menacingly over my person, cloaked in solid night from head to toe. It took me a couple of moments to realise that it was someone's back that was facing me, and that it belonged to a Muslim woman - the sort that insisted on being thoroughly swathed in black fabric (including the face) at all times of day. I used to call them Nazgûls - silent, forbidding and chilling the heck out of me. Clinging onto her was her two young, dark-haired daughters of about six and ten, who were probably thankful that they weren't smothered in the same attire fashionable at least a few centuries ago considering the deadly Indian afternoon fry.

Hence the dilemma - I disgusted myself for even considering it a dilemma. I knew I could offer the lady a seat... or I could just pretend to be snoozing, oblivious to the woman and her two kids in front of me. I mean, she wasn't even looking my way - she wouldn't know. She wouldn't care either. I bet she's used to not having a seat offered to her on the bus anyway since this part of India isn't very big on the whole gentlemanly conduct thing. Plus, look at all these young Indian men, all wide awake and having that Muslim woman in their plain sight, and not a single one gave up his seat for her. What cads. Hey, maybe it's against customs to offer your seat to woman in India! Well like they always say, when in Rome...

While my mind was whirring off along that ignoble tangent, I have already stood up automatically, tapped the lady on her shoulder (with slight apprehension in case I was not suppose to do anything like that), and indicated at my recently vacated spot beside a still-dozing Vince. The woman sat down wordlessly, placing a her two daughters on her laps. She met my eyes briefly through her veil, but I couldn't tell what expression she was wearing. Was it a grateful smile? Or one of confusion at the unexpected random act of kindness? Or possibly, even grinning and mouthing the local dialect's equivalent of "Sucker!" at my foreign naiveté. I would never know, I guess - but I feel better having offered my seat to her. That appeased my conscience and my sense of honour, both of which are frequently demanding and often unrelenting. What they have against my aching body, I do not know.

I noticed that several of the passengers were giving me this weird look, as if I have violated some sacred tradition or something. Even more probable, they were just wondering why I was carrying an empty red popcorn bucket in one arm.

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The two little girls.

I remember a few years ago before I got my driving license, I had to bus-hop whenever I need to go anywhere in Malacca. A Malay boy I know from my high school - a real thug of a kid with whom I had several run-ins with due to me being a prefect and all. I remember hoping that he wouldn't recognise me or give me any flak. Or worse, give me a very physical hello (not unheard of, of course).

He plumped into the seat in front of mine heavily, and he didn't appear to have seen me yet. Right before the bus jerked into motion, an aged Indian woman came on board with heavy-looking shopping bags in each hand. Before I could seven stand up to offer her my place, that Malay boy beat me to it. He even held her arm to slowly guided her onto his seat in case she gets unbalanced when the bus swerves around a corner or stops abruptly at an intersection. That's when he met me eye to eye - I didn't know what got hold of me but I smiled at him and gave him a thumbs up. He just grinned sheepishly back. Of course, he promptly reverted back to his demonic self the next day in school.

I don't believe I ever learnt his name.

Half an hour later, my bus reached the stop at Udupi, and most of the passengers - including the Muslim woman and her kids - got off and finally freed some seats for me and my ludicrously large-sized empty popcorn tub.

I wonder how long is it going to be before a feminist sock me one in the eye and spit on me, screaming "I am perfectly capable of standing in a bus, you chauvinist prick!" - when I offer a her a seat.

How useful were you to society today?

I left my shining armour in my other wardrobe,
k0k s3n w4i


février said...


Anonymous said...

I'd take my hat off to you if I had one. I happen to think what you did was really sweet.

Feminist tendencies aside, 'twould be a better world for all if we took gestures in the spirit in which they were made =)

ps: I'm going to be MIA online for the next little while - my folks are here and oh lordy, guess who gets to be the lucky tour guide? =P

pinksterz said...

those muslims woman who wear all black like that are either;

a) married and their husbands dont allow others to look at their wives

b) engaged with the same reason of jealousy

but most of them are damn pretty i tell you. i met few of those in cairo and when they opened their veils you gonna think what a waste covering their face.

in msia it is hard tho to find someone who will give his/her seat to an older person. unfortunately i am in the majority. -.-"

Jen said...

sigh.. where have all the good guys gone? down in manipal, cutting up bodies and probing about -_____-

hmm.. what i usually see is quite the contrary to pinksterz. i take trains all the time, and yes, ppl do usually give up their seats to those who look like they need it more. i tend to stand in trains for such reasons.

someone give me my halo asap.

k0k s3n w4i said...

So you don't know how to count?

What I did was perfectly natural. It's shouldn't be something commendable. Rather, it should something commonplace.
P.S. Enjoy the tour guide gig, Mitch. See ya in a bit.

Evil jealous husbands.
Anyway, I happen to be sure that the one I gave a seat to was waaay past her prime. Maybe the veil's a good idea after all xD

Ooh, a lady knight in shining armour. That's a new one xD
You don't need a halo, Jen. You already got Spongecock! I mean, Spongebob!