I want to tell you about this couple. They own a bike shop that’s open from 3 p.m. till 2 a.m. and it’s always packed. I stopped at three gas stations on my way across town, filling up my front tire with air. I’m not calling the sleezebag who does roadside assistance – this new flat came less than an hour after he fixed it, trying to sell me a new outer tire the entire time even though mine was only a week old. I sat as far back on my motorbike as I could, trying not to put pressure on the wheezing wheel.
Anyways, this couple. What you do is sit and wait until they finish all the motorbikes that got there before you. When it’s your turn, you push your bike up to the front of this tiny shop – there is room for two bikes and that’s it; the rest sit waiting for healing on the side of the road. I showed the lady – I’d guess mid-60s, in sweatpants, hair reddish from grease and hands just plain black – my flat. I asked her how to say that in Malay. (It’s ‘puncture’ with a thick accent.) She bemoaned the amount of punctures she’d fixed already (it was about 1 a.m.). I sympathized and mentioned that I would have preferred for her to have one less flat to fix that night as well.
She squatted – they live on their haunches, this couple – and took the tire off, using a rubber mallet to knock out the main screw and a pair of metal rods to pry the tire off the rim. After refilling the inner tube and sticking it in a tub of water (wait for bubbles) she pointed out where the sleezebag had cocked up – he forgot to cover where the spokes meet the rim. She glued a blue band around the inside of the rim and reattached the wheel, never leaving a squatting position, every once in a while pushing her glasses back up her greasy nose with the back of her wrist.
The man waddled over from paperwork or whatever he was doing in the back of the shop. I’ve never seen him with a shirt on. His bones jut out against his gaunt skin and he perpetually has a cigarette with two inches of ash hanging out of his mouth. Half his teeth are missing. Without a word, he tested the brakes, adjusted one, and brushed oil on the chain. He spit on the ground, dabbed his finger in it, and rubbed the spittle onto the top of the pin on the inner tube.
When he was done, he asked me where I am from. How long am I staying. I don’t know, I’m not sure really, I responded. Maybe forever. The woman brightened up, suggested I get a girlfriend here. All of the ladies want me to have a girlfriend here. I agree with them. I told her so: Yes, I agree. I will acquire a girlfriend and live here forever. I will rent this shop next door, I pointed. The man suggested I stay open from 3-2. Morning is for sleeping, he said, pushing his palms together next to his cocked head.
The woman, face still lit up, continued exonerating Penang. The food is cheap, the people are friendly (this statement came with a thumbs up to indicate how great and friendly the people are). It is the Best Place. The man agreed about the food, but lamented the rising cost of housing. Then they were concerned about what I drank. Do I like coffee? No, but I drink tea, I explained. Lots of tea. They were worried. Lipton? Was I drinking Lipton? The coloring was bad in tea. And the sugar. And if you drink milk with it, milk has too much sugar. They were becoming increasingly concerned. I tried to indicate that I wasn’t drinking TOO much tea, but just enough, and definitely sans dairy products. I backed the motorbike up slowly to hint that I was leaving. I started the engine.
The man asked how old I was. I was 25. He conveyed his belief that someone of my age (25) and handsomeness levels (very) would have no qualms acquiring a girlfriend. He leaned in. Was he making a pass? His hands were near my face, then lower, my chest. He reached down and attached the strap to my helmet. Safety first! he said. I thanked him and agreed, safety first. Goodbye, goodbye. I must be on my way. Goodbye. [Channel Orange.]