The clock on the wall read six AM in the morning. I flick the remote control in my left hand one more time to see if there is anything good on television. I should know better, there never is anything good at this hour. Maybe it is my miss-spent youth or the excessive amounts of marijuana that I smoked at the time, but Sesame Street is usually filled with belly aching laughs. But not today.
As the early morning rays of the sun streamed into the room from the half drawn curtains, I cannot keep my mind straight, it keeps wandering towards my present surroundings.
I look around the room one more time. It feels like I have been here all my life. The room was adequately furnished. Nothing too fancy, but not in bad taste either, except I didn’t like the colours on the wall; too pink/beige for my liking. Maybe if it was a nice cool blue it would have been very atmospheric. Very different from my home.
I took the remote control in my hand and flick the channels once again on the TV. MTV was showing Miss Universe beauty pageant. The very cute Miss Venezuela had just made her spiel about how she wants world peace. It’s always the same story with these beauty queens. World Peace. I changed the channel again.
This time I stop on the BBC world news. The world is full of loonies, crazies and half wits. Somebody was always bombing something, killing some diplomat or kidnapping somebody and demanding ransoms or something. The list goes on and on.
My mind starts to wander again. This time to my own predicament.
I am sitting on a small metal chair in somebody’s living room, my right hand handcuffed to the chair. If this was any other day, this might even have been a bit erotic – that is if you have a thing for kinky sex. Not on this particular day. There is hardly anything one would consider sexual in this situation. Or pleasing for that matter.
It had all started with a phone call.
Time is 10.27pm. I am laid out on the couch not really watching television. The surroundings are more familiar and homely. I am feeling like I am in the zone.
In my zone I don’t do much. Mostly chillin’ or just hanging out with friends. This was the first day since my holidays started that I was doing neither. I tried to relax and tried not to think about what was bugging me.
If I was going to be bored and lonely I was going to get stoned. The problem was I was broke and I had no stash. The situation was becoming worse because I had no way of getting any either. At the rate I was going, all I am going to be doing is just simply thinking about it for the rest of the night. Ahh, the curse of an addictive personality.
Don’t get me wrong I am not a junky by any standards. And the indulgence was never a crime. A life learned from mistakes is a better description. A product of circumstances if you will.
While I was wallowing in self pity and finding justifications the phone rang.
“Muju, what are you doing? You busy?” said the voice on the other end.
“Who is this?” I said trying to figure out who the voice is on the other side.
Aaah good old Steven. Always reliable when you need a friend. Not that he was my friend. He was a business partner of my father’s, not that I let such a minor detail like that get in the way of my wheelings and dealings.
“Steven, man…..how you doing? What’s up?” I responded enthusiastically.
Steven was a man who can get you anything you wanted. He had connections that went all the way up the Malaysian government. He was the only person whom I know who can carry a fire arm and cross state borders into Singapore. He was a member of the Malaysian Intelligence Department and a businessman.
“You got some time to go get something to eat… have a chat?”
There was a hint of oddness in his voice. As if his invite was a forced gesture.
I wasn’t paying much attention to that. I had something to do now.
“What? Now? …Ok. Where do you want to meet?” I said.
“How about the 24 hour eatery down the road?”
“Sure. I’ll see you there in 10.”
I was at the time staying in an apartment building in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A place where there is a price for every thing. A place where police officers could be bought and sold if one has the kind of money. A city of endless nooks and cranny’s to seek the pleasures of the soul, available mostly 24 hours a day. A haven for the decadent wandering soul. Knowing where to look for is very important. Having a friend who knows is easier.
Things were starting to look good for the night.
The handcuffs where starting to dig into the flesh. I took a look at my hand and saw the skin on my wrist starting to redden despite my dark complexion.
The front door opened and two men entered the room with a few parcels of take away food. I had not eaten since yesterday afternoon and my attention was almost suddenly drawn to that fact. Whatever was in that parcel was going to be just fine. After all I am in no position to make demands.
“Hungry?” the larger of the two said.
I nodded in consent.
The man came over and placed a small table in front of me and put the now opened parcel on it. It contained plain white rice. I had never tasted plain rice before that day. Did you know that rice by itself tasted like nothing. It was a revelation to me. That didn’t stop me from devouring the food within a few minutes. ‘Nothing’ never tasted so much better than that day.
After waiting at the eatery for half an hour for Steven to arrive, I decided to take stroll outside to get some fresh air. There were no cars or people to been seen anywhere.
I walked a few minutes and stoped at the edge of the river that runs through the heart of KL central and lit a cigarette.
I sucked in a lungful of noxious tobacco fumes and smiled in silence. I needed that.
“I wonder what’s keeping Steven” I thought to myself.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a maroon coloured sedan approaching me slowly. I didn’t pay much attention to the car until the head lights went off and the car still kept slowly creeping forward. It was like a scene out of a movie.
My curiosity got the best of me that day, I have to say. I could have easily walked away and ran home to safety and it would have been all over. Like nothing had ever happened. I could have been back home, lying on my couch doing what I do best. I chose to stay and see this through. Look at it this way, I wouldn’t be telling you a story today if hadn’t stayed.
The car came to a halt about 20 meters from where I was standing. I was still not looking directly at them, but taking stolen glimpses of what was going on.
The men stayed in the car for another fifteen minutes before I heard the doors open and shut. Two men in dark clothing were approaching me slowly, almost in a stroll.
“Is your name Muju?” the bigger man of the two asked in a calm voice.
“People call me that… but it’s not my real name. Why?” I replied cautiously. “What can I do for you gentlemen?”
After thinking about it for a second, “Wait a minute… how do you know who I am?” I finished.
The men produced ID cards that stated the fact that they were undercover police officers, they asked me to come along with them for some questioning to the station. When I refused to go so easily the smaller man revealed the handcuffs that was in his pockets.
Calmly I replied that I need to make a phone call before I can accompany them. With their permission I called Steven as I did not want to alarm any member of my family. He picked up the phone even before the first ring and I proceeded to tell him of my situation.
“If they have ID cards, its best not to challenge their authority. I suggest you go with them and I will immediately look into the matter.” He advised.
“Can I have a word with one of the police officers and I will let them know who I am and everything should be alright… I promise I will sort this one out for you… you be calm, don’t loose your cool”
I passed my phone to the large man, whom I found out was called Hashim. He was now talking on the phone in a solemn voice in Malaysian, almost as if taking instructions.
I should have suspected that this was going a bit strange and that cops don’t have chats with people when they are arresting somebody. My trusting nature, I guess, got the best of me.
I got into the car without being forced and sat quietly in the back seat. After a drive that seemed like forever we arrived at a police station on the outskirts of KL city. The gate was open and we drove straight through. Two men dressed in military fatigues closed the huge gate shut.
All lights in the building were turned off accept for a single room. A light can be seen coming from a lone window.
The men took me inside and I was greeted by an even larger man. He appeared to be having difficulty moving as his gut seems to be getting in the way. The man introduced himself simply as ‘the chief’.
I was briefed that I was brought in on suspicious of narcotics use, sales and importing / smuggling. He painted for me a picture that was a fantasy of conspiracy and international crime that paled in comparison to the life I lead. A life of a sloth that does little else other than looking for the next party.
I refused to comment on the allegations and I requested a phone call to a lawyer. I should have noticed that I was never formally booked or charged with anything. I should have also noticed that as soon as I asked for the phone call, he said I could call Steven if I wished to. The fact he mentioned Steven’s name should have been enough to convince anybody that I was stuck in the middle of a well orchestrated charade of conspiracy.
Another interesting thing I also noticed was that Steven, now on the phone with me, wanted to know if my father would have ready cash in case “we” needed to buy our selves out a sticky situation. While I wasn’t a person who approved bribery and ransoms, this was different.
This wasn’t a movie. This wasn’t happening to somebody else. This was me. And I was getting frightened not knowing what exactly was going on.
I am a person who prides in having the situation under my full control or at least being on the side of the person who had things under control. A situation like this does not scare me too much as it would not be the first time. That I would leave for another story. This was beginning to frighten me.
After I spoke to Steven, again it was asked of me if he could talk to my captors. After another lengthy conversation with ‘the chief’ in Malaysian he hung up.
The chief informed me that things were being organised for me to not be locked up, and I shall soon be moved to a safe location.
Very weird indeed.
11 am. My bum had been sleeping for some time now. Sitting in a single position for so long has left me with no feeling around the general area. I was too busy organising my thoughts, assessing the situation to worry about minor inconveniences like that.
The conclusion I had arrived was I had unwittingly walked right in the middle of an extortion plan that was being carried out like a well oiled machine.
At eleven fifteen the small man entered the room again and unlocked my handcuff. I rubbed my wrists letting the circulation flow.
“We are going to go for a ride now” he said.
I stood up without saying anything and stretched my limbs. It felt good to be standing up, being able to move.
I nodded in agreement to the little man whom I still don’t know the name of. I followed him silently out of the room and through a hallway and into a lift. We went down in to the car park. The man opened the passenger side back door and I got in the car. Hashim was in the driver’s seat waiting for me, the engine was running.
The drive felt like we were going in circles. We drove for half an hour and we were not getting close to the city centre but we were not going away either. What was happening was, it was vital that I didn’t know exactly where I was brought to despite the lack of blindfolds or anything else to that effect.
After what seemed like forever, the car slows to a halt at a street corner. People were everywhere going about their daily business of mundane lives. The outside was blistering hot compared to nice cool air-conditioned interior of the car. The brightness that you don’t feel when you look out through a tinted window blinded my eyes. Hashim turned around and looked at me and gestured with his head for me to get out.
I stepped out of the car without saying anything and looked around surveying the surroundings. The little man drew his window down a bit and handed my mobile phone back to me.
“It ran out of credit last night when you were calling your people… I put some credit in this morning. You should be able to call for someone to give you a ride home” with that the window went up, the car sped off.
I stood there looking at the back of the car. It was the same maroon sedan as last night. The only thing different was the number plate.
I lifted my hand and looked at the phone in my hand. The time on the clock read 1.36pm. It had all happened in less than 24 hours. I dialled home.
Self portrait taken in December 2003. Titled “That feeling again – Losing myself in a nightmare of my own making.”
This short story originally published in an old blog of mine here way back in 2004.