The sensation was etched in his mind. Sorrow washed over him slowly, paralyzing his senses and taking over his being. He remembers staring past the dark New York skyline, unable to see anything else but his mother’s face flashing in his mind. Unwilling to come to terms with the news that struck his heavy heart, his world came to a standstill. Eventually, Adam sluggishly proceeded to book the plane to Kuala Lumpur.
Two years. He was finally making his way back home after two years, for the worst reasons possible.
Adam’s mind snapped back to reality at the sound of a rumbling train carriage. It belonged to the opposing track. The past few weeks felt numb as Adam fumbled through life on autopilot, lacking any sense of control. Missing his train stop was just one of the many slip-ups that happened today, things his usually-sharp mind would not tolerate. He flicked his wrist for a glimpse of his watch. He was in no rush anyways. Mentally preoccupied, Adam continued staring into the distance until his mind registered what lay ahead in the distance. It was Petaling Street, but different from how he remembered ten years ago. The corners of his mouth formed a faint smile, something he has not done ever since she was gone. His mother was an avid heritage enthusiast. Some of his fondest memories were from accompanying her on the weekends during her small heritage walks. Suddenly, he felt the strongest urge to get down to the streets once more. Perhaps missing that stop was a small blessing in disguise.
As a trained urban planner, Adam’s mind quickly started to absorb what was different from his recollections. A good portion of the pedestrian pathways adorned a paint-job of solid colors, done to distinguish the heritage trails in the area. The splashes of color on the streets complemented the diverse graffiti that was concocted by local artists, forming a kaleidoscope of wonders that decorated buildings. The blended scent of coffee and pastries from cafes, old and new, hit his nostrils and brought him back to the times when he would treat his mother for cakes, with whatever pocket money he had left. Adam briefly considered that nostalgia was hijacking his seemingly heightened senses until he stopped and took in the streets in their entirety. They were pristine, far more than he remembered.
The streets of New York, his second home, could not compare to the clean alleys of Petaling Street, as breathtaking as the Big Apple is. Green vegetation adorned the heritage buildings, accompanied by the retouched, vibrant colors of their facades. He recalled an academic paper he read not too long ago, which expressed how the COVID-19 pandemic years back had swayed public opinion on the importance of hygiene and sustainability in cities. Citizens around the world pushed governments for cleaner communities and streets. Adam would know, being involved with New York’s efforts for urban renewal. Lost in his thoughts, he almost collided with a young cyclist, narrowly avoiding an embarrassing, hard collision. Much to Adam’s amusement, it occurred to him that he was walking across a dedicated bicycle path, beside the kaki lima of shophouses. Nice but overdue idea, he thought, as he approached the nearby bike-sharing station. He cycled along the heritage trail, having only one destination in mind.
The day was blistering hot, but the covered pathways made the Malaysian humidity bearable. The city council has done wonders to improve the urban mobility of people around here. Following the successful eradication of COVID-19, the people started to appreciate the public spaces around them following arduous bouts of staying indoors and fought for the enhanced walkability of cities. Adam remembered the late nights his mother endured, pushing herself on crafting articles that brought this matter to the minds of people. Distracted by the sights and changes around him, the cycling session ended before he knew it.
Adam deposited his borrowed bicycle and stared at his destination, his gaze turning dewy-eyed and brimming with vivid memories. Care enough for a building and it could live on for centuries, he thought. People only have memories of each other to manage. With a heavy sigh, Adam sat himself on a bench, slightly amused at the sight of children struggling to control their wau kites as they made their way across Dataran Merdeka. The small struggles he was familiar with as an animated kid. This was where his mother had her last guided walk before they moved out of Kuala Lumpur, ten years ago after the loosening of national movement control orders. He thought back to what she said about cultural heritage that day, how it led to his journey as an urban planner.
Hold on to it tightly, and pay attention to its lessons. Keep the past in mind, but don’t be afraid to grow.
Adam sat there, doing nothing but replaying cherished memories in his head. Seeing the Sultan Abdul Samad building once more and the memories it embodied ignited a spark within Adam. He knew that it was time to return to Kuala Lumpur, permanently. He only wished his mother was here to celebrate his decision, to welcome him home.