The flies. They kept buzzing. As the rain thundered outside the Poon Yao kopitiam, the flies buzzed over empty tables and chairs, desperately searching for whatever sustenance they could find to keep them going for the last few hours of their short, pitiful lives. Whilst the flies were buzzing about on their hopeless endeavour, the hawkers sat despondently at their respective stalls, swatting away the annoying flies, feverishly willing the rain to stop.
“It’s Saturday night, and there’s not a soul around.” Mary sighed, waving a hand to brush some flies off the table she was sitting at, in front of her stall.
“It’s the bloody rain. If not for the rain, business is usually booming on Saturday nights. The workers ending their shifts at the factories nearby would be coming here in droves. Tonight, they’re probably staying at home and having some Maggi Mee.” Sandeep lamented. The plump Indian man in his forties with a rich curly moustache ran the Claypot Curry Briyani stall beside Mary’s Yakitori stall.
“There are factories nearby?” Mary asked.
“Yes. You didn’t know? There are factories nearby in Shah Alam and Subang Jaya. Basically, Kota Kemuning was built to provide affordable housing for the factory workers and middle managers working in Shah Alam and Subang Jaya. The price of housing in Subang Jaya…whew…gila!” Sandeep’s brother, and fellow co-founder of their Claypot Curry Briyani stall, Mahesh, said, shaking his head.
“We’re from Kelantan. We just moved to Kota Kemuning,” Mary’s ‘boyfriend’, John and fellow co-owner of their Yakitori stall answered. He wiped an irritable hand over his bald head, and his leg shook restlessly over his other leg, as he sat in front of the charcoal-burner of their stall, unused to the lack of activity. He was dressed simply in the black Malaysian Yakitori t-shirt with the brand name in bold white font, matched with three-quarter-length grey shorts and brown sandals.
“Oh, that’s right. You guys just moved here recently. What did you do before opening this Yakitori Stall?” Mahesh asked.
“We were both working at a garment factory owned by a Hong Kong-based conglomerate on the outskirts of Kota Bahru. Mary was the personal secretary to one of the directors. I was the senior foreman looking after one of the production departments. The garment factory closed last year due to Covid. So Mary and I pooled our life-savings together, and applied to start this Malaysian Yakitori stall here in Kota Kemuning.” John explained.
“It’s a dream come true for us. We always wanted to move to the big city of Kuala Lumpur, so we decided to close the chapter of our lives in Kelantan, and start afresh in KL!” Mary gushed. She loved the big city.
“You love Kuala Lumpur?” Sandeep asked, and Mary nodded enthusiastically.
“I love how Gardens and Pavilion have all the luxury brands. I love all the international chain restaurants you can’t find in Kota Bahru. I love the fast wi-fi and the clean smooth highways. I really adore KL, and I love John for bringing us here,” Mary said, giving John a soppy look, who looked away sheepishly, slightly embarrassed.
“The McDonalds drive-thru next door seems to have roaring business despite the rain,” Old Madam Lim sighed, looking wistfully at the long line of cars snaking around the corner, the yellow headlights and red taillights of the vehicles shimmering in the heavy rain.
Unlike Mahesh’s Curry Claypot Briyani, and Mary’s Yakitori, Madam Lim ran her duck egg Char Kway Teow stall all by herself, just directly opposite Mary’s stall. Her fellow stallholders marvelled at how energetic the 72-year old grandmother was, not to mention cool-headed and calm when the orders kept coming in. She had to be: Old Madam Lim was looking after her darling grandson, as her daughter passed away years ago, and her scoundrel son-in-law was in prison, so it was up to her to bring up her grandson right.
“It’s going to be a cold, quiet night,” John predicted, as he swatted some flies away. He would be right. Mary and John’s takings for that night were nearly zero, save for the first few takeaway orders they received via foodpanda early in the evening before the rain started. The couple went home late that night, sad and depressed. It was the same for many of their fellow stall operators.
The Poon Yao kopitiam was a long-standing institution in the middle-class neighbourhood of Kota Kemuning, located on the edge of the industrial precinct of Shah Alam. It was located along the streets of Jalan Anggeran Villa and fed the local Malaysian Chinese and Indian communities in the area. Whilst Mary and John’s Malaysian Yakitori stall was a new addition to the already crowded kopitiam, the hard-working and friendly couple soon made many friends amongst their fellow stallholders. This was also because what they sold, i.e Malaysian Yakitori, or charcoal-grilled kebabs consisting of chicken, mutton, or beef, marinated with Malaysian herbs and spices, served with Malaysian sauces, was not a direct competitor to any of the offerings by the other stallholders.
Actually, Malaysian Yakitori served as a side dish that complemented what other stallholders at Poon Yao sold very nicely. Staff from the nearby Hong Leong and Public bank branches, along with employees working at the businesses along the same street, for example, staff from the adjacent lighting and interior décor shops, would come in groups of three or more, and order a Western Meal set, a plate of Chinese Nasi Lemak, or some Thai Basil Chicken, served with a sunny side up egg on white rice, amongst other dishes, from the other stallholders at Poon Yao. As they each enjoyed their own individual dishes, customers would also order some Malaysian Yakitori Kebabs from Mary and John, which the customers at the table would all share and partake in, and the Poon Yao kopitiam was a lively eatery during lunch and dinner hours. The operators of the stalls at Poon Yao also enjoyed many foodpanda online delivery orders, from the numerous housing estates around the area.
Sadly on days (or nights) when there was heavy rain, delivery riders refused to work, citing fears of accidents. Further compounding the problem was that customers refused to visit the kopitiam during those rainy periods, leading to a complete halt in business that left stall owners at Poon Yao despondent and melancholic.
“We have to find a way to make some sales when there’s heavy rain,” John sighed, as he got into bed. Mary was already tucked snugly inside, focused intensely on her phone.
“Hmmm? Oh yeah. We have to.” Mary said, distracted.
“You’ve been on your phone the whole time since we got home!” John said in an exasperated voice. He was dumbfounded at the change in Mary’s mood. She was sad and depressed when she left the stall, but as soon as she got home her mood immediately lifted, and she was cheerfully obsessed with her phone after her shower.
“Errr? Oh, it’s nothing. Let’s go to sleep. Tomorrow’s Sunday! Sundays are always busy at the kopitiam!” Mary said, suppressing a chuckle, turning off her phone and leaving it on the bedside table next to her. She turned to give John a good night kiss, before turning around to curl up on her side of the bed and fell fast asleep.
“Hmmmm…” John glanced suspiciously at Mary’s phone. She had been obsessed with her phone ever since the factory they were working in closed, but John initially brushed it off as Mary liaising with her cousin, the franchisor who created the Malaysian Yakitori business. He was starting to get suspicious of who she was talking to. It was just too much. Nevertheless, that night, John left Mary’s phone alone, respecting her privacy, and went to sleep.
“Express Delivery!” the helmeted figure called out, waving a hand that clasped what appeared to be a large postcard. With his free hand, he pressed the doorbell several times, conveying the urgency at which he had to complete his deliveries.
“Coming!” John grumbled. It was Wednesday afternoon, the only day in the week when the Poon Yao kopitiam was closed, and John was enjoying his much-deserved rest-day when the post-man rang the door-bell of the small house he and Mary rented in Kota Kemuning, disrupting his nap and forcing him to get off his butt.
“Miss Mary Chueng?” The helmeted figure asked. He was clad in the yellow and red uniform of DHL, and a yellow and red DHL scooter was parked neatly in front of John and Mary’s gate.
“That’s my girlfriend,” John replied in a sour voice. They had been receiving quite a few lawyer letters sent from credit card companies in the past six months whom Mary owed lots of money to, due to her recently acquired online shopaholic habit, purchasing things such as a RM2,999 Marshal Speaker, a RM1,399 pair of Sony headphones, a RM700 electric toothbrush and a RM2,399 Dior make-up set, not to mention her extravagant taste in restaurants. She really lived it up after moving to KL from Kelantan, and John was aghast at how much Mary could spend, and how she was enamoured by the glittering city lights of KL, and how she changed to become so materialistic in the last few months.
“Here’s an express delivery postcard for her. Can you sign here?” The DHL rider asked, handing the postcard over the gate, before handing over a clipboard with a form. The rider gestured at the empty box in the lower right-hand corner of the form where John’s signature was required.
“All right. Here you go. Thanks, abang. Have a great day.” John said, handing the clipboard back over the gate after he signed it.
“Sama,” the DHL rider acknowledged. He took the clipboard from John and rode off on his scooter.
“Huh? What’s this?” John’s eyes widened with shock, as he looked at the postcard for Mary. It was a picture of a quaint English Cathedral on one side, set against a backdrop of lush green fields, with a postcard with some handwritten words on the other side.
“Mary darling. My heart aches for you. I can’t wait for this silly Covid pandemic to end, so I can visit Malaysia and take you back to the UK with me. Hugs and Kisses, Tom Sullivan.” John read out loud, his heart sinking to the pit of his stomach, as he digested the contents of the postcard.
“MARY! WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?! MARY!” John cried out furiously, stomping his way up the stairs to their bedroom.
“Hmmm? What’s the matter? Why are you shouting like a madman?” Mary asked in a nonchalant voice, looking up from her smartphone as she sat in front of the dressing table by their bedside.
“It’s him, isn’t it? You’re talking to him. What’s his name? Tom? Tom Sullivan?” John rounded furiously on Mary, as he slammed the door open and confronted her about her infidelity.
“How did you find out about Tom?” Mary was the least bit concerned and went back to whatever she was focused on, on her smartphone. But John was having none of it. Not anymore. He grabbed Mary’s smartphone, tossed it onto their bed, and stuck the postcard he just signed off on, right into Mary’s face.
“He sent a postcard to our house! By express delivery! I had to sign off on it! Have you no shame, woman?!” John hollered, spit flying from his mouth.
“I may have no shame. But I am not sitting on my arse, and obediently waiting to starve, as we wait for this silly Yakitori idea to work. I have four daughters from my previous husband to feed, not to mention an aging mother and father who both have one foot in the grave. They are all starving in our old home in Kota Bahru, in case you forgot.” Mary said, looking up, and glaring at John.
“The economy is just very slow at the moment! Because of the pandemic, and the bad weather! If it were normal times business would be booming! I promise! You just have to endure just a bit longer! Times will become better! I swear it!” John pleaded desperately.
“I’m tired of believing you. I’m tired of waiting for things to work. I’m taking matters into my own hands. My four daughters and my old parents don’t have time to wait for your silly Yakitori dream to achieve success. I’ve no other choice, but to tread this path. I have a family to feed. I’ve my daughters’ future to think about. I want them to study in British Public Schools and have a better life, and a better future in the UK.” Mary said. This time she had the decency to look away in guilt, with a bit of regret and sadness mixed in.
John went eerily still at Mary’s words. He stood there for a long moment, frozen in place. He wanted to scream at her, for spending so much money on extravagant products purchased online. For pissing away so much money on cheap Thai vodka and vast quantities of Tiger Beer. For having enormous, lavish meals at Rakuzan and her favourite Hotpot restaurant. All of the above expenses she charged to her credit cards. John wondered where Mary met Tom in the first place and assumed she must have met him via some match-making or sugar daddy site. Eventually, John abruptly snapped back to reality, and literally, with a hand, pushed his face up into a forced smile.
“We still have that contract running the Malaysian Yakitori franchise in Kota Kemuning for a year. We don’t know when the borders will open up. Until then, do you think we could just pretend to be a couple until the guai lo comes to take you to the UK?” John asked, in an amicable voice. His eyes were wide, and he had a creepy smile that Mary found awfully disturbing.
“Of course,” Mary said. From that night onwards, John slept by himself, on the couch downstairs. They hardly spoke to each other when at home, although John did stalk Tom Sullivan on Facebook, a fact he kept secret from Mary. At Poon Yao, they were very cold and distant to each other, and their fellow stall operators noticed the difference, but stayed silent on the matter, as they had their own stalls to run, and their own lives to live.
In the months that followed, the weather got better, and business at the Malaysian Yakitori stall improved, thanks in part to the aggressive Facebook and Instagram marketing by Mary’s cousin, the main franchisor and creator of the Malaysian Yakitori business. That drove traffic to Mary and John’s stall in Kota Kemuning. which included a surge in foodpanda orders. Still, that was not enough to cover Mary’s shopaholic habits, not to mention her excessive drinking, on top of Mary’s daughters’ school fees, and her parents’ medical bills.
As John mused to himself, they probably needed to open two, even three Yakitori stalls to support Mary’s extravagant lifestyle. Although business was good, they received several visits from CIMB Bank’s repo-man, as Mary had fallen behind on the payments for their Silver Avanza MPV, and Mary had to beg her cousin for a loan each time in order to collect her MPV back from the bank. They even received a visit from Mr. Ting, their landlord, as they had fallen behind on their rent in Kota Kemuning too, and John had to pawn most of Mary’s jewellery at the pawnshop nearby, to pay Mr. Ting. Mary simply prioritized her own needs above everything, and everyone else. But through it all, they endured, and survived, until later that year, in the month of September, the border opened, and Mary’s ‘boyfriend’ from the UK, Tom, travelled to Kuala Lumpur, to pick her up and take her to the UK with him.
“Hello, Mary darling! You look even lovelier in person! And you must be John! Mary’s assistant at her Yakitori stall!” Tom greeted them. They came to pick him up from the KLCC hotel where he was quarantined for ten days. John gave him a look-over and was not impressed. Tom was tall and broad but was dressed in a simple blue t-shirt and blue shorts, matched with blue sandals. He was balding, with white hair, possessed a loud booming voice. Tom also had this lascivious gleam in his eye that expressed his intentions very clearly for all to see.
“Looks like your typical greasy, horny Mat Salleh who visits Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza every weekend,” John thought to himself. But he suppressed the thought and directed a fake smile at Tom.
“Yes, I am. You must be Mr. Baron. How was the food they gave you during quarantine?” John asked in a courteous voice. But there was something strange and creepy about his tone that sent a chill down Mary’s spine.
“It was not too bad. But I was simply dying to try some of your delicious Yakitori!” Tom said, beaming at Mary.
“We have some take-away Yakitori for you at home. John, can you help with Tom’s luggage?”
“My pleasure,” John took Tom’s luggage from him and led them to the place where he had illegally parked Mary’s silver Toyota Avanza MPV at the Grab e-hailing pick-up point outside KLCC, a stream of Grab drivers honking incessantly, and shouting cuss words at Mary and John when they arrived back at the car, to Tom’s amusement. During the drive back to Kota Kemuning, an uneasy silence hung over the three, as Tom snored in the back seat, whilst John and Mary refused to speak, out of spite and anger towards the other.
“What a lovely park! And what lush greenery!” Tom remarked as he and Mary got out of the MPV. John parked their silver Toyota Avanza in front of the house they rented, which was located in a cosy, ambient housing estate a ten-minute drive away from the Poon Yao kopitiam, that directly faced the field across from them.
“Yes. Must be a nice change from the council flats at Park Hill, isn’t it?” John said in a scathing voice. Mary shot him a dirty look and quickly led Tom into the house.
“Come Darling. Take a shower in the bathroom of the master bedroom upstairs. You should freshen up. John will have your Yakitori ready. John, can you take the Yakitori out from the fridge, and warm it up for a minute in the microwave?” Mary remarked as she pushed Tom towards the direction of the stairs in the living room. She took Tom’s luggage carrier with her but left Tom’s back-pack with John
“Of course.” John acknowledged as he hauled Tom’s backpack into the living room. He chucked the backpack nonchalantly by the sofa and proceeded to prepare Tom’s Yakitori as per Mary’s instructions. As he was waiting for the microwave to finish, he heard a chiming noise resonate from Tom’s backpack. There was a faint white light emanating from the black surface of the fabric of the backpack, and John was curious to see what was the origin of the noise and light.
“Hmmm…Tom was careless enough not to padlock his backpack…oh it’s his iPad. He didn’t even set a touchscreen lock. What’s this?”
‘So how’s the Malaysian woman? When are you bringing her back to the UK, so she can set up her Malaysian kebab restaurant and we can live comfortably off the proceeds? The unemployment benefits from Jobcentre are getting stingier every year. Love – Mum’ ”
John laughed a cynical, tragic laugh upon reading the Skype Message on Tom’s iPad. But John mastered his emotions and began whistling cheerfully, as he prepared two cups of dark black coffee to go with the Yakitori. He slipped the iPad back into Tom’s backpack and zipped it close, making it look as if nothing happened.
“Here you go! Some warm Malaysian Yakitori, and some black coffee, to wash it down with!” John greeted cheerfully, as Mary and Tom ambled down the stairs into the living room, about forty-five minutes later.
“Thanks very much! It’s much appreciated,” Tom said, as he sat down at the dining table, and took a sip of the hot coffee. His eyes close in relief and gratitude and took a bite of the Yakitori.
“Mmmm it’s delicious! Just a bit tough. What meat is this?” Tom asked as he chewed and swallowed.
“Beef. You can try chicken or mutton if you like,” Mary offered, as she took a sip of her own coffee.
“I definitely will!” Tom set down the empty skewer and greedily picked up another Yakitori Skewer from the plate of Yakitori in front of him.
“This must be mutton! It’s so fatty and nice!” Tom said in approval, as he chomped the mutton off the rattan skewer stick.
“I’m glad you like it,” Mary said, as she sipped more coffee.
If she had been paying attention to John, Mary would have noticed the evil smile spreading across his face.
“Cough! What is this…this burning sensation? Cough! Cough!” Suddenly, Tom’s face turned purple, and his veins began popping up at the side of his face. He spat out the coffee and mutton he just consumed and clutched at his throat.
“Oh, darling! What’s happening to you? Do you need some water? Quick John! Fetch a glass of water…Euugghhh! Cough! Cough!” Mary rose to her feet, and reached out to Tom in concern when she began to cough and retch too She spat out the coffee she drank, and her face also turned purple, her veins popping out as well, as she grasped at her throat.
“You…You poisoned us, you scumbag!” Tom gasped and pointed an accusatory finger at John. But it was too late. Tom collapsed on the ground, and he stopped breathing, laying very still on the floor.
“John…” Soon, Mary collapsed on the floor too, after a few seconds of struggling and grasping at her throat. But whilst she lay completely still, her eyes were wide open, staring accusingly up in John’s direction.
Humming cheerfully, John dragged both bodies aside and lay them neatly by the sofa in the living room. He then proceeded to the kitchen, wherefrom one of the cabinets, he retrieved the small bottle of cyanide solution he stole from the counter at the local pawnshop next to Poon Yao kopitiam, used to clean the gold and silver jewellery the pawnshop received, which John had slipped into the coffee, and the Yakitori he prepared for Tom and Mary. With a peaceful smile, John poured the remainder of the cyanide solution into the third cup of coffee he made, and then drank deeply from that cup. The young intern hired at the pawnshop a few shop-lots down from Poon Yao kopitiam had been careless, and would soon discover one of the bottles of cyanide solution he was in charge of had mysteriously ‘vanished without a trace’.
But one man’s mistake was another man’s ‘salvation’.
“Death is not to be feared. Death is an old friend, here to embrace you and liberate you from the shackles of physical existence,” John mused to himself, recalling an old Chinese proverb. He laughed one final melancholic laugh before Death took him. His final thought was about the Yamaha R2 sportbike he purchased after moving to KL, which he had proudly decked out in the Malaysian Yakitori brand colours of white and black, with the brand logo of Malaysian Yakitori splashed proudly across both sides, which he used as a moving billboard to promote his stall, and lamented how he could no longer ride it, the twenty or so bank installments on it non-withstanding.
Most importantly of all, John recalled his mother’s warning about Mary: ‘The girl has a ‘Sha Fu Xiang’, a ‘face that killed husbands’. You better be careful.’ But John was always too enthralled by Mary’s sultry looks, her slim figure that could miraculously not put on an inch of fat despite how much she gorged herself, and her long sexy legs, to pay attention to ancient Chinese wisdom. He let his ‘thing down there’, do the thinking for him, instead of using his brain. Now, he paid for it with his life, as Mary’s previous husband probably did too. Tom as well.
It would be several weeks later, when police discovered the bodies of Tom, Mary, and John. Neighbours complained about the awful stench coming from the house. When a locksmith finally drilled his way through the door, police would be greeted by a horrifying sight: Three dead bodies, totally covered in flies and maggots, lying in the house, with an awful stench of decomposition in the air. Brown liquid seeped from the bodies and stained the marble floor beneath them, as flies buzzed frantically over the decomposing skin and flesh, voraciously devouring the sustenance that they had been searching so long and hard for, beside squirming white maggots that erupted from eggs the flies had laid into the bodies of the deceased.
Cover image by Gabriel Manlake on Unsplash. The copyright of this short story belongs to Damien Lee.
Copied and pasted from Eksentrika.
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