09/18/2021

Pavle Radonic ~ ‘Tis the Season

1.

Crossing from the fruit by the sushi aisles there was a S — L — O — W slow amble through some­thing about a Christmas tree. (Not the old up-tem­po fave.) Almonds had not been tast­ed two full months in Jogja, they were unavail­able at Hero super­mar­ket in the base­ment at Malioboro Mall and like­ly only out at Parangtritis some­where. (Reports sug­gest­ed Parangtritis held a high­er con­cen­tra­tion of Bule, Whites than even Malioboro.) The first few times at One KM the sec­ond nut sec­tion had not been locat­ed behind laun­dry and clean­ing in the far back cor­ner, where tonight anoth­er of the old reper­toire ran smooth as whisky over ice. An excel­lent Deano cov­er.… it’s cold out thEEEeere.… The slight teeth-chat­ter caus­ing a not so silent gig­gle to escape. Ah, that was a good one. My, my! Though one must say the Sunday had been pos­i­tive­ly cool, and through the after­noon no one could be both­ered turn­ing off the over­head fans at Al Wadi. At the check­out one tried the rail­ings.… Well, by no means the sticky ice-cold of NTUC beneath Joo Chiat Complex; that might be hard to beat any­where on the island. The street-peo­ple and beg­gars could often be found out along the JC con­course steal­ing some refresh­ment by the open doors. At One KM hard­ly sting­ing at all. By the same token, a body would not want to rely on that pol­ished alu­mini­um for keep­ing upright. Hardly any bunting had been noticed since the return. Somehow the Guillemard cor­ner shop with its red-brick wall­pa­per and prod­uct along the walk­way had been passed blind­ly. The trees had not yet arrived; a week or so in the run-up to Chrissy the per­fume of a Borneo plan­ta­tion could be tak­en on that cor­ner. Ol’ Deano in the tuxe might be raised in cut-outs some­where in the stores here, maybe Robinsons and some of the jew­ellers and watch-sell­ers. On the street the cars road-side were giv­ing off the usu­al fur­nace-blast as you passed.

Geylang Serai

2.

The Great Christmas Village was being erect­ed in the fore­court of Ngee Ann City, a mer­ry-go-round out front of Tower No. 2 play­ing Auld Lang Syne. (Good luck to the locals with the lyrics of that old favourite under the air­con on the Eve.) Pacing along the stretch by the depart­ment stores and from the win­dow of the bus there had been no sign of the Disneyfication that the church groups were com­plain­ing about; not a sin­gle elf or rein­deer. In the front win­dow at Paragon, the Raoul dis­play it may have been, an eye-catch­ing heavy knit in bright ver­ti­cals on cream base lured wives of men who took the sea­son up on the Alps. At Takashimaya the tree inside the entry was com­plete, scaf­fold­ing removed and the illu­mi­nat­ed glit­ter balls and orna­ments hung. Up at ski lodges in the Northern Hemisphere tall firs laced with snow would catch moon­light in a sim­i­lar effect. Slow Monday after­noon, under­stand­able with the event still a month off. Usual tourists from the region: Indonesians easy to pick, Mainland Chinese and Filipinos. Many places in China would still lack the full Chrissy pro­duc­tion. Usually there was a brief pass through Kinokuniya before the stop for the Paul baguette, then pri­or to the bus the raid of the sam­ple oils at Mui Mui. A sud­den fit of cow­ardice had tak­en hold at the prospect of what may have await­ed among the stacks at the bookstore—elaborately out­fit­ted ani­ma­tion char­ac­ters from the best sell­ers, celebri­ty chefs with egg-beat­ers on stage, min­strels troop­ing through. You could be caught com­plete­ly unawares even a week before the end of November. Indoors at Paul the maitre’d in his baker’s coat had recent­ly opt­ed for mut­ed orange, or mus­tard-loquat per­haps, wee sus­pi­cion of implants. Recent months it had been dif­fi­cult to ven­ture at Paul. Sitting against the wall­pa­per sur­round­ed by the fawn­ing staff, beneath the chan­de­liers. The faux fire­place with its imple­ments on a rack, the wind­mill prints. (Perhaps in fact the cam­paigne did have wind­mills dot­ted around after all. It could not have been a con­fu­sion of the design­ers, sure­ly.) At the take­away counter a pair of Chinese staff were squab­bling and ignor­ing a cus­tomer in a fine pana­ma. The lad inside the door at Juicy by the esca­la­tor had sagged in his pos­ture and would need to straight­en at an entry.

Orchard Road

3.

You might not be sur­prised there’s noth­ing what­ev­er of it here. Last few days only trip­pin betw Lt. Ind and Geylang Serai. Nada. Fairy lights, manger, socks, deer, nowhere to be seen. Have to laugh. An old Java man look-a-like from the school­books in our day has tak­en a shine to yours tru­ly and his char­i­ty late­ly. Most morn­ings the chap bel­lows some kind of hunt­ing call from behind at Mr. T. T., blind­sid­ing on the approach. Ah, Mr. Indigenous. It’s you is it? Hello you old ras­cal. Pagi. Morning. Pull up a pew… Some lit­tle malarkey gets the ball rolling. Chap knows his pal’s always busy, note-tak­ing, cir­cling items in the paper. The head-shak­ing puz­zles him. What in the heck’s that all about? Laughs. Always mea­sures his ask, know­ing the rou­tine of course, geezer his age. Nothing straight­away… When it comes it’s the clutch at the parched throat and screw­ing up the eyes like desert scenes in the silent flicks. Always damn hot of course, even December. Finger and thumb show­ing the mea­sure of the glass. If only he could get him­self some. The lit­tle zip­pered pouch on the table amidst the pens and papers holds the coin, he knows. Indicates with a fin­ger. You gun­na res­cue a pal, or not?.. Virtually all of the chat is mutu­al­ly incom­pre­hen­si­ble. Man camps out in Toa Payoh appar­ent­ly, yet takes the No. 67, which does­n’t go out there. Commun. break­down. His heavy ring clangs on the table-top punc­tu­at­ing the halt­ing con­ver­sa­tion. HaHaHa. The approach­ing event he has been antic­i­pat­ing more than a week now. Jingle bells, Jingle bells. Saya bulom per­gi? You goin back when?.. How you sup­posed to keep a straight face? Ol buz­zard ear­ly-mid 80s, some­one wash­ing, shav­ing, cut­ting his hair, par­ing his nails. Best of his threads the white BOY tee he sports every once in a while. Rip Curl surfer shorts if you can believe—no $2 Chin-wear from the out­lets up the road for this fel­la. Must be a daugh­ter or grand lov­ing him to bits. Decided he does­n’t need the dosh so keep­ing it now to fifty cents alter­nate days. One morn­ing a hoot trick­ing him with one of the new fifties. Smaller, close to the buck and about the same weight. The feel of it had him pret­ty sat­is­fied. Look-see fol­low­ing how­ev­er trans­formed the vis­age. Jowls dragged south, hang-dog mis­er­able. What?! They don’t take that any­where here. Whadya think this is? That’s the extent of it here. The car­ols in the super­mar­ket you can duck, almost noth­in else. Could eas­i­ly for­get the whole show.

P.S. Two vir­tu­al cards arrived ear­ly on the Eve, from Era the Minangkabau, Central Sumatra. Morning haney. Happy mar­ry krest­mas. And the cor­rec­tion quick­ly fol­low­ing: Morning hon­ey hap­py mer­ry crestmas

Geylang Serai,

Singapore, 2011–2020

~

Australian by birth and Montenegrin ori­gin, Pavle Radonic’s eight years liv­ing in SE Asia has pro­vid­ed unex­pect­ed stim­u­lus. Previous work has appeared in a range of lit­er­ary jour­nals and mag­a­zines, includ­ing Ambit, Panoply, Citron Review, The Blue Nib, Ginosko and New World Writing. A moun­tain­ous blog hold­ing main­ly the Asian work is here— http://axialmelbourne.blogspot.com/