Viewpoints

Navel Gazer

Published: Saturday March 28, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday March 28, 2015 MYT 12:04:44 PM

Stuntman, strategist, superhero, dream transporter

Saliva dries in my throat at the sight of the square-jawed, honey-skinned hunk leaning casually against the side of the lorry.

Could this be him?

“Alex, ke?” His wide-lipped mouth breaks into a winning smile as he looks up from the phone that he was typing a text on – presumably to me.

I lead him and his assistant into the exhibition hall, feeling a little anxious.

How am I going to tell Shahril that he will be transporting five pieces of furniture instead of one as I originally intended?

You know what they say about the best intentions – I only meant to buy one bed frame from the furniture fair here.

For years, I’ve worked for this event because the people are super nice, the gig provides a decent income, and I enjoy ogling at the stylish designs.

This year, however, I have a special reason for wanting to join.

I’m furnishing my newly bought apartment and I know you can get rock-bottom bargain prices from some exhibitors who don’t want to lug their stuff back to wherever they came from – whether it’s Britain, South Korea, or even Muar or Penang.

As it turns out, the job keeps me so busy I barely have time for window-shopping.

But as luck would have it, today – the last day of the expo – as I am walking out of the exhibition hall, I see something that makes my heart skip several beats.

An elegant queen-sized bed frame with a grey button-cushion headboard, in that mid-century style inspired by Mad Men, beckons me.

A signed form, an exchange of cash, and it’s mine!

Any niggling doubt flies out the window when I go back to the booth.

The staff serve me Chinese New Year cookies and a three-in-one coffee while I wait for them to pack.

Then one of them asks me casually, “What else are you buying? Since you’re already paying the transporter, you should stuff as much as you can into the lorry, mah.”

She has a point.

Up like a shot, I go on one final whirlwind walkabout with no real plan.

Did I mention that I am a strong believer in fate?

Because, if I’m right, and I think I am.

Only fate can explain why the first booth I end up at catches my eye.

Before you know it, I end up with an impulse purchase of a TV cabinet, two chests of drawers and a nightstand.

“Shahril.”

He stops and looks at me inquiringly.

“I, er, accidentally bought four more items,” I say haltingly.

“Oh. Where is the booth? Is it near the bedroom set?”

“Not exactly.”

To my surprise, he doesn’t utter a word, but just nods understandingly.

A sense of relief floods over me.

I decide, there and then, I would buy them dinner.

Or something.

It was not easy transporting a headboard, the panels of a bed frame and a bag of extra screws over staircases and through high people-traffic over a distance of some 500m, and we are huffing and puffing by the time we reach his lorry.

Done with the first item, Shahril instructs his assistant and me to wait at the next booth, while he figures a way to get to the loading bay.

Now, I’m not usually an impulsive shopper, but something must be in the air today.

Because while waiting, one of the staff catches me staring at a single bed frame and asks me if I would like to have it for RM150.

I stare at the gorgeous Victorian-inspired wooden-and-metal bed with disbelieving lust.

“Let me check if the lorry is full.”

Guilt written all over my face, I walk out to the lorry, where Shahril is loading my night-stand on.

As soon as he sees me, he gives me a thumbs up. “Still got space, kak.”

How does he know??

But I’m not about to tempt fate so I race back to the booth with the good news.

Who would have thought that furniture can make a person so happy?

I want my boys to share my happiness too, so as I jump in with them at the front of the lorry.

I say, “Eh, come let’s go for dinner. Akak belanja (Sister will treat you). You’re not allowed to say no. After all, the customer is always right.”

They both laugh.

As we are driving out of the exhibition area, I notice a long line of lorries that stretches into the next street.

Eh, how come you managed to arrive so fast at the loading bay?”

Shahril smiles. “Saya pandu menentang arus (I drove against the traffic flow).”

“You didn’t! How did all the other lorries react?”

“They honked and honked, of course, but if I didn’t do that, we’d be stuck here for hours,” he says, grinning unrepentantly.

Now I know why Shahril looked a bit distracted after I told him about the four additional furniture items.

He must have been trying to find a way to minimise the walking distance to get to the four remaining items.

A stuntman, a strategist and a superhero … what a treasure my transporter is!

At a warung near my new apartment, Shahril would only concede to a drink.

He really doesn’t take advantage of people’s generosity.

My approval of him rises even higher.

The boys are sweet to the end.

Instead of just dumping the furniture at the spot nearest their lorry, they are all, “Where to put this ya, aka? Sini boleh ke?” (Where to put this, sister? Here can?).

I make up my mind there and then.

“Hey, can you issue me a receipt?” I ask.

“Oh, sure, if you want,” Shahril answers.

There is a note of hesitation in his voice, as if worried that I would bargain.

Thinking of some unscrupulous customers I‘ve met, I think, I know the feeling oh too well.

The receipt he hands over states the sum we agreed on earlier.

He takes the wad of notes I give him without even counting.

“Count them,” I say gently.

“It’s OK,” he waves me off.

I say in a firmer voice, “Please count. Make sure.”

“OK.” His eyes widens in surprise when he finishes.

“There’s one extra note.”

Smiling, I shake my head. “It’s OK.”

Words can’t describe my feelings when I see the expression on his face.

This must be why Santa Claus loves his job.

I walk back to my apartment to enjoy my new acquisitions.

Only then do I notice a bunch of new documents on the table.

Flipping through, I find a receipt for an Electrolux heater.

This must have been the gift from my aunt.

I had asked her to pass it to my contractor while I was away in Europe.

Then it hit me.

Wait a minute.

Didn’t my aunt tell me she’d get a local brand?

My heartbeat quickens when I notice that there is a receipt for another water heater.

What’s going on?

I race into the en suite of my master bedroom.

Holy moly. There is an Electrolux water heater installed instead of the generic branded one she had promised to get.

Heart racing, I hurry out to the other bathroom.

Another one.

They had bought two water heaters instead of one, and branded ones to boot.

Tears just welled up in my eyes.

It’s been a day of bonuses which I never saw coming.

Then again, the best stuff in life always comes to us when we aren’t looking, right?

>■ In addition to fine furniture, Alexandra Wong appreciates a choice steak.

Tags / Keywords: Navel Gazer, Alexandra Wong, new home, new furniture, lorry driver, transporter

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