Driving on

I SIGH, shift in my seat and gaze nonchalantly forwards. I have one hand on a handbrake and the other on a steering wheel. And to be honest, the traffic is last thing that's bothering me.

For ten years before this, I have relied on public transport to get me around. Buses, trains, taxis, hitching rides with friends, and walking for kilometres on end.

My new job required me to have a good think. For my previous job in Bangsar, I used to easily reach the office within an hour and a half at the most by bus, train, and on foot. I could deal with that. But Bukit Jalil is doubly far, and the thought of spending 6 hours day to travel was overwhelming.

“Once you get a car,” my mother has occasionally told me throughout the years, “You won't be able to live without it. It will become your legs!”

My mother never really understood why I found that view so discouraging. I have my own legs, and they still work! Why would I ever replace them with wheels?

The idea of getting a car would probably excite the average person. But I was reluctant, almost remorseful. Converting my mode of transport delivered as much of a shock to the system as did leaving my rustic shaolin kungfu training to dive right into a corporate working environment.

For the longest time, friends and strangers alike bugged me to get a car. Sure, there have been times where being able to get somewhere a little faster, and a little less sweaty, would have come in real handy, and I definitely could afford a downpayment. But that was not the point. I had been commuting for ten years. the act of commuting is deeply ingrained into my psyche.

Sitting in my cushioned seat, waiting for the lights to go green, my heart yearns to be on the go, on my feet, climbing stairs, crossing roads, making transitions, hearing the gasp of bus doors opening or the cordial chimes of station arrivals, smelling food and sweat, letting my thoughts wander across space and time, admiring clouds and the city lights, sneaking peeks at the raw faces of the rakyat, overhearing foreign conversations and the laughter of children.

Every now and then I got the opportunity to hold the hand of a blind person, be approached about the book I am reading, make faces at babies, or receive the most amazing smile of a stranger in passing. Every journey was indeed a journey.

Now, only thing bombarding my senses is the glare of red lights, the hum of the engine and the air conditioner blowing obnoxiously at my forearm.

I remember one of my friends telling me that the thought of taking a bus frightened her. Given that she is someone who has only ever known the comforts of car, I don't blame her. It's a dodgy world, the space of the public. There are pickpockets, sexual harassers, unruly sidewalks, and notoriously unreliable time schedules. 

But I now find myself being surprised by potholes and unmarked speedbumps, getting tailgated, honked and flashed at, accommodating to drivers who bend rules, park precariously or don't signal, and others, I can only assume, lacking the cognitive skills to distinguish real life from Fast and Furious. I feel the sting of irony, that it is being in this very sort of chassis of safety where I've never felt so consistently stressed out in my life. 

On the flipside, I have another friend who just got a car for himself several months before me. He tells me that he enjoys being at 'one' with his car and the flow of the tarmac, like light through optical fibre. It is an appreciation that I can see in the way his face stays bright behind the wheel and takes issues on the road in effortless stride.

He congratulated me on getting a car, but he was also a little sad that he didn't need to give me rides anymore. So we've decided to keep to that arrangement. He still picks me up for drinks, we still talk for ages parked outside my house. At the same time, I very much enjoy being able to pick up my friends too, a favor I have forever felt beholden to. And I still keep my walks to the grocery store, and trips around town on the train.

For now, I am learning to embrace my new 'legs' while acknowledging my own. I suppose it is a balance worth trying to strike; after all, being familiar with both sides of the same coin is a rare thing for any Kuala Lumpurian to represent.
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opinion , Davina Goh , The Gratitudist , driving on


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