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a friend and i

We were outside at 2 in the morning, and we’d been talking about the week he spent back in his hometown. He looked quite happy, and I could guess from the way he talked about the week that he was. I understood, of course. I am fortunate enough to have not been born in the city. Sure, suburbs pale in comparison to real kampungs but suburbs ain’t city, either.

He straddled his bike and mentioned the “hum” of Kelana Jaya. How you’d hear it even at 3 or 4 am. He asked me about it, asked me what it actually was. I shrugged my shoulders, said that I didn’t know. He said that back in his hometown there was nothing of the sort. That if you sat down in a quiet enough place (nearly anywhere, judging by the way he talked about it) you’d be able to hear that all-too-familiar ringing of tinnitus take over.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is silence.

I couldn’t do anything but agree. I knew exactly what he was talking about. I mentioned that only after heading back to Skudai a couple of times did I realize how much of a busy clusterfuck Kelana Jaya is. I can’t imagine what living in KL itself must feel like. Even when I sit down at a restaurant at 5 in the evening with nothing to do and no-one to talk to (and enjoying those facts) with only a cold teh o ais or a hot teh tarik for accompaniment I can’t escape an odd feeling of . . . oppression.

The contrast couldn’t be greater: on my most recent trip back to Skudai I sat down at a local mamak I used to frequent and everything felt . . . right. The morning school session was ending and right outside the mamak was a whole clusterfuck of white shirts, white blouses, white baju kurungs and white tudungs, dark blue trousers and dark blue skirts with cars double-parking, horns honking and parents running around with their children in tow, but things didn’t feel half as busy as they do here in Kelana Jaya.

There was no hum when I was hanging out in front of a friend’s house, not even when all of us fell silent, lost in our own thoughts. There was no hum when I stood in front of them, with the sun setting in the west, and said goodbye to them in the evening light. The only hum, if you could call it that, came from inside me: that bittersweet feeling of revisiting and now saying goodbye once again to an old love.

I mentioned those things, and he agreed with me. “Ha’ah, ye lah.”

He said he had to go. It was getting late. He started up his bike, bade me farewell and rode off. I stood up, admired the night for a while—curse that infernal humming—before locking up and heading inside.

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