No one came to eat on Sundays. During the week the world was seated on the plastic chairs and the great pillar fans blew away the flies and the piles of turmeric cabbage and fried fish shortened and eventually vanished by three o’ clock in the afternoon. He’d have taken at least fifty cans of fizzy drinks to tables and juggled straws in his hands while his fingers sweated and the blue Biro in his hands slipped here and there, attempting to take down orders in his special shorthand. The other waiters could never read his codes. It was his language, the midpoint, the connecting dot between himself and men or women who hardly registered his hovering gait by where they had chosen to sit at “Only Friends Cafe”. At night, before bed and after he’d completed his two hours of checking in with the world on the internet, he went through the day’s orders. Tw CC Fv GNMF. Et RC CB. Sv BB +O. Right there, in the abbreviations- not simply acronyms but whole inventions of his mind- was his proof that he had left Burma to investigate where life could take him. It might as well have been a magic carpet ride that moved him down the mass of land called Thailand and Malaysia, stopping at a place he’d thought would only exist in the future, perhaps in 2084: Cyberjaya, the first witness of his cafespeak.
He knew there might come a day when the manager decided to close the cafe on Sundays and he thought about what he would do then. He’d not yet worked out a restday routine and he didn’t know if he could. The boys at the cafe- two other Burmese, an Indonesian, a Bangladeshi and three Nepalese- seemed to wait for surprise holidays or nights when the cafe closed early. Maung, who had travelled with him to Malaysia, said, “One of these days, I’ll take you to Kuala Lumpur. You know, you’re the only one who hasn’t been yet”. He wasn’t ready to go there, he wanted to say, but he wasn’t sure if Maung would understand. He’d not even walked around Cyberjaya, ‘The Intelligent City’. He believed it. The rest of the boys could go wandering that grand capital and pick up trinkets and street food, but he’d stay back and categorize his cafespeak, make a dictionary out of it, for waiters in the future to refer to when they were learning how to master their art. He didn’t tell the boys about this.
Then, two cooks fell ill after eating their own food and the cafe had to be closed for the day. He panicked. It was a Monday but he thought that this was a practice run for future Sundays. The boys flipped their aprons into the air and changed out of their uniforms. “Eh, eh,” the Nepalese called Kabi said to him, “come, we going to the city!” He nearly agreed to go but he remembered his dictionary and thought, yes, now’s the time, I can get to work after all these nights of dreaming about it on my bed. He could have started it months ago but he’d always been too busy on the internet although he never quite knew what happened when he went online. “I’m going to rest,” he lied, “you go, all of you, go”.
He went to his room, above the cafe, and collected his notebook. He couldn’t work there, no, it was too dark and it smelled of onions. He thought he would sit outside the cafe where there were a few chairs and tables. He opened his notebook and thought. Milo, Lime Juice, Two, Five, Eight. He abbreviated those. Excellent. Progress. Extra Sugar. Less Sugar. No Sugar. Those were easy. He wrote them down. Paper Roti. Garlic Naan. Egg on Toast. He was getting very good at this. Mother. Father. Temple. He dropped the pen. He looked at what he had written. No, it wasn’t him. Something had entered the pen. He was writing a dictionary or a handbook for waiters. But the pen continued. Football. Yo-yo. Badminton. Roof. Blanket. Bicycle. He wanted desperately to have a computer button to switch on so that he could see millions of words, none his and he would not have to endure this sudden tragedy. He threw the pen on the floor and stepped on it but the words were flying around his ears. He slapped his face, hoping to kill the words.
“Oi,” he heard someone say, “what’s wrong with you? Come here and see this”.
The shopkeeper next door, a large, pale Arab man, had left his shop and was pointing at something on the pavement.
“What is it, Mr. Nyar?” he said, relieved that the man had approached him.
“There”, he replied, still pointing.
Two grey cats, similar in size, were leaning against a pillar, one riding the other, both scowling. A crowd had gathered around them, pointing, snickering. For two minutes, the cats manoeuvred around each other, gyrating and behaving unlike the cats he was used to seeing in the cafe, begging for food, pathetic, dependent, large-eyed and soft. He noticed that one of the cats had a scar near its eye, the very same cat that paroled the cafe, begging for food, pathetic, dependent, large-eyed and soft. Now it was taking centre-stage, performing with gusto for all those who had declined it food. It was not night, it was not an alley, nothing, nobody was hiding behind a big rubbish skip. The cat was saying, “This is what I do. You think the begging makes me any less than this?” And it went on pushing and rising until it was satisfied and it walked away with a mew towards the restaurant next to “Only Friends Cafe”.
When the crowd dispersed, he ripped out the pages of his notebook on which he had begun his dictionary or handbook for waiters, threw it on the ground and hoped that the manager would close the cafe on Sundays. Then he could really let the pen work.