Be careful what you wish for, for it might just come true.
Hassan scoffed at sayings like this. He wished for a million dollars whenever he bought Toto, he wished he was in the Himalayas enjoying cool clean air instead of the smoke from Sumatra’s forest fires wafting into Singapore, and he wished that he did not have to return to crowded Pakistan someday if not for his ailing mother. He wished he could read peoples’ minds.
If he could list all of these wishes and place them in the order of importance based on his dissatisfaction in life, he’d rank “pry peoples’ heads open to know what they were thinking” right on top and “hit the jackpot” right below.
The truth is, he knew that wishes could never come true. They were anything but fantasy. So he would spend hours thinking about pointless things like that while driving an SMRT bus through busy Singapore roads, harbouring futile thoughts about being an overnight millionaire, desiring to build a swanky bungalow with ten bedrooms at the foothills of the Himalayas in northern Pakistan. Sometimes, he would dream about becoming the smartest man on earth!
Hassan always felt small at social settings because he never knew what to say whenever politics or philosophy cropped up. He did not like to read as they made his head hurt, but the gossip pages from Bollywood magazines were fun. His Indian wife was smarter than he was. Even though she did not go to college, Rohanna read all the time. And she had opinions on important matters when her other Singapore permanent resident friends from
Mumbai came over, making him shift his feet uncomfortably, and offering to fetch more spiced chai. If only he could outsmart her by reading peoples’ minds before they could say them aloud. Ha! That could be a laugh!
One Sunday he drove past the same derelict bungalow in dark and dismal Sembawang where witchcraft was carried out in secret. As he stopped the bus to pick up a frail old woman, he sighed, thinking about how he could get smarter.
“Oi, berapa sen ke Novena?” How much to Novena, croaked the old woman in the Malay language. Spittle flew as her pointy beardy chin wagged.
“Ngantuk ka? Saya nak pergi Novena. Berapa?” She mocked if he was asleep on the job.
Just a dollar, he said, discounting the fare for this decrepit woman—poor thing—and waited for her to enter the coins one by one and be seated before gearing the bus into motion. He went back to daydreaming, sighing louder this time. I wished I knew what people were thinking. Then I can be prepared for clever talk!
He couldn’t see a wicked grin spread across the old woman’s crumpled face as she sat on the reserved seat for seniors right behind him. She had just turned 100 years old with a little bit of help from beyond, and she was about to celebrate it by doing something extraordinary.
What happened next? Read the rest of this short story when She Never Looks Quite Back by Mallika Naguran is out.