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Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Starbucks Old Man

I'm now hanging out at Starbucks, supposedly trying to write.

What I'm supposed to write:
New script. A tale of two sisters told through multiple timelines, a merging of past and present, dream and reality. It is supposed to happen in Japan and Malaysia.

What I am writing now instead:
This journal entry.
An observation of an old man seated next to me.

For the past two hours, ever since I came in, the old man had been sitting here, his table covered entirely with newspapers. He had been staring at the papers, but I'm not sure whether he is reading it. He hasn't been flipping the pages, so I'm really curious whether he is reading or staring.

There are two cups before him, paper cups from Starbucks. He was just drinking water, no coffee in sight. He had not been ordering anything at all.

I think I've seen a similar old man in a Starbucks at a different mall, I wonder whether it's the same guy.

I find myself remembering those sleepless nights that I have spent in McDonald's at Tokyo few years ago. I was also writing a script for a film (it was never made).

For a few consecutive nights I saw the same elderly people who hang out there after midnight. Presumably homeless. They would just order a 100 yen drink and spend the whole night there.

I remember an old man who sat across from me, always holding a really thick dictionary-like book in his hands, and constantly wiping the table meticulously, compulsively with tissue paper. The repetition of his movement left me a little distracted.

And thus I find myself experiencing deja vu across time and space. The old man in Starbucks, who is reading but not really reading the newspapers. Who has two paper cups of water put beside a loaf of bread that he has brought over by himself. Who is now in a state of half-asleep and is constantly scratching himself and rubbing his hands together (the air-conditioner is admittedly a little chilly today), occasionally wiping his hands compulsively with tissue paper he had casually taken from the counter.

Merging of past and present, dream and reality, blah blah blah.


Whenever I'm in the midst of writing a new script, I often try to dig into my own memories.

Either they are events from my past,
or people I've met,
or something I've read.

It becomes some heightened state of awareness, where I begin remembering things I thought I remember. At the same time too, I wonder whether what I remember had really happened or were they just product of my imagination manifested because of my loneliness.

There's always my memory of a person whose existence I gradually starting to question, as no one else seem to remember her at all.

No sign of her on Facebook (her name was too common).

No memory of her voice as we had never spoken to one another.

My last memory of her was my last day as the president of the English Language Club in high school. I was Form 5 and stepping down, my (handpicked) successor was someone from Form 6. (my choice was either a Form 4 junior whose work ethics I questioned, or a Form 6 outsider, I chose the latter)

I gave a farewell speech. To my surprise, she was in the room too. She wasn't a member of the club, but maybe she was there because she was a friend of my successor? (she was also a Form 6 student) Perhaps she was there to see her classmate take over the club?

I was almost half the age that I am now, and as I (probably) fumbled through the speech, the only feeling I felt then was how surreal the entire situation was. I cannot remember what I've said, yet I remember her seated on the second last row of the classroom. She wasn't paying attention to the speech, which was okay, I wasn't paying attention to it either.

Did I imagine her existence?
Could it be possible that the sheer crushing loneliness that I felt during the last few months of secondary school had prompted me to conjure an imaginary person in my mind?

If she is real, I doubt I will ever see her again.
(Not the luminous eyes nor the (dark brown?) hair tied up in a ponytail,
nor the constant pink flush no her cheeks.)

If she is real, I hope she is happy now.