The Cellar

When the enormous eighteenth century grandfather clock struck twelve midnight on any school night ringing with vigor and the hardiness of antiquity, I wouldn’t know it. I’d be in the cold, dark cellar installed deep in the back of the Vietnamese restaurant – or, some might argue, coffee shop – Thực phẩm Việt that doesn’t serve Vietnamese cuisine. They’d have anything any average citizen would be able to think of for a casual meal, their menu so vastly populated with cuisines from the widespread continents. But no Vietnamese food. I, for one, think it’s satirical, but I leave it to the capable owner’s discretion. The food was never edible on my terms, and I’d always have to skip round the back to the McDonald’s and grab something below four dollars, which was easy considering the amount of unwanted garbage they use to produce the junk they feed to toddlers. There’d be an uproar from the obese community if they were to charge anything above two dollars for a mcburger, or whatever the fuck it is they called them. I was stuck in this obscene cellar, cold as a witch’s teat, from after-school hours till one in the morning. This cellar, location confidential, was a dreamland on many levels for various characters. Deluded people who had but one thing in them – nothingness. They amassed in this cellar twice – sometimes thrice – every two days not having a clue where their money went or where their money ought to have went – on their dinner table back home. They went there, they turned their papers into copper, and voila, they’ve pulled the lever for the eighty-ninth time that day, leaving with no contrition whatsoever. Some people I have met who looked interesting enough for a second glance could turn up to three hundred dollars a day and lacked proper shoes to wear. The bellied ones who averaged about fifty a day, which was a rather average number, left the room only to get into their taxi and drive off. Cabbies…could afford to blast fifty dollars away every stinking day, but complained twice a day about their inadequate fares and unsound family expenditures. They, along with their union, are why cab fares those days are almost comical. It was like the union thought of us as tourists who didn’t contribute to this economy. Several of them even stayed past midnight through the afternoon. Their phones would ring incessantly but most of them wouldn’t pick up. Those who did proceeded to lie to their wives and daughters about being trapped in traffic or bad weather.

I resented, unreservedly, the explanations these people gave themselves to justify the things they were doing. I’d meet my pals and we’d go to this corner shop ran by an incredibly repugnant and tetchy Indian bloke in his late forties all alone from dawn till dusk. I recall that ragged visage as vividly as anyone else in the neighborhood can. His unkempt mustache and beard were a stained and almost insalubrious white-grey, resembling pubic hairs unmaintained and left for dead months ago. These same scraggly hairs emanated from inside his ears and nostrils with the exception of his scalp, which gave off a smell of old furniture fused with leftover curry. He had arguably the most greasy scalp and wiry fur I’d ever seen up close. We’d split up, forming two waves. The first wave would slide up front and demand the Indian man’s hysterical frown by flipping his merchandise all over the counter and showering his poor soul with amateurish curses before scurrying off on our BMXs, escaping his yellow-fingered clutches as he desperately gave chase, accompanying his panting with profanities none of us understood. Hindu, likely. What proved rather ingenious of this grumpy old man was a handheld camera kept in his shop. Upon activation, he’d give chase with this camera in hand and try to snap shots of as many faces as he could. He’d be so caught up in both the jobs of chasing and snapping that the assumption of a super cam with extraordinary self-stabilising capabilities and an anti-blur feature always found its way into his course. His finger would click so rapidly while sprinting that the flashes that emanated would have given an Epileptic a heart attack on top of the seizure. In doing so, there was never a doubt that his photos would all go into the wastepaper basket after he’d spent some money and time developing them at the photo centre. Eventually, he just stopped altogether. Even his best shot didn’t make it to the constable’s desk, as it was made clear to us through his best ancillary move – printing it onto sheets of paper with the words Criminal child, do not forgive. Call me, incidentally leaving out his contact number and pasting them all over the neighborhood. I could recall anytime the uncontrollable laugh that escaped us the morning we saw Jong’s indistinct figure and visage, accompanied by his over-exercised middle finger, printed and pasted all over the neighbourhood. That included Jong’s building but his parents couldn’t recognise that it was their beloved, perpetually lying, filthy son on the flyer. His Korean mom even asked Jong at home if he knew this foggy image to resemble any of his friends, but then scoffed and retracted those words saying “Oh! Mommy’s sorry, boy. Of course you wouldn’t know someone who would do something like that. I mean..what did his parents bring him up on, good Lord! Definitely not Jesus Christ, that’s for sure. And definitely not a twelve-thousand-dollar-a-year education. Bless my dear boy!”

And Jong would bury his remorse with a fake condescending smirk.

Seeing as the Indian man was chasing after the first wave, the second wave would come out from behind the corner shop and knick all kinds of supplies we needed for the entertainment of our young souls. On the top of that list was the four letter word eggs. These eggs were more precious to us than fags and booze or pocket money and spray paint because we used them to deal with the scandalous cabbies I saw daily in the cellar. I’d take down their plate numbers and names printed on their taxi license sheet along with their calling IDs. The plate numbers were for when we went on our hunting trips in the event they were on the road or had someone else take over their taxi for the other shift. The names were for administrative purposes, such as knowing how to address our victims, understanding who we’re dealing with, and the despicable but brilliant idea of submitting these names whenever a complaint was to be lodged. Lastly, the calling IDs were simply for summoning them. As our night fell, I’d meet the gang – mostly just Chris and Jong because we were the only three who had sufficient pent up angst and sordid woes to uptake the valorous duty. We’d put on our trojan masks – not the warrior but the horse – and we’d take our pick from my list of the day. Sometimes, we’d encounter, by pure coincidence, cabbies from past lists and previous eggings. You wish you could see the incomparable look on those helpless faces behind the car window, some wincing, some biting their tongues, and the nasty ones abruptly braking full-on even with passengers on board to glare at our masked faces for some seconds before apologising to their bewildered customers while we laughed with undaunted levity. There were a few occasions when these cabbies did not have a passenger on board. We’d stare them straight down, right into their inane eyes, and we could just tell they had the naivety to presume they possessed the upper hand. Chris and I especially enjoyed sloppy seconds like these. Somehow, these adult men in society have all grown up impregnated with the erroneous misconception that they could assume dominance over the generations after theirs by mindlessly shouting and asserting an aggressive disposition, that when they were in this state of mind, whatever their mouth decided to spout should be revered as if they were words from a saint. Inevitably, we found exceptional pleasure in egging the ferocious bastards who looked so determined to send us to hell. If only they worked this hard bringing food home every night and showing love to their children. If only they knew what I knew.

We’d continue to egg and run, waiting for these fat-arsed swines to catch up while egging and mocking them every step of the way. We knew they took it as motivation, so we did it more. We’d keep it so personal until these grown up men were down on both knees, wishing they hadn’t gotten out of their now desecrated cabs to prove their nonexistent alpha. We’d stop to look at the state we – twelve and fourteen year old kids – have put them in, and I remember it being a representation of what a finer world would be. How does society get away with telling everyone that adults are the ones who should be making critical decisions, some regarding very few people, some regarding the masses, and then keeping completely silent when said adults make tremendously foolish life-changing events happen, still unshakably resistant towards the youngers. How are they the ones who get to hold prejudices against the youths and young adults for being callous and inexperienced when they are, in every incident, the ones responsible for organising the most epic failures of the first world? They are the ones who resort to problem gambling, extramarital affairs, war, overt materialism, avarice, social indifference and unblinking corruption. Who should be responsible for the deaths from hunger in those deliberately forsaken parts of the world? The Pope?

We’d sprint back to locate their abandoned cabs and leave our trademark on it. It was a cliched sprayed-on apostrophe in mint. That’d mark the end of some of our nights as we strolled on back home with our heads held high.

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