My ease began to wane and rose-colored anticipation to cloud. It’s one thing when you arrive in a country with cash in the pocket, it’s quite another when you arrive with money on a card and you can’t pick it up from the dispenser.
Only later did I come to know that the banks apply additional degrees of protection on cards and you have to activate a card for that particular country you want to visit. At that point of time I faced an unpleasant fact: I had no cash. None whatsoever. Welcome to Malaysia.
Having still some money left on the phone I started to write SMS to Kuzmich bidding him to save his hapless friend and send any amount for food by Western Union. We’ll settle accounts, when I’m back.
I barely found a roaming connection and Kuzmich had time to confirm the operation.
The airfare included a trip from the airport to the city without cancellation. When buying the ticket I frowned at this extra expense, but now it saved me: without a single ringgit, I got into the bus and started to meet a new country.
The new country turned to be beautiful. Everything was a delight for the lover of Asia. Someone had the idea to build the airport at 70 kilometers from the capital and I spent the whole distance with my nose glued to the window to gaze at the surrounding landscape.
The bus terminal was inside a skyscraper, where the vehicle gloriously drove.
The overhead metro line was also there: one floor above.
Human maelstrom was whirling around; there was a smell of jasmine and grilled calamari.
The disappointment was the roaming service: it was barely audible in the airport, but totally disappeared here.
Even if Kuzmich had time to send the code of money transfer, I had no chance of reading it.
The endeavors to find free internet failed. Even the Cristian community expelled me.
I decided to get to the hostel, where one could arrange to pay the day after, took the packsack on my back, stared in envy at the serious metro passengers above me and started walking.
It has to be said that Kuala Lumpur, as the overwhelming majority of other Asian cities, is not fit for walking tours. No sooner you make a few steps than you find yourself on the curb of a highway jumping over storm drains and hearing a continuous buzz and clangor of the metal stream.
It was there, on the highway curb, that I found the hat.
The hat was a cowboy type, posh, with a badge and a strap under the chin. Maybe even of leather.
In Asia, such hats are worn by slim, finely molded local girls in blue jeans and a T-shirt on appetizing, young and supple body.
It was probably blown away from one of innumerable motor bikes.
I do not wear hats in hot weather. And no other headgear.
Maybe I am presumptuous but certainly heat-resistant; I am totally unfamiliar with sunstrokes or thermal shocks.
Once I wanted to buy a hat just to show off, but none became me. Some of them were more or less OK, and I looked like a Columbian drug lord in them, but they cost as my kidney. Or rather both, taking into account their degree of wear.
Now it naturally fell into my hands.
I picked it up and continued my march.
The highway lowered a bit forming a sort of sideway. Some passers-by appeared which were not there before and only people in the cars cast a surprised glance.
Upset by money problems I regarded the finding of the hat as a kind of compensation from the Universe for inconveniences (I am definitely presumptuous).
Then there was some shade and a mirror-like shop window. I pulled the hat on and set about examining myself making peacocky faces.
It was evidently a bit tight. Not too much but still it was. It enclasped my boisterous head like a cooking pot.
Moreover, it definitely belonged to a girl. Abundance of details is good for a damsel, but looks stridently as a Hawaiian shirt on a man.
My already round phiz, fat as butter, had plumped even more.
The word “imbecile-cowboy” somehow came to my mind.
It was hard to say, whether it was want of habit or was it truly somewhat alien. I decided to try and get used to it, once it came my way, and proceeded with the hat on. Baffled by the awkwardness on the head, back and chin strap.
I had a feeling of attracting everybody’s attention. Or of a group of thugs waiting round the next corner to come out and get tough with me: “Where d’ye come from, ye fucker? Siphoned the hat off our guys, eh? Who was it, ye stinker?”
However, nothing of the kind happened. Nobody cared.
And then again, only I know to have put a hat on for the first time in my life. No one else does.
I found a hostel. Checked in as if nothing happened and then casually informed the administration that I would pay the next day. Nobody was displeased, though. “It’s up to you” was their attitude.
I was tormented with thirst and drank a whole jar of water. Took noodles from the free-of-charge shelf and had a pauper’s supper: maccheroni on their own with water.
It is bad to be a little, miserable orphan without money: try to avoid it, said one classic writer.
At that time an unexpected miracle occurred: roaming not only appeared but also was devilishly clear, the graduation skyrocketed. After that, I found connecting roaming nowhere in Kuala Lumpur: outside of hostel, it was hopelessly unavailable.
Beep! SMS from Kuzmich, my heart stood still. “Code…” Have a good time, old chap”.
Yippeу ki yay! Oh, blessed Kuzmich, may the hand of God who delivers benefits to you never become empty, may all your days be halcyon, your health like that of the Titans, and may life always turn its face to you and only women turn their back side.
It was evening and the banks did not work, so – first thing in the morning.
And I did as I intended. And even had the hat on.
Expressed my wishes and got the answer in Manglish, a mixture of Malay and English, as in “fill out the form, white sahib”.
I did as I was bidden, indicated the code, wrote Kuznetsov Sergey as name of sender.
The girl in the wicket checked everything, looked at me with pensive eyes from behind her hijab and said the name of sender was missing.
I showed her: here it is – Kuznetsov Sergey. She shrugged her shoulders, meaning that I was right, but not quite so: something was still not there.
I started to reflect. So hard that I even whipped off the hat to prevent it from constricting the thinking channels.
Kuzmich could ask someone to transfer money. What would be the name of sender then?
“Are you sure your friend’s name is really the one you indicated?” – asked the girl wishing to help me and became still more pensive behind her hijab. It was evident that without hat, with its brazen arrogance, I induced more sympathetic concern.
“Yes, I am: Kuznetsov Sergey. Kuznetsov Sergey Alexandrovich.
“How did you call him, once again? – rose up the girl.
“Kuznetsov Sergey… Alexandrovich” – I probably began to understand the discrepancy.
The girl gleefully tapped with her hand, because what she saw on the monitor coincided with what I said.
I added ‘Alexandrovich’ in the form and received a shitload of money.
And indeed, in Malaysia they have no idea why one should so unseemly neglect the longest word within the name.
I grabbed the funny banknotes, raised a bit the newly pulled on hat and finally permitted myself to cast prudence to the Malayan winds.
First Malayan, then Singapore, where I moved and brought the hat away from its historical homeland.
The hat became, silly as it seems, my fellow traveler. It was so alien to me that I could not manage to get used to possessing it.
Nearly left in a bus and just about forgot it in a café.
Once it was within an ace of being blown by the wind and change owner as it did, when I got hold of it.
It was awkward but nice. Graceful but unsuitable for me.
As if I married a daughter of Asia and admired her, and enjoyed her exoticism, but lacked contact, understanding and cultural affinity. She lives next to me and does not wrong me. Does not talk back. But I don’t understand her language. And I am none the wiser about her thoughts.
Temporary companion, always striving to run away, without a scandal, but aiming at being deprived of the white sahib’s suffocating presence.
I visited a brothel.
Surprisingly an old-style cubbyhole amidst the high-tech megalopolis.
A small, adroit joy therapist offered her service of quality, but callous as if on a production line. That event got the garland of victory and the title of the dullest sex in my life.
When I was going away, wondering at the strange, frozen void inside, she called nonchalantly: “you left your hat”.
And I really forgot it hung on a nail in the wall behind which the exceedingly passionate cries were heard.
I checked in at the hostel again and slept in the upper bed.
Kept my things in a locker and attached the key to it inside my underpants due to absence of any other space.
The lower bed was occupied by an amiable and garrulous Filipino-migrant worker.
He asked where did I come from and jumped at my answer. Russians were absolute legend for him: mysterious people in earflaps fir caps, who swill vodka with bears and sometimes launch space missiles from sheer boredom.
He also asked why I have a plaster cast – I forgot to tell you that I had broken my arm several days prior to the trip – nothing serious, just non-displaced radius fracture, and all these days I had both hat and cast on full display. Most foolish combination.
I was amused by his set of clichés about my snowy motherland and answered I was a boxer and broke my arm in battle.
After that, I acquired emblematic status in his eyes. He grabbed his phone and started to call his home in the Philippines, telling someone panting from agitation: “Hallo! That’s me. Yes, in Singapore. Can you imagine that my roommate is a Russian boxer? Go figure!...”
A regular guy.
When checking out I offered the hat to him as a present. And felt as if in a village, where machos swap threadbare hussy.
He probably also felt something like that, got embarrassed and refused. Though on the whole saw me off warmly and shook my hand – the one without plaster.
I departed from the Changi Airport, one of the biggest in the world.
I wondered around it and marveled: it was a palace, not an airport.
Visited the toilet room: I did not see one cooler than that.
The floor was soft, the bowl heated. There was a rack for clothes and a shelf for small belongings.
Wet naps free of charge. Ideal cleanness, nice scent as in spa salon.
It made me remember Beavis and Butthead, who were doing America: everybody was admiring the geysers and exclaimed “That’s fantastic!”, whereas they watched the work of toilet flush sensor again and again and cried the same.
This public toilet in the Singapore airport left a lasting impression on me.
Thus, Singapore sex was as lackluster, as the toilet impression was bright in contrast. One more compensation for my discontent from the Dear Universe. (Yes-yes, I am damnably, brashly and braggadociously presumptuous. And I was many a time punished for that.)
The plane got off the ground, Singapore was almost in full view from the window.
There is so little free space in the area that some of the airport technical facilities are located across the strait, in the neighboring Malaysia.
And only at that moment, when the engines roared and I was leaving Asia (only a short transfer in Bangkok was ahead) I started up – the hat!
The hat was not there. I left it behind in the toilet, when I was admiring the latter. I went away, while it remained on the rack.
After having been my companion and my indifferent escort, the Asian dearie refused to quit its land. Refused to be the thing belonging to the dull gringo, who thinks too much of himself.
And I, on the one hand, was glad to let it go, since it did not become my own, but, on the other hand, something stung in the heart. As if I am an aging painter, a Gaugin in his Tahiti, a vampire pursuing fresh flesh: a weak man in the quagmire of irreversibly leaving youth.
A child of the mature continent, who learned the truth, but it did not make him free.
A rich man, who curses his riches, which are unable to buy youth, impress a tender heart or bridle a mustang.
Sometimes I derive consolation from the thought that I am a lucky dog. And I indeed am a guy on a winning streak. The fortune really favors me.
It will just suffice to mention that I have survived, though others, equally worthy, have not.
Not because I am better, I was just lucky.
There are things and events that go through me and leave me without being in my possession.
And I feign to have nobly let them go, but in truth, it is not the case. In truth, I sigh for them.
And I am not talking of the hat now.
The hat is just an article. And then it really did not become me.