Once I was in a taxi queue outside one of Singapore’s leading hotels and was idly watching people around me going about their various activities. My attention was suddenly caught by the hotel doorman, a tall, burly Indian dressed in the magnificent costume of an ancient oriental warrior. His dark skin gleamed strikingly against the black-and-gold headdress, the bright red jacket trimmed with gold braids, the black trousers.
He was part of the glittering panoply set up for the pleasure of tourists and indeed was just now having his picture taken by a group of Japanese visitors. There was one pose where he stood between two pretty young Japanese women and had an arm around each. He looked so thoroughly pleased with himself that I was provoked to turn to the person beside me in the queue, and remark, ‘Hey, these are the perks of his job!’ He heard me, turned round and gave me a wink.
And in that wink I had a story. It is rare that inspiration instantaneously produces a story. But by the time I got into my taxi, I had a complete story—beginning, middle, climax, denouement—and before going to bed, I had written it all down.
Alas, it is a sad story. The protagonist is an intensely lonely man, a tall, burly Indian with horrible marks on his arms and legs left by a skin disease. Everyone avoids him. No woman wants to be seen with him. Then a kind person manages to get him a job as a hotel doorman, and hey presto! he is transformed from ogre to hero. The splendid warrior costume not only hides from sight all the hideous marks on his skin, but turns him into a piece of tourist exotica. His picture even appears in a tourist brochure.
But the greatest joy in the doorman’s new life is the interest women are showing in him. Instead of shunning him, they now come flocking to take pictures with him. There is one woman whom he has taken a special liking to. She is an American tourist staying at the hotel. On her day of arrival, he was helping her with her luggage when something in the huge pile of suitcases cut his hand. It was only a small cut, but her concern touched him. She insisted on personally applying a piece of plaster to the cut. The sensation of her fingers touching his hand thrilled him beyond words.
He is now completely in love with her. He looks out for her every day, his heart beating faster, as soon as she appears in the hotel lobby, in her hat and sunglasses, ready for the day’s outing. She always speaks to him in a friendly way. There isn’t anything he won’t do for her. Then one day, about a week after first meeting her, he falls ill and has to take medical leave. On his sickbed, he suddenly remembers that it is the lady’s last day at the hotel. He simply has to see her! So he drags himself up from bed and staggers all the way to the hotel. Out of his warrior costume, disheveled and unkempt, he is no longer recognizable. He sees the lady, and approaches her. She screams, thinking a madman is about to attack her. He is wrestled down to the ground by the hotel staff. He is immediately sacked. Back in his room, sitting on his bed, he weeps. He cannot endure the shock and pain, not of losing his job, but of losing what he has come to believe is the great love of his life. He hangs himself. His body is discovered only days later.
Now every time I go to the hotel, I see the doorman around whom my runaway imagination has woven such a lurid and woeful tale. He recognizes me and always waves cheerfully. I smile back, trying to hide a sheepish look, as I think, ‘Oh dear, the poor man doesn’t know I’ve already killed him off!’
A continuing flow of little, readable pieces that will constitute what I feel is an important 'legacy of values' to leave behind. Read more about Vignettes...