I walked down a road; a typical Malaysian tar road, multiple faded, white dotted lines stretching on and on, uncharacteristically empty of cars and their angry owners. On either side of me was a metal divider, some parts rusty, some parts freshly painted over in shiny silver. Pass the dividers were endless mountains covered in a thick expanse of trees, their countless, infinite leaves dyeing the mountains a rich, multi-shaded green.
Normally I would see this view tucked comfortably in the backseat of my father’s car on the way to Taiping for our race’s New Year, or for the funeral of another relative I barely knew. Today, walking down the highway, void of any vehicles, it was deathly quiet. No breeze, no animals. A slow crunch, crunch of my shoes on loose gravel, and my own steady breath, its rhythm out of sync with the former. Both sounds rent through the silence like one of those huge industry lorries crashing through the divider.
Soon I heard another sound that didn’t originate from my body; the sound of brick rubbing against brick. Someone was laying bricks somewhere ahead. I would hear the sound, then a pause as whoever it was reached for another block, then the sound again. I squinted, and saw an orange obstacle blocking the way ahead. I took my time in approaching it.
I stopped a few feet away from my new destination and looked upwards at the brick wall before me, an intimidating barricade of hardened clay. It was at least 15 feet tall; I wouldn’t be able to climb it without help if I wanted to. Looking higher still, I saw a young man sitting on the still incomplete wall, laying bricks. He did not dress like a builder at all; he was in a full-blown suit & tie. Nevertheless, he skilfully and patiently laid each block of material down, patting the cement in above it, then repeated the process. The Builder looked vaguely familiar. He finally caught sight of me.
“Hey there, buddy!” he called down, and waved. I stared for a moment, then awkwardly waved back, answering his greeting. I asked him what he was doing.
“I’m laying these bricks here because there’s a huge menace right behind this wall, and you don’t want any part of it.” He looked behind him for a bit, then looked back at me and made a face. “Boy, you really don’t wanna see this.”
“But I need to get to the other side,” I said. “Can’t you let me over? I could help you with whatever it is.”
“No, no,” said the Builder, shaking his head furiously. “I don’t want you to. In fact, I built this wall knowing you would’ve wanted to help, and that it would frustrate you by forcing you to turn back.” I looked at him incredulously.
“… You did it knowing it would piss me off?”
The Builder smiled and nodded smugly, obviously proud that his efforts were being recognized. I got a little impatient.
“Look, there’re only two ways on this road. I’ve come a long way, and I’m not leaving, I can’t. I can’t stay here and starve either. You need to let me through, whatever’s behind that. Or we’ll be stuck here forever.”
“You can’t help, buddy. I’ve tried fighting this menace long ago, and I’ve never been able to dispel it for good. I don’t see how an additional helper’s gonna make a difference, it doesn’t make any sense,” the Builder said gravely. This annoyed me.
“No, it makes perfect sense that if you couldn’t handle it on your own, an extra hand might actually cure it for good,” I said.
“Oh, here it comes again,” said the Builder, looking over the other side, obviously ignoring me completely. “It tries to climb up and grab me by the ankle sometimes, you know. But I give it a couple shakes and it goes back down.”
“What tries to climb up?”
“It’s hard to describe,” the Builder said absent-mindedly, continuing to lay bricks. “Either way, I’ll tell you when it tries to pull me down again, if that makes you feel better.”
“I don’t see how that’s going to help at all… We’re still here.” I was almost angry now. Time was wasting, and there didn’t seem to be any way I could ever get past this wall. The Builder jerked backwards momentarily, and looked back at the other side, then carried on building the wall, pursing his lips.
“Did it get you again?” I asked.
“Then why’d you swing backwards so violently?” Silence. “You said you would tell me when it pulled on you.”
“Yes, it tried to drag me.” Annoyed that he went back on his promise, but also concerned for his safety, I tapped my foot against the road restlessly.
“Is it gonna get you by surprise one day?” I asked.
“Who knows,” muttered the Builder. “Who knows.”
“Let me over this wall. I want to help.”
“Nope.” I snapped at that response. Turning sharply around on my feet, I started walking away. He called out to me.
“Where’re you going?” I didn’t look back when I replied.
“I’m leaving.” I stopped walking abruptly, then turned to look at the Builder. He looked back at me sadly, a look that wanted to tell me something, something that he couldn’t bring himself to say.
“I hope it never manages to kill you. And if you need me, I’ll be somewhere down this road,” I said to him, cold and harsh, but meaning my words. He stared, sorrowful for awhile, then nodded weakly. “I’ll see you soon, then,” he said. Our eyes met for awhile more, then I broke the gaze and turned back. I continued walking back down where I came from.
The road to recovery.