"Knock, knock. Knock, knock."
A creaking sound accompanied by a slightly opened dark gray door. Arash's head could be seen from the door's gap through the apartment door, looking suspiciously outside. The door really need a bit of WD-40; early in the morning, the creaking noise sounded the loudest. The neighbors on the left and right must be wide awake by now.
"Who is it?"
"Morning, Arash. Alan here." Lo and behold, Alan was standing there with a bright smile and full-suited light blue trekking clothes with black hiking shoes. The young man looked dashing in whatever he wore. A metallic silver Bluetooth earpiece device could be seen attached to his ear.
Flabbergasted, Arash wasn't able to reply for a full minute. After he recovered, he looked at his smartwatch and sighed.
"Really? At 5.45 am, Alan?" He had an exasperated look in his eyes. Alan chuckled lightly when he saw how the guy look. 1-0. He won again.
Arash was still in his white praying clothes. He was waiting for the praying time while making last minute packing. After he finished, he planned to contact Rob before moving out with the kids. This time, Mat wasn't able to join them. Hence, Rob had arranged for some other experts to accompany them today. There were so many things to bring along this time. He had spent quite a hefty amount for this round's visitation to fulfill his promise to Tok Silihan.
"I saw in the system. You took a 2-days' leave. So, I figure, you must want to spend more time trekking over there. I've arranged a team of professionals to assist us along the way."
This time, Arash had a crestfallen look etched on his face.
The boss knew.
He was trying to move out earlier so that the boss couldn't tag along. Later he would then give some random excuses to appease the young man. This time, he has so many things to bring and a mission to complete. He couldn't spend all his time accompanying his boss for a random excursion.
Arash's face changed a few times before he sighed deeply yet again.
"Come in. Open your shoes before coming in, please. (1) Place it here, in the shoe rack inside. If you leave it outside, it'll be gone once you go out."
Alan entered his subordinate's house and was amazed by the clutter around. Toys and children's books were everywhere on the floor, on the sofa, on the TV cabinet. A huge bundle of random things was piled up high on the coffee table. He had to twist and turn to make sure he didn't step on anything. This was quite surprising.
"The cleaner will be here this coming weekend. So, before that, just make do." Arash noticed Alan's questioning look and answered serenely. He was already immune to all the mess. He signaled Alan to follow him to the kitchen island while cleaning away crumbs, picture books, and some spills on the floor efficiently.
"Have a seat here. The living room is too messy. I don't want to waste my energy to clean the place. It'll take too much time." He brewed a cup of instant coffee and took out a packet of peanuts from the top cabinet over the sink.
"Have a go and wait here. I need to pray and settle the kids."
Alan took a sip of coffee from a dark blue colored mug and scrunched his brow. In fact, the company's logo was on the mug. Must be a souvenir from one of the company's events. He chuckled lightheartedly as he continued sipping the 3in1. Truthfully, he only took Red Eye (2) once a while and mostly drink plain water. However, since the host had prepared for him, he will have some for the sake of courtesy.
His eyes continued to trail over the whole house, Arash, and his two groggy daughters. They're all surprisingly early risers.
Alan prayed and spend some time on the maroon colored praying mat in the master bedroom. He didn't close the door, hence, Alan could see him from outside. His face devout, as he stared deep into the emptiness in front of him. Alan could detect longing and deep well-kept sorrow from his stare. The young girl with messy chicken nest hair rubbed her eyes while yawning as she walked by to the kitchen. She took a step back to look at Alan from head to toe two times; eyes blinking with confusion.
"Morning, Handsome Uncle. I thought I was dreaming."
"Morning. What did you dream about?" Alan grinned and greeted back. He couldn't help it if he's good looking. Children didn't know how to lie. Due to that first sentence, he formed a positive first impression on the little girl who still smelled of drool.
"An actor from one of Mama's movies came out of the screen." She replied with an extremely serious look to show that she wasn't lying.
"Well, I'm definitely real." Alan placed the mug on the table and knocked his knuckles on the tabletop. It made a hollow sound as it should be.
"Hmm, true that." She nodded. "Anyway, you look like a movie star. Are you Papa's friend? Papa very rarely brought friends back home." The girl asked again innocently.
"I am, though I'm not a movie star. I'm the one who came, your Papa didn't ask me to come."
"Ohh… It's alright, don't worry. Papa is kind. He won't throw you out and will still befriend you even if you're not a movie star. Ai still recommend that you go for tryouts. Uncle is more handsome than some of the 'uncles' who sings in Mama's phone." The little girl nodded seriously while scrutinizing Alan's face again. She actually made a rectangular sign by connecting her thumb and index finger from both hands, and turning it around a couple of times while placing it over her eyes.
"I can't sing so well, you know." Alan chuckled under his breath as he observed this little midget's antics.
"No problem, Boss. Your face is good enough for billboard advertisement!" She nodded again, feeling extremely confident with her opinion while giving a thumbs up to Alan. However, her adorable doe-like eyes trailed off toward the unopened packet of peanuts and they turned round with dismay.
"Don't eat too much of the peanuts." She whispered hastily.
The girl looked left and right as she righted the pink towel on her shoulder seriously. She whispered even lower than before. "That's Uncle Hadi's stash. He'll get angry lo when there's no more peanut in the house. He will become very loud, just like a crazy lion. The neighbors will complain again. The worse thing is, he just needed to stare at them, and all of them ran inside their own house!"
Alan grinned and rubbed the little cheeky girl's head as he too, whispered back. "Don't worry. I won't. I don't take peanuts."
"I only eat macadamias."
"Oh. I see, I see. Uncle is one of those kayangan people. (2)" The little girl nodded thoughtfully.
"Ai. Bathe, please. We're late. Greet Uncle Alan (3) properly."
The little girl righted herself as she did a cute curtsey while flaunting her yellow banana-patterned pajamas.
"How, do you do? I'm Aira. I'm five. Pleased to meet you." After that, she ran back into the master bedroom before Alan could reply.
Alan continued sipping his coffee elegantly as he listened to the hubbub of his new subordinate's house. It was very, how could he say, boisterously loud and happening.
It was true. The madam of the house was not around. Though the house had a tinge of womanly touch to it, it had been obscured by the clutter around. The nearby kitchen looked filthy with spills from cooking; a testament of Arash's attempts at cooking something. Most probably he cooked for the kids. What made Alan raised an eyebrow was the humongous amount of eggs inside a deep pot. It looked like they had just been boiled.
He knew now, the man didn't lie to the company.
As a bachelor, he couldn't fathom how Arash could manage the two kids by himself every morning. He heard that this guy even board the LRT (4) to work daily as he lived very far from the heart of KL. Even he himself had servants to help around; specifically a maid, a cleaner, a bodyguard, and a butler. His bodyguard was outside, out of view; he had explicitly ordered his bodyguard to never appear unless it was an emergency. He will only appear as a chauffeur to outsiders.
Alan's impression of Arash increased a couple of notches again. This was a genuine man who could balance between work and family well; an all-rounder. Nonetheless, the young man didn't know that his new subordinate's impression of him had fallen even lower than before. It was very obvious that this was an attempt at intruding on his personal life while giving him 'spot checks' at the same time.
Nonetheless, Arash was a kind person and a sensible one. He had a very high degree of patience thanks to being 'trained' by Hana, who always got her way almost all the time. Hence, the man knew that he must treat this new boss with a very high degree of tolerance in order to keep his job. After all, he didn't do anything wrong. It was within his rights to take a leave if he wanted to. However, since his boss knew and even appear in front of his door so early, he must really want to join the expedition.
Arash sighed helplessly as he readied his two little princesses.
They still had to go to Lisa again today.
Forty-five minutes later, the little drool-covered girl with chicken nest hair had literally turned into a sweet flower with a frilled soft pink dress full of tulips print and two hot pink cherry hair clips, complementing her outfit. Her hair was flowy black, reaching her back neatly. Her lips had a very light pink tint and she smelled of roses. Once Alan saw the girl, he couldn't connect her with the little cheeky girl from before. It's like the girl had a hair transplant. He knew when she grew up, she'll be an above-average beauty. The girl must follow her mother's looks, since she didn't look the least bit like his subordinate. Only her skin color was the same. The little baby girl with fluffy cheeks kept on blowing raspberries and cooed in a good mood. She was placed on a babychair on Arash's left, while the girl sat on his right.
Arash thawed a frozen rice porridge with bits of chicken on the stove while he expertly added yellowy orange-colored paste into it. The smell of pumpkin wafted to Alan's nose as he took a deep breath deeply.
"Are you hungry, Uncle Alan?" The cheeky girl started asking inquisitively as she spooned a bowl of milk covered cheerios into her mouth. Her eyes, round and full of curiosity. This girl must've asked a thousand of questions all the time.
"No." Alan smiled and answered.
"Hmm... You look hungry to me. Sorry, you can't have Aina's porridge. Trust me, it smells nice, but tasted only so-so. Mama cooked better porridge, you know. You can have some cereal. Papa, can you put some cereal for Uncle? Pity him. He looks hungry, although he denies it. I know he is. It is common courtesy to serve something to guests. Mama said so."
Speechless, Arash blinked his eyes as he looked at his boss. Was he really hungry? He planned to stop by at a mamak stall once he sent the girls to Lisa. At that time, he will of course invite his boss for breakfast.
"...Do you want some cereal, Alan?" Arash cleared her throat while he asked quietly.
A short awkward silence was replaced by Alan's hearty laugh. "No, thank you. I've taken my breakfast shake before moving out. Please have your meal, Aira. Uncle is going to borrow your Papa for a while."
"Where to?" She looked at him with pitiful eyes. Will Papa leave them again?
"Papa need to go trekking. You know, to meet Tok Silihan. I've explained to you before right?"
"!!!" The girl stood up suddenly while banging her spoon on the table. Without a word, she walked into the master bedroom and banged the door.
Arash and Alan looked at each other, speechless.
"She's really something. Go, I'll look after the little one. Just spoon this porridge, right?"
"One-third teaspoon at a time. Blow first. Thank you!"
Alan rolled his eyes and shoo-ed his subordinate to appease the little girl.
1) Open your shoes before coming in, please = In Malaysia, it is customary to be barefooted inside houses. If you enter a house with shoes, the host will be very offended.
2) Kayangan people = kayangan means heaven/elysium. This term was coined very recently. Malaysians who returned from oversea was known as 'cluster kayangan' unofficially, since the govt helped them return from their holidays/work/studies and placed them in hotels for quarantine. They complained a lot, were ungrateful, and sparked anger among the other netizens. Hahaha.. since then, anything 'high-end' will be labeled as 'kayangan'.
3) Uncle Alan = Alan and Arash are not blood related. Here, anyone older will be called 'Brother' (a bit old) or 'uncle' (much older, same level as parent) or 'grandpa' (if very old). So, if mrs mooncat greet someone as old as a 'grandpa', mrs mooncat will greet him as 'uncle', while our kitty will greet him as 'grandpa'.
4) LRT = Light Rail Transit, a train.