Time was running out. Hastening out of bed, I scolded myself for not packing earlier. Today was too important, too momentous to squander. A grand affair in the great city of New York beckoned, and I couldn't let it slip away.
As a Christmas enthusiast, the idea of experiencing a real white Christmas filled me with anticipation. My mind raced with images of the towering Christmas tree that stood in Rockefeller Centre, adorned with vibrant and sparkling lights. The statues of golden angels, resplendent in their trumpeting poses, would no doubt be breathtaking in person.
The festive decorations materialised so vividly in my imagination. Everywhere I turned, I would be greeted by the delightful sight of red and green fabric, fashioned into large bows and festooned with figurines of Santa Claus and snowmen. Even fake candy canes would seem to be peppering every store, accompanied by tinsel, mistletoe, and holly. Everywhere, wreaths of every size would be found, adding to the merriment.
Of course, the pièce de résistance would be the Christmas trees that adorned every establishment, each one unique in its size and decorations. Some would be towering giants, bursting with an abundance of ornaments and baubles. Others would be more subdued, with minimalist touches. But all would be radiant with twinkling and colourful lights, illuminating the festive spirit.
But before any of that, I needed to ensure that everything was prepared for my journey, particularly my passport. Time was of the essence, and I needed to remain alert.
After carefully completing my preparations, I breathed a deep sigh of relief. My eyes flitted to my phone, where I immediately ordered a Grab car to take me to the airport. Shortly thereafter, my phone buzzed, signalling a notification from the Grab app. My heart thudded with expectation as I eagerly opened it, only to be confronted with a message from the driver: "I'm afraid I'm busy at the moment."
A sinking feeling gripped me, and I tried again, only to be met with a similar response. It seemed as though the fates were conspiring against me. Time was ticking away, and I had no choice but to leave my apartment and brave the unknowns of the taxi stop.
As I clutched my heavy suitcase and stepped out of my house, my heart felt as though it were trying to escape from my chest. I glanced at my watch, only to see the minutes slipping away as my flight loomed ever closer. I felt myself rushing towards the elevator doors, barely registering the friendly greetings of the security guards as I hurtled past them. Inwardly, I cursed myself for my rudeness, but the thought of missing my flight made my heart race with anxiety. Who could blame me for being a bit on edge? After all, I was on my way to New York, the city of dreams.
As I stood at the taxi stop outside my apartment building, my senses were bombarded with the sounds and sights of the festive season. The dulcet tones of "The First Noel" wafted through the air, courtesy of one of the nearby cafes. Everywhere I looked, I was greeted by the delightful spectacle of Christmas trees, bedecked with twinkling lights.
But it was the clothing store across the road that truly caught my eye. Its glass walls had been transformed into a winter wonderland, painted with a snowy white Christmas village that glimmered in the sunlight. As much as I revelled in the festive cheer that surrounded me, my heart knew that New York would be on a different level entirely. There, everything would be grander, more spectacular. And those snow-covered landscapes? I would be able to experience them firsthand when I arrived.
But as the minutes ticked by, my anxiety began to mount. This area was usually so easy to hail a taxi, so why was it proving so difficult today? I was on the verge of despair when suddenly, an old woman with a shock of grey hair rolled down her window and called out to me.
"Hey, young man. Need a ride?"
I gazed upon the sweet, old dear, whose delicate frame was barely visible behind her time-worn wrinkles, as she beamed a smile at me, stretching her already creased face even further. But as she drove her vehicle at a pace slower than a tortoise's crawl, I began to doubt if she could whisk me to the airport in good time. My flight was still three long hours away, but the AirAsia boarding process demanded all sorts of formalities, including luggage check-in and document approval, at least two hours beforehand. To top it all off, it was the festive season - the airport was bound to be bustling with excited holiday-goers. And as if things couldn't get any worse, I hadn't even checked in yet!
Nevertheless, I remained civil and returned the old dame's grin. "No worries, ma'am," I said, spotting a cab in the distance. The granny simply nodded in agreement and bade me farewell with a wave. "All right," she replied before driving off.
As the red cab drew near, I frantically waved my arms and hopped like a rabbit on a hot tin roof, just to ensure the driver wouldn't miss me. A snobbish-looking fellow with a bushy moustache rolled down his window and sneered, "You're Mr. Russel, I presume?"
"No," I retorted. "I need to catch a flight. Please take me to the airport."
He looked at me with an icy stare and said, "No can do, sir. Mr. Russel Bartholomew reserved me already." With that, he promptly shut his window and drove off.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a dude sporting a chequered shirt and denim jeans sprinted towards the cab and hollered, "Bob, right? I'm the one who booked ya."
In a heartbeat, the driver's frosty demeanour melted away, replaced by a warm smile. "Yes, sir. That's me. Hop on in!" And with that, he whisked Russel Bartholomew away, leaving me stranded at the curb.
As if things couldn't get any worse, a light drizzle began to fall, and I was stuck at an uncovered taxi stand without an umbrella. And to add insult to injury, Michael Buble's velvety crooning voice wafted from the nearby cafe's speakers, singing "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas... Everywhere you go..." Although I'm a fan of Buble's smooth vocals, I couldn't help but roll my eyes. It was certainly beginning to look a lot like Christmas, alright!
With a hopeful heart, I fished out my phone and attempted to order another Grab car. Third time's a charm, right? My previous two attempts had been unsuccessful, but surely a kind-hearted driver would accept my booking this time around. I took a deep breath and hit "order," keeping my eyes peeled for any incoming taxis.
Festive shoppers and their families flooded the streets, spreading holiday cheer with every step. In previous years, the sight of happy families would have warmed my heart, but right now, as I nervously checked my watch and ruminated on my impending flight to New York, I wasn't in the mood for merriment. As I waited and waited, the "Finding you a driver" notification on my Grab app remained stubbornly unchanged. Michael Buble's song ended, and Amy Grant's "Sleigh Ride" began to play. Oh, damn! The last thing I needed was a tune that reminded me of snow. The song only intensified my yearning for the wintry wonderland of New York.
Just then, my phone buzzed with the dreaded notification: "Order declined." I closed my eyes and talked to God. "I know I'm not the praying type," I began, "but please help me find a car. Amen."
When I opened my eyes, I was greeted with a sight that both surprised and amused me - a familiar small blue car was parked before me, with a smiling face behind the wheel. It was the old lady from before! "Still waiting for your taxi, huh?" she chuckled mockingly. "Come on, just get in."
Just as I was about to hop into the old lady's car, a speedy cab caught my eye. It looked more promising than the lady's snail-paced vehicle, and I was certain it would get me to the airport much faster. Politely declining her one more time, the sweet old dame simply smiled and waved goodbye as she drove off.
I could feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins as the cab approached. This was it. This was my chance to make it to the airport on time. But to my surprise, it showed no sign of slowing down! I flailed my arms like a wild windmill in a desperate attempt to grab the driver's attention, but the taxi just whizzed past me like a bolt of lightning.
I let out a guttural growl of frustration and punched the air repeatedly, clenching my fists in anger. From the nearby speaker, Amy Grant’s cheerful voice filled the air, taunting me with her lyrics, "Giddy yap, let's go... We're riding in a wonderland of snow..." I was so tempted to scream at Amy to shut the hell up, but I knew it wouldn't make any difference. I was still stuck on the side of the road with no ride in sight.
With my luggage handle clenched in a death grip, my knuckles had turned bone-white from the sheer desperation of needing a ride. I was so preoccupied with my mission that I didn't even notice the drizzle that had soaked me and my belongings in droplets of water, staining my clothes and luggage.
I tilted my head back and let the light shower wash over my face, only to be shocked by a sudden lightning bolt that lit up the sky in a blinding burst of white-blue light, followed by a deafening boom of thunder. I felt so desperate and alone in my search for a ride to the airport.
Closing my eyes once more, I clasped my hands together and whispered, "I just want a car, please, please, please." Opening my eyes, I noticed a few passersby stifling their chuckles as they stole a glance at me. But I couldn't care less - I needed a ride.
I closed my eyes again and continued my prayer, "That's all, God. I promise to go to church more often. Amen." And just like that, heavy rain began to pour down, drenching me in seconds. I had to scramble to the roofed area of my apartment building to avoid getting any wetter.
At that moment, I felt like the universe was playing a cruel joke on me. It was as if God had suddenly decided to abandon me, leaving me stranded in the middle of chaos. I glanced at my watch and realised that my flight was only two hours away. This was supposed to be the time when I was calmly checking in at the airport, not frantically trying to hail a ride in the pouring rain.
For one last desperate attempt, I whipped out my phone and tried to order a Grab car. I made a vow that if this failed, I would give up and head back to my apartment defeated. I hit the 'order' button and held my breath, waiting anxiously for a response. And then, like a mirage in the stormy weather, I saw the familiar blue car creeping towards the taxi stop at an unbelievably sluggish pace.
I peered through the misted-up windows to see the same sweet old lady smiling back at me. But this time, she didn't bother to roll down her window, obviously because the rain was cascading down in a never-ending stream. Instead, she gestured for me to hop into her car. As I was about to climb into the passenger seat, my phone suddenly buzzed. My heart skipped a beat as I hoped it was the Grab Car I had been desperately waiting for. But alas, it was a message from AirAsia, reminding me that I was late for my flight.
I felt a sudden rush of panic as I read the message. My flight was departing in less than two hours, and I hadn't even checked in yet. Without thinking twice, I hit the button on my luggage handle, brought it down with a thud. I clutched it tightly to my chest and took off sprinting towards the old woman’s car as if the hounds of hell were chasing me.
With every step, my feet churned up the mud on the tarmac, causing it to fly up and soak my pants. It was like a scene out of an action movie, except I hadn’t just stolen a diamond from a crime boss. I was just a regular guy trying to catch a flight.
I flung open the door to the old lady's car and tossed my bag onto the back seat before plopping down beside it. "Sorry about that, gotta sit in the back because of the luggage," I explained, feeling a tad guilty for taking up so much space.
"No problem at all, dearie," she wheezed, her voice as thin and wispy as the wind outside.
"I'm headed to the airport," I said, but before I could even finish my sentence, she cut in.
"Of course, dear. What else is the luggage for?" she cackled, making me chuckle in spite of myself.
I offered to pay her for the ride, but she waved me off, insisting that it was her pleasure to help out a fellow traveller.
As we hit the road, I quickly realised that this was going to be the slowest ride of my life. The old lady was puttering along at a speed that would make a snail blush. I wasn't sure if I'd make it to the airport on time, but I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.
To my surprise, the old lady turned on her car radio and the gentle strains of "Silent Night" filled the car. It was a soothing balm to the chaos of the rain outside, and I felt myself sink into the melody. But as lovely as the music was, it couldn't speed up the old lady's driving, and we continued to trundle along like a horse-drawn carriage.
As we approached the road leading to Suria Mall, the car sputtered and lurched forward, causing me and the old woman to bounce around like popcorn in a hot pan. My suitcase tumbled off the seat and hit the car floor with a thud. "What the heck is going on?" I demanded.
The old woman's face darkened with worry as she looked back at me through the rearview mirror. "Sorry, dearie. My car's on its last legs."
At that moment, I felt like I had been sucker-punched in the gut. I knew there was no way I'd make it to New York in time for my flight. Fueled by frustration and anger, I yanked open the car door and stormed off into the rain-soaked street, dragging my wheeled suitcase behind me.
As I trudged towards Suria Mall, my clothes became soaked with rainwater, my eyes stung from the downpour, and my pants and shirt clung to my skin like a second layer of flesh. But I didn't care. I was too busy wallowing in self-pity and defeat.
As I stumbled towards the front of Suria Mall, I heard a chorus of voices calling out my name. I swivelled my head towards the sound and saw my work buddies waving at me with concern etched on their faces. "What’s the deal, man? You look like a drowned rat," Jim exclaimed. "Come on, let's get you inside," he said, motioning towards the mall entrance.
I didn't have the energy to argue, so I just followed them into the mall, feeling the chill of the air conditioning hit me like a freight train.
As I stumbled further into the mall, my eyes landed on a TV screen in the DVD store. It was playing West Side Story, and I couldn't help but feel a twinge of nostalgia as I watched the gang of dancing men on screen. I knew the movie was set in New York, but the sun-drenched version of the city depicted in the film didn't appeal to me. What I really wanted was a Christmassy New York, with snow and carolers and hot cocoa.
But as I looked around the mall, I realised that I didn't need to be in New York to experience the magic of Christmas. The mall was decked out in a dizzying array of Christmas decorations, from the enormous tree in the centre atrium to the twinkling lights and colourful baubles adorning every shop. And as the unmistakable xylophone intro to Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas" rang out through the mall's speakers, I knew that I had found what I was looking for. Christmas was right here in my own city of KK.
I gazed at my buddies' mugs - Jim, Charlie, and John - and felt my heart swell with joy. These were my ride-or-die pals, the ones who had my back through thick and thin. Why had I ever thought I could have a good time freezing my butt off in NYC alone? I grinned at them like a fool as they led me towards the warm embrace of Starbucks, promising me hot chocolate and comfort.
As I looked up towards the heavens, I couldn't help but thank the Big Guy upstairs for saving me from a miserable trip to the Big Apple. But just as I was feeling grateful, something strange caught my eye. There, on the second floor, was the old woman from the blue car, looking down at me with a big, toothless grin. And then she did the weirdest thing - she flapped her arms like a bird and took off into the sky like a loon! I rubbed my eyes, wondering if the hot chocolate was spiked, but when I looked back up, she was gone.