1. It always begins in the marketplace. The air is humid with the stink of fish. There lingers an iron certainty in the scent of blood, chopped meat and skinned chickens that dangle and oscillate from hooks. The fishmonger has his rubber gloves on, yellow and not frightening, and is adroit at doing the math in his head in a language which interweaves between inventory, profit, and losses. This is a language he knows by heart. A middle-aged Malay lady passes him a crumpled orange note for a piece of jenahak (snapper fish) and he passes back five ringgit with coins on her upturned palm. “Terima kasih.” She smiles and shoves the change into her purse, moving on to the next vendor to get some fresh santan as the thought of what to cook for dinner clouds her mind. Her arms are weighed down by the multiple plastic bags she is carrying. The five ringgit was exchanged between the fishmonger and the woman for a piece of fish, a unifying piece of protein to nourish a family of six.
2. The five ringgit was later given to the woman’s thirteen-year old son as part of his weekly allowance. He writes in cursive despite being a byproduct of the twenty-first century. His letters are beautifully-shaped, even, far better than the rest of his peers who write quicker and faster on keyboards than using a ballpoint pen. In appearance, he is nothing special. His skin is evenly burnt by the sun, much like other boys his age, and his hair is closely cropped. He has no beautiful features to set him apart. His voice, body and mind has not yet completely transitioned to that of a full grown man. He is signing off a letter addressed to an uncle in the United States. Not with ‘Yours sincerely’, or ‘Love’, but simply with his name. The five ringgit was exchanged between the boy with the lady working at the post office. It was exchanged in hopes of one day visiting a faraway country whose concept was, to him, still built on dreams. He would later learn to love the country but hate its administration.
3. The lady at the post office passed the five ringgit note to a young woman buying stamps. The nape of this young woman’s white neck sloped in a clean curve, her long black hair amassed into a neat bun. She has a dinner gathering to go to at night which she is already dreading. There lies an artificiality within human relations which she believes will never be an acquired taste. Alas, the secret voting of social acceptance would always be in favor of dinner parties. She dreads the thinness of the conversations, so sparse of meaning. The surrounding women, so pleasant upon contact but waning and judging and scathing as an afterthought. The men who would try to hit on her or get her drunk in hopes of taking her home. Debating over arguments with outcomes of no importance to her (her opinion would always remain stubbornly unchanged anyway). Yet she knows she has to be bigger than all of this so she drives to the supermarket to buy a bottle of wine she will not drink. The five ringgit note was exchanged in favour of the artificiality of false impressions and gaining social approval — the elegant gameplay of adults everywhere.