NOTE: This is a longer version of a microstory I wrote a year ago on my Instagram account, based on an actual experience. This story is also published on my LinkedIn account.
Bru: a type of Indian coffee commonly found in Malaysian Indian restaurants and stalls. Best consumed in the morning with a plate of warm idlis or hot dosa, or sometime in the afternoon for tea with vadai or curry puffs.
She just had to get away from it all, the noise and chaos. An aimless drive and two turns later, she parked and walked across to the Indian tea stall under the trees. Unassuming, hidden and obscured from the busy street. The stall was almost empty, to her relief.
A Indian young boy, probably in his early 20s was busy mixing some teh tarik. He looked like a college student, with his fresh haircut, torn jeans and ‘couldn’t care less t-shirt’.
Yup. The pile of accounting books neatly stacked by the cash register confirmed her thoughts.
“Oru bru coffee, thambi (one bru coffee, brother).”
He promptly whipped up the bru in two minutes. As he added the sugar, she chided herself for not saying kurang manis (less sugar).
She sat in recluse sipping that damn good cup of simple bru (although it could’ve been less sweet), and her mind started to settle. What a week. What a bloody week. How did everything get so hectic and exhausting?
It’s all an illusion, she heard inside her. All that is real is unreal. This life of working all the time, it’s really not a badge you need to wear, the voice said.
There is more to life.
She took a deep long breath and stared out in the open. Yes, there is more to life. But we still have to work, right?
A Chinese uncle walked out of the flats in front of the tea stall with a parcel in his hand, and smiled at the Indian guard who was sitting lazily inside, fanning himself to keep cool under the hot Malaysian weather. He lifted his hand in acknowledgement and went back to his Tamil Nesan newspaper.
A bright shiny BMW pulled up — Chinese uncle hands a parcel of what looks like chicken rice to the driver. They chatted for a while in Mandarin, and said their goodbyes. Chinese uncle looks across (is he looking at me?, she thought), and headed towards the tea stall.
“One masala tea, boy.”
He sat alone, just like her. For a second their eyes met, and he nodded with a smile. And then he closed his eyes and sighed.
Looks like this place was also his haven from chaos.
“Here you go, Appa,” said the young waiter boy.
Wait, did he just say Appa?
The Chinese uncle must’ve seen her face. He patted the boy, looked at her and proudly declared, “my son.”
Turned out the boy’s name was Arjun Tan. Mixed heritage, studying at a nearby university and helps out at their family tea stall in the afternoons. Uncle Tan also provides catering for Indian and Chinese cuisine (all cooked by his wife, Saras). He makes it a point to take breaks from his crazy work schedule that starts at 3am everyday.
“When you’re in the food business girl, there is no rest,” he said, sipping his masala tea.
“I think that applies everywhere uncle, to all jobs,” she responded.
“Ha! Listen to uncle. Money is important, but life is more precious. Simple advice. Don’t work until you feel like you cannot live. Then if anything happens, who’s going to spend all the money you’re making? Ha. . . remember, you must find time to take breaks. And there is nothing more important that your sanity.”
“And if all else fails, just have a bru coffee! Everything will feel better,” he added with a chuckle.
Maybe it showed on her face, the exhaustion. Or maybe that sense of relief showed after she took a sip of coffee. Either way, she didn’t expect a cup of coffee would give her a simple but powerful life lesson reminder again.
Bru coffee — a powerful teacher indeed.