Kway Teow literally meaning “stir-fried rice-cake strips” is a popular noodle dish in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia. The dish is considered a national favourite in Malaysia and Singapore.
I took the small t-shirt from Lena’s outstretched hands and dragged myself to the locker room. The nylon shirt felt soft and crummy in my fist.
In the locker room I turned the t-shirt over to check the size. Small. No mistakes there.
How can the gym run out of L size every other day? Not even an M one?
Wasn’t this the most expensive gym in Singapore?
Shanon’s words came back to me: ‘There is a secret about t-shirts. When you hold them up in front of you, they seem large enough, you know, your size, no matter what the print says.
‘Then you try wearing them.’
Today the t-shirt got stuck between my forehead and nose, just under the eyebrows.
I tugged a little but it wouldn’t budge. My laboured breathing echoed inside the dark world of the t-shirt. It was pungent inside.
I pulled again. My ears flattened out with one sharp, piercing pain but the t-shirt didn’t get past them.
Blind as a bat I thought I heard smirks from the outside world; my headless form staggered around a bit, struggling to pop out.
I tugged with all my might.
Light! My ears felt raw though.
Squinting around, I saw a handful of the regulars.
They were in various stages of undress; most had their eyes glued to their mobile phones.
The art of looking the other way at lightning speed was second nature to any city dweller worth her salt.
I finally breathed. My tummy pulsated with the recent effort, but it was at least covered now.
I didn’t say hello to the trainers. Didn't even scan the gym for the usual suspects – the bulky Malay who claimed he had three biriyanis for lunch, or the seven feet tall Swede with the face of a child or the hot Chinese women.
The ‘corset’ covering my torso was a constant reminder that I probably looked like one of those taxidermied owls where the taxidermist had had a bit too much supply of stuffing.
Darting by the reception, the promo kiosks and the water dispensers, I reached the treadmills and mounted on one.
Today’s regime would be LISS – Low Intensity Steady State. Means I will jog. Sometimes walk.
Not sure when I started doing it, but I almost always played Adele’s ‘Hello’ for slow jogs.
Every treadmill had a touch screen with YouTube loaded. That’s motivation.
Cranking up the speed to 6 kilometres I started walking. The treadmill seemed unusually fast, rocking more than usual.
My right knee wobbled; I shifted my weight on my left as I struggled to keep up with the shifting earth beneath.
This part of fitness town isn’t crowded till lunchtime express hits it. There was still fifteen minutes for that.
Fifteen minutes, for me to pant through my misery without smirks or sideways glances pleading ‘Poor thing, don’t fall off just yet.’
The treadmills were lined up facing the glass wall that stretched the entire length of the gym.
Picture postcard Singapore lay on the other side – Singapore Parliament, its bright green dome shining, Riverwalk with its wide cobbled promenade lined with cafes sporting bright umbrellas, UOB Plaza towering proudly into the clouds.
‘Wouldn’t it be exciting to see UOB Plaza transform into Optimus Prime and boom from the clouds - Earthlings this is Optimus Prime?’ Shanon would ask gleefully rubbing her plump hands together.
‘Tell me about it. A little more tiger for the lioness?’ I would refill her beer mug without waiting for her reply. Rhetorical Fridays.
I looked down. Small important people rushed about Raffles place. From up here they all looked the same. Not obese, not thin, not happy, not deranged. Just small. Altitude, the great leveller.
My ears buzzed, the pretty postcard was fast dissolving into sweat trickling down my forehead.
‘How long have I been jogging? Half an hour?’
The treadmill showed six minutes past eleven. Six minutes? Just that?
SCREEECH! The treadmill emitted a screeching noise and shook side to side.
I reached for the speed lever but missed and yanked the safety cord.
The sliding beast jolted to a halt but not before it had its revenge of throwing me forward and knocking my head against the screen.
Adele stopped singing.
“Are you ok?” Two members of the staff had materialized beside me within seconds.
I wiped my glasses with the end of my t-shirt. My trembling hands made it a difficult task.
I gulped hard trying to keep my heart from leaping out of the ribcage.
‘I’m fine, just fine,’ I said. I shouldn’t have spoken, bad mistake.
‘Have some water. And maybe call it a day,’ somebody from the crowd murmured. Quite a bit had gathered around.
So much for invisibility.
I alighted gingerly from the running machine and attempted to make a dash for the water dispenser.
The world seemed to spin around in a jolt. I slowed down. Slow down, you fool!
I couldn’t afford to faint; not with lunchtime crowd pouring in.
The dispenser squirted a little water into my mouth, opened wide enough to gulp down a water cannon.
I crept back to the treadmill. Taking off wasn’t an option. I felt the trainers’ eyes on my back as I walked back to the treadmill.
‘What are you made of?’ hummed in my head.
Pegging the speed to 4 kilometres, I started walking. No more Adele.
The ritual had had its run, today was its last day. I needed a new song.
Alone again, I had to ask the question – Had the treadmill misbehaved because of my weight? Or was it a malfunction to which anyone could have fallen prey? Should I complain to the Gym management?
Toying with the last question felt good. The image of the perfect Gym with its perfect trainers and perfect members misaligned with this malfunction.
Did they have insurance against such accidents if the member filed a lawsuit?
Headlines flashed in my head, Twitter hashtags ‘Fallen off the treadmill and now a millionaire’, ‘Millionaire Gym-sloth’ ‘#fallenoftreadmill #millionaire’.
Droplets popped up against the glass wall; a thin film covered the postcard outside. The sky had turned the colour of dirty cotton with scraps of blue showing through.
I peered down. Lunchtime crowd was scurrying along, their umbrellas bent by the force of the wind, their exposed backs drenched.
Signature Singapore – sunny this minute, rainy the next.
A fleeting dash of yellow and blue on my left, made me turn.
Rosita was scanning the screen on her treadmill.
She was wearing a pair of micro mini blue shorts and a sleeveless yellow tee with “Shut up and train” written on it.
Though she hardly shut up herself.
How do I introduce Rosita?
Let’s try this: A trainer had once nearly dropped a 20kg kettlebell on my feet to ogle at Rosita hanging from the bars.
As for the long winded introduction: She worked in a bank (she had more than once let everyone know that). She was a dragon boat champion – her trophy had made the rounds of the gym.
It was rumoured (trainers at any gym are the biggest rumour-mongers in town) that she had turned down a marriage proposal from a millionaire.
And oh, she was a party animal.
But what really made her turn heads here in the gym was her extreme fitness. She could do bear crawls faster than most and lift weights no girls would dare.
Legend has it that she had beaten Norissa’s unbreakable record of completing the stretch of monkey bars by five seconds.
The first time I heard of monkey bars, I had to google it. I still google for most gym jargon.
Mental note: I haven’t yet visited the Monkey Bars section of the gym. Should do that soon.
But seeing Rosita on a treadmill was a surprise. Treadmills were reserved for us, you know, the also-rans, the bottom half, the never-will-be’s. You get the point.
But here she was, adjusting her shoe laces, doing stretches, and searching for her favourite song on YouTube. She kept tapping the screen till her treadmill shook.
I slowed down further. ‘What’s the point; my pathetic walk will look even more pathetic when Rosita zips on the treadmill with her supersonic run.’
I cursed the ‘S’ sized t-shirt. It was plain unlucky.
After a minute of trying to set her song, Rosita let out a grunt and cranked up the speed handle. Her treadmill started swooshing.
Ambling along, I threw sideways glances at Rosita now and then. I had no fear of being caught ogling; I was invisible to her.
Or her peripheral vision was up there with flies so I couldn’t tell if she was looking at me looking at her.
Either way, I did not care.
I noticed her thighs were quite broad and her skin was not as tight as it seemed. Not so perfect after all.
Maybe she had started eating in food courts, piling up Kway Teow, Char Siu and Carrot Cakes on her plastic plate at Lau Pa Sat.
Kway Teow – the dish no Michelin Star restaurant would ever offer, but was fuel for so many lives including mine.
Kept me going past my divorce, auction of our dream home, my parents’ car crash.
For lunch I would pretend to scour the dirty laminated menus in food courts, shuffle my feet under the table, and throw the menu on the table. Nothing else was ever worth having. It had to be Kway Teow, always.
At first I thought it was my treadmill. I reached for the emergency plug. But no, it was Rosita’s.
It swayed violently, she let out a shriek and scrambled for the safety cord but could not reach it.
It was funny you know. She did not scream when her head hit the still-moving treadmill.
Her limp body piled up on the floor at the foot of the treadmill, feet twisted behind. Her palms were still on the swooshing treadmill, moving in circular motion as if doing butterfly strokes.
I jumped off my machine and knelt where she fell.
There were shouts and running feet behind me.
Rosita had fainted. I sprinkled some water from her sipper on her face. The trainers were by then all over her.
Somebody switched off the treadmill. The butterfly strokes stopped.
Pushing me aside, they took charge, laying her flat on the wooden floor, hands beside her body.
Ali turned to me and asked ‘Why didn’t you tell her not to use that treadmill? You nearly fell off it a while back!’
‘Erm … I didn’t notice she was on the same one.’
‘Wow,’ chipped in Clarence.
‘She’s coming around!’ somebody from the crowd shouted.
I took a few steps back and turned. Running down the stairs to the locker room, I felt light.
It’s not every day that I survive a fall while the queen bee goes down.
“You look happy today aunty.’ Lena the locker room girl smiled at me.
My right knee wobbled a bit and I felt tired. I think I will have a Kway Teow tonight.