Not even a leaf stirred on the roadside trees as the sun blazed down on my idling car. I turned up the AC to help combat the additional heat that usually accompanies a midday traffic jam in Penang.

But instead of cool blasts of air, the AC began emitting waves of heat. I turned every knob on my dashboard that could be turned but nothing could persuade my AC to blow cold. I grumbled out loud. Just last week, my bedroom air conditioning was giving me trouble, and now this.

Hoping for a little fresh air, I put the windows down on my mobile hot house but all I got for my efforts was an inhalation of carbon monoxide fumes. I closed the windows. A rivulet of sweat trickled down my back.

One minute I was the picture of pre-lunch serenity, the next I was a wilting mass of melting exteriors. In no time, my freshly blow-dried hair was plastered to my forehead, and my makeup was just about ready to drip off my chin.

When I finally met my lunchtime companions, I looked as if I’d run a marathon in my outfit. Midday chic had dissolved into something from the Oscar de la Wrinkly collection.

Two hours later, I emerged from the restaurant’s cool interior to be confronted with a car that was hot enough for an egg to be fried on its roof. I glared up at the sun, but it just glared back at me, savagely.

Five minutes later, I pulled into a workshop that specialises in the service and repair of car air conditioners. A mechanic sitting at the front of the building greeted me with a warm smile. I returned his smile and requested that he top up my AC gas. He nodded his head enthusiastically.

While the mechanic poked around my car’s intestines, I took a little stroll around the workshop, mainly because the cool interior was a lure I couldn’t resist.

A few minutes later, feeling considerably cooler, I approached the mechanic to see how the top-up was coming along. Only to find that the Ever Resourceful One (ERO), had abandoned the top-up and was busy fitting a brand new belt to my compressor.

“What are you doing?” I asked, trying to keep composed.

“Your belt is broken,” he said cheerfully.

“Oh. So where is this broken belt?”

“Don’t know.”

“Don’t know? Then how do you know it’s broken?”

“Because it’s not here. It must be lying on the road somewhere.”

I wanted to ask if it was normal not to keep his customers informed when he deviated from his assigned task, but I checked myself. After all, it wasn’t as if the man was performing brain surgery without my permission.

After the new belt, which, going by the price, must have been top of the range, was firmly in place, I suggested to him that my AC gas was probably okay, after all.

The ERO smiled a smile that spoke volumes: “You’re a woman in wrinkly clothes. The intricacies of mere ironing are obviously beyond you, so what could you possibly know about cars?”

But he didn’t say that. Instead, he urged me to come closer and look for myself. I watched as he connected a gas cylinder to some unknown thingy in my car, pointed at one of the cylinder’s dials and said, a little too triumphantly (or so it seemed to me), “Look! Zero!”

I was beginning to feel hot and bothered again, so I smiled wanly and headed to the rear of the workshop again.

After the top-up was complete, the ERO brought forth a container of oil. The way he carried that stuff, you knew immediately that it wasn’t any ordinary oil. It probably contained extract of fossilised gold teeth extracted from Tutan-khamun’s mummified jaw. And someone was obviously going to have to pay for it.

I pulled myself up to my full height of 1.57m, and cleared my throat. “Just a minute!” I said. “I came here just to get my gas topped up, so if you’re finished doing that, I think I’ll be on my way.”

“Oh, but this is oil for your compressor,” he said, even more cheerfully than before.

“Look, I don’t have much money on me, so please don’t do anything else to my car because I won’t be able to pay you.”

That seemed to do the trick. His smile wavered slightly, but he quickly regained his composure.

“This one is free lah!” he said, obviously trying to establish some goodwill.

I resisted the temptation to deliver my “Nothing’s Free” monologue and watched as he put a thimble’s worth of oil into my compressor.

After he was done, he presented me with the bill. I inhaled sharply.

There’s obviously money to be had in the air “con” business.


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