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Rated: E · Fiction · Comedy · #1965079
A short story of a group of elderly tennis players on a hilarious trip to Melbourne.

By Rahim Said (C) February 2013

At six in the morning, a tennis club on the fringe of the Kuala Lumpur Botanical Gardens, within walking distance of the business district, is still shrouded in darkness. Melodious sound of the "adzan" calling Muslim for dawn prayers break the morning stillness. Yellow naked light bulbs along covered walkways of the club, cast long rays onto the unlit tennis courts occasionally revealing the green turf. At the pavilion, seats that were filled by members the evening before are empty, except for three elderly players who have arrived earlier, waiting patiently for a fourth partner

A slim figure with a tennis bag slung across his shoulder opens the gate on the north end of the courts and struts towards the light control box. As he flips them on, he shouts dramatically in the direction of the pavilion, "Let the games begin!"

Dick Tan, a Melbourne trained Biologist, is captain of the half-past six tennis team, aptly named for its meeting hour on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Group members are in late sixties and early seventies. Many have played for most of their lives but with relatively poor court skills because of their reluctance to pay for coaching.

Dick cuts and slices in his game, preferring to chop even if the situation does not call for one. At every stroke he has to bend his body, twists his elbow and shouts like a chicken. Thus earning himself nickname of "chicken".

The three players in full white outfit, at the pavilion are now visible bathed by the floodlights, stand up and step towards centre court.

When through unpacking his racquets and balls, Dr. Bhar, a Sikh doctor who is reluctant to wear a turban, makes adjustments to the net. Using an rod, he adjusts the belt that holds the net. Without looking at anyone in particular, he announces loudly,"Net is adjusted. There will be no complaints about it being too high!" and walks over to the next court and repeats the process.

Chow follows Bhar, taking his time folding the morning paper and dragging an oversized bag onto the court. A chronic complainer, he remarks "I didn't sleep well again last night", as he meets up with the others.

"Again?" Ismi, walking behind him quickly responded. Everyone cracks up.

Ismi Bawashah, a Penang born Indian Muslim whose forefathers originated from Pondicherry, nicknamed Itchy to match his "bawah" that in Malay refers to as under. A Japanese speaking player once complimented him that "ichi" in Japan means number one and adds on the word mister or "son", allowing everyone to address him as "Ichibawason". Making him Mister Bawah, the Number One, or just a guy who is always itchy down under.

Six other players walk on to the court. Dr. Koch an optometrist, asks the first four players in a casual way "Can I play first?"

"Koch, can't you see we already have four? You may play with the other four or wait till we finish!" says Dick. "But before we start let's have a quick meeting" motioning to everyone to join him.

"It's about our Melbourne trip. So far, six have confirmed" and turning to the rest, " How about the four of you?"

Three quickly affirm, except XMP, a former Member of Parliament who unabashedly said, "I am sorry Dick, I have yet to convince my wife to let me go. She holds my passport!"

Hearing that, everyone laugh uncontrollably. Dr. Bhar at eighty years of age, the oldest in the group, almost choked with laughter. The roar is so loud even the birds on the nearby rooftop take flight. In between gasps of laughter, Dr. Bhar says, "I never thought that a politician like you, would allow your wife to keep your passport. Incredible!"

Chow offers his advice, "May I suggest you give her some official excuse for the trip?"

"I am thinking!" XMP replied.

Teh who is a quiet,soft spoken respectable board member of a government linked company decides he ought to throw his thoughts into the discussion, shouts out, "Just strap her up to the bed and take off with us!" This resulted in another round of laughter.

Dick now impatient said to XMP, "Can you confirm by tomorrow. I have to finalise arrangements. Now let's play".

The first four starts on centre court, the second warms up on another court while remaining pair play single. Dick starts to serve and wins first point. When he is about to serve again with two tennis balls in his left hand and a racquet in the other, he turns to his partner and asks, "Who is serving?"

Dr. Bhar laughs. "It never fails! I am convinced you have early Alzheimer's , Dick. You are serving. We just won the first point! It is now fifteen love! Come on, serve". Their opponents on the other side of the court giggle.

When everyone is busy playing, XMP interrupts, "By the way, how do you fellas convince your wives to let you go?"

Taken aback by the question, everyone stops. He goes on "Seriously, how do you convince your wives to let you go to Melbourne?"

Itchy shouts out, "Hey, do you need to tell your wife everything?"

"Ya-lah, you dumb or what?" someone responds.

"So, don't tell her?" XMP replies.

"Now we know why you are no longer an MP. You are really pathetic. You can't even lie to your wife!" says Koch and draws another laughter.

"I am an honest politician!" XMP bows to everyone.

Dick getting impatient says, "Will you shut up! Honest politicians are as rare as honest lawyers! Will you let us play and for heaven's sake try to lie to your wife like you do to the voters". He continues his game, chops a few shots and wins the first game of the set.

The two players on Court Three, tired of stroking, stop momentarily for a quick drink. The tall Clint Eastwood lookalike, a Eurasian, Edward Ball, a retired Adjunct Professor at a nearby college, casually says to his partner, John Jared "What excuse do you give your wife about this Melbourne trip?".

"Ed, I am an insurance adjuster, I tell her the truth, that I'll be away for a week attending a conference. But that is only two days! I adjust...." Smiles at his partner and adds, " And you?"

"I told her that I am visiting a former colleague at Melbourne University, Prof. Timmons. You know, as it is she is not happy about me getting up at five and running off to the club three times a week, spending time with the men, leaving her to have breakfast on her own!" replies Ed.

Ed continues, "She did mention that the week we are going is time for the Australian Open! She is a tennis player and a great fan of the Spanish Star, Raphael Nadal and this Aussie girl, Samantha?"

"So, you acted surprise, I hope", John Jared remarks.

"Just a little. I did say, if I could convince Timmons, we'll spend a day at the tennis park and catch a game or two!"

His game over, Dick sends Ed and John to Court One to play against Itchy and Larry. Club rules demands a pair that loses yields playing to an alternative available pair.

Dick takes a drink, offers Bhar a banana and watches Koch who partners Ong Wai Leng, OWL, for short, a retired mining engineer playing against David Danker, a self-acclaimed descendent of Alfonso, the conqueror of Melaka and Xiang Mo Peng (XMP). An astute observer once remarks that XMP's name suits his political career because in a Chinese dialect "Mo Peng" means faceless.

Dick has outlined their Melbourne trip previously but today he has brought with him a complete itinerary that his grandson has printed out and photocopied for everyone. He hands Bhar a copy and tells him that he has booked ten seats on a low budget carrier and five rooms at a casino hotel in Melbourne.

"We have to share rooms. Unless of course millionaires like you prefer a single room?" he says to Bhar after another bite of a banana.

"Hoi, Chicken, if you are not afraid of my reputation as a big, strong and friendly Sikh, I am happy to share a room with you. Do they give us a king size double or twin bed?" Bhar replies.

"Twin. It is bad enough sharing a room. God forbid if I have to sleep in the same bed with you!" Dick raises his voice. Four others join them.

Over a drink and a banana, OWL asks Dick, "So, you are sharing a room with this Sikh? What about everyone else?"

"You fellas have to choose your own roommates", Dick answers. "Here's the itinerary", he hands everyone a copy.

"Dick, why only two days at the Tennis Open?" someone remarked from behind him.

"Tickets to enter the park are reasonable. None of you, except this Sikh millionaire here may want to pay a few hundred Aussie dollars for the finals. Two days at the park suit our budget. You are welcomed to buy your own for closed door events. I doubt there'll be tickets left for games in the Rod Lever Arena. I suggest we watch the finals over dinner on TV."

"What about our doubles competition at Kayong Club?" asks David.

"You mean Kooyong", corrects Ed.

"Yes, they agreed to five doubles. They found one guy around eighty-two to match our eighty year young man, here" answers Dick pointing to Bhar. .

After a few minutes of silence, Dick continues, "They insist we play at six in the morning to avoid the sun. It is Summer in Melbourne, sunrise is really early. Many of them are sensitive to sunlight. Besides, they want to watch the Aussie Open too!"

Game over for the day, everyone makes a beeline for the locker room. Some choose to have coffee by the poolside while others hurriedly shower and head for work. All promise to make payments to Dick and show up at the appointed hour at the airport.

At Kuala Lumpur Low Cost Carrier Terminal, Koch, the earliest to arrive smiles as he greets Bhar and Dick.

They are followed closely by Itchy, Chow, David, Ed, OWL and Teh.

Dick proceeds to the check-in counter with tickets and passports while others are left waiting for XMP to show up. His absence is causing anxiety within the group. While on the queue, they keep glancing towards the entrance, hoping to see XMP.

Check in completed, the counter girl asks Dick, "Sir, you are missing one in your party of ten. What do we do?"

Dick replies, "We'll go ahead, you hold on to his ticket. I'll text him and ask him to see you when he arrives. And your name is....?" With a broad smile, she points to the tag on her chest and says softly "Lovie".

Dr. Koch pushes his way through the group to Dick, "It's no use. He is not answering his phone". Dick replies, "Text him."

There was no sign of XMP when they board the plane. Dick is anxious. He turns around nervously and says quietly to Itchy, next to him " Let's hope for the best. Anyway, he has paid me for everything".

Just then, a voice on the PA says, "Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain, we are waiting for a late passenger arrival. We shall take off momentarily. Meanwhile, please sit back, relax and enjoy our inflight services."

The plane takes off.

Somewhere between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, when the captain turns off the seat belt sign, XMP casually walks down the aisle towards his nine friends in the Economy compartment.

"So sorry. I had to seat upfront temporarily. I am sorry I just cannot get away fast enough from my wife" XMP says to his nine friends while standing in the middle of the aisle. Those who heard the apology burst into applause and giggles.

A big burly Aussie passenger shouts out "It's OK mate. I too have problems extricating myself from me wife". More laughter from nearby passengers.

He sits down next to Koch, his face still sweaty from the rush to check in and running for the boarding gate.

Koch asks him quietly, almost whispering not wanting to embarrass him any further, "How did you manage to get away?"

XMP replies, "Remember the joke you sent me? About a control freak who refuses to let her husband go camping with his friends? She read it but the message was truncated. All she got was about the girl who dresses up in a negligee armed with ropes and handcuffs, saying to her husband 'Now tie me up and do what you like'. I tied her up and left for the airport.

Koch cannot contain his laughter. The stewardess passing by asks "Are you alright, Sir?" Koch ignores the question and continues laughing uncontrollably.

He gets up with tears of laughter in his eyes and tells Dick sitting two rows in front,"You have to listen to what our XMP has done to his wife". He sits down in Dick's warm vacant seat and continues laughing. Itchy looks at him and asks "Hey, what's up?"

"I cannot tell you now. Wait a while. My stomach hurts from too much laughing".

Not long after, everyone in the cabin hears Dick laughing equally hard. He stands up rushes to the toilet leaving everyone with surprise looks in their faces.

The flight goes on uneventfully, landing at Melbourne on schedule. Dick has arranged for pick up and tours around Melbourne. The first evening they have dinner at a Greek restaurant followed by a pole dancing show at a gentlemen's club not far from the hotel.

XMP has never been to one. He is overwhelmed by the experience of lovely half-dressed white women with blonde hair sliding up and down the stainless steel pole. He is so naive that he has to be guided where to place the dollar bills by his friends, when the girls begin dancing pushing their bosom close to his face.

That night he has difficulty sleeping. The guilt of visiting the night club and thoughts of his wife tied to the bed at home haunt him. Besides, the Greek fruity wine and the rich moussaka make him so full giving him nightmares with images of his wife chasing after him with a cutting knife in the lobby of the hotel.

They have early breakfast before the game at Kooyong Club. In the lobby while waiting for the pickup van XMP caught of a glimpse of a woman that looks like his wife checking into the hotel.

On the way to the club for the tennis match, he tells Koch who replies that such illusions happen to the guilty. This is overheard by Itchybawahson who confirms he too saw someone like XMP's wife checking in and accompanied by someone that looks like his own wife. They then burst out laughing.

"Impossible" says Chow. "Your wives do not know where we are!"

They lost the game at Kooyong. The Aussies are better, fitter and use oversize coaching balls that bounce high and are advantageous to their taller opponents. Bhar partnering Koch won because they are equally tall and prefer big coaching balls. Dick and Ed too won. Final score; three to two; Kooyong. Excuses are plentiful. Too early, rich food, late night and seven hours of flying time are some of the often repeated reasons for the loss. For XMP it is guilt and nightmares.

Later, as they are about to enter the tennis park, Dick catches a glimpse of someone that resembles his wife from among the large crowd queuing at the entrance. He sees her again when they rush to get seats at Margaret Court. But the woman quickly covers her head with a big straw hat and a scarf around her face. He quickly dismisses the notion. He thought he and XMP are both feeling guilty. But in his case it is not as bad. At least he has kissed his wife goodbye and told her he is attending a meeting in Melbourne and will bring back some peaches and nectarines.

XMP too reports of similar sightings of his wife a couple more times in the park. He dismisses it as another guilty conscience for leaving his wife tied to the bed. Since last night he has shivers up his spine thinking about his wife found dead by the police of starvation and tied to the bed clad only in her negligee. He imagines seeing the New Straits Times headline: XMP Wife Died of Starvation, Tied to Poster Bed, Clad in Negligee.

He gets a cold drink from one of the vendors, sits down under the umbrella in the park facing a giant screen outside Rod Laver Arena and dials his home number. No answer. He tries his wife's mobile. After a few rings it gets cut off. He calls his sister-in-law. No, she has not heard from her this week. That worries him even more. At night he gets more nightmares.

Today is shopping day. They take off for Victoria market bright and early. XMP still feeling guilty for visiting the night club and for inserting a five dollar bill down the cleavage of a dancer, wants to make amends and decides to get a big pack of Australian black cherries that she loves. His guilt subsides a little after buying the cherries.

Other players do likewise, making purchases to surprise the wives back home. Cherries, peaches and nectarines are popular. Opals and pearls are next. For the grandchildren, boomerangs, stuffed koalas and kangaroos with Melbourne engraved on each souvenir item.

In the evening they decide to watch the finals and the fireworks by the Yarra River. Dick has made a booking for the ten of them at a South Bank restaurant. The manager says they have a big screen, a great view of the fireworks that he and his friend would like. Before he ends the call, the Aussie on the other hand says, "Are you by any chance connected to a Mrs. Chan from Malaysia who has booked a table for ten earlier?"

Dick says, "No, I am sorry, I don't think so".

He quickly dismisses it as another coincidence but is slightly disturbed because he and has wife have been to this restaurant many times previously. Besides, he did see someone like his wife at the tennis park. He murmurs to himself. "No, not possible for her to fly here with nine other women just for dinner!"

Dinner is great. They drink, laugh, tell jokes. But none can surpass XMP's joke of the week, left his wife tied to the bed and allowed to do "what he likes!"

They are oblivious to another long table at the far end of the restaurant. Ten ladies hardly looking in their direction all fancily outfitted for Australia Day. Dressed to kill with fancy hats, feathers, colourful evening gowns, high heels and heavily made up. In the dim light, they look Mediterranean.

"May be Mediterranean" says the cataract plagued Edward who has been observing the women since they walked into the restaurant.

"They are Asian", says Bhar. No sooner has he finished his statement one lady clad in a long dress with scarf covering her face walks over with a bottle of wine for XMP. She pours him a glass. "Our compliments!" She leaves the bottle in front of XMP and walks back to her table.

Like a hero, XMP stands up "Thank you! Happy Australia Day to all of you beautiful ladies". They clap and wave back to him.

Turning to everyone at his table, "I suppose, I don't have to tell you fellas who is the most attractive man here!" He quickly downs the full glass of red wine, laughs and sits down not knowing what he should do next.

The balance of the wine is enjoyed by everyone. They drink and speculate as to why the ladies would offer them wine from Jacob's Creek.

"Grenache Shiraz 2003 is the best fruity wine recommended by reviewers" pronounced Ed, a connoisseur of fine wines after examining the label under the candle light.

Shortly after, another bottle arrives. The waiter says "Compliments from the ten ladies at the far table!" Ed looks at the bottle closely. He says out aloud, "It's Chardonnay 2004. If I remember the reviews from Wine and Spirits Magazine, it has flavours of peach, ripe melon and tart apple. It goes well with your grilled chicken XMP. It is also good with your shrimp linguine, David. Enjoy it!"

This is followed by a note inviting XMP to join the ladies. XMP, tipsy from the wine jumps up and follows the waiter to a chair already prepared for him amongst the ten ladies. They offer him another glass of wine.

"Yum Seng", says XMP as the fireworks for Australia Day erupts. He slumps forward, his face barely missing the plate on the table.

Everyone in the restaurant rushes forward to see the fireworks.

The ladies at the table surround XMP blocking him from view. His friends by now engrossed by the brightly lit skyline hardly look in his direction.

With the help of two off duty security guards, the ladies drag XMP down to the river side. They dunk him in the river twice shouting "Happy Australia Day" before shoving him into a waiting van to take him back to his hotel room. Once the guards are dismissed, tipped and door closed, the ladies stripped XMP to his under wear, tied him spread eagle to his bed and laughed. XMP is half- unconscious.

The lady that resembles his wife, as XMP is to account later to his roommate, writes something on his chest. They look at him once more, laugh loudly, cover him with a blanket and hurriedly leave the room.

Dinner over, the team leaves for the hotel wondering what has happened to XMP.

Dr. Koch screamed when he switches on the lights in his room to see XMP soaking wet under a blanket, his clothes carelessly thrown all over the room. The other team members rush to the room. Koch pulls off the blanket.

On XMP's chest written with red lipstick "Same to you baby!"

Everyone laugh, except XMP who is sound asleep!
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