Writer: Le Ching Tai
Published: Sun, 11 Dec 2011
“A new condominium manager is like a football team manager.” Kumar was talking to himself again. “No one appreciates you when things go right. When things go wrong they want to kill you.”
Kumar had only been on the job for a week and dreaded it every time his mobile phone rang. Tonight Kumar planned to stay back, relax with dinner in the poolside café while enjoying the football on the big television. His block of flats in Gombak lacked such facilities.
Kumar left his mobile phone on his desk and went down in the service lift to the swimming pool-level. Obscenities were scratched into the lift walls and the strip light flickered. The lift often broke down after repairs and struggled to carry heavy equipment during renovations. The residents bullied the service lift. One day it would strike back.
In the poolside café, Kumar ordered fried rice and enjoyed the sports channel. The only other person in the café was a tanned ginger-haired girl in a grey school uniform, sitting at a neighbouring table.
As she watched him eat, Kumar smiled back. On principle an off-duty manager should still be courteous to residents.
During his meal, a hefty blonde woman in a tank top and sarong came to collect the girl.
“Are you the new building manager?” The woman grasped the girl’s hand and stood facing Kumar’s table.
“Yes.” Kumar offered his hand. The woman did not shake it.
“My daughter and I were stuck in the service lift.”
“Sorry to hear this. Would you care to come to the office and lodge a complaint?”
“No.” She folded her arms. “It’s too late now.”
Kumar checked his watch – it was nine o’clock.
“Maybe you can come on Monday?”
The woman shook her head and took a deep breath. Her daughter tugged on her mother’s hand to stop her impending tirade.
“The other two lifts weren’t working. We can’t take the stairs because my daughter has asthma. It’s not her fault she left her inhaler in school because kids will be kids. When she had her attack in the lift I couldn’t call my husband because there’s no phone signal!”
Kumar nodded although he was not in a position to hear her out. This woman’s complaint was verging on lawsuit territory.
“What’s your name and unit number, Madam?” asked Kumar. “I’ll contact the lift company on Monday.”
“We don’t live here anymore – we’re just visiting,” the woman interrupted. Her daughter nodded to confirm her statement.
“Sorry for your trouble, Madam. Thank you for talking me to me,” Kumar said to the woman and girl as they exited the café.
“Don’t thank me!” the woman shot back.
At half past nine, Kumar went to the lifts. The display window above the service lift was not showing a floor number. It must have broken down again.
Kumar took the stairs back up to his office. His mobile phone was humming – ten missed calls. All were made from the security guardhouse. Kumar called them back and they told him to go to the swimming-pool level.
Kumar wished he had gone home early. His regret disappeared when he went back down the stairs and saw three guards outside the service lift. The double doors had been forced open.
“Lif rosak?” Kumar asked a guard, who shone a torch in the gap between the doors. The light illuminated the sheer walls of the shaft. The tang of burnt rubber blended with smoke. The cable of the lift had snapped, resulting in it plunging down the shaft.
One guard assured Kumar that according to the lift’s CCTV, there had been no one inside when the lift fell at twenty minutes past nine. While Kumar called the lift company’s 24-hour service, the other two guards waved away curious residents.
An elderly Chinese woman carrying a cane ignored the guards and approached Kumar.
“I’m the new manager. May I help you?” Kumar asked her.
“Change the lift,” she snapped, waving her cane, “before something happens again!”
“The poor Australian girl from five years ago! She died in that lift. Her mother jumped off the balcony on the twentieth floor soon after.”
Kumar stared at the poolside café, now shut. The old woman continued to protest about rising service charges and the condition of the condominium’s facilities, but he was no longer listening to her.
“Thank you, Madam!” he called out in the direction of the café. The old woman walked away, satisfied with having aired her grievances, but Kumar had not been addressing her.
Although the Australian lady had instructed him not to do so, on principle he wanted to thank her for prolonging his dinner.