Monday, December 7, 2015

Prose - The Keyring

The Keyring

He could never remember where he got the keyring from, though it told him it was from a trip to another country (“Australia”, it reminded him). It was not a spectacular thing. The scratched-filled surface clouded over the engraved picture it encased, though he could still make out the koalas and kangaroos when he made the effort to. The dull corroded metal gave way at places to reveal the cheap alloy it was actually made with.

It was not that he never thought it important. It held all of his five keys. Many times had he forgotten to bring it out of the house with him, forcing him to call the number on the sticker that was pasted obnoxiously on his doorbell. His life revolved around it, judging by how naturally his fingers fit around the groves indented by too many a hard squeeze. And yet, it hardly ever registered in his mind throughout the day. It was just one of the many things he had taken for granted.

Or so it was until he had to reluctantly attend a company retreat. It was held somewhere in Malaysia (he did not know where; he tagged along the company transport and could not be bothered to find out) and they had to trek through some forested areas. The keyring had naturally tagged along with him, though he only realised it was there, in his pocket as it always was, after the coach had arrived at its destination. Shrugging it off as a fluke of habit, he had left it in his pocket, only to find out the two hours later that it had gone missing.

Distraught, he informed his supervisor about his loss and immediately set back in search of it. They had not made much progress (they were non-athletic, office types) so he did not had to walk for long before he soon arrived at the site where they had rested a while ago.

To his relief and delight, he soon spotted the keyring nestled on a pile of brown leaves (it was somehow still capable of reflecting light off its dull surface). Rushing to pick it up, he tripped over uneven ground and fell flat on his face. He muttered under his breath as he sat himself up. Gingerly nursing his nose, he reached for the keyring with his free hand.

And then he saw it. A shrill cry of an unseen bird caused him to look up instinctively, even as a strong breeze carried him away with the rustling of the trees. There he was again – that place he had a long-forgotten yearning for. The tall, slender gum trees with their branches stretching out, their leaves forming a scant thin canopy through which the dim autumn sun shone through. The green – it was everywhere: the ground, the branches, stretching out as far as his eyes could see. It blended smoothly with patches of brown left over from a dry summer.

He could feel it – the chill, fresh April breeze. It tickled his checks, it lifted his spirit like a welcomed cool splash of water. It was life, it was life as he never known it before. A deep breath was all it took to feel his lungs with the crisp pure air. All was silent here, not a tinge of nature moved of its own accord. He lifted up his eyes as he spied a koala – no there were two of them – peacefully picking at the leaves high above.

He was off again. A vast, steep valley now greeted him, and he could see the grass and trees as they spanned beyond to the mountains and valleys afar. The seas was just beyond the horizon, peeping from where low valleys allowed it to. Sheep grazed the flat plains afar, even as one made its way back slowly to its pen along a thin but well-trodden path. The breeze was exceptional here, hailing from the far-off sea. It carried with it a delightful chill that invigorated his senses.

It was then that he realised what he had missed, why that keyring meant so much to him. His heart yearned for Australia. No, it was not Australia, he reasoned, but the experience of the then and there – the silent beautiful stoic forest, the open and free mountains and plains. He remembered now how happy he had been, how at peace he was then. He recalled standing still, reminding himself to take it all in. He knew then that those were moments of the then-present, a gift of time that could never be fully gained back. He remembered now the gift-shop from which he bought the keyring, a silent but desperate cry to himself to never forget, never forget.

But sure enough, he had forgotten. It had took merely days before the one-the-go, hectic lifestyle of the city overwhelmed him again. Singapore had hardly a marvel of nature that could contend with the forests of Down Under though it proudly called itself a Garden City. The grey-glass skyscrapers, the packed peak-hour public transport, the efficiency, the struggle for excellence – these took away the brief yet precious gifts that time had given to him.

The keyring – it was all that was left of those gifts that he had unwillingly yet inevitably let go. It was all that was left that tied him to the wonderful moments he had ten years ago, moments when he knew he could leave all his worries far aside and take in what the world truly was. He now remembered why the keyring was so important to him, why it meant all his life to him that he’d trade his life for it.
The whining buzz of a mosquito broke him out of his stupor, taking him back to the Malaysian forest. He instinctively swatted his ear vigorously, and scurried to get up from where he was (he had hoped to get out of this trek without any bites). The humid heat sent prickles down his neck even as he fitted the keyring back into his pocket. His skin was already damp with sweat and he groaned at the remaining journey they had to take (around 3 kilometres was still left of their trek). It was at that moment when he heard the heavy sounds and grunts of something approaching. His heart sank even as a squealing wild boar tore through nearby bushes and charged towards him.


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