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Voices in the Head

Maria De Souza, the 25-year-old only female but gutsy crime reporter for The Malaysian Tribune, was about to pack her bags and head out of the office at sharp 5pm when the crime-desk editor, Mr Samuel Hernandez, called out to her.

“Not so fast, Maria,” he said walking slowly towards her, not looking up from his smart phone, his face concentrated as his thumb rapidly scrolled the screen upon receiving a text message.

“I just received a text message that someone attempted to commit suicide at the Bangsar LRT station.”

Annoyed but at the same time trying to be respectful, Maria tried reasoning, “But I thought we don’t carry such stories, boss?”

“No, this one is different. Hold on, let me forward the message.” He said. A second later her phone vibrated in her pocket much to her dismay.

She sighed under her breath softly and checked the message.

“A man in his underwear jumped off a pedestrian bridge at the Bangsar LRT just now,” the message read.

“Go and find out. It’ll make an interesting story and we need to fill the pages fast since today is a dry day,” Mr Samuel said.

With mixed feelings, Maria picked her handbag and dashed out of the office building, cursing and muttering under her breath.

“Just as I’m about to leave the office, this is the time one idiot has to attempt something stupid.”

“Take photos too using your phone!” Mr Samuel yelled as she pulled the door.

“And stop complaining!”

Her face red with embarrassment, Maria managed to squeeze a meek, “Okay, boss..” as she slammed the door and dashed to the nearby lift.

She had a dinner date with someone she had met while covering a police press conference two weeks ago at 7pm. It was a reporter but he was cute, leading her to exchange numbers with him under the pretext of “keeping in touch” for news stories.

Keep in touch they did but rarely discussed news stories they did not. Rather, much of the conversation took place on getting to know each other. He’s a 26-year-old reporter from a rival news company, The Moon, and he had recently been transferred to the crime desk.

And that was how the two met at a police press conference at the Bukit Aman police headquarters.

I think it’s a sign, she mused.

She checked her watch, 5.10pm. Cursing some more she changed gears and stepped on the accelerator. A part of her was thankful that the news story took place a mere 10 minutes drive from her office. She kept consoling herself with that that, rehearsing her plans in her head and repeating it verbally, “Get there, get comments from bystanders and police, send flash and short news story for online and then call OCPD Zahid, write story for print then head home, bath and head out. Must be there by 7pm.”

Francis, the reporter she was to meet, was on leave today but she did not want to make a bad impression by arriving late especially on their first date.

“But he is a reporter! He should be able to understand what?” Her alter ego spoke.

“No lah, not nice to come late on the first date. Tell you what, get there, get comments from bystanders and police, send flash and short news story for online and then call OCPD Zahid, write story for print then head home, bath and head out. Must be there by 7pm.”

***

A crowd had already converged by the time Maria hurriedly parked her Myvi by the road side, next to the Old Town White Coffee below the elevated Bangsar LRT station. A train rumbled above as she walked towards the crowd which was surrounding the man, who lay on his back, sweating profusely, and muttering Quranic verses loudly. His eyes were wide open and kept moving to its side.

He lay completely naked, safe for his dark blue underwear, his hands flailing as he tried to get up.

Jangan bangun, dik. Tulang belakang dah patah nih (Don’t attempt to get up, boy, your back is broken)” a concerned bystander, an old elderly Malay man in his white songkok and green collared shirt said as he tried giving the semi-nude man a bottle of water to drink.

The man slapped it away, sending the bottle flying a few metres from where they were.

Aku tak nak! Suruh suara tuh diam dulu! Suruh dia diam! (I don’t want! Tell the voice to shut up!)” He said as he tossed and turned in an aggressive manner, albeit awkwardly.

The elderly man shook his head in shock and took a step back. “Mesti kena sampuk.. (He is definitely possessed)”

Maria took the opportunity to ask the elderly man on exactly what took place as the crowd looked on.

Uncle, apa jadi? (Uncle, what happened)” The elderly man replied, “Entah lah, dik. Pak Cik was walking to get a taxi when I saw this man falling from the pedestrian bridge above.”

In one quick motion, as though she had been doing this many times (which she has), she brought out her notepad and pen and multitasked her way by asking the elderly man, “Pukul berapa berlaku Pak Cik? (What time did it happen, Uncle?)”

Adik ni, reporter kah? (Are you a reporter?)” The man asked in amazement as he observed Maria removing the pen cover using her mouth, one hand holding her notepad and pen and the other slinging the handbag back to its original position.

“Yeah Pak Cik, I’m Maria from The Malaysian Tribune,” she said proudly while the elderly man managed a shy smile.

Keeping her date in mind, Maria decided time was being wasted so she repeated, “What time did it happen, Pak Cik?”

“Owh about 15 minutes ago. About 4.55pm like that, I think.” He said, scratching his brow trying to recollect the time.

“I see, I see,” Maria said as she scribbled the information down in hurried fashion, her alter ego reminding her that she should write the details down clearly. “What were you doing when this happened?” She asked, paying no attention to the voice in her head.

“I was walking to grab a taxi. As I was about to enter, I saw the man drop onto the curb a few metres from where I was. Plop!” The elderly man clapped his hands, “I think I heard a few bones in his body crack. So I slammed the taxi door shut and ran to his rescue.”

What an exaggerating fellow, Maria mused in her head.

“And then what happened?”

“Then, I found him lying on the floor, grimacing in pain. He kept talking to himself and kept praying.”

“I see, I see. And then?”

“Then I asked him if he was okay, he kept saying something about Syaitan and a voice in his head. I think he is high on drugs lah, girl.”

“I see, I see,” Maria said as she noted it down, her alter ego reminding her that she uses the phrase “I see,” one too many times whenever she interviews people.

“I see, I see. What else was he saying?”

I tak tahu lah, adik (I don’t know). He kept speaking in gibberish, switching from a weird lingo to Quranic verses. He keeps closing his eyes, shaking his head. Apparently trying to stop the voices in his head lah.”

“I see, I see. You think he is on drugs? Can I put that in my story?”

“Maybe, maybe not. All I know is he was pain and so I called the police and for an ambulance immediately after that.”

This shall suffice, Maria said as she jotted down the elderly man’s particulars for quotation purposes.

“Now all we need is to get the comments from the police, send flash and short news story for online and then call OCPD Zahid, write story for print then head home, bath and head out. Must be there by 7pm,” She repeated under her breath as she looked around for the police.

They were yet to arrive due to the heavy after work traffic below the elevated train station along Jalan Bangsar. The crowd had already grew larger with many Bangladeshi construction workers, foreigners and Malaysians alike preened their necks to see the weird semi-nude men, decked in his underpants. He was already screaming profanities by then.

Apa pandang-pandang? Saya manusia! Bukan Syaitan! Suara dalam kepala saya Syaitan! (What are you looking at? I’m a human not the Devil! The voice in my head is the Devil!)” He yelled. “Babi! Syaitan! Haram jadah!

Realising something was amiss, Maria felt she could expand on the story and so she decided to try interviewing the man, before snapping a photo of him using her smartphone, ofcourse. Mr Samuel would flip if he discovered that she did not follow his orders.

Stupid fat fucking bald sweaty smelly, pudgy looking, chain smoking son of a bitch, her alter ego hissed.

“Excuse me,” Maria said as she crouched to knee level to face the man who was trying his best to get up. Turns out he was unable to move his feet and that angered him more.

Apa you nak, Syaitan! Apa lagi? Apa lagi?? (What do you want, Devil? What more do you want??)” He screamed as Maria shuddered. She took a step back and that was the end of trying to expand her story.

If Mr Samuel asked, she would reply, “I tried, boss! But he was screaming!”

Atleast you tried lah, the voice said.

A siren bellowed and both the ambulance and police arrived on scene along with the Kuala Lumpur CID chief, Datuk Rahman Dali himself.

Maria thanked her lucky stars. She was ecstatic!

Yes! No need to call Zahid, can get Rahman’s statement here itself! Easy peasy, the voice said.

He was in plainclothes and immediately recognised Maria.

Aiyo, you again ahh. Every crime scene you are there. Real police nightmare lah you,” he said as he offered to shake her hands.

Maria smiled and shook it. Since she had been a crime reporter for the past two years, she had been covering nearly every police case and her name has become a household name among top police officers.

It was not because she was a looker, but it was because the manner in which she would grill the police for answers. Every reporter would be on their toes whenever she arrives for police press conferences simply because the next day, the angle she used would be alot different than the rest.

But today she was in luck. There was not a reporter in sight.

“Datuk, can comment for this case ah?” She asked.

Aiya, attempt to suicide also you all cover ah?” Rahman replied, his hands busy texting away on his phone. “Give me five minutes.” He said as he motioned his men to remove all bystanders away. He walked a few metres away from her and the crowd, his phone on his ears.

Ahh, semua jangan kerumun! Bagi ruang! (Give space! Don’t gather around!)” One young police officer yelled as if on cue. “Tepi, tepi! Let the medical team do their job!”

The medical team rushed to the man’s aid as Maria trailed Rahman from the back. He stood under the bridge, next to a pole as Maria positioned her self behind a phone booth, close to hearing distance. A train passed above, casting trailing shadows on the tar road.

The men screamed as the medical team attended to him.

Tuan, dah jumpa dia. Nak bawak balai dulu atau ke hospital? (Boss, we have found him. Do we take him to the police station or the hospital?)” She heard Rahman saying over the phone.

He nodded his head several times, “Baik, tuan. Baik. Okay, alright.”

As he placed the phone into his pocket, he turned around to find Maria standing behind the phone booth.

She quickly turned to pretend to search something from her handbag. He walked to her briskly and held her arm, “I know you heard what I said. This one is an unusual case so we wouldn’t want it in the papers, Maria,” he said softly, his face expressionless.

“But why, Datuk?”

“No comment. And I mean it, do not write in the papers,” He said as he walked away.

***

“I tried my best Mr Samuel. But he didn’t want to comment!” Maria said over the phone as she sipped on a cup coffee at the Old Town White Coffee twenty minutes later.

The crowd had dissipated by then with the man taken away leading the traffic to become slightly smoother.

Malaysians, they just enjoy being busy bodies. Half of the traffic jam is caused by slowing down for stupid things such as this, the voice said.

“I know, boss but what to do. He said classified and his face was so serious! I’m afraid to run the story,” Maria sighed. “It’s like as though it is some top government secret like that.”

A bus honked as another shrill grinding of the LRT is heard overhead.

“Okay, fine. Fine. I’ll do the story then.” She placed the phone down and started working on the story not before glancing at her watch, 5.45pm.

“Confirm late lah,” she muttered under her breath. Deciding to text Francis that she will be late, Maria ordered an egg sandwich.

Writing stressful news stories always made her hungry.

All crime stories are stressful, she mused.

But they’re fun aren’t they? The rush, the excitement, the blood and.. gore. The sight of seeing a decapitated head, an arm chopped off, trail of blood on the tar road, the stench of guts on the floor. There is something just so… erotic about it, her alter ego said.

Maria chuckled for having that thought.

“I wonder why the man jumped from the pedestrian bridge in his underwear,” she heard a Chinese boy sitting next to her table with a group of his friends say.

“Stress lah! Some people go loco during the hot season,” his friend replied.

“But why didn’t he jump naked? Why only underwear?”

“So, you prefer he jump down naked lah? You gay or what?” The group laughed at his friend’s respond.

“But you know, he kept saying something about “suara” (voice). I think he got possessed lah.”

“Or maybe he has been eating too much fast food. I heard in the United States they induce chemicals in food for mind control purposes,” the boy, who appeared to be in his late teens said.

Interesting, Maria thought. So she stopped typing the news story and pricked her ears.

“You ahh forever a conspiracy theorist lah!” His friends laughed.

“Smoke too much weed liao!” Another chimed in.

“Go on and laugh lah. But remember, folks used to laugh too when people said the NSA tapped into people’s phones. Who is laughing now after Snowden revealed the truth?”

The group kept mum. The boy continued, “Confirm they are trying the same here too. That’s why lately we constantly hear people doing crazy things. They always say the same thing, the voices in my head told me to do it. It’s possible!”

Several of his friends nodded their heads. “Yeah wei, he has a point. The easiest way to control people’s mind is through food.”

“Bingo!” The boy said. And then he continued, “Which also explains why there is a sudden rise in fast food outlets almost everywhere. It all boils down to one thing; corporations. You not only get to control the way people think and behave but also make some bucks out of it.”

Maria pondered about it. It made perfect sense. She connected the dots and realised something was definitely amiss about this case.

Why was Datuk Rahman, the city’s CID chief himself at the scene for a crazy fool who jumped down from a pedestrian bridge in his underwear?

He also declined to comment and instead took him away in a police vehicle instead of the ambulance!

The waitress arrived with her plate of sandwich and placed it on her table.

Maria’s stomach growled.

Nevermind all that, let’s grab a bite first, write story for print then head home, bath and head out. Must be there by 7pm, the voice reminded Maria as she dug in the delicious egg sandwich.

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