The ceiling fan was set to five in the Chinese coffee shop as the old lady came over to the wooden table to place four cups of warm Chinese tea on a fine Sunday morning, as the four 20 something year old patrons smoked their cigarettes away, observing the old lady as she places the cups strategically infront of them with no smile on her face.
It seemed to the four of them, that she has been doing this for years and who can blame her, business has been slow especially in this part of the town with it’s run down buildings and excruciatingly high rise in crime.
Joe takes a puff and then breaks the silence, “Everyone’s fucked up in their own ways you know.”
Zam observes as Joe takes a sip of his Chinese tea, “Why do you say so?”
Joe gulps down his tea taking his time and has another drag of his cigarette, and then says, “I mean look at her. She’s been working here all her life. She must have started here in her teens, must have been a looker, but as the years go by, she sees no progress in her life but has no choice but to continue working, to continue making a living. Slowly, she starts to feel fucked up. I don’t blame her for not smiling at us like a proper waitress does.”
“But that’s how every Chinese coffee shop is man. No one smiles at you.” Murthy chimes in.
“That’s why I love this place,” Joe says as he looks around and continues, “No one gives a fuck about what you talk about.”
“What do you mean?” Zam says as he sips on his Chinese tea.
“What I mean is, this is the best place you can come to plan for a terrorist attack, or plan to rob a bank, or plan to extort money. No one cares what you talk about. All they want you to do is pay for the coffee and tea and get the fuck out. That’s all.”
Darwin laughs, “We’re not gonna rob a bank are we?” Everyone laughs except Joe.
“No. Not a bank. Too risky and too normal.”
“Joe you can’t be shitting us!” Zam places his cup onto the saucer with a loud “Clunk”. “It’s too early for such jokes especially on a Sunday morning.
Everyone eyes Joe, observing his facial features, his emotions. There was no trace of fear in his eyes and that was the first time they saw it in him. His long curly hair, covered his right eye, as he stares at all three of them dead in their face, through the strands of hair. No one can actually tell what’s in his head unless if that hair is removed, revealing the stories his eyes wish to tell.
“I’m serious.” He says without a smile. “I mean look at you Zam, you need cash to pay your Uni fees. You had to re-sit two papers and now PTPTN has stopped chucking in cash to your bank account thanks to you dropping your pointers. How are you gonna go about it?”
“I’ll find a way..” Zam sighs as he sips on his tea.
“This IS the way. You want something, you go get it!”
“But robbing.. it’s bad..” Murthy blurts out.
Joe eyes Murthy, puffs on his cigarette casually and then replies, “It’s bad because society has placed that perception, programmed it into your head since you were a kid. If robbing is bad, then I think every politician should be behind bars by now, but they’re not because they deceive us into thinking it’s something else. Perception my friend, is a powerful tool.”
There was silence as everyone eyes Joe. The silence was broken by Darwin. “So since robbing banks is not your cup of tea, what do you suggest we rob?”
“Motherfucker you can’t be serious!” Zam smacks Darwin’s head.
“No no give Joe a chance to explain” Murthy says as he places his hands on Zam’s shoulder.
Joe smiles and nods at Murthy as a form of acknowledgement and also for being a sport. He takes a slow drag on his cigarette, with no care in the world, no fear of law. Then he slowly inches closer to all three of them and then says slowly and softly, “We rob 7 Eleven stores.”
There was silence and then everyone at the table bursts out laughing. Zam laughs hysterically, “That.. that’s the best one I’ve ever heard Joe. Seriously you gave us a scare. Good one!”
“Let’s drink to that!” Darwin says as he wipes the tears from his eyes, still chuckling.
The three of them raised their tea cups to celebrate the joke of the day, all except Joe who kept grinning but his cup’s not raised. He takes a puff.
“I’m not joking.”
Everyone places their cups back to their saucers.
“Why 7 Eleven?” Murthy asks.
“Why 7 Eleven? I say, why not 7 Eleven?”
“I don’t get you..” It was Zam’s turn.
“7 Eleven. Who robs 7 Eleven? Not many. And many choose to rob 7 Eleven only for cigarettes and goods. Probably condoms as well, but no one really robs 7 Eleven for cash.”
“Exactly! You can’t rob 7 Eleven simply because they don’t have cash. The most you can rob of them is RM 100 or less. What’s the point in that?” Darwin points out.
“No, you’re wrong.” Joe puts out his cigarette. “I’ve worked in a 7 Eleven store, so I know where they keep the extra cash. They stash it under the drawer, just below the cash register. Trust me, the cash register only holds about RM 100 most to most, but beneath it, in the drawer, there’s extra notes of RM 50. If you sit; and this is what I used to do when I used to work there, just to check if the money was balanced, I used to sit there and count them notes. And do you know how many RM 50 notes it would amount to whenever I finish counting?”
Everyone shakes their heads.
“Fifty crispy RM 50 notes.” Joe rubs his thumbs on his fingers to symbolize notes and grins.
“That’s.. that’s RM 2500” Murthy mouths.
“That’s right. A lot of money. Zam can pay off his tuition fees in no time, we can get Darwin some cash for his sick mum, Murthy can spend it on his girlfriend and we all would live happily ever after.”
“What are you gonna spend it on?” Murthy asks.
“I don’t have a job remember? Might save it until I get a job soon.”
There was silence as everyone ponders on this.
“But.. RM 2500 is not enough to pay the Uni tuition fees and for Darwin’s sick mum..” Murthy breaks the silence.
“No you idiot. We rob not one 7 Eleven store. We rob many.”
“This is a bad – ” Joe interrupts Zam, “We start off not in our hometown. Start off somewhere far, probably about 20 miles away from here or more. Rob every 7 Eleven store all the way down here and then further south. Once we’ve got them cash, we lay low and that’s it. Job well done.”
“What if we get addicted?” Darwin asks.
“Then someone has to stop us.” Joe laughs.
“No. But seriously, Darwin has a point. What if we get addicted?” Zam stares at Joe.
Joe turns and looks at Zam, “Do you need your cash? Do you want to graduate? Do you want to be somebody in life?”
“Y..yes I do..”
“This is your window of opportunity. This is your chance. This is your break. Do it, or lose it.”
“I’m in.” Murthy gulps down his tea and sets the cup onto the white saucer.
“Me too” Darwin nods.
Everyone looks at Zam intently.
“I.. I don’t know.. I mean.. it sounds dangerous.”
“It’ll be a walk in the park Zam. We just got to plan it out well, wear some ski masks, bring a few machetes to intimidate the staff, but we don’t hit them, steal the cash and drive.”
“I can drive, you guys have seen me driving. I’m fast and careful” Murthy volunteers.
“Yeah agreed.” Joe agrees and then turns to Zam, “So, what say you?”
There was silence as Zam shakes his head scratches his chin.
“Fuck this! I’m in.” he gulps down his tea, places his cup on the saucer.
“That’s my boy.” Joe grins and then lits his cigarette.
Four months down the road, everything would change.