coffee shop

The fluorescent lights cast an artificial white radiance over the loud chatter of the coffee shop. The sound of lead of paper momentarily ceases as my brother asks me something. I respond, and he is back to his textbook, nodding. I can barely hear his pencil scratching the paper over the sound of conversation.

Don’t you have any homework, Nina? I slowly move to take out a frayed textbook and pencil case from my bag, glancing around. Fragments of people’s voices drift into focus. A lady nearby us is speaking into her phone, Mandarin tones obnoxiously loud. A small group of foreigners settles down into a table, brokenly attempting to converse with a waiter in Malay. The couple on the table next to us is not talking. They stare, fixated, at their phones, letting the unnatural glow transport them to a different world. Outside just beyond the one-way road riddled with double parked cars, the sky is a sleepy orange, and the sun is slowly submerging itself in the horizon. The lady on the phone is now quiet. I wonder if her food has come. The fans creak, Age has worn them down, and they now swing, almost precariously above me. A little boy, not more than three, gazes at them, his expression glazed over. The mother, settled next to him, does not appear to give him any mind, letting her food consume her attention. I notice an iPhone left askew in front of the child. Over a table and a father is complaining to his teenaged children that they only ever spend time on their phones. Outside, a family is crossing the road. Their shadows are long and distorted, morphing into one in the early evening light, like monsters lurking.

Nina? I open my textbook, hesitantly taking out a pencil.

A television is showing a rerun of a Malay soap opera. Bold, white English subtitles tell me what they are saying. I catch sight of the female half of the antisocial couple looking at it for a moment. She returns to her phone almost instantly, texting someone. The family with the monster shadow is sitting down now. They are on the large table in front of us. I count seven of them.

Nina. The tone is warning me now. With a sigh, I start my homework.



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