Heroes don’t wear capes
James looked at the notification on his phone and made his way to the mall 5 minutes away from where he is. His back is drenched and he adjusted the large bulk insulated bag on his shoulder while pedaling along the road.
Ever since he lost his job 4 months ago, James has been running food delivery for one of the popular apps everyday. He clocks about 10 hours on weekdays and 12 hours on weekends.
Single and still living with his parents with no major commitments, James can afford to take a couple of days off if he wanted but he chose to work everyday. His parents are well into the sixties and are retired.
No one knows he lost his job, not even his parents.
He didn’t want them to worry about him.
James sent out more than a hundred resumes but received no reply so far. At 39 years old, he’s not exactly in the prime of his career. The industry he was in had plenty of foreigners ready to take his role at half the pay he use to draw.
Which employer will reject someone younger, faster and cheaper?
Well, this is life isn’t it, James thought as he slowed to a stop at the junction and leaned to his left because a BMW veered really close to him despite the mandated minimum distance between cyclist and vehicles.
James carried his old mountain bike off the road and onto the pavement. The pretty girl in the car looked at him in disdain before saying something to her boyfriend.
Ignoring the looks, James started pedaling only to receive an irritated look by a pedestrian.
“Bicycles should go on the road” The auntie said in a snarky manner.
James pretended he did not hear that.
His bicycle was bought when he was in secondary school. It still works well with a bit of regular maintenance. Though it’s a far cry from the road bikes and fancy foldies you see on the road these days, it still got the job done.
James felt like a pest sometimes.
He has all the safety lights on his bicycle, he wore his helmet and he kept within the speed limit.
On the road, he’s often bullied by the vehicles, sometimes by other riders. They will shout at him from behind, announcing their arrival before zooming pass so fast that he usually will pull over to the kerb and let them go on ahead.
On the pedestrian pathway, walkers will give him the dirty look. It’s like it’s beneath them to share a path with a cyclist.
Sometimes James wished he could tell them that beneath that helmet, behind the man pedaling to deliver food lies a fellow citizen.
He is also a Singaporean. He also served the army. He holds the same pink IC as the rest of the people on the road and pathway.
Why are they discriminating against him?
Just because he wears a different shade of green now, does he no longer deserve the same amount of respect?
Arriving at the mall, James parked his bicycle at the designated area where other riders parked. He quickly made his way to the bubble tea shop where he needed to pick up the order for a single cup of Earl Grey milk tea.
A single cup that cost $3.80
His delivery fee for that cup of tea after factoring in the distance is $5.26
Something is wrong with the math here but those are beyond him.
“Hi, Order 335.” James said to the staff upon reaching only to receive a rude reply.
“Not ready yet. Wait there!” The guy pointed to a corner where several other riders are waiting for their orders.
James looked at the digital display which showed the orders being prepared. There’s still 10 more before his turn.
He walked over to the corner reserved for invisible people like him. Everyone started blankly at the order display. When the staff barked the order chit like a rude company sergeant major who just had an anal probe, a rider will walk up and collect the drink.
Just before James order is due, he received another order from the same shop.
He groaned as that meant he needed to wait even longer at the same spot for the other drink to be ready, while holding onto the 1st drink and risk being late for his delivery and the wrath of the 1st customer.
A fellow rider saw that and he chuckled.
“Bro, next time, shut down the app first. Just take one order.. This shop always like that one…don’t waste your time..”He said.
“335!” The staff shouted and James had the drink thrust into his hand.
“Hi, I have another order 372…”
“THEN YOU JUST WAIT LONGER. IF YOU CANNOT WAIT. JUST CANCEL ORDER!” The overworked staff shouted.
James took a deep breath and held it in long enough for another rider to come over. He held onto James arm and pulled him back as the eyes of other customers descended on the shop and James.
“Suar la Suar la (forget it) bro, not worth it to engage people like him.” The rider said.
James exhaled and turn to the man with a head of blonde hair and sleeve tattoo. He has seen him around the mall a couple of times.
“Don’t give a fuck about him. He’s a fucking asshole.” He said while introducing himself to James as Roger.
“Nice to meet you. Roger.”
The two engaged in some small talks about the day and their earnings. It helped, it really helped take the edge off for James.
Sometimes, after a day of getting shit from other people, all you need is just to have a short chat with someone who knows what you are going through.
James got his other order finally and he fist bumped Roger before leaving.
“See you around bro.”
“Ride safe man” Roger gave him a thumbs up and turned to another rider which he knew.
James snapped his phone onto his bicycle and followed the GPS route to the customer’s place.
He was riding on the pedestrian path when he saw about 50 metres away, there’s a father with his daughter. The toddler is probably about a year or so and just started to learn how to walk.
She trotted in a wobbly manner while swinging her arms for balance with her father close behind.
With the sunset behind the duo, it cast a long shadow towards James.
He slowed down and carried his bicycle onto the road after checking it’s safe to do so.
It was a heart warming sight to see the little girl laughing in triumphant manner having conquered one of life’s major milestone. Learning how to walk.
The father had his arms opened behind the girl, ready to catch her when she falls.
James started pedaling on the road towards the father and daughter. Unknown to himself, he was smiling while pedaling slowly. Suddenly he felt something off. There is this prickly sensation on his skin. His heart felt painful like someone tried to squeeze it.
James hit the brakes of his bicycle and stopped less than 5 metres away from the little girl.
The screeching sound of car tires reached his ears just as he turned to see a truck veering out of control in the opposite direction.
The truck rammed into the back of a bus, sending it forward and causing a chain accident with 2 other sedans to it’s front. The impact changed the direction of the truck causing it to mount the dividers.
The truck went up the centre divider and ripped to shreds the green railings you typically see on the road. The axle of the truck jammed and locked the direction of the wheels as the engine kept running.
Before James could come to terms with what is happening, the truck rolled over a motorcyclist on his side of the road before barreling straight towards him.
James jumped off his bike, dropped his backpack and ran up to the pavement. His skin started burning as if someone pressed hot iron onto his body. He could see the little girl running toward him with her father close behind.
The headlights of the truck illuminated the three of them and blinded everyone as it headed straight for them at a speed that will kill on impact.
James shouted and grabbed onto the little girl and shielded her with his body seconds before her father wrapped his body around her from behind.
The truck rammed into James with such speed that the rear of the vehicle was sent hurling up 5 metres into the air before slamming down onto the road, sending debris and metal all over the street.
James had his eyes close but when he opened it, he could feel the wreck metal wrapping around his body.
He looked at the father and he knows he’s gone. His body impaled by several large metal pieces.
Looking down at the little girl, James saw her trembling in fear.
Looking at his own body, he had the horror of his life.
Instead of skin, his body shimmered like metal freshly forged from the kiln.
James stood up and easily pushed his way out from the wreckage. He carried the little girl to the side and looked at his own arms.
Like pieces of fish scale playing a game of reversi, his skin started to change again, flipping over to reveal the skin and colour he is accustomed with. With each flip, James felt as if someone is cutting into his raw nerves with a scalpel.
He didn’t know if he was dreaming.
James looked at the little girl who is crying for her father and the approach of the 1st bystanders. A lady ran over, screaming and crying for her daughter and husband.
Her relief of seeing her daughter safe was shattered but the realization that her husband has died.
James backed away from the scene slowly in a daze.
Something is wrong with him, with his body.
He felt an angry vibration in his pocket and was reminded that there is a angry customer waiting for his bubble tea.
His bicycle laid on it’s side. James picked up his backpack as other drivers and pedestrians rushed to help the injured.
He got onto his bicycle and tried to calm himself.
No one paid him any attention. It’s like he has gone back to being invisible, just another delivery rider on the road who is lucky to escape the accident.
James pedaled away from the accident scene. He will have time to figure this shit out.
First, he needs to deliver the fucking bubble tea.
Across the road from the accident, under the housing estate. Roger held onto his order that he was about to deliver when he heard the commotion.
With the order in his left hand, Roger took out his cigarette and popped one into his mouth with only his right.
Making sure no one is near the spot he is standing at, Roger lifted his index finger and a flame ignited after a series of sparks. He lit his fag and took a long drag before blowing the smoke into the evening.