The war room
The menu on the wall is written on a simple manila card, with prices slashed off and updated over time. The price of a cup of coffee used to be RM1.00, but the years have seen it rise with increments of 20 cents before finally settling at RM2.20.
At noon, only a single table is occupied. A chess game is underway. One of the players is a taxi driver who double parked his taxi right in front of the shop. Whenever there’s trouble, he simple gets up, re-parks his car and returns to the game.
By 3pm, every table in the shop is covered with chessboards. Everyone’s cursing and laughing at each other – it isn’t entirely clear if the players hate or love each other dearly. A game deep in silence will suddenly be broken up with a RM50 note thrown onto the table, accompanied by a challenge to make a specific move. The topic of the evening will depend on what the old man does next. Will he accept the wager or decline?
The old man slowly pushes the money aside. His opponent quickly stands up and shouts a chain of expletives. Another hand butts in and quickly demonstrates a series of moves on the board. Another face agrees. Two of them walk away to the next table.
In an instant, the old man is left alone at the table, staring at the chessboard, pondering on the move he could have made. He quietly gathers all the pieces and rearranges the board just as a new opponent fills the vacant chair.
Every person who walks in carries the air of walking into his own home, as if they all belong here and know exactly where each cup is kept and what every switch controls. They don’t have to worry about the menu or even if they have enough money for a drink. There is no waiter running back and forth. Conversations vary between the weather, politics, current affairs and gossip.
The kitchen only occupies a small area at the back. The empty area next to it is reserved for the constant shuffle of mahjong cubes. Further back is an empty space with only a few broken chairs, far older than many of us reading this. ‘This place was started in 1946 by my father. Back here, this is where we used to make coffee powder. But that was a long time ago.’