Sunday, 11 August 2013

"This town (neighbourhood) ain't big enough for the two of us"

I loved all those old Western movies regardless of whether they were made in Hollywood or by the spaghetti fellas. I always got thrilled towards the climax of each show. You know that part when the hero and the villain faced off in a windy or dusty deserted street. The showdown. There'd be no one else standing outside the buildings, save for one or two of the hero's sidekicks peering out anxiously from a saloon, sometimes hiding ludicrously from behind a bartender's bar, with eyes wide open.

The sun would be beating down relentless on the two antagonists and they strode - s.l.o.w.l.y - towards each other from the opposite ends of the street. Though they would be looking straight ahead at one another, occasionally the hero would steal glances at rooftops just in case he could catch sight of an ambush.

Their right hands would be hovering around their gun holsters, fingers twitching to whip the gun at a moment's notice. "Now, this town ain't big enough for the two of us," the villain would drawl but there would be silence after that.

The cameras would pan to the antagonists' eyes, first to one and then to the other. One of them would squint as if to focus better on the task ahead. Pregnant seconds. Staring ahead. Fingers twitching. Staring ahead. A silent countdown hovering over everyone in the cinema. Them still staring ahead. Unbearable, chilling silence despite the noonday heat. Staring ahead. Then in a flash, the guns were snatched from the holsters and there'd be two shots ringing out. One of them would sink slowly to the ground, mortally wounded. Who would that be? But need you ask? Has the villain ever won? Has a film show ever been innovative enough for a villain to prevail?

That's all cinematic bullshit, by the way.

Back to the present. When I first moved into this neighbourhood in Bukit Mertajam, the night-time security services were provided by a small security firm that stationed their people at the end of our road. Every night, the security people would patrol the streets and back lanes on their motorcycles and shine their torchs into the house compounds. Not every household subscribed to the services but I was one of those who did.

Then about two or three years ago, the Rukun Tetangga unit in my neighbourhood proposed to take over the nightly patrols and employed their own guards to do the rounds. Their arguments were convincing: why should we need an external party to provide these patrols when we should be more involved ourselves with our own security and could engage these services on our own? And almost everyone agreed. For the sake of the ideals of the Rukun Tetangga, we agreed. Those of us who had subscribed to the original security firm switched over.

For a long while, everything was fine but at the end of June, the households received a letter that informed us that the Rukun Tetangga's security services were being terminated by the provider. No reason was given although I suspected that many uncooperative households had refused or delayed to pay the monthly fees. The fees weren't much, only RM30 per month, but Malaysians being what they are, those selfish residents that refused to pay thought they could enjoy the same benefits at the expense of those who paid. So there we were, when collection became difficult and the service provider pulled out, all households were left in the lurch.

Then at the beginning of July, we heard that the original security firm wanted to make a return and resume the night guard services again. Fine, I thought, at least we would get some security services back. So I joined with several other people to subscribe to them. But the monthly fees have been upped to RM40 now. No choice if anyone wanted their patrols to resume. What to do but at least I'd have them shine their torchs into my compound again and provide some semblance of comfort and security.

But I was surprised when a neighbour came calling on me about a fortnight later to say that the former Rukun Tetangga night guards wanted to take up the patrolling services on their own, and their fees would only be RM30 per month. Cost-wise, this was a much cheaper alternative but frankly, I wasn't convinced that the second group of security fellas could do an adequate job. So I told this neighbour: good for you but I shall stick to my RM40 security services for the time being. It wasn't about the money, see, but I should believe - which I did not tell my neighbour - that a registered security services provider is more appealing to me than a bunch of former night guards striding out on their own without a proper business registration.

So there we have it. Every evening after eight o'clock, I would see two groups of people patrolling the roads slowly on their respective motorcycles. The services I engaged would have two riders with the pillion rider shining his torch into my compound and the windows on the upper floor. Whenever they see me, they'd shout "uncle" in greeting and wave to me. Very pleasant duo. And the other patrol service? There would be only one guy on his motorcycle looking straight ahead with a "what'd I care" attitude. He doesn't look to the right, he doesn't look to the left, just straight ahead.

So far, there doesn't seem to be any tension between the two groups. I haven't seen their paths crisscross but I'm sure they have. How has the second group been collecting their moneys monthly? Frankly, I don't know because they don't knock on my door.

Now I really wonder whether my neighbourhood is big enough for two night patrol services to operate side by side. Would one party eventually edge out the other? Would there be a turf war eventually? Who would take responsibility should there be break-ins or other security incidents? The residents cannot say that they are enjoying the best of both worlds because I am sure that when it comes down to the crunch, (a) the residents would go back to the service provider they employed for resolution, (b) those residents who refused either service provider will have no grounds to complain, and (c) hopefully, I can get more comfort from a registered business than an adhoc grouping of night guards.

What say you?

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