8 o’clock sharp.
He closed the front door of the apartment building and
headed for his scooter.
Placing his briefcase on the floor of the scooter, he put on a
safety helmet and then dragged the bike backwards from the
long row of other bikes that were parked every which way in the
lane. He got on and turned the key to start the engine. Sunlight
streamed in at an angle off the rooftops of eastside apartments
but failed to make direct contact with the dark and damp ground
of the lane. Although the engine revved and roared, it only
made this long lane that had not yet awakened from deep sleep
seem extraordinarily peaceful. And he too seemed still half
With a light twist of the accelerator he released the brakes
so that the scooter glided out of the lane, vanishing into a haze
of glittering white sunlight. At the first intersection not far from
the entrance to the lane he stopped, waiting for the signals to
change and getting ready to make the left turn onto the bridge.
There was a lot of traffic, and several policemen and volunteers
in red jackets with reflective fluorescent stripes stood amongst
the battalion of motor vehicles, busily blowing their whistles and
waving their batons. Before long tens of other scooters had halted
at the same intersection, all waiting to turn onto the bridge
just like him. Sunbeams penetrated through the pale green smog
emitted by cars and scooters, branding glaring yellow-white
spotlights on each helmet. In this traffic he waited, complete
blankness in his consciousness as if not yet fully awake.
It was not too ludicrous not to have woken up. For the last
ten plus years—more than three thousand days—he had always
set off for work exactly the same way, and his biological clock
had adjusted and readjusted until it became impeccably precise.
Even without an alarm clock he would wake up automatically at
7:40, finish his morning ablutions, get dressed, and leave home
at 7:55 without needing to look at a watch and without raising
his head since now it was ingrained in him that the traffic lights
ahead would turn green in 1 minute and 45 seconds.
He was employed by an old bank. It was his first job upon
entering the workforce and had remained his one and only job in
all these years. Back then when he had managed to pass the
entrance examination for the bank, he was the envy of all his relatives
and friends, who all said that he was set for life. In fact he
felt the same way and never gave another thought to why he
took that job. Basically he was extremely stable by nature. As a
child his parents had praised his steadiness, and the teachers at school also described him as being very reliable. When he
joined the bank his colleagues even nicknamed him “Mr.
After ten years of marriage both of his children were
already in primary school. Every day he went to work punctually
at 8:30 am, came home directly after overtime, handed every
dollar of his monthly salary to his wife, and always got a prim
and proper “A” for his performance evaluation. He rose through
the ranks in a predictable fashion from a clerk, to a team leader,
then a deputy manager, and finally a manager today.
The intersection was packed with scooters, and a volunteer
policeman stepped in from the side of the road, refusing to let
latecomers pass the stop line in case they interfered with pedestrians
crossing the road.
During all these years he had sensed almost no dramatic
change in his environment. Everything had seemed to happen so
naturally, never once straying from the orderly pattern. He did
experience some minor shock from the consecutive births of his
two daughters in the first two years of marriage, but nothing else
since then had broken the routine. Except for his hair.
In recent years his hair had been leaving him at an incredible
pace. Be it a pillow, a comb or the washbasin, his hair
seemed to part ways with the scalp every chance it got. The
sight of his molting hair made him cringe, and even cured him of
the long time habit of scratching his head whenever he started
thinking about something, for fear that the merest touch would
kill a few more hairs. He began to dread facing the mirror.
Although his wife consoled him: “You look quite sexy this way
too,” he was nonetheless reluctant to stand before the mirror,
was afraid of confrontations with his bald self.
He began to enjoy riding the scooter, especially after traffic
laws were revised to require all riders to wear helmets.
Originally the scooter was not his transport of choice. He
could well afford a car, but his company being located in the
CBD meant that the time taken to find a parking space far
exceeded the drive to work. It would cost NT$6,000 a month to
rent a parking space near work, which hardly seemed worth it.
If he took the bus instead he would have to change buses, which
was too time-consuming. All things considered it was better to
leave the car to his wife,....