The Vacuum Atelier

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The Vacuum Atelier

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One late morning, I returned to our atelier from the Kuala Lumpur court after a hearing.

I was dressed in my customary three-piece black suit but sans tie and jacket. I left them in the car because I would not need them. I preferred to be attired smart casual in our studio. We suit up when we have to get our game on, outside.

When I walked up the stairs I noticed thin pieces of white chunks lying on the stair landing floor. Littered around them on the landing and the adjacent steps were varying sizes of thin white flecks. I looked up. The paint on the ceiling had fallen off. It irked me to see the mess on the stairs. The urge to clean it right away gripped me.

I took off my leather shoes and slid them onto the shoe rack on the stair landing. At our studio, we don’t wear shoes. I find doing that encourages us to bring our soles to work. Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Anyway, I bounded up the rest of the stairs into the reception area. At that point, I could have simply instructed one of my colleagues to clean up the mess on the stairs.

Instead, I dashed into my room to drop off my bag and get the vacuum cleaner. It’s not that I had nothing better to do. It’s not that I wanted to spare my colleagues the effort. Nothing altruistic at all about it, if I am honest. I got the vacuum cleaner because I wanted to use it. I wanted to use it because I like using the vacuum cleaner.

As someone who had many occasions in his youth to use brushes, wipers, brooms (both soft and hard-bristled ones), mops, cloths (cotton, microfibre, non-absorbent, tattered), irons, washing machines, dryers, and a plethora of consumer cleaning appliances and tools at some point or other, I love vacuum cleaners best.

I have fond memories of the big old wired ones. Those big old wired ones were clunky and cumbersome. There wasn’t much range to them because they were limited by the length of the power cable and the connecting hose. It was easy to get the power cable tangled up with furniture and other stuff. For me, anyway.

My favourite part of the vacuum back in the day was when I was done with it. The highlight was watching the grey power cable slowly snake back like some living slithery thing after I pressed the button to retract the power cable.

But those clunky days are long gone. The vacuum cleaners these days are sleeker, convenient and wireless. They are way more fun to use and delightfully, just as powerful. I can feel micro-vibrations and the raw yet controlled power when it’s switched on in my hand. I love watching the debris quickly hoovered up by the high-pitched whining tool; they looked as if they were rushing to shelter to avoid some calamity.

The one in our studio is an Electrolux ErgoRapido Lithum 2-in-1 Vacuum Cleaner. It’s the type we can detach the handheld vacuum from the vacuum stick to get up close and personal, as I was looking to do.

Vacuums work best with stairs with a mess. I know it’s not true – it’s best to have a small broom on the follow-up – but it sure does sound like it though eh? With the handheld vacuum in my right hand, I headed back in earnest to the stair landing. A grin of intent crept on my face when I flicked the power button and heard the whinny of the vacuum. It’s cleaning time!

I broke up the bigger pieces of paint with my feet and my left hand and attacked them with the vacuum in my right hand. Now and again I would sweep the vacuum around to hoover up the surrounding smaller flecks. I was making good progress until I suddenly heard my name faintly amidst the vacuum’s high-pitched whine. I heard it again and thought to stop the vacuum to make sure I heard right.

The moment I flicked the vacuum off I heard my name rip through the quiet: FAAAAHHHHHRRRRRIIIIIIIIIII!

My head shot up to look for the source of the shout. A few steps up above the stair landing I was cleaning I saw my aunt and uncle standing with an expression of surprise on their faces.

“Fahri! What are on earth are you doing? Are you cleaning the stairs?” asked my aunt with some anxiety in her voice.

“Why yes, aunty, I am. The ceiling paint fell off and fell on the stairs. I thought to give it a quick clean with the vacuum. I can’t stand to leave this lying around!”

“I can see that! But why are you cleaning up the mess in your suit?! You are so nicely dressed. And aren’t you the boss?”

“Well, yes, aunty but… “

“And you are always in the online media, isn’t it? Uncle said he always read about you giving some legal view or something.”

“Not always aunty. Occasionally, they ask me for…”

“No, no. The other day, I also read a few news articles with you in it.”

“Thank you, Aunty, I think that was a dec….”

“My point, Fahri, is a well-known senior lawyer like yourself should not be cleaning the stairs! You should ask your staff to do it.”

“Aunty, aunty, I’m not well known. And, it’s just a bit of paint. It’s a few minutes’ job. Everybody else has their bit of work to attend to. And, it’s no big deal really. It’s like a light physical warm-up for me. You know, before I get down to some legal work. And I, uhm, I really like using the vacuum cleaner.”

“Wow, I haven’t heard that before!” remarked my uncle.

“Ha. Yeah, uncle. It’s a … uh… fetish of mine.”

“Now I’ve heard everything!”

“Fetish?!” remarked my aunt, emphasizing each syllable. “You kids are so strange these days! Anyway, you should leave cleaning work to your staff, Fahri.”

“I will consider that, aunty. Anyway, enough about me. Are you already done with your appointment or did you just arrive? I don’t recall seeing an appointment in the firm diary for you today?”

“We are done, thank you. Your girl called us to sign off some documents. We didn’t want to bother you with it. We just popped in and were on the way out when we saw you vacuuming. You were so focused. I called your name twice and you didn’t hear me!”

“I’m sorry, aunty. I kind of get in the zone when I get my momentum going.”

I quickly put the vacuum cleaner aside and ushered them down the flight of stairs to the exit. They put on their shoes at the bottom of the stairs. I opened the door for them to leave.

“I hope you leave the cleaning to the staff in the future. It’s not seemly for a lawyer like yourself to be seen cleaning the stairs,” she said in parting.

“Thank you for the advice, aunty. I will certainly bear that in mind. Thank you both for coming and have a nice day!”

I watched them disappear into their car before I stepped back into the building. I trudged up to the stairs landing and picked up the vacuum beside the wall. There were still pieces and flecks of white paint on the stair landing floor. I looked at them for a moment.

The scene had an unfinished look about it.

With a flick, the vacuum in my right hand roared to life.

“Now. Where were we?”

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