When I Die I Want To Become A McDonald’s™ – Sean Chua
December 1, 2021
1. When the applications opened up he decided he wanted it more than anything else in the world. They had a hundred or so places open because they didn’t need the floor space anymore. The nurse held his hand as he swiped through the list of available niches: PVC, plywood, biodegradable FSC-certified cardboard in the shapes of Happy Meal™ boxes… she murmured very appreciatively at his choice, wheeled him to his spot behind where the play area used to be, that little square-foot tile marked off with yellow tape and capped with somber black granite. His wheelchair moved silent on the greasy floor. “Once the children started leaving, this was the next logical step,” came a reasonable voice behind him.
2. His hospice was a former massage parlour because it was convenient to reuse old things. After half a century it was difficult to believe that the very old still died in these halls, still privately behind the black curtains, still quietly under the same hands, except this time they did so very slowly and not in a metaphorical sense. Young brown nurses wheeled him through the galleries so that he could see himself reflected in the mall’s polished-aluminium sidings many times over, while they spoke among themselves in Tagalog and Bahasa Malay. He could not remember how many times the shops around him had changed, nor any features of his nurses other than their cool, bright hands.
3. The banners peeling fingerlike from the false ceiling had accumulated from lifetimes past. On a road trip in the United States he had been shown something called a shoe tree. These things, said his guide, grew regardless of human intervention, palimpsests of materiality grown from forgetfulness and misuse. Christmas layered onto Eid onto Deepavali onto New Year’s. Dragons peeked from the fringes of tinsel. History repeated itself in the strange space. Sometimes, a passing train would shake the scruff loose, showering snow into the cracks between the beige floor tiles, which were arranged every hundred paces in the shape of a compass rose.
4. The management had given up on relocating tenants sometime after the crash of ’21. The eternal problem of finite lease in a land-starved country never crossed anyone’s minds. Sellers of cheap Chinese upholstery and pirated CDs rolled down their shutters and stayed there. Massage parlours turned down their lights and carried on. Frosted glass and taped-up windows glared at passing management until they caved, then glared at the cops and debt collectors that followed. The McDonald’s, against all odds, remained open, its automated counters serving customers to the very last, its lights bleeding sodium-yellow into the slowly-greying world.
5. Standing atop the square of his future grave he could not remember if he had been in the same place before. In the days preceding his death he had wheeled himself through the galleries alone marvelling at the discarded shoes of children that had lined the rows of makeshift tuition centres. The nurses were no longer with him. Many of them had fled, taking the mall decorations with them. The same smell of cigarette smoke that was in the air had finally faded. Looking up at the pinpricks of light falling through the leaking roof it was difficult for him to tell exactly how long he had been there, if he had barely just arrived or had instead been here for centuries, staring upwards, waiting on an aluminium-scented present that never came.
6. He never made it to see the crack widen. On the last hour of the last day in the year, while distant fireworks rattled the building’s walls, he passed in the darkened rooms of the quiet hospice, alone. In the morning when they found him there were written instructions to take his body to the boardwalk and dump it into the sea. This was likely for the best, as the usual crematory drums had been used to store unsold CDs while the McDonald’s had been reserved that day for morning zumba. Under the golden arches, middle-aged women ran in place forever, careful not to tread on the yellow tape between the tiles.