Murray has taught me how to be a better human being. I have learnt so much from him since he came to stay with me three weeks ago. My son is away in Hokkaido on a skiing holiday. So, I grabbed this opportunity to bond with Murray – not that I had the choice to decline the offer. My son simply left him with me as he whisked himself into the cab. We have become inseparable pals, so special has been the affinity we have for each other. I have even set my alarm clock 30 minutes early so that we have more time together. Without exception, when I wake up every morning, I would rush downstairs as soon as I complete my daily routine in the toilet. We are pretty much each other’s shadow. He not only accompanies me to work, he spends his whole day in my office! After work, on our way home, we would stop by the reserve opposite my house. There we would have a stroll together and I would tell him how my day was. Sometimes there are good news, but more often, it is the stress from work that I impart on him. I would pour out to him all my frustrations with unreasonable customers. Murray is such a great listener. I have re-learned the art of listening from him – he does not ever interrupt me when I speak, and he is not the argumentative type. He is totally not judgemental. Unlike many around me, he simply goes with the flow and accepts my point of view. Sure, undoubtedly he will see things from his own perspective but the respect he has for me is abundantly clear. He allows me to vent out my stress without once standing on my customer’s side.
What a champ – that is real friendship. Unconditional. I suppose he knows how ridiculous my customers can be. Before my business went online, we were a brick and mortar business which followed the trend in the 1990s and expanded via a franchise system. At our peak, we had 17 stores, all based in shopping centres. The advent of online retailing into the mainstream of Australian households from 2007 saw a paradigm shift in the behaviour of consumers. The Global Financial Crisis struck in 2008 and it became apparent soon after that the concept of having retail stores in shopping centres was no longer viable. Thankfully we started our venture into online retailing in 2006 selling on eBay. Our online sales were growing steadily and this allowed us to close unprofitable stores and consolidate. Our website was turned into an e-commerce store in 2011 and today we are a pure-play online retailer. It was an arduous 20 years in retail, serving customers of whom many were merely tyre kickers, there to enjoy the air-conditioning on heat wave days or heating on cold wintry nights. I was polite and subservient from behind shop counters, often biting my tongue to secure a sale. It was the time spent in retail that made me see the ugliness of human beings. Earthlings definitely became urghhlings through terrible retail experiences. Their lies, the manipulation, the petty thefts, the physical threats – that was just from customers. Shopping centre landlords were equally bad if not worse – the lawsuits, the forced expenditures on expensive shop fit-outs, their backdoor deals with trade unions, their greed, their crippling rents. The following decade has seen me serving customers from behind computer screens instead. They are still urghhlings, uglier actually; people are ruder, as dishonest and extremely impersonal behind their computer screens. Urghhlings can be really vicious with their unfair and unfettered online reviews. They behave like they enjoy the opportunity to bring down a business with exaggerated half-truths or distortions and lies from their keystrokes. Their chance to exert authority on social media much like how a parking inspector relishes his job when he issues you a fine. He knows he is both judge and executioner and there is nothing you can do about it. They behave more foolishly too behind their screen. I normally avoid describing someone as foolish, but in my daily dealings with the public, I see too much dishonesty and unreasonable behaviour when people hide behind a screen. Being faceless and nondescript, they become emboldened as they heap abuse at us. They can be as odoriferous as a basket of rotting fish, really. They would buy seat covers for their quad bikes and expect the bike with it. They would enquire about the sidesteps of their car and ask how many kms it has done. When their parcel goes missing, they would expect compensation even though they opted out of insurance for loss in transit. In the reserve, I would share with Murray all that and more. He listens, always intently. He does not insinuate some of the problems could have been my own doing. He unwinds my tensed up nerves. He heals me and then we go home. I should have met Murray a long time ago. There is so much more I have learned from him. For instance, the way he greets me in the morning is unquestionably the best way anyone should greet a friend or spouse. He exhibits unrestrained pleasure when he sees me walking down the stairs. Yes, the guest room downstairs is now his domain. It would not matter if I greeted him with ruffled hair and teeth unbrushed. It would not matter if I had just expelled some overnight flatulence and the ensuing trail had followed me downstairs. It would not matter if the night had been humid and my body stank of garlic and turmeric. Murray would greet me good morning the same – exuberantly. He literally jumps with joy. He is so endearing; this is his way of welcoming a friend, every morning. Why not? Better that than the way The Mrs greets me. She is usually startled by my sudden appearance as I walk into the kitchen from the garage. “Aiyuh! Why don’t you make a sound before you enter the house?” With eyebrows furrowed and a voice as tangy as a half-ripe grapefruit, that is how she welcomes me home after a long day in the office. Whereas Murray makes me feel valued like a deity and cherished like fresh air when he greets me. I have learned this and I too, am beginning to greet people enthusiastically. Hopefully, The Mrs will feel I am finally treating her like my God.
Rain or shine, Murray and I would go for a morning run. Well, it has not rained in the past three weeks, so we have not missed our daily morning exercise yet. What I have missed is UEFA Champions League football. I would have been lazing on my couch the past two mornings, watching Europe’s best footballers play if not for Murray’s strict discipline. He must have his morning run. I hate jogging, so I walk instead and throw balls at Murray like an Aussie fast bowler to strengthen my arm. Before Murray’s regimented discipline, I could manage only 3 dips at a time. Yesterday, I could do 20. My son encouraged me to do dips, as they strengthen my upper body. A couple of blokes almost half my age at work cannot even do one. So, I am mighty proud of myself; it does not matter if I have maybe counted wrongly. Murray’s affinity with me has reached a new level. Sometimes, words are no longer necessary, such is the intuitive rapport and understanding we have with each other. A gentle nudge or a tap on my hand will tell me he is enjoying his meal with me. Without asking, I will quickly top up his dish with his favourite serving of Atlantic Salmon or minced pork balls. My son reminded me Murray is on a no-salt diet but I found out he is actually quite partial to the occasional “tao yu bak” or braised belly pork in dark soy sauce. Unlike some of my friends, he does not need a reminder to eat his greens. He loves fruits too although he is prone to reject those bruised by ants or gnawed by garden mice or possums. He is a guest – I cannot tell him he is being fussy. We do not throw away home-grown organic fruits.
Murray finds my life boring. He is naturally fun-loving and mischievous. When I cannot be disturbed at work, he would rather nap than find a hobby to keep himself occupied. He does keep the staff on their toes though – he would show his discontent with them whenever they come into my office and bother me with inconsequential matters. A bit embarrassing really, I wonder if he makes them feel “chased out” of my office. But, he is right. They should be able to “problem-solve” without me by now. Quite often during the day, he would drop subtle hints that we should go for a walk around the block. The office workers in the neighbourhood find him extremely attractive. And adorable, I think. One lady even called him a spunk and asked for his name. I was surprised the gorgeous young blonde did not ask for his number, the way she was eyeing his taut torso and touching his back. I have learned so much from Murray. When a super attractive lady asks for my name next time, I shall remind myself to act like Murray – puff my chest out, stop slouching, stand strong and straight, and be very attentive with genuine confidence. But, I will need to pretend I have his beautiful round eyes and wear a sweet smile.
After dinner time, the next best time of the day is of course TV time. Murray gets excited during action movies – the sound effects easily manipulate his mood. He is not one for movies that have lengthy dialogues. He would rate movies with implausible twists and turns harshly – not that I would watch such movies myself. I suspect he is an animal lover; movies with dogs and horses make him jumpy – he would be on the edge of his seat right through such movies. He is courteous and understanding. He knows not to bother me when I need my “me time” to write. So, he uses his “me time” quietly by lazing on the leather sofa. It is almost 9 pm – I should stop writing and take him out for a pee. Yes, Murray is my son’s dog. He learned the word “heel” when he was a pup. “Heel, Murray!” That means he is to walk directly next to us and at our pace. He knows not to drag the leash by walking slower or faster. Thank you, Murray. I have learned to heel as well. When we heel, we show respect and obedience. We start to listen rather than argue. We begin to offer genuine affection for those we care for. We demonstrate reconciliation which is usually accompanied by an apology. When we heel, we surely heal any conflict in our relationships. When we heel, we actually heal ourselves. Let me remind myself. To heel is to heal.