Five Star Billionaire
By Tash Aw
Note: Gary grew up in Malaysia and moved to Shanghai to become a successful musician
and pop star. He falls from grace when he gets involved in a drunken bar fight and videos
of this are uploaded to YouTube.
[…] the TV channels have moved on from Gary-gate, as someone has predictably called
this little episode; they are no longer interested in him.
Maybe if they could track Gary down and get an exhaustive interview with him, in which
he recounted every detail of his life and then broke down in tears while apologizing for his
misdeeds – maybe then the story would be complete and his life could be restored. But
Gary is not available for interviews. His record company says he is undergoing a period of
self-reflection. According to most bloggers, this probably means he has taken an
overdose, but by now even the cheapest tabloid newspapers do not have the enthusiasm
to speculate on Gary’s fate.
For once in his brief, previously glittering career, however, the press release is true. Gary
is indeed thinking about himself. Not because he wants to, but because he is barricaded
in his hotel room, immobile, for the first time in years. No meetings to attend, no chat
shows, no dance rehearsals […].
In front of him, little windows announce themselves on the screen of his laptop, popping
into existence like beautiful, short-lived night-time flowers. These are the numerous online
chat rooms he is on – about half a dozen at once. Most of the time he doesn’t even bother
to look at the messages, which are greetings from total strangers who don’t even know
who they are contacting. They don’t care - they are all lonely and in need of someone to
chat to. Everyone uses a false name, hiding who they truly are, just as he does. The only
thing on display is their solitude.
A small window with a girl’s face on it pops up with a bright bling. Gary has seen her
before. It is rare to see a photo of a real face on these sites. The last time Gary saw it he
decided that it must be a fake – no one would put a picture of themselves on the internet
that showed them smiling straight into the camera. The photo was taken in a public park,
not in a studio, and the girl was not even dressed up or prettified in any way. He thought it
must have been a stolen image – someone playing a joke – so he took no notice. Her
message this time is the same as the last time: sassy and challenging. Hellooooo, anyone
out there? Any human being, alien, even a talking monkey would be OK!
Yes, it must be a fake, Gary thinks as he clicks on the window to close it. Besides, he is
bored with these chat rooms now, bored with inventing stories about who he is, bored with
lying about his age, job, home town – bored with the flattery and flirtation, the banality of
the chat that is always the same and never goes anywhere. […]
[Note: Gary starts chatting with the girl anyway and after a while he finds himself in an
online relationship with her.
Is she a ‘girlfriend’? Or a ‘soulmate’? Is he in love with her, or are they just close friends
who understand each other deeply? Of course he does not love her, but he finds that he
does have feelings towards her. It’s just that he cannot put a name to these feelings. It is a
weird, exciting position to be in. He knows that she feels the same, that she does not
consider him to be a boyfriend, but that she too is happy whenever she receives a
message from him. He keeps his laptop on all the time, waiting for her to log in. Even
when he is practising the piano he has it on a little table next to him, just in case the
familiar box with her smiling face pops up with a note saying: Little Cat is here!
They chat every day, sometimes three or four times a day. In the evenings they will talk
for two or three hours, way past midnight, and the following morning he will receive a message saying,‘ So so so so tired but … so so so happy. Going to work now. Think of me and wish me success at work today!’
It is the first time in his life that he has been so close to another person. He has never had
a conversation lasting more than five minutes, unless it concerns music or his career. He
has never had the opportunity to chat about simple, silly things like what kind of food he
likes, what his favourite animals are […]. When he first started chatting with her, he
realised that he had no opinions on anything. He could barely be considered a normal
human being. Or rather, he did have feelings and opinions on many subjects, but he had
never had the chance to articulate them. He has never been in a position to examine his
thoughts about important issues in his life. Until now, no one has ever asked him, ‘How
are you feeling this morning?’ No one has ever said, ‘Is everything all right with you
today? You seem a little sad.’ This girl has the ability to discern sentiments in him that he
himself is incapable of noticing. But the moment she mentions something – ‘You seem a
little depressed today’; ‘You seem optimistic this evening’ – he realises that it is exactly
how he feels. Depressed. Optimistic. Brooding. Assured. She has a way of understanding
what is going on in his head when even he does not.
And yet he has never met her in person, or even heard her voice. On one or two
occasions she has suggested swapping phone numbers so she can text him while she is
at work, but each time he has changed the subject rapidly. He still cannot get rid of his
manager’s first piece of advice to him, permanently imprinted on his memory: the first rule
of self-protection is never to give your mobile number to anyone.
Source: Aw, Tash. Five Star Billionaire. London: Fourth Estate, 2013, 161-163, 218-219.
|1||Gary-gate||scandal involving Gary
|25||to prettify||to try to make something pretty, often with the result that it looks worse or false
|27||sassy||here: fashionable and confident
|35||to put a name to||here: to understand completely
|54||to discern||to understand something, especially something that is not obvious