The orange mug

She gave him the mug on his birthday a few years ago. He could still remember the bashful look on her face as she pressed the nicely wrapped gift on his palms before she turned her head away.

“Another mug?” he exclaimed insensitively. He might be right about having receiving enough mugs to start a gift shop already, but they weren’t the words she wanted to hear from him.

“Thank you, anyway,” a smile helped to soothe things a little for her.

“Open it,” she encouraged.

“You know, I’m the sort who leaves it until the end of …”

“Open it.”

Sheepishly but exhilarated inside, he ran his fingers over the package and began peeling off the wrapper. It didn’t occur to him again that 30 minutes of her precious sleep was lost trying to put the position of the ribbon just right.

Five minutes later, shreds of the wrapping paper – orange with prints of cutesy cat paw prints – were left lying all over the table. No, he didn’t know that was $10 of her hard-earned money.

Still, it didn’t matter to her.

Now, his hands were now busy molesting the cardboard box which held the mug. It was the result of her long search for a birthday gift for him – one that he will remember for years and years to come; one that will induce thoughts of her in the deepest recesses of his mind in years and years to come.

Hopefully, she thought to herself. Hopefully, please.

“Wah. So orange!” wrong words from the same orifice again. Hours were spent running up, down and through malls to find the right mug.

“Cute cat, but I’m almost 30 already leh. Imagine a guy using an orange mug with a cutesy cartoon cat in the office. What will people think?” It was a quick review of the gift which she didn’t want to hear.

“Do you like it?” an attempt at subtlety.

She observed his brows forming a furrow. His lips began to pout slightly. There wouldn’t be any hope left for mankind if he failed this final test.

Five excruciating (for her) minutes later, he finally uttered the words “I quite like it.” The smile on his face – one of genuine satisfaction and delight; one that convinced her that he finally understood what this gift really meant – lifted her heart immensely.

“Use it hor,” she nagged. “Don’t leave it somewhere in your cramped three-room apartment to collect dust.”


A yellowish film had developed on the sides of the mug weeks ago, but either he didn’t notice it or didn’t care. A mug is something you hold water with, he argued with himself whenever that colony of bacteria bugged him enough to start thinking about cleaning it.

On days when he needed something more than just plain water, a packet of non-caffeinated peppermint tea would find itself there and doused in hot water a few times during the day. On days when his throat felt like sandpaper, a small, loose bundle of ginseng roots would be there instead.

Through time, it had become a mug and nothing more. The significance of it has long faced with time. He couldn’t remember now which birthday it was when the mug was first presented to him by a girl who looked away when he tried looking at her eyes. He knew they were in love then, after a major issue which arose out of the strains of a long-distance relationship. He thought his search has ended a long while again and from then on, instead of soppy, sad stories, he would write nothing but love stories of bliss, joy, security and “happy ever afters”.

The handle has broken off around this time last year. A normal mug would have found its way to the trash bin instantly, but for some reasons only he knew, he couldn’t bear to throw it away. It could have been the cutesy cat. It could have been the bright orange of the mug, which brought a bit of colour to his otherwise dull life. It could have been the little red fishes which were printed on top of the orange.

It could have been something else. Something he didn’t want to think too much about.

It bugged him enough to wash the cup this morning before he filled it with the remnants of ginseng roots. He could still recall his carelessness that caused the mug to hit the ground and off came the handle. He remembered the words of a colleague about how cute the mug was.

One thing he didn’t want to remember too much was the giver of that birthday gift.

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