I was 2 months into a new job I convinced myself I liked, and to celebrate, I had visited my tailor to get a crisp white shirt and a pair of trousers.
There is something gratifying about having an elderly man fussing over you with a measuring tape. First, he measures your neck, and he might do this several times if he knows what he is doing. He spreads your arms and measures your chest twice, after which he pats your pockets and makes sure that they are empty before measuring your hips. To measure the rise of your trousers, he spreads your legs and gingerly places the tape from your belly button around your crotch to the small of your back. I still hold my breath while he is at work, afraid that the slightest tremor might destroy the lines of my shirt, although his practiced hands can surely tell the difference. Only when he returns to the book on his table to record his measurements do I breathe a little. I will assume that a man naturally places his physical condition on a level with his intellectual one and that he watches what he eats and knows what he is supposed to do with a barbell, so when a woman compliments you through one of her many means, you must also remember to acknowledge the fine work of your tailor and pay him the compliment of visiting him again.
When I finally decided on a colour from the swatch book, he looked approvingly and pronounced it a handsome shade of midnight blue. I agreed with my tailor in this particular, although when my female colleague had brought to my attention that she had coloured some cells in a spreadsheet “tiffany blue”, I never failed to tease her about it every chance I got.
On my way to work one morning, I discovered that I had forgotten to bring the keys to the office. In order to make the best of a situation, I got out at City Hall and got myself a coffee. It was 7 in the morning and a jogger rich enough to be exercising around grade A office space was already running about. I took out my laptop and began to make some plans on a mind map.
I thought perhaps I would have something classy, a restaurant where the waiter would tuck my girl into her chair, drop by at discreet intervals to see if we were comfortable and pour our wine by resting the bottle on his outstretched arm. The pricier retaurants I found had websites where someone who knew his html and css had agonized over the typeface and in the about page the owner chef was already beginning to sound like a self help book.
It was with this heady mix of possibility that I felt compelled to take Lidia to dinner, perhaps a Milonga, and after drinks, which my friends had advised me not to pay for because then it would look like I had a motive, work could take care of itself tomorrow. I hint coyly at work, but what I really wanted to do was to follow her back to her hotel room and sleep with her.
What happened instead was this – she peered at the menu at the restaurant and shook her head. I scrambled to find something else and fortunately remembered that there was a Swedish retaurant nearby. Her tastes being more prosaic and vegetarian, this too was dismissed. We ended up having pizza at a nondescript cafe. Feeling bemused that my plans had come to nothing, I consoled myself with the thought that my attraction to vegetarians was a cosmic middle finger to the vegan cause considering the amount of chicken breasts and hard-boiled eggs I consumed every day.
“I thought you might have gotten fat,” I said, “It’s been what 7 months since I saw you?”
Good conversations begin with insults and this one started with promise. She told me she had gone to Japan and gotten drunk on lemony drinks from a vending machine.
It was still early when we went to the Milonga at Queen street, but for a weekday night, there would not be any more than the 4 or 5 couples dancing on the floor. The men and the elderly women, Philippine escorts in tight shirts and baggy trousers, tai tais dressed up on a Thursday night, all cut elegant figures.
One hundred years ago, newspapers were saying of Tango – “I would condemn the tango if I were a married man, as a bachelor, I approve it.” “The tango is delicious and good for the salons, since it interests and attracts young people, thus stimulating marriage.”
Today, I did not care to debate the social merits of the dance, I merely knew that I felt an animal content as we danced wordlessly and slowly about the room, her body pressed against mine, a close embrace we would periodically negotiate to fit the contours of our bodies, she adjusting her head and leaving lipstick marks on my t-shirt, myself pressing my chin lightly against her hair and catching the smell of her shampoo. Her littleness made me feel as if I was capable of destructive violence, that if I punched her, she would surely crumple. This was so absurd I stifled a laugh.
I looked at her as she walked to the washroom. Her hair was long and golden and she let it loose like a “Viking princess”. Her habit of unselfconsciously looking straight at me and fidgeting with her top at the same time was both disarming and delightful. Did her charm compose of these physical dimensions? She looked silently at me as she came back – I thought it was a look of intent.
After the Milonga, we found a spot to sit at by the bay. I pointed out what little stars our sky has to offer and the Singapore skyline to her. We go over tired threads of conversation, including the Marina Bay Sands, the Merlion, and psf prices at Reflections by the Bay.
“What do you like about Singapore?”
“Well, the trains are fast, and its really clean as well.”
Other questions we leave unspoken before I tell her it is already getting late and I have to go home.
She did not have a handphone, a quirk perhaps of a woman with a point of view, but this meant I had to email her to wait outside the train station exit facing the shops. I worried If I had described the meeting point well enough and that we might circle about the station and never meet, doomed to email each other later to laugh ruefully about our mishap. But she turned up eventually. She had put on makeup, her face looked fresh and she had sparkly eyeshadow and blusher on her cheeks. I thought it strange that this bundle of gritty hair, glossy lip balm and bra straps on creamy shoulders should arouse such expectation and uneasiness within me. I needed to know where to place her in my life.
I told her about a girl I knew once who was beautiful and loved handbags.
“Are you high maintenance?”, I asked
“Well I’m not, I’m pretty simple”
“Do you want me to say that I’m cheap?”
I was talking distractedly to Lidia in the bus, but at night, it was hard to make out where we were headed.
“Uncle, Botanic Gardens 还有多少站呢?”
So we walked along the roads, trying to find our way back. We were still lost when we found ourselves at the British Embassy and she suggested that we could perhaps take a shortcut across its grounds.
“You’re the one with the passport, but I wouldn’t be able to get in there would I?” I said.
“Well, that’s your problem.”
We found the entrance to the Botanic Gardens and followed the music to the bandstand. An acoustic set was playing in a pavilion festooned with glowing lights, and the trees about the place were also garlanded with lights. I put down the brownie, mango bread and 2 tiger beers we had bought and we sat down on the grass beside a couple trying to enjoy a moment as their children ran about them. “That’s very romantic”, I said. ‘It’s a reminder to everyone else where they’re headed if they keep this up.”
As we sat on the grass, I told her that the ring finger is for Aphrodite and there is supposed to be a vein that is connected to your heart from your ring finger, and I traced this imaginary vein along her forearm. Then, looking at the side of her palm, I told her that these were her fertility lines, and it’s supposed to show how many children she would have.
“I don’t really see anything though.”
“You’re being mean!”
“Maybe it’s the lighting, hmm.”
The band played their last song, something about dancing and looking into a girl’s eyes, and Lidia said, “Well done, that was nice.”
“I think I deserve a kiss for organizing this.”
She leaned in to kiss me on the cheek and I liked it so much, I told her I wanted another one for the camera. I still have the picture, her eyes are closed and I’m grinning because I thought this was a wonderful way to end the week. Walking out, we sat on a merry go round and smiled stupidly at each other as we spun around.
We went off to Boat Quay to look for somewhere along the river to have a beer. Beside the Singapore River, a reverse bungee ride was whizzing about over our heads.
“Do you reckon you could do that?”
“Oh no, I was taking an escalator in Japan and I nearly cried. You will see my sad face if you take me to a fairground and expect me to get involved. I like gardens and looking at sea creatures. Sniffing tea is also acceptable. Nothing like this. You can take it if you want.”
I did not have her fear of heights, it was the distance between us instead that I had to bridge when I reached my hand out and put it around her waist. She leant against my shoulder in reply. Later, I was getting impatient as she was taking one too many pictures, and as she was taking a picture of a mermaid on a pub storefront, I grabbed her wrist to pull her along and it slipped into her fingers so naturally it excited me. We adjusted our fingers because should it be her fingers first or mine?
At 3 in the morning, we sipped 막걸리 and watched the winter olympics on a big screen TV with a passing interest. She said that she was tired, and that sounded ominous and urgent to me, like a cue to me to act or let the entire day and all of the rest – the Milonga, the picnic, the bungee ride, the tentative emails she had sent before we had even met suggesting that we could always return to her place for wine if I was too busy – come to nothing. I had to struggle to say it: “Let’s go back to your place and have a drink.” I don’t know if she actually acknowledged, because I had already begun nervously talking about something else.
We went to 7-11 to look for more beer, but all the coolers had been chained and padlocked. “No drinks,” the cashier said gruffly.
She said, “I have coffee over at my place, if you want.”
Walking into the hotel, it seemed that we were lovers returning to her room for a secret assignation, the receptionist seated at the entrance, some overseer of virtue. Lidia had told me she had tried to look for a cheap hotel in a good area and had avoided anything with a seedy reputation. She pointed to a notice beside the elevator – no vice activity here. Her room was small and stuffy and the bed occupied just about the entire room.
“Would you like some coffee?” She showed me the instant coffeemix that the hotel had stocked in a cabinet beside the bed. We sat for half an hour watching Just for Laughs. It would have been absurdly funny to me if this was happening to someone else, but I now I thought that this was tragic and perhaps I should have kissed her instead of turning on the television. She yawned and said she wanted to sleep. I sneaked a look at her and turned away when she looked back, then looked at her again.
I inched towards her and she moved closer towards me, her eyes half closed. I kissed her lips and placed my hand on her breast. When I reached under her dress and tried to pull down her panties, (it was black and gauzy, only to turn teasingly opaque at its apex), she mumbled something and put her hand on mine to stop me. As we continued to kiss, I reached around her back and felt the rows and rows of seams on her bra. The clasp refused to give and perplexed, I tried to pull it down instead. This must have exasperated her because she stopped kissing me and sighed. First, she took off her belt, some metallic, loopy thing the workings of which I did not have the slightest idea of, then she pulled her dress over her head. Now dressed only in her underwear, I ruefully noted that it was with a practiced motion that she unclasped her bra and smiled at me.
She squirmed and shuddered when I ran my hands over her tummy which felt particularly hot, as if she had a fever, even though the air conditioning was already turned up. From centimetres away, her nose looked bigger and I found that her eyes were a grayish green. Our teeth clicked as we kissed and we laughed. She said, “Your eyes are brown!”
I felt her getting wetter as I played with her, and it only excited me and encouraged me. “Like this,” she whispered and she guided my hand. She softly exclaimed oh and then I was crushing her in my arms and feeling her gasp again. I grabbed her neck with my hand and pressed my ear against her chest.
“What are you doing?”
Her heart was racing.
“Listening to your heartbeat.” I said.
I ran my legs against hers and felt thin pinpricks where she had shaved, my lips discovered light down on her upper lip and I tasted the lip balm she had reapplied at intervals when we had been drinking. As she lay beneath me, I pulled the bedsheet over us and she laughed, and I sat on her and marvelled at her breasts and green eyes. I felt her tampon in her, and this intimate knowledge only made me want to fuck her more for all the lonely nights I had spent before thinking about her. In my mounting lust, I tried to pull her panties down again, but she gasped and grabbed at me as if I had done a forbidden thing. She took me in her hand but I wanted even more for her to let me inside her, bloody sex didn’t seem to be a problem to me.
The next morning as I lay in bed, the morning sunlight was coming in through a slit in the curtains and it shone on her back as she lay sleeping wearing only a big T shirt. I could not sleep and I turned away only to feel her weight shifting, I guessed that she was looking at me. I nudged myself towards her and both our shoulders touched. We lay there looking at the ceiling and she looked for my hand and held it. I placed my hand on her tummy and lay it there.
“I’m sure I can find a six pack in there somewhere.”
“No, no, i’m a girl, I’m supposed to be soft.”
I was watching television when she came out of the bathroom topless. She wiggled her bum and said, “Do you like my shower dance?”
“I was telling David that I got a room with a bigger bed, and he said, oh? Just in case. I didn’t know if you had something else on on Valentine’s Day.”
I said, “You mentioned hanging out at your hotel, I thought hmm?”
“Ah, you saw through my scheme. I wanted drinks to fill you with alcohol, and then I could touch you inappropriately.”
“You know when you asked me about the best thing in Singapore? I lied, you’re the best thing in Singapore.”
“You’re mine!” she cooed, “Mine!”
There was once I was meeting her in City Hall and when I spotted her, she strode up to me and before I could say hello, she kissed me. I thought this was the sweetest thing, and without looking back, I would reach my hand out and know that she would slip her small hand into mine. If we were going up an escalator, I would let her get on first and then I would hug her and kiss her forehead. She looked at me once and said, “Are you getting horny?” I noticed that I had left a mark on her neck where I had bitten her. She had left her name in journal entries she would never know about.