lidia

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”

“Really?”

“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?”

“已经过了,要走回去两站,也要过马路.”

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.

“What?”

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 giggled.

“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.

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Liz

September 30, 2010

“Hey can you raise an incident in team track?”
“Yeah,” I use Jeffrey’s account.

“Kay, let me check something.” She came over.
“Is the Fix Description field Editable?”, she asked.
“Uhmmm….” (It was greyed out.)
Andre said, “Yeah, the fixer fills it in after the incident is sent to him.”

She looked at him and smiled ok. I was looking at her over the partition. Eyeshadow, a hint of blush. I’ve seen it all before. Her hair is clipped up behind her, her ponytail falls in curly splashes on her back. This is memory at work, but at that moment at my seat, I can only see her eyes over the partition. And a business smile, thank you for your information, I will return to my laptop and mute silence and the occasional exchanged glance. The game we play where we wonder who blinks first and who looks away and we read into that and wonder. Or when I stand up and stretch and drink from my water bottle, and I tell myself I am only stretching when I am preening.

Ah sorry, another thing, could i check the Valid Defect Field. She came over again. Dangerously close. I breathed her in. I clicked on the dropdown and pushed the mouse slightly towards her. She moved in closer to take the mouse, just beside my face and looked at the monitor. I didn’t budge. I tingle at the centimetre closeness. Her cheek is close to mine. I move back slightly. Andre must be picking this up, but I’ll let him think whatever he wants.

“Hmm, could you give me a screenshot of that?”, she said.
“Sure.”

charlotte

‘ok this is going to be a 10 minute meeting’

‘Down here, the pace will be different from Haw Par.’ She paused to think for a word, laughed, and cupped her face in her hands. ‘It’s different from AC, we don’t come in after lunch and work till 2am. We leave on time, and I’m a big fan of that. But since we leave early, we must also arrive late.’ I nodded mindlessly. ‘Wait, I mean, we cannot arrive late’

‘Ok, what else have I missed. The politics, ah. I’m not as strict as Peik Siam. Now with me and Derek, you can have your pantry breaks, just try not to take too long.’

‘Leave plans. I’m going on leave this thursday till next monday.’

‘Don’t call me’. All of us in the small meeting room laughed. It is a laugh of solidarity, it shows that we have worked late, one night or another. It is also a simple, friendly laugh, maybe we just want to dispel our boredom. ‘I will respond to your emails, but yeah, I don’t want to incur call charges again.’

‘All the SIR are sent to Oliver, because he’s the so-called team lead’, she said without malice. Oliver nodded with his blank smile. I thought about how our roles had been reversed, now, we were the ones taking orders.

‘Let’s go for lunch.’

‘Ah, no I’m skipping’

‘But why, isn’t it unhealthy?’

Here we go again, I thought to myself. ‘Yeah, it’s something I grabbed off the internet’.

‘Why, do you think you’re fat?’

I paused, hoping the silence would not imply that I was wondering whether or not to tell the truth. Yet, each passing moment could only increase the significance of a reply I would rather not give. ‘Yes’

‘You’re not fat! You want to know who’s fat? I can show you’

I laughed.

‘Ah, can we not discuss this?’ I mock shooed her away with my hands.

network girl

A distinction between a woman’s soul and body is impossible, are her looks and smiles physical or spiritual? No one can say. – Lin Yutang describing a woman’s allure.

Testing the limits of attraction is a delicate matter. Patricia wears gloves in the office and has a schoolgirl fringe on a maternal face. I put the question, would you bang her? He pauses and smiles abashedly, “If you ask me, I won’t say no.”

Huixuan is not immediately appealing, she is pleasant. Her black-grey dresses, less a celebration of the female form than practical adornment. Would I bang her? I gaze at her back as she walks past my desk back to her cubicle. In my moments of boredom, I sit on my desk and survey the surrounding people. Maybe from my eyes she can tell that I want to put aside her chineseness and barrelness. In the elevator, as we’re leaving for home, I whisper in her ear, check out this guy in the lift, what a stupid haircut. I manage to insult her as well, enough for her to scuttle over to punch me before she goes the other way with a bemused Ik Tken.

I have a picture of my mother at work at her desk, typewriter sitting solidly atop as she smiles at the camera. This is 30 years ago, so I understand why Dad married her. He grumbles and jokes ironically about marriage, but he would have drunk her youth, her hips, her carefully blow dried hair. Looking at the picture, I confess to myself, time travel paradoxes notwithstanding, Westermarck be damned.

A spiritual layer lies above the layer of daily existence we inhabit, and the two meet where a woman’s smile begins. Ordinary time ends, a different space begins. – Robert Bly teaching.

I’m at Jason’s in City Hall, impatiently waiting in line. Here I feel that certain boring quality inherent to life. It should not make any difference how much time I am wasting when I already spend lethargic weekends watching George Clooney, Woody Allen, someone to teach me about mature masculinity, and running through the same male lifestyle websites, as if I can buy masculinity as well. No, avoiding queues is not the Pareto solution to what ails me. I eye a smartly dressed woman in high heels, and feeling my eyes on her, she swivels her neck and brazenly looks back. I turn away to see network girl queuing up just behind me. She laughs. I feel it now – replayed many times in the history of humanity – Man meets a woman, conquers his self-doubt, makes his move and asks her out. In a second I cross the 2 or 3 people between us.

It is a weekday after work, lining up in the queue, she’s dressed in jeans and a t shirt, carrying a bottle of milk in hand. Maybe her friends like to smuggle fresh milk into the movies.

“What are you doing here?”, glad I manage to say something.

“I’m going home”

I’m confused, “Do you stay around here?”

“Yes”, she smiles like she’s hiding something.

“Really?” Oh god, she stays here around City hall! But she doesn’t look rich. Just chinese. (and I know she’s Malaysian, already has a boyfriend and supposedly checks me out all the time)

“Noo, Queenstown.” she giggles.

Now I fumble for words and smile stupidly at her. She smiles as well but we have nothing to say to each other. George Clooney wouldn’t look away. His silence, reframed, is not uncomfortable, instead it hints at the possible, is atmospheric.

I look around to avoid her eyes. The queue cannot go fast enough. Thankfully, the cashier calls out for the next customer, so I walk up, then wonder how to excuse myself or how to talk to her again but make it appear natural. I do none of these things, self-consciously paying but not daring to look until I have to look. She is still paying and I walk past her, wondering whether to tap her on the shoulder to say goodbye.

Retold, the story sounds flat – I met network girl yesterday. She was in the queue, I asked her where she lived. Damn, I should have asked her out for coffee. But I left instead.

I see her walk past with the girls she always hangs with in the canteen downstairs. Reynold tells me he knows network girl, talks to her all the time. Apparently she hasn’t a thing to do with networks but the name feels apt to me anyway. He offers to introduce her but I feel danger again. It is tiring to curb the insistent animal appeal of network girl’s impossibly small waist, her swaying hips. When we walk towards each other down the corridor and I see her coming towards me, the tension builds, like how when I walk past her desk, her head is down but she surely knows I’m there. She looks up momentarily, and we catch each other in a standoff which lasts a second, maybe two.

I imagine this is like free falling. Risk, reward, not like balance sheets or portfolios. It is that moment when you jump on faith that it will turn out all right except I never feel her thrilling closeness. As liquid soap oozes out of coin operated plastic dispensers, she’ll say wait and walk up close, closer, except now I no longer have to see how thin she is because I can feel her thinness pressed into me, unpeeling my shirt, easing it off as I grip her arms so tightly I’m afraid I might break them. As she drags on her cigarette, I inhale deeply wondering how smoke never tasted so erotic before. She reaches for the clasp on my belt, but i hardly notice, I only marvel that the line of her jaw reminds me of my mother’s 30 years ago. But a woman cannot be confused with a mythological being. She must still eat, fart discreetly in the elevator, suppress the inner turmoil beneath the radiance of her face and golden hair. It is hard for me to see past this radiance, captured in the unassuming facebook photo of a second degree friend, replayed when I close my eyes and search for a comforting image.

Karen comes up to me and pauses. She exhales before beginning. “I have a friend who wants to meet you. Are you interested?” “She’s a girl.” I know who it is immediately. 2 weeks later, she comes up to me again, “I found out you’re being extended.” “Yes, why?” She walks away, I can almost see her running calculations in her head.

the words of a romantic

“So is this the longest you’ve ever been in a project?”

“My first one was 3 years, then they kicked me out because I didn’t know Java.” She talked about starting off poor.  “We had to count the number of chickens we eat in a day. And I told myself I would never want to go back there.” She said this meaningfully, and drowned out amid a coffeeshop at 10 at night, it became more real, because life does not need dramatizing, it neither cuts to a close up, nor does it cue an acoustic soundtrack. Life is messy but beautiful to those who will take the time to savour it. People around us were having their late night dinner. The old uncles had their Heineken bottles at their table and the beer lady with the yellow skirt and hanging on to her sexuality was pouring a mug for them.  We went on to talk about other things, but the phrase stuck with me. “I would never want to go back there.”

“I think I’m one generation removed from that, my parents they stayed in a kampong.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s like a zinc roof, cramped conditions, not like HDB”, and saying that, I motioned with my hands to indicate a tall building.

“We were so poor, way back then, I had to write my code on paper. Because when we use the computer, we pay by the amount of time we use. My generation, we use Turbo Pascal, you know?  Imagine, if you want to debug, and you’re paying by the time, and there are so many if else statements to look at.” She laughed, and I wondered if her white teeth were real.

Just a month before – “Let’s talk later when you’re free. Is there anything you want to tell me … ? You’re … What is it? Did someone die? Girlfriend problems? I know a lot of secrets, you can tell me anything.” Now, we were laughing.

Talk flowed on to that conversational standby, video games we used to play (“The Atari? Sorry, different generation”). Then, on to expensive handbags (“My mother, she just went to Paris, I can’t believe how much …”), and then, whether you keep track of the money you spend.

“Ah yeah, me I don’t really spend much, just rent, food and ….” He nodded to himself, in his self effacing way.

“Ok, don’t ask me how I know, but there’s this blonde in the CBD area, she does massages.”

“You mean with extra services”

“No. But with a happy ending.” We all gave each other knowing looks and giggles.

“Wait I don’t get it. How do you get a blonde massage, without extra services, but with a happy ending?”

“I’ll try to get her website.” He waved his iphone around, there wasn’t any reception here.

“Ok ok.” He made a faraway look as if to compose his thoughts, blinked, and leaned forward.

“Have you heard of this YouTube song ? I don’t want any love, I want bang bang bang!” We all laughed at how animated he had become. His innuendo gets me laughing most of the time. (“Yeah she a nice pair …. “, he let it hang in the air, “of eyes. Yeah, that’s what I meant. And of course, she also has a nice pair of …. Spectacles!”)

Suddenly we were talking about lions and their harem of females, alpha male mating behavior. “Yeah, it’s true. In the animal kingdom …”

Laughing is affirmation that we enjoy each other’s company. It also reminds us that we’re having a good time. I laugh louder because it feels good. This is connectedness. This is flow. I miss long conversations and laughing so hard your eyes tear up.

Conversation flits about. At the end, you sometimes wonder how you ever ended up talking about B when you started off in the first place with A. The Brownian motion is a joy to behold and to recount: We started with layoffs, then to a poor start in life, kampong housing, Rolexes, first gen video games, do you read books, branded bags, money management, Macau and prostitutes, massages with happy endings, animal kingdom analogies, office romances …

How does conversation flow? Why is it that sometimes you realize the beer drinking uncles are gone, and 2 hours have passed in what seemed like 30 minutes, while sometimes the conversation has to be resuscitated multiple times with sudden questions, followed by answers that end just as abruptly.

People take a risk by asking incisive questions. They risk offending people, or looking stupid, or maybe the very questions they ask reveal too much of themselves. But going for that question that gives pause, that everyone wants to know the answer to, that is the question that can uncover laughter, vulnerability or insight. Good conversation is about asking good questions.

“What do you think about …”

“I believe in giving love a chance” – the words of a romantic.

Binny

Do you know about the performance points? You know the ones which you can use to get stuff.

I don’t have any. How do you get them?

I quickly scrambled to cover it up, just like when I told Yash I had 50 points and found out he had much more, and he tried to smooth it over. If we are doing better than other people, we tread carefully about the fact. So the taxi driver is boorish when he reveals that he has made a few hundred thousand betting on the world cup.

Who was that ? dough-quan… Who ? The guy that sits over there. Oh. Dequan. Its an e not an oh.

It’s in Chinese. One word. It means complete. Quan bu ? no, not that complicated. Valerie, Evangeline, everyone will say it when they’ve finished all their SIRS, they’ll be very happy. She swept her hands outwards to emphasize the completion of the SIRs. She was so earnest in this Chinese Charade, it made me laugh.

Have I told you that Korean story before? She said no, even though I remember telling it to her when Bharath and I were there on another one of those late nights in the office. It didn’t matter, I told the story again.

I also told her my dining hall in America story. There are many brownies and chocolate chips. So when you’re working, you just reach out and grab a cookie, and continue working. It’s easy to get fat. And when I went home, after 6 months, the first person I met was my sister. I built up to my punch line. My sister saw me, she said, “kor, you’re fat”. She continued staring at her laptop, and I felt mildly disappointed I had not drawn out a laugh. But if it doesn’t work, you stack forward to your next story and brush it off.

You have a lot of stories to tell, she said encouragingly. This fed my fantasy of me as master storyteller and talking animatedly to friends at a table over dinner, I vary my tone, I pause for effect, I’m all alpha, I am the ghost and the flame.

Binny has a muffled, husky voice. Her large heavy lidded eyes make her look sleepy. Together, they create the impression of languor. It has a pleasing effect. I did the hand grab test on her. Binny, put your hands together. Well, they say that if its right over left, you’re a guy, left over right, you’re a girl. Oh no, you’re telling me I’m a guy.

Binny had an arranged marriage. It sounds strange to me, but reminds me that we take our traditions for granted so easily. It is the most fascinating thing I found about her, and discussing it created room for some teasing. Nope, we don’t have arranged marriages, why else do you think I go for Salsa?

I’ll see you again

Paul Theroux meets VS Naipaul, his longtime friend of 30 years on a London street. He is relieved to meet him – the puzzling, ungrammatical letter that Naipaul’s wife has sent attacking him for misrepresenting Naipaul has been on his mind. But this quickly turns to puzzlement at Naipaul’s haste to leave.

“Vidia, did you get a fax from me?”
“Yes, now I must –”
“Do we have something to discuss?”
“No.”
“What do we do then?”
“Take it on the chin and move on.”

The aching beauty of separation appeals to me because it stands out from the mundanity of life.[1] I do not end friendships with such grand declamations. The last thing I usually say is, “I’ll see you again.” Sometimes, I mean it, sometimes, the sadness lingers like the waft of familiar shampoo.

I glanced at the handphone. 9pm. Still, there wasn’t any call, but I told myself that I didn’t care.

The phone rang thrice before I decided I would pick it up.

“Hey, how are you?”
It was nice to hear that voice again, bittersweet. I rushed into my explanation.
“Ah, I have an eye infection, is N there yet?”
“No, he’s coming soon.”
“Ah, you guys have fun. I’ll see you when I see you.”
She laughed, “you mean Sunday.”

I faltered as she paused, not with finality, but with the expectation of continued conversation. Instead, I cut it short, “Bye.” Perhaps she replied, and I strained to hear if she did, but I also ended the call at the same time.

I change my mind. We dance and she spins too quickly, as she does sometimes, and I lose the beat, and we’ll pause in the middle of the song and try to catch it again, she’ll nod her head as she counts, and her hands holding mine, will tap the rhythm in mid-air. She has long thin fingers, and her arms are as thick as my wrists. She no longer exists as a friend, but as a patchwork of memories and half-truths.


[1] I should have more to say on this. This sounds like so much posturing.