BFF (Part Seven)

Part Six was published on the 28th of November.

CONTINUE WITH PART SEVEN (LAST PART)

It came from nowhere. I can only felt a sudden, familiar breeze in the tiny cubicle and the laughter turned into a horrible, piercing shriek. It’s enough to make you forget how to breathe. I was struggling to move, to breathe and to think. My skin recoiled at the thought of being completely alone and facing this entire catastrophe. I cannot do this! My ribs burned. I need to breathe. I close my eyes and a croak found its way out of my mouth. I try again.

“Help!!!”

The nurse! She should be back from lunch break. She would have heard me if I scream louder. The little tugs intensified. The tiny hands didn’t want to let go. It pinched my calves.

“HEEEEEELP MEEEE!!”

I stood rooted to the floor, trembling. Tears streaming on my face. I didn’t know what to do. I am so helpless and alone. Please, don’t do this to me! This is the first time that I really felt terrified of something. A horrible image of a headless baby crawling on the floor and tugging at my skirt made me scream louder.

The shadow crawled in uninvited through the cracks under the door. His long fangs took the tiny body and crunched him to shreds. There was no blood, just more pale dust. I immediately pressed my palms on my ears. Was it the sound of the broken bones that made me shut down? I have no idea. I inched towards the door knob but the door seemed so far away. The shiny knob was running away from me. I screamed for it to stop. Another screech followed when the mother howled bloody murder. Her mutilated son was gone.

The smoky figure jumped on the girl. It was 3 times as tall and twice as large. They rolled on the floor twice and in a blink of an eye, my mouth was filled with dust. Suddenly, the room was silent as a tomb. I was holding the knob now but it’s not opening. Pushing, pulling and kicking the ancient door didn’t work. I am sure that I am going to die. I wonder how much dust my body is going to shed when I saw the beady amber eyes.

“It was you,” I whispered.

The immense shadow shrunk. His little tail wagging. It was always him.

I sit cross-legged in front of him. I managed a quiet ‘thank you’ before I felt his paw on my left knee. I have always thought that he had a cute bark but this time a low, guttural voice escapes his muzzle. It formed a toneless word that only one person could understand.

“Master.”

END OF PART SEVEN.

END OF BFF.

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed it 🙂

BFF (Part Six)

Part Five was published on the 26th of November.

CONTINUE WITH PART SIX.

The torture session started early. The Form Ones at Block C was really scared of all the screaming happening at Block D. 20 prefects surrounded a crying girl in a tight circle while another 30 were bashing her.

“Rude!”

“Bitch!”

“Shameless slut!”

They threw their insults carelessly and forced her to tell the truth though most of them weren’t even paying attention to the details. They just want to see her cower and cry some more. There’s some satisfaction in making the guilty party broken. Deserving of the treatment, they say.

“How dare a junior humiliated a senior and get away with it? How can you live with yourself? Did you not know that slandering is a grave sin?” Saleha screamed in her ears.

“It wasn’t me…it wasn’t me. Please forgive me….” cried the lump on the linoleum.

“She told me all your lies. Unlike you, I am not a lesbian. You should repent from all your sins!” added the prefect. The crowd roared. The little scum will not get away with this. The nerve that she has, telling other juniors that the most prestigious girl in school loved to grab her butt in private. Why, Saleha wasn’t even aware of her existence until she went to the library that evening.

“Have mercy…it was not me,” said the junior.

“Tell me, who was it?” said Saleha grinding her teeth. She’s rather sick and tired of this stupid game.

“It was her. Delila – the girl who talked to you at the library. She was the one who had been in love with you all this time. She framed me because she was jealous of me…” sobbed the girl.

The next torture began promptly.

***

I started Form Three with the same Bersih girls. Unfortunately in less than 2 weeks in the first term, I was hit full force in the face by a stray dodge ball. Harry couldn’t apologize enough for it. The morning P.E session was put on hold so they can carry me to the sickbay. I was unconscious for most of the time and when I woke up my left eye’s vision is quite hazy.

Half of the class was there. They apparently thought that skipping Math class in the sickbay was appropriate way of taking care of me. They ignored the nurse’s instruction and stayed until after recess. There was another girl sleeping on the furthest bed from the door. She didn’t make a noise while my friends were making fun of my black eye. Apart of her porcelain skin and perfectly ironed clothes, I saw a red backpack placed next to the creaky side table. No one visited her.

Hani said we all should go to lunch together. I tried to stand up but the room spun me round like a Russian roulette. The nurse said something about my inner ear and balance. They all looked at me pitifully when it was announced that I might have to stay for the night.

“I can stay tonight,” said Harry. She was still making up for her mistake in the morning. All of them made for the dining hall 2 blocks away.

There are about 8 beds divided into 2 rows, each with a white side table, a lounge with colorful rattan furniture, a sunflower pot for the centerpiece and a door leading to a 2 cubicle toilet. I doubt if I can make it to the toilet and check my face in the mirror. From the description of the girls it was completely asymmetrical. I probably look like art, maybe like Picasso’s painting.

The silence broken by a noise from the toilet. My eyes darted towards the closed door. Something fell on the other side. A small, hollow, plastic thing. It was nothing unfamiliar. I’m guessing that it was a pail, improperly placed by someone that entered it last.

“Did you hear that?” I asked the other girl.

She barely moved. Nothing escaped her thin lips. She just blinked slowly. Her blank expression troubled me.

The next noise gave me a mini heart attack. Something bigger collapse, like a full shelf. I can hear metal containers scattering and rolling on the floor. I wonder what the nurse kept behind that door. It’s an awfully big racket for a small toilet.

My curiosity pricked. I’m halfway standing. Maybe I should go and check. At least I can see the damage done to my face. The white room swam in a whirlpool. The rattan furniture circled me like a predator. I clutched the thin metal from the edge of the bed next to mine. I found that shutting my eyes and bending my knees helped so I moved ever so slowly towards the bright orange door.

A voice laughed.

Very funny.

My breathing became labored. The distance was enormous. Why would anyone build a toilet this far? I could have had at least 3 grown children by the time I got to the knob. I was getting angrier as I was closer. My left hand was feeling the last mattress when my right felt the wooden door.

Finally.

With a swift movement I grasped the brass knob and opened it. It was just a normal toilet. The antiseptic smell swept my nostrils clean. My eyes pried for anything unnatural. No pails. Nothing was on the floor. That sickening feeling came and my stomach dropped when I saw it.

The hairy sphere was floating in the toilet bowl. The white ceramic splattered with blood.

A pair of small, black eyes were blinking slowly. The little mouth gaping, drooling. A little, red tongue slithered down to its chin. The hair at the back of my neck prickled when I felt her icy breath. Her thin lips twisted into a horizontal line to each of her cheeks. Rotten fangs blared. She was next to me, her hair covered my cheeks. Her laughter echoed, louder and louder while her rotten scent engulfed me in. In front of me, the baby’s head was bobbing up and down the ruby colored water as I stood motionless. The scream swelled in my throat when I feel it – a pair of little hands tugging at my feet.

END OF PART SIX.

Part Seven (Last Part) will be published on the 30th of November. Thank you.

BFF (Part Five)

Part Four was published on the 24th of November.

CONTINUE WITH PART FIVE.

I will never forget what happened. It completely destroyed me. I haven’t got anyone on my side. It was just me against the world. I figured that my mother would understand but I was wrong. I told half the story to mother but she cut it short by telling me about my brother’s accomplishments and my cousin’s marriage. It was as if my pain didn’t matter to anyone. My father fussed about my grades and when I mention the bullying he just listened in silence and told me that ‘it happens to everyone.’

“Just suck it up, Del. You will get over it soon enough,” said my youngest brother. My second brother actually told me that I can write to him and tell him what was bothering me so much but letters are not the same as a hug or a pat on the knees. I thanked him graciously but I didn’t write him a single word.

Is this normal?

“You should be thankful to your seniors. They’re there to toughen you up to make you ready to face the world!” said my eldest brother when I finally got to speak with him. They basically supported bullying as a way of life. It’s best to hung up the phone and pretended that it never happened.

To be honest, I did not know that any of this was real. Apparently it’s great favor to mess up other people’s life for their future. I didn’t notice that life sucks and the world is full of criminals. So when I graduate from university and had the fortune to work with an asshole boss then I should be thankful for the bullying I got in secondary so that I can survive through that shit.

What an amazing life we’re living.

Raffles knew this game pretty much before she knew everyone at school. She was the first person that complimented my unnatural accent (my cleft palate made it sound worse) and we bonded during orientation week.

I guess she trusted me when she told me that she was in love.

At 13, the only person I was in love was fictional and he lives in Neverland. So, never mind. She said it was love at first sight and it was mutual attraction. They have been spending some time together and obviously she has had sleepovers. She gushed about all the chocolates, flowers and dirty little notes that she got every day. She had met The One and they’re going to live happily ever after.

“What’s his name?” I asked.

“You’re really dumb, aren’t you?” she asked, sarcastically.

I would never guess that the corresponding name was Saleha. During the first few weeks I only knew one girl named Saleha and she is a Form Five prefect. I knew this because she wears a beige uniform and stand at the back of the assembly every day checking for random things like petty coats and nametags. Also, she doubled as the president of our surau*. She had a soft radiance when she smiles, and that it why she is so easy to like. Surely Raffles can’t mean the same person? There has to be another Saleha that I did not know.

I felt more uncomfortable when I found out that there is only one Saleha.

It can’t be right. She was the one preaching about sins, punishments and all the doors of Hell. It’s not possible that she would choose to be happy this way. Every time I saw her at the canteen or surau I felt a pang of guilt. My respect faltering.

“Kak** Sal, do you have a minute?” I asked when I saw her alone at the library.

That was my least favourite mistake.

END OF PART FIVE.

*surau – a small mosque, or room for Muslims to go to pray.

**Kak – put in front of a female’s name, for people older than the caller or for someone that the caller grants respect, informal strangers or biological older sister.

Part Six will be published on the 28th of November. Thank you.

BFF (Part Four)

Part Three was published on the 22nd of November.

CONTINUE WITH PART FOUR.

I lost Nero before after the November semester break. I seemed to lose the ability of feeling sad. I had to remind myself to be sad. I just lost my best friend but I rest contented with a thought. He surely will be missed. After all, I can’t bring him home in 12 hours of bus ride. There would bound to be a full scale rebellion on my way back home.

During the 4 week break, I rest contented after finding out that I no longer belong in the same class with everyone stupid. I was disgusted with all the ‘smart’ girls in 1 Setia. The feeling was mutual. After failing my finals, I was instructed to move to another class (the last class in the ranking) and to my surprise none of my name calling reemerges after that. I sat close to a girl whose face was in light shade of garden peas and began to introduce myself.

“I’m Hani,” she said. She seemed uncomfortable. Her bangs covered most of her eyes. She has a habit not to look anyone in the eyes. I found out later than her skin problem began when she used an imitation product of Nona Roguy. Heck, I wonder what they put in those tubes until a normal skin turned vomit green.

Other girls came to our desk and chatted. Class 2 Bersih was more than welcoming. There was a Melanau girl in front of us who introduced herself as Harry. All three of us shared an affinity for reading. We agreed that Archie is best with Veronica and Nick Carter is the best looking guy in the whole universe with his blond hair parted in the middle. He was sexy by definition.

“We hardly saw you last year,” said several girls.

“What do you mean? I’m always here,” I said. My hand picked a single long thread from my bag and curled it between my fingers. It doesn’t make any sense. They cannot simply not see me. I’m one of the tallest girls in our batch.

“Yeah. I thought you went back along with other Form Ones. You know, the hysterics and also the homesick ones, just like your dormmates. How many were there?” asked Harry.

“About 12 of them. I was quite glad that Razlina was one of them,” said Hani. The rest nodded.

The name made me clench my fist involuntarily. The impulse was simply there at the memory. Before this, I thought I was the only one that would agree to that statement.

“Why?” I asked.

“She’s nasty. I hope no one would ever hold a grudge for people from Kuala Lipis. I am ashamed to admit that we came from the same village,” said our class monitor. The whole class booed her in response. She just chuckled back.

“I can’t believe she told Miss Bijan that she’s an orphan just to get free text books and then told everyone that her father is a pilot circumnavigating the world as we speak,” said Hani, slightly smirking. Her hands moved as she speaks, rotating the Earth like the big globe on the teacher’s desk.

“Remember when she said her clothes are all bought in the U.K? Nothing made in China like ours. Oh, and don’t forget that her mother was the most famous Miss Kebaya in the 80s,” added Harry, rolling her eyes. The group surrounding my desk roared with laughter. My cheek hurts from smiling. So this must be what friends do. I am beginning to like this gossiping thing.

“You know how we got her?” asked a small girl from Sabah.

“How?” I asked.

“We called her parents and told them the truth. They got really upset, of course, especially when we told them what she did to you. It’s a shame it took us a while to understand her scheme. Her mother was genuinely embarrassed. Never taught their daughter to lie and stuff. I didn’t know any of her haunted school tales were any true because no one believes the girl who cried wolf,” said another girl wearing a blue sweater.

“She deserved it, that liar!” said Hani.

“Hear, hear!” said everyone.

“She got everyone in her trap, just like Stamford Raffles got Singapore,” I remarked. I thought it was a nice, nerdy touch. They applauded.

“Razlina Raffles has a nice ring to it,” said her village-mate, patting me gingerly on the shoulders.

END OF PART FOUR.

Part Five will be published on the 26th of November. Thank you.

BFF (Part Three)

Part Two was published on the 20th of November.

CONTINUE WITH PART THREE.

Una screamed in her sleep. I was putting my homework into my cotton sling bag when my blood ran cold. It was close to 11.40. A nightmare, perhaps. She seemed a bit pale lately and doesn’t talk as much (with her friends.) Family problem, boyfriend problem, take your pick. Almost everyone asleep was bolt awake. The ones awake ran towards her. I turned sharply in her direction and I thought that I saw a crawling shadow under her bed.  Laila gave a start. Una’s recurring piercing screams were a subject of discussion in the coming days. Every single day, she kicks her tall pile of books and watches as it scattered on the floor. She then sat back, fresh tears in her eyes, her chest heaving and hugged Zati so tight that the poor girl couldn’t breathe.

“It was a monster. It scratched me!” she wailed.

She showed 3 long, red scratches on her right arm. There are some other injuries to her thighs too. Another long one on her back.

Kak Betty, the official dorm prefect rushed to her side and immediately ‘comforted’ her saying that the same thing happened to her teammate. The terrified girl had to be sent home because she was having terrible nightmares and was so scared to even sleep. Her injuries were worse because it wouldn’t stop bleeding. Her parents sent a notice saying that she won’t be back.

Una’s sobs grew louder.

“This school is haunted!” she declared out loud. The crowd looked at her misery and unanimously agreed. It’s not unfamiliar to hear voices or inexplicable footsteps late at night when no one was stirring. They heard it, too. Like me, they just prefer not to acknowledge it in anyway. The exam is near and the stress is mounting. Even the teachers are immune to this subject already. The students’ imaginations are limitless, they say. I wouldn’t call it an excuse. Sometimes you can tell by the vibes of the people and the whispers of the old pillars that something bad is hanging in the air. Something is pending. It’s not over yet. Laila and Zati pushed their beds closer to Una’s and all 3 of them slept together, probably holding hands. This seemed to calm everyone down.

In the middle of the chaos and gentle persuasion, I had to force myself to not smile or smirk. I didn’t care about her crocodile tears or her fears. She deserved it. I, of course knew this other girl – the talented goalkeeper of the school’s reputable handball team. She was the reason I was shunned and spat by my so called best friends.

I wish for the best and hope that she dies in her sleep.

***

The bathroom was filled with people when I got back from the co-op. Well there were some even in uniforms! They can’t be plumbers. We clean the toilet on Friday nights so it would not make sense for it to have any serious hair clogs by Saturday evening.

The bald, muscular man wore a nametag. I heard he was called Inspector Tan.

What are police doing here, in our bathroom?

His boots were black and immersed in dark liquid. Until it found a patch of water on the floor that it released the color. It was as red as blood.

“What happened?” I asked around, but no one seemed to hear me. I am aware of their partial deafness so I just sat and try to listen attentively to their rhythm. They were busy pushing themselves towards the wooden door, looking for something. It’s funny how their slippers are making that slippery noise symphony. They needed a sign or a clue. They didn’t trust the inspector for the whole case so they appointed themselves as deputy. After 20 minutes of this, most of them sit back and exchange gossips.

“She slipped,” hissed someone.

“And broke her neck? Come on!” continued a girl with ponytails.

“Poor Zati. May she rest in peace,” said a Form Five wearing a pink short and the group start looking at the ceiling, murmuring something in between their breaths.

I cannot imagine how Laila and Una would react to this. They were spending the weekend with their relatives. Utterly devastated is not even an appropriate word to explain their feelings. They were unbreakable and this seemed to me that the unthinkable had happened. I wanted to ask Inspector Tan about it but his face meant business. He shouted at 3 different people and almost pushed a big girl that blocked the stairs. After 2 hours, they carried out a stretcher with a black, matted body bag and I actually wonder why wasn’t I feeling anything sad in particular. I should feel something; at least a little sad. I knew this girl, her family, her favourite color, her favourite movies, her favourite songs, her favourite boy band, even the type of man that she would love to marry (although pointless now) when she grows up.

I felt a weird chill in my neck and I suddenly remember that I haven’t fed my friend yet.

END OF PART THREE.

Part Four will be published on the 24th of November. Thank you.

BFF (Part One)

NOTE:

The short story was meant for my editor. They put a call for short story entry but I guess this didn’t make the cut. The theme was #fear #psychoticmurderer #ghost stories. I put this one up so that you might enjoy it 🙂 Probably not as scary as you’d think. The whole story is about 5000++ words. I’m splitting it to 7 parts.

Have fun!

TITLE: B.F.F

Cream of the cream, my ass.

My ears were ringing. Was it necessary to repeat it all the time? It sounded better in French but the word sounded horrible coming out from an unfamiliar windpipe. The nerve they had – not strangling the R.

Laila woke us all at 5.30. Her short, curly hair puffed in a large afro. I’ve never met such a light sleeper. The alarm clock barely whispers. My right hand inched towards the small basket of toiletries under the bed. It rattled a bit and three pairs of eyes hushed at the noisy basket. I grabbed my glasses beside my pillow and together we tiptoed across 24 single beds and took our shower. The bathroom is always vacant at this hour but it had an eerie quality when entered alone. The 8 cubicles seemed to conceal something. A careless shadow. A sudden, cold breeze. A gentle, little steps splashing tiny puddles under the sink. We were always told to go to the bathroom in pairs. We learned this in the first book. Everybody knew what happened to Hermione when she went to the bathroom alone.

Safety first.

The plastic grey doors were flung with colorful things, mostly towels. Wool, polyester, sarong, lacy bras, all bundled up on the top of the door. I hate it when you’re in the shower, enjoying your anti-dandruff shampoo’s bubbles and a towel smacks you in the head with such force that your daydream was discontinued. Unfortunately, the system worked. It’s an unwritten law that we knew a bit too late. You can only take a shower by booking the cubicle with your towel. Then, you memorize the towels before yours and that is how your turn is fixed. Juniors take their shower last.

I have met the many faces of dread but disappointment took the crown. Disappointment is getting up at 6.15 and having had to wait for your turn at 6.55 when the daily morning assembly is at 6.50. We ran around the tennis court twice until Laila proposed this plan. The whole school laughed at us huffing and puffing until we finished four rounds of punishment.  Our brand new clothes reeked of sweat and recently dabbed perfume lotion. You have no idea how long you’re going to have to wait for the half moon circles under your arms to dry. Hours! Humiliation rubbed more salt to our injury. Never would I thought that emotional strain would stung me more than the physical exertion. The lesson was a valuable one.

After that day, we try hard to comply with all rules. Live in fear is better than death at the mercy of the firing squad.

They call it torture.

The dorm next door had this touch of event in the early hours of Monday morning last week. Separated by a corridor less than 100 meters, we didn’t miss much of the shrill conversation. I remember Zati and Una whispering to each other under the covers. I registered a sob or two. The seniors in our dorm joined in the fun. All beds were empty. Their shrieks bounced and echoed through the wall. Laila was rigid and clutching the corner part of my quilt. It’s not the kind of ‘torture’ that Vlad the Impaler would agree to but I would definitely categorize it as barbaric and unnecessary.

A junior (what everyone calls Form One students) did not initiate salaam with a senior (she was in Form Two.)

I know Sarah. She’s in my French class. Tall, dark and boyish looking, I would say she’s a rebel. The juniors were instructed to smile and greet the seniors adequately every time we pass each other (dorms and toilets are excluded) but I’m guessing she’s not the warm and friendly type. I, myself am not a morning person and smiling to a person that thinks about all the fun way to put you in a tight circle, pulls your hair, mocks your accent and spread the content of the dustbin on your head while laughing like Satan’s best friend definitely do not deserve anything nice.

So we lay low, trying to figure out how the teachers could ever feel proud that they manufactured such pesky monsters.

Kom, kak!” I said at their shoes when I saw a line of them coming from the dining hall.

END OF PART ONE.

p.s. As I’m alternating every other day with amateurish haiku, tomorrow is no different. Part Two will be published on the 20th. Thank you.

Asshats

I put the advertisement on Craigslist 6 weeks after I moved to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. I didn’t know anyone so I told them the truth.

1) I don’t want dick pictures

2) No sex or anything that leads to it. I didn’t come here to get pregnant

3) I know karate

I figure that would narrow it down a bit. The first dozen of replies were useless. They either disappear in the middle of the week or dropped the matter altogether after they received my photo (honestly I can’t be that ugly) or asked for sex again just in case I changed my mind after 2 weeks.

No, asshat. I’m here to write.

And in the middle of chaos, he replied. His mails were frequent and mostly received in the middle of the day. He’s working, but he only replies during break (he must have had 40 breaks at 2 p.m.) I like him more than the rest because of his spelling though he later admitted that his phone did all the corrections. He broke my little fantasy. I was rather turned on by sexy grammarians. He suggested that we meet at the Hancock Museum on Friday evening. I told myself that it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t show up. I was there to see the T-Rex.

2 o’ clock and he was there with grey dust on his navy blue uniform.

“I came straight from work. Sorry I’m a bit dirty. We were welding a water tank,” he said.

He towers over 6 feet. I barely reached his shoulder and it was a really awkward first hug. I kinda patted his arms. We spent almost 4 hours taking photos, laughing and pointing at inappropriate exhibitions. He laughed at me because I was so fascinated with badgers (he said those cutiepies were pests!) and I laughed at him when he saw a flattened penis on a doll made of human skin.

We have these little excursions on Fridays, sometimes weekends or whenever he’s on holiday. He hated art galleries and book stores so I have a lot of private time especially when I go to the library. I should have seen this coming. A mini foreshadowing of some sort. But I want it to work. He wants it to work.

So when one day he told me that he will never leave me, I convinced myself that it was true. Maybe that’s the reason my heart tugged me here. Maybe it’s destiny. Maybe he’s different than the boy before. After all, he’s an honest man. He could have lied about the spelling but he didn’t. He works hard at the metal factory (he has patience) and hardly had time to fool around because he was always watching t.v. (he’s loyal) He’s a good listener (not the kind who yells) and I saw his garden. I can tell that he is one of the most hardworking part time gardeners I’ve ever seen. He’s perfect!

What more can a girl want?

I immediately forget about compatibility.

After 2 years, I think we would make it. His lack of interest in pursuing progress irks me somewhat but his abuse of alcohol makes for good arguments. ‘My friends made me drink’ he would banter. Like a common victim, he promised that he would change. In fact, during the years before he met me he tried numerous times but the temptations were too much.

Too damn much.

And then, just like that he disappeared – just like when he appeared. Poof! No parting words, no goodbyes, no explanation. Nothing. Like I didn’t matter at all. Apparently, my feelings were disposable. I didn’t cry. My heart closed shut.

He’s just another asshat.

Lost and Found

I didn’t like it when he touched me. The little hairs on my arms felt unusually funny. We sit next to each other at a friend’s birthday party. Our knees keep touching. So does my left elbow with his right. I remember pushing my chair backwards several times but his elbow and right knee seemed to obstinately grow in the matter of seconds. I gave up fighting after an hour.

I don’t approve this but he failed to see my objections in every way. For example, I avoided eye contact and fold both arms across the chest. These are hardly elementary body language. I meant serious business. And then when I offered my hand on the morning when we first met, I only hoped to get a firm shake in reply. I left a huge personal space in between but still, he surprised me with a hug, if I were to delicately say so myself. Strictly speaking I wouldn’t categorize it as a ‘hug’. Maybe a ‘crush’ or a ‘strangle’ would qualify as a more accurate term because I was trapped in this gigantic pair of ribcage, suffocating on his cotton shirt. Either my lungs malfunctioned or he is just a bear hugger. Turned out it was the latter. I mumbled into his chest that I couldn’t breathe (a mouthful of cloth got in) and only then he broke that trance. He seemed to forget that we were in the High Commission headquarter office with hundreds of local employees. His eyes bore a mix of deep suffering and sunbursts of glee. Somewhere in between I saw the unmistakable spark of pure madness.

“I’m sorry,” he said, but I didn’t think he meant that.

It’s weird. I only knew him about 2 days ago while he came prepare. He knew my name and my position without having bothered with any kind of introduction. This didn’t come as a surprise. The notice was sent several months ago and they probably had a little briefing concerning the logistics and renovation of my soon to be new office. We both were supposed to report to the Deputy Chief of Mission by 8.30 but I only saw him after 9 a.m. No one said anything. His secretary was overjoyed when she unwrapped the souvenir. She let out a loud gasp and then a shrill eek. It was a blue porcelain clog. Reckon something he picked up at Schipol. It looks nothing like the handcrafted ones in Ratterman’s. His eyes looked at me apologetically. Shoulders hunch, shrugging and chuckled at my disgust. As if I wanted the bloody shoe. I had enough of those to last a life time. After that, I fixed my vision on Mei Zhe’s yellow wallpaper, listening incoherently to their idle chitchats. I’m supposed to be on my training and Mei Zhe hasn’t finished telling me the country’s procedure of endorsing a new product to America when he barged in with the pretty box.

“Isn’t he just sweet?” she said. Her eyes twinkled dreamily. As if she just saw a shooting star and wished that he was her Prince Charming. I just want to finish the whole bureaucracy thing and get out of the room but the day wasn’t over.

The restaurant was not full yet. It’s a little after 5 p.m. I only found out that today’s Mei Zhe’s birthday. She looks gorgeous in a new, flowing, red dress pleated at the back. It completely transformed her. Only this morning I saw her wearing a pair of grey slacks and a simple, button down checkered short sleeve shirt in various shades of tangerine. Her long, straight hair shines under the light of the chandelier. Susan and Jeremy were waving at us. I wonder how did they got there so fast. Both were drinking. Their glass half empty.

“Theo!” they call him and hugged. I’ve never seen them so lively before. Department of Human Resources needs plenty of good vibes from him. Too bad they’re on the 19th floor.

I didn’t know how I fit in this little party. I barely knew anyone. If it weren’t for the required mail correspondence I would not have known Susan or Jeremy. They could have asked some other colleagues (though I noticed that they did not receive any gifts) or even the boss (they seemed to genuinely like him) and yet here I am sitting on a plush purple chair trying to come up with something worth mentioning.

Nothing. I’m not built for small chats.

“How was Amsterdam?” asked Susan.

“Ask her,” he jerks his head at me, “She grew up in Amsterdam. Eating hot pankoeks every morning,” he said lazily.

I don’t know what his problem was but he certainly put me in a very disruptive mood. The conversation was about him. That was unnecessary and uncalled for. I don’t need to divulge everything to strangers. Whatever private things are called ‘private’ for a reason. I clutched my skirt so that they are not able to read my face. Sometimes I bit my tongue to catch it from saying impolite things because I will mostly regret it right after. It didn’t work. Another wave of fire came when I decided to take a deep breath and drink my mint tea.

“You were going to scream, weren’t you?” he baits. The thought amuses him. The rest laughed.

Another deep breath goes in. This is hard. I don’t think I can do this. Father told me numerous times that as a representative of the President of the United States, I should learn the art of being diplomatic. Manipulate and delegate, that’s the key. Easy for him to say; he had been doing this for 30 years. I am just lucky to be accepted in the service because of good grades and mostly the reputation of the retired old man helped.

“You really don’t remember me, do you?” he finally asked when I ignored the knockings of his knees. His tone went from jovial to despair. My face contorted into a grimace. I didn’t know why I felt so angry. My chest burning with hot coals. It’s my first week at my first job and everything was not the way that I wanted. I didn’t understand Mandarin, my apartment is infested with termites, I didn’t like the food, I fucking miss home and now I have this stupid guy testing my least favourite virtue – patience.

His hand touched me again. This time on the shoulder and I push it away like a buzzing bee. The movement startled him. The table was quite; even the smiling birthday girl stopped talking. I think I should pretend that I have a headache or something. I’m not ready for sharing. Words are not my forte. They never did as they’re told and they always come out wrong. But one word was tugging at my memory.

“How did you know I grew up in Amsterdam?” I ask.

“You told me yourself,” he said, giving me a half smile.

“No. I’ve never met you before. Not before Beijing,” I am positively shaking my head. I would definitely remember him. Curly mass of blond hair, clear green eyes, twice broken nose full of freckles, deep, dimpled chin. He had a band boy quality about him. Maybe the warm smile makes for it.

“You don’t remember Kuala Lumpur?” he added with the same sad tone.

What was about K.L? My father was transferred there for 5 years before The Netherlands. I was about 4. We enjoyed the sun very much. It was nothing like Israel when scorching is the acceptable summer. What happened in Kuala Lumpur that might have to do with this guy? I didn’t know many friends. Well, there was a sick, bald boy. We used to go to the same nursery and went swimming together (he floated by me.) Half of his face was full of dark spots from too much time in the sun. Both our mothers were French so we spent most of our time together. That’s about it. I couldn’t remember anyone else. I tried to conjure him up again but the 10 year old Mateo stood in my memory.  A pale, red faced boy in the Equator sun. I can’t imagine him as an adult.

Is it possible?

“He went to Amsterdam every year looking for you, girl,” said Mei Zhe, wiping a rolling tear.

I’m confused. They both looked nothing alike. The only explanation came in a song. Theo sang my favourite lullaby – the one that my mother used to sing to us. Le Loup, Le Biche et Le Chevalier.

All of a sudden, I am beginning to like China.

Ann

The next morning she walked 2 miles looking for a cyber café. She must talk to Ann.

“Hey, you there?” she typed as fast as she could. Her irregular breathing made her more anxious. Her chubby fingers trembled as they hung in the air. Waiting for an answer. She saw Ann’s little green dot on Gmail. That’s a good sign. Her friend is online. She did not calculate the time difference – it should be early morning hours. She only wanted an explanation.

“Yep. You alright?” Ann replied.

Her heart soared. Now, straight to the point.

“Did you enjoy last night?” her friend beat her to it.

“How did you know about that?” she asked. Ann has no business asking about last night. It was private.

“Well, I figure sooner or later it would probably happen,” replied Ann. A smiley face replaced a full stop at the end of the sentence.

“What are you referring to by IT?” she asked. She had a small throbbing in her nape. Today was not a good day because she woke up on a bed of a stranger. A grown up that she thought was the kindest of man.

“I knew he liked you. That’s why I put you to the task,” Ann admitted.

A surge of lava spilled in her stomach. Her own best friend! Her lips pursed and puckered. She didn’t know if she should be angry or cry. She knew that she’s very upset.

She was introduced to Jordi 2 months ago. It’s not the meet-and-greet kind but write-a-mail-and-reply kind. Ann insisted that they should continue writing to each other after she left the loop. Ann said that her plan to travel to Europe made perfect sense. Jordi lives in Barcelona and Ann wants to give him his birthday present.

“You can give him this little bundle,” Ann pushed a tiny box into her hands at the airport. She could have said no or made Ann send the damn package by post but she owed Ann. She never really had a male friend and Jordi was the only one. Sometimes when Ann mentioned his name even casually, she goes red in the face. It was an uninvited feeling, a rush of hot wave into her chest. Burning. Maybe that’s why she said ‘yes’. That’s why she did not mind going to Barcelona from Frankfurt just to give him his gift.

She landed yesterday evening and Jordi fetched her from the airport. Germanwings was not so bad. It’s of a better quality than Air Asia if she was to be honest. He had a small studio about 200 meters from the nearest Metro and a spotless bathroom. Later, they went out to an Italian pizzeria. She ordered a four season pizza and he, a four cheese pizza. She let him ate her artichoke and he drank her diet Coke. It was the most memorable thing about last night. Her ribs were aching for laughing too much. The tiramisu cake was flawless and the Costa Rican coffee was the best that she ever tasted.

All was well until he switched off the light.

“You mean to tell me that you knew that he would do something like that? You knew?” she wrote, this time the words screaming in her head. It’s not conversational anymore but Ann won’t know that.

“Come on….you’re not that innocent. I knew you liked him from the beginning and he told me that he likes you so it’s not a big deal. I know why you wanted to learn Spanish. Everyone wants a taste of a different experience,” she replied.

“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT???” she wrote. Her eyes growing wider and wider at every reply.

“Is that not what you wanted? You fucked a handsome foreigner on your vacation with my help. You’re welcome,” Ann replied smugly, like she was the greatest pimp lady of all Asia Pacific.

“No. That was nothing that I wanted,” she wrote and trying hard to breathe.

Ann knew all about it. That was Ann’s plan all along after she told her about her summer plan. The little box was never meant to be the gift. She was the gift. She was the fool!

“How could you! I trusted you!” she added another line. What would she give to choke her pretty neck right now. She was the only customer in the cyber café. The owner was staring at her because she was getting quite abusive at the innocent plastic keyboard.

“Pfft. Don’t act so dumb. That’s what all Europeans do. Does he like the penguin boxer?” Ann asked, like her dignity did not affect Ann anyway whatsoever. It’s as if it was a normal thing to do – sending your own best friend to be sexually violated by a stranger.

She did not answer. She logged out and paid the owner while apologizing for her antics in front of the computer. He said its fine. Things like that happen to everyone. Bad news sometimes made us do crazy things.

Not bad news for me, she thought. Just a bad, bad friend.

She walked back to Jordi’s house. Gathered her belongings and flew to Marrakesh where adventure awaits. The bitch is not going to ruin her vacation. If she could beat cancer, she could beat anything else.