We’re Not Okay

I had just finished my run. There was a taxi at the visitor’s carpark. Nothing unusual, except that I thought I knew the person that was leaning against the passenger-side door. Without my glasses I could never tell. I turned to cut my way across the carpark to enter my apartment from the side entrance when I heard my name being called.

I was right after all.

I took off my earphones and walked slowly towards the taxi. He paid the driver, said his thanks and waved the taxi off.

What a surprise, I told him. I’d hug you if I’m not sweating like a pig.

I called earlier today, he said apologetically, but it wasn’t answered. I wasn’t sure if you were in the country so I thought I’d just wait it out for a while. Your reception didn’t know if you were in town but she said you normally go out for a run at this hour.

I looked at the security person at the reception and waved. She waved back.

I had 26 missed calls today, I told him. One of those must be yours.

He just nodded. I asked if he wanted to have teh tarik. He said yes, so we walked to Restoran Syed.

I was in India, he told me. I called you to see if you wanted anything coz I flew back into town on Saturday but I couldn’t get through to you then either.

That made sense. Last Thursday I received several missed calls from India. I have been asking around to see if anyone I know was in India but no one owned up. Not even hairy Anoo. I didn’t think of him because it just didn’t occur to me that it could be him.

We talked about work and what we both have been up to. He told me I looked good, I told him that he looked good too. Politeness begets politeness. He asked about my running route. I told him I run depending on my mood and what was on my playlist. Some nights I run like a madman, some nights I sort of dance my way around PJ State. And nights like tonight, I was just walking and singing out loud.

Is that why you wear the long socks? he asked and jokingly kicked my legs under the table.

I laughed. Not really, I confessed, I just ran out of regular socks.

We chatted a while over shared tandoori chicken and garlic cheese naan. Nothing explosive or offensive. Just the regular, neutral topics. The weather. Raya season. Latest movies. I vented a little about the state of the music industry.

As I ordered another iced barley, he reached into his backpack and pulled out a velvet box. I got you this, he said. Don’t know if you’d like it.

He pushed the velvet box across the table.

I made the compulsory awww-you-shouldn’t-have face.

Didn’t your mom teach you not to buy girls any jewelry, I mock-reprimanded him. He laughed nervously.

It was a silver antique brooch. It was thoughtful. It was beautiful. It wasn’t him. I knew it right away. Someone told him to buy this. Coached him through it. Guilt can be a strong motivator. Unfortunately, I value a straight-up apology more than a trinket that was bought out of guilt. Not even his guilt, in fact. Which broke my heart all over again.

But you can’t change anyone, can you? Chris Cornell was sure about that.

She’s going to change the world.

She’s going to change the world.

She’s going to change the world.

But she can’t change me.

No she can’t change me.

I actually skipped this song during my run today. I pressed next. A laughter bubbled inside me, the kind that was mixed with sadness, mirth and incredulity. But I said thank you instead. It’s beautiful, I told him, and I promise I won’t give it away to anyone.

We finished our supper and he walked me back to my apartment. I asked him where he was headed next, he said he was meeting someone, somewhere. I didn’t ask for further detail, he didn’t offer any.

I am leaving again on Wednesday, he explained. If I didn’t catch you just now I would have just left the gift at the reception. I just nodded in agreement.

We hugged goodbye. I went upstairs, showered and went about my nightly routines. An sms greeted me as I crawled into bed.

Are we okay?

I thought about what to write, then decided to simply answer it with yes.

I understood that the brooch was an apology.

(But no, we are not okay)

Looks like my long, sad summer is going to be just that bit longer than I thought.

This too is a true story.

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