Amin was a man in his early 30s who could not seem to make up his mind on what he wanted to do in life. He wanted to become an architect. Instead of taking the final exam in his professional practice, he ditched it for a reason which brought much despair to his late father. He was interested to open a fashion shop, specializing in woman’s dresses and scarf. That didn’t go as plan because the dressmaker he hired from Calcutta ran off with his savings of $4,000. He decided to work as a draftsman in an architecture firm, but he was given an administrative job instead. Inescapable car loans and overdue utility bills were the primary factors that forced him to take the job. With a monthly salary of $1,200 and 14-day annual leaves, it was a good bargain, especially for a failure like him. He came to work, did his desk job, wrote memos, listened to his nagging boss, and attended boring meetings. New young architects would come and go. Few would know that he had a diploma in architecture and asked him stupid questions like: Why did you stop half-way? Amin would pretend not to hear and did his job. It’s just a desk job.
Six years later, the management decided to call it quit and began laying off employees. He was in HR but instead of recruiting people, he ousted people. He thought he was among the one who would survive the laid off. Well. Life was a monster and Amin was the tiny useless creature in a movie that no one cared about. It had been a good run, learning how the company ran its system and how the people worked like ants to provide shelters for the rich and remove roofs from the deprived. The employees were given a month notice to clear off any pending projects. The audits dropped by and met the executive teams on occasional basis. Amin felt lost and disoriented. He could not think of any place other than this one to earn a living. While he was suffering an experience of about to lose a job, just like his other co-workers, he had found a Sasha, an intern.
Amin began his flirting journey with the new co-worker somewhere around June with a simple email request for tender. After several replies and forwards, Amin took the courage to slip a short sentence of Are you free this evening in the last paragraph. The two went back and forth for several days through email exchange because they sat in different departments in the company until one day, they decided to have brunch on a hot Saturday noon. It was innocent at first. They could feel the heat whenever their eyes met in the hallway. Things began to escalate when the news of the company shutting down, which weirdly destroyed their common sense. They decided to challenge the myth of office romance and secretly formed a relationship behind others.
The romance went on for weeks. The longer they were together, the sweeter it became. When the company finally ceased its operations, the employees left to go to their separate ways. Amin and Sasha came to terms and decided to form a proper relationship. However, the confusing taste of honey and vinegar they had developed over the weeks began to get sour after they had their first argument. He found out that she was still seeing her boyfriend.
“We didn’t do anything in his dorm. We were just watching TV.”
That was what she said. Amin never believed her.
That’s when Amin went out to a local coffee house that offered discounts with slogans such as “20% off for ladies every Wednesday”. These coffee houses were often riddled with beautiful available girls who wanted the company of fun and exciting men whom they had no intention of marrying. Amin knew such a place. He went there and failed miserably. The girls were in their early 20s and naïve. Amin was looking for someone who was a bit mature; at least know what the future entails.
One night, he sat alone at a long table which overlooked the busy street through the glass walls, sipping away a big cup of white coffee, nibbling blueberry muffin. He had enjoyed the ambiance of the coffee house alone for weeks and developed a status as a regular client among the waitress. One particular waitress, a beautiful pony-tail girl about 19, had the habit of asking him about the book he often read.
“Yup. Just like your latte.”
The girl giggled. Her giggle sounded innocent and exciting in his ears. “The other day you were writing about this romance novel. How’s the next chapter going?”
“Need a little bit of sugar and cream to make it sweeter.” He beamed at her. “And thanks to you. My character is now coming alive. I named her after you, Maria.”
The waitress grinned childishly, which excited him. The feeling of happiness spread over him whenever she did that.
Amin visited the coffee house almost daily for two weeks when the waitress suddenly asked him a question which he expected would happen but never knew to ever come true.
“I’m off by 10 usually,” the waitress came to his table at the corner, pretending to take order, while he was busy typing on his laptop. “Will you be here until the end?”
“Want me to send you home?”
“You don’t mind?”
Amin and the waitress became intimate after that night. Amin never mentioned about the toxic relationship he still had with Sasha.
Amin finally spilled the beans about his relationship with the waitress.
“How could you!” Sasha grabbed a fork and pointed it at him in the kitchen.
“How could I what?” Amin stepped back. He wasn’t afraid of her. He was just afraid of the fork.
“You’re cheating on me!”
“How about your relationship with your boyfriend. You’re still with him despite of what we’re doing right now. Isn’t that the same as cheating?”
“I wasn’t cheating because I was telling you the truth.”
“But your boyfriend doesn’t.”
This put a halt in their argument and they settled it down horrifically in bed.
The toxic relationship went on for days until Amin realized the thing he was doing was wrong.
“I thought we could hit it off well. Don’t you think so?” She was sobbing in the passenger’s seat, her eyes red with tears. “ Why can’t you do the same thing?”
Sasha had tried to convince Amin that she had broken it off with the American boyfriend. She was never going to meet him again.
“WHY! Is it because I’m ugly?”
Yes. “No. You’re not ugly. You’re just…” Your personality is.
“Please. Dear! Honey! I’ll do anything. Just be with me! Break up with her. Just like I break up with my boyfriend. We could be together. That’s romantic.”
“You’re shallow and selfish.”
This was like a slap to her. “What did you say?” The sobbing stopped suddenly. If this was a movie, there would be a violin suspense sound effect. She got up and struck his face with her palm. “I LOVE YOU! Why are you so dense about it!”
Crazy. “Sit down. Everyone is looking at us.” Amin was lowering his head, hiding from the eyes around them.
“I DON’T CARE WHAT PEOPLE THINK! WE LOVE EACH OTHER! ISN’T THAT WHAT YOU’VE BEEN PROMISING ME ALL THESE TIME…”
Amin pushed the chair back, hitting the customer behind and left the restaurant with Sasha berating at him like a lunatic asylum.
One Sunday morning, Maria was still in his bed, playing with his laptop watching a movie. Amin was on his phone. He received a message. He read it and immediately told her that he wanted to go down to get something to eat for breakfast. Maria was happy, thinking that she was already married, but in reality, she was cohabiting.
“Later on, I’ll drive to Kiulap for my car loan,” Maria said.
“Oh yes yes.” Amin wasn’t listening because of the text he had read.
Amin went down and walked up to one of the windows in the living room. He gulped down a lump of saliva the size of a baseball and carefully pulled the curtain slightly open. Sitting in the small stairs at the front porch was Sasha with her back at him.
I’m outside. Please. I need to talk to you.
Amin was stress, panicking. He scratched his scalp nervously, trying to pull his hair out. Then something hit him. Another lie would never harm him. He took his phone out and told Sasha that he wasn’t home through the text message.
It’s okay. I’ll wait.
Amin wanted to scream. He wished for a sudden death. “Oh god! Kill me now!” He didn’t die. Instead, he was given a wonderful idea of telling the poor girl outside his house to leave.
In his text message, he said: I’m not home today because I’m in Belait for family gathering. If you want, meet me at our usual restaurant later at 7pm. Get dress. The sexy grey one. Amin hated himself for typing the last sentence.
A reply came instantly: Oh yes! Thanks hon! I knew that you’re not that heartless. I have something nice for you. Can’t wait to meet you. XOX
Amin hurried up and smiled at the girl lying half-naked in bed.
“You looked tired. Did you run upstairs?”
Amin buried his face into the blanket to wipe the sweat off his face and cuddled with Maria. “Yeah. I miss you.”
“Don’t forget that I need to drive to Kiulap later.”
Amin couldn’t hear her because he was busy pulling her legs apart.
Came evening, Maria left. Amin got ready to meet Sasha at 7pm. He reached there before 7pm and Sasha came 10 minutes later. She was still beautiful. But her puffy eyebags said otherwise. She was suffering.
“How are you?” She said shyly, taking the seat across him.
“I’m good thank you. What do you want?”
“I want you.”
“The food Sasha.”
“Oh yes.” She took the menu and flipped the pages while eyeing him. “How’s your sex life?”
The waitress who was waiting for them left the table and pretended not to hear what Sasha had said.
Amin simply nodded. He was losing a battle. His ship had begun to sink but he ordered his sailors to pray instead of getting into the small rescue boats.
“Just once. We go your way. But just this once. Let’s go home. I know you still have your things in my place. Get it out and hopefully we don’t cross path again.”
“I like it when you’re all determined and strong and firm. Sexy.”
Sasha shut her eyes with her lips pressed shut. She opened them up and stared at him. “Fine. Let’s. But I want you to drive me there.”
“Can’t you drive yourself…”
“You want me to park my car in your driveway and let your new bird see me entering your house?”
Amin was thinking about it. This was a secret he didn’t want Maria to know. He obliged and Sasha was again his passenger. She put her hand on his left knee.
“No,” Amin lift his knee up. “Don’t. Have some respect for yourself.”
“Huh.” She was smirking, satisfied with what she had done.
It was already 11 in the evening when they reached Amin’s house. Sasha was trying her best to flirt her way through Amin’s fortress. Amin resisted the temptation. He actually won the battle after they went out again and drove back to the restaurant. At the same time, Amin’s phone vibrated but he was too preoccupied with the crazy woman beside him. Sasha made another attempt by massaging the inner side of his thigh. It felt good. Amin let her until they reached her car.
“Leave her and be with me,” Sasha said, continuing her way near his groin area.
“Don’t.” Amin walked out the car and told her to leave.
Sasha made a pretentious sad face and got into her car. “Will I see you again?”
Amin ignored her and went inside his car. His phone vibrated and this time he checked it. It was Maria.
He read the text message. ‘Are you with someone else? I’m in the Kiulap area. I saw your car driving past the Jame’ Mosque.’ Amin reread the text twice and nervously checked the rearview mirror. He couldn’t believe his eyes. Parked not far away from the entrance door to the restaurant Sasha and him had gone to was Maria’s green Suzuki. He could see her face clearly from the rear-view mirror. His common sense told him that he should go out and confronted Maria at that moment.
I thought I was being careful.
Instead of doing what he was supposed to do, he left like a criminal and pretended he didn’t see Maria in the rearview mirror. His phone was vibrating, but he chose to ignore it. He saw a glimpse of Sasha smiling at him from her own car parked parallel to the commercial building. He ignored the crazy woman too.
Amin wanted to call Maria and asked her why she was in Kiulap so late.
Later on, I’ll drive to Kiulap for my car loan.
He smacked his forehead so hard that he let out a shriek that made other drivers in traffic turned to look at him. He was so stress out that he didn’t realize splats on his windshield. Lightning storms came flashing in the distance. Rain was pelting down. He drove off, away from Kiulap, away from the two girls. His phone kept on vibrating for half an hour. It settled only for a few minutes before it came alive again. Eventually he had to face the music. He answered the call and heard Maria sobbing in his ear. It was painful to hear a woman crying. He couldn’t help himself. He didn’t say much. He simply said: “Sorry for my secret. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“Just come back here. I also have secrets.”
Amin said yes.
The darkened alley was as grim as he thought it would be. The parking lot was getting fewer because the digital clock on the dashboard showed 11.45pm. His eyes were heavy with sleep. Driving was not an excellent option. News report had shown grotesque images of car wreckage and dead corpses lying on the road, blurred for the audiences not to winced at home. He could be one of the corpses. But for tonight, he had to do it. This dark secret inside of him needed to get out. The longer he kept it from her, the bigger the wreckage would get.
Tucked in a quiet corner of the parking lot lit underneath a lamplight was a Suzuki. An ATM machine stood by it. The car was facing it preventing Amin to get a clear look at the driver. He couldn’t see the back of her head that driver usually does while waiting for someone. He got out and went to Maria’s car.
The reason why Amin couldn’t see the back of her head was because she was leaning with her face pressed against the steering wheel. And the reason why she was leaning on the steering wheel was because she wasn’t breathing. When Amin yanked the door open, it was already too late. She was already dead.
Ambulance came and confirmed her death. Amin was questioned by the paramedics. He couldn’t say a thing. He was traumatized. It was his second time seeing a corpse. The first one was his late father who died on the hospital floor. The following weeks, he was called to court for further investigations. His world turned darker when the criminal investigation officer showed him the long text Maria had sent to his phone. He didn’t get to read the messages she had sent the night she passed away.
Amin. It’s okay if you cheat on me. I understand. I’m a divorce. Sorry I never get the chance to tell you this. I was pregnant when I was 15. My ex-husband was in the army. Because of abusive relationship I learnt to cope with violence and adulterer. Have I mentioned about my ex-husband who was also an adulterer? I was 7-month pregnant when I found out that he cheated on me. But what could I do? My own family was disowning me at the start. They didn’t care about me anymore because of my teenage stupidity. They blamed me for what I had done.
But whenever I talk to you, it’s something different. I enjoy your words. I enjoy your vocabularies. I am fascinated with the short stories that you have written and shared to me in PDF format. Although I couldn’t understand some of the words you used, but it was fun. And the fact that you wrote romance novel showed me that I can understand where you’re coming from. And I know you have a relationship with another girl.
Amin wiped his tears away. The text messages were waterfalls of emotions.
Where are you Amin?
I have this bottle of Paracetamol with me. My teacher used to tell me about Paracetamol . Did you know you that we should not take Paracetamol when we’re young? You know why? It can prevent you from having children. I guess I didn’t take it too much. Now. What is too much? A handful?
Amin was sobbing in front of the government officers who were eyeing him from the across the table and let out a series of tear jerking cries after they told him about the empty 30 gram of paracetamol bottle lying underneath the driver’s seat.