Someone famous once said, “We are who we are only by the choices we make.”
I made a choice once. I made a choice to escape my past life, and start afresh. Everyone and everything I knew, I lost contact with. I don’t regret that choice.
I don’t regret that choice because it’s what turned me from a monster, to something genuinely likeable; an angel of sorts.
Or so I thought.
Apparently, my boss organizes office parties every Saturday, and invites everyone.
I hate them. I hate them so much. Office parties are nauseating. Disgusting. Sick. Useless. And plain unnecessary.
But, as I learn on my first Friday, it’s compulsory to attend.
I remember meekly protesting to my boss, something along the lines of ‘Everyone else doesn’t want me to come, so I won’t,’ but he wouldn’t hear of it.
So I have no choice.
On Saturday, I dress up as best as I can, before taking a taxi to the office. It’s dark as I step out of the cab, and a rush of cool breeze hits me. I quickly pay the driver and hurry inside, to the warmness of the office.
I push open the door, and see that it’s crowded. Really, really crowded. There must be about a hundred and fifty people in this one small floor. Drinks and food are on tables every step of the way.
I can sense a feeling of disgust and annoyance radiating from everyone in the floor, and I smile wryly. I can’t blame them.
But there’s something else I pick up on. Something much darker, more powerful. Something that I’m inexplicably attracted to. Something that dredges up old memories from places in my mind I had forgotten existed.
But I shake it off and squeeze past a particularly large and drunk circle of people, to a table full of glasses of a brown, translucent liquid. The tables themselves are covered with beautiful golden cloths, embroidered with brightly coloured flowers, bees, butterflies and all things happy.
It makes me sick.
I pick up a glass and take a sip, and almost immediately retch. It’s not wine or champagne… or anything at all, really. I quickly replace it, trying to rub the acrid taste of whatever it is from my mouth.
I spot some of my colleagues who sit opposite me chatting nearby. They glance at me, and I make an effort to smile. I don’t think it worked, for they just turned back, with slightly offended expressions on their faces.
I let my lips drop back into a frown. Who am I kidding? Everyone at the office hates me. They don’t know why, but I do.
“Ah, there you are, Tanya!”
I turn. It’s my boss. He’s red in the face from all the wine (or whatever the hell else it is), and beckons me over to his table a few feet away, nearly slapping himself in the process.
“Come on over! I’ve got a new client I’d like you to meet. Maybe you’ll take care of them, no?” he says. I roll my eyes; he can’t talk about anything but work.
There’s a man next to him, ostensibly the new client, but he has his back to me.
I give a forced smile and walk to him, the earlier feeling of dread in my stomach only growing.
“… And I’d like you to meet one of the major names in our client, Maximus Emmanuel. He’s a Frenchman, posted here for six years. Oh, Max, turn around, will you? And he has, I must add, quite an interesting résumé…”
But I’m not paying attention anymore; the Frenchman turns and gives a small smile and my stomach drops.
He’s a tall man, and everything about him is dark or pale. Dark hair, dark shirt, dark jeans. He’s even wearing a dark fur coat. Pale, sallow, high-boned cheeks; like those of an aristocrat.
But his eyes. They’re different. They’re the colour of gold. Pure gold.
“This, Max,” my boss continues happily, “is our latest junior partner, Tanya. Amazing at her job. Just amazing. In fact,” he grins at me, “I won’t be surprised if there’s a promotion coming up for her soon.”
The Frenchman holds out his hand. My own are shaking, so I simply stuff them in my pockets and give him an awkward smile.
“Max has quite a great business going on,” my boss says, placing a fat hand on the Frenchman’s shoulder. “He’s only been on the scene for a year and a half or so, but he’s already done booming business.”
“Oh, is that so?” I say evenly.
The Frenchman winks at me. “You better believe it.”
My hands have stopped trembling now, so I feel confident enough to pick up a glass of liquid, even though I take care not to sip it.
“Tanya has glowing recommendations from all her previous clients at her previous firm,” my boss tells him, “and she’s the best there is for your sort of business. If you’re looking for representation, my boy, look no further.”
“Oh, I won’t,” he replies. “Tanya’s mine.”
“Happy to hear that,” I say.
“All right, I’ll leave you two to get acquainted,” my boss says, getting up and stretching. “I gotta go say hello to Vinaya’s new client. A real nightmare, I tell you.” He groans, and the Frenchman clucks sympathetically.
My boos walks off, stumbling a bit.
I don’t wait for a single second after he leaves. I turn and make my way towards the door. My breathing is short and rapid; a little raggedy, and my heart is racing; beating my ribcage to a pulp.
I’m almost at the door now. My hand reaches out to the little golden doorknob, but it doesn’t get there; another hand blocks the way. Flesh touches flesh.
“Max,” I say coldly.
The Frenchman grins. “Hello. Want to get a drink?”
The night air is slightly warmer than before, even though I had been in there for less than half an hour. Max says he knows a killer coffee place down the road that stays open all day. I don’t trust him.
“So,” he says, inhaling deeply. “How have you been?”
I don’t answer.
“Quite well, I gather,” he goes on, “now that you’ve got a good job. Calling yourself Tanya, I see.”
“The same can be said for you, Max,” I say scathingly.
He ignores this. “Your boss, back there, real maniac,” he laughs. “Man, he’s going to have a tough time considering what I’ve got planned for him.”
For the first time, he stops and properly stares at me, giving me the chance to do the same. His eyes change colour as he moves. Black, blue, grey, turquoise, brown. Constantly changing. His hair is much longer than I remember it, and more curly. He’s also quite a bit taller.
“Why did you come?” I ask suddenly.
He doesn’t skip a beat. “To find you?”
He doesn’t answer immediately. He takes out a pack of cigarettes and lights one. Takes a long, slow pull at it, then exhales. “Because I need you."
I scoff. “When have you ever needed me?”
“I want you,” he says, suddenly grabbing my hands. His hands are cold to touch. They look sickly and thin. “Isn’t that the same thing?”
“No. It’s not.”
He shrugs. He places the cigarette back in his mouth but doesn’t inhale. It just dangles there, between his yellow teeth, between his thin, dry lips.
“How did you find me?” I ask.
He turns away. “You’re not very hard to find.”
At that moment, I feel like punching him in the face. He knows I left for a reason. A reason he’s to respect. But it’s just like him to come hunting for me. He’s always been so immature.
I slow down my angry breathing. I try to keep my voice as level as possible. “I told you already, I want nothing to do with you! Japan made that clear.”
“Japan was a mistake,” he says. His voice is harder than before. “Your mistake. But now you have a chance to correct that. Don’t you want to?”
I wrench my hands from his. They feel burnt, yet cold. The aura of darkness cloaking him only grows. His voice is silky smooth again. Pleading, yet strong. He would have made a great actor.
“Why did you leave me?” His eyes change colour again. This time they land on a kind of pinkish-red. The colour of hurt.
“Why did I leave you? I didn’t like what I was doing,” I say, trying to close my tear ducts. “I felt it was… wrong.”
“Don’t say things like that. Please.”
I slow down my breathing. Close my eyes. Pause. Then, “How bad is it?”
Max shakes his head.
He sighs and pulls up his trousers’ legs. His calves are covered with scars. Deep gashes, shallow cuts, bluish-black bruises. Some are so deep that I can almost see the bones in his thin legs.
I try to tear my eyes away from that horrifying sight, but I cannot. It mesmerizes me; the dancing gashes and the jumping scars, almost as if they’re putting on a show for me.
He lets his pants drop back down. His eyes are the same colour as the bruises. “It’s been hard to walk ever since.”
I shut my eyes tightly, willing him to go away, willing myself to forget all of this, but neither happens. Instead, he steps closer to me, and draws me into a tight embrace.
“Please,” he begs. “Please, give me one last chance.”
He’s pleading with me, even though I’m the one who did wrong. I should be the one begging him to give me a chance. I should be the one with the scars.
But I’m not.
“But…” My voice breaks. “But how? I can’t anymore. I just can’t.”
I back away from him slowly.
“Please…” His eyes turn stormy silver. They shine in the dark of the night.
I fall to my knees, scraping them against the sidewalk. Great sobs emerge from my throat. He watches me for a while, then sits down next to me.
“I’m nothing without you.” He places a hand on my shoulder. “Please come back.”
I don’t answer for a long time. Hot tears flow down my cheeks. I just sit and cry, and he watches me.
Ten minutes pass. Then fifteen. Twenty. I still don’t move, and neither does he.
“I have tried so hard,” I sniffle. “So, so hard to keep everyone around me here happy. I didn’t want to be like how I was; I wanted to change.” I sniffle again. “It didn’t work. I could only ever keep my boss happy.”
“But you don’t need to struggle anymore,” he says earnestly. “If you could just come back. Give me just one chance.”
At the end of the hour, exactly as the great clock in the city center begins to strike eleven, I get up. “Okay. You have your chance.”
“Thank you!” A shaky breath escapes his throat. “Thank you so much. But you have to do one thing for me.”
“What is it?”
“Promise you won’t run away again?”
“Max, don’t push it.” I use his fake name.
He chuckles. “All right.”
He chuckles again, and this time, I join in. Pretty soon, we’re both laughing hysterically.
“All right, gosh,” he says, wiping tears from his eyes. He places his hands firmly on my shoulders. “You were amazing at your job. You know that.”
I nod, a small feeling of pride blossoming in my dark heart.
“Now, come on. Let’s go rock again.”
He turns and faces the empty stretch of the road. Steps gingerly forward. Then another step, slightly faster. Then another. And another, till he’s sprinting down the long, dark, empty road. I run behind him, laughing.
We continue to run, till we slowly melt into the darkness of the shadows.
Someone famous once said, “We are who we are only by the choices we make.”
That night, I made a choice. I made a choice to go with him. Everything and everybody I knew were back. I don’t regret that choice.
I don’t regret that choice because he is nothing without me, and I am nothing without him; Death is nothing without Misery, and Misery is nothing without Death.