Story: The Name

“Someone told me about you just awhile ago,” she said. It was a casual enough remark for him to dismiss with a smile. Which he did. Until the lady raked her memory and spurted, “Now I remember who it was! It was … … ”

The rest came to him like a never-ending whirr. He heard the name, and was certain he had given the stupidest response that his mind chose not to register. His ears rejected further information, but his heart longed to know more. His mind raced, questions slipping from his lips uncontrollably.

For a moment while he stood rooted in the room, every voice became white noise, and every person that brushed past him merely part of some cluttered wallpaper’s design.

Oh, that name, that name. It was … it was … he simply couldn’t say it.

Story: Perfect Dance

He was as forthcoming as he knew how to be, short of asking her to stay the night. He was treading lightly; so carefully, as if the ice would crinkle and crack just by the sound of his breath.

He laid his hand on her waist, moving to the soft flow of music that defied them of gravity. He adapted to her pace, following rather than forcing, looking still rather than shifting. His heart set the beat for his steps as his feet moved in perfect sync. His fingertips pirouetted in delicate circles on the small of her back. Eyes sweeping across the dance floor, he twirled her away from the leering eyes with a nimble coupé. He embellished their dance with a small kiss to her ear, poised with a smile that was hardly hidden by her hair. His heart leaped, ballon, as she turned her face into his neck.

Oh, how his fingers had waltzed; how his lips had tangoed; how his heart had swayed.
He dared not make a sound; not a sound that would break this perfect dance. Perhaps she would see that he’ll like her to stay for the night.

The music stopped. He slid his hands away, fingers briefly entangled in her hair.
He would ask for an encore.

Story: Why, not?

Why did she, he had asked.
Why had she ignored him, then proclaimed she hadn’t forgotten – then disappear again?
Why was ten days then “a long time”, and ten months of silence today unworthy of rumination?
Why must she climb out of bed before the sun was in the skies? Why did she sleep before the streets grew silent? Why had she trimmed her hair? Why did she let it grow out again? Why? Why.

It wasn’t a question, though, that he had forgotten to ask –
Why did he dwell on the whispers he knew were a mere string of perfidious expressions?
Why was he fixating on dates that could never materialise?
Why had he conditioned his mind to accept all her flippancy?
Why…

Exhausted by his own thoughts, he threw in the towel. Only to pick it right up again as a fragment of memory flashed before him.

Story: Left or Right (Final, Part 7 of ‘Phone Call’)

It had been a year since they spoke, over an unorthodox phone call that he couldn’t quite forget. He wasn’t a saint; he couldn’t pretend that he hadn’t thought of giving up. But she hadn’t let him.

He remained obscured as he pulled his coat around his chin. A strange liquid fire coursed through his stomach, but a chill ran down his back. He peered at a tiny rectangular box, probably the size of his palm, wrapped neatly in blue and silver gift paper. Beside it were two familiar cups seated neatly by the doorstep. Her doorstep. He couldn’t recall the route he took to get there. He couldn’t tell how long he had been driving. He almost couldn’t recognise the waves of realisation that hit him when he spotted two cups of unclaimed coffee, now cold from the winter chill, waiting for him. He could only remember that his resolve was broken the minute he picked up his phone that morning.

She had reached out to him with a simple text, one that he could hardly negate, reading it five times over, or more.

“Just about a year ago in the midst of the not-so-cheerful festive season, I received the strangest yet most heartwarming call. I’ll like to share the love this time. I’ve been wanting to leave a little something for you, but I still don’t know who you are or where I could find you. I’ll leave it at my doorstep, like you once did.”

His eyes stung with unshed tears. Why, he had asked. Why had she entertained his misbehaviours? Why had she conceded to his impertinence? Why hadn’t she demanded an answer, or threatened to walk away when she didn’t get one?

“If you’d wished to remain a secret, or set ground rules to this, I guess I have no right to challenge it. I was hoping I could recognise you somehow; grab a coffee or something. It’s been a year, and I haven’t. That didn’t mean I hadn’t wanted to give up. But somehow you were always there. Always here. You didn’t let me.” 

They were afraid to lose what they shared, yet they had trudged on since their serendipitous encounter, in little ways they each knew how to. She had asked if he would come by. He had impetuously dialled her number and hung up almost instantly when the line got through. He felt juvenile, although he couldn’t help it. He was certain he would have spilled the emotions clamped within his chest, and blurted words he didn’t want her to hear; at least not over the phone, yet. But it wasn’t a game, and he should have known that there shouldn’t be rules. His heart writhed when he imagined what his compulsion might have made her feel.

She was stronger than that.
“Maybe one day, when you’re ready to break the rules, you’ll let me know who you are.”

He stood at her door, his knuckles white from the grip he held on his phone. His right index hovered hesitantly, momentarily, almost precariously, over the doorbell.
His finger remained poised over the ‘send’ button on his screen.
— “Certainly.”
He retreated, slowly tucking his finger within his palm, into the shelter of his gloved fist.

~END 


This is Part 7, and the final installation of a story about two strangers.
It started with a call that can be found here at Part 1 here. The rest of the parts are linked up at the end of each post.

Story: Last Straw (Part 6 of ‘Phone Call’)

That was the last straw. He watched as the charmer leaned in from behind and gave her shoulders a squeeze. “I presume that’s for me,” he breathed less than an inch behind her ear, and reached before her chest to retrieve the sandwich in her hand.

She spun around, her hair falling to shield her eyes. It had been five months since he had seen her. She had been abroad on a work assignment, and he knew little about her life except from the occasional texts she left for him.

That was the last straw. He thought he saw her flinch on his touch. He was certain she had deliberately drawn the distance between the man – the man in a black silk shirt, with flecks of silver dancing in his deep blue eyes, and a cheeky smile set perfectly against his angular jaw. The man who thought all women should swoon over him. The man who was married, but couldn’t keep his hands off the ladies.

He took a few steps closer. It was in part instinctive, in part curiosity. But for the most parts of it, he was protective of her against the man’s advances, even though he was certain she could fend him off on her own. He had hardly contained his discomposure during her absence. He did not have the heart to ignore her; he could not disregard his emotions, and finally he succumbed. He hid his affection behind a few terse texts of “you’ll be ok”, “tell me all about it”, and “stay safe”. He hadn’t wanted to freak her out with a heartfelt “I’ve missed you”.

That was the last straw. She backed away from him just that little bit more before shaking her head intently. “No, it’s not for you,” he watched as she mouthed. The charismatic man feigned a grimace. It had been eight months or more, he said, that she had bought two sets of breakfast. “Darling, after all this time. If not for me, who, then?”

He was invading their personal space – but he couldn’t care less. He had to know if this was the loser she was seeing. Or had stopped seeing. Either ways, he wouldn’t judge; he could see why women would fall for this suave, intense lover. But it didn’t stop him from caring for her.

That was the last straw. “Someone,” she had replied curtly. Her voice was resolute like a blade, yet warm like the flames at a fireplace. The man laughed and gave her nonchalant nudge. A friendly, casual nudge; not one of seduction, passion or sensuality. The handsome face had asked almost in disbelief, if she was still looking at – or for – that someone.

There was someone else, he thought he heard them say. Someone else whom she was getting breakfast for, he reckoned she had whispered.
Someone else she cared for, he surmised from the quiver in her voice.
Someone else who was watching her and made every wrong right again, he strained to listen.

Drawing a ragged breath, then slowly letting out a shaky sigh, she nodded, “Someone who-” she paused momentarily  “-who would do me no harm.”

That was the last straw.


This is Part 6 of a story about two strangers.
Start back at Part 1 to see what this cryptic talk about breakfast and harmless beings is all about.
Part 1 is here and the rest are linked up at the end of each post.

Story: Bad Day (Part 5 of ‘Phone Call’)

His lungs were this close to imploding when her arms touched his. It surprised him more when she placed her thumb on his left wrist and brushed it briskly, before pushing a packet of tissues into his palm. Schooling his features to give her a polite smile, he made sure not to hold his gaze for too long. He felt almost stupid for smiling when she darted a curious look at him. She circled her finger at the mess on his pristine white shirt and apologised again.

The coffee stains weren’t going to be easy to rid. He managed a stiff shrug, tugged at the cotton material that now stuck to his chest where the steaming liquid had spilled, and trashed the two paper cups that had fallen from her hands. Coffee she had gotten for some loser, like every other morning, had this time landed on him.

“I am so, so sorry,” she repeated, flustered. Frazzled, he observed, his heart aching. Life hadn’t cut her some slack; not with so much to deal with outside of this space. If he couldn’t stop her past from rattling her peace or make her off-hours better, perhaps he could help ease the misery of a work day. He made a mental note to check on her again.
“It’s ok, dear…” he trailed off on the Freudian slip. Punctuating it with a hum, he hooked a thumb backwards and bumbled off towards the restrooms.

“Bad day. Spilled some coffee. On someone. Probably burnt the poor guy too. Tyres were busted. The courier was stuck in the rain and couldn’t get our files to the client’s office. Got a splitting headache, broke a plate in a bout of frenzy. Bad, bad day.”

He glanced at the stars banked in the night sky, praying for strength to refrain from hopping into his car and driving straight over to her house. No, it wouldn’t be a good time. She had started texting him again, after months of silence.

“Luckily for me, the poor guy didn’t flare up. The client somehow received our documents. Aspirins appeared on my bonnet – and guess what, the tyres were miraculously replaced too. I wonder if there’s a guardian angel watching over me. I wonder if he knows how thankful I am. I wonder if he’s got someone looking out for him too. I wonder… do you?”

He rubbed his scalded chest gingerly, his hand finally resting on his impassioned heart.
He too wondered if she knew.


This is Part 5 of a story about two strangers. Two strange strangers.
Part 1 is here and the rest are linked up at the end of each post.

Story: Two Coffees (Part 4 of ‘Phone Call’)

He winced when the barista called her name. Standing just a person after her, he watched as she collected her order for two coffees. Two coffees. Again.

Five weeks ago, she had texted out of curiosity.
Four weeks ago, she had attempted to call out of desperation.
Three weeks ago, she had expressed what seemed like annoyance.
Two weeks ago – Two coffees. Two sandwiches. Two salads.
Two.Damned.Everything.

He scoffed at his frustration.
Five weeks ago, he found out her little ploy to identify him. He had kept his phone in the drawer for most parts of the day, battling the temptation to answer.
Four weeks ago, he recognised her impatience when she started calling. He was determined to leave the forty miss calls as they were. Surely, she could find other means to seek out the number’s owner, if she had cared enough to do so.
Three weeks ago, she had texted.
Is this how it’s going to be? We’ll go by your rules then.”
Two weeks ago, there was silence. He was certain that she had given up.

She was getting breakfast for someone else. He was positive he would punch the recipient in the face, because he would never have put her through the trouble of waiting in line every morning. Or to have her dispose of the packaging in the evenings. Which loser in this building was she seeing?


This is Part 4 of a story about two strangers (of which one is a tough nut to crack)
Part 1 is here and the rest are linked up at the end of each post.

Story: Plain Sight (Part 3 of ‘Phone Call’)

He never knew texting could bring so much excitement; they weren’t teenagers anymore, but it still gave him a thrill he hadn’t experienced in a long time. He had much less imagined that just the thought of seeing her again after a four-month hiatus could make work days feel like a day in the amusement park.

He wasn’t sure how long he could keep up with this. He had sent a repairman and paid him extra to keep quiet. He had delivered small packages that were bursting with love, at hours more bizarre than he could imagine, just to make sure that she would not see him. But he hadn’t quite wrapped his head around why she had let her guard down and told him all that she did when he called.

But today, all that didn’t matter. Or so he thought.

Recovering fine my foot, he muttered to himself, when he saw her shuffling her feet in pain at the lift landing. Her make-up was light, her attire smart, but her lethargy could hardly be hidden. She wasn’t a catwalk model-wannabe like some of the women in the building; she wasn’t a sweet young thing either; but she was disarmingly beautiful to him, in the very fact that she was resilient, determined and…she was her.

He liked remaining unidentified. He could be in close proximity, and she wouldn’t have known it was him even as he stood in plain sight. But when they were this close, he saw her eyes settle on a man beside her; a fine body tucked beneath the jacket, with devilishly-handsome features of matching brown eyes and hair. The man caught her staring unabashedly at him, and quickly averted her gaze. He watched as she looked from one to the next, all of whom he had to agree, were very attractive. His lips turned down involuntarily; clearly she had interest in the type.

The rest of the day was like every other, except he had kept his phone in the cupboard until all the work was done and he was ready to leave for the night. He had cautioned himself not to look for or think about her, but with merely an arm’s length between them in the elevator, he couldn’t help feeling jealous that she had checked out every man but him; he couldn’t help taking in a whiff of the floral scent from her dark brown hair; he couldn’t help wanting to reach his arms out to her when he noticed her fiddling with her phone. He also couldn’t help seeing the sadness in her eyes when she stepped in, couldn’t help wondering what was wrong; and really, he couldn’t help it when a message came through and his phone buzzed vigorously.


This is Part 3 of a story about two strangers.
Part 1 is here and the rest are linked up at the end of each post.

 

Story: Hide & Seek (Part 2 of ‘Phone Call’)

She kept her eyes peeled that morning as she set foot into the office, adjusting her small frame cautiously to keep the pain at bay. Everything seemed to solve itself after it had happened. The difficult people had apologised; her roof had been fixed two days after the call, by a repairman who would not give up his hirer’s name; and she still had not figured out who the caller was.

For the past two weeks after the conversation, she had called the same number, but had been, as she had expected, directed to a typical voicemail. She had resorted to texting.

“Thank you, my roof is now in good shape! I am fairly certain that you mean no harm. Still, may I know who you are, please?”
It took him three days to respond to that simple question. — “Certainly.”
She pondered a night, trying to decipher what he had meant, but failed to give context to that single-worded answer.
“And…?”
And he had evaded the question.
— “How do you feel today? It’s been quiet around here.”
“I’m recovering fine, really. Quiet, perhaps because it’s the holiday season. But I don’t exactly feel joyous with the incision under my left rib.”
— “Something warm might help you to feel better?”

They next day, a box of hot chocolate appeared by her doorstep. Instead of uneasiness, she was overwhelmed with emotions. She brought the simple box of beverage into her house and held the warm mug in her hands all day. Perhaps she should be afraid; was this stalking?

Yet she had permitted a continued exchange of texts. She was comfortable sharing her feelings and thoughts; as he was in displaying his concern, as long as he could avoid questions about his identity.

At the office, she paid close scrutiny to every person that spoke, hoping she could recognise that special baritone voice. Could it be that broad-shouldered man, decked in an exquisitely-cut deep blue suit? No; that suit was much like what a woman would pick for her man. No; she preferred to strike from her list anyone who might be married. Was it he with the prominent jaw, slender face and black curls, the one who made any girl blush? No; he was a seasoned player – and she knew better that she wouldn’t have made it on his list. Perhaps the man with rugged features, deep brown eyes and tousled hair, who had evaded her gaze?

She dived into a pile of work after her colleagues gave the customary ‘welcome back’ that hid their relief as she reclaimed her projects. When the evening came, she felt guilty. She had eyed everyone she could catch sight of, but found herself passing unruly judgements. Why did she care if those angular cheekbones were too attractive? How did it concern her that a man’s chiseled nose and thin lips reminded her of a Roman God? She knew him over the phone, and was touched by his kind gestures; did it really matter how he looked?

She picked up her bag and took a quiet ride in the elevator headed for the ground floor. Making a conscious effort not to stare at fellow commuters sharing the space, her fingers toyed with the edges of her phone. Contemplating, a smile crept on her face. Perhaps if she texted him, she could spot him when he was “…typing…”


This is Part 2 of a story about two strangers. Part 1 is here. I have no idea where these two are headed, really…

Story: Phone Call (Part 1)

“Hi, I just wanted to see how you were,” he stated in a tone as reticent as he could manage. Through the receiver, he heard her sigh in-tempo with the breath he had withheld.

“Not so good, really,” she whispered with an uncharacteristic despondence. She had just been through a surgery that had kept her away from work for quite a few weeks; she was recovering, but time seemed like eternity. It hadn’t been complex, only traumatising. She was living alone now, and it seemed every thing took double the effort to complete, especially in Winter. Snow had piled up on a tree, sending its branches crashing down onto her car, and part of the roof had given way. Her bills were overdue and a fine would probably be delivered to her mailbox sooner than help for her roof and car could be made available.

He smothered his astonishment with a throaty hum, thankful that she could not sense his tension through the phone line. With much contradiction, her voice brought a surge of relief that hugged him in a bubble of inexplicable emotions.

An important client was calling her every day seeking a status update, and she might have responded harshly one evening; she wasn’t sure if she still had a job after that. Lunch was just prepared but she didn’t have the appetite; not today, not yesterday too. In her state of melancholy, she had found an old CD of her favourite songs – this one in particular – which she was playing it on loop this week, spending much of these dreary days reminiscing about the past.

He threw a pointed look at his stereo as it began the very song she had specified – strange coincidence, perhaps.

She paused. “Now, I’m so sorry for going on and on. It’s just … never mind. I think I might have forgotten to ask, but who’s on the line?”

He floundered, not knowing what to say. They worked in the same office, with the occasional fleeting elevator rides and cursory hellos that occurred in the wee hours of the morning when they wrapped up their work to head home. She worked too hard, he often thought, but was more than pleased to end a day’s work sharing the elevator with her. They had bumped into one another on a late evening, and he had purposefully retained her name card that he picked up from the floor while gathering the tumbling files for her. The next day, she stopped showing up. And the next. And the day after. And the weeks after too. He probed with skill, skirting professionalism to learn that she was still employed. Through the gossip-mill, he found out that she was taken ill. Then another two weeks passed, and he began to worry. 

She cleared her throat, breaking the awkward silence that hung on the line. “Hello?” she asked.

He had observed their encounters a little more keenly than others, but this was not something he was ready to share with her. “Well … it’s ok. Trust me, I mean no harm, I’m really just calling to see how you are. Good to know you’re recovering fine. I’ll see if I can get someone to fix up your roof, but the car has got to wait. You really shouldn’t be driving too. The client can go to hell, along with the job, if they can’t behave like humans. Keep warm this Winter, well, maybe even toss the fine into the fireplace. And … eat a little if you can, it’ll help your recovery,” he rambled, making sure he could answer all her questions, bar one, before she interjected.

They held their phones for a second, each listening to the strange yet familiar music on the other end of the line. Then they both hung up – one stirred, the other excited – as both their hearts pounded in synchronic rhythm.


This is Part 1 of a story about two strangers. Part 2 came spontaneously… and perhaps more will surface too.