Did she say goodbye?
It was somewhere around the late of October, almost a year ago, when Ram had his first encounter with the girl that would change his entire life. It was late in the evening and Ram had arrived early to the new place. Employment was about to start tomorrow, the first ever for Ram as he had never even held an interim job before. He sat quietly by himself at the corner table in ‘Ali’s Restaurant’ and ordered himself a cup of The Tarik and some Roti. He caught a glimpse of her by sheer accident, having coffee and gleefully eating her meal. They sat two tables apart from each other. There was something about her, Ram thought. Maybe it was the way she sipped her hot coffee or how she twisted her fork every so fastidiously, rolling up all the wet noodles into a little greasy ball before treating herself to a juicy mouthful. As she did, it would leave a thin coat of oily residue that painted her lips before she would gently peek out the tip of her tongue to clear them; something about it was attractive, tantalizing even. Perhaps he was paying a little too close an attention, because though it never struck her at first, she quickly became aware. Her eyes just immediately turned to him as she kept sipping. ‘What a creep? She would have thought,’ Ram of course never confronted her about this. Not even when they officially met the next day in that office, -the day she was late for some reason. In all that chaos and confusion, either she had no recollection of seeing him the night before, or she was merely toying with him to see if he would bring it up himself.
‘And did you?’ asked Daniel, curious. The duo were just done with the funeral service in the morning and had decided to dress the gloom away with some breakfast and a movie. Much to their disappointment, there was nothing that peaked their interest in the theatres. Everything was either a sequel or a reboot, a cheap horror flick, a continuous barrage of mind numbingly CGI packed explosions or just bad comedies. Either that or the fact that the two young doctors had finally learned what it meant to be cynical. Ram decided to invite his friend back to his rented terrace unit, a little further from his old place at the apartment they used to share, but he valued the freedom more than the distance. He never really completely furnished the place though. The living room had two sofas and a coffee table on top of a rug carpet. He got himself a 30’’ television to watch football matches and connect his gaming console to and that was pretty much all the effort he put into interior decorating. The rooms were all empty except for the largest one, the master bedroom, where he housed an untidy queen bed, littered with used clothes. The only time he remotely considered tidying up was if his parents were going to drop by or on the off chance, a female guest stays over for the night. Apart from those two explicit exclusions, he keeps his home exactly how he defines his version of ‘HOME’ to be; lived in. Still, his closest of friends though were never put-off by his whole ‘slob’ persona and lifestyle, because those who really knew him saw him as an open book, transparent, as someone you can always confide in, and that was something rare to come by these days.
‘Yes man, of course I did. Not till about 2 months later I think,’
‘You were both in the same department,’
‘Yes, that was hell, being the only two black skins,’ he lit himself a joint of freshly rolled marijuana, and smoked a puff before offering it to his guest. Daniel declined.
‘OBGYN, I fucking hated that place. It was like herding cattle and holding them in a barnyard, waiting for them pop one out and leave,’
Daniel chuckled at the analogy, ‘that’s mean man,’
‘Oh come on bro, don’t act like you never thought about it. They would be waddling around the wards, hoping their cervices dilate, just to wake you up screaming in the early hours of the morning. And when did call buttons become not enough?
‘You should get married, man. Go get yourself a wife in that position. I’ll bet you will be singing a different tune,’
Ram smiled at the thought. ‘It’s not like I never had the idea. Getting married off course, not getting a girl pregnant,’
‘Really?’ Daniel prodded. ‘Didn’t you try with Sheila?’
Ram pulled himself back, resting his entire weight on the sofa. He breathed in all the smoke from his joint, and exhaled a sizable cloud to the ceiling. He kept offering the joint to Daniel, but it always ‘NO’ for the young doctor.
‘I was stupid,’ he tried recalling the events that took place. ‘It was really the nurses’ idea you know. They would ship any minority together. You know that right?’
‘But in this particular case you were interested,’
‘I was infatuated,’
Ram remembered the first time Sheila and him even actually shared a real conversation; something from the heart. It was probably after a month into their new jobs. ‘It’s almost surreal when you think about it. She was having a bad day. It was just one of those days when you’re completely swamped. I think she was heading down to the lab or maybe coming up, that I am not too sure. However, she must have stopped. She was not holding anything, not any papers or blood samples in bags, just sitting by herself between levels Ground and Basement I think. She curled herself up in the foetal position by the corner of the stairs, just crying underneath her white coat. It was the emergency stairwell man. Only staff use it, so you won’t expect that much traffic but happened to be there. I think I went down for a smoke or something and on my way back I decided I’d take a slow incline. You know, get some exercise, pass some time. To hell if I cared if another cow was going to pop, the nurses all had midwifery skills and I had successfully finished by delivery quota. So then…’ Ram had seemed to have lost his trail of thought, and was more focused on the way the smoke circled above his head ‘what happened?’
‘Maybe stop at one joint ah?’ Daniel cackled.
‘You kidding? This good stuff is the one that’s making me remember.’
Ram took a final puff, burning the last bit, holding it in his chest for a moment before blowing it all to the high ceiling. The living room was already foggy, and it was immaterial at this stage whether or not Daniel wanted to share, as he was already feeling his eyes dry up and head ever so slightly swinging. ‘There’s more,’ Ram gestured at Daniel to hand him a casing on the coffee table. He opened it to reveal several ground, filtered and neatly rolled reefers stacked together. ‘What the hell,’ Daniel smiled as he took it for himself first. ‘It’s been a long time,’ mumbled Daniel to himself before lighting it up and taking the first puff. Ram was deep in concentration, his eyes tightly closed.
‘Oh yes, she was crying. And I stood there. Didn’t know what to do at the moment you know. She was my friend. I did kind of like her too. I felt it would do her injustice if I didn’t approach. So I walked up to her. She realised someone was there and immediately wiped her tears while desperately attempting to hide her face. Still for some reason, after she knew who it was, she wasn’t so guarded anymore. That I distinctively remember. For a second, maybe even smiled, happy that it was me and not anyone else.
‘‘Bad day ah?’’ I started hoping to engage.
‘‘What day isn’t?’’ she replied.
‘‘You wanna talk about it?’’ I sat next to her, facing the same direction. I couldn’t just wrap my arms around her, we weren’t that close yet, but I really wanted to help in any way I could, maybe it was partially my feelings for her at that time talking.
‘‘You ever feel like they don’t see you. Like you’re there, and they see you but they don’t ‘’see you’’,’’ she tried to explain.
‘‘I want what you’re having,’’ I joked. She smiled just a little and continued, ‘‘like you do all this, the slogging and the slaving and I know it’s just part of the job but it’s like they think it all just happens magically and things are just laid out before them. When it does, you continue to disappear back into the background,’’
‘‘Yes, of course I do. A simple “thanks” wouldn’t be so bad, right?’’
She continued speaking, and rather passionately too, like she was really meaning to get something off her chest. ‘’No, but when it doesn’t go the way you want it to, that’s when it all turns to shit. Like when the lab results just haven’t showed up on the monitor yet and nobody knows if it did, because well, it’s fucking 8am in the morning, and somethings take a little longer, you are suddenly on the spot. They look at you,’’
‘‘See, that’s what I thought initially. But then I kept playing it over and over again. Just the body language, and sometimes even ‘’actual’’ the language. It’s not answers they want. They just want to point their fingers.’’
‘‘Did someone blame you for something?’’
‘‘I’m a big girl Ram, I can handle taking the shit from others. But it’s almost like a pattern sometimes. I sat here thinking that maybe IT IS me. One half of me convincing myself it isn’t and the other half saying it is. But what’s the point. It’s still going to be me, my fault, my responsibility.’’
‘‘Hey if the lab guy is late, he is late,’’ I retorted. She turned to look at me, her eye sharply focused on mine, her face swollen, red. She started to tear again this time just openly, without any shame or attempt to hide her vulnerability.
‘‘I feel helpless Ram,’’ she started letting loose with all the waterworks. I went for the embrace, understanding quite well I was digging my own grave, walking into the ‘’friend-zone’’ category but at this moment I had no choice. I mean what else could I have done?’
‘I feel like it’s just me, even when it’s not, when it’s clearly not. It’s always me they’re looking for. It can’t be race thing right? I just want to cut her fucking finger Ram. So it stops pointing at people, for good.’
Daniel was now lying back on the sofa fully relaxed as well. ‘It felt like she was just here man, like I saw the scene happening before my eyes,’
‘Of course it is,’ replied Ram at Daniel, ‘she is still there. Only there.’ Daniel tilted his head to see his friend deep in thought, his hand reaching to the ceiling , with just a small trail of water having paved a way down his cheeks from the corner of his eye. Ram was feeling the moment, as if it just happened. Then he suddenly sat up, straightening his back, surprising Daniel to an unexaggerated amount that he immediately got off the sofa.
‘I think I told her a joke, maybe something like ‘’ok you tell me who it is, and I’ll make sure she doesn’t have any fingers tomorrow,’’ or something else, I’m not too sure. But I remember laughing, and so was she. She headed back up. I watched her ass from behind, because you know she had a very nice ass,’
Daniel coughed. He took in another puff. ‘You’re such a pervert man,’
‘Screw you man. Everybody knows she has a great ass. Well, had. Now it’s probably all flat like old dough,’ Ram suddenly changed his tone, attempting a morbid and distasteful joke.
‘Oh God man, we’re talking about our dead friend here,’
‘It’s not offensive if she can’t hear it,’
Daniel started looking around. ‘You really think that?’
‘Yes, she isn’t here. She is no more. Her existence obsolete, and,’ Ram wiped his face, ‘and it fucking sucks. It really does.’
Daniel sank back into the couch, unable to stand the weight of it all. ‘It can’t all be just over man,’
‘Yeah man. Don’t you think I don’t know that. But it is what it is. She didn’t even say goodbye did she? The bitch decided on her own to just up and leave.’
‘Well,’ replied Daniel. Ram turned to him. He figured this was the best time to prod. ‘You were there, in her last few seconds of glory. Did she say goodbye?’
Daniel didn’t answer and Ram was already getting agitated. ‘Nothing?’
Daniel looked back at him. ‘What do you want me to say?’
‘I need you to tell me the truth, fucker,’
‘She didn’t say anything,’
‘Look, I cannot help if everyone wants an answer. I was there but I wasn’t really of much help. I don’t know why she chose me, I don’t know what she wanted except for someone to witness her do it.’
Ram launched at Daniel, his hand firmly pressed against Daniel’s collar bone.
‘Tell me the truth,’
‘The fuck are you doing man?’ Daniel shouted, his hands holding Ram’s wrist, trying to push him off.
‘I’m sorry, man,’ Ram retracted. ‘I don’t know what that was.’ He started pacing. He left to the kitchen and brought out a can of beer only to realise that Daniel was a Muslim and he that didn’t drink alcohol. ‘Fuck, I am so sorry,’ he walked back and exchanged it for a can of soda instead.
Daniel grabbed the can as Ram sat down and closed back the casing. He had reached his limit for now. ‘It just doesn’t make any sense,’
‘No it doesn’t,’ Daniel replied. ‘It really doesn’t. And I don’t know what she was planning to achieve from all this. At least leave a note so we can catch him, right?’
Ram was still trying to clear his head but it didn’t mean he wasn’t paying attention. ‘Catch him?’ he asked, ‘Who’s him?’ he glared at Daniel now looking back with an awkward expression.
Daniel opened his eyes wider. Maybe it was the marijuana, or maybe he needed to say it out loud. He knew the next word craving to escape his lips had a nuclear effect and it was probably not the smartest thing to do, but on the one hand this was his friend, desperate for closure, mourning, and seeking answers. If anyone could keep a secret it would be Ram. It was eating Daniel up inside, just the idea alone, no matter how significant or insignificant it might be. Nobody can just sit still if they’re holding a gram of unsteady uranium in their hands, no matter how important it was to do exactly that.
‘Jamal,’ he blurted out. Ram looked aghast. ‘The surgeon?’. And now it was out there, in the open, volatile unpredictable. Daniel sighed but he wasn’t really feeling all that relieved. Ram was smiling. ‘I fucking knew it.’