Will you still be with me?
News of Ram’s “disciplinary actions” spread like wildfire among his hospital peers. He didn’t really do anything to deny it. Soon there were rumors far worse than the truth, all of which was building a legend around him, as a thief, a philanderer, social justice warrior, a criminal thug etc. He had a dishevelled cavalier look about him; one that was least bit professional. He came to work, he cared for his patients, and left on time, no friends, no chatting, and no pandering. He did however, make sure he had his lunch and his cigarette breaks.
When his best friends finally got wind of what had happened, Daniel was the first to confront him. He had met on him stairwell, and he asked the pivotal question, ‘Was it because of what I said?’
This was the first in a series of events that led to that fateful Wednesday. A farewell party organized by Daniel, in the Lover’s Café, a place off the city facing a hillside that fared in the better parts of the neighbourhood. People came there exclusively for social gatherings and they limited their guests to just 20 at a time, and so one had to definitely make reservations. Daniel and Damia had to make sure it was all ready the week before. ‘Just a table at the patio with chairs for himself, Jenny, Damia, Tzen and the guest of honor, Ram. A quiet evening to share the good memories and a happy send-off,’ Daniel thought.
However, what happened was quiet contrary. The dinner was fine in the beginning but suddenly as though still waters disturbed by a convulsing crocodile, the night transformed into something quite unsightly. There were screams, tears, and even broken glasses, and all this without even a sip of alcohol.
Two weeks before the eventual dinner, Ram was caught for breaking and entering, as well as recording a sex tape in the private residence of his former boss he had once interned for. He convinced himself that it was for revenge, and that it was for Sheila. He told himself that she needed posthumous exoneration and Ram felt he was the only one who had the courage to do it.
While all this was ruminating in Ram’s head consuming all his free time and energy, Daniel on the other hand had no idea that what he had told his friend in the confines of his home had turned him into a raging hermit. Instead, Daniel went to work as usual, taking the pains and gains as they come along.
Jenny at the time still lived in Daniel’s rented apartment, still afraid of going back to her floor and spending the night. She would only go up to let the house cleaner in twice a month and even then, she wouldn’t look inside the hall. Everything about that house reminded her of Sheila, and every time she thought of her, she had a weird skin crawling sensation overwhelm her.
Daniel was faring better at dealing with Sheila’s death. He had taken his mother’s advice and spent more time concentrating on prayer, reading scriptures and meditating in the madrasahs.
Once a while came a time where Daniel and Jenny’s schedules would allow them some quality time together like a whole shift off or an entire day of leave. It was a rare occurrence and hence it was always exciting. They would usually plan short holidays, visit each other’s parents homes, have dinner out, go clubbing, or just anything fun couples do. However, even they could see that things between them had plateaued and maybe it was the exhaustion of the internship taking its toll on them both physically and mentally. Still, they found ways to keep it fresh and that was just something very admirable about them, something that even Damia was a tad bit jealous of and wished she could have with her husband.
It was a just a Tuesday, and the two were off duty from 7pm that night till 7pm the very next day; just 24 hours to themselves with no commitments to anything or anyone. Daniel kept texting Jenny even before he came home, ‘so where are we going? You want to just cook in this time?’
‘Yes, a million times yes,’ she replied excitedly.
‘I’ll do the cooking,’ Daniel joked as Jenny replied with a playful emoji of a face with the tongue sticking out.
That night they cooked together, using every bit of the kitchen they found. A video played from the phone as they carefully followed the instructions and assigned each other individual tasks, which by this time they knew which belonged to whom. Daniel did most of the chopping and the frying while the carefully calculated ‘dosing’ (as only doctors would call it) was handled by Jenny. Soon enough, they would make a delicious home cooked ‘Chicken Rendang’ that sent aromas to the entire floor. ‘Good job,’ they congratulated each other. Soon enough it was raining heavily as it got dark, and the windows had to be closed especially the sliding opposite the balcony.
Daniel had a small coffee table in the living room on top of an Egyptian carpet as a centrepiece. He planted his laptop on top of it to stream a movie they could watch together. They covered their lower halves sharing a blanket, while their toes rubbed against each other in the warmth. They brought the table closer so they could hide their legs underneath it and with their backs against the couch; they held their plates close to them and enjoyed their warm cooked meal against the cold rainy backdrop showering their balcony and the city before them.
They were stuffed to the gills, blankets until the shoulders, her head rubbing against his chest, his head rested on her head, watching a boring comedy they have seen done the same way about the umpteenth time. They were heavy critics of movies and tv shows; a trait that brought them close. As soon as the credits started to roll, Daniel noticed a still silence in that household. He shook his shoulder nudging her tiny head as he usually did. ‘I’m not asleep,’ she replied.
In fact, Jenny was just staring into open space. Her eyes watching the credits, but her mind elsewhere. Daniel too turned his head to the balcony and watched the last few droplets of rain slide down the misty glass. He remembered his conversation with the Head of Department of Psychiatry not too long ago right after Sheila’s death. He chanted something in Arabic to calm himself down. Jenny felt the vibration over his chest and got up to look at him.
‘Something bothering you?’ she asked.
‘Sure, like it’s not all over you face,’ she smiled.
‘You know,’ he smiled back at her carving a dimple by the side.
‘Yeah, I know,’ she took her hand out from underneath the blanket to gently brush his hair. ‘It’s really weird she’s not here,’ she replied.
‘Well, she usually isn’t literally here, but…’
Jenny giggled gently hitting on him on his chest. She saw that the video had stopped and the desktop wallpaper showed their picture together smiling, taking a selfie at Port Dickson Beach right next to a sunset.
‘We looked really happy in that one,’
Daniel couldn’t follow until he turned his head down to Jenny and noticed her getting distracted by the laptop wallpaper. He marvelled how beautiful she looked with the ambient light of the screen shining back on her face, her eyes were glistening, and so were her lips. He felt so lucky to be with her. Then he saw a tear roll down from her right eye over her cheek. He was tempted to wipe it off but she moved herself away to do it herself.
‘Hey!’ he brought his hands close to her body for a warm embrace underneath the blankets. ‘It’s hard on all of us,’ he consoled her.
Ignoring what he had just said, she laid her head back on his chest, and Daniel felt his t-shirt getting wetter and wetter. ‘You ever want to just quit?’ she asked.
‘Quit housemanship? Yeah of course, if it never runs in your mind at least once, then you’re just doing it wrong,’
‘Well she quit!’
Daniel didn’t know how to respond to that. ‘She didn’t quit,’
‘She did. That’s what she did. And we are suppose to feel sorry for her. Because she doesn’t have to endure this anymore.’
‘Oh my God, Jen. Don’t talk like that,’
‘What are you afraid of? You think she’ll come back and hit you? Haunt you? She’s not coming back.’
‘I know that sweetheart, but she made that choice after a lot of thought,’
‘She didn’t,’ Jenny got up straight out of the sheets and stood, her arms crossed, she paced herself around the living room in her short shorts. Daniel tilted his head up and she appeared taller for some reason.
‘Jen?’ Daniel was getting worried watching her.
‘She didn’t think at all Dan. How it would affect the group, the two of us, everyone around her, even her parents, and poor Ram was fucking in love with her I tell you. The bitch just decided to throw all that away and leave,’
‘You were her best friend,’
‘YES! I was. WASSSSS!’ She dropped her back against the opposing wall, still trying to wipe away the occasional tear. ‘She wanted something new. She wanted out, and she didn’t give a fuck about any one of us. Not even to tell us why. And then she just…’ Jenny’s knees got weak and she dragged her body down to the floor, curling herself up crying.
Daniel got up to move closer to Jenny. He knelt before her and tried to console his melodramatic girlfriend.
‘No,’ she mumbled under her breath, crying and kept pushing his hands away every time they came close to touching her.
‘Why?’ Daniel asked.
Jenny sobbed and sobbed, and turned her head up to stare right back at him, his loving eyes and his dashing smile. ‘Because at least now she is happy,’
‘And you’re not?’
Jenny took a moment to reply as Daniel waited anxiously for her next few words.
She looked at him, licking the salt that graced her lips from the tears but she didn’t say anything. Daniel dropped back devastated.
They stared at each other for long time, just into each other’s eyes, playing back every memory they had, the good and the bad, the joys of pleasure and the scars of arguments and pain.
‘I love you Jen,’ Daniel broke the silence and immediately he was interrupted by her.
‘Your mother has been looking out for you. She has even asked me a couple of times. I avoided the question but I am telling you now,’
‘Jen, don’t make any decisions haphazardly,’
‘I’m never gonna do it. I’m not putting on a ‘’tudung’’ even though I know I don’t have to, but I’m not doing any of it. Because I love you…’ she swallowed a lump before continuing, ‘but I can’t join your faith,’
‘I never said you have to join my religion,’
‘You don’t have to. I know you would prefer it that way. That’s why when I bring up stuff like getting married in Thailand or Singapore you immediately change the topic,’
‘No I don’t do that,’ Daniel denied.
‘You do,’ Jen smiled back, calm and focused. ‘You don’t realise it but it has happened several times. Trust me I have thought about it. I can’t even imagine a day without you, coming home back to you after all the shit we go through at work, the things we put up with, and I know from the bottom of my heart that I want to come back to you and cry every night and it will all go away.’
‘Then let’s just hold on to that and figure everything out when we get there,’
‘We’re just using it as excuse to stay together. Think very carefully. If you were happy and content in life, would you still be with me?’
Daniel was struck hard by that. He hadn’t thought of it because he didn’t want to. He was afraid of the question because if he answered it, it might mean losing her. It might be ‘No.’
‘Your silence speaks much,’ she kept gently smiling though she had figured out the truth. Her eyes were heavy and her head was pounding. Her heart was being ripped apart and so was his, yet she found the strength to get back up on her feet.
‘Jen!’ Daniel cried out.
‘I need to get back upstairs. I need to face the house. I need to figure out what I’m going to do. Maybe she did leave something for me. Who knows?’ she smiled trying to hope.
‘Jen you can’t…’
She started walking to his bedroom and he heard the creaks of the closets opening and the shuffling of clothes. He started to tear up himself. He chanted words in Arabic to calm himself down and kept chanting harder and faster, clenching his teeth. Daniel was lost in his own head until he felt her gently tap his shoulder.
He looked up and there she was smiling back at him, reaching her arm out to help him up with her suitcase packed and ready next to her. He grasped her hand to slowly get up, now finally feeling taller again. She touched his cheeks, wiping his tears and slowly creeped her hands beneath to embrace him.
‘Jenny…’ he cried out. She resisted the temptation to change her mind, quickly moved back and gripped hard the handle of her carriage. She started to wheel it to the entrance with her head down all the way. She used her set of keys and fumbled to unlock the door until she eventually did.
‘I love you!’ Daniel shouted from living room. It stopped her for a brief second but she didn’t turn around. All he witnessed was her hair against her tiny shoulders and a glimpse of the side of her face as she left, the door shutting behind her.