ISSUE Magazine

Yasmin by Al-Zaquan

Tuesday, Sept 12

Ida calls me in the morning at 10am even though she realizes its two hours away from my lunch break. I sneak into one of the meeting rooms to answer a call and she screams “Charlotte!” excitedly. Charlotte is not my real name, I would think, but it’s a character in a film she and I saw last week – one of those cheap films with overbearing lighting and really poor editing; the scriptwriter, director and main star were the same person so there was a lot of rambling I couldn’t give two fucks about. Anyway, Charlotte’s meant to be this impulsive and adventurous girl who goes to galleries, smokes pot and is a free spirit – the term to me reeks of recklessness; she’s not someone I would count on for anything, except to have fun, maybe? Ida thinks I’m a total Charlotte, even though I’m not, but I play along because its easier to do that than to have a super intense conversation about me and getting Ida to comprehend that.

She says we should go to this gig in The Bee at Publika where an Australian band I’ve never heard of are playing and tickets are RM65. I ask her what’s so great about the band and she says, “They’re cool, find them on YouTube; they have this kitchen-sink vibe, its so good”. Weird terms like this have crept into her vocabulary, so she sometimes speaks like the Twitter feed of a 14-year-old American, but for the most part this does not bother me. The Bee has been jotted down in my iPhone calendar four times this month and it’s a place I don’t mind because it is so inoffensively bland. Ida likes going there because there are guys who are dressed better than the guys we know. These guys wear hats and t-shirts that look expensive and shoes so spotless you’d think they’d spend their entire lives walking in malls. There’s a clean and harmless sense of possibility to The Bee. We always sit in a table for two near the stage, and no one ever comes to talk to us, but once or twice I’ve caught strangers looking at us and not in a bad way.

After work I go to IKEA thinking I’d get a fake plant or a place to put my work pencils in. Afiq, who sits next to me at work, think it’s a bit juvenile that I only use pencils. Of course they’re impractical in that they need to be sharpened every Friday when I find a window of free time, but I like the way pencil feels on paper. It feels like you’re writing something legitimate and important even if its just a doodle of Afiq and his eyes, which have this weird depth — like God pasted a whole cosmos onto his face instead of eyes, so its like watching the Discovery Channel and waiting for something to happen when I look directly at him. At IKEA there are a lot of fat people and they’re all buying stupid family stuff like water containers. I finally buy four drinking glasses for my apartment. I wanted to buy two, but I never have anyone over to sleep, so I buy four in case a group of people come – they’re short glasses because I have to manually boil water and if guests in my apartment are drinking too much I’d have to constantly excuse myself from my hostess duties to go and boil water like some primitive housemaid in the woods.

That night at The Bee, Ida and I are overdressed as usual – I secretly wonder why we spend so much effort with our clothes when it’s just the two of us, but I guess it’s the pressure of being in this place and its attractive youngsters. The band is okay; its another foursome of white people everyone’s keen to applaud and Instagram the shit out of. Admittedly I do the same and I’m checking every five minutes if anyone’s liked my post and I think I’m pathetic but I forgive myself because 24-year-old women are allowed to do, or maybe even expected to do, stuff like this.

I look around The Bee and everyone looks immersed. I find it hard to be present anywhere nowadays. I’m always distracted by some forward thought, something at work or at home is just not quite right and there’s no straightforward way to correct it, so it lingers on my brain while I’m eating, driving, just there selfishly waiting to be resolved. I don’t have to do anything today, not yet.

Friday, Sept 14

I go into work in jeans I haven’t worn in over a year, and the insides of my thighs are itching so I put a scarf over them and scratch them when Afiq’s not looking, I wonder if I have an STD even though I haven’t had sex in a while, but then I wonder what STDs look like and if I’d even know if I had one, so I spend an hour on Wikipedia researching this. I start to go on WhatsApp to plan my weekend – which is sometimes overfull of boring brunches in Bangsar – because that is what people do there, they have brunch. I know I’ll cancel a few of these things at the last minute. I think maybe I don’t have to see Ida this weekend, but then who would I tell about Adam?

Adam is a friend of a Facebook friend whom I’m going out with for the second time. The first time it was all of us in a group at a bar in Damansara – one of those bars meant for old people who drink and watch football in the background, but there’s always a group of twenty-somethings who insist on being there. This time it was us. Adam and I went to the front to order a drink. It could’ve been the noise but he was looking intently at me. There was this softness, a sly half-smile and I took him in for the first time, considering what he wore and what his voice was like and how he compared to the rest of the people we came with. He was really quiet, but when he spoke it was something really well thought-out. I was by then already two drinks in and the last thing I wanted was a proper conversation, so I just nodded and laughed when he did and two days later he said, “Hey Yas, lets go out next Friday, I want to take you to this Italian place in TTDI.”

Tonight we were there. The place is full of older adults but in our working attire it doesn’t seem inappropriate that we’re also there. We sit at a square table with a lit candle in the middle and the walls are plastered with old Italian movie posters I think they might have purchased in bulk at a junk sale somewhere. Adam is wearing a coat, which I think is a bit obnoxious; his coat is fine but his pants and shirt look several years old. He has clearly taken effort for tonight, so I keep my snarky opinions to myself. Adam is also in finance but he works in a small research house that goes by a star sign (I think it was Sagittarius). While he talks I’m forming a broad picture of him and I immediately spot what’s missing, but then I sense I’m moving away from our dinner so I yank my head back into the conversation and listen to what he’s saying.

I tell him about my family – about my mom and dad, the dynamic they have with each other before and after the divorce (this hasn’t changed), and how they’re like with me (this has). I tell him about my apartment and how it’s so bare but its fine, it has a huge television I never use and a kitchen I use all the time to make breakfast. He asks me what I normally cook – I say eggs, toast and beans, and that’s truthfully all I ever cook – but I lie and throw in some recipes I remember from my Jamie Oliver cookbook. Some of these dishes have French words in them and I overzealously force the accent and both of us laugh. Then I confess my fridge has eggs, milk and a jar of honey that I eat from when I have a sore throat, which happens quite often because I’m sensitive to temperature like an infant.

Ida calls during dinner but I leave the phone and text her on WhatsApp to say “meet me at Artisan’s in 2 hours” and she replies with an emoji of a dancing woman; it makes me chuckle. I want to invite Adam to join us but I’m scared he’ll tag along in his coat and make Ida and I look like fools, so I say that I have to drop by my mom’s house to pass her something. He is polite enough to believe me.

At Artisan’s we sit on stools and order coffee. I don’t like drinking coffee in the evening because it makes me weirdly restless in a sluggish way, but it’s a coffee place so what the fuck else do you order? Ida is telling me about a guy she met online at a forum for people who like indie music. It’s a guy from a part of the world I’m not familiar with, he could’ve been Slovakian  or Yugoslavian – they’ll be going out tomorrow for drinks, when she and I are supposed to watch the new Meryl Streep film together, but I don’t say anything. I can feel us slipping away from each other, but I know this is not entirely a bad thing. She asks me about Adam and I feel obliged to omit the danky shirt and pants. Instead I paint him as a functional, alluring introvert type and I tell Ida about all of the things we talked about during dinner, remembering to mention that the carbonara was fantastic, all the hyperboles in what I say making me feel a bit dubious about myself.

Sunday, Sept 16

This morning I go hiking with my two sisters at FRIM. There are a bunch of their colleagues and two of mine there with us. It rains for a long time and we find shelter at a closed library building, I’ve mistakenly worn a white shirt so my arms are crossed at the front and my hair’s dripping wet. I can feel an itchiness building in my throat which is when Afiq offers me water. Its still disorienting to see him out of context; in a t-shirt and Reebok shorts he looks ordinary. While waiting for the rain to subside, I tell him about Adam and I feel open enough to criticise Adam’s clothes and how Adam ordered fish at an Italian restaurant – Afiq laughs and says I’m being a bitch about the whole thing, then he asks me, “What’s Adam really like? I mean Adam, just Adam and not your Adam”.

I was taken aback when he said that; I knew what he was implying and his honesty both impressed and disappointed me. I tell Afiq about what Adam does and how many siblings he has and Afiq says, “That’s still not what I meant” and we both wordlessly agree to drop the topic. Once the rain mellows to a drizzle, we all run to our cars and go to a nasi lemak place in Damansara Jaya. It’s full so two of us queue and order for the food while the rest keep a lookout for a table. I make it a point to separate myself from Afiq, whose silence suddenly strikes me as egoistic and proud.

At night Ida is on WhatsApp telling me about Avram – the internet dude who turned out not to be a freak. In fact he had muscles and a job; in Ida-speak you couldn’t underestimate how much these two things mattered. We chat for maybe five or fifty minutes and then its 9pm and I’m on my bed trying to read. It’s an Alice Munro story called “Dolly” and I keep forgetting who the characters are because my mind is elsewhere. I attempt to watch an episode of Downton Abbey, then lose interest and fall asleep with the Mac, a few books and my phone on my bed. Several times at night I roll over to feel something sharp under me. In the daze of half-conciousness I am aware how much of this feels exactly like my college years.

Featured image is Coffee Cup by Doug88888 on Flickr

Al Thumbnail

Al dreams up imaginary people, but sometimes reality is irresistible.

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This entry was written by alzaquan and published on 11/01/2013 at 18:09. It’s filed under Al Zaquan, Fiction, ISSUE8, Post, Writings and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “Yasmin by Al-Zaquan

  1. Michelle Bunt on said:

    This is brilliant. Absolutely loved it. Need I say more?

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