Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Strange

Yesterday was...different. I went for the NST's Hari Raya open house at the Marriott Hotel and missed the turning into the parking TWICE. Finally I slowed down, in that extremely jammed intersection, rolled down my power window and leaned out to ask a guard. He pointed vaguely but I got the picture.

Cursing NST for having its open house in hell during high water, I made yet another turn. OK, I found a carpark of sorts. At least the related one. But the ticket dispenser was on the blink. I waited behind two cars as a man fiddled with it. The car behind me got impatient and started to honk. I adjusted my car and he shot past me looking for some other more clement car park.

When I finally got there I was more than an hour late. Not that it mattered. It never does with these open houses. There were people milling around outside and sit down tables, wedding-style inside. No assigned seating and since I wasn't here with anyone (the colleague who was supposed to come with me begged off at the last minute) I felt sort of awkward. Said hi to a few people who were busy talking to other people and as such had no time to talk to me, and then wandered from table to table in search of a spare seat.

Thing is, this was an NST function. Thing is, she works at NST. Thing is, anyone would have thought I would put two and two together and figure out exactly who I was likely to bump into.

So when I came across a table with more than its fair share of empty seats and looked hopefully at the occupants to ask if I could sit there, I come face to face with...
We hadn't seen each other for three years. Not since 2004 and my disaster of a creative writing workshop for kids that she arm-twisted me into doing and that I botched up majorly. Of course, Jeremy was there with his acting class, which the kids enjoyed, to save the day. As bad as he was, he had some saving graces. Any kid stuck in my class would gaze longingly at the other group, to see what Jeremy's kids were doing.

Anyway, I think she sent me a long involved message last year, but she sent it on Yahoo Messenger chat. Rather than an email. Which meant that as soon as my wonky connection cut off, I lost the message. I could have written back to say, hey what? Instead I chose freezing silence. I think if you want to talk to me, fucking talk to me. Don't send me fucking chat rubbish.

When I last spoke to her, her father was dying. When I last spoke to her, her husband had deserted her. For good. When I last spoke to her, she hung on the phone and ignored me. When I last spoke to her, she didn't have time to go out for dinner or a drink or tea.

Well fine!

So three years.

I wondered. This year, I've discovered that people who meant something to you once, go on meaning something. Love doesn't die. Somehow, after years, you bump into each other, unexpectedly, hug, talk through the painful awkwardness and then...

But that's not what happened. Oh yeah, we did hug awkwardly. She asked after my family. I asked after hers. She told me her brother was married and so happy now. Her nieces and nephew were teenagers. Practically grown up. Her father was even more ill. Her mother had just been asking after me.

"I've been having some intense dreams about you for the past two months," she said.

"Dreams?"

"No, not that kind."

I didn't really know what "that kind" was. I said "dreams" because I didn't know what else to say. She looked sad, diminished. The joyousness that once characterised her, no matter what was happening, that spirit, was not there. She sat there, huddled, talking to me. Flicking away furtive tears.

I felt nothing.

Or maybe, I don't know what I felt.

A band of traditional music started to play. It was supposed to set the mood. Instead, it did nothing but irritate. We decided to leave.

On our way out we bumped into a few people. Amrin, the NTV7 CEO who had been busy talking to someone else when I said hi before, came over and said: "Hey I've been looking all over for you. Sorry about that. That was a Genting Tan Srilar. No choice."

No problem. We chatted for a while and I introduced him to my newly-minted old friend. She excused herself to talk to her colleagues. It was all so polite. Amrin gave me his number and took mine. Said we should hang out with my boss who is one of his good buddies.

She came back to say, I'm leaving now, Jenn. Take care. And you know where to find me if you want me.

It was all so ...painless. After all that speculation, all the angst about this moment. It was a saltless soup. I didn't know what I felt. Only that I needed a drink.

I called up Mary Z. "You'll never guess who I bumped into here."

Mary tried. And failed.

I told her. "Oh my God! Child, I'm going out to dinner with Chong now. You want to call me later and chat?"

"I really need a drink," I was ascending some stairs and could see into this really posh bar. There were some guys there that I had met when I arrived. Charlie Peters and two of his kakis. They waved at me to come join them. And there I was telling Mary I needed a drink and shaking my head vigorously. Then not so vigorously. Oh OK, one drink.

I descended: "Why do you want to have a drink with me? You ditched me just now."

"Sweetheart, we didn't ditch you, you just arrived, you needed to go talk to other people what?"

If only he knew.

OK, so we had a drink, a few laughs, Charlie left early leaving the other two, practical strangers to entertain me. "That Charlie ah...invites you to join us and then leaves. You call him up tomorrow and scold him."

I nodded but resolved not to. It would be too much of a fag. One of them, Peter, was circulating among some new additions to our crowd of four. I said: "Peter, I'm bored, you're not entertaining me:!" Chastened, he shuffled back to my side and cursed Charlie again. I grinned at him.

He walked me back to my car. Which was a good thing because after one and a half glasses on an almost empty stomach - as you can imagine I hadn't eaten much at the NST do - I was tottering. We found my car, which was a miracle. Then I drove off and found myself sobering up pronto. But I didn't want to go home.

I wanted to go to Backyard and watch Mark perform and wash away the something (the sting?) of the past few hours. I wanted to lose myself in unashamed groupieness. Did I tell myself this?

Of course not. I called Mary, who was home now and asked if I could pick her up and go out to the mamak. Mamak forsooth! I automatically turned my car towards Sri Hartamas and asked her if she would mind. She was kind and accommodating.

I was sad.

Very sad.

Crowding out the thoughts that were insisting on crowding in.

Memories.

Warmth. The lack of. Connections. The lack of. Loneliness. The lack.

When we got to Sri Hartamas, (there was a mamak near Backyard pub) I turned my footsteps purposefully towards the pub, ignoring the tea place.

"Child, didn't you say you were hungry?" Mary asked.

"Um, do you mind if we go here first for a while?"

For a while? Huh! We stayed two hours.

Mark was singing. He saw us and squinted at me with a smile thinking, she looks familiar. Who?

Anyway he sang, took requests and engaged with the crowd. He smiled a lot. Mary thought a baldie who went up to sing with him was cuter. I said no, emphatically not. And Mark has the sweeter smile. She said yes, he does. And he smiles easily. Nice guy. So we sang along and talked some.

OK the thing about Backyard is that it's full of Indian men. And two Indian women walking in alone is screaming: "I want to be picked up!"

We nodded at those who nodded at us but didn't engage. One red wine and one warm Seven-Up. I positioned my chair where I could groupie in peace.

It was not to be. A bunch of very drunk very young guys near us decided that we looked lonely. They came over and started putting their foot in the mouth. It was to go on for the rest of night.

One of them had come up and touched Mary. She jumped a foot in the air, swung around like a lionness and snapped: "Don't you ever do that again! The only one in this whole place who has the right to touch me is my friend. You do NOT come up to women you have never met before and put your hands on them."

Guy in question apologised drunkenly. She looked at him tightlipped: "OK but don't do it again. Learn to be a gentleman."

I was listening to Mark and smiling at Mary.

Then one of the drunken friends came over and drapped his arms around me casually. I shot her an appealing glance: "Get your hands off her, Siva. You do not simply go around touching women you have never met. I'm very protective."

Siva desisted but he was not ready to leave us alone. He muttered something about languages and really, why is it that they won't shut up when we're so obviously trying to listen to the live music? I even took care to inform him that I was here as a Mark groupie.

"Oh yeah, Mark? He's good yah...yeah, good. I don't know much about him. Yeah, I'm as lost as you. You know him very well then?"

Motormouth. Nothing interesting to say. But couldn't shut up. I turned away and grinned at Mark. He grinned back.

Mark told us he had four songs to go to complete the set. He took requests. He said he played James Taylor. I asked which ones. He said, name one. I said, Wandering. A burly Indian fler sitting at a table nearby nodded in approval because I didn't say Fire and Rain. Mark sighed. No, haven't gotten around to that one yet. So he played: "That's Why I'm Here and Shower the People" back to back. And then he played England Dan, John Ford Coley: "It's Sad to Belong To Someone Else" (I dunno but in my tipsy state I was thinking there was a hidden message here).

And he ended with: "I'd really love to see you tonight." Which was the song Anita and I most requested on the jukebox in Subway back when there used to be Subway in Medan Damansara with a jukebox.

We clapped furiously and he came to talk to us after a bit. "I didn't expect to see you here." I introduced Mary. We chatted. Then he had to go on his PR rounds and talk to everyone.

We had all of one decent conversation there. With a Londoner.

Mark said the Indian version of "It's Hard to Belong to Someone Else when the Right One Comes Along" is "It's Hard to Belong to Someone Else when the White One Comes Along."

Mary whispered to me: "I can just imagine what those guys are thinking. Indian women coming to a pub being very stand-offish with nice guys like us and talking to the white guy. Thing is, he was the only decent one here who was not offensive."

Since I was busy being a groupie, I was not too concerned what all these ugly Indian men were thinking.

But I think we'll give Backyard a miss the next time. It's divey and I like divey, but I guess I like clean, smoke-free, decent people who don't hit on you drunkenly, squashy sofas, interesting art pieces adorning the walls, muted lighting, a mixed crowd, better.

In short, I think I'm more of an Attic kind of girl. And Mark plays there every first, third and fourth Thursday. With Susan. I think I like him better as a duo.

Later for you.

2 comments:

georgedj said...

It's amazing how unresolved past events will bubble up, waiting for a resolution one way or another....can't wait for the next entry and I love your writing (who's the groupie now)!!

Jenn said...

Georgie! It's your turn at Scrabulous! Come on! Chop chop.

And thanks...coming from you it's a huge compliment.