August

You could probably picture this:-

It was afternoon – and it was a typical workday like the past days…and probably also for the past few months. The colleagues outside were going about their usual routine; engaging in pointless banter; the office air-conditioning system being too cold – but in my room, the air was warm and in my mind it was a Tuesday: simply put – it wasn’t exactly a very conducive environment to be receiving news of the startling kind.

Then – I got a new email message at my workstation. Scanning briefly through its entire contents, waves of disbelief swept all over me. Here it is, I’ve yet again got exclusive front-row seats for another theatrical treatment on the treatise of the familiar ‘another one that may have gotten away’. Strangely enough, I didn’t go overdrive. It was as if it had something to do with my analysis of why the decision was made rather than when. As it were, two months is an acceptable timeframe. Some require three if the situation was desperate enough (it happened before), but two months would suffice. And piecing it together, the whole message made complete sense.

If memory serves – sometimes, the voice on the other side sounded cheery, uplifting, somewhat inspiring. You’d never tire of hearing that person speak because the laughter was fairly refreshing. Most times, though, it was faintly hinting of indifference. Indifferent exactly at what, I don’t really know but it was not the sort of mood you would want to hear the end of. Still, one should not expect to tune in to bubbly conversations on typical workdays.

When seeing that person in the flesh, you could almost certainly draw no conclusive evidence of that coming. Certainly, that person exuded a fair degree of exuberance masking the whole thing. When the mind was made up – there’s no turning back and such determination impressed me no less. The one opportunity face-to-face close to two months ago, that person flashed me a smile accompanied by breathing out. You know – those kind of smiles that either exhibit awkward warmth or suppressed emotions. As if on cue, I did that too when replying my smile at that time – I just didn’t know why – perhaps it was because I’d gone for a trip to the gents after a decidedly drawn-out meeting outside of office and I wasn’t in the element to be acting nice to anybody. Still, were we simply pleased to see each other – or were we just silently frustrated by the situation that things have evolved to or, to cut a long story short – were we circumstantially greeting each other just because we were paid by our respective employers to do so?

Come 1 July 2010 – some grand event that we were both due to attend. You see, both of us were part of the larger contingent of the heads, brains and labour of the efforts culminating in that ceremony. That voice soothed me that day before the event, as I had hoped, but tempered by the feeling that such a phone call came as part of dispensing duties rather a personal vocation. If you were to nurse your perception a little, the impression I got was kind of like the feeling you get when you smiled at those individuals who were paid to smile back at you. Nonetheless, I was convinced that a meeting in person would be in order – it had to be! I said so – ‘be seeing you there’. Clear and affirmative. Now, the amount of toil leading up to the succesful conclusion of the efforts was not exacting to be honest but it was getting some people involved testy for the wrong reasons. At the end of all these, you just have to celebrate. Big or small was of no importance. That is the axiom.

But the celebration event that took place on that day itself was largely forgettable. It was a well-executed and well thought-out ceremony – impressive, even – but it just didn’t have much of an impact me. To begin with, it was a hot day. Wearing a jacket and hitting the blocks of dusty Kuala Lumpur just to get to that place would be testing the performance of my cooling system impressively. The venue itself was also fairly subdued and not appropriately festive, as if the people attending were merely hoping to meet the like there. There were physically-attractive ladies around but I wasn’t in the mood to indulge. Met the people I do not really want to see; noticed no cold drinks available to pare back the heat – with only the detested hot joe on a very warm morning being served; snobbish people who think they knew a lot and trying to let you know that; childish women making stupid remarks at our special door gifts meant only for distinguished guests. Things like that. Annoying maybe, but it was not a spoiled event – I wanted to like it because I wanted it to be a success. But that person was not there. You could probably sense it too – and needn’t confirm verbally with the colleagues. It would make you look like a lifeless limb if you did ask. Still, the after-effect wasn’t overbearing – I’ve learnt lessons like that in the past and could reasonably handle these. Big events are meant to be enjoyed, not to show your glum face to the world outside. Be that as it may, whoever said that life is meant to be happy all the time should be hit hard across the nose with a stuffed condom.

The end of that grand project meant that the likelihood of meeting each other is close to zilch. To begin with – I really have no idea which sort of lunch appealed to that person nor at which time that the lift lobby would be graced by the very presence of that one person. By all accounts, it was a matter of chance. I could have dispensed with a little more personal initiative on my part but there was always this inherent trend of procrastination and that one inner voice which reassuringly confides to you that taking your time is all you need to do as being forceful in some matters sometimes never works.

And then that email message came like a sucker punch.

Perhaps I was fortunate to be blessed with the constitutional benefit of knowing exactly what to do at a time when action is deemed absolutely necessary to salvage whatever is left. So, I dialed the familiar number on my mobile. Two times – no answer. Now, you never need to read too deep into such things. There are dozens of ways to get connected with somebody if you really wanted to and I wasn’t about to get perturbed. So, I tried the office line. Bingo.

The voice sounded cheery as usual. But we had to cut it short – with a promise to talk more later. I hung up grimly, largely dissatisfied with the limited talktime.

Then there was that resigned mood that when it’s time to let go, then it should be allowed free. What made this temporary separation difficult to swallow, though, was the fact that I wasn’t there when all those rancour and troubles were silently building up and leading that person to make that call to quit.

The two-three hours that follow the short conversation we had were hellish inside but I was genuinely cool on my facade. Like I said, no reason to show the world that you are one hell of a sourpuss. There was a small but pleasant firm event for about an hour or so and all during that time, I maintained the same hot-cold equilibrium. I didn’t want that aching to go away – it felt good because it was an acknowledgement of fact and being in tune with reality is conceptually good.

I tried the mobile number again after that event. No such luck. Fifteen, maybe twenty minutes later – the caller returned the favour. We talked about fourteen-fifteen minutes in a place which wasn’t exactly strategic for calls such as this but what did it matter? It was good – so good. We never talked so much in our time here before and I beamed with inner satisfaction that things have turned out well after all. I won’t want to disclose our conversation details – I did most of the initiating of topics, just so you know. I’m the man in this conversation, remember?

‘Don’t work so late, ar’ – the lovely voice at the other end of the conversation urged me. For sure; my grin won’t get any inch wider.

The very next day, like I have done for the past year or so, I walked towards the familiar concrete place I called my second home at the usual time. Most of the people going in and out of there will probably not genuinely interest me any more, I figured out. Deep inside, I knew, as I edged ever closer walking to my second home – that this place would never be the same again.

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