Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Chapter 14

I’ve just finished lunch with Kaelyn at the O’Brien’s near her office, and she’s absolutely envious of my “freestyle” life at the moment.

When we parted after our sandwiches, she wore a very longing look and pouted sadly. “So you’re off to your window shopping and bookshop browsing at KLCC, while I head back to my tiny cubicle, a stupid project which is due tomorrow, and that bunch of gossiping female sharks – Can’t you just kidnap me and take me with you?”

I laughed as I gave my dear friend a hug and reminded her that Freestyle-life also comes with an almost empty bank account and a pair of parents who are constantly nagging you about being sensible and realistic.

“Yeah, but it still beats working with the bitches.”

I had no reply for that. Instead I pushed her towards the direction of her office and promised to call her later.

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It’s been more than a month since I’ve left SD&Co. and my time spent there is beginning to feel more and more like a dream. It comes as no surprise that in such an established firm no one is irreplaceable and life goes on with or without you. But it’s still quite disappointing to realize how quickly people can forget you. I’ve not heard from Julianne and the rest of the team since my quiet departure at the end of the year. Ean still calls every other day and we try to catch up over coffee once a week, but he’s been very busy too. And if rumors can be trusted, he should be receiving a promotion very soon.

I try not to think of my past two years as a waste. I always believe that there’s something to learn anywhere you are, and I am encouraging myself to be positive about the valuable experiences I have acquired. I am also encouraging myself not to revisit the depressing parts too often; they are over and done with, after all.

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It’s a weekday afternoon and KLCC is pack with tourists of all nations. I am greeted at the entrance by two groups of Chinese and a small group of Japanese who are listening not too intently as the guides brief them about meeting points and gathering time. A few steps ahead, two English couple speaking in their lovely English accent are discussing about the lovely Malaysian weather. And walking out of Prada, a large family of Middle Easterns, where all the women and girls are covered up in dark robes and carrying large shopping bags with even larger designer labels.

I side step a group of college students (finally, someone local! – I was beginning to feel outnumbered), and head for the top floor, where the bookshop is located. The upper floors are reasonably quieter, and take my time looking into the shop windows.

After a quick detour into Nike to check out their yoga apparels (I’m thinking of taking up the practice), I finally step into Kinokuniya. I am just about to start exploring the new arrivals when a lady loaded with shopping bags and an arm full of books bump into my side. The books cause quite some noise when they hit the timber floor, and a few customers nearby turn to look at us curiously. But because this is not a Harlequin plot, no one rushes to help us, not even the sales people (hm, if this is a Harlequin plot, it would have been a guy bumping into me, and a cute guy at that, but yeah, my life is no story book).

“Oh, I am sooo sorry!” The lady apologizes as she struggles to pick up her books while at the same time trying to stop her shopping bags from slipping off grip.

“It’s ok, here, let me help you,” I reply, already stacking her books into my arm. They are mostly cook books, and weigh quite a bit. Italian, French, Japanese…


I look up from the books to a familiar face. “Elsa!?”

“Oh my god, how have you been?” Elsa pulls me into a hug, shopping bags and cook books and all, and I return it warmly. It’s good to see her, irregardless of the circumstances in which we have parted in.

“I’m fine, just fine. And yourself?” I give her a quick overall glance, taking in her short cropped hair which is expertly styled, her plain white blouse, turquoise slacks, gold accessories (all genuine, I’m sure) and matching designer handbag. “You look great, as always.”

Elsa smiles, “Oh thank you dear, I’m well too, but I missed you!” She checks her watch before turning back to me with a knowing look in her eyes. “Are you in a hurry? Because I would really love to catch up – I have so much to tell you!”

I’ve missed Elsa too. Every so often, and especially lately, I find myself thinking back to the times when I used to hang out at her Art Café, chatting with her about life and such, learning how to use the industrial size espresso machine and gossiping about the tai-tais who pass by. I love my little studio-cottage with its lemon trees, of course, but I was happy at Elsa’s too.

I quickly agree to coffee, and after paying for her cook books, Elsa leads me into Dome. “Their lattes aren’t as good as mine, of course, but they are decent enough.”

I grin and tell her how much I miss her special brew. “How’s the café doing, by the way?” I ask after ordering a cinnamon latte.

Elsa adjusts her blouse and leans back into her seat. “Oh sweetie, how long have you not visited Damas area? I’ve closed the café almost six months ago!”

“What!?” I lean forward in dismay and disbelief. “Why?”

Elsa shakes her head with a little laugh as she reaches out to squeeze my hand, “I met a man. We’re getting married. And then we’re opening our own restaurant together.”

Wow. Wow. I think I just got bombed, twice, within a minute. No make that three times – Art Café gone, Elsa meeting a man, Elsa getting married.

“Oh. My. God – Elsa, that’s great! Congratulations!” I lean across to hug her, almost knocking our coffees off the tray of the waiter who’s just arrived.

When the waiter left, Elsa stirs her drink quietly before turning back to me. “Tutu sweetie, I want to apologize for kicking you out of the apartment.”

That must be bomb number four. I wonder how many more are there.

I take a sip of my coffee, working on the right words to say. “Don’t be silly, Elsa. It was totally my fault; me and my naïve ignorance in trusting people too easily.” Yup, I can really say that again.

But Elsa shakes her head and squeezes my hand again. “If you want to put it that way, then it was as much my fault as it was yours. But you don’t know the other half of the story. My half.”

I wait for her to continue, not exactly sure what to expect.

“Well, you see, I met Chang – that’s my fiancé – at around the same time the episode with Bambi happened. We went to the same cooking class together. He is a widower, with a grown up son. We clicked immediately because we have a lot in common, and he proposed to me on our third date!”

She pauses for the words to sink in, and I gasp at the drama of it all. I thought these things don’t happen in real life anymore. Then Elsa continues. “Things were happening a little too fast for me to handle, and I told him I needed some time. You know about my past, how my ex hurt me so badly that I almost sworn myself off marriage for good. Chang is a wonderful man and so patient and loving he’s almost too good to be true. For a while, I wouldn’t allow myself to believe that such an amazing thing was happening to me, and I sort of shut the world out for a while, as I tried to sort through what was going on in my life. And that was when the thing with Bambi happened and added to the complication. I had a lot of things going on in my head at that time, and I really didn’t need someone turning my home into a prostitute center, so I ended up asking both of you to leave. It was a rash decision and it wasn’t fair for you, because it wasn’t your fault at all, except for being sweet and soft hearted and wanting to help the girl out.” She stop to take a breath, “I’m really sorry, Tutu. Please forgive me?”

I shake my head. Elsa’s words did put some things into perspective, like why she was so detached and disconnected the few weeks before I left. But it’s all in the past now. I’ve put it behind me, and so should she. I realize then how much I want to see her happy, and I tell her so. “Elsa, there’s nothing to forgive! I would probably have done the same if I were you. Really! I’m doing fine so you should stop blaming yourself for what happened. And I’m so happy for you, having met someone who loves you so much, and celebrating that together! There must be so much to look forward to!”

Elsa smiles quietly, and nodded. “Tutu, you really are a sweetheart, you know that? Thank you.” Then she takes a deep breath and let it out in a rush, the smile on her face widening. “You are right; there really is a lot to look forward to! Now, it’s your turn. Tell me what you’ve been up to.”

In the space of a second, ten thousand things flash through my mind. Where do I start? My new studio-cottage, my wonderful landlords, my drama at work, my jobless status, my ambitious but unachievable New Year’s resolutions, or my ever-so-confusing mixed feelings for Ean?

In the end, I decide to tell her that I am currently in between jobs, and also fill her in on what happened which led to my present condition.

“Well, it’s good to take a break sometimes,” Elsa says comfortingly.

I shrug and laugh, “yeah, but only when you can afford it. I don’t think I can sit around for too long not doing anything, and my parents are definitely puzzled when I told them I need to re-look into the direction my life is heading. To them, it’s as simple as you study, you graduate, you work, you get married, and you have babies, and so on.”

Elsa is quiet for a while as she traces the edge of her cup with a finger. I take the time to admire the delicate details of the bracelet on her wrist, which was made out of precious stones of all colors weaved randomly through strings of gold. The stones catch the afternoon light coming through the café window, winking and sparkling charmingly, reminding me of magic and fairytales.

“I can’t change your parents’ viewpoints, thou I can certainly relate to the struggle and challenge of realizing your dreams. But, I think I might have a temporary solution to your financial situation.”

I tilt my head to the side, taking my eyes away from the twinkling stones on her wrist to focus on her face, only to find a similar twinkle in her knowing eyes.

“I happen to need a manager at the new restaurant.”

“I’m not –”

She interrupts me, probably already expecting my objection. “Skills can be learnt, it’s the personality I am looking for.” She arches her eyebrow and smiles. “So, are you up to the challenge?”

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Chapter 13

Tutu Tan’s 2007 New Year’s Resolution

Get a new job – but in order to do that I first need to:
a. Identify what kind of job do I want?
b. Identify what direction do I want to head towards?
c. Should I remain a lawyer, or try out something else?
d. Do I need extra skills or qualifications?
e. Do I want another job?

2. Go traveling – I want to see the world! – But how will I afford? Guess I have to get a job then…

3. Learn a new skill and/or acquire a new hobby which is non work related – hm, come to think of it, do I have a hobby at all? Does shopping counts? Oh, that requires money too.

4. Get a boyfriend! – no, of course Ean doesn’t count! Wanna know when was the last time I had a serious relationship? No, better not.

5. Improve relationship with family – yes, I do have a family, in case you’ve been wondering.

6. How many resolutions does one need to have for a new year? Does it always have to be 10? … …

7. This is all I can handle, for now.

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“Aquarius January 20 – February 19

Your address book is about to expand – and most of these contacts will come in useful later on in the year when you’re thinking about switching careers or moving house. In March, you’ll meet a man with love potential. But be warned, although this is a slow burner, it’s worth waiting for. When you finally get it together, by the end of the year, it will be dynamic. Keep your eyes peeled around April, too, when an unlikely male figure turns career mentor.

Don’t refuse any invites – especially as Jupiter’s effects are on full beam at the moment. Can’t be bothered going to that party on the other side of town? Force yourself! This is the one that’ll bring the most opportunities. Start putting any career goals you have into action straight away – you’ll be reaping the rewards by December.”

“Are you reading your horoscope?” Kaelyn sits down next to me on the sofa and props her legs onto the coffee table.

I quickly turn the page without looking at her. “Of course not! I was just checking out the new hair colors for the season. Do you think I’ll look good in blond?”

Kaelyn frowns at me in a manner which tells me that she thinks I’ve either lost my mind, or think she’s lost hers, and didn’t bother to answer me at all. That’s what you get sometimes when you’ve known someone since when you were 10 years old; they can tell you that they think you’re being silly even without saying so. Lyn¬ picks up the remote and switches on the TV. We are having a girl’s night in at Kaelyn’s place. Her parents are holidaying in New Zealand, and her brother Jake is out partying, as usual. So it’s just us girls and a stack of feel good chick flick DVDs. A pot of vegetable curry is warming on the stove, and Lyn’s just popped some naan bread to warm in the oven. I’ve opened a bottle of chilled Sauvignon Blanc and the night is ready to roll!

Then my friend has to say something so spoil the mood. “We must be getting old. Who else do you know stays home on a Saturday night watching Lake House and Devil Wears Prada?” I open my mouth to answer, but she cuts me off. “And don’t tell me Mr. and Mrs. Sachiiya, because you know bloody well I am referring to people our age.”

I turn in my seat so that I face Lyn, and then I say to her very seriously, “so, would you rather we get changed now and hit a club? Because we can, if that’s what you really want.”

She didn’t say anything for a while, but shoots me a pout. “That’s not what I meant,” she says after a while.

I know what she meant, but I still want to hear it from her. Something’s been bothering Lyn lately, and it’s not because she’s force to spend Saturday night watching DVDs with me. In fact, she was the one who suggested we hang out together tonight. So I continue to look at her expectantly.

Finally she gives an impatient sigh and hugs a pillow to her chest. She didn’t look at me when she says, “I – Marcus and I, we – actually, it was he who – I mean we –,“ she stops, sighs again, and then takes a deep breath before letting it out in a rush. “We broke up.”

Gasp! Hm, why am I not surprised? Oh, ok, I think I should sound a bit more sympathetic, Lyn is my bestest friend, after all. “Oh Lyn –“ I reach for her, but she holds up a hand to stop me.

“Uh uh – don’t say it. Don’t say anything. I know you’ll tell me ‘I told you so’ and I don’t want to hear it. I also don’t need your sympathy – comfort, maybe, but don’t feel sorry for me, because I’m not, feeling sorry, that is. We are grown ups, right? And these things happen – people get together and then separate all the time. Look at Ean, happily married one year, and divorced the next, but life goes on.”

“Mm hm.” I don’t say anything, just nod in agreement.

“And like you said, Marcus is a playboy. You’ve warned me about him, and yet I made the decision to be with him, but at least I was prepared, sort of. And it wasn’t like we’ve been together for forever or anything; it’s only been three months, and we had our share of fun. But we are not made for each other, I sort of realized that even from the beginning, but it was something different, and I wanted to give it a try. He made me feel special, like I was the center of everything, and I was! Just not for very long, that’s all. But it’s nobody’s fault. He is who he is, just not who I want him to be.”

“Mmm…” I nod again, trying to come up with something comforting and encouraging, yet un-clichéd, to say. “Sweetie, at least you knew what you were getting into, which sort of cushioned the fall, I guess. And –"

“It’s ok, Tu. I’m ok, really.”

“That’s good to know.”

“Besides –“ she pauses, looking hesitant.

“Yes?” I prompt.

“I’ve met someone new.”


She’s got to be joking! I mean, when does she finds the time to meet a new guy and I don’t know anything about it until now? I thought we were best friends!

“Who? When? – How come?”

Lyn actually laughs. “Shall we get started with dinner, and I can fill you in while we eat? And stop looking so shock, Tu. I said I met someone new, I didn’t say I was getting married!”

Huh, right. That’s my friend for you – always full of delightful surprises. I get up from my seat and follow her into the kitchen.

“By the way, Tu, your horoscope prediction is right, you need to start going out more.”