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wai:ting

You glance at your watch. It’s 2 in the afternoon and you begin to doubt if she’s ever going to show. The old man on your right is on his fifth cigarette and offers you one. You politely decline, telling him you don’t smoke—but you really do, it’s just that you don’t want her to see you smoking. You don’t know if she’s showing up anytime soon (if at all), but you don’t want to risk it—whereupon he returns to his newspaper, the one that he’s read back-to-front at least twice. A taxi stops right in front of you, disgorging a shapely teenage girl in tight school uniform. She sits down on your left and pulls out a pack of Dunhills. She asks you for a light, you say you don’t have one—but, again, you do—and you point to the old man on your right. She looks over to him and they begin conversing in Chinese. A lighter is passed from right to left in front of your face, and then passed back from left to right. The girl emits a puff of smoke from the corner of her mouth. You look up and watch workers repairing an advertising billboard.

A bus stops in front of you, disgorging a handful of ragged-looking blue-collar worker types before moving on again, belching out black smoke which makes you cough and stings your eyes. You glance at your watch. It’s now 3 in the afternoon and she still shows no signs of showing up. The girl’s still sitting to your left. She’s talking on the phone now, you can just about make out the voice of a guy on the other end. Her boyfriend, perhaps. The old man on your right has fallen asleep, head rested against the steel pole behind him. You look to the left and the right, up and down, looking for any sign of her. But you don’t see any. The workers continue their work on the advertising billboard.

You notice the girl hang up and slide her cellphone back into her right-hand pocket. She begins looking around, watching the people pass by. Her eyes rest momentarily on the same workers repairing the advertising billboard, and then she turns to you. You don’t look particularly comfortable or happy as you stare at the signboard detailing the bus routes—who would be, when faced with the realization that they’ve just been stood up?—and she nudges you. You ignore her at first, thinking that maybe it was an accident of some sort. But then she nudges you again. Once may have been a mistake, but you don’t mistakenly nudge someone twice. You turn to her and notice for the first time that she’s quite a beautiful girl. Certainly your type.

You don’t know what to say, so you raise your eyebrows as if to ask her “what’s up?”. She doesn’t say much, reaches inside her bag and pulls out her pack of Dunhills. She opens the pack up and offers a cigarette to you, her eyebrows raised as if to say “want one?”. You think to yourself “what the hell,” and you pull one out of the packet. She does the same. For a moment your eyes meet and you feel slightly uneasy. Butterflies in your stomach. And then the moment is gone. She asks if you have a lighter—again—but this time you reach inside your right-hand pocket and pull one out. You light yours first, and then you light hers. She smiles at you, and you smile back. And then the both of you retreat back into your separate worlds. You smoke your cigarette at your own pace, and she smokes her cigarette at hers. Whatever connection the two of you had no longer exists.

Soon a boy driving a Civic—probably her boyfriend—comes to pick her up. She drops her cigarette onto the ground and crushes it under her Converse Jack Purcells before getting up and heading towards the car. You take a long drag on your cigarette and watch her intently, feeling the nicotine and tar do a number on your already-blackened lungs and feeling the thought of her do a number on your heart. As she enters the car she gives you one final look, but it’s not a look of recognition. That would have been too risky, and you know it. Instead, she gives you the same sort of blank stare she’d give any other stranger on the street. She doesn’t know you, and you don’t know her. You continue staring as she pulls the door shut and the Civic drives off.

Another long drag on your cigarette as you take another look at your watch. It’s 4 in the evening and the workers have finally finished their work on the advertising billboard high above you. The smiling, now-flawless visage of Maya Karin looks out upon the smog and traffic of Kuala Lumpur: ever-present, rain or shine, night and day. You wonder if you can say the same for God. Or for her.

She still hasn’t showed up and you finally accept the fact that she might not show up at all. It’s nothing new for you: you’ve been here before, felt this way before and you’ve got the scars to show it. You let your cigarette drop to the ground and crush it under your left sneaker as you stand up and stretch your arms and legs, atrophied—as your new favourite author William S. Burroughs would say—after hours of sitting down and doing nothing.

You begin to walk away, but after a few steps you turn around and take a long hard look at the spot where you were sitting just moments ago. You see the old man, still asleep, the day’s newspaper rolled up in his right hand, you see the spot where the girl sat, and you briefly recall her features: the eyes, the lips, the hair. You suddenly feel an odd and intense—if short-lived—sense of longing.

A few minutes tick by before you decide to turn around and head on your way back home, to a cold shower and a meal of cold, hardened pizza. Another one of those nights. You feel like jumping for joy at the prospect of another lonely night. However, since you don’t feel like jumping around like an idiot in the middle of Kuala Lumpur, you settle for a discreet jig of delight. Life is great. Yes, yes it is.

You turn around, though, and there she is, walking towards you. She’s smiling, somewhat sheepishly, and you can’t help but break into a smile too, if a slightly uncomfortable one. Seconds ago you were contemplating spending a wonderfully shitty night all alone, and all of a sudden she shows up. Fashionably late, yes, but—as the cliche goes—better late than never. Your train of thought is thrown off its tracks, and before you manage to sort the mess out out she’s already come up beside you and is already holding your hand. She’s still smiling, but it’s a genuine, I’m-really-glad-to-see-you’re-still-here kind of smile. You can tell she’s just stepped out of the car by how cold her hands are compared to yours.

She stares intently at your face, and it makes you uncomfortable. You two have been together for nearly a year, yes, but her tendency to do that still bothers you. You’re still not used to being the object of someone’s affection. Your mind drifts off, thinking of how you still pinch yourself at night and how you keep asking yourself what exactly it is that she sees in you. You never manage to figure it out, of course.

She tugs at your arm and you snap back to reality. She’s trying to pull you towards the car, and, from there, to wherever it was that you two planned to go. You forget where exactly.

You ask her to go on ahead first, making a pretense of having to tie your shoelaces, but in reality it’s because you need time to come to grips with the fact that, somewhere inside you, you wish you were with the schoolgirl from earlier that day. You find yourself wishing it was her behind that you were staring at, that it was her smoke-fouled breath that you breathed in just now, that it was her perfect eyes that were fixed on you a moment ago, that it was her nicotine-stained hands that gripped yours so tightly. You try to deny it, but that’s how you feel, and it rocks you to your very core.

After standing there for a moment, dazed and confused, trying to get a grip on yourself and your thoughts, you somehow manage to put those thoughts out of your mind—if only for the moment—and you quickly catch up with your girlfriend. You hold her hand, smile at her and you walk onwards, together, hand-in-hand. There’s no use wanting someone you can’t have, you tell yourself. And you remind yourself of how you’re happy, after all, in your current relationship.

Or are you?

///

For the record, as some of my friends will attest to, this story started out as something quite different. The early version (the one I sent to two of my friends) had a very different ending and was significantly shorter.

I honestly didn’t plan this out. My early vision for the piece was just a scene—not much of a story, admittedly—but then someone said she didn’t like the ending or something to that effect (I remember her mentioning something about wanting something “happier”) and so I decided to see if I could, y’know, change it up a bit. For various reasons, but mostly because I just wanted to see if I could. Challenge myself, in a way. So I took a hammer to the ending, smashed some of it into bits and re-used some of the elements in the latter part(s?) of the story (everything past the paragraph mentioning Maya Karin).

Things just sort of evolved, I guess. Early on I tried, indeed, to write a happy-ish ending, but most of my attempts felt forced and somewhat abrupt (not to mention somewhat cliche . . . but then I guess the first ending was also a bit cliche. Or, at least, predictable). Soon, however I realized that I should just let the story go wherever it wanted to go and not try to force it. And this (*points to the story*) is where it decided it wanted to go.

I’m somewhat satisfied with it. It’s only my second ever piece in the second person and I think it’s okay. Good, even, perhaps. There are a few things that bug me about the story and my prose, but I’m not going to mention them. See if people pick up on any of them. If they do, then I guess they’re noticeable. If they don’t then, well, it probably means that I’m just being . . . me. It’s incredibly easy to pick flaws in yourself and the things you do, for sure.

So yeah, people: opinions!

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