November 4, 2007

Talking With An Alternate You


i started to drive around; at first in circles around Kuala Lumpur. it was late at the hour, and i wasn't a nightlife sort of person, hence, i did not go to KL's popular nightspots. instead i just took the car through the arteries and veins of KL which would normally be choked if this had been daytime. but here, late, the roads were mostly clear and quiet. i drove through Bukit Bintang.. Jalan Ampang.. Bukit Nanas.. all while humming, absently, to the tunes being played by the radio. Jefferson Starship's 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Us' came on. sometimes i wonder what do the DJ's who get nightshift do; put on a stack of CDs and doze off? no matter.

"..and we can build this dream together, standing strong forever, nothing's gonna stop us now...", sang Jefferson Starship.

the aimless driving in KL finally got bored for me; i needed a place to go, to maybe rest a moment. i chugged back a can of red bull, and munched on a chocolate bar. finally i saw a signboard reading 'KLIA'. why the hell not? i thought to myself, and headed for the nearest highway.

as i drove on those quiet highway lanes, i thought of you. i thought about what had just transpired last night. the image of your crying, hurt face kept emerging in my mind; these ghost images would change and morph into memories. sweet ones, bad ones. but memories all the same. i thought of the things that made you beautiful, and i thought of the reasons why i fell in love with you, and of the reasons i still love you. as my car cruised along the open lanes, i thought of how much i felt like holding you in my arms. how much i wanted to apologize... i would have done anything to mend the mistakes i had made over the past few weeks.. but time cannot be reclaimed. and mistakes cannot be undone..

i decided to backtrack; going to KLIA would only remind me of you. how? well, ever since we got married we had been saving money so we could go perhaps on a 2 week long trip around the world. top on our list: Santorini, Greece. so i decided that airports and airplanes would remind me of you, and i had just hurt you last night more than i have ever hurt you in our 7 years together. so no, i erased KLIA off my plans.

it was about 0300hrs now. i wasn't really tired. i was being fueled by caffeine and (ironically) sugar from those red bulls and candies i had bought. i stopped by another petrol station to go to the toilet, and used the payphone nearby to call you. your phone was turned off. i thought of calling the house, but decided against it. you probably wouldn't answer anyway.

maybe it was the mental agony, but i quit driving around like a fool, drove back to the apartment. as i killed the engine, i paused; what was i going to do now? i had no house keys; they were with you. i suppose i could ring the bell or knock on the door. but i didn't want to wake you up; and you probably weren't in the mood to answer the door anyway. i considered these options. none of them were good. i slept in the car.

except i couldn't fall asleep. one; i was thinking too much about you. i was worrying about you. i wondered what were you dreaming as you slept, if you even slept at all. i wondered if you were still crying; i also had these bad thoughts that you were tearing up our pictures together, or setting my stuff, our stuff, on fire. i thought about the things i had done these past few weeks. i felt so sorry towards you. i felt i owed you a million apologies... perhaps more. sitting alone in my car, the full weight of the wrongs i had done to you finally set in on me. it felt like i was holding the world up on my shoulders, like Atlas did in Greek mythology as punishment for waging war on Olympus.

the hours ticked away. i tried switching on my phone; the battery recovered a bit. some texts came in. most of them were from friends or from people at the restaurant. there was one from you; much to my hurt, it read:


i sighed, felt my heart shatter a bit. i chucked the phone on the passenger seat, reclined mine, and put an arm across my forehead. and yet sleep still did not come. maybe it was all the junk food. or maybe it was the burden on my mind. the azan for subuh prayers came on, melodically. i got out of the car and made my way to the surau in our apartment compound, about a 5 minute walk from our block. i didn't join the jemaah; instead i performed my prayers alone, and when i finished i sat there on the sejadah, reciting some prayers. i prayed for this to be done and over with, most of all, and that may Allah forgive me for all my wrongs. i prayed for you; i prayed for your soul.

i finished and just sat there. a moment later the jemaah finished and most of the people who came made their ways back home; some stayed for the usual 5 minute tazkirah. i leaned at the back wall of the surau and kept quiet. soon everyone left except for the caretaker, who smiled at me and said assalamualaikum. i answered and said i wanted to sit a while, to which he motioned at me to take my time. sitting there, alone, in the pleasing quiet of the surau, i fell asleep, just as the sun was about to rise and bring light to the land.

when i woke up i felt dazed; the caffeine probably. i glanced at my watch and saw it was about noon. i shook my head, as if my eyes or my watch was wrong. but no. it was noon. i had taken a long 'nap' in the surau. i went to the toilet and freshened up a bit; i found a pack of spearmint chewing gum in my pocket and crammed 3 pieces in my mouth. i decided to go out and have some lunch; come back to the surau for zohor; after that i'd go up to the apartment... to try and see, if you would open the door

i went back to the car and went out to the nearest McD's. i grabbed a bite there, and drove back to the apartment. you were on my mind all the time. i knew i had to resolve this. but first i went back the surau, and this time i joined the small jemaah that was there for zohor. i needed to be calm; i couldn't afford to snap and say something i'd regret later on again. when the prayers were finished, i walked back to our apartment block. i still felt tired. but i didn't want to hold this off.

as i got out of the elevator at our floor and stepped up to the door, i paused a moment. what was i to say? what apology could i carve with my words? would you still be angry? of course you would. this isn't like the time i accidentally threw away your maroon leather shoes because i thought you didn't fit them anymore. a heart isn't a tangible object, although it could be broken.. and mended, if you knew how.

i took a deep breathe and rapped my knuckles on the door. i waited a few minutes. nothing. i knocked again, and called out your name. this time i heard the sound of footsteps coming in. i could imagine you looking through the peephole at me.

"sugar..?", i said. nothing. "sugar..?", i repeated. then a knock on the door. it wasn't what i wanted, but at least it was a response.

"sugar..", i started. "i know you're still mad at me.. but please, open the door sayang, we can talk this over.."

BAM! a hard thump on the door. then i heard muffled crying.

"sayang please don't cry..." , i said. i was leaning with my hands on the door. in my head i could see you slumped at the bottom, crying. it made me feel all the more sorry for you.

"sugar, sayang.. please, let me in..", i said. "sweetness, i'd do anything, just name it.."

and then from behind the door, in a tearful but clear, if slightly dampened, voice, you said:

"turn back the clock to a month ago. can you do that?"

"sugar, that's just being silly..", i said.

"oh so that's silly? tell that to yourself..", you said.

"don't do this sugar.."

"don't do this? you brought this upon yourself, dammit..!!"

"i know that! but i'm sorry. i'm sorry.. can't you forgive me?"

"tell me this wiseguy; can you forgive yourself?", you asked. i stood silent at this. because it was then i realized i couldn't.

"i can't.. but i can swear this won't ever happen again..", i managed to say.

"you broke my trust wiseguy. how do you think i could put my faith back in you..? if you, someone whom your best friend cookie said is the most honest person when it comes to love, could do what you did.. how do you expect me to have faith..?", you said angrily.

"look, can't we just take this inside? nanti our neighbours dengar..tak segan ke..?"

"are you serious? nak segan kat neighbours? wiseguy, you have bigger things to be ashamed of, you idiot."

again, i was stunned into silence. the weight i felt on my chest grew heavier by the minute.

"you lied. you cheated. and you don't want a family. you betrayed me...", you said, and i heard you break into tears again.

"don't say that sayang..", i said. i put my forehead to the door now. how i wish i could see you then! i had this urge to beg and grovel at your feet for forgiveness. i wanted to be there with you, and do your every bid, and fulfil your every whim and fancy. anything to get back in your good graces and out of this bullshit.

there was silence for a moment. suddenly the door opened; you stood there and i saw you were still wearing last night's clothes. your eyes were puffy and your nose red. i thought you were finally going to let me in. instead you thrust a bundle of clothes; my clothes, into my hand.

"go away. leave me alone."

you slammed the door in my face. again.

i sighed and fought the urge to break down and weep. i couldn't feel angry because i know i had no right to. i threw aside the bundle of clothes you had given. for a few minutes i didn't know what to do. i tried knocking on the door again. but you didn't come to the door. you had probably gone off to the bedroom and closed the door. another few minutes passed. i stood there, like a stupid person, and finally went to the elevator. as i got in and the doors closed, i hoped so much that the apartment door would open and you would let me in. but it never opened.

i got back to the car, got in and started the engine. i reversed out of my parking spot and sped out of the apartment complex. i drove and i drove around KL, barely registering what i was doing, going about purely on instinct. i must have been driving in a hazed state as well, as more than one motorist blared their horn at me and shook their fists my way as they passed by.

in my heart i was feeling lost. i didn't know what to do. i wanted to tell someone, but who? i was too ashamed to tell anyone about how all this had transpired in the first place. and even if i did, i could not expect them to empathize or sympathize for me. i was the one who caused the hurt, i was the one who turned traitor to my beautiful wife. i deserved punishment. maybe this was it.

suddenly i realized i was passing by our old college, the place where we first laid eyes on each other, 7 long years ago. i swerved into the entrance junction, narrowly missing a motorbiker who, in his panic, managed to kick my side door as he passed by. i ignored it, and drove to the college entrance. it was about 1640hrs, and i could see some students getting ready to leave, and some students just hanging about, chatting with each other. i could also see some college sweethearts holding hands and talking to each other. just like us back then. when we began dating, we'd meet up after classes and hold hands and i'd drive you back, or maybe we'd go to the cafe nearby, where i first told you i love you.

the cafe. i took my car there and parked nearby; in fact the very same parking spot i used 7 years ago, on that night i professed my love for you. that rainy night that made us. as i turned off the engine, deja vu; a tropical climate dictates that Malaysia has lots of rain, and now, here it comes. through the windshield i saw the patrons of the cafe; some yuppies, some families. but most of them were students of the college we went to together. i could see them now, talking, laughing. they seemed so young and free. i envied them for a moment. i thought of our days back here. we had laughed and talked and hung around with our friends, just like these students i was looking at were doing.

suddenly the pain in my heart caught up with me. i bit my lower lip, fighting the upcoming tears. but i failed. i broke down crying just as the rain became heavier and pounded the roof of my car. i cried and put my forehead to the steering wheel.

"sugar, i love you. i'm so sorry.."

i kept saying that to myself. i closed my eyes.

the world went black.

the sound of cars passing by. the sound of rain hammering the steel roof of my own vehicle. i opened my eyes and saw it was already dark. i must have fallen asleep again. i raised my wrist to glance at my watch, only to find i didn't have it on. did i leave it somewhere? i dismissed it as unimportant. outside it was still raining heavily. the lights at the cafe were on, and i could see an entirely new batch of patrons having their dinner or evening meal there. i squinted my eyes for a better view through the windshield; i realized there were familiar faces at the cafe. i saw some of my classmates; and some of your classmates, and some of our other friends.

are they having a reunion or something? i thought, puzzled, and a little dumstruck. what the hell? as i looked at the table they were at, my eyes were drawn to someone sitting at the far end, to the left. it was you.

i pulled the handle of my car door, and annoyingly it wouldn't give until i gave it a little shove. odd. but that would have to wait. i locked the car and ran across the street through the rain to get at the cafe. another car passing by splashed a puddle of water at me. but i didn't care. all i wanted was to talk to you, and ask for your forgiveness.

when i came at the table, the friends greeted me. there was lucky and drophead, from my photography course. there were the 3 girls from english class; cupcake, javelin and cremeria. there was also arrows, the college 'it' guy, of whom all the girls wanted to date and all the boys wanted to be. we weren't that close, but again, i dismissed it as unimportant. i made my way straight to you, in my wet clothes. i saw you were smiling again as you were chatting with your former classmate, tingles. when i made my way to you most of our friends stared at me quizzically. they must have been wondering why we didn't come together.

"hey tingles, haven't seen you in awhile..", i said to tingles, who looked at me for a moment like i had another person growing out of my cheek or something, and said hi in awkward way. "do you mind if i could speak to sugar alone, for a minute?".

tingles say sure, go ahead. i sat myself opposite you. all of our friends looked at us. you had on a blue cardigan sweater and jeans. you looked... different. brighter, sweeter somehow. how were you hiding what happened yesterday, i couldn't tell. that you were even here was strange enough. maybe you came to take your mind off things. and maybe Fate decided that i coincidentally be here at the same time, so we could work things out.

"sugar..", i said.

"uhm, yeah wiseguy..?", you said with such convincing innocence. i couldn't believe it. i would have preferred it if we were alone, but if this has to be it, the this has to be it. at least, you were talking to me.

"sugar, i'm sorry for all things i did.. i'm truly sorry. i swear, i will never hurt you again. i swear i'll do anything to keep you happy, until the end of my days here in this world. please forgive me sugar; i'll do anything you ask me to, absolutely anything. i just want to see you smile at me again. sugar, i love you.."

you looked at me, your eyes wide open, and your jaws slack. the table had gone quiet, and our friends were looking at us. i reached out to hold your hands, but you pulled them back; but you did it slowly, as if you weren't really comprehending.

"you don't have to pretend; i don't care if the guys here know.. i'm just sorry..", i said.

you stared at me, almost studying me; then you said:

"sorry for what..?"

i paused, looked at you.

"wiseguy.. if you're talking about the way we jest with words, the wisecracks and sarcastic jokes we always pull off on each other, don't worry about it lah!", you said. "i think it's fun to have someone to spar with, haha.."

this was getting weird. suddenly mr. college it guy, arrows, walked over and sat beside you. he looked at me, his expression confused but curious.

"you just told me that you loved me wiseguy..", you said, the sentence bordering on being a question. "i seriously hope this is a prank you're pulling on me.. you know i'm going out with arrows right?"

i looked at the guy. and i looked back at you. arrows put his arm around your slim waist. i know what that meant: this better be a joke or else..

"oi kau demam ke apa..?", one of the guys at the table said, to the laughter of the others. you and arrows laughed along.

finally i joined in the laughter. i was realizing something. and feeling really stupid, but curiously at ease, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to say, when i said it, i said:

"dammit. i can never pull of the 'i love you' gimmick at anyone. you got me back sugar. arrows, you're lucky she didn't fall for it, or you'd be single, and i'd be dead.."

this enticed laughter around the table. even arrows, who looked ready to defend his 'domain' like a male lion, laughed back and slapped me on the shoulder. and yet, his laughter seemed forced.. but screw that. all of the people, our friends, were in a relaxed mood. i looked at them. they were younger looking, more carefree. i knew why by now, of course. food was ordered around the table. mee goreng, nasi goreng, burger ramly. drinks were served. teh-o-ais-limau, cokes, sirap bandung. i joined in the casual conversations. i found out that i had just as much to talk about as any of them. and yet i kept stealing glances at you as i sipped my drink and poked at my mee goreng. you were seated next to arrows, and you looked.. happy as can be. arrows was being the perfect gentleman to you; he joked with you, held your hands. the usual..

i was feeling a quiet relief in my heart. i felt like i had just got back from a spectacular holiday. the kind you wished never ended and you'd always remember, but also that you're glad you're home, you know? but there was also a deep sadness at the same time. this sadness came with my own inner comprehension...

after a couple of hours most of our friends left. lucky amiably shoved my on head and told me not to miss class tomorrow, it was a field day. i nodded. finally it was only you, arrows and me left at the table. you both excused yourselves.

"aren't you leaving?", arrows asked me.

"nah, you guys go ahead. i'm meeting someone nearby later on..", i lied.

"alright. see ya dude..", he said and went to his car. you picked up your bag and a file, and smiled at me as you got up.

"see you wiseguy.. and i'm gonna get you back for the prank. for a moment there i almost believed you telling me that you loved me, haha..haha..", you said. your laughter at the end trailing off, as if you decided that the statement wasn't that funny, really. i just glanced at you. you looked beautiful. but i couldn't say that now, could i?

"ehehe.. yeah; i'll see you around sugar..", i said, nonchalantly.

there was a pause between us; i looked into your eyes and you looked into mine. at that moment, i think i relayed something in the way i looked at you. i think you did actually believed in me when i said that 'prank', and you still believed it even when i had said it was just a prank, and i, myself, had laughed it off. and i read something in the way you looked at me. in my mind i hoped your eyes were telling me "wait. i'll be there with you; just wait and see." but no.. instead, your eyes were telling me:

'i'm sorry; but i'm with arrows. and i'm happy'.

"well, bye..", you said and left. i smiled and waved. it was still raining, althought it was a mild drizzle. i watched as you left with arrows. i glanced at my own car: a rustbucket. not something new. i felt a buzz; my cellphone. i took it out. a text from cookie. she said she had just gotten back from a kenduri, and met this amazing guy called jumpers. the name sounded familiar, almost as if i've heard it before, or met the guy somewhere. but when i searched for it in my memory, nothing came.

i ordered a glass of kopi-o, and sat there drinking as the rain fell down from the skies. i sat there for about an hour; by the end of which i had come to my proper senses. i sighed. i paid my part of the bill, and got up to leave. i didn't rush through the rain. i just walked slowly and let it soak me until i was cold to my bones. my mind was in an exceptionally clear state. as i reached my rusbucket of car and opened the door, i glanced behind me, half expecting to hear your voice calling my name, telling me to wait, asking me questions... but of course, it didn't happen..

i got in the car, started the engine and left..

as i drove in silence, i thought about us. except there was no 'us'. this was today. not 7 years in the future. i am not a cook at my brother's restaurant; i am Muhammad Rafar, a diploma in photography student, of whom you, and now all the other friends, call 'wiseguy' because i had a penchant for verbal zingers. i called you 'sugar' because you loved sweets; you're Evie Nadia, taking your A-levels at the same college. we never dated; never will..

although i had said otherwise to protect the truth, i was in love with you. i had meant everything i said earlier at the cafe. except for the apologies; i couldn't apologize because nothing ever happened between us. although i had hoped for it to happen, we never stood in the rain with you telling me that you loved me too. we were never at a beach, drinking hot chocolate. we were never having nasi lemak for breakfast. you don't know cookie, my best friend. we never went out on a first date where we had ice cream. i never left you a refrigerator note, nor had you given me a diary to read. and we never had the biggest fight of our lives, because we don't have a life together, and that that 7 years in the future did not and will not happen. we were just college mates. we were just friends, although i know that i love you..

my phone buzzed. a text message, from you.

"hey wiseguy. i'll see u in college okayy? take care.."

that's all it read.

i sighed, not bothering to reply, feeling stupid and saddened by my own fantasies and daydreams. the truth was simple enough. i had been daydreaming; and probably fell asleep doing so, in my rustbucket of a car, in front of the cafe, waiting for the other guys and girls to come. in those vivid, incredibly clear dreams, the love i had for you manifested itself in waves so powerful, i had waken up and believed it for a while. and i almost made a fool out of myself...

i reached home. my parents' home. there was no cozy apartment, never will be. i walked inside the dark house; my parents were asleep, my brother was at campus. i locked the door, went to my room. i took a hot shower. afterwards i crashed on my bed.

i lay awake for awhile, with my arm across my forehead. i thought of you. of how i had gotten to know you some months ago, of how at first i was irritated by you matching my wit. and i thought of how eventually i came to fall in love with you. i sighed aloud. we would never be, you and i. i thought of my dreams again. 7 years compressed in a dream at most 2 hours long. i whispered softly in the dark of my room:


i closed my eyes and thought of the dreams again, so vivid they were. i realized then, that i had spent moments in time i could never spend in reality with you. in those dreams. just before i fell asleep, i realized there are such things as clarity; i realized:

i had carved an entire fiction, talking with an alternate you.




"Talking With An Alternate You"

started August '07 - finished November '07
muhammad edwan shaharir

however far away, however long i stay, whatever words i say;
i will always love you.


chakry said...

amazing finish! damnit! why didnt they end up together?

great story edwan, really enjoyed reading it! more more more!!

Zuliana said...

now usually i don't really like these "it was just a dream" endings, but this one was different...

through out the story, i could really feel the emotions going through wiseguy and sugar (and the other characters), which makes it very delightful to read..

overall it was a great story, too bad it's already the last chapter :-(

keep it edwan! looking fwd to more..

muhammad edwan shaharir said...

thx. more..? ...definitely.

Zuliana said...

i mean, keep it up.
just realised the error. huhu

NanaNisa said...

this is the end of the chapter? he was only dreaming? wow. a great twist. after reading "four", i thought that either sugar would eventually forgives him and the whole happy ever after ending.. or they would get divorce... guess both my thoughts were wrong. congrats!

Anonymous said...

great words there..
unexpected ending too.
love it.
hope there's more to come!


Syaza said...

hesh. u should continue and not have it ended with a dream. i always hate that. but i must say, Talking With An Alternate You is beautiful. good start :)

farah fazanna said...

ohhhh.. this is beautiful. it's just.. wow.

iHayat said...

i can imagine lovesong playing inthe background as the credits roll. ^_^

HaNi said...

love it...
eventually love song 311 one of my fav love song...
love the emotions..
love the romatic part..
love the twist...
love the name..mcm nama cartoon..
love it all laa...

HaNi said...

the whole season1 i guess..
all novemeber entries..
it's season1 kann...
good one though :)

nurdini izni said...

now i know why the story is called Talking with an alternate you ;D

edwan u're such a genius!

Francesca. said...

i enjoyed reading 'talking with an alternate you'.. :)

i seriously thought sugar would forgive wiseguy and they would live happilly ever after! of course im a sucker for happy endings in stories.
tgk tgk he was dreaming!! that was a very clever twist at the end.
Love the story line.

Good job! more more!! :)