December 28, 2008

At Juliza's Wedding

---


The hall was crowded with people; relatives greeting guests, guests talking to each other, tired parents chasing after their little children. The aroma of kenduri food wafted through the air: ayam masak merah, gulai daging, acar rampai, nasi minyak, dalca sayur. Clich├ęd wedding music and love songs were barely audible through the loudspeakers that littered the hall.

Evie Nadia sat at her table, finding the atmosphere festive but also slightly nauseating. She felt the beginnings of a headache pulse in her temples. But she was happy to be here.

She had arrived a few moments too late, thus she missed the bride and groom's entrance and the merenjis ceremony. She felt bad about it, but could only blame herself for not taking into account Kuala Lumpur traffic. But she managed to wave her hand and wink to a clearly excited Juliza as the bride and groom made their way for the Makan Beradab session.

Evie felt so happy for her friend; but a small part of her ached looking at Juliza walk down the aisle; I was there once, she thought. Then she pushed the thought away. She looked at the faces around her table.

Marina, a.k.a Bubblegum, was the same as ever: cheerful, funny and bright, a persona that belied her reputation in the KL legal circles as a determined, fiercely intelligent and concise attorney. Marina had greeted her enthusiastically when they met, hugging her tightly. As it turned out, she and Harith, a.k.a Lucky (who was now an editor for a major broadsheet newspaper), had gotten married last year, an event Evie had missed.

"We tried to get in touch with you so many times! But even Juliza did not have your number. We feel foolish to not have contacted your old family home!” Marina said.

"It's alright", Evie replied, "I'm the one who should be sorry. I should have kept in touch"

Marina smiled and made Evie sit beside her. Harith was still the same guy. Also at the table were old familiar faces; even an ex-boyfriend of Evie's, Syafiq. Syafiq was known as Arrows a long time ago; they had dated briefly. Syafiq had married a nice teacher 4 years back; they now had 2 bouncing little boys. There were other college friends as well.

The talk was good, and the food delicious. Evie noted how none of them brought up one particular subject, which curiously both disappointed and relieved her.

"You guys!” a voice shrieked.

Juliza came rushing to their table with a gleaming smile. She was dressed in a lovely turquoise wedding dress, and the expression on her face was one of utter joy. A few steps behind her, Aliff quickened his pace to catch up with his bride.

Evie, Marina and the others all stood up to greet their friend. Juliza was especially happy to see Evie there. She hugged her fiercely, with a faint hint of tears in her eyes. Evie realized then how little effort she had made to keep in touch with her old best friend. She felt guilty and selfish.

Juliza must have noted a change in Evie's face, as suddenly she said, "I knew you would come".

Aliff caught up with the gang and shook hands all around. The group talked and laughed for a few minutes, all of them clearly enjoying the moment. They took pictures, with Harith using a big SLR camera.

Oh, Evie thought when she saw the camera. She was reminded of something. Stop it, she told herself. Then Juliza and Aliff had to make rounds to meet and greet the other guests, who must have numbered by the hundreds. The group sat back down.

"So Evie..." someone said. It was Syafiq, whose wife Aleeya was feeding small spoonfuls of jelly to their 3 year old son. "What have you been up to?"

Evie smiled. "Oh you know. Work. And work. And oh yeah... work!"

The table laughed. Harith asked her where she made a living.

"I'm at an ad agency off Jalan Sultan Ismail. Been there since 3 years ago I think. It's a good job. With great benefits, haha!” Evie said playfully while pointing out the platinum necklace with a pink diamond heart pendant on her neck.

"Syafiq told me you were his girlfriend once", said Aleeya, but in a friendly manner. "So I came because I had to see the girl named Evie"

"Oh he told you? She's not a girl anymore, thankfully. And oh my God, Syafiq you're lucky your wife here is so understanding", Evie said.

"Yeah, if it was me I wouldn't have even entertained the notion of Harith meeting an ex-girlfriend!” Marina added, bringing more laughter to the table.

"If I actually had an ex-girlfriend, that is", Harith said, cracking the group up again.

"Syafiq and I were just friends, isn't it right Syafiq?” Evie said to Syafiq who suddenly blushed, much to the laughter of the group, and Aleeya, who smiled, clearly amused. Their two little boys were busy inspecting the many flower bouquets around their table.

And then Aleeya asked her the question she hoped she would not have to answer today.

"So what about you? Anyone special in your life right now?"

Evie shut her eyes softly for a split-second, but it felt like millennia to her. She sighed inwards; of course, Aleeya would have no idea of her past wedding and divorce. Evie herself had buried it inside her heart for a long time now.

People often ask her that: "So, are you seeing anyone?” From snotty married men who thought they were still prime, to clients not knowing the boundaries of professionalism, to young fresh college graduates who obviously thought they were God's gift to women.

Evie usually ignored those questions, or answered in a tone that meant "you're crossing the line: stop". It did not matter to her. All those people wanted were to get in her pants.

I haven't seen anyone since I got divorced four years ago, Evie answered in her head. She was about to give Aleeya a less depressing version of her answer when a man casually walked up to their table.

"Hello everyone", the man said, nonchalantly. He was holding a plate with rice and lauk in one hand, a glass of rose syrup in the other, and a digital SLR camera hung from one shoulder. All of the people at the table turned to look at him, Evie included.

Muhammad Rafar, dressed comfortably in a black batik shirt and slacks, stood beside their table holding his meal. He wore plastic rimmed glasses, and his hair was now shorter, but it still had that scruffy look, although the scent of hair cream meant he had made an attempt to manage it.

"You! Haha. Come on! Have a seat!” Harith, his old best friend, greeted.

"Ya Allah, I never thought I'd see you here!” said Marina. Syafiq waved and said hi, introducing his wife as he did so. Rafar apologized for not being able to shake hands with anybody since he was holding his plate and glass.

"Oh God, then will you just put it down and eat already!” Marina scolded.

He smiled at his old friends, and seemed to be indifferent to the fact that Evie was there.

"I can sit here can I?” he said as he put down his plate and glass and took a seat right next to Evie, whose mind seemed to be stunned for a moment. Rafar immediately tucked into his food.

"This is delicious", Rafar said as he chewed; he did not seem to pay any attention to the fact that Evie Nadia was beside him. But maybe that was just appropriate, Evie thought finally. We wouldn't want any awkwardness at the table.

Rafar talked with Marina and Harith and the others at table as he had his food. Evie unconsciously shifted her seat so she would not be so close to him beside her. As Rafar ate beside her, she made an attempt to join in the conversation at the table. Still, she also found herself stealing glances at Rafar.

A thousand questions raced through her mind: What is he doing now? Is he married? With kids? Or is he dating somebody? He looks like he's lost weight; is he okay? Is he okay that I'm sitting beside him? Does he even remember me? Do I look different without my glasses?

"Oh man, this is just, like, ten years ago", Rafar suddenly said. He laughed, and the others joined in.

Evie stared at the man sitting beside her.

Wiseguy, she thought.

----


(to be continued..)

December 25, 2008

Four Years Later

-----


The girl - no, woman - clad in her underwear, looked at herself in the mirror, as she often did, a remnant habit from days long gone. She squinted her eyes, scrutinizing her body, touching it here and there. With a careless swing of her head, she threw back her long raven hair. She turned her body sideways, glancing up and down.

Her figure was fuller than before, rounder in the correct places. She had put on a few pounds, but not in the bad way, and her body still had the tone and nuance of someone in her prime. She stuck her chest out, again an old undying habit, and tilted her head.

I look fine, she thought. In fact, her slight chubbiness was only obvious because she was a skinny waif before. By no means was she even close to fat. A nutritionist and doctor would call her 'healthy'.

But the biggest change from before were in the lines of her face. The most obvious difference from days of yesteryear was that she no longer wore glasses; corrective eye surgery had taken care of that. Sadly, she thought that the surgery had also taken away some of the gleam in her eye. She knew it was probably something else, but it just seemed that way to her.

Her eyes were darker, and she had somehow(much to her annoyance) developed dark circles under her eyes, which she now concealed with make-up. She looked wiser, quieter, no longer the spunky and cheery nineteen year old eleven years ago. She stared into the mirror for a moment, and began pulling faces, almost desperately trying to summon herself from the past.

Finally she just smiled and sighed. I'm not nineteen anymore, she thought. I'm thirty.

That thought comforted her as well. She felt that stepping into the age of thirty somehow validated her existence. Funny, sure, but she really did feel that way. Four years ago at the still early age of twenty-six, she almost crumbled into depression from a divorce. It had been too early. But in her sadness she found that life went on, and life would leave her behind if she did not buckle up and hitch a ride.

She told herself to get on with it, to acknowledge her past but not dwell on it. Put simply, she needed to move on. Part of that process was losing her glasses; a seemingly trivial thing, but the act was significant to her. A milestone. A step towards moving on.

So she did. Four years ago she started working really hard, and it paid off. She now lives quite handsomely on her own, and although she still stayed in the same cozy apartment, an apartment she once shared with another, the house no longer felt 'empty' to her. She had made it her own sanctuary.

She no longer looked nineteen or twenty-six, but that was alright. She was still beautiful, and an outsider or an admirer would say she was like aging like a fine wine, with grace and becoming better. Her age brought to her a beauty she never had: the beauty of grace and wisdom. She was wiser. Stronger.

She paused in front of the mirror, and adjusted the undies. Finally comfortable, she turned away and began dressing up in a cream kebaya, with matching sarong. She had a wedding to attend today, the wedding of a dear friend. A friend, again it seemed, from many years ago.

Juliza Mahyuddin, her oldest and best friend, but one she hasn't seen in ages since college, was getting married today. Juliza was getting married to her college sweetheart. It was surprising it took them so long, she thought of her friend. But she was happy all the same.

She finished dressing up and putting on light make up, and as she made her way downstairs to get her car, Evie Nadia Hakimi had a thousand thoughts swirling in her head. She was a bit excited at the prospect of seeing old friends.

Juliza.. I used to call you Tingles, she thought as she was driving. And Aliff, your boyfriend now husband? Redfoot was it? Yeah. I wonder if the rest will be there. Marina; what was her nickname.. yeah, Bubblegum! Ehehe.. and Lucky..

As she reached a traffic light junction her thoughts paused. She put on a pair of designer sunnies, taken from her overhead compartment. Before the lights turned green she took a quick look at herself in the mirror; for a split second, and with the glasses on(even if they were sunnies), she saw herself as that nineteen year old from days gone by again.

The lights turned green, and she stepped on the gas.

Years ago, Evie thought. They used to call me Sugar.



---

(to be continued)