January 25, 2009

Evie and Adam, Then


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She had met the guy a few weeks back at a restaurant, where she was having lunch with some clients. And today is the day to tell the story.

Evie Nadia strolled beneath the streetlights of Jalan Bukit Bintang. She had always been partial to this place. Despite the relatively early hour, Bukit Bintang was bustling with people. She loved the atmosphere, the sense of occasion that seemed to radiate from the heart of the road. She loved the shopping malls, from Sungei Wang Plaza where she could find the tackiest knick-knacks, to the ridiculously upscale Starhill Gallery. Her sense always seemed to go on overload whenever she came by this busy shopping district; and she loved it.

Beside her, the man who had picked her up from her apartment and taken her to dinner casually walked with his hands in his pockets. Evie sensed that he was a bit nervous, as if he was not so sure of what to talk about. Sometimes he would open his mouth to say something, only to close it again and smile bashfully at her. Evie, on her part, just liked to see him so obviously try. She found it adorable. She did not have much to say herself, and for the moment, she let her eyes be dazzled by the neon lights littering the street, turning it into a grounded Milky Way. There was, however, a curious little smile carved on her lips.

The two of them walked in silence, and for a moment they were content. The man seemed to sense the futility or rather the silliness of attempting small talk right now, and had settled into a comfortable silence beside Evie. Evie clasped her handbag with both hands in front of her, her head slightly bowed down, her eyes shaded. For some reason she felt like a fourteen year old on her first date. It was the shy yet sweet awkwardness of it that made her feel that way.

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A few weeks ago Evie had lunch with a client at a new and classy restaurant at Bangsar. The food, simple yet beautifully presented, was exquisite. Evie was there with her client to discuss a new advertising project. The client, a Datin in her 40’s, was so stereotypical of a ‘Datin’ that Evie thought she was almost a parody of herself. Evie loathed her, in fact, but she was an important client to the advertising firm she worked at, and said firm had asked her to be the Datin’s personal liaison for the project she was currently commissioning. Of course, Evie had to pay for the lunch, which, as she had expected, was priced just like the food: ‘exotic’ and ‘exquisite’ are two words to describe it. When she had looked at the bill she knew instantly that it was not a place she would frequent.

Despite the great food, Evie was a lady of simpler tastes: her favorite meal would consist of rice and beef rendang with sambal belachan and ulam, or maybe a crabstick and mayonnaise sandwich. But a Datin would require Datin-class food, so there she was. She put her credit card on the bill folder, but much to her annoyance, their waitress was nowhere to be seen. In fact, there were no waitresses at all, not even the pretty Indian hostess who had seated her and the Datin.

Evie had finally excused herself from the Datin and picked up the bill with her card to bring to the front, expecting to see one member of service staff there. Instead there was a tall man, in a black chef’s jacket and faded Levi’s standing over the register, thumbing through what looked like a diary, the kind a secretary uses. The man had his back to her.

“Excuse me, I need to pay the bill”, Evie said. Much to her amusement, the man turned around quickly, surprised. He had not noticed Evie coming up behind him.

“I'm sorry, you startled me”, he said.

“Oh, then I'm the one who should be sorry then”, Evie apologized. “Could you happen to see if you can get me someone to handle my bill?” Evie handed the man the bill with her credit card, which he took. The man studied the bill for a moment.

“Isn’t your waitress there to assist you?”

Evie shook her head. “No, it seems they’re… missing…”

The man gave a laugh. “Alright then. Okay. I’ll take care of your bill for you. Please, have a seat. Would you like a drink? It’s on the house. Take it as a gesture of apology for the missing waitresses”

Evie smiled and refused. “It’s okay. Maybe the waitresses went for a drink or something”

“Indeed. I should have a word with them about taking sudden breaks when there are customers seated waiting to be served. Why don’t you have a seat, Miss, while I take care of your bill here”

“It’s alright, I’ll wait. I don’t mind. I’d prefer to wait here than to sit in front of a dragon lady”. The man raised his eyebrows, uncomprehending. Evie raised a hand, indicating ‘never mind’. The man smiled at her, a curiously charming smile that was also infectious. She could not help but smile back. As the man began to process her bill, she looked at him. He was a head taller than her, with broad shoulders that the loose fitting chef jacket could not hide. He was good looking, and to Evie, looked more suited to be some sort of bohemian traveler than a chef. He had a shaggy head of hair, straight and dark brown, and a prominent five o’clock shadow. He spoke in a polite and smooth way. In fact, the guy reminded her of George Clooney. Minus the grey hair and dimpled chin, of course.

“There you go… sign here please”, the man said as he handed her the receipt and a pen. Evie signed the bill and handed the pen back to him, smiling (rather foolishly, she thought) as she did so. The man smiled back at her. “Thank you for your custom”

Evie rummaged in her handbag, looking for her purse to store the credit card. “Do chefs always do bills here?”

“Oh, only me”, the man said.

“And why is that?”

The man rubbed his neck. “Well, because your waitress is missing. And because I know how. And because it’s my place anyway”

Evie looked up. “You’re the owner?”

The man smiled broadly, clearly proud. He extended his hand. “Hi, I'm Adam. And yeah, this restaurant right here is my pride and joy”

Evie shook his hand, expecting it to be rough from all the kitchen work. Instead his hand was soft as silk; almost as soft as hers! He must have noticed the slightly surprised expression on her face.

“I know. Girly hands huh? But I assure you; I do cook in this kitchen. Well, maybe not all the time. But often enough” he said. Evie laughed, which she did not expect to do.

“Nice to meet you Chef Adam”

“Oh God, please no. Just Adam would do”

“Ehehe. All right then. Adam it is. Your food was lovely by the way. I have to get back to the dragon at my table. She needs to be driven back to her lair, unfortunately” Evie said while motioning with her head to the direction of the Datin. She felt that she wanted to stay here and chat. There was just something so… charming about Adam. That was the best way she could put it into words.

“Of course. Here’s my card. Hope you’d come again. Give me a call and I’ll see to it you get the best seat in the house”, Adam said and handed her a black business card with white lettering. On it was written the name of the restaurant (‘Luna’), his name (‘Adam Amirulkhair’) and a phone number. Evie fished her own card out of her purse and gave it to him as well.

“Hi Evie… pleasure to meet you”, he said as he eyed the card. Evie smiled and excused herself, and much to her amusement, Adam winked at her. God, who does that these days! Evie thought. She went back to her table where the Datin was waiting, feeling curiously cheerful for no reason. Even the thought of driving back to her office with the Datin beside her did not seem so bad anymore. Hell, she even bought the Datin a frappe afterwards.

A few days after that lunch, Evie got a call just as she was about to leave her office. It was Adam. She was surprised, but pleasantly so. He sounded just as charming over the phone as he was in real life. He asked her where she was; she replied she was in her office, about to go back home.

“Hey, listen… if you’re free-ish one of these days, would you like to go for maybe a cup of coffee with me?” he said. Evie was again surprised, this time at the straightforward request.

“Coffee?” was all she managed to say, but damn if she wasn’t grinning from ear to ear.

“Was that too direct? I'm sorry…” Adam said over phone, sounding disappointed. Evie was quiet for a moment. Then she laughed into the handset.

“It was! But it’s okay… Ehehe. Shouldn’t you be hitting on your waitresses or something instead of a customer?”

“I can’t. You see, I draw a line between professional and personal relationships”

“Right. So is there a familiar line between customer and patron then?”

“Maybe. But we’re not talking about booking a table for two or catering a function here right?”

Evie had to smile. She could even imagine Adam smiling at the end of the line. It was a conversation of hidden smiles. Adam sounded hopeful. Evie gave in. She had nothing to lose.

“Actually I'm free right now. Where’s your favorite coffee shop?” she said.

“It’s the one right below your office building” Adam said and hung up. Evie’s jaw went slack for a moment, not believing the guy. But sure enough, when she went down from her office to the coffee shop on the ground floor, there he was, with two coffees in hand. He was wearing a light blue polo shirt with jeans, and he had Adidas sneakers on.

“You look like a latte girl, so that’s what I got you. You look great, by the way”, Adam said as he handed Evie the polystyrene cup. He grinned, clearly happy with himself for this trick. She was dressed in a black blazer over a white blouse, with black trousers. Evie felt happy despite her self, and welcomed the coffee. They took a seat, with Adam sitting opposite her. For a few minutes they just sat there, staring at each other over the rims of their coffee cups. Evie felt awkward and nervous but excited at the same time.

When was the last time she felt excited about things likr this? Guys tried to pick her up all the time. What makes Adam any different? Because, she told herself, he did not come up with some crazy pick up line; because he had simply called her up and asked her for coffee, with no pretense; because he had this aura of confidence in him, that she found herself admiring.

They sat there staring at each other, and then both of them started to speak at the same time. They laughed, and gradually they began to talk. He told her about life as a chef, and how at times, it was nowhere near as glamourous as people like Gordon Ramsay or Tony Bourdain seem to suggest. He spoke clearly and smoothly, attaching amusing and funny tags to his words. Evie, too, spoke about her career, telling an interested (she did not know if he was genuinely interested or just pretending to be, but she did not care; she was feeling butterflies in her stomach as Adam looked at her while she spoke. She noticed his eyes. Dark, and deep, belying an intelligence he did not really advertise, pun intended) Adam the knitty gritty of the advertising business. They talked for well over two hours when she finally noticed the sun had set and her coffee was unfinished. Suddenly both of them fell quiet.

“So”, Adam said finally. “I guess I better make a move then. Can I drive you home? Where do you live?”

“Oh, it’s alright, I stay at Sri Kenanga, near Jalan Ampang. But I'm driving myself”, Evie said whilst holding up the keys to her Vee-Dubya.

“Oh okay”, Adam said. Evie detected a small hint of disappointment, but for now she let it be. She had had fun talking to him. They both stood up.

“I'm headed that way”, Evie said, motioning to the elevators that would take her to the basement parking lot. Adam nodded, his lips clenched.

“I'm parked outside. Hopefully they didn’t clamp my wheels” he joked. “Hey… don’t suppose I could have your number can I? You know, just in case…”

Evie crossed her arms in front of her and raised one eyebrow. “In case of what’”

Adam shrugged. “You’d like to go for another coffee, maybe?”

Evie eyed the good-looking man in front of her. He’s earned it, she thought. “It’s zero one two, two six four, seven triple six”.

Adam fumbled with his handset and repeated after her as he keyed in the digits on his phone. Satisfied, he winked at Evie and said “I’ll see you then, Evie”

“Most people don’t do that anymore”, Evie said.

“Do what?”

“Wink”

“Well I'm not most people”, he said. He raised a hand and waved goodbye, and whistled as he walked out of the building. When he reached the exit he turned back, looked at Evie and winked again. Evie had to put a hand to her mouth, covering the wide grin she wore. She went home that night feeling very cheerful, just like on the day she had first met him. After a couple of hours upon her reaching home, as she was about to settle in front of the TV to maybe watch a movie or maybe play The Sims, her mobile phone buzzed, and unsurprisingly it was Adam. She ended up talking with him on the phone for more than two hours, and she felt like schoolgirl afterwards.

She agreed to a proper date when Adam asked her (“Evie… would you like to go to dinner with me? Maybe this weekend? It won’t be at my restaurant, I promise”), and their conversation that night ranged from the silly (“Do you think cows would keel over if they were asked to solve a math problem?”) to the mundane (“I think oil prices are gonna go up again soon”) to the downright sweet (“You have the prettiest smile, seriously…”).

For the first time since a while, Evie slept that night with a smile on her face.

And that was a few weeks ago. They had gone on that date, and yes, Adam kept his promise of not bringing her to his own restaurant. Instead they had gone to a noisy char kuey teow stall in Shah Alam, which Evie had absolutely enjoyed. After that date he had called her that night and again they had talked on the phone for hours. It was silly to think of, but that was what happened. And more often lately they both would text each other just to say hi and to chat. They saw each other almost everyday then, even if for just a few hours. Adam wasn’t like the other guys who had hit on her or took her on (thankfully) short lived dates. He wasn’t interested in trying to score with her; he seemed genuinely interested in getting to know her. And Evie loved the fact he took her to a char kuey teow place instead of a cheesy candlelit dinner in a fancy restaurant. She was a romantic, certainly, but she was thrilled by the spontaneity of that date.

This feels different, she had told herself earlier as she was preparing for tonight. And it was; for one, she was interested to see where this was going. She liked Adam. She liked him a lot. He was funny, goofy at times, charming and spontaneous. He was unlike quiet and brooding and sarcastic Rafar, and that was a thought she immediately pushed away. Adam was… different.

Tonight’s date was set because, in his words, “Hey I miss seeing you. Wanna go for dinner?”. They had dinner at Piccolo Mondo Pizza, and the conversation was lighter than usual. It was not that they had run out of things to talk about; rather, they both felt that tonight was night more suited to a quiet time together, as unlikely as that may sound in Bukit Bintang. When he had come to pick her up earlier he had given her a bouquet of flowers. They were beautiful. It was the first romantic gesture he had made, and Evie knew then their relationship was slowly changing direction. Even more tellingly, tonight he was quieter than usual, like he was trying to say something that was more sincere but did not know how. It’s only been about five weeks, Evie told herself. Let’s not rush this.

As she thought that she looked at Adam walking beside her, both of them bathed in the neon glow of the streetlights of Jalan Bukit Bintang. Adam looked back, and they smiled at each other (they always smiled at each other, it was like their smiles were saying words unspoken). They had not said a word for sometime now. Evie was just letting herself soak in the atmosphere, and beside Adam, she felt comfortable and safe. She felt warm, a feeling that she thought was long lost from her heart. Of course, it was way too early to tell anything. But all the same, she welcomed that feeling.

This is different, she says to her own heart. That would suffice for now. She was content to be walking side by side with Adam. His quiet gave Evie a chance to study him more closely. She liked what she saw. Unconsciously she began fingering the ring on her left hand. The ring she always wore. She did not know if Adam had noticed the ring, but he’s a smart guy. He knew that she wasn’t married or anything anyway. But often Evie worried if the ring was too symbolic of something. Maybe it was time she took it off. It’s been six years anyway.

Maybe I will then, she said to herself, because this is different.

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6 comments:

anne mohamad tabib said...

love is in the air~~~ new year, new leaf Evie.. :)

Mardhiah said...

ooh Piccolo Mondo :D (teringat the owner). And winking! That's what G does all the time, old fashioned gila LOL.

Adam sounds promising. And come one Evie, take the ring off! Rafar is mine anyway LOL LOL

On a much serious note, Adam sounds very different from Rafar, you managed to depict that. He's a good guy. Maybe a little too eager to please her? I didn't like that about him. But I guess that's part of his charm that made him different for Rafar. This part is sweet, its where you remind your readers that it is a romance story. It kind of sounded a bit predictable, but you can't really avoid that when you write romance. The subtle descriptions are quite good, I LOL'ed about the tangan lembut part :D metrosexual!

Mardhiah said...

*frowns at grammar mistakes*

one=on
for=from

:|

nuraainaa said...

and i thought wiseguy was perfect.

; )

nurdini izni said...

aaa :D

i think i like adam :D

pinkbanana_ said...

everytime i read TWaAY, i always feel like printing out all the seasons and read them with a cup of cofee during a cold rainy day, and after that call up the boyfriend telling him how much i miss him hahaha