January 30, 2009

She Felt Stronger

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Evie Nadia loved Sundays.

Sundays were her own personal ‘me’ days, where she spent her time doing things she liked. For instance when she woke up this morning she had turned on the TV and made a big pancake breakfast, complete with whipped cream and strawberries and syrup. She ate it while she watched all manners of Sunday morning TV shows: girly stuff, news, sitcom reruns and even cartoons. Then she sat cross-legged on her sofa and read the newspaper. While she did that, she wondered what should she be doing this afternoon. She had already planned to drop by her parents’ house in Wangsa Maju for dinner, but she also did not want to be sitting idle at home doing nothing.

Maybe she should go shopping? She could use a pair of new shoes (girls could always use a pair of new shoes), or maybe do some grocery shopping at Cold Storage or Tesco’s. Is the car dirty? She thought, trying to picture her white VW Golf covered in grime, but knew she had just washed it a few days ago in fact. She made a note to herself to get her dad a chocolate cheesecake, his favorite, from Secret Recipe before she left for their house. Evie also thought she wanted to ask if Adam would go out with her; but then she remembered it was a Sunday and he would be busy at the restaurant.

The thought of Adam brought a faint blush to her cheeks. She had been seeing him often now for the past three months or so. She liked him. She could tell he was into her as well, but Evie was not letting herself rush into this, of course. She supposed there was a little bit of romance going on there; she felt it and she was sure he did, too, in the way their conversation lingered in the air before trailing off in a comfortable (yet awkward) silence, and the way at times they were so careful with their words, both of them only dipping their toes in the water to check the temperature and current.

She had forgotten what it was like to be in love, but she was sure it was probably not far off. She was not in love with Adam… not yet, anyway, but she knew she possibly well could be, on her way and that would be something beautiful. But right now, all Evie wanted was to have a good time with the charming and funny chef. In truth she was still afraid and a bit too proud to admit she liked him a lot. Maybe that was a bit old fashioned, as old fashioned as winking, but she would like it if Adam would be the first to initiate something bigger, and maybe actually ask her to be his girlfriend. God, I haven’t been someone’s girlfriend since, ever. Three months seems okay enough, she thought. Again that made her feel like a schoolgirl. But what were crushes and love if not timeless and ageless?

Last week during dinner she noticed Adam kept looking at the ring on her left hand; her wedding ring. She had already told him she had been married once, and he seemed okay with it. But now she wondered now if the ring was what kept Adam from taking things to another level. When they had walked later on his hand kept brushing hers; she wanted to hold his, and she knew, just knew, Adam wanted to hold her hands too. Maybe someday later then.

Still undecided on what to do to pass her time before going to her parents’, Evie grabbed her cordless house phone to call Adam. She missed him, although she was not yet fully aware of the fact. Just as she dialed the numbers, however, her cell phone rang from inside the room. Evie got up and stubbed her toe on the chair; she cursed out loud and grimaced, and hobbled to her bedside. She grabbed her phone and crashed herself on the bed, with one hand rubbing her toe. Evie glanced at the caller ID and frowned. It was not a number she recognized; usually that meant work, and the thought of work on a Sunday dampened her spirits a little. She pressed the ‘accept’ key.

“Hello?” she said.

“Evie?” said the voice on the other line. Evie raised her eyebrows.

“Rafar?”

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Two hours later she was at Raju’s Banana Leaf restaurant in Petaling Jaya, standing in front of the deep fryers the restaurant had. On a normal occasion she would be excited to come by there and take her pick from the various seafood and meats available. But today she was not particularly interested. She moved away from the deep fryers as she couldn’t stand the heat, and got annoyed at herself for standing in front of there in the first place. The waiters eyed her admiringly; it was a hot, sunny day, and Evie had put on a white t-shirt and comfy, airy white pants. She held her hair up with a pink bandana and had her big sunglasses on. Standing in the sunlight, she shone like a beacon.

Where is he? She thought; she did not know if her impatience had to do with the heat, or the fact she had agreed to meet him here. Evie recalled the telephone conversation earlier.

“Hi… Yes, it’s me. Do you have a moment?” Rafar had said.

“Uh, yeah,” Evie said, her eyebrows furrowed. “What’s going on? Where did you get this number, by the way?”

There was a silence.

“I asked Juliza.”

“Oh okay… so… what’s up?” Evie said. Her toe still hurt, but the pain was subsiding.

“Evie, I… Well… Listen, are you free for lunch?”

“Uh…”

“Please?”

Evie sighed and closed her eyes. “What’s going on Rafar?”

“I just need to see you. Just for lunch. Today.”

Evie glanced at her bedside clock. “What time?” she asked. Rafar told her half past one, at Raju’s in Petaling Jaya. Evie considered if she should agree and go, or if she should make an excuse and do her own thing. She must have been quiet for sometime.

“Evie? You there?” Rafar said.

“Yes, sorry…”

“Will you come? It’s my treat. Please?”

Evie had rolled her eyes and agreed. Rafar told her to be there half-past-one and wait for him. Evie wondered if he would come with his girlfriend. What’s her name? Farihin? Yes, that was it. She also wondered why, out of a sudden, did he call her up and ask her out to lunch. There must be something important then. Maybe he was getting married? Anyway, she had agreed and it was too late to back-out. She texted Adam saying she was going out for lunch. Adam had replied ten minutes late, with a smiley face: ‘:( wish I was there.’

So here she was at Raju’s, except it was almost 2pm and the sun was absolutely searing, and still no sign of Rafar. Evie waited another ten minutes; well aware the waiters of the restaurant were looking at her. A Chinese family passed by her, and their toddler, maybe no more than two years old, suddenly came to her and tugged at her pants. Evie smiled and squatted, saying hi and caressed the toddler’s cheek. She loved babies. The toddler smiled at her and touched her face, as if examining her. Evie giggled. How innocent! Then the child’s mother came by and smiled at Evie, saying her son was a bit too friendly with strangers. Evie gently pinched the baby’s cheek and they went away. When she stood up she saw Rafar standing in front of her. Her smile faded.

“You’re late,” she said. “I’ve been waiting half an hour.”

Rafar shrugged, a gesture she had deemed adorable long ago, but today seemed to annoy her a bit. Was he always like this last time? Carefree; care-less? Then she told herself that she was just irritated out of spite. After all, she did agree to come her by herself. She let her feelings calm down. She should not be antagonistic.

“Come, let’s take a seat. I'm starving.” Rafar said.

They had their lunch in silence, neither of them talking much, except the general ‘Oh, how’s work, how’s life, how are your parents’ doing?’ question and answer session. Evie felt a bit disconcerted to realize the man she had nothing much to say to was the man she had loved so desperately years ago, the man she had talked to everything about and kept no secrets from. It was even stranger considering the fact that she always thought she had so many things to ask him and tell him after their divorce. But now she had run out of words; or maybe she just did not need to know the answers to those buried questions anymore. The image of Adam lingered in the back of her mind, and she kept comparing him and Rafar. Finally she told herself to stop that.

They finished and had their ‘plates’ taken away. They had frequented this place often when they dated, and after they got married. When they went for a seat, both of them went straight away to ‘their’ table: the table they always sat at back in the day. It was subconscious, probably, but Evie had the feeling both of them were aware of that. Maybe they should have chosen another spot, one with no such memories or sentiments attached to it. But too late for that now. Evie thought Rafar would bring Farihin, but she was not surprised to see he did not.

“So why the sudden generosity, Rafar?” Evie said, realizing she had almost called him Wiseguy. “To what do I owe you this favor?”

“You owe me nothing,” he said. “It is I that owe you something… or some things. Well, I just thought it would be nice to see you…”

Evie cocked an eyebrow at him. He fidgeted in his seat. Their table was beneath a shady tree, and it seemed a few degrees cooler than before.

“I also wanted to apologize…” he said.

“For what?”

“The last time we met I was terribly inconsiderate of your feelings. That was a bad thing. So for that, I'm sorry.”

“And you’re buying me off with a banana-leaf lunch? That’s real classy.” Evie said, smiling and sipping her sweet lassi.

“Ehehe, well, that’s not totally it…” Rafar said and bowed his head down. He had his hands clasped together in front of him on the table, like was handcuffed. Evie waited. When it seemed that he was not going to say anything, Evie asked him how were things with Farihin. Rafar looked at her thoughtfully, and nodded.

“So?” Evie said, leaning a bit forward.

“I'm not seeing her anymore,” he answered. “We broke up about a month ago…”

“Oh... I'm sorry…”

“Don’t be… I was the one who broke up with her.”

“That is what you’re good at anyway.” Evie said. She meant it in good humor, and was surprised at herself for being able to make that joke. But maybe it came off too harsh.

“Well, you know…” he said. He looked her in the eyes. “Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you plan it to.”

Touché
.

“So how did she take it?”

“Quite well actually. We talked about it. At first it seemed like she would cry; and she did, but just a little. But we hugged and said farewell. She did not seem that crippled about it, so to speak.”

“Oh. Good for her then. If I may ask..?”

“Sure.”

“Why?”

Rafar stared at his own clasped hands. Evie studied the man; for the first time since she knew him, he looked unsure or afraid. Evie propped her chin on one hand and gazed at Rafar, trying to figure out what he was about to say. He had his head down, and his eyes betrayed the swirling thoughts inside his mind. Finally he looked up.

“It was because of you,” he said. Evie’s elbow slipped. She sat straight up in her chair, and she squinted a little.

“What?” she said, thinking she heard him wrong. This time Rafar leaned forward on the table.

“It was because of you.”

“I heard you first time before Wiseguy, that ‘what’ constitutes a ‘what in the world do you mean by that?’ ‘what’.” She was feeling a bit angry now. What the hell was this? Rafar looked away to his sides, like he was confessing a crime. He bit his lips and cracked his knuckles. Evie leaned back in her chair, and crossed her arms in front of her. She too, bit her lower lip, her heart beating a bit faster.

“Evie, I never really told you why we… we separated. All the court and all the people know it was on the grounds of ‘irreconcilable differences’, and that was enough back then as an explanation.”

Evie suddenly felt a real stab of anger. “Oh sure, that was enough.”

“Look… I divorced you because I suddenly felt I was unhappy, and incomplete. Like I told you last time, I felt it would be both unfair for me and for you if I had stayed on; I would be lying to myself and I would be lying to you. I had to get away, and seek a better answer.”

Evie bit her lip but did not say anything. Rafar went on.

“I know you felt it was terribly unfair for you. And I guess I was a jerk for leaving it at that; I mean, for just leaving after we made it clear. I know I never made an attempt to apologize, or to say hi, or to just be friends with you. But I also knew that that was not what you wanted at the time. And back then, our wants and needs were too different to set aside. So I… I let you go.”

Evie mumbled under breath. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

“Okay. What you don’t know is how guilty I felt the day we divorced; how heart-wrenching it was when I saw you crying by yourself, and how terrible it felt to know I had wronged you. But I could not have done it any other way. I have to admit when we separated, I felt like an enormous burden was lifted off my shoulders; not just the burden to me, but for you as well. Can you honestly say that you would rather have had me stay even if it meant that we were fooling ourselves?”

Evie stared at him.

“Evie, we spent years apart after that. Remember when we met that day at Pavilion sometime after Hari Raya a few years back? God knew how much I wanted to ask you out. But I don’t remember what stopped me: my own ego, or maybe I thought you hated me and would have said no anyway. And then last year I met Farihin.”

“What. Is. Your. Point. Rafar?” Evie said. She refused to look at him, instead glancing sideways. She saw the toddler who had greeted her and waved, trying to hide her apparent discomfort.

“It was not Farihin that I fell for, Evie. It was a ghost. A ghost of you. A memory of you, a shadow, call it what you want, but after seeing you again the other day, I realized then that when I fell for Farihin, all I was falling for was another you. An alternate you.”

Evie rolled her eyes. She’s heard that before. She tapped her feet on the table stand. She felt like she wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere but here.

“I missed you. That was the biggest thing I realized. Seeing you at Juliza’s wedding, you took my breath away. I almost kicked myself in the nuts when I realized what a beautiful and amazing woman I had let go…” Rafar said. He sighed and looked down on his hands again. “I’ve made many mistakes in my life. Letting you go was the worst.”

Evie turned her gaze on him. Her lips were puckered up, angry. She stared hard the Rafar, but he did not notice. When he looked up Evie turned her gaze away. She did not want to look him in the face, in the eyes. Not right now.

“Evie… it’s been four years. I know now where I stand, and where I should have stood. I’ve always loved you. Always. I know in some way or the other you feel the same way. Evie, I want you back. I want to be with you again. I want you back.”

That did it. She turned her gaze on Rafar, hard and piercing. She leaned forward and spoke in a clear but low voice.

“You called me here for this?” she said. He nodded, clearly surprised at the cold fury in her voice.

“You call me up here and have your little speech. It’s all so nice and what-not with your falling in love with ghosts and your ‘alternate yous’, you make it sound so romantic and chivalrous, like this was a Nicholas Sparks novel, and that everything will end with a happy ever after, just like a fairy tale. You come up with all that after leaving me because of 'irreconcilable differences' years ago, like it was some sort of a little mistake. How do you think it’s supposed to make me feel? What did you expect me to say?

You talk about making a mistake and how you’re sorry for it and oh how you want me back. What do you take me for Rafar? I can’t believe you’re saying this. Where were you when I really needed you back then? Where were you when I cried myself to sleep on so many nights, just WISHING you’d suddenly knock on the bedroom door and tell me it was all just a bad dream? Where were you back then? Looking for that something to complete you?”

Rafar was quiet; stunned.

“You know what?” Evie said. “When I saw you at Juliza’s wedding I felt a mixture of emotions; sadness, anger, love, envy. But when we talked and went for coffee I truly realized how things have moved on between us. I guess maybe if that had happened two years earlier I would have gone back crying and wishing you were there with me. But I was proud when I realized I did not. I was a bit proud to realize you had no answer when I asked you what was it you wanted; I was proud because I saw that I had actually gotten over grieving the end of us. It was a huge moment for me.

Now suddenly you say 'I want you back', as if it's the simplest, most natural thing in the world. Be honest with me, Rafar: you thought I would immediately say ‘yes’ and that ‘I missed you all this time’ and come back into your arms straight away didn’t you?”

Rafar nodded, but slowly, unsure of himself. Evie shook her head.

“So pretentious! But you’re right: things don’t always turn out the way you want it to. Spare me the speech next time,” Evie said. And then more softly.

“I'm sorry if I'm being brash, or rude. But you can’t just expect me to forget the pain you’ve caused me. Yes, you must have felt it too, but why didn’t you do anything about it back then? Is it my fault then, that I respected your wishes to be left alone?

If so, I'm sorry. I really am. But I'm not that crying woman you saw at the Syariah court anymore Rafar. I'm not.”

She held up her left hand, and took off her wedding ring. She placed it on the table. His eyes followed her hand as she pushed it towards him.

“I'm just Evie Nadia, and I want to live my life the way I choose it.” With that, Evie got up. Rafar still sat there quiet.

“Thank you so much for lunch. And it is good to see you. I can’t deny that. But I think you’re just being selfish. I'm sorry. Goodbye Rafar. I'll see you around sometime. Maybe.”

Evie left.

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As she drove she calmed down. She glanced at the clock in the car and saw she had plenty of time left before going to her parents’ house. Besides, she needed to get her father a chocolate cheesecake as well. She decided to head back to her apartment and have a shower and a change of clothes; plus, the lunch at Raju’s had made her drowsy. She thought a nap would be nice.

When she reached home about half and hour later she had her shower and her change of clothes. Outside the sun was still hot and shining. Evie went to her living room and opened the sliding door and the windows; a gentle breeze made its way in. She lay down on the sofa, slowly feeling sleep get to her. But just before she fell asleep, she raised her left hand and glanced at the ring; except the ring was no longer there, she had left it with Rafar earlier, and now all that was left was a strip of skin that was even lighter in tone compared to her already very fair skin.

She drew a deep breath; her hand felt lighter, although that was surely just in her mind. More importantly, she felt that taking of the ring was a symbolic and significant act to do. Why she had waited so long, she did not know. Perhaps she was afraid.

But now that she took it off, Evie felt only one feeling surge through her body, filling her heart with warmth.

She felt stronger.

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3 comments:

nurdini izni said...

aaa. i dont know why i sort of hate rafar now.
:O

GO EVIE!

Mardhiah said...

I like the long, very well written conversations. You're showing closure, but the Rafar getting back to her was a bit mashed in, mcm you're in a hurry to make sure she takes off the ring in this episode.

I know Evie is your star character, but I can't seem to like her :/ I think its the whole very beautiful, rich and successful girl with a hot man in her arms and her flaw is her fragileness. If thats how you want your character to be, then you did a great job, but she's not my heroine la hehe. Kasandra is :)

I think it's better if you developed the story more, how Rafar came to decide to dump Farihin, and go back to Evie, and how Evie really decides to move on for good, because then it won't come as a shock, mcm you just want Adam and Evie to hook up and start describing their story pulak. Make it a little less simpler maybe?

Anyway that's my two cents. I don't mean to offend you if I did :)

nuraainaa said...

kesian wiseguy..

:'(

serves him well, but i kesian.

:"(