January 20, 2009

Muhammad Rafar

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At half past seven in the morning Muhammad Rafar reached home, his body slick with sweat from his daily morning jog, his t-shirt sticking to his skin. He ran up the stairs to his fourth floor apartment, and before going inside he took some time to do cooling down exercises. After a few deep breaths he went inside. He wiped off some of the sweat and made his breakfast: toast with scrambled eggs, an apple and black coffee. He ate the breakfast whilst reading The Star he had picked up en route home.

When he finished he switched on the television but almost immediately turned it off; sometimes he wonders why he bought a TV when he watches so little of it. Rafar peeled of his exercise clothes and went for a shower.

He jogged an hour everyday. He liked the quiet hours he spent to himself in the mornings. Jogging sort of gave him time to think. The running had begun when he divorced Evie Nadia the same four years ago. Subconsciously he thought the running was more than just exercise: it was a way of leaving everything behind. Now he stood beneath the cool spray of his shower, his eyes closed, and he let the water wash himself clean. He also felt that showers were symbolic, just as much as he probably thought that running was a way of getting away from the past. Every time he emerged from those morning showers, it was as if he was reborn, ready to set foot in the world again.

Foolish thoughts from a foolish man, he thought as he killed the stream of water. He dried his body and checked out his reflection in the bathroom mirror: no need for a shave yet. He washed his face all the same, and brushed his teeth thrice. It was a peculiar habit of his, almost bordering on the obsessive compulsive. Evie used to say that one day his gums will cease to exist.

He dried himself completely, and put on a fresh t-shirt and his favorite shorts. He was a handsome man, but not in the classical sense. His face was slightly rounded, but his chin was squared. His eyes were black, and his nose straight to the tip. His lips are thin. He sported a clean-shaven look now because his girlfriend likes it that way, and he recently started wearing glasses, and though he tells people that it’s merely for aesthetics, the truth was that his eyesight had deteriorated a bit, maybe due to the amount of time he spent in front of a computer monitor. He did not have a ripped body, or a chiseled face. Rafar was tall and slender. He had lost some weight due to the jogging, and sometimes, in certain articles of clothing, he looked gaunt, like he had more bones than muscle. He always has a bed-head, his hair messy and un-kept, but by no means did he look like a vagrant. His looks simply reflected, and hid, his personality: he looked casual, carefree and relaxed.

Despite it being a weekday, he did not have to go anywhere yet. Technically he worked for a studio, of course, but nowadays he did more freelance work. This morning he intended to stay in front of his iMac and work on the hundreds of photos that he was paid to work on. Before that he made himself another coffee, no sugar, bitter than a blackboard (not that he had tasted a blackboard, of course, but he always imagined if he were to do so, it’d taste bitter).

He started working on this morning’s batch of images. He supposed the general public would have no idea that professional digital photography involved just as much post-processing as film. Rafar knew this of course; back in his college days he had taken a full year long course in Japan to learn it. It was a trip he never regretted going on. His skills had then developed until he was able to make a living doing his hobby. He had it good. How many people can say that, anyway? Armed with a camera and tripod and lenses and light-guns and a keen eye, his hobby had helped him pay for the apartment he lived in and the car he drove.

This morning the pictures were of the family of a prominent local politician as part of a feature in a woman’s magazine. He had taken perhaps 200-plus photos, but after carefully selecting and deleting the ones he thought were no good, he suddenly felt bored. He saved the good pictures and closed the application. It could wait anyway. He checked his mobile phone that was on the desk and saw one text message. It was from Farihin, his girlfriend. The message asked him to meet her up for lunch later in the afternoon. He replied a quick ‘OK’ and put the phone back down.

He had met Farihin a year ago at during KL Fashion Week him. The pretty lady in ‘grunge’ attire had caught his eye immediately. At first he thought she was an event manager or something, seeing that she was energetic and seemed constantly busy… but then he saw the camera and camera bag slung across her shoulders. After that day’s shooting, he actually went looking for her. Rafar found her sitting on the floor, leaning on a pillar. He had said hi and sat down beside her, much to Farihin’s amusement. They talked, exchanging views and having a look at each other’s pictures and equipment (he was using Canon, she was using Sony). Rafar had then asked for her number, which, to his surprise, she gave without hesitation.

Rafar had been charmed. Farihin certainly was very pretty. She had skin the color of honey and her lips were shaped like a cupid’s bow, sensuous and curvy. She was talkative and funny. He supposed it was safe to say he had instantly liked her. The fact that she too took pictures was a bonus for him. It was, after all, the fact that had led him to her. He had spend the days after last year’s KL Fashion Week texting and talking to Farihin, and found himself slowly but surely falling in love with the girl. As luck would have it, Farihin had developed feelings for him too. After more or less two months of talking and texting and exchanging subtle hints of attraction, Rafar asked her to be his girlfriend, and she had said yes. It was pretty straight forward.

At first it was strange for him because Farihin is the first girl he’s ever loved since he divorced Evie Nadia. And that is not to say he did not love his ex-wife; in fact, they had spent some wonderful times together. Beautiful, compassionate and understanding Evie Nadia. In the days since the divorce, he had only ever seen her twice: once three years ago just after Eid, and of course, at Juliza’s wedding. In truth he had not expected to see her at the wedding. Stupid, he knew, but he somehow had had a hunch that Evie would not come. When he was proven wrong, he had taken a few moments to think about how he would react. In the end he decided to just go along and talk. He had avoided talking to her initially. But when he had seen Evie walk out the hall and stand by the windows, he just thought it would be nice to say hello again. After all, there was nothing that said they could not be friends. So he had gone up to her and tried to strike a conversation, which, he thought, had gone on fine. Evie had even agreed to go for a drink with him.

He actually had a selfish reason as to why he had asked Evie to go out with him for coffee. He wanted to know everything about her. He wanted to know what she has been doing, what’s new in her life. He knew that she was working at a renowned advertising firm. He had, in fact, done a job for the very same firm she works at, doing product shots. Secretly he also wanted to know if she had anyone in her life. And now in retrospect he felt ashamed to himself to admit that he was actually glad that Evie had not remarried or even dated. Then he had slipped his tongue and had let that feeling known, even if he had said it out loud as a ‘joke’. Evie had rightfully gotten angry and stormed off. That was five weeks ago. He did not even get to ask for her number. Not that she would have given it, perhaps.

That was dumb, he thought, sipping his coffee. He remembered five weeks ago at how stunned he was to see Evie again after four years. She had changed a lot. She looked healthier, glowing, her complexion full of vitality. And dear God, she was gorgeous. She looked thirty, but a stunningly beautiful thirty. The last time he had seen her prior to that she was still wearing glasses, and was still skinny. But in four years… wow, Rafar thought. He was sure that if he told some of his friends about this, they’d roast him, telling him how stupid he was to have let her go. And he knew they would be right. But that was the past, and it was his decision. Things are different now. He thought that maybe Evie hated him for what he did. He never really gave her a real reason. He knew that had hurt her a lot more than if he had said he was cheating.

Rafar’s memories now floated to four years ago, on the day they officially split at the Syariah Court. He remembered how stoic and emotionless he had been, as if he was just waiting in line at a post office. Evie had been silent during that event. But one particular memory that had never been erased from his mind of that day was when he saw Evie sitting on a bench inside the building; he was already on his way out. He saw Evie sitting alone, a scarf loosely wrapped around her hair. She had her face in her hands and by the hitching movements of her shoulders he knew she was crying, sobbing. He could hear her, in fact. Then he saw her parent’s arrive and he remembered that Evie had thrown herself into her mother’s arms. He remembered he had glimpsed his ex-wife’s beautiful face twisted in sadness, her eyes red and watery. There was no such indication of the cheerful, spunky and pretty girl he had dated and married. It was if he that person had died within Evie. At that moment, he knew how terribly he had hurt the woman he had once promised to love endlessly.

Rafar wiped his eyes. He had not realized he was crying at the thought. He had never taken the time to say hi, or to apologize to Evie Nadia. In that four years he did not even make an effort to be friends. He had simply assumed that time will heal her wounds or make her forget. He had moved out of their apartment as quickly and as silently as he could, taking his stuff bit by bit, always coming during Evie’s office hours so he would not have to see her. One day, just like that, he was gone from her life. Rafar immediately focused on his career, almost demonically even. Still, the persistent questions remained. What was it that he wanted? What was it that he deemed missing in his life, so much so he divorced his wife? He always thought that he could justify the split by saying that it would be unfair for Evie if he cannot make her happy. But now that excuse seems just that: an excuse. He had never given her a real concrete reason.

But his life had gone on. After the official split he just looked forward and rarely looked back. He built his career with a solid foundation and had found success. Then he realized he had everything he had ever wanted but someone to share it with. When Farihin came into his view, he had been instantly attracted. She is a great girl, he told himself. And she is: smart, funny. He did not have to describe it in more detail, he just knew. Farihin made him happy, and is that not what life is about? Being happy and content?

Sitting alone now at his work-desk, Rafar leaned back in his chair and nodded. Yes, he was happy. Maybe he had been cruel and selfish in the past, but he also knows that maybe his life would have turned out differently if he had stayed with Evie. Maybe he would not be happy, and would have felt incomplete. Yes, he told himself, things do happen for a reason after all. He knows that he can build an entire life with Farihin. They were young and good looking and successful. Just because he divorced his first wife does not mean he can’t have another life, right? Besides, Evie looks like she has things going good for her anyway. She did say it after all, that she healed and was doing fine until he showed up again.

So maybe, he thought, I don’t need to bother Evie. Maybe we’re destined to be apart now. She seemed certain I would screw up her life if I entered it again. So yeah, maybe what was done is done, and there’s nothing we can do to turn back the clock or rebuild the bridges that were burned.

Rafar leaned further back on his chair, stretching his arms and legs, cracking his knuckles. He sighed, blowing air out of his lungs. He wondered why Evie had implied that he would screw up her life if he came back into the picture. But was it not obvious? She still, in a way no matter how small, loved him. But does he still love her? He thought of Farihin, his current girlfriend. He loved Farihin very much, and that was true, not some bullshit his own feelings generated to comfort himself. He loved Farihin because, as he mentioned to Evie the other day, and as he constantly reminds himself, Farihin is smart, and funny, and energetic, and spunky. In fact, he loved Farihin because… why, because Farihin is almost exactly like Evie Nadia was years ago, of course, who was he kidding?

Life, it seems, is full of irony.

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4 comments:

Mardhiah said...

I loveeeee the last line! :D And I didn't expect him to cry. That was a bit of a surprise.

nurdini izni said...

"He had simply assumed that time will heal her wounds or make her forget."

edwan.. u made my eyes watery reading this twaay! aaa.

bravo!

btw. evie is stunningly beautiful. so is farihin. guys memang suke beautiful girls only eh?
*just asking*
:D

nuraainaa said...

i heart wiseguy. yeah!

Muhammad Edwan Shaharir said...

mardhiah: ;D

dini: rafar suka kot. but honestly i think evryone, guys or girls, would notice looks first n foremost. rafar is just 'lucky' kot dia dpt 2?

aainaa: haha pulak. ada yg benci dia skrng.