Monday, August 26, 2013

Chapter 21


*

I woke up the next morning when the sun was already high in the sky; not quite noon but getting close to.
I felt dazed, totally hungover, and when I managed to pry my eyes open, the light blinded me and the air seemed suffocating, even fourteen stories high. There was a rank smell and that’s when I realized I had vomited last night, on myself. Good thing I had passed out in a sitting position, lest I choke on my own puke. I tried to get up, and used my hands to steady myself, when a new pain raced up my right arm. I brought my hands up to my face and saw a wedge of glass stuck in my right palm, with smaller shards peppering the skin. Blood had congealed around the edges of the wound, already dry and crusty. I saw on the floor beside me bloodstains and more shards of glass. A few feet in front was the shattered whisky bottle.
Fuck this.
Carefully, I got up, only to fall forwards on groggy legs; as I landed I used my hands to brace myself, and that just sent new shards of glass slicing into them. I yelled in pain and anger. Then slowly, I steadied myself, and went to my kitchen sink to clean the wounds. Needless to say, it was excruciating.
I called in sick to work, showered, dressed, downed four aspirin pills and tried calling Damia. But no dice. Her cell was still switched off. I called the office, where Shima, her assistant, picked up. She told me Damia was on emergency leave.
“Are you with her right now?” Shima asked me.
“No. Are you?” I asked her back. I could imagine Shima looking flustered at the question being thrown back at her.
“Er, no?” she said.
“Ok,” I said and hung up.
Next, I dialled her house. After a few rings, someone answered.
“Hello,” said a soft voice I recognized as being Dalilawati, Damia’s youngest sister.
“Hello, hey, Dal right? It’s me, Dhani,” I said.
“Oh. Abang Dhani,” Dalila paused. “Uhm, I don’t think you should be calling right now..”
Fuck that. “Is she home?” I asked.
“Uhm…” Dalila hesitated.
“Dal, please?”
“Abang Dhani, I’m in no position to say anything, but – oh, wait, kejap..”
I heard some rustling, and then a new, familiar voice spoke into the phone. A voice that I had gotten used to for months now, and had grown to love and feel comfortable with. But now the voice seemed cold and distant. The voice of a strange. It was like talking to someone from a past long ago; your mind recognizes the tone and key, but can’t quite connect the voice with the owner.
“Dhani…” Damia said. “Please, leave me alone for now.”
I shut my eyes and slammed my fist into a wall and felt something snap. “Damia, can we just talk?”
“I don’t know if I can, Dhani,” she said.
“Please… I can--”
“Can explain? What is there to explain Dhani?”
“Everything.”
There was  a pause from both of us.
“Damia,” I said. “Please.”
“You can tell me on the phone,” she said.
“I’d rather not. Please, let me see you.”
Another long pause. “Do I have to hear it?” she asked.
No. “Yes.”
“… Okay.”
“I’ll pick you up in a couple of hours,” I said, feeling a weight off my chest. Well, a little.
“No. Just meet me at TWG,” she said. I had no choice but to agree, or risk incurring more displeasure.

***
 I was there early. I have never felt more anxious in my life, nor so nervous and scared. I could have shit myself there and then if it weren’t for some fantastic effort at self control. I sat at a quiet corner and ordered one of the teas from that frankly ridiculous selection TWG offers. On a Monday afternoon, post-lunch hour, the place seems pretty deserted. Some of the retail assistants had greeted me when I passed by the haute couture stores moments ago, and they asked if I’d like to check out some new things. I declined. All I had on my mind was Damia.
And there she was, walking into the café. She was in a yellow hijab tied around her head, exposing her long neck, and she wore a baby blue turtleneck sweater with a pair of black jeans. She had a pair of oversized sunglasses on, and that was something I rarely see her wear, especially indoors. She saw me and made her way to my table.
I stood up and pulled out a seat for her. “I ordered you a tea… but I didn’t know which one you’d like, so I just took a random guess.”
“Ok,” came the curt reply. She sat down and I took my place in front of her. Inside my heart my nerves were going crazy and I just can’t shake this feeling of… of unfamiliarity that is so bothering me. All of a sudden, overnight, the woman I loved more than anything and anyone else in the world is making me feel like a complete fucking stranger and I hated it.
She still had her sunnies on. In an attempt to lighten the fucking sombre mood, I said, “Silau?” and smiled. It must have been the most stupid looking smile ever, bereft of whatever charm I ever had.
Damia just took off her sunnies and let me see why she was wearing them: her eyes were puffy, and those lovely grays were reddened and bloodshot.
She smiled, humorlessly, and said, “Tak silau. Hujan.” I was struck into silence.
For awhile we just sat there, quiet. She held a packet of tissues in her hands, and I saw tears running down her cheeks, which she wiped away. She kept her gaze downwards, as if she was reading a book. Her tea lay untouched in its cup.
“Why are you quiet, Dhani?” she said, still not looking. “I thought you said you wanted to explain why I had to see pictures of the man I love in the arms of pretty naked girls.” She looked up, and wiped stray tears. “So please explain why the man I love is not all he seems to be.”
The blood was pounding in my temples and I could have sworn I felt a vein a pop. I tried to gather words, fumbled, and started again, only to fumble again. Damia had crossed her arms across her chest. She didn’t seem angry. She just seemed… defeated.
“Damia, I’m sorry,” I said. She just stared at me. I sighed, and began again.
“I will not deny that they weren’t pictures of me,” I said.
“Evidently,” she said.
“But I’ll have you know that those were pictures of me from another time.”
“When?”
“Before you. Before I met you.”
“When?”
I paused. “I don’t know. A few months before we first went out.”
“Right.”
“I’m not that guy anymore, Damia.”
“Right.”
“Believe me. Please.”
“I want to.”
“But?” I asked.
She took a deep breath. “Dhani, you think I could digest it as easy as that? That I’d look at my boyfriend, whom I love, in the arms of another girl, even if it was months ago? And it isn’t just one girl, Dhani. There were several. And these are the ones that I know of.”
I was quiet.
Damia wiped her eyes again; they were getting quite swollen. “So what does the Flower Heart mean, Dhani?”
I hesitated. “Tell me,” she said. So I explained to her how that name was given to me by this Chinese girl a few years ago. I told her how I had broken that girls heart and she had cursed me, calling me a useless ‘Flower Heart’.
“So it means player. Playboy,” she said. “And apparently you’re.. or rather, this ‘Flower Heart’ is quite well known among the girls in KL.”
I kept quite, my lips pursed.
“Isn’t it a wonder then, that Amir knew you?” Damia said.
That irked me. “Now don’t associate me with that rat-bastard! We’re not the same!”
“How?” she asked.
“I love you, Damia. I quit that life for you,” I said, almost vehemently. “I changed for you.”
This time it was her that remained quiet. “I never asked you to,” she said after a few minutes.
“You didn’t,” I said. “I wanted to. I love you, Damia.”
“I know, Dhani Ibrahim. And I love you, too.”
“Then can we put this behind, and start over? Please, Sayang?”
Damia took a deep breath. “Dhani, I… I don’t know. It’s not easy for me, to be assaulted with this, this ‘history’ of yours.”
“I know it’s not easy, Damia, but it’s in the past; it’s something that has kicked the bucket; that Dhani doesn’t exist anymore. The Dhani that does is yours, only yours,” I said. “And he’s not the Flower Heart. He’s just a guy trying to make up for past mistakes with someone special.”
“I don’t know if you’re just saying that,” Damia said, much to my disbelief. “I need to know that I can truly, honestly, trust you, Dhani. That you won’t be another Amir.”
“I’m fucking not!” I said, angry. “Stop comparing me with him!”
Damia was surprised at my outburst and I softened my tone. “I’m not him, Sayang. Please. I’m sorry.”
She sighed, and without looking at me, said, “People don’t change that easy, Dhani.”
“I did. I’m here, telling you, I did! Damia, come on, if I just wanted to get in your pants, I would have done so already. If I was still that damn Flower Heart, I’d have done so. But I’m not! I’m here because I want to be here, because, dammit, I actually want to be with you, to love you and for you to love me.”
She refused to meet my eyes. She kept fiddling with her now crumpled tissue. “Dhani, please… I think.. I think I just need some time,” she said.
“For what?!” I snapped. “I accepted the fucking fact that you fucked around with Amir before! You can fuck around but when you find out I did, ‘it’s not easy for me’?” I immediately regretted saying it. Hugely regretted saying it.
This time Damia looked into my eyes, and fresh tears welled below her lovely greys.
“I am sorry then, for being a hypocrite,” she said. Fat, heavy teardrops fell on her cheeks, flowed down to her chin and dropped onto her hands. “I am sorry, Dhani.”
I ran my hands through my hair. “Sayang, I didn’t mean to say that… Please, Damia, I’m sorry. Forgive me.”
Her lips quivvered and her hands trembled. “That hurt me, Dhani.”
I tried to take her hands, but she pulled away. She put her sunnies back on, and got up. I tried to pull her towards me but even I knew the conversation was over.
“Damia, please,” I said. Though I wouldn’t let it, I already felt an ache in my heart and tears choking my throat. She turned to look at me, and again, I could see tears fall down her cheek.
“I want to be alone, Dhani. Please.”
She walked away, left, without turning back. My heart felt as cold as our untouched teas.

***
 
I reached home dejected, angry, sad and moody. The evening was hot and humid, and I stripped down to just my jeans. Again, I went to the balcony, again, with a bottle of liquor. This time I didn’t even bother with a fucking glass; I just downed it by the bottle and let the fiery liquid sear my insides. I drank looking at my city bathed in sunshine. It looked so deceivingly serene.
My phone had rang a number of times for the past couple of hours but I had ignored it; now it rang again and I answered.
It was Sharmini, asking me if I was at Carcosa Seri Negara because the place had called the office looking for me. I said no, I was home, and for a split-second I thought why the fuck would Carcosa call me, and then it hit me:
The proposal. In my distress I had totally forgotten something I’ve been planning for weeks. In my distress, I had completely forgotten that today was supposed to be the day I'd ask Damia to be my wife, my love, for all time until the rivers run dry and sun no longer shines.
But that wasn’t going to happen now. I abruptly told Sharmini to cancel all the plans, and to tell the hotel and the band and whatever that I’ll still pay them in full, and no, I am not rescheduling for now. I hung up the phone, tossed it on the sofa and fished the lovely Cartier solitaire ring out of my pocket, where it had been since yesterday. I toyed with it in my fingers, before going to my dresser and keeping it back in its box. It was too painful to look at. I went back to the sofa, liquor bottle in one hand, and grabbed my phone.
I tried to call but her phone was switched off, again. I thought of calling the house… but decided against it. So I texted Damia; I love you Damia. Please forgive me. I’ll be waiting.
And I meant it; I will wait. And I will fix this fucking mess we’re in so I can be happy with her again, so Dhani and Damia could be an item again. So we could be in love, free from doubt, again.
But she didn’t reply. At every sound of my phone, it wasn’t her. Finally, now drunkenly, I took the phone and smashed it against my living room wall.
Then I fell into a thin, uneasy, and haunted, sleep.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Chapter 20


 *

My city has fallen asleep. Even the lights from The Twins that stand so proud have been shut, though their sillhoutte remains visible. Things have gone quiet for the past couple of hours. Fourteen stories high, at my balcony, I stood staring into empty space. The breeze sends a chill down my spine and ruffles my hair. In the night sky above I could see clouds. How I wish they’d let loose and make it rain.
The clock hits 0300hrs and chimes accordingly from my living room. I paid no attention to it. Tomorrow is a working day and I should really get some sleep. But I couldn’t.
Today was the day I would propose to Damiawati Isahak. Today, I would ask her to be my wife, my lover, until the end of time. I should be excited, nervous and happy.
At least, I should have felt like that. But the predicament I find myself currently does not jive with what should have happened. Not after yesterday. Yesterday has changed everything. If my life was a raft floating in a river, going in one direction, then yesterday would be the rapids that came out of nowhere and smashed my raft to pieces.
I don’t even know how I’m still floating. Everything is on the brink of peril now.
My thoughts are rife with anger and hurt. Anger, that things have suddenly taken a bad turn. Hurt, because it happened at the exact time I thought the rest of  my life would take shape. For the first time in a long while, I feel defeated and at a loss of words of things to do.
I just stood at the balcony, a glass in one hand and a bottle in the other. A wrenching pain stabbed at my heart, and I let it. I knew it was my heart. It’s been feeling that way since yesterday.


Yesterday
I stood quiet. Then Damia asked me, “Dhani, what did he mean by The Flower Heart?”
She looked at me with so much doubt, so much fear in her eyes. In that moment all my confidence seemed to fade into nothingness, diluted like water. My head furiously scanned to look for an answer. Damia asked me again, “Dhani, what was he talking about? How does he know you?”
I didn’t know what to say, so I just said, “I don’t know, Damia. Maybe he’s spied on you?”
“But what did he mean by The Flower Heart? Why did he call you that? Why did he seem to know you from somewhere?”
What could I have told her? That I got the name because I fucked around before I met her? That somehow, this Amir dude caught wind of who I was because of that nickname? And how the fucking hell did this guy recognize my face and name anyway? I was, as the saying goes, in a pickle. I didn’t know what, or how, I should answer Damia.
But as it turned out, I didn’t even have to.
Someone answered for me.
Suddenly, her phone pinged. And pinged again; and then a few more times. At first, she didn’t bother checking it, and kept looking at me questioningly instead. But when it pinged more than four or five times, she brought up her phone. I sincerely believed she held it up so she could switch it off or put it on silent mode, so that she could get me to talk. But I saw her thumbing around and scrolling something. And with every swipe of her thumb, her face became more and more distressed. She stumbled backwards, and when I tried to help her balance, she pushed my arms away instead.
That surprised me. “Damia?”
She was still looking at her phone, and then I saw how her eyes started to tear and she covered her face with her free hand.
“Damia, what’s wrong? What are you looking at?” Damia!”
I grabbed her iPhone from her. I wouldn’t normally have done it, but I was getting very agitated. But as soon as I saw what she was looking at, I wish I hadn’t. Damia stood a few feet away from me, her eyes reddening, and teardrops slowly fell. She wiped them away, but fixated me with a stare that was both frightening and heart-breaking.
It turns out, Amir had sent her a message and some pictures. On her phones screen, were pictures of me. Pictures of me, in bed, with various girls. They were all old photos, of course; I had, now I realized mistakenly, allowed some girls to take selfies with me or take photos of me in bed with them. As I looked at the pictures (there were about seven of them), it came to me that I didn’t remember any of their names. They were all pretty, sexy Malay girls I’ve picked up in clubs. The most recent picture was from maybe a year and a half ago. It was also the most obscene picture; in it, I was licking the girl’s tits. But I could vouch that it was me in those photos because even if I didn’t remember their names, I sure as hell remembered their faces. And bodies.
The message from Amir said: The guy ur dating is dhani ibrahim aka the flower heart. I know him because I’ve seen him in clubs and bars and he’s alwiz picking up girls and taking em home. He is somewht of a lgnd in KL bcoz he scores girls like no other guy. As ppl say, ‘men wanna be him, women wanna be wit him’. im sending u pics frm sme girls I knw, sme girls this dhani guy has fucked. Thrs prolly more pics. Tsk tsk  poor damia. U had no idea didn't u? this dude prolly just wanna fucks u. too bad damia. Too bad. Good luck.
My shoulders slumped and I felt like I wanted a grand piano to come crashing on me. Slowly, deliberately, I turned towards Damia. She was crying, her shoulders hitching up and down. Her hands were balled into fists.
“Damia,” I said. “This isn’t who I am.”
“Is it true?” she asked. “Is it true what Amir is saying?”
“What?” I asked. “What do you mean?”
“That you’ve slept with girls. That you pick up girls from clubs to have sex with. That’s what The Flower Heart means? Someone who sleeps around?”
I hesitated too long.
“Is it true you’re just aiming to sleep with me, too?” she asked.
“No,” I said, this time quick enough. “No, Damia, no.”
“Dhani, I trusted you,” she said.
“And you still can. Believe me.”
“I’m finding that difficult right now, Dhani,” she said, and those words sliced at my heart like a poisoned knife.
“Damia, please. I… Look, there’s no point in me denying the pictures. I was that guy, Damia. WAS. I am not that person anymore.”
“How would I know that for sure, Dhani? How would I know you’re not just making me another notch in your bedpost?”
“BECAUSE I LOVE YOU DAMMIT!” I snapped. She was taken aback, so I softened my tone. “Because I love you, I really, truly love you, Damia.”
“Amir said the same thing. Look how that turned out.”
“Well, I am not Amir. I’M NOT.”
She shook her head. “Dhani, I don’t know what to think right now.”
I took her hands, and said, “Think this: I am not that guy anymore. I am not. What I am is yours; I am yours, and I love you, and you love me too.”
She pulled her hands away abruptly. “Dhani, I think I need to be alone for awhile.”
“Damia--”
“PLEASE, Dhani. PLEASE,” she said and walked away so fast I had to jog to keep up. But she reached an elevator first and closed the door before I could follow. I slammed my fist in frustration against the door, and one of the security guards actually reprimanded me for that. I pressed the elevator button and never has the fucking contraption seemed so slow. When I finally got on and reached my office floor, I rushed to Damia’s office. All her colleagues looked at me as I burst through the doors.
Shima, the petite demure secretary, noticed I looked distressed and called out at me. “Mr. Dhani, are you okay?”
I nodded. “Where is Ms. Damia?” I asked when I noticed her office was already dark and empty.
“Oh she’s just left. She said she had a family emergency?” the secretary said. I was too late. I rushed out and tried to call her, but she wouldn’t answer. After several more calls, she shut off her phone I think because I couldn’t get through to her at all. I went back down to the ground floor, and ran around looking for her. My heart and head was pounding from exertion, fear and anger. After spending an hour running around aimlessly in Suria and the KLCC park, I sat on a bench. I felt like pulling my hair out and screaming. That was when my phone buzzed. It was a text from Damia. It said, “leave me alone, pls, dhani. I just want to be alone. Pls.”
I threw my phone against a tree where it broke into several pieces. After a few seconds I cursed at myself for doing that, and picked up the pieces. I would have to use one of my older phones when I get back home.


The clock in my living room strikes 0400hrs, and I was still at the balcony, thinking about the events of yesterday. I had gone home, moody and sulking. I tried calling, texting, IM-ing Damia, all to no result. In anger I had torn one of my good shirts buy ripping it off my body. I had tried to make dinner but ended up not eating anything at all. then I had tried to force myself to sleep, because I was tired. But after a couple of hours, I just couldn’t. That was when I got that secret bottle of whisky from the cabinet, and took out a high-ball glass, and went to the balcony. I poured the whisky and drank it straight, relishing the fiery trail it left going down my throat. I kept on drinking, and by now I was pretty fucking drunk.
But still, my mind wouldn’t let go of Damia.
Had I betrayed her? Had I lost her trust? Or has she equated me with that fucktard, Amir?
She’s not talking to me. And I missed her so much. I had no idea what to do. How to fix all this? I have no, NO FUCKING IDEA. I gripped the glass so hard it broke in my hands, lacerating my palms. I savored the pain. Then I threw the almost empty whisky bottle against the wall, watched it smash into pieces, then I, myself, slumped against the wall, with a bleeding hand, and dreamed of that look of doubt on Damia’s face.

*

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Chapter 19


 *


Everything has been planned out. Sharmini helped me call and reserve all the things I needed to make my proposal to Damia a beautiful and thoughtful one. I made a mental note to treat Shar to a nice meal after the proposal. Maybe even get her a gift.
All the necessary reservations have been made; tomorrow, I would bring Damia to The Dining Room at Carcosa Seri Negara, where, unbeknownst to her, it’s been set up for a private function for two. A live band, strings and piano, would be playing music throughout the night. There’d be roses and candles and a only the best service ever tomorrow. The ring is safely in my pocket.
When the time comes, I would take her hand, tell her that she’s been the one I’ve been waiting for all my life, and ask her if she’d allow me to (hopefully) spend the rest of my life making the rest of her life happy. It would be a lovely night, a charming night. I know she’ll make it lovely anway… now I just have to come up with the charm.
To be honest I don’t know what to expect. I’ve only ever seen this done in those stupid love stories and movies that I disdain so much. I’ve always doubted the veracity, even if the sentiment is sweet. But trying to pull this off in real life has instilled a fear in me, more than I would admit. I’m genuinely nervous and terrified about tomorrow. Doubt is gnawing at my feet, threatening to make me chicken out.
It is times like this that I need to remind myself that I am Dhani Ibrahim. Dhani Ibrahim, confident, smooth and cool. I would need to call upon all my strength and will to make tomorrow, like I’ve mentioned before, the best start ever to the rest of my life; and for Damia, too. I can do it; I must do it. Come on; if I could make girls drop their panties with just a smile and a hello, surely I’ll have the wits to ask Damia to marry me. Whoa, I said ‘marry’.
Who would’ve thought. Certainly not me. Not in a million years. But that’s exactly what’s on my fucking mind right now.


But first, today needs to be done with. I want to settle a lot of work, as much as I can, today, so I’d have a free desk and mind tomorrow. Do you think because I keep talking about my love life that I’ve forgotten work? Au contraire. See, that’s the good thing about being me; I get things done. So while I’ve been out on dates with Damia and having lunch with my sister and her babies, I still got work done. I do make it a habit not to bring work home though. I believe that can be cancerous to your life.
After breakfast this morning, Damia and I immediately went to our offices. I got on with all that I needed to do straight away; client calls, accounts etcetera. I was making good pace, working steadily with serious focus. Sharmini was also being most efficient today, handling calls and appointments and filing and other miscellaneous boring office shit with aplomb.
By mid-noon, I was half-way through my work. I stretched my back and limbs, ironing out the kinks and glanced at the clock. Pretty soon Damia would, as she normally does, message me, asking where would we be having lunch. I yawned, and wiped my face with a cold towel from the small refrigerator below my desk. I got up, went in front of the full-length mirror I keep in my office, and tidied myself up. I loosened my collar and unraveled my tie, undoing the first two buttons to give a more casual look. I used to go to lunch in full business regalia because I liked looking preppy and sophisticated. Then one day Damia had said that I could afford to loosen up a bit on the business suits. She said she liked me looking more casual. “Makes you look more loveable. More human,” she had teased. In turn I had made fun of the myriad styles she wore her hijab.
I smiled at the thought of her as I unbuttoned my sleeves and rolled them up. I sat down on a comfy lounge chair, where I usually entertain any guests who come to visit my office, and read through the days news.
But my phone kept silent. Odd, I thought. I peeked my head out of my office door and asked Sharmini, “Has Damia called? Or passed by?”
“No, Mr. D,” Sharmini said. “I haven’t seen her since this morning. Would you like me to call her office?”
I waved my hand dismissively. “It’s okay. I’ll call her.”
I called her mobile phone. Her caller ringtone (Bruno Mars’ ‘Locked Out of Heaven’, how ironic for me) came on, but she didn’t answer. I tried three more times. It wasn’t like her. Normally she would answer as soon as Bruno goes “I got locked outta--”. So I dialled her office extension, and her assistant, a demure Malay girl named Shima, answered.
“Shima,” I said, being careful with my tone. Shima has been with the company longer than Damia, and I know from office gossip (that I can’t help hear) that she used to like me, and I always notice how excited she gets whenever I pass by to visit Damia and extend her a smile. Damia noticed it, asked me about it, then had sort of frowned and told me I had been mean not to ask Shima out. When I pointed out that that could have meant we wouldn’t have ended up dating, or falling in love, Damia had laughed. Sometimes her humor can be a bit strange.
Anyway, Shima answered with her small, borderline squeaky voice. “Is it Mr. Dhani?”
“Yes, Shima, it’s Dhani.”
“Hello, Mr. Dhani.”
I paused, and couldn’t help but smile over the phone. “Okay, hello. Listen, is Ms. Damia still busy?”
“Busy?” Shima said. She sounded like a fifteen year old.
“Yes, I tried calling her cell, but she’s not answering. Is she in a meeting or something?”
“Uhm, no, Mr. Dhani,” Shima said. “She left her office an hour ago with this guy. She just told me she needed to discuss something outside.”
What? “She went out? Where to?”
“I think she mentioned that she’ll be at the Convention Centre’s café. She did say it’d only be a few minutes though.”
“Okay. Thank you Shima.”
“Thank you Mr. Dhani, I hope things are--”
I hung up before the girl could finish. Damia went out with a guy without telling me? I immediately went down and, walking quickly, headed towards the small café along Hall 5 of KL Convention Centre. But there was no one there. I tried calling her again, but she didn’t pick up. Where could she be? And why isn’t she answering? Who’s the guy she’s with?
I suppose I was being paranoid. Maybe it was her brother? Or a friend. But she would have told me she was going out. And that had been an hour ago. I begin feeling a little angry… at myself, for having these thoughts, and at her, for not telling me. Maybe it’s a little unfair, or clingy, but ever since we became a couple, we’d usually let each other know if we were going out or seeing people.
I walked outside the hall, and that’s when I noticed Damia, standing stiff, with her arms crossed, head bowed to the side, in front of this tall, buff looking guy who was talking to her animatedly. The guy looked angry but also sad. I immediately knew who it was, and with the thought of his name my mind went again to that dark corner where I thought about him and Damia fucking. But rather than immediately confront them, I chose to walk a bit further down from Damia, and approach them unsighted. I wasn’t threatened by the dude; I was actually curious as to what in the hell would he be talking about. He must be pleading to Damia to accept him back. I took a bench some steps away from them, close enough to listen but far enough to not be so blatant that I was eavesdropping. In any case, Damia didn’t notice me as she had her back to me, and the guy wouldn’t give a shit because he doesn’t recognize me. I pretended to be engrossed with my phone. A Chinese girl sat next to me and started eating her home-packed lunch while reading a Naruto comic book.
I listened to the guy I know now is Amir talking to Damia. He was taller than I am by a few inches, and was muscular in a lean way. Not totally buff or ripped, but broad-shouldered and chiseled enough that people would know he worked out. His hair fell on his forehead, and his eyes were dark and narrow.
“Please, Damia,” the guy said. You have to know now that I was trying hard to keep the image of him screwing the love of my life out of my head. Damia didn’t answer him; I saw how she just held her head down.
“Damia, sayang, please,” the guy said again. So he was pleading.
“I’ve already told you, not asked, told you to not call me that,” this time Damia answered. Her words were laced with anger. “You don’t deserve to call me that.”
The guy threw up his arms, then let them fall to his side as if admitting defeat. His voice was low. “Damia, believe me, I have changed. I am not that person anymore. I was a fool back then, naïve and, stupid. But I realize now that you were the one I always loved.”
Nothing from Damia.
“Damia, I have never stopped thinking about and loving you. After all that happened, even my family became distant from me. Damia, you’re the only one that can fix everything.”
Nothing from Damia.
“Babe, I just want another chance. To make things right. To make things better. WE were supposed to get married, kan Babe? I was going to take you to Bora-Bora, remember? Sayang? Remember all those dreams we planned, all those wonderful things we promised each other? We could still make all those things happen.”
“Fuck you, Amir,” Damia said. The guys eyes widened. The words came out so sharply, so suddenly and with so much venom, even I was surprised.
“What did you say?” Amir said, his voice more surprised than afraid. He took a step towards Damia, who took a step backwards. An alarm bell sounded in my head. My muscles tensed. There was something in those steps that told me that Damia hasn’t told me the whole story about Amir. And when she answered, “Nothing, I didn’t say anything,” it seemed to confirm my suspicions. She was clearly afraid of the guy, which meant only one thing; Amir has probably hit her. Anger stirred inside my heart, but I forced myself to stay put.
But Amir took a step towards her again. “You said fuck you, to me?”
I gripped my phone so hard my knuckles turned white.
“I came here, going through every floor of that goddamn building to look for you to tell you that I want you back and I wanna fix things with you, and you say fuck you to me?”
That was all I needed to hear as I read his body language. His shoulders straightened, and in a blink of an eye that seemed to last much longer, I saw his left hand rise in the unmistakeable posture of someone about to give a bitchslap; I should know, I’ve seen this happen in clubs and bars. And I reacted faster than I imagined possible, within seconds I was on my feet and covered perhaps the 9-10 feet that separated me and the two of them; as Amir’s hand descended and perhaps tried to find a landing spot on Damia’s beautiful face, I had stepped in front of my lovely girlfriend and raised my own lean arm to block the blow. His hand sort of bounced off my arm. I have to admit it stung. He staggered backwards a little bit.
“You wouldn’t want to hit a lady, my friend,” I said, as calmly as possible. In my head, I was already punching this motherfucker in the face, but I didn’t want to lose my cool. I don’t lose my cool. Especially not in front of Damia, who looked shocked, and was speechless to see I was there.
“Who the hell are you?”
“I’m her boyfriend,” I said, looking at her and looking at me. Then I looked Amir right in the eye. “And you must be Amir, the sad sack that she doesn’t deserve.”
Amir took a menacing step towards me but I held my ground. He came up to my face, and I was expecting him to maybe, I don’t know, curse me or hit me. Instead, his eyebrows furrowed and he looked perplexed. He took a step backwards, still with that perplexed look, as if he was scrutinizing someone. He looked at Damia, then back at me, then back at Damia. When I decided that he wasn’t going to do anything, I turned towards Damia. The poor girl looked terrified.
“Sayang, come, let’s leave,” I said to her. I turned my head to look at Amir. I took Damia’s hand in mine. “Come, he won’t bother you again.” I said that last bit loudly partly as a warning to him to never bother Damia again. I expected him to retaliate something, and was ready, my whole body and mind tensing up.
But instead, he called out, “Don’t I know you from somewhere, fuckface?”
I stopped. Damia looked at me, then at Amir. My mind was telling me to just ignore that bastards question and leave with Damia in tow. But I turned to face him. What made me do it? I don’t know. Perhaps it was the challenging tone of the question. Perhaps it was my ego.
“I don’t think so, my friend,” I said, mockingly. “I don’t hang around with trash.”
“No, no,” Amir said and walked towards me. His eyes were kept locked on Damia. He turned to face me again. “I know you, from somewhere.”
“Try again. Now leave us alone,” I said. I ignored his words, but secretly I thought, did this guy know me from somewhere? Where? A touch of worry creeped into my head, like a quiet, deadly snake into a birds nest. I tried to turn away and pull Damia with me, and that’s when Amir grabbed my shoulder and turned me around.
“Whatthefuck man?” I said, angered. But that rat-bastard didn’t fumble. He raised a finger at me. His eyes squinted. He opened his mouth and I was ready to listen to whatever he was going to say to me. But he spoke to Damia.
“Tell me, is this fuckers name Dhani? Dhani Ibrahim?” he said. Damias grey eyes widened and she couldn’t hide the shock from her face. I tried to signal to her to just say no, or to just ignore Amir, but she said, “How did you find out his name? Did you talk to my parents? My siblings?”
My mind was on red alert, though I forced my body to stay calm and not betray the alarm and shock I felt. Where the fuck did this guy find out who I was?
“No, no, I didn’t, haven’t, spoken to your family,” Amir said, his voice suddenly filling with cockiness.  He turned to me and suddenly offered to shake hands. I kept quiet, not taking it. Damia was looking bewildered and confused.
“Dhani, what’s going on?” she said. “Do you know Amir? Have you guys met?”
As calmly as I can, I said, “No, Sayang. I don’t have a clue.”
Amir raised his eyebrows and withdrew his hand. “Wow; incredible.”
“Amir what are you talking about?” Damia said. He ignored her and started to speak to me instead.
“Dhani Ibrahim, in real life,” he said. He eyed me up and down. “Man, you know you’re somewhat of a legend? Some people even doubt that you’re real.”
“I don't know what you’re talking about, brother. Just leave us alone,” I said. But I was actually desperate to know how he knew my name. I was beginning to have suspicions.
Amir shrugged mockingly. “I can’t believe it. The Flower Heart.” Then he looked at Damia. “And you’re dating. Damia is dating the muthafuckin Flower Heart himself. I guess that book is closed huh?” He turned his attention back to me. “Or is this another chapter?”
I stood still. I know now how he knows me.
“Well, la dee damn. I’ll fuck off for now, then,” Amir said, bowing in full sarcastic regalia.
He turned to Damia again, and said, “Be careful of that man.” Then he walked away into the crowd. I watched him disappear into the throngs of people in KLCC park. My heart was pounding and my head was beginning to spin. Even though Amir had left, the issue wasn’t settled. I know this wouldn’t be the end of this. My heart sank.
“Dhani,” came a lovely, husky voice. I felt her hand gently touch my arm. When I turned to face her, I could have sworn my knees turned to jelly as bolts of fear shot up my spine and limbs. Damia was looking at me, burning holes as her grey eyes stared directly into my brown ones. It was the look on her face that sent fear racing through my veins. It wasn’t anger or scorn.
It was doubt.
“Dhani,” she said again, her voice calm but cautious. It broke my heart. “Dhani, what was Amir talking about? Legend? What?”
I stood quiet. Then Damia asked me, “Dhani, what did he mean by The Flower Heart?”

*

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Internal Monologue II

*

From The Desk of Dhani Ibrahim

It’s 0151hrs on the eve of what could be the biggest step I would ever take in my life, I am awake in my empty apartment, thinking about you, Damia.
To be honest, I am scared. Scared to death, for the first time in such a long time. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t sleep; I am scared about what would happen. The element of uncertainty is never comforting, I guess.
How I wish we were together as of this moment, maybe eating ice cream and looking at the stars. Or just, you know, being together.
See what you’ve done to me? I’ve become a hopeless romantic. I could believe in anything right now after you made me fall in love with you, when I thought I’d never ever believe in love ever again.
But the thing that you’ve made me believe the most is tomorrow.
Whenever I gaze into your eyes, those eyes that are so jewel-like, so much like swirly grey diamonds… whenever I look into your eyes, I see tomorrow. And it’s a tomorrow that I’d never thought I’d wish or hope for, you know?
I see us together with rings on our fingers and matching ensembles. I see our families and closests friends wishing and sharing joy, with us. I see us leaving on a jet plane, going wherever you ask me to take you, just name it: we could go to Paris, Rome, Santorini or Sahara Desert. I see us taking selfies and smiling, laughing, because the world would belong to us and nothing else would matter. I see bright, sunny days where we could frolic or just roll around on grassy hills surrounded by mountains, or cold, rainy nights where I could share mugs of hot cocoa and cuddle with you in a blanket. I see us walking hand in hand down busy streets and quiet paths, beneath city lights or clear, starry skies.
Heck, I even see grocery shopping on weekends, or getting stuck in traffic and thinking what could we cook at home for dinner. I even see us shopping for little clothes, booties, strollers and cots.
I see tomorrow, and you in it, and us in it, and tomorrow will he happy and beautiful. Just like you are, just like your love has made us.
These are little things, but these are the little things that I see in this tomorrow.
I love you Damia.
And I’m ready to prove it to the world.






*

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Chapter 18


 *

After that faux pas a few days ago, I did what any man in his right mind would: I kept quiet, and swore that Damia would never find out. There was no way, ever, that I would tell her what happened. She wouldn’t tolerate it.
Besides, it’s not like I’m lying. Truly, I’m not. Masking truth by not telling is NOT the same as lying. Lying is telling someone a made up statement or story. Masking truth is simply not conveying what actually transpired. Anway, she wouldn’t ask me anything.
What Damia don’t know, won’t hurt her.
I surprised myself to my reaction to her past. I didn’t even know how she could fathom the guts to tell me the truth. I think other girls would have done what I did; mask the truth. But I also wondered if that action of being honest was bravery or foolishness.
I guess I believe that honesty has it’s time and place. Sometimes, truth really isn’t good enough. If truth hurts more than it heals, then why bother, right? I suppose Damia thought by telling me the truth, it’d be better for her. IN what way, I do not know. There is a degree of flattery by her choosing to tell me so… but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t bug the shit out of me.
For the record, I was under no illusion of Damia’s ‘sanctity’. Everyone has skeletons in their closets. Like I mentioned before, my… uh, my annoyance to the matter was that I felt like I should have been the first to have tasted her. Knowing someone got there first triggered this insane jealousy within me.
But her regret was genuine. And I had to respect her for that. For one, I genuinely loved her. I loved her like I’ve loved no other before. I made a lapse in judgement a few nights ago, yes. But in my defence, I wasn’t in a correct state of mind. And immediately, I had regretted my actions, and I vowed never to repeat them again.
I believe that my love I have for Damia, and her love for me, will endure. It’s about time that I turn a new leaf. I should be ready to be the man she deserves; the man that would love and cherish her. I should be the man that would take care of her always.


Things became normal again almost straight away. I buried my mistake deep into the recesses of my memory, and Damia, too, had seemingly shaken off any inkling of her past. We were a loving, close couple again, free from worry and with all the world laid out in front for us to step into. The more days I spent with her, the better things got.
Damia even introduced me to her family; one Friday night she had invited me over to her house, where her mother, Mrs. Daina, had prepared a simple but sumptious spread and I had dinner with her whole family, including her middle sister that was studying overseas, Dianna, who was on Summer vacation. I remarked how alike her siblings and her looked, even if secretly (and by default, rather) I thought Damia was still the prettiest. Mr. Isahak, her father, was amiable if a bit quiet. Her brothers took to me quite well; I even let them test drive the BMW, much to their delight.
By the end of that night, we had coffee on the porch while Mr. Isahak smoked a pipe, and the sisters gossiped. I felt oddly… comfortable.
Perhaps there was a place waiting for me in her world.
My own family, too, was getting more comfortable with Damia. Especially the twins; every Sunday I came by without Damia, they’d hound me and pull at my shirt and ask me “ManaauntyDamiamanaauntyDamiawherewherewhere?”. I had to carefully explain to them that their Aunty Damia wasn’t always available to see them on Sundays; the first time I did so they broke into tears and asked me “Aunty Damia doesn’t like us?”.
When I had told this to Damia, she came over right away that next Sunday, and the twins had gone running to her, hugged her and almost pinned her down. Nissa was very happy. She liked Damia, and Damia liked her.
And when I saw Damia playing with the twins and clearly loving the moment, and seeing the twins loving her like she was already family, I thought to myself… maybe we belonged in each others world; maybe we were meant to be. Maybe we could even be family.
It was with this thought in my head one day that I walked alone into Cartier at KLCC, and came out with a diamond ring.


“Nissa,” I said to my sister one rainy Sunday morning. The twins were still sleeping so I took this opportunity to have a talk with Nissa. She was slicing boiled eggs for the nasi lemak; she made the best nasi lemak. I could smell the fragrance of pandan and coconut milk and the spicy sambal bubbling away on the stove.
“What? Help me cut the cucumber,” she said, handing me the vegetable. I started to slice it, lengthwise, then into semi-circles.
“I have something to show you,” I said as I finished. I wiped my hands on a kitchen towel, dug into my pocket and took out a small, square, velvet hinged box. I opened the lid and showed it to Nissa. She gasped when she saw the Louis Cartier solitaire ring.
“Dhani Ibrahim, are you joking?” Nissa said, and took the box from me. “It’s beautiful. It must have cost you your kidney or something. Do you still have a pair of kidneys? What organ did you sell?”
I laughed. “My internal organs are intact, thankfully. But I’m not joking. I… I feel ready for this, Nissa. I feel it is time.”
“You’ve only been together, what, eight? Nine months?” Nissa said, trying to be cautious, though I could read her like a book and her eyes were telling me she was glad, thankful and hopeful.
“Yes, maybe. But I love her. I love Damia with all my heart, and I want to be with her for all time. I’m not going to play around anymore. I want her to be mine, for real, for sure.”
Nissa held her hands to her heart, then embraced me. “Then I pray that you two will have every happiness.”
I hugged her back, fiercely, suddenly remembering how much she’s done for me. I understood now, how she felt responsible for me ever since our parents died. In that moment, I realized just how much we’ve stuck together over the years, and just how much she’s looked out for me.
“I love you, Nissa. I needed your blessing,” I said as we broke the hug.
“I love you too, little brother,” she said with tears in her eyes. She wiped them, and said, “So when do you intend on proposing? Don’t you want to do it the old fashioned way, with the merisik and stuff?”
“Haha,” I laughed. “Well, I guess I’m going to ask her first; then I’ll go see the parents.”
“But you’re okay with her family, right?”
“Yes.”
“That’s good. I’m happy for you, Dhani. This is the right thing to do,” she said and handed me back the ring. “Jasmine and Yasmine will be ecstatic too. They’ll get their Aunty Damia, haha.”


But first, I needed to plan this out.
Damia’s birthday would be coming up next month, in November. I intended to propose on that date. TO this effect, I began to hatch a plan. The proposal, MY proposal, must go off without a hitch. I needed it to be perfect, with no glitches or flaws.
“Shar,” I called my secretary into the office one day. “See me inside, please.”
Sharmini came inside and I asked her to lock the door. She gave me a concerned look. “Is something going on, Mr. D?”
“Actually, yes. And I want you to swear to me that this will remain our secret. If a word of anything that I’ll be talking to you about reaches outside this room, I’m going to have you fired and make you work for Restoran Pelita as a cigarette girl,” I said.
“Okay,” she laughed. “I get it. Secret. But what about? You’re talking like this is some sort of mission with spies and all.”
“I’m going to ask Damia to marry me,” I said. Sharmini was going to squeal something when I told her to hush! Be quiet!
“That’s so sweet! Oh Em Gee!” she said.
“You think? But anyway, I need you to help me plan a proposal. So, eh, write this down…”
She took out her tablet.
We spent about an hour thinking about the plan: venue, location, music, food, décor. We came out with a list of places and gifts and everything that I needed to make the proposal memorable and wonderful for both Damia and I. Then we spent another hour making calls and deciding.
In my head, I wanted Damia and I to be at a secluded, quiet place. Maybe restaurant, maybe even a private table near a lakeside or beachside or whatever. I wanted it to be as romantic as possible. I imagined there’d be a string quartet that would play her favorite songs when I went down on one knee for her. The food would have to be lovely, too.
It would, must, be, a perfect night.
Because on that night, I intend to surrender my life and love to her; and she deserves nothing less than the absolute best.


*