I squeezed my one-way ticket as I boarded the bus. The stub permeated in my sweaty palm, wet from anxiety and excitement. This is it, I thought. A new chapter in my life is about to unfold. I took out my phone and texted her, “On the way. See you love!”
I felt like I was diving head first into things, and perhaps moving in with somebody I just met wasn’t such a good idea, but I’ve always been enthralled by the spirit of adventure, and this was the beginning of one. I looked out into the passing landscape, not knowing what the near future held, and I sometimes wonder if I’d still have gotten onto that bus, had I known what it did.
If learning from past experience makes you wise, I was probably the village idiot. Six years I’ve tried juggling a relationship and my career, and time was always a factor. How exactly I expected things to turn out differently this time, I didn’t know.
I had one weekday off per week, and she had the weekends. This meant forgoing daytime activities, and settling for a few hours of ‘us-time’ everyday. To make matters worse, I usually got off at nine, while she pulled normal working hours.
There was a disparity in our pay too. I started to realise how ‘travel-unfriendly’ my profession was, because losing my regular clients meant losing half my paycheque. She was earning three times my salary in her first full-time job ever, and even that was only a filler until she could find employment in banking.
These factors made me entertain the thought of changing professions. I was certain I wanted no part in a career that demanded so much time for so little pay. Tendrils of disillusionment started creeping in, and unknowingly set the cogs of a career change in motion, though it would be years before that thought becomes a reality.
Her birthday neared as the months crawled by. I scrounged just enough money in time for her big day, and while that meant $1 noodles was on the menu for the coming month, the look on her face when she saw her present made everything seem fine again.
It would be a short-lived joy, as the weeks that follow would see the gap between us widen further. It hit me one day when I was watching Resident Evil alone–because she had already watched it with her friends–that perhaps something wasn’t quite right. As Milla Jovovich pistol-whipped unconvincing renditions of the undead across the silver screen, all I could think about was how alone it felt to be poor in a depressing environment.
“You’ve been talking to that bitch again.”
She probably checked my phone and read Carmen’s texts. Carmen’s a new acquaintance I met through my colleague, a hairdresser trying to rough it out in Singapore as well.
Also, Carmen liked girls, but it didn’t matter to her.
“I don’t give a damn who she likes. You talk to other girls about everything, but you never talk to me.”
“All we do is whine, babe. I didn’t wanna whine to you.”
“Oh! And I don’t understand, is that it? I don’t understand you and all your hairdresser friends’ problems! Right?”
“It’s not that… it’s just–”
It’s just that she’s my only friend.
“You know, it’s a little frustrating, having a boyfriend, but not having one at the same time. What’s the point? There’s never enough time for us, I might as well be alone.”
I kept quiet and walked to the bathroom. I thought we could talk it over after we’ve both cooled down. It’s too bad the reconciliation couldn’t happen, because I feel and broke my hand before we had the chance. Before you laugh at my expense, I’ll have you know that there’s a 1 in 2,232 chance of dying in the bathroom, which is more probable than dating a supermodel (1 in 80,000). Yup, I’ll drown in my bathtub before I ever get to have dinner with Agyness Deyn.
I went out and told her that my second and third knuckles were missing, and that I needed to see the doctor.
“Go ahead,” she replied.
I didn’t have a choice but to check into the hospital because it was almost two o’clock. In the morning. It was a cold and impersonal place to be at that hour. The nurse saw me struggling to write with my left hand, so she took the pen and asked me for my details. I spelled my name with a tremble in my voice.
“No friends around?” she asked.
I felt a piercing in my gut as I looked down at the desk and shook my head. She looked at me the same way one would look at a three-legged stray, and sent me to the waiting room. Trying to occupy myself without a book or a smartphone (I was still using an old Nokia then) was equally harrowing. The mind is a marvellous thing. The feats it can achieve are often overshadowed by the dark places it can take you. After the X-rays were taken, I was admitted on the pretext that I was to undergo surgery first thing in the morning.
I was put in a room with another man that drew breath like a hovercraft being throttled by a heavy metal drummer. To my luck, the hospital provided radio earphones, so I cranked that up to drown the snores. Teetering in and out of consciousness, the newly-released Bad Romance burned a permanent association of hell in my mind.
The doctor came in the next day and reassured me that my hand could wait a few more days, and it’d be easier to handle insurance claims if I did my surgery in Malaysia, so I took his advice. It was during that moment that I realised I didn’t have any money to pay for my stay. I haven’t heard from her since I broke my hand, so I opted to call my colleague.
A few hours later, he arrived, handing me a wad of hundred dollar bills. Before I got a chance to thank him, he said, “So… um… boss heard about your accident. He wants your worker’s permit back.”
“Does that mean I can’t stay here anymore?”
“I’m afraid not. Anyway, if you need more cash, let me know.”
“Thanks, I guess.”
“Okay. Well, gotta go back to work now. You take care. Get well soon.”
I waved him off with my schlepped hand that was swelling out of the seams. That would be the last time I see him till this day. I managed to repay him though, so that’s a plus.
She walked in, handbag clutched tightly to her chest.
“I’m sorry… I didn’t know it was that serious.”
“So… you okay?”
“So, what’s going to happen?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you going back to Malaysia?”
“I guess I have to. Insurance and work permit stuff.”
After an hour of small talk, she gave me a kiss and left for home. I looked at her back as she walked out the door, leaving me once again to my distraught mind, and the lullaby that was Bad Romance.
(to be continued…)