NON FICTION: Strangers In Time

Photo credit: Boris Thaser

Photo credit: Boris Thaser

Sometimes my mind plucks out memories at random, and as part of the collateral, visions of people who’ve left a mark on my life without actually being a part of it get pulled out of the muck. These are strangers whose names and faces have escaped me through the passage of time, with only their actions serving as proof of our acquaintance.

I call these people randies, and I was thinking about one as I opened the door to the Jiu-jitsu gym. The thought barely even matured before Josh waved a phone at my face. “Hey! I heard Sandy’s getting married?”


“Yeah I thought you knew. It’s on Facebook.”

“I don’t have her on Face—wait she’s getting married? But we broke up less than two months ago!”

“Oh. Sorry.” Josh closed Sandy’s profile page and tucked his phone away.

“Whatever,” I said. “None of my business anyway.”

“That’s pretty quick though. You think she had the dude on the side while she was with you?”

“Don’t know. Don’t care.”

But the truth was, I did care. I cared a lot.



A woman with silky hair up to her butt sat in the chair. “Chop it all off,” she said.

“What? Why?”

“I just feel like it.”

Now I’ve had my share of drastic restyles, but this woman didn’t seem to fit the bill. No excitement, no thousand questions, no smile, nothing. My biggest apprehension however, was the fact that she had a mane made for L’Oréal advertisements, and she was about to part (heh) with four years worth of hair without a second thought. I suggested settling for a treatment and trim.

“No point having healthy hair. My husband wouldn’t appreciate it anyway. Just do it.”

It may seem like a funny thing to tell someone you just met, but you have no idea how often hairdressers double up as therapists. I told her that I’d chop it to a length that I liked, and if she still wanted to go short after that, I’d do it. She shrugged, so I took it as a yes.

During the haircut, she dropped vague remarks about how it’s possible for people to feel alone, despite being with somebody else. I knew she was going through a bad time, so I tried to comfort her the best way twenty-five-year-old me could. 

“He’s dumb if he neglects a wife like you.”

“A wife like me?”

“Easy to talk to, fun, attractive.”

She smiled. “Did you learn that from the hairdressing industry?”

“Just being honest.”

“So. I’m attractive?”

“You are.”

She was.

She paused, laughed, and called me a liar, but for a brief moment, the world was a brighter place.

There’s something therapeutic about getting a haircut, and the spring in her step as she walked out proved it. I silently wished her well as I watched her locks swish in the wind—just a few inches shorter than when she came in. I never saw her again.


When it was time to spar, I went hard. Boy did I really go. I didn’t know exactly what I felt, but I knew that I needed to let it out. That night, I learned two things. One is that Jiu-jitsu gis are fucking abrasive, and two, as a smaller and newer guy in the gym, I had no business trying to raise the intensity, especially against guys twice my size.

When the gruelling session ended, I looked like I had just babysat twelve feral cats and a boxing kangaroo. Josh pointed to my black eye. “You all right? You’ve been going pretty hard tonight.”

“I’m fine,” I said, and was out the door before he could prod further.



“You think there’s any meaning to life?” she said.

“I believe that everybody has their own definition of meaning.”

“What’s does ‘meaning’ mean to you then?”

“I don’t know… to be happy in life I guess?”

She nodded. “What if, in your world, happiness never existed?”

“I… I don’t know.”

“You know I seldom get out of bed, but today I thought, ‘I have to have a haircut!’ And here I am.” She smiled. “And today, I feel like everything’s going to be all right.”

She sat through the rest of the haircut in silence, a slight grin plastered to her face. There was a weird calm to her, and I wondered about the thoughts racing behind those absent eyes. When it came time to settle the bill, she walked up to me.

“We’ll probably never meet again, but thanks for today.” She held my palm and slipped me a fifty-ringgit tip. True to her word, we never met again.


I reached home, opened the refrigerator, and sighed at the lone beer can sitting on the shelf. I don’t really have an alcohol quota, but if I had to put it in numbers, it’d be somewhere around ‘a shit-ton more than one drink.’ I figured that the can would make for good company while I made my beer run (I walked. Don’t drink and drive).

At the convenience store, I noticed the cashier sneaking looks at the mess which was my face. “How much?” I asked as I placed six tall cans on the counter. The smell of alcohol wafted from my first syllable and lingered between us. Not a good first impression.

She couldn’t look away from my eye as she rang up the order. I touched it and said, “My ex did this to me.”

I’m not mischievous by nature, but it was weirdly satisfying seeing her eyes turn into globes and her mouth purse into a little ‘o’. She still looked confused when I left the store. I popped open a can and wondered if I’d just become her randie. On the way home, I tried working out if the cashier would think of me more than Sandy would in the coming years.

But in the end, I didn’t know, and I didn’t care.

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