Short Story by Shoba Dewey C. (The Jakarta Post, May 08, 2017)
She sat at the bar, in the same seat Dan had sat every single evening, his favorite crystal glass empty in her hand, her head reeling. She didn’t care for alcohol the way he did. Her heart raced dangerously as she replayed in her mind his wife’s ferocious screaming. A menacing feeling welled up inside her belly and seeped upward till she could feel the bile in her throat. She took a deep breath and tried to still herself.
She never could tolerate loud noises. God knows she hated the loud clubs that her roommates dragged her to. She avoided large gatherings. Too many people, too much talk, it drained her energies.
“How did you get to be so anti-social?” an aunt, an uncle, a friend would ask.
“That’s just the way I am.” She would reply with a smile. They wouldn’t understand anyway even if she tried to explain. The experts called it intuitive empathy. She was one of those who had a tendency to take on other people’s emotions and embody what they were going through, or to let energy vampires suck her out cold. Sometimes she was over-amped. Other times, she felt depleted. She didn’t know how to control it. Not yet.
Eight months of bliss with Dan only to end in a rotten discord, she thought. She was aware of the deep pain within her chest, but was it her own or had she absorbed his wife’s pain? She just couldn’t tell. For once, she desperately needed to feel only herself. She closed her eyes and, for a moment, she felt her solitude, her presence, her fullness, her aliveness, her being. She was complete. But then the chaos crept in again and a strange loneliness crushed the stillness inside her. She took her bag, hopped into her car — a white convertible that she had bought with her own hard-earned money — and drove away. “Young, beautiful and rich,” she once overheard a friend say. She knew they envied her, all of them, her friends, her cousins, and even strangers. She could tell from the way they looked at her.
“What are the three things that turned you into such a success?” a Cosmo magazine reporter once asked. “Well, hard work, determination and a bit of luck,” she had replied. “Knowing what you really want, visualizing that you have it and thanking the universe for it. But you still have to plan and work hard to manifest your dreams. I also believe in luck or fate or whatever people may call it — the part that is out of your control. If things don’t manifest, it may not be time yet or it’s probably not meant to be.” She was thinking of the time she tried to secure an admission to medical school. Three years! She persevered. But it was not meant to be.
She was speeding down an empty toll road, her convertible’s top down, the wind slapping hard on her face and hair. She loved her car. It gave her a sense of power and freedom. It always felt exhilarating. But this time, there was something else — a darkness that grew inside her. It was so overpowering it made her dizzy. It devoured her from within. She drove slowly across the steep, narrow, winding overpass. She trembled, holding the steering wheel tight, lest her hands should fail her and drive her 30 meters down into the dark waters of Jakarta’s canal. She took a deep breath, hoping to make whatever it was go away. It eased up for a moment, but as soon as she was back on the main toll road, she pulled onto the shoulder and made an emergency stop, putting on her hazard lights. She released her safety belt and gasped for air. A police car soon pulled over.
“Ma’am, are you alright?” the officer asked.
“Yes, officer,” she tried to look as composed as she could.
He asked to see her driver’s license and her car registration document.
“All good, Ma’am. Drive carefully. There’s going to be a downpour.” The officer looked up. The clouds hung black and heavy, ready to burst at any moment. She was so caught up in her thoughts that she had not noticed these things.
“Thank you, officer.” She pressed the automatic close button for the convertible top and drove away.
Where would she go? Not home. Her roommates had all gone home for the weekend. She didn’t trust herself to be alone, not with that darkness lurking behind waiting for her to be at her lowest to wreak havoc. Whatever it was, it had caught her off guard. She had been through tough times before, but none ever had this kind of effect on her.
What was that darkness anyway? Love turned sour because of that woman? Love and fear are on the same continuum, so they say. She definitely didn’t feel any love at this point. So, she must have slid down way over to the far side of fear. That explained the panic attack on the overpass earlier. Strange, how fear had manifested itself — acrophobia. She was never afraid of heights before. That couldn’t be the source of her fear. Nothing seemed to make sense.
Rain began to pour. She flicked the wipers on. There was a crack of thunder and a flash of lightning. The toll road was unusually empty. Sheets of rain hammered against the windshield. She had never felt so alone before. Her breathing became shorter as her heart raced faster. A wave of nausea was taking over.
She changed lanes to the left to exit in the Sudirman area. The slow lane was slightly flooded and everyone was moving at a snail’s pace. But she felt relieved. A motorcycle squeezed past her on the right. She glanced in her rear view mirror. There was a silver Avanza behind her. Motorcycles tried to squeeze their way into the smallest available space. She winced as one got too close. She veered to the left, making a turn at the BRI Tower. It wasn’t easy to get a parking space. Lucky for her, someone just got out leaving an empty one.
She parked her MX-5 and walked slowly to Starbucks. She opened the glass door into a roomful of people chatting away. She scanned for an empty seat and then her eyes locked into Kev’s.
Sitting comfortably in a corner — their corner — engulfed in the softness of the lounge chair, he appeared his usual bright self, smiling, his dark hair falling over his forehead. She always teased him that it made him look like a little boy. He would brush it up with his hands but it would fall hopelessly back. They laughed about it. But that was ages ago, before she met Dan.
Back then, she and Kev used to sit in their corner for hours and they talked just about anything — an important decision he had to make, a design glitch she needed help with, sometimes spiritual matters or matters of the heart and other times just plain nonsense. Even when they didn’t have anything more to say, they enjoyed each other’s quiet moments. She smiled back and approached him.
“Hey Sams,” he said, standing up and hugging her.
“Hey Kev, it’s been a while.” She returned the hug. “How have you been?” he asked. “I just broke up with Dan.” She swallowed a lump in her throat.
“Sit down, I’ll order you your favorite,” he said.
She watched Kev as he walked to the bar. Clad in his usual jeans and t-shirt, he looked much younger than his 26 years. The barista greeted him cheerfully by name as he ordered her a cup of hot cappuccino. So, he still frequented this place, she thought. She wondered whether he came alone.
He came back with her coffee and sat on the chair across from her. “So, tell me everything,” he said, flashing a sympathetic smile.
Soon they were locked in a world of their own, oblivious to the other people around them, of the quiet couple who came and sat at the table to their right, of the loud group of ladies to the left, of the family whose child broke a glass and splattered iced chocolate all over the carpet.
God knows how long it was before they finally sat there enjoying each other’s quiet moment, just like they used to, until he smiled again. But this time the smile wasn’t for her. His deep eyes looked past her toward the glass door. A woman walked in. Her heart skipped erratically. Her hands became cold and she could hardly stop herself from shaking as she felt a figure approaching them and then he stood up. “Meet my fiancé,” his face lit up. She felt like she had just sunk into an abyss. What was it that was making her fall into the same pattern? She wanted to make a dash for the door but she hung around for a while trying to act as normal as she could.
The rain stopped, finally giving her a good excuse to make her exit. She walked down the manicured park toward the parking area. The park was deserted. Dark clouds still hung above her and a dark shadow danced around her, mocking her and daring her to make it go away.
Samskara is a Sanskrit word, which means impressions on the mind. Each experience makes an imprint on the mind that is then stored into the unconscious. These imprints are evoked when a relevant experience comes along and guide our actions, forming behavioral patterns.
Shoba Dewey C. The author is a children’s book and story writer, who focuses on early childhood development and learning.