By Ramesh William
I was left stunned... for weeks.
Then, almost on a whim, I decided to go for it to make her privy to my own Pandora's Box of troubles, my inner tormentors, if you will. That, or so I thought, would give our seemingly dead affair the resuscitation it needed and all would be well again.
For I had read somewhere probably from one of those girl's-point-of-view columns that you find in every other men's magazine these days that sharing a secret could strengthen one's couplehood.
You see, secrets create bonds between a man and woman.
I'm such a Muppet; I often fall for such utter crap.
But was she ready for such a disclosure?
Anyway, after a revelation as intimate as the one I was about to make then, I knew I would get the arm around the shoulder and the comforting words which poor-old-me sorely needed at that point in my life.
I longed for a prop and I felt she was built, emotionally and spiritually at least, to hold me up.
There were a few things at work that still required sorting out that evening. The following day's salad needed prepping, the bread orders weren't done and the chicken stock needed one final seeing to.
Nerves were beginning to take hold. I nipped outside for a cigarette. It was a typically grim London evening that December; the icy damp seeped through into my Doc Marten's barely seconds after I lit the first of my Mayfairs.
On such dark afternoons, shivering like a bloody bastard in my kitchen whites down that reeking Soho alley that I usually yearned for home, yearned for hanging out in my berms till three, four in the morning slippers and all slurping laksa and nursing a few cold Tigers on East Coast Road.
Though I didn't have many friends left in Singapore, I somehow wanted my old life back.
But even home wouldn't be the same again. That much I knew.
I texted her.
Me: Nd 2 talk... If possible CU in e Pub at half 4.
Eleven weeks earlier, after necking a pair of chardonnays, she darted out of that very pub clear-headed in her aims.
She came sneaking in through the kitchen back door. With her face flushed, her eyes aglow at the thought of the adventure she was about to embark on, she beckoned me to my, our regular smoking alley.
I lit a fag. She asked for one.
"I can't stop thinking of you," she began. "I've asked him to move out for a while, until all this settles down."
I took a long blink, an extremely long blink.
"This?" I gulped.
"Things haven't been the same since Friday you know... and I want you." It was a waste of a cigarette; she wasn't dragging on it.
That 'Friday' was three days earlier. It was someone's birthday, which meant drinks down the pub.
The pair of us were inseparable all evening long and capped the night off down each other's throats in our restaurant's dingy, stinking, windowless staff room that was leased out in the basement of some nondescript hotel across the road.
We bought more beers from the off license.
As co-workers we weren't breaking any new ground here. It was common knowledge that amorous trysts were rife at our workplace, and it usually kicked off here in the staff room.
She lathered me with luscious compliments. I was the smartest, the coolest, the best looking, my this, and my that. On it went.
It could have been the beer. Or not. Yet I played her game manfully.
That fateful Friday was a culmination, in a sense, of events fourteen days earlier also a Friday.
There was a stunning new half-black waitress at work. She was well over six feet tall, had tiny tits and a deliciously pert bum. She was full of vigour, over-friendly and couldn't keep her trap shut. And I was enchanted.
I asked her out.
I of course had no idea what I was going to do with her. So I took her across the road and bought us a round of Guinness.
We tucked ourselves into a comfy nook. I had barely taken three sips of my medicine when the pointy boots came into view.
"Excuse me, but where is the toilet?" She asked playfully in that singsong Nordic lilt of hers.
I looked up. And she changed our lives forever.
She had that sunshine smile of hers and her blonde mop dazzled luminously in that dimly lit Victorian watering hole. An equally beautiful brunette friend was in tow, and soon the catty pair hijacked my barely-begun evening. I didn't mind one iota. I loved it.
My black squeeze however did get intimidated after a wee while, and so polished off her drink, spat a few excuses and made her exit. I couldn't help but check her mongrel bum out one final time as she strutted out into the September chill.
The winds of fortune had turned in the blonde's favour.
And thus, the foundations were laid that Friday night and over next fortnight at work we flirted, teased and toyed all the way to Staff Room Friday, when things did come to a boil.
I kept thinking of her that weekend before her Monday dramatics. I was spellbound but I didn't see the point of it all.
"You're an amazing guy, I can't continue to sleep with him when I have you on my mind all the time," she carried on. There was a hint of sadness in her heartfelt voice.
"The feeling hasn't just been there this weekend you know, it's been festering for the last two weeks."
All this time she had been sitting on a small metal frame that the kitchen hands used as stool on their smoke breaks.
She barely looked up as she opened her heart to me, and for me, and stared at the ground as she spoke.
I stood close over her. My arms were wound tightly across my body, partly to shield myself from the autumn frost but also out of fear. This wasn't going to be easy. I had a tremendous, dark secret and I guess I was literally keeping it close to my chest.
There was still quite a bit of work left in the kitchen. I needed to get back.
"Go home, sleep over it and we'll see tomorrow," I said finally, and then squatted down, planted an affectionate peck on her temple and sent her off to her empty flat.
It was a difficult sleep that night in my cubicle-sized rented room. That's if I slept at all. Mostly, I laid awake pondering. Pondering over my next move. I was made an offer that I should have refused, but simply couldn't.
The next morning, our affair began.
It lasted twenty-eight days.
Every single one of those days was filled with euphoria, energy, and predictably, boundless passion. We cruised through London's many labyrinthine medieval alleys hand-in-hand from pub to pub, from one bad fusion restaurant to another.
She was a sporting beer buddy. She was mindful of the calorific content but bore with it for my sake putting extra laps in the pool each morning to work it off.
Some nights we hung out at her posh flat, made out to cheesy Jackson 5 albums and made fun of her dumped ex.
Other nights we drank Stella and squeezed into my single bed, waking up with cramped limbs the morning after. We were a handsome couple and our workmates were suitably envious of our union.
I took her to bookshops and showed her books on Singapore and force-fed genetically modified durians down her system. She in turn introduced me to the ways of her country and its peculiar customs.
My yearlong depression lifted. I started gaining weight, my hair stopped falling out, and those nasty rashes began to recede. I was glowing literally and it was official; I was finally happy.
Then it was over.
Day 28 It began with our first and only ever trip to the movies. Appropriately enough, we took in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. We watched it arm-in-arm, head-to-head.
I walked her to Green Park Station afterwards. And I when I gave her a goodbye kiss, it was no longer there. Her lips were as cold as that of a car windscreen on a dew soaked morning, and those eyes didn't lie. They never did to begin with.
While lumbering off to catch my bus, I caught, through a gastro pub glass front, a glimpse of Wayne Rooney scoring to dispatch Arsenal's mammoth 49-game unbeaten streak to the bin.
Despite being a Spurs fan, I found queasy symmetry in the Gunners' plight.
The break-off was confirmed the next day at work. All the classic signs were there. She was cold, guilt-ridden, confused and avoided any sort of eye contact.
I played it cool over the next few days, even if I was crumbling with each passing minute. Her ex, her rich, rich ex was welcomed back it was after all his flat, or daddy's flat for that matter with wide enough open arms.
I was staggered.
We did talk a bit over the next few weeks. But she showed me her dark side; the one she strived hard to keep hidden during our four-week 'whatever'. She had a furious temper, an acerbic little tongue, was chronically depressed and bulimic to boot.
Yet I was still drawn to her. I wanted for us to 'happen' again.
The only upside was I stopped feeling guilty about my dirty little secret.
So, the new tact was simple: let her in on it.
I put the phone away, went in, checked in on the chicken stock, changed and strolled the twenty paces or so across to the pub.
She walked in ironically in a cheery, smiley mood with a paper cup fennel tea as I collected my Guinness. We sat down not at our usual spot but somewhere closer to the bar.
This was one big gamble. I was prepared to pay it and cut straight to the matter.
"About a year ago, I went to this party thrown by a Singaporean friend in St. John's Wood where I met this stunning Colombian woman, who was in fact my friend's neighbour."
She listened intently.
"She was older. Maybe forty. And immediately took a fancy to me. She was leaving for home that coming week, so in a way the soirée was also sort of a farewell party for her.
"As the night dragged on, she lured me back to her already sparse flat and proceeded to screw the brains off me. I enjoyed it at first but it got too violent; too much biting, scratching and other painful fetishes."
"I crawled out the next morning sore, blue-black and feeling mildly humiliated. Anyways, I never heard from her again.
"About three weeks later she began appearing in my dreams or nightmares laughing with an horrific evil glee. She wore a devilish-looking mask and began warning me of an impending doom.
"It was beginning to scare me enough for a mysterious rash to appear for days on end. Soon, the night sweats began and a scratchy sore throat developed as well.
"Then one night I bolted upright in bed. Mystery solved!
"I was HIV positive."
She released a startled gasp. And then almost sounded as if she was choking.
I moved in swiftly to reassure her.
"You can't get HIV from kissing," I said matter-of-factly. "You have nothing to be concerned about, for I would never put you in harm's way."
The sobs began, and soon after, the convulsions.
"But, but how could you?!" She began. She shrugged off my hand.
We never had sex.
I had told her, as I did with most of my London girlfriends, that I had a Singapore chick working up in Manchester also a chef who visited me now and again to provide 'comfort' and that I was so deeply involved with her that I couldn't bear to sleep with anyone else.
That usually warmed the ladies' hearts. It gave me good brownie points. But it was all fiction. I bullshitted my way through most hearts and she was no different.
I had to. Who after all was going to fall for Mr HIV?
She was sobbing violently by now. The regulars in the pub snuck glances in our direction. And I got some really dirty looks for making the White girl weep that day.
"You can get it through kissing if you have your period!" she said.
Now that I knew was a load of garbage.
"I know I have it. You've given it to me. I just know it.
"How could you keep this from us at work? You handle knives and other things everyday!! What would happen if you cut yourself badly? Then what?"
She was on a roll, and had valid points.
"Did you get it confirmed?" she asked.
"Nope, why bother?" I replied, "I know I have IT."
I knew I had it.
All the symptoms were there: the swollen lymph nodes, the weight loss, the fungus on my nails, the fevers, and the funny-looking, scabby rashes.
I had the lot. The only thing missing was the diarrhoea. I didn't take the test because the finality of that would have been too severe on me. This way I still had a glimmer a tiny one of hope left, left to cling on to.
I studied the disease vigorously over the few weeks after my self-diagnosis and decided the best way forward was to build my body's resistance against the virus by foregoing medication for the first two years.
I restructured my diet, dosed up on multivitamins, and Voila! I was still around and kicking, even if I was still drinking and smoking like a dog.
She scooted off to the bathroom, and presumably wept more during the ten or so minutes that she was in there.
When she returned, I was aghast to find an almost zombie-like figure. She was distressingly pale, and her eyes had a vacant, lost feel to it. She didn't look at me.
I had frightened the life out of her.
It was nowhere near the reaction I had hoped for. There was no crutch she was going to provide me with. The was no warm hug, no "hang in there babe, you'll be fine" kiss, no kind words.
I was furious with her. But I needn't have been so for she had done nothing wrong at all. In fact, she was nothing if not honest in our relationship. She simply lost interest and walked away, and that was fair enough.
I on the other hand was a conniving little conman.
My selfishness and neediness had cost the both of us something. A price would be paid.
"I have to go," and she stormed off. I never saw her again. She opened her wrists in her bathtub later that night, and bled herself to oblivion.
The details were sketchy. Her ex was providing nothing in the way of information other than the one offered above. Her distraught family arrived later that week to take her body home.
Later on, much later on, I learnt of her numerous teenage abortions, the broken household that coloured her youth, her granddad on the run for murdering her grandma, her alcoholic step dad, her lesbian girlfriends and many heart wrenching episodes from her short tumultuous life.
Then there was me.
I didn't stay long in London after the demise of my sweetheart. I was haunted by her images everywhere, especially at our old haunts. Every building reeked of her memory.
Then, the nightly visitations began.
In those dreams, she sat peacefully on a rock by a waterfall looking like a celestial, virginal being dressed in a flowing white dress and crying ever so softly. Sometimes I woke up horrified, but on most occasions I felt at peace upon seeing her.
All these memories came crashing back heavily as I stood under a warm shower earlier today. It's almost been seven years since her bloody demise. A year or so after my return home, I went for an HIV test.
It came out 'Negative'. Miss Colombia gave me something alright, but it was never more than a tiny, harmless bug.
I have been falling apart ever since. The guilt continues to eat my insides away and deservedly so.
The visitations over the last few weeks have been intense; but somehow, it's always nice to see her. She never says anything but still continues to cry. It's the cry of loneliness. It's something I recognize.
I finish my shower and dress appropriately for work.
It's a steamy day outside. But the shower has freshened me up nicely.
When I step into the lift, I realize I'm not going to work.
The lift door closes. I'm not going down.
Instead, I press "24".QLRS Vol. 7 No. 1 Jan 2008