Tuesday, January 22

Rendang

Friday night and the office was slowly emptying out. A friend came up to me, tapped me on the shoulder. Heavily pregnant and wary of the political climate, she was leaving the country, going back to Poland to give birth and begin a new life. Her husband was going after her, half-a-month later. I stood up. I was sad to see her go, sad to see them go. Should I hug her? I attempted to make a joke but was not in the mood for it; she wasn’t either. I asked—‘When will I see you again?’ She assured me November. I wasn’t sure when I would see her again, or if I would see her son.
At half-five I was told that one of the directors wished to see me; he emerged with a waddle from the toilets and called me into a meeting room where there were large sheets of paper on top of each other, overlapping, marked in red ink. ‘Did you get a chance to look at this?’ I told him I had and, in no uncertain terms, that everything he had done was wrong. ‘What?!’ I had my coat on, my backpack, a cigarette, ready to leave. On the large sheets of paper I showed him where he was wrong. Energy divided by: specific heat capacity multiplied by density, multiplied by delta temperature. He saw every figure was wrong. ‘O, fuck!’ he said. I patted him on the shoulder, laughing smugly and saying that this is what happened when you were tired. ‘Thanks, master,’ he said, and I wished him a good weekend.
It was good to be out. There was a small adventure ahead of me, a trip to a place I hadn’t been before but had only heard of on maps and in conversation.
The train station was busy with a sweetness that is only intangibly present on Friday evenings; this kind of perfume, beer-breath and exhausted relief.
My cousin had invited me over to her new flat (where a mortgage and solicitors were involved) for dinner. My backpack weighed heavy with booze. There was a couple on the seats in front of me; she picked at the hair around his ears, she played with his hands, he smiled at her; as much as I tried not to look at them, to be envious, I was also happy to see them. The train moved south. Six stations went by. I rose up the stairs of a place I’d never been before. There is an excitement in me. These streets are strange, are different; I am south, not east. At the bus stop—‘Look at this guy!’ he was insane and danced about, pointing at me. Some anxiety bled into my excitement and I tried to assure myself that I was okay. The button next to her apartment—
‘Hi! Come up, the top floor.’
It was warm. There was jazz playing. The smells were curry and candles reminding me of my other cousin’s house, which would always smell of curry, a cute scent of childhood. The living room was dimly lit, the walls were dark green and decorated with prints and original artwork that she later gestured at with a drink in hand. It was unusual to see her like this, as proud as she was she showed me around with humility. She offered me an aperitif, but as I did not know what one was, I told her I was good with my beer. We spoke, relaying our days, as she poured a bowl of melted chocolate into a tray. Every five minutes she would ask me the time. ‘Don’t worry,’ I said—‘I don’t eat till late. Anyway, it’s good to talk.’
The night passed well. Drink went down easily. Of course we spoke of our childhood. There were those summers when she and her brother would come to stay, and we would wait for my mum to arise, before we went out to play in sunshine that seemed so clean, so fresh and new like squeezed lemon. Our youth overflowed. Our lives ran side-by-side. We talked, and it was good to talk. Drinks in hand, we spoke openly, each of us casually revealing our feelings about our own families. At times I wanted to bring up our grandmother, but thought better of it. Never before had I experienced it: opposite someone I had known my whole life, in a flat she owned, just the two of us, both a little broken in our own ways, without the cushion or chaos of our families around us. Before arriving, I did not expect to stay long, that things would become stale or she would politely ask me to leave; neither happened, and, as I so seldom find with only my best friends, we lost track of the hours. It was almost midnight and the drink was long gone when I suggested I should leave.
The cab driver didn’t speak and I was all too happy to look out the window. Parts of town I had not seen before, cloaked in darkness, a little shady, but antique and wonderful to behold for the first time. I bit my nails and stared out. There was little chance of me leaving my flat during the cold weekend ahead; the cab driver was the last soul I’d see for a couple of days. I smiled as I opened the door to my building.

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