Letters by Kenny Mah

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Apartment, alone

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July 14, 2008

Hey you,

This used to be easier, I think.

Dinner with friends, a night out in town. Life doesn’t revolve around your apartment, they tell me. And indeed it doesn’t. Not when it was simply mine. Things change, though. It’s our apartment now, and our life is built on its firmaments, this little place we call home. Our feasts and our fights, our thunder and lightning, the sum of our storms begins here. Home isn’t merely the hearth, it’s where the heart is. So they say. But you’re not here and this evening, neither am I.

I work out at the gym, I muster some strength to shape myself into the man I want you to desire. The instructor smiles at me, a casual friend by now, he’s happy to see me in his class again after missing for a couple of months. I’m out of practice, I tell him, go easy on me. He grins, and I know he will not. We pump iron without any breaks between the tracks. It’ll be worth it, he growls to his students, a swarm of us suffocating in the studio. Will it? It’s a distraction, at any rate.

Before I even get to the showers, I get calls from my ex’s, one after the other. How are you coping, they ask, who are you having dinner with? That’s what they say. I hear this but I hear also: Are you lonely? I must be doing okay, must I not, if former lovers care enough to be friends and confidantes? They always know when I’m flying solo — suddenly, I have all the time in the world.

Doesn’t being in love automatically grant you forgiveness for neglecting your friends?

Fortunately, my friends don’t forget me. They humor me, occupy my empty hours with their randy banter and lewd conversations. (Loud, I meant loud conversations.) They ask me out to dinner. It’s better than dining in our apartment, alone. It’s better than drinking wine alone. I accept, gratefully.

This used to be easier, I think.

Waiting for other people. It must be a skill, some art I used to possess. I have finished at the gym too early. There’s a full hour yet. What do I do till other people lend me a clue? We slip into old habits, half-remembered and how easily they fit, greeting us like minor treasures re-discovered: I walk into a bookstore.

Minutes upon minutes that can be wasted upon these endless rows. Paperbacks and hardcovers. Bestsellers and unknown authors. Bibles and mysteries. Where do I head first? Too many choices, none I truly care for. Isn’t that always the case, the inevitable scenario? Water up to your knees and not a drop to drink. Yes, metaphors abound here too, ceaseless in their mocking. How alone you are, how lonely.

A flash of bright vermilion, the mad flutter of her skirt, and my friend Jun is in my arms. A perky piece of sunshine all the way from Adelaide. It’s impossible not to smile as well. Cheerfulness is infectious, no way to avoid it. And I am smitten.

Jun and I visit the florist. We discuss wedding cakes and retail therapy. Jun helps me choose some gerberas for our apartment, pairing white with fuchsia, enveloped carefully with some rather large green leaves. They don’t have the orange ones you like. We’ll search for this sun some other time, my dear. (Simply forgive me for shopping with such a pretty girl in your absence.)

There. Bouquet in hand, it’s time for dinner.

Jun and I arrive at the restaurant a good half hour early. The restaurant is oddly named The Apartment; a cruel joke, perhaps. There’s no escaping an apartment, be it ours or a restaurant in the guise of one. Here, I stay away from die Betten. Last thing I need is you finding out I was in bed with a strange woman.

Soon the rest arrive. Chatter and gossip flow like the tides, brushing against my thoughts without pause. The tapas arrive, then the mains; dinner gets devoured only after the ladies and gentlemen have had their go at it, with their new cameras and fancy lenses. We want to remember what we ate and what emotion our taste buds must have captured.

I can only taste the desire to have you home again.

My friends, I don’t tell them this. I am perfectly capable of not ruining a nice evening for other people, I keep my soft sorrows to myself. After all, what use is of telling them? They won’t understand. They’d wonder what’s the big deal about you being away for three short days. It’s only Singapore, they’ll say. It’s only work. You’ll be back in no time. (In fact, you’ll be back in less than a day now, but I don’t tell them that either.)

How could I explain? That there is a brief lifetime in each sunrise and sunset. That the first night you were away, I watched Lust, Caution deep into the morning just so that fatigue would take me if sleep wouldn’t. That watching Mr. Yee and Mrs. Mak’s frenzied love-making brought no relief other than the ardor of an interrupted fire. I am not used to playing voyeur; man must act and not watch alone.

How could I explain? That waking up to the sound of my alarm clock (a digitized chirrup from my mobile phone) instead of your warm hand caressing my face feels like I’ve woken up to a different morning. That I eat out every day because there’s no point really in cooking for one. That I forget to water your plants because I’m so busy staring at them with your favorite music playing in the background.

I can’t explain, and I don’t. Instead, I put on my best smile when they aim their cameras at me. The flash goes off and I never blink.

This used to be easier, I think.

Coming home to an empty apartment. Back when I was staying alone, a swingin’ bachelor in his bachelor pad. (And what does a bachelor swings, he wonders?) No dishes to wash, no beds to make. No plants to water, no underwear to separate. A stream of visitors that need never repeat, small dinner parties quiet and discreet. Now all I hear is the silence of an apartment that used to hold two, not one.

It’s just three days.

I’ll be at the airport when you come back, baby, you can be sure of that.

Yours always and always,

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