26. Escape

“If I had not met him, I would not yearn for him. If I did not know him, I would not think of him so much. If we had not been together, I would not have to disappear. If I did not treasure him so much, I would not have so many memories. If I did not love him, we would not need to throw each other away. If we had not been face-to-face, we would never have been together.
Perhaps, if I had not met you at all…”

~ Hae Soo (Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo

I arrived at the hotel safe and sound. Covered my mouth with the soft hotel pillow and screamed. No one heard, I don’t think.

It was hours yet till my flight, but I didn’t want to linger in the room and I knew I would not be able to sleep, though my eyes had stung from being kept open by my hyperactive brain.

I got to the airport early and loitered for the next few hours.

There’s one thing to be said about Asian airports – they’re good for those needing lots of space for aimless wandering.

It was too early to check in and I was not really hungry to occupy a table at any of the restaurants there. I found myself a spot at the internet cafe and started yahoo messenger, and got in touch with my sister.

I told her what happened and she kept me company while I finished up the hour of online connection that I had purchased.

Then I went to the prayer room. I prayed. I sat for a while after my prayers, and thought of all that had transpired just hours before.

My sisters, both of them, bless their hearts, had dropped off their sons at my mother’s and met me at the airport. It was well past midnight but they were there waiting for me when I landed. We sat at a booth of the 24-hour eatery there and stayed all night chatting. They asked very little and listened a lot. I am so lucky.

I got home and cried what tears I had left.

I went back to work when the new week started. I focused on handing over what I needed to and tried not to think of him. While I was not expecting anymore communication from him, I could not help checking that stupid inbox for even the slightest encouragement. Thankfully, my list of to-dos was over-full.

Keeping busy (not by choice) was what helped me keep my sanity. I had too many things to do. Aside from a brief explanation to my closest colleagues (who had been cheering me on) why things didn’t work out, no further mention of him was made.

Then all too soon, my migration papers and details were confirmed and I flew out to the other side of the planet. It was the furthest I could have thought of going.

25. Colleagues

“They had no conversation together… but what the commonest civility required. Once so much to each other. Now nothing! …  Now they were as strangers; nay, worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted. It was a perpetual estrangement.”

~ Jane Austen (Persuasion)

As  I was led to a table almost in the centre of the hall, I wondered if it would be better if he joined me sooner, or much later. Later would have given me some time to regain what little composure I had had and perhaps I could have made an excuse to not wait if I wanted to chicken out.

I didn’t really get a chance to dwell on it too much because he walked over from his group almost right away. I cannot even remember if I had a drink brought to me. I just remember he sat at the small square table with me.

The atmosphere was tense and uncomfortable.

He picked up the book that he authored, and I had brought with me, got a pen out and signed it. I then gave him the compilation of newspaper clippings from all the newspapers and magazines that I had put together in a book. It was a little messier than what I had done before but I had been pressed for time.

He flipped the pages but his cursory glance through the articles lacked the same enthusiasm that he showed the previous gifts.

We were both quiet. I didn’t know what I could say to lighten the mood. And he, I believe, didn’t know how to broach the subject I had written about. There was a business-like air to his movements that night.

I was silently willing him not to say anything… because somehow I knew it would not be a response I wanted or needed. Inside, I berated myself for insisting on being there. I wanted to just get up and leave and hoped that he would provide me with an exit. He didn’t.

Finally, perhaps he too couldn’t stand the silence anymore, he said that he appreciated what I had done. He said, he thought of me as a “colleague“.

I have always read how people said that they wished, at some point of embarrassment in their lives, that the ground would open up and swallowed them. I didn’t understand the analogy or how profoundly mortified  a person could be to wish that, until that night, at that very moment.

I remember nodding my head as I tried to find the right words to say that would make any sense and not make things worse. All I could do for several seconds was nod. I didn’t really hear if he said anything else, or maybe I don’t remember. It was almost like he was talking to no one in particular, he was looking down at the table as he spoke and therefore he didn’t see my nods. He didn’t seem to notice that I had not said anything.

I think I finally said, “it’s o.k. ******, it’s fine”.

Then he nodded and added, as if he was offering a consolation, that he thought I was very brave. I thought “huh?” and didn’t quite comprehend what he meant. Brave? I must have looked very puzzled because he explained, that he thought I was “brave for writing” what I did, for letting him know my feelings.

I don’t recall what I said exactly but I know I thought at least I have said what I needed to say. He seemed to think he needed to say more and all I wanted to do was to say, stop. Enough.

So I said again, “it’s o.k. It really is.”

He nodded and then we both got up and walked in opposite directions. Me towards the main exit.

As soon as I was out his sight, I sat on a stone wall and called X. I needed to talk. The driver who drove me there would have only just started his dinner and I didn’t want to make him come right away. A part of me needed to get away to figure things out and another part just wanted to crumble and cry. I still had the drive to the airport and a flight home to get through so I needed my wits about me, but my brain was all foggy and my heart, well that part of me was confused with feelings of disappointment, sadness and frustration.

I was a colleague??? Not even a friend? Not even an inner circle? After all that he shared, after knowing so much about him and his family and being included by the people he was close to… I was just a colleague? The outer ring that is just one away from the general public? Ouch!

Brave? That was my consolation?

I was his brave colleague.

Give me a medal.

23. Silent Treatment

“She was humbled, she was grieved; she repented, though she hardly knew of what… She wanted to hear of him, when there seemed the least chance of gaining intelligence. She was convinced that she could have been happy with him, when it was no longer likely they should meet.”

~ Jane Austen (Pride & Prejudice)

He was silent for a long time.

I thought then that maybe he had the impression that I didn’t like him, and that he misunderstood my interest.

My plan to migrate was materialising slowly but surely; it was weeks before my departure date and I was wrapping things up at work. I had 2 options. Leave things as they are and fly far away, or, make my feelings clear and see what happens (and then fly far away). Option 1 was the simpler thing to do. It was also safe.

Option 2 had all the risks, and went against everything, that until then, I had put up for the purpose of self-preservation. It could lead to rejection and everything associated with it (humiliation, awkwardness, broken friendship).

Past experience has shown me that Option 1 will lead to the potential mental stress of wondering “what if” and the regret of never knowing (and decades later writing a blog about all that :p), and I am a sucker for punishment (I have a strong heart – or maybe it is just numb from the abuse I put it through :p), so I decided to select its alternative.

I sent him an email to apologise for any possible misunderstanding I might have caused that evening. Then I explained how and why I came to connect with him and confessed my interest. I asked that he gave it some thought and time if needed and requested a confirmation either way.

He said nothing. He wrote nothing.

While waiting for him to respond to the confession, I continued with my contribution to his achievements. I updated the repository of news of his achievements and his website. I sent the updates to him for his approval. I got nothing back.

I had one last project to give him. (I noticed that none of the things I gave him were ever displayed. I know he showed the 2 volumes I gave him at the gathering to his father but there was also a portrait sketch that I have not seen since. I know he has received it since he acknowledged as much – others have also given him things like caricatures that they did/commissioned to have done of him, and other mementos, that went on a shelf of things his fans gifted him. What I gave him never made that shelf. I just thought, at that time, that what I gave was not good enough a likeness.). I thought twice about giving him the last gift but I had no use for it myself, and it would be a waste to just leave it laying around.

Bracing myself for a cold reception, I contacted his personal assistant and made arrangements to go to that place when he was going to be there.

When I arrived, the PA, who was supposed to have been there to meet me, was nowhere to be seen. I waited outside the building and saw Mr SG pulling up in a car driven by a woman I did not recognise. He walked into the place without noticing me. I should have followed my gut feeling and left, but it was an expensive trip I was not sure I could repeat soon.

I tried to contact the PA but did not have much luck. It was getting late. There was only one thing to do. I walked to the reception and said I had something to give him. They knew me and asked if I wanted to meet him. I could not really make out his expression through the glass wall of the attached meeting room.

As I was contemplating my next move, the guy ushered me in and told me to wait at a table. I did.

I should not have.