I slapped the table with excitement. The Writer looked up from the book she was reading, a bit surprised, but I failed to care. “Last night was amazing!” I told her excitedly.
“Oh, you finally did it!” She put down her book. For her, her friends’ stories are always better than any fiction ever made. “After so long!”
“YES!” I almost yelled. A couple behind The Writer looked over to me, clearly pissed off that I disturbed their date. Whispering a timid apology, I quickly sat down and leaned to lower my voice. “It felt sooo good. It was definitely an amazing break during the shitstorm I am in now.”
The Writer suppressed an excited swoon. “Tell me! Tell me! The uncensored version, please!”
I almost spat her coffee, which I just drank without permission. “Why would you need an uncensored version? There’s nothing lewd about last night.”
“I thought you went on a date?” she asked in disbelief.
“I did, but there was no sex involved.”
“Huh? An amazing date? Without sex? You told me yourself it has been too long for you since … you know …” she smirked. “… the last time.”
“Oh, yeah,” I shrugged sheepishly. “It turns out, connection and communication are all I need, and apparently you can get them with clothes on and at a public place.”
“Well, you can have sex with clothes on … and at a public place.”
I stared at her. “Do you want to hear the story or not?”
“Alright,” I rubbed my hands together. “Let’s start with the first chapter…”
“There are multiple parts of this story?! Oooh, I’m in for a ride.”
“Do you want me to start or not?”
The Coffee Shop
It was a fine Sunday afternoon, with the kind of warm, pleasant weather that made you just want to go out and run a few errands, but I just got home from a business trip the night before. I was tired, bored, but my guilt was loud and it demanded me to tackle my productive list.
There were two options for me that day — calling the massage service, or going to my usual coffee shop to feed my ego of needing to feel like I’m productive.
A message popped in. It was her.
Memories flooded into my mind like a waterfall. This woman. We met online. Three times, three different sites, three different occasions, one kind of interaction.
The first one, Twitter. I was playing tourist in my own hometown and logged my whole experience of the day online. Suddenly the thread went viral and I got dozens of new followers, including this girl, who I noticed has a high followers count and pretty interesting feed. I know it makes me feel like a social climber seeking validations from popular people, but aren’t we all.
The second and the third were on two different dating apps, where our fake real interactions finally happened. You know, the kind of interactions you did with your dating match before you both ghost each other and met again on a different platform just to redo the same thing.
I was back to reality, staring at my phone, as I realized I needed to answer. It was a simple hi, just your usual chit-chat intro. Then the thought crossed my mind…
“Hey,” I asked her. “What’s your plan this Sunday afternoon?”
“Observing the fish at GBK, and maybe jog a bit.”
I blinked in confusion for a moment before it hit me. “Oh, I forgot they have a beautiful pond there.”
“Wanna grab a coffee afterward? I’m thinking of doing some light work from my favorite coffee shop.”
My heart pounded as the typing… notification from her popped up.
Please say yes, please say yes.
“And where is that?”
I’ll take that. I told her the name of the place.
“That’s close,” she answered, to my great delight. “I can go back to my place first, take a shower, and bring my laptop in case I also need to work.”
“GBK is already pretty close though,” I told her, without thinking.
“You don’t mind meeting me in my post-jogging-sweaty-body state?”
Ah. I don’t think I would mind … probably.
“Well, if you really need to take your laptop…” I answered without mentioning the sweats.
“Okay,” I did not know if she caught my tone. “What time?”
“Is 7 pm okay?”
“7 pm it is.”
The coffee shop was not as crowded as I expected it would be. In fact, it was pretty empty for a weekend. That’s what Sunday evening did to people, I guess — chaining them at home with the fears of Monday and responsibilities.
I ordered the usual single-origin, failed to sit at my favorite spot, and started working. She arrived at 7.30 pm, which honestly surprised me. If it was me, I would be at least an hour late.
I made fun of her 30 minutes late anyway.
“Will I disturb you?” she asked as she started taking out her cigarette, having ordered a café latte beforehand.
“You also want to work, right?” I shrugged. “Besides, it’s Sunday. I intend to be disturbed.”
“Fair,” she mirrored my shrug. “You said you make video games? What kind of games?”
That’s a hard question — game development was already a hard job to explain to a layman, but my game was a bit on the artsy side of the industry. I decided to pick the easy answer for the introduction, and told her about the game I wrote.
“That sounds so cool!” Her eyes lit up, and my heart skipped a beat. “I rarely heard people playing that kind of game, let alone making one.”
“What about you? What do you do for a living?”
She told me where she works and about her position. It’s a pretty prestigious place to work in, a managerial position nonetheless. Her start of the conversation plunged both of us into a conversation of our professional life — something I rarely enjoyed, but I strangely did not mind at this moment. We talked and talked about the joy and pain of living them. The fun and gun of startup life, you can say.
In a break of our conversation — a rare moment when both of us briefly did not know what to say — he pointed to my notebook with her chin.
I shifted uncomfortably. “Uhm … many things. Work stuff, random poetries, stories or games ideas, most things that crossed my mind but I don’t want to forget.”
She took the book, her lanky fingers stroking the stickers on the cover. “May I see it?”
“I…” I quickly hid my uneasiness before she noticed. “Sure, I guess.”
She opened it to the last page, and my heart skipped a beat. There were three things written on the latest page; a core loop of a game idea, a poem I wrote to keep my sanity, and lines of notes to keep me having a salary.
She read them in clear awe.
“This poem, what is it all about?”
I knew she would ask. It was embarrassing stuff.
“It was about … my crush,” I began. “About how I hate the way she looked at me in pity while I was smoking by myself and she was with her friends. It was a party so that kind of expression was bound to happen at least a million times.”
“That’s such a specific and articulate feeling to write,” she rested his chin on the base of her hand. “It reminds me of this one song, about a guy who was in a party alone while his best friend is having fun with another group during the same party.”
“People do make art out of every kind of experience, huh? There’s really nothing new under the sun.”
“But yours are different,” she said. “and every piece of those similar experiences were different too.”
I watched her eyes move as she checked out other pages of the notebook. I didn’t mind at all. But still, it feels like I’m being stripped naked in the coffee shop … and somehow I still didn’t mind.
She read another poem — it was the one I wrote on the plane.
“That one,” I took a deep breath. “I was … I suddenly felt sad during a trip, so I decided to write down my confusion.”
She looked into my eyes as I was explaining, and I found myself shuddering in a strange excitement. What am I doing? Am I that hopeless for people to reach into me?
“You really are something,” she shook his head and chuckled. She was about to close the notebook as she skimmed through the rest of the empty pages … before stumbling upon the notes on the last few pages of the book,
“Huh? What’s this?”
“Oh … those were the ‘homework’ from my therapist.”
“I went to a therapist last year.”
A slight frown on her forehead told me she was concerned. “You don’t go there anymore?”
“I went once earlier last month, but it was just a 90 minutes catch up.”
“Are you alright now?”
That question stumped me. “Yeah … no … I don’t know.”
She just kept staring at me.
“It’s alright,” I sighed. “Wasn’t a big deal anyway, and it’s in the past.”
“Hmm.” She smiled thinly and looked away. “If you say so.”
We talked again. About her, about me, about the places we are in now and the places we have been to without each other.
“What time is it?” I rhetorically asked the question while checking on my phone.
“10.30, what time does this place close?”
“Depends on who’s asking.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you ask the barista, they will tell you 11 pm is the closing time.”
“If I ask the barista, they will tell me I can stay as long as I want and the place will only close after I leave.”
She let out an impressed laugh. “You really are a regular here.”
“I also have access to the employee-only wi-fi, in case the café’s internet is down.”
“I know,” I smirked with pride in the privilege I have in this place. “Anyway, should we leave? I can drive you home?”
“You don’t have to…”
She has this expression of someone wary, the common face a woman made on her first date and not sure whether she can trust her date enough to drive her home or not.
“Alright,” she finally decided. “Thank you very much.”
The Writer was staring at me intensely as I paused with my story.
“She seems nice,” she said.
“She is amazing!”
She rolled her eyes. “But that’s only the first chapter, right? And you’re already driving her home. Is this story over or … ?”
“I was pretty hungry, so I asked if she wants to get something to eat or not.” I continued.
“We planned to go to the usual ramen place, but it was closed, so she recommended her ramen place instead.”
As we arrived at the ramen place, I was taken aback by the long line. “Holy shit, there are a lot of people here,”
“Yeah,” she replied apologetically. “This place opens for 24 hours and is usually the place where people eat before or after clubbing.”
We approached the cashier inside the restaurant. “Table for two, please.”
The cashier nodded. “Okay, you’re number seven on the waiting list. We will call your name when it’s your turn.”
We went outside and decided to sit on the stairs leading up to the restaurant. We lit our cigarettes together and stared at the almost empty midnight Jakarta road.
“So, you’ve been on dating app for how long?” I opened our new session.
“Three weeks, I guess.” She puffed her cigarettes absentmindedly. “I just broke up from a four years relationship four months ago. It took me some time before I built up the courage to jump into the dating game.”
“How’s the adventure so far?”
“To be honest, I was surprised with myself,” she answered as she breathes out the smoke from her lungs.“I never thought I would be able to live in this kind of lifestyle, you know.”
“Dating app lifestyle? You mean casual fling and stuff?”
“Yeah. I always thought not having someone exclusive to do it with me would … affect me in some ways, but it turns out I wasn’t affected that much.”
“Are you enjoying it?”
“Hmm, how should I say this … “ she looked down, avoiding my stare. “I don’t enjoy it as if it’s a new hobby, but I don’t hate it.”
“You have your needs.”
“I have my needs.”
We sat in silence for a moment, waiting for a gang of noisy bikers to pass the road.
“How about you? You’ve been using these apps for far longer than I do,” she continued. “How is your adventure so far?”
“Ups and downs.” I thought about it for a moment. “I met a lot of new amazing friends through the apps.”
“I can understand that. The stories you heard from all the random strangers are fantastic.”
“How about the other stuff?” she asked.
“The fling, you mean?”
She gave away a half-hearted shrug. “Fling or the journey to find love, whichever you’re focusing on.”
“Oh, I was young and naive,” I breathed wistfully, looking at the skyscrapers-littered horizon without actually looking at it. “I started using dating apps to find love. That journey changed into something more casual, which I don’t really enjoy but keep doing anyway, and given time, it numbs my heart the more I do it.”
“Okay, I haven’t reached that part, but I can imagine what you’re saying.”
“It makes me feel horrible, you know,” I absentmindedly scratched my neck. “And to be honest, as much as I enjoyed making the new connections, the activity itself is not that rewarding for me. I can’t really enjoy … it.”
“Wait, are you saying you don’t enjoy … that?”
“It’s all about connection, right? And finding the right person ain’t that easy,” I said. “But, if I can’t enjoy the world’s most infamous escape to life problems, where should I run to?”
“You don’t drink, huh?”
“I’m sure it won’t help much, but at least try to give yourself a break.”
“I’ve been taking too much break.”
“Not really,” she shook her head. “From what I see, you’ve been torturing yourself. Give your mind a break.”
I don’t know how to answer that statement. She was right. The thing is, I don’t really know how to take a break.
“Hey, don’t think too much about it,” she said to me, reassuringly. “Live your life on your own pace, you’ll reach your destination someday,”
“Thanks…” we’ve been sitting on the stairs for quite some time. “Hey, is it usually this long?”
“No… I think we should ask the cashier.”
The Writer shook her head defeatedly. “Man, I know you opened up to new people fast, but…”
“But this one feels different? Yeah, I noticed that too.”
“What do you feel about her?”
“I don’t know, she seems like a wonderful person to be a best friend.”
“Wow, friendzoning someone that fast, huh, Mr. Player?”
“You know it’s not like that,” I shook my head. “It just that things feel so amazing so fast and … you know, that feeling kicks in pretty fast too.”
The Writer only stared, I knew she knew I was talking about the fact that I’m afraid of commitment.
“Fair enough,” she relented. “So you don’t want to think about it. Fine.”
“I will just … what do they say, ah,” I stopped knocking the table with my spoon. “Letting it flow naturally.”
The Drive and Songs
It was around 2 am when we left the ramen place.
“Hey,” she started. “Will you allow me to choose the playlist on our drive home?”
“Huh? Sure, what do you have in mind?”
On our way back, she played some songs I never heard — but did recognize the voice.
“Do you know him?” She asked as the song started playing.
“I’ve heard of him, but never really listen to his songs.”
“I really like him.” She stared into the distance, without actually staring at it. “His songs … pretty much saved me.”
She closed her eyes while singing the chorus before answering my question. “His songs are about daily mundane anxiety, things that we want to talk about but might feel too bad to mention.”
“And his songs were your best friend during the lowest moment of your life?”
She looked at me and laughed. “Not my lowest, but yeah, he came during a pretty shitty time in my life.”
“Looking at you now, I think he did a good job.”
She sang the songs to me, she sang it to me while dancing in the car. She sang the important lyrics while dancing and pointing her arms at me. She sang and she sang until she asked me to take the long way back to her place.
But nothing lasts forever, and we eventually reached her place. Entirely too soon, she said her goodbye while still singing the final part of lyrics that fully directed at me. And with that, she left.
The Writer sipped her last drops of coffee. “I mean, it sounds like you just had an amazing evening. A normal amazing evening, but still amazing nonetheless.”
“So,” she asked cheerfully. “What’s your plan after this?”
“Going back home?”
“No, smartass, I mean with her!”
I chuckled — teasing The Writer was my favorite pastime. “Nothing, to be honest. She’s definitely on my short list of cool friends.”
“I see.” The Writer was quiet for a second too long. “Have you talked with her since your last meeting?”
“Yeah, I told her I’m writing a short story about our interactions.” I smiled in what I imagined was a calm, mature smile, but The Writer’s amused expression told me it was more in a dreamy, dumb way of people falling heads over heels to somebody. “She said it was cute and can’t wait to read it.”
“Ohhh,” The Writer smirked conspiratorially. “I can’t wait to read it too, and to hear about her reaction.”
“Heh, it will be a long process and things might have changed between us by the time I’m done with the writing.”
“And will you be ready for that change when it comes?”
“I’ve been through it so many times,” I said confidently. “I think I can handle it just fine.”
I sat in silence as I finished writing the story. The last sentence I wrote stared back, almost mockingly — tiny black words on a white screen. I thought I’d be able to handle it just fine, but I guess nothing is easy if your heart is involved.
In the end, our meeting was just like any other meetings from the people you met online. Sparks lit on one side, awkwardness appeared on both, and little by little everyone returned to their daily activities.
I’m glad things started and ended quickly before anything grew out of proportion. That way, things can be handled better and faster.
In the end, at least, she helped me survive a very shitty time in my life. At least, we have stories to tell no matter how meaningless it was.