Copyright is held by the author.
She had disappeared like an Instagram story — in 24 hours.
The day had been a non-starter. He had woken up when it was still dark. As usual, he had been unable to sleep more than three or four hours and to make sure that he didn’t wake his flatmates, he had taken the dog for a long walk. No one was on the streets; not even stray dogs greeted them. The dog was used to it and snuffled happily. He loved roaming the streets at any hour. It didn’t matter that it was dark, with little patches of light from the streetlamps and that his human companion was quiet and lost in thought.
They arrived back at the apartment building as dawn broke. Upstairs, in their third floor flat, Dev was taking a shower while Tsing-Shen, the health fanatic, munched a bowl of cereal mixed with muesli and yoghurt in front of his morning Scrabble game against the computer on his phone. Faris poured the dog some water and scooped up a cup full of vitamin-rich dog food (imported from Australia, of course) into its shiny steel bowl. Half an hour later, all three flatmates were heading out to their various work destinations.
On the light rail transit carriage, the girl was standing one hand holding the rail and the other balancing her foldable bike. She wore a backpack and her hair was tucked under her sky-blue helmet. As the LRT filled with every successive stop, Faris found himself staring at the back of her helmet and memorising the stickers decorating it. He could smell a whiff of her perfume; a gentle, flowery scent that reminded him of the cool air on a forest walk in Cameron Highlands when he was a child with his parents on a school holiday.
Who would have known that her stop was the same one as his? Or that she worked in one of the Petronas Twin Towers on the same floor? Or that she was new to the company that he worked in and that she would be assigned to the same project as he was?
Lunch with the team under the shade near the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre fountains was different today. Somehow, the project was now meaningful, the day was brighter, there was real life around, and somehow, Faris didn’t feel so worthless or empty anymore. All right, it was true that there weren’t as many people around KLCC now, and a lot of people were keeping their distance. Even some of his teammates were making sure that they were sitting two metres apart. No one touched each other anymore, and the creative team were usually very physical the way arty types are. They loved joking, teasing and flirting, especially with new team members. So, it was a sign of the times that all this was subdued now, but Faris himself felt happy and alive.
When the day came to an end and they all departed the office, Faris and his new colleague found themselves on the same LRT back to where they had come from. They got off the same stop and went to the same place for a quick bite. That quick meal lasted till the restaurant shut and finally they had to go home.
“I’ll see you tomorrow at the LRT station,” she had told Faris as she unfolded her bike and put on her sky-blue helmet. She fastened the strap securely and swung her leg over the bike. With a jaunty wave, she had cycled off down the road, her bike lights and reflectors glowing cheerfully in the night sky.
And so, he had gone to sleep, and had slept through the night for the first time in years. Since the time he had slept in his parents’ home when they had still been alive.
But when he woke up the next morning, the world had changed. The government had announced the Movement Control Order. The restrictions were detailed and restrictive: no inter-state travel, schools and universities closed, everyone working home, no large gatherings, even places of worship were closed, one person per family allowed to go shopping, contact tracing apps required — stay at home! It was a mad scramble to make sure that the flat was fully stocked and that they had everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to pasta, baked beans, the dog’s food supplies and Dev’s vegetarian soups. Thanks to Tsing-Shen, there was already a large stock of vitamins, protein supplements and power bars. The friends planned their needs then shot out their separate ways to purchase what they could to last the lockdown.
Then, no one was allowed out of their homes. No one could leave. Try as he did, he could not reach her. There was no answer — phone call, office and personal email, WhatsApp, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram — nothing. Finally, the next day, he and his colleagues were contacted. They were to report to the hospital for testing immediately.
Faris knew the answer even before he put the phone down. In his mind, he saw the back of her sky-blue helmet and the stickers he would never forget. He could still smell the scent of her perfume. It couldn’t have been sweeter.