What happened between Leroy and me proved, beyond a doubt, that belief alone is futile.
That no matter how much one wanted some things to be true, those things can remain as unchangeable as ever.
And you know how obsessive teenagers can be about these things. No one in the entire world wanted this to be true more than me.
Of course, to everyone else, it was doomed from the start. Even to me, although I chose not to see it. I believed it. I just didn’t want to look at it. It’s like having a dream you don’t want to wake up from. Have you ever tried attempting to stay asleep during a good dream? It’s impossible. You’re approaching the end of your last sleep cycle. You’re peeling back the phases. Your body temperature’s rising. Your heart beat picks up. Somewhere, an alarm starts to ring.
It becomes just a matter of time.
The first time I noticed a crack in the illusion of my little coup was when Leroy and David decided to visit me at home.
Perhaps that was the last straw.
Back then, we lived in a small brick and wood cottage-like house built probably in the ’50s, which sat in the middle of a huge piece of land.
Our garden was gigantic. Mom never planted anything if she could help it, but at the very least kept the grass mowed regularly and the two papaya trees out back alive. Running around were my three dogs, an alsation named Milo, a cross-breed spitz named Mickey and a maltese terrier named Snowball.
It was a clean, mediocre house. And yet, I knew, in my 16-year old head, my little abode with its shining black cement floors buffed from daily moppings, and its cheap mismatched furniture from the ’70s, had somehow started the whole descent of Leroy’s supposed fondness for me.
He had not even tried to hide it, the disappointment on his face that I was not secretly some rich girl. Not even averagely so, he’d seemed to think, nodding and uttering lowly with that rich voice of his the words ‘aunty’ at my mother, who peered at him over her glasses as though he was one of the exercise books she was marking, and my Koo Ma, who happily brought biscuits and root beer cordial as though I’d just brought home a couple of marriage prospects.
David, who was ironically the filthy rich one, didn’t seem to mind the squalor in which, by the look on Leroy’s face, my family was living. It chafed, that look. I think I might’ve even winced.
And yet, again, I refused to see.
The very next day, it had all gone to hell. He didn’t call and I’d refused to call because I was afraid of what he might say. The next day went by and I’d stubbornly stayed my no-call course. And then it was a week before I’d heard from a sniffling Corinna that David had broken things off with her. That sort of sealed my doom, since David was Leroy’s wing boy and ‘financier’, for David was always the one forking out for the KFC lunches and pool tables and beers.
The week that was the end of Leroy and me started with a call from Andrea. Like a death knell, it rang somberly one afternoon.
“Hi Andrea. What’s up?”
“Are you free this afternoon?”
“Er…sure. What’s up?”
“Wanna go for ice cream?”
This was bad. Had Leroy finally drummed up the courage to ask his bitch to break things off with me?
“I’ll pick you up in half an hour.”
I hung up. Somewhere, a whimper escaped. I looked around the house that had betrayed me, and it stared silently back. My eyes started to sting with tears. Bitterly, I brushed them off and got dressed.
It was perhaps the worst breakup in the history of breakups. More so since the person that was breaking up with me wasn’t even there. He had, supposedly gone to the city looking for work, which was why he had not even called me the week before.
And he wasn’t coming back.
We sat in the restaurant with ice cream David, once again, paid for. So Leroy had both his bitches doing his dirty work. Perhaps that counted for something.
“You knew it was just a matter of time, right?” Andrea asked matter-of-factly. She showed concern that at the same time seemed to mock me.
“We could still hang out, you know?” said David, lighting up a cigarette. He looked at me for a moment, and in his eyes, I saw pity. He’d quickly averted his eyes, and instead watched traffic pass silently outside through tacky one-way glass panes .
I said very little that afternoon. Andrea talked most of the time, criticising Leroy’s heartlessness one moment and extolling his ‘virtues’ the next, going on and on about how people like him were just not practical for ‘people like us’. The whole time, I thought of nothing but going home and curling in bed with a good book. But there was still something I had to do.
From my left pocket, I drew out a little purse. It was bulging with shiny one-cent coins. I had been collecting these for a while because Leroy had told me that he was looking for a coin from a certain year which he said was very rare. This was a slice of Leroy that had remained from the battle Leroy, the boy, had lost to Leroy, the man. A memory of the guy who’d cheered me on at the pool four years ago. A memory I would hold on to for the rest of my life.
“Here. This is his.”
I handed the purse to Andrea. At once, she looked up at me, surprised. She glanced over at the men’s room, where David had gone. Deftly, she opened her backpack, and brought out a plastic bag.
Swimming in it were a million one-cent coins.
It was then that I realised how much of a fool I’d been. I stared at the gleaming pile, and then at Andrea. It was the first time in the two hours we’d been there that I’d actually looked at her. And saw her for what she was. Someone who was even more in trouble than me.
“I’ll give these to him when he comes back,” she said quietly, tucking the coins into their secret compartment in her backpack. It must’ve weighed a ton.
The burden of hope.
This is a story I’ve wanted to write for almost 20 years.
I remember trying once, on my dad’s Wordstar, a month after this happened. I started, and stopped at Page 17. The manuscript is perhaps still somewhere in a box in Batu Gajah, where my parents live now.
Why has this memory stayed with me for so long? It was the first time, I believe, that I’d ever fallen in love, brief as the whole experience might’ve been.
As for Leroy, we met briefly over a year ago at a club in KL, but as strangers. My girl friend Janice and her brother Clarence (incidentally people Leroy and I went to church with) dragged me dancing after the birth of my second child Skyler, lactating boobs and all. And there he was, in the throbbing darkness, gyrating to the pulse of the music – against another man.
So maybe it really wasn’t about the house!
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