Monday mornings in Manhattan. Yes this pacing, this frenzy, this mania, takes getting used to. When I first came here to New York I never even imagined I would survive a week. But it was different then. Matthieu was with me. He had always been there. I practically grew up with him.
We were a an attractive "latino" couple, that's what people always said. Even people on the streets of Manhattan would do a double-take when we walk by. My Matthieu, (oh, he is no longer mine), is Italian. And I am Spanish and some parts Italian. We met because our families were in the same business; sometimes as partners, sometimes as competitors. He is a good looking man and of course, I would like to believe he gets more brownie points to have me beside him to complete his look. When we meet new people, just for fun, we pretended to be siblings then start some PDA. Yes. Good times.
That was almost seven years ago. Six years, eight months, 29 days to be exact.
It was two months after we announced our engagement; after our short trip from Spain; and a day before we were to celebrate our month's anniversary. I was clearing up our Chinese take-out cartons and I just got him a beer from the ref, when he grabbed both my arms and said, "Sofia, can you please sit still for just a minute? I really need to tell you something." I actually laughed. I said, even seductively, "But of course babe, anything you wish for." Then I saw his eyes. So many feelings in those eyes that night, I can't even stand trying to recall how those eyes made me feel. Just like that, like an A-bomb, he called "us" off.
Matthieu is an Architect. He said he needed to "ground" himself somewhere. In a place where he thinks his family will be. Wife. Kids. A home. I thought I was part of that landscape. I believed I was part of his plan. I cried. I got hysterical. I begged. I got furious. I threw all of his things around. I lost all sense of dignity by asking him to stay that night with me, I stripped down naked and asked him what part of my body he has not kissed or touched and if any of those parts disgusted him. When he hugged me and started kissing me, I lost it and I slapped him, I started hitting him, eventually, I threw him out of my apartment. That was how we ended. It's crazy. Work has kept my sanity and its hanging by a thin thread.
I think back and try to understand his reason. We grew up and our ambitions, he said, were trekking diverse directions. If I were to believe him, he said he respected my fire and passion to succeed. I wonder if he discounted the fact that I had said YES to marrying him. I am not stupid not to consider my own dreams and our dreams and how to make it work. Maybe it was fear or cold feet. I don't want to rationalize for him. He's gone. At the very least, he took it upon himself to travel back to my family and tell them what happened. I have refused to talk about it. With anyone. Except Frankie, my best bud. And Anne Marie who can read minds.
I miss him so much. However I hurt more by what he did so it kind of balances how I feel. Again, work has saved me from further damaging myself.
"If you are not eating your hotdog and drinking your caw-ffee, then it's mine now", Frankie's thick Brooklyn accent jolted me back to reality.
"Huh? What?", I stuttered.
"Forgetaboutit! Sofia, you know I love you but it makes me sick to see you like that!", Frankie croaked.
"Why don't we cut to the nonsense, he's a goner, you got that? A fuckin' goner!"
I cawed back, "Oh you gonna whack him yawself? Dump his body on a sewer or somethin'?" I mimicked her accent. We both giggled.
"Anne Marie needs to see you. Git!" Frankie said and started attacking my hotdog sandwich and drinking my coffee. I lovingly spanked her butt and she cursed me between mouthfuls of food in her mouth. "Fheuckh yewwh!"
It was simpler with Anne Marie. She gave me everything in a small packet. Briefed me on everything I needed to know in 60 seconds, then hugged me and whispered in my ear. "I have a good feeling about this sweetie. I just know". I was close to tears again, ("damn hormones") but I couldn't say anything so I just hugged her back, tightly.
I flew out on a Monday. The weekend planned flight did not pull through. The 18 hours of flying time would have broken my back if I did not fly Business Class. I made a mental note to get some goodies back for Anne. She's really an angel. I read up mostly about Malaysia on the net, plus the Travel Guides I got from the office, and the guys in marketing contributed their horror stories to my initial primer. I convinced myself this is going to be a good experience and a rare career opportunity. I should really consider this, as Doug said, well-timed.
It's my first trip to Kuala Lumpur, I have only been to Hong Kong. We re-fuelled in Hong Kong but I was dying to catch some shut-eye. I never got to acquire the skill of sleeping on flights. Thankfully I arrived in one piece. The Limousine Service of the hotel proudly welcomed MR. S. VASQUEZ-DELGADO. I raised my hand and the Malaysian chauffeur apologized profusely about the mistake. I said it was alright. He explained it was always easier to call a lady a MISTER than to make the mistake of calling a MISTER a MISS. I decided it was to0 early to show my feminist side, and this wasn't New York. So I kept grinning. I adjusted my watch, I lost a day and a half in flight? Shitters!
Kuala Lumpur looks every inch a progressive city. Looks more peaceful though than New York. Everything looks cleaner and more peaceful than New York anyway. The driver said something about the Hotel where I was booked. He said my company thought it best as a place to stay instead of the K.L. Hilton because this was nearer the Office. I just listened intently, after all this is a learning experience and the entire terrain was alien to me. Then there it was, a good half an hour from the KL sign, the city of Petaling Jaya and the Hilton,where I was booked. The Hotel provided me a personal Butler Service. I whispered to myself, I am going to like it here.
I met with Mr. Salamat Maidon, my Corporate host, at the Hotel Lobby. He was waiting for my arrival. He talked very fast and I realized, this needed getting used to. He said the Office was a little under 10 minutes by car from the Hotel. (They don't really measure by distance here, mainly by the amount of travel time). A cubicle has been set up for me and I, a bit embarrassed for the gesture, interjected, that a plug and play work station would have been just fine. He smiled, he said all Managers had cubicles. And besides, I was not alone as the assigned expatriate from overseas. Some guy from London has been with them for 3 months but would stay in the KL office for at least a year. He is also a Brand Manager. (another expat? goody!) Its a shame he continued, that he had just found a more permanent place but he had stayed in this same hotel for about 3 months before he settled and found a house. (a house? I thought we were only entitled to an apartment? I decided not to ask, but mentally noted it.) He added it would be easier for me to get a "feel" about adjusting to the new environment as he has assigned him, Mr. Attila Kaplan to be my learning partner. (Greek? Jewish? Odd name... I thought). My schedule would be very hectic and he suggested it would be prudent for me to re-think my flight schedule back to New York until I have spent enough time with my familiarization.
I was too busy making hazy mental notes and then he paused, looked at me, sizing me up, with a small grin he said; "I am sure Attila will be delighted with his new assignment when he sees you. He is single, you know. I trust he is the best person to help you out and it would be good for you to make a list of the things you need to cover and discuss this with him. After all, both of you will be working in the same category in Marketing."
I was close to saying, ("Well Mr.Wise guy, I am not interested nor am I jumping up and down with joy",) but of course, I have learned that its best to keep a pleasant smile on my face, in case of doubt, works all the time. So I kept quiet, nodded a lot, and listened some more as Maidon went on with the usual G.T.Ms., ("Going through the Motions") of a quick overview.
It was early afternoon and I asked if the rest of the day was free. He suggested that I should rest and catch up on some sleep, and for that I was grateful. I was to be "collected" (I thought it was very European for them to refer to that term) by 8:00 A.M. by Attila and from there proceed to the office for the meetings. I vaguely remembered the details but then again, having a personal butler was pure heaven. I went up to my room. The Butler, named Fatima walked right behind me, (this too, needs getting used to); she helped me unload some of my stuff. But I was too light headed so I asked to be left alone for a bit. She closed my blinds and while she did I lied down in bed. I slept like a well-fed puppy.
I thought I was dreaming. Then that tapping sound again. I opened my eyes, got my bearings a bit. It was already dark. Then I heard the soft tapping again. I got out of bed, I peeked through the peep hole in my room. Oh its Fatima!
"So sorry to bother you Miss Sofia", Fatima's voice was sweet and melodious, "but Mr. Attila sent you this." And she handed me a huge fruit basket with floral arrangements and a card. She was smiling at me and I felt awkward because she was too enthusiastic. It read: "I am at the Lobby if you want to have dinner tonight. Attila"
("Well, what the?"....) then I realized I have to be really nice. I do not have any friends here and what harm would it do to meet with my "learning partner" and apparently, my Malaysian guardian.
I quickly decided. I smiled back at Fatima and said, in an equally sweet voice: "Please tell Mr. Attila I just need to freshen up and get changed so if he wouldn't mind waiting I will be ready in 15 minutes."
Fatima grinned back and blurted,"Oh he will wait Miss Sofia. He is very nice and good. I will tell him but I know he will wait. Do you need anything else Madame?"
I pulled out a white shirt from my suitcase, half of the dresses were hanging, the rest I still needed to unpack. and said, that'll do. "Fatima, if you can please have this pressed by housekeeping immediately, I will really appreciate it"
Fatima was just too excited to be of help and she rushed out leaving the fruit and flower basket on my coffee table. I glanced at it again. I was still holding the card. The flowers and the fruits looked well set, an expensive arrangement. Who is this guy anyway that people seem to like him? Must be a total charmer, I thought.
My white top arrived. Had enough time for a quick shower and I felt more relaxed. I wore my gray skinny jeans, my shin high black boots, and looked at myself. I thought otherwise on putting on too much make up. So I put on the miracle worker, a red lipstick and powder. I brushed my hair and decided to to tie it. Half of my layered wavy hair disobediently fell off from the clasp. Just enough. It was after all, a business meeting and dinner with my guardian.
I looked at my watch. Jesus, 25 minutes have passed?
I grabbed my bag, my room key and rushed off to the elevator to meet this Attila guy at the Lobby. I regretted saying 15 minutes tops.
A group composed of about 10 to a dozen, all-female hotel staff was huddled in the coffee shop, laughing and giggling. I stopped in my tracks. Goodness, I don't know how he looks like! Where the hell is Fatima? I carefully scanned the Lobby crowd. How will I do this? I noticed from my peripheral view that the female crowd quieted down and from the middle of the huddle that slowly gave way, a man stood up and he was looking straight at me. My heart started beating irregularly and I sincerely remembered having promised my heart would be incapable of fluttering. Is that him? How can a learning partner/guardian look that fucking gorgeous? Hallelujah! There is a God! I hadn't moved an inch although I thought I did, he had already walked towards me.
He was smiling and held up his hand, half-way; "Miss Sofia Vasquez-Delgado, welcome to Malaysia. I am Attila, your full time Concierge and I am honored to be of service. Maidon tells me you are beautiful, what a liar. You are breathtaking!" He almost bowed a bit.
("What a flirt! A smart-ass flirt!")
I offered my hand and smiled as sweetly as I can, "It's a pleasure to meet you Attila!", then suddenly he flipped my hand and gently kissed it. I gasped but I managed to say,"You can call me Sofia, or call me any time", then I curtsied. He looked up at me and we both laughed. He had a nice laugh. Honest. Manly. And he had great teeth. No veneers this time.
I suddenly became aware that he had not let my hand go yet and he said, "I have made reservations in a restaurant in K.L., we better go now as we do have an early start tomorrow." And he slightly drew me closer as he held my hand, I followed his lead and started walking.
The Lobby was too quiet as we walked across it and the stares were boring into my nape, I felt uneasy. He immediately picked it up and very conspiratory-like, whispered into my ear, "Relax Sofia, we are just giving them something to talk about". And without looking, he raised his free hand to wave and said, "Good night ladies, don't wait up!".
He is definitely a flirt. I heard as we walked out into the air the sound of giggles and goodbyes and hushed chatter. His car was parked right in front of the Hotel. The Valet went to get my door, and he made a signal to him so he opened it instead and said, "My lady, shall we?"
I smiled and my heart sighed. Please. Don't do this. He went to the driver's seat. I was strapping on the seat belt and since I was on the other side now (it's right hand drive in Malaysia) I was taking a little time, he took the strap from my hand and snapped the metal thing into lock.
I murmured. "Thanks". He looked at me and was staring for more than a few seconds longer than comfortable, I felt a blush rising to my face, then he said, "It is my pleasure Sofia. I should really be thanking you instead. It is a wonderful surprise for you to accept my very late dinner invite. I hope you like the flowers and the fruits."
I was going to say something, but he had started the car and looked back at the road.
(To Be Continued)