Din l-istorja dehret fil-verżjoni oriġinali tagħha f’ħarġa nru. 33 ta’ ‘Leħen il-Malti’, il-pubblikazzjoni tal-Għaqda tal-Malti, bit-titlu ‘Karozza Bħal Tagħha’. Intlaqgħet tajjeb ħafna u anke inqrat waqt il-Festival tal-Ktieb f’Dar il-Meditterran f’Novembru 2014. Qlibtha għall-Ingliż bħala parti mix-xogħol li għamilt għall-Festival tal-Letteratura Mediterranja 2015 imtella’ minn Inizjamed. L-awtur Ingliż James Vella ħa ħsieb l-editjar. L-istorja inqrat minn Albert Gatt matul is-serata tal-Festival tas-Sibt 29 ta’ Awwissu 2015 f’Sant’Iermu.
I was furious when he didn’t give way. He saw a woman at the wheel and floored the gas pedal. And to add insult, he pretended he had every right. One Police song ended and another began. I didn’t take any notice. I was beside myself with rage.
As I took a left turn towards Mosta I spotted a car that looked exactly like hers. I looked at the number plate. It wasn’t her. But the fury I felt a moment earlier vanished and I found myself thinking of her.
How long had it been since we last spoke? I tried to imagine where she would be now. Probably, like me, on her way to work. Or maybe she still went to the office early to go through her email and drink her first cup of coffee alone. Black, with one sugar.
The last time I heard from her was six months ago. An SMS. Four dry words with a sense of something I wanted to identify? I answered, asking her if anything was wrong. But she never replied. I waited three days and texted again.
‘Everything ok? How r u?’
And this time I got an answer.
‘Busy, but getting along.’
That was it. Not like our usual messages, the ones we used to send each other when I thought I had found the best of friends and spent hours texting. One message after another until one of us would feel sleepy and send the last, ‘Gnite, c u tomorrow sweet.’ And the next morning we would meet at work just before eight, make a coffee and go outside to smoke our first cigarette of the day. And still find things to say to each other. Let’s be honest – both of us had a vast repertoire of tales to tell.
Then without warning, without even a hint, she resigned. She said she had found a better position, an offer she couldn’t refuse. She never told me what the offer was, and I never asked. We trusted each other enough to understand that there are things a person wouldn’t want to speak about.
I had no intention of leaving my job – I enjoyed working there and loved the tasks I was given.
The following day, there were two more resignations. Steve and Marcus, both of them good friends of ours. We used to call ourselves the Four Musketeers, always hanging out together at company events, laughing and partying till dawn. In our secret conversations, Michelle and I dreamt of going out with them as couples. But although Marcus was handsome and caring, I never mustered up enough courage to ask him out. I was afraid that if things didn’t work out I would have to face him every single day at work and I didn’t want all that trouble. And she reasoned the same about Steve. We preferred the friendship and fun we had together from time to time.
Oh how we hugged and cried during the farewell party! We danced and smoked and drank and remembered all the good times we had been through in the years working together. No one wanted to leave, no one wanted to say that last goodbye – perhaps deep in our hearts we knew that from that moment on, we would drift apart. We promised each other to be in contact, that we would be close friends forever, to seek out each other’s help in times of trouble. For the first four or five weeks we communicated every single day, as if nothing had changed. The coffee and cigarette ritual I continued to perform at exactly the same time every morning with religious devotion, as I typed the first SMS.
‘Would you like a coffee? Good day sweet xxx’
And immediately, her reply, ‘Yes pls! Black, one sugar J G-day babe!’
But then things changed. Gradually, slowly. I would send her an SMS and get a reply the following day. ‘Sorry! Just saw your message, was busy.’ She rarely texted first – it was always me. I asked her to meet up sometimes, perhaps for a quick coffee somewhere.
‘I can’t, too busy,’
And my reply, ‘no prob dear, another time.’
And I persisted. Week after week, month after month I kept trying.
Until one day I didn’t text her anymore, telling myself she would make contact when she’s ready. But it never happened. In the meantime, things at work changed as well. Michelle, Marcus and Steve were never replaced. A few others left as well. I often felt very alone. I didn’t have any other friends and there was no one I could speak to, let alone confide in. There were days I contemplated leaving, trying out something new, forgetting the friends I once had and the silly promises we made and starting a new chapter. But I don’t know, my courage fails me. My heart craves the change but my mind tells me to stay put, that I’m safe where I am and it would be stressful to start anew someplace else, knowing that after a while I would settle down again in the same routine.
As I parked in front of the office I made up my mind to text her and ask if she’s all right, maybe I could persuade her to meet up. I realised how nostalgic I felt as soon as I had spotted that car which looked exactly like hers. I missed Michelle so much.
I went in, picked up the mug from my desk and the smartphone from my handbag and headed for the kitchenette. Waiting for the kettle to boil, I started typing a new SMS. Chris and Noel – two employees from Steve and Marcus’s department – came in and I had to stop. I put the smartphone in my back pocket, and decided I would write the message later, while smoking.
“I need some really strong coffee this morning,” Chris was saying, “I just couldn’t wake up. “ At that point he noticed me . “Hi, good morning Annabelle.”
I wished them both a good morning without leaving my place in front of the kettle.
“What time did you leave? I was home a little after two,” when Noel spoke I could smell alcohol on his breath, so strong that it filled the small room.
“Some time after five,” Chris replied, yawning.
“Five!?” the other exclaimed. “People were still around?”
“It was full up. You should have seen Marcus. We had to take him out of the car and up to his room in his mother’s house. He was a mess. He went on drinking until he lost consciousness.”
“Heh, he got drunk for the last time!” Noel laughed, “From next Saturday, he’ll be in chains.”
The kettle boiled and I poured slowly, my attention focused on the conversation behind me.
“Next Saturday we celebrate some more eh!”
“Claire’s gonna be with me this Saturday, so I won’t be able to drink. She’ll start nagging as soon as she sees me with a glass.”
“Ah, come on! You’re worse off than poor Marcus! He’ll be married soon, but you, you just started dating for god’s sake!”
I screamed, and my voice startled them and even myself. I hadn’t realized the cup was full and I continued pouring until it splashed over my hand. Noel noticed what happened and opened the freezer door, taking my hand in his and putting it inside the empty ice compartment.
“Hold on for a moment Annabelle,” he said, “otherwise you’ll have a blister.”
After a while, I felt neither the pain nor my hand. I took it out of the freezer and closed the door.
“It’s nothing,” he said after scrutinizing it for a moment. “Do you want me to make you another cup of coffee?”
“No need,” I said, as I picked up the mug and carefully emptied it into the sink. “Thank you for the first aid.”
I longed to hear more about Marcus. From what I had overheard, he was getting married and his friends had taken him out for a bachelor’s party. I didn’t even know he had been seeing someone. I took the smartphone out of my back pocket, intending to let Michelle know about this gossip, but I realised that if she asked for more details I wouldn’t have any. There were so many questions to ask!
Who was he marrying? What was her name? Where was she from? Why were they getting married so quickly? Where were they going to live? But I was too shy to ask. I turned around to go out of the kitchenette but Chris stopped me with a question of his own.
“And you must have been to Michelle’s hens. How was it?”