Yesterday, 12 July, was the day I’ve been dreading. It came and went, but that sinking feeling is still there. I fear it will stay there for a while.
It was my favourite colleague ever, DS’s last day at work. I barely saw him all week due to him being on-site a lot, tying up loose ends on his last project. It was like a practice session to prepare me for the real thing and heaven knows I needed it, but I was livid. It felt like he was gone before he even left. By the time he finally turned up early afternoon yesterday, I was ready to burst. Yep, I’ve got it bad!
He and I had made plans for me to go to his place later in the day to take some of his stuff, like his stand fan and lamp. They are both still in perfect condition. The offer for the fan was timely as my own fan has been acting weird. I was just going to take the stuff and run but from the minute he came in he’d been asking me (in a joking manner) to help him clean his apartment. I said no way and he said, “But why? You’re good at cleaning!” When I protested further, he used another tactic: “But I taught you to ride a bike!” AM died laughing.
While all of them were out for lunch (I stayed in and didn’t eat on account of it being Ramadan) I decided to make him a card. Talk about last-minute. I wasn’t inspired to do anything before, not even to buy a ready-made card. And everyone was hemming and hawing about getting him a gift. Not that I had any solid ideas on what to get him. Hmph. DS normally keeps a buzz cut but I have a photo of him taken last year with a completely shaved head (the barber spoke no English, DS speaks no Chinese…his instructions were lost in translation) and striking a pose like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. He looked absolutely ridiculous. I added the words “AN IDIOT ABROAD” to it – honouring one of our favourite shows and our main topics of conversation, Karl Pilkington – and printed that picture on card stock and emailed everyone to write a few words on it when they got back.
In the meantime, I had to write something. Only I was panicking about them coming back and DS catching me so my mind went blank. I thought for a moment about writing that I was sad to see him go, but I knew everyone would give me grief about being maudlin so I womaned up and eventually quoted Ricky Gervais when describing Karl Pilkington – “Head like a fucking orange!” and said something about not farting at the new person sitting next to him in London.
People got back, read their emails, and the card was discreetly passed around. When it was returned to me and I read what everyone had to say, I could not keep a straight face. Everyone’s message was so funny! KK went one step further and printed a photo of himself sticking his tongue out (taken separately sometime ago), pasting it on the back of the card. Seriously DIY, that card is. But if I know DS as well as I think I know him, he’d prefer a homemade card to an unoriginal store-bought card any day. When he read the card he broke into peals of laughter, especially at that picture of KK. I thought I spied both KK and DS getting slightly misty-eyed when they hugged. Those two are partners in crime, I know, but nevertheless I was surprised to see a hint of emotion. We left, and DS walked down the stairs for the final time. I think I was sadder about that than he was.
When we got to his place, he asked me again to help him clean, and I realised that he wasn’t joking. DS being DS, had left quite a lot of packing to do still, and to add cleaning to that…well, he would never be done before 8. He was meeting some of his friends at whatever time he was done packing and cleaning, and had to be back by 9:30pm at the latest to be able to freshen up if he wanted to make it to his midnight flight. So what did I, forever the sucker when it comes to DS, do? I got down on my hands and knees and fucking cleaned, that’s what. No, I’m not in love with him. I’m just really fond of him in a totally platonic way and I wanted him to be able to meet his friends before his flight. I’m nice.
I complained the whole time about being exploited, but secretly I enjoyed my last hours with DS. He put on Jake Bugg (“Jake Boog”) and we chatted over the music about anything and everything, just like old times. Only it wasn’t. Only he was packing up a year and nine months’ worth of his life in Singapore, and I was helping him with it. It was surreal.
It turned out he had more to give away than just his fan and lamp. This guy rarely cooked at home, yet he was fully equipped to do so. He was stocked in everything from sunflower oil to Japanese rice to garlic bulbs, all barely used. He even had a whole bag of flour, never opened. Being never one to waste food, I could not let any of it go to waste. In my pile they went. Same with cleaning supplies – still almost full. Mine.
Many, many laughs later, the packing and cleaning came to an end. I found myself actually looking for something else to clean in order to prolong my time with him, and was disappointed to see that my work was done. Truly. “Shall we go?” It was 7:45pm. No. But if we must…
He carried most of my loot for me downstairs where we waited for a cab. I thought I would have a million things to say to him. (I think I did, only my mouth wouldn’t utter them.) We waited until a cab arrived to exchange last words. “It has been a pleasure…” DS started. “Same,” I said quickly (too quickly). “And thank you for all this stuff.” DS changed directions. “Cheers, TFC. Thank you for helping me clean.” My throat was constricting. “You’re welcome,” I choked. No, no, no, don’t cry!
“DS,” I didn’t say. “I’m going to miss your maniacal laugh, and your still-sometimes-hard-to-decipher accent, and you calling me mardy, and you knowing just what to do when I’m mardy (“Don’t ask her what’s wrong or try to console her. Let her hum away and read her food blogs and she’ll be happy.”), and you changing my desktop picture when I step away from my computer (usually to Karl Pilkington), and you calling Rachael Yamagata “Rachael Yamaguchi” just to wind me up, and you winding me up and saying, “I’m just winding you up,” when I get miffed. I’m going to miss you asking me if I’ve got food for you (“No! But I’ll bring you some tomorrow…”). I’m going to miss your crazy commuting stories and how you like to listen to mine. I’m going to miss your misguided usage of Singlish. I’m going to miss how you teach me to be Zen (not that it’s working). I’ll even miss the boring lessons you give me on construction (drawings are the worst). But most of all I’m going to miss you, as a person, a colleague, a confidante, a friend. You are the best person I’ve ever worked with, the best person who has ever sat next to me anywhere. The office will be less alive without you. I will be less alive without you… (at least for a wee while)”
He placed my (his) things in the boot and said, “All right.” Oh God. It was time. He threw his arms around me. I obliged. It was DS. I wanted to hug him. I can no longer remember what was said in that brief few seconds of embrace; I don’t think I registered anything beyond the fact that DS and I were embracing, so he must be leaving, and NO NO NO. He must have noticed the look of anguish on my face and the stunned silence, for he pierced the air with, “Don’t get emo!” And just like that, I laughed again.
This will take some getting used to.