A Short Coffee After


Before Sunset-cliche, story continuation of ASILUM

What if writing a book was a mistake in the first place? I sat behind this desk over an hour and I have just had one or two visitors coming in every fifteen minutes.  I wondered what was going to pass in their mind when they saw a banner read "Asilum" standing behind my desk. They must think that I might be a neurologist or something. Or maybe some of them guessed correctly. That girl was a crazy person.  I wondered what was going on into their mind when they beamed a smile at me. When some of them open the first page of a copy and handed it in front of me. It was the first time someone asked for my signature. It felt strange rather than surreal. I remembered him too, the first person to ask. Although, I was not wearing thick black frame glasses and was not fond of it, I knew we were coming from the same planet. The 20-something stared awkwardly. His movement was too, awkward and careful, as if I was going to bite him on the neck. I asked mutely, what's to afraid? I handed him over the copy and I could see his hands were shaking. The muscles on his face flexed as he beamed me another smile before he left. Secretly I hoped that he would turn his face somehow, so that I could have a look of this 'fan' for the last time. I did not deny that he looked good as well. He dressed decently with pair of cardigans and button down shirt, but I could tell that he was younger from the way he appeared.

My eyes flew to the aisle between bookshelves on my far left. I knew this bookstore very well since I was young. The far left aisle stored all the less popular books. The books which were written by unheard-of writers, which was going for a discount very soon, sooner than they expected to. I looked at the stacks of the book which were printed in hardcover material at the table's end. There was my alias written along the tag and asked myself, "am I belong to that part of this bookstore too?"

The bookstore manager cued at me. It was another thirty minutes before I closed my desk, but actually I did not mind to leave earlier. However I did not have any place better to go, so I remained and drew out my smart gadget and tap on the screen. I guess the passerby would not be convinced that I was look as smart, but I did not mind, the book I wrote was not written to please any intellectual minds.

"Excuse me, is the booksigning closing?" a voice called, male.
"It will in about 30 min..." I held my breath when I raised my face and encountered the person who stood before me. Chesnut hair, it would be wavy if he kept it long enough and dark mahogany eyes. The fine scent that made me think of the woods and its mystery lies behind it. 
"Liberty?" he grinned as he weighed the book on his palm. I still could see my name on the sidebar, and I guessed it was the point that he would like to highlight. "Anyway, congratulation, Liberty." he expanded his arm to me. I welcomed his hand with glee.


"Nice to meet you old friend," I said.
"Old friend," he murmured, I could not tell he agreed or not. "Are you really closing, because I am going to take your for a cup of coffee." he said. So casually, that I agreed with him in the first place without even a hint of argument. I packed my things and cued the office manager to wrap. I managed to thank him at the end of the day by promising her a free jar of cookies that mom made.

I saw her telling the store keeper to disarrange the desk, chair, banner and everything. Somehow, watching that my heart sunk. But, when Mikhail grabbed my arm and gave me a look, as if he understood what I was thinking inside my head. It had always been this way. His affirmed stare and grip assured me that I was ready to let go. He curled his arm on the top of my shoulder and squeezed my body tight, I did not know what he did was meant to be humorous but I walked limply against his lean body.

"Where do you want to get the coffee?" I asked him, whilst being nearly buried to the side of his chest, underneath his arm. We exited the book store to open view of the mall artery where international coffee shops franchises lined on the mall's entrance. But I knew that was not the coffee shop, he--we--were looking for.

"I knew a really good place nearby, unless you let me walk." I said.
"Okay," he withdraw his arm from my body and it felt so good. I begin to lead the way out from the mall. Where the dust and the smoke washed our faces and the sound of honking car was loud, it pierced our ears. I kept walking south with him by my side.

"So, how are you doing?" I asked without hesitation. Unafraid of running out of the conversation that we were supposed to have the moment we sat down at the coffee shop, because I was certain that we had lots to talk about and plenty time to share it. That every minute counted.

"Doing good, but not as good as you." he said with a hint of laugh that did not sound bitter or jokingly.
"Oh, come on."
"I mean you are living your dream as a writer."
"It is not good enough to pay the bill, I need to get out of the city and find a job. It is all temporary."
"Oh, God." he drew his face away as if he was trying to make me feel bad of what I had said. 
Oh God, here we go again.
"What?" I asked, trying my best to conceal the cringe on my forehead from appearing.
"You just don't take compliment, do you? Your humbleness eat your confidence, Runi."

I was stepping at the pavement, trying to avoid his eyes. I fixed my eyes on the cobble sidewalk but my mind kept agreeing the information that being said by him. Until I lift my face and thanked the lord, the coffee shop was only ten steps away. I could not bear to argue on him on the street.

"So what are you now, I guess a motivational speaker?" I said as I walked further from him and to the inside of the coffee shop, hoping that my voice would not sound as loud if I stood next to him. But I was sure enough that he could hear me clearly.

"You learn subtle sarcasm, good." he commented. "Wow, this is a nice place." he said as he studied the surrounding.

"This place was built during the colonial era by a Chinese trader. It used to be a private residence but, now Mrs. Ong and her family, the descendant of the trader, turned it into a cafe  to entertain the local for their lovable Indonesian-Chinese homestyle food."
"This is nice. I love the painting, these small marble chairs and table, I cannot actually fit my butt in."
I laughed. He laughed. We knew the conversation was about to start over.
He reached for the menu before I did. "So, Autumn would you suggest me something nice to eat here?"
"I would suggest something very nice for you. Okay, how about steamed thick toast with dippings of condensed milk, peanut butter and srikaya?"
"You lost me at toast. I did not want comfort food. I need something heavy and satisfying for the tummy."
"Alright, then you should try the noodles."

We landed our meal option, and it turned out as not light and coffee-friendly as we expected to be.

"Are you still a vegetarian?"
"Yes, I am." he answered.
"When did you leave the asylum? And why were not you going back to the States?" I paused, "How is your son?"
He grinned. "I'll answer as soon as I get my coffee."

But thankfully, the drink arrived rather quick. I let him had a sip.

"I guessed it was two months after you left. I was back in the States to settle Jerome's custody. He stays with Anne now," that was the first time I heard of his ex's name, "but he would exchange days and weekend visit to my place. He knew that I was traveling back to Asia again. I promised to send him postcard as much as I can, and I am thinking,"  he paused and examined the shop again, "Could you take a picture of me later inside this shop? Jerome will be happy to see me visiting some cool places."

"Sure," I said, and jokingly added. "Do you want me in the frame as well?"
He shrugged his shoulder. "Why not?"

Why not? Because I am the girl Jerome's dad once kissed. I said it to none but myself and it made my skin crawled. Then I thought, I better not.

"I thought you would be staying in Ubud. And why wouldn't you?" he asked me around that time.
"I think I wait until the food arrive," I responded with a smirk.
He squirted his eyes and managed to smile. Defeated, I said. "I change my mind." I threw my palms up in the air. "The reason I was not staying in Ubud because, I had a deal with my mother. Either to go home and write a book, or go somewhere else to find job, but not Ubud. Otherwise, she would kick me off home for good."
"That sounds pretty terrible."
"I know."
"And you chose home instead,"
"At least, I could write peacefully."
"Well, you could write anywhere else you wanted as long as you have talents with you."
"I could write," I paused him. "but, not peacefully." I raised my cup of coffee and drunk half of it. "Do you not remember why, or what was the reason I submitted myself to the facility at the first place? Imagine how many more asylums I need to visit and how many crazy men, like you, that I would have encountered."
He laughed. "Then, I must have been madly jealous at them."
"Stop it." I said as I finished the whole cup of black roasted coffee and he did too.

He placed his cup onto the table and gave me a rather serious look. "You have never known why I came to the asylum, don't you?"

"That was a lifetime question that I don't bother to raise because I am afraid to upset you."
"What was it that you were afraid of?"
"I did not know, maybe it was us. You'd be mad and you'd left me, but in the end I was the first to leave anyway." I cackled at the irony.
"And have you ever wondered why did I disappear the night after our first encounter?"
"Yes," I hurriedly answered. "That."

However, he sat still with his eyes pierced against mine when the waiter drew our food from the tray. I could feel his tension. It seemed like he wanted some privacy before he continued the conversation. Before the waiter left, he called him again to order another two cups of black coffee. And as soon as he left, he begun to speak again.

"But first of all, I need to correct your character, Lukas, in your novel. Because I believe if Lukas was not hurting Leila for no reason. And the reason was inevitable. As the writer, did it occur to you to give Lukas a certain dark past? Lukas past relationship with his wife was not strong enough to be the reason of him not committing to the next one."

"Wow, I am delighted to know that you are obsessive about my story."

He smirked. "I am delighted to know that you are so obsessive about my life and wrote a book from it."

"Don't flatter yourself, I am not writing about anyone's life. And If you said I did, then I might collaborate all perspectives I heard and understood from many people in my life. That might include you, myself, Marjorie, Saras, and those high asylum attendants we saw the other day."


I was not finished. "And if I did write about you, did it occur to you that you were once a part of my story." and it was a slip from my tongue and I looked into him with my bravest stare.

"So does that mean, it is okay for me to feel flattered?"

I did not answer him immediately but instead I nibbled on my toast. "It is okay to feel okay about it, not to feel flattered."

"Are you still interested what was going on with Lukas?" he raised his brows. Could him suggest more comfortable topic? Without his knowledge, I was texting underneath the table. I asked someone to pick me up because I did not think having this coffee any much longer would be a good idea.

"How does it even matter? The copies were printed. People are reading it," better be reading it. "What are you trying to say to the people?"

"What people think of Lukas does not matter, but you, have to know what is going on with me,"

"That better be good, so what's really going on with you?" I asked, not bothering to look displeased.

I dropped the toast when he answered. "I was molested."
"What?" I asked him, but the question repeated over and over in my head. "You what?" I noticed my voice were torn between being shaken and steady.
"I was molested by a close relative when I was seven, and it had been going for years. That is why I decided to submit myself to the asylum. So, you were not the only crazy person who had been crazy enough to do it."
"But I thought it was because of Jerome, your divorce and the custody."
"You were close, but what makes you think my wife would divorce me?"
I kept silent. Seemingly, I knew what could have gone wrong in his family but I let him answered. "Ever since Jerome was born, I was the luckiest man on earth. But watching him growing up, it was such a torture. I could not imagine if something that I would have experienced would eventually be happening to him," he put down his chopstick and the broth spilled over white shirt and left stain. He seemed annoyed but he could have careless. He only clicked his tongue when he spotted the stain and the focus was back at me again. His mahogany eyes had never seen that weary before. "And Anne, seemed exhausted to handle the truth. We could not connect emotionally, intellectually and even sexually you know."

My throat went dry when I felt he was taking our coffee talk too far.

"I had been so scared in my life to show physical intimacy because of my past. The truth is, even with Anne, I needed to try my best. However," he stopped and looked at me, giving me a look of something that he'd rather not say. So I helped him.

"Would you feel less comfortable with me rather than you were with Anne?"
"It is the opposite. I feel much comfortable when you are around."
My cheek blushed, my heart pounded and all I could manage to say was, "I am sorry about what you have gone through."

Then I think of the flashes of words I just said to him earlier. How does it even matter?That better be good, so what's really going on with you?

"And I am so sorry of what I have just said to you, and, " I held a deep breath. "The day when I attacked you. I must know how terrified you were that day. I really apologize."

He glanced at me, "You do not need to feel bad about that." I did not know whether he was trying to be strong in front of me or not. But the pressure begun to loose when he started devouring the bowl of curry noodle that was no longer steaming.

Then we begun eating in silence. However, I still felt terrible after all what he had said. He accepted my apologies and something told me that I did not need to bother to apologize because he did not need one. The next second I felt upset about it, because I was not there when he was actually assaulted or at least, the moment he wanted to be supported and heard.

I looked at him again, willing to raise another argument. But, he looked as if he was in his own bubble and I did not want to bother. Beside, I felt terrible of what I have just said earlier, was I going to hurt him again with my words?

Just before things got worse, an arm draped around my shoulder and a peck landed on my cheek. I inhaled deeply. Why now Rio?

The man before me watching mutely. His eyes secretly studied between me and him, the friendly guy who asked me how I was doing that day and called me by sweet name in our local language that he barely even understood. The next second he begun eating again. He tried to ignore us.

"Mikhail, meet Rio. Rio, this is Mikhail." I introduced the men.

When Mikhail lifted his face, I was surprised to see a smile stretched across his face, a sincere kind. Both of the men shook hands.

"Rio is my boyfriend," I explained to him without hesitation, somehow it was better for him to know as soon as possible. Then I turned to Rio, "Mikhail here is my good friend. We met in Ubud."
Rio raised his eyebrows and nodded. "Oh,"
"Just call me Mike."
"Cool, Mike." Rio agreed with a smile. He took a seat next to me, in between us. Rio had been a talkative person. It was good to know that he mingled well with Mikhail. Mikhail himself was very welcoming. I did not even bother to mediate the men to know each other.

Rio told Mikhail about his profession, a fresh dentistry practitioner. He said that I was supposed to join him to take dentistry if it was not for Communication Programme scholarship I receive in Singapore. Mikhail heard of how we met : we were high school friends, a close kind. I did not know the purpose of Mikhail's visit to Asia, specifically, Central Java, my hometown until Rio asked.

"I am having a gig," Mikhail said.
"What sort of gig?" Rio was fast enough before me to ask.
"Directing. They are making a huge commercial for regional airline in Asia. We are still in process of location scouting. I will fly to anywhere else but Jakarta to find some uncharted place, well not really uncharted, but place that still has an earthy feeling." He said, "And you know what, this town might be it." he smiled.
"You can never be less right," Rio patted Mikhail's shoulder proudly. The next second he asked to be excused to the gent's, so there were only two of us staring awkwardly at each other.

"You? Directing?" I was the first to break the silence.
"You'd never asked." he was sipping another cup of brewed coffee. "I did not know that you are going to be a dentist, you'd make a good one."
"Is that so?"
"We'd never really knew each other, don't we?"

His words almost brought me to tears. Because how true it was and how desperate I wanted him to share more of my life with him. But he was right, I knew.

"Do you know my last name, Seruni?"
I shook my head, stayed mute.
"Lijek." he said. "Lijek is my family name."

I kept gazing at the empty coffee cup. I did not bother to look at him in the eye, but from the corner of my eyes, I saw him packing or perhaps, taking things out of his bag.

"The booksigning is still open, right?" he moved a copy across the table, to me. I paused, trying to digest what he had been saying, then I opened the first page of the copy and put my signature there. I was thinking to put my mobile number to keep him in contact, but I dismissed it. He'll find me if he wants to.

Instead I wrote, 2.45 PM. Kafe Ong. Semarang, Indonesia with warmest regards from your old chap.

I closed the copy and gave it to him with a hint of smile to conceal it all. He then handed me a pocket camera, the ones that every tourist carry.

"Could you take my picture?"
I weighed in the camera, "Do you still want me in the frame?" I smirked.
He answered rather seriously, "Then, who's gonna take my picture?"
The waiter can. But instead I was agreeing and stand foot away from him, who was standing behind a praying cube decorated with incense, chinese words and painted in all red. He begun to spread his arms goofily. I did not know whether this was allowed or was this disrespectful enough to get us kicked out.

It was time to say goodbye, I knew it. I refused him to pay for the meal.

He walked the coffeehouse with a brief hug, without a promise. The moment his back turn, I thought I'd never seen him again. So, I rushed out and draped my arms around him. It felt like an attack. My body hurts and my tears started melting. There was no way to hide it.

"Could you please stay?" I asked faintly.
He looked at me and said. "Oh, Runi, If only everything was easy."
He blowed me a kiss on the forehead. I did not even care if Rio was watching from our back. I felt safe instantly. "
"Please, stay in touch." I said.
"We will." he paused. "It won't be easy."

My heart shed the moment he continued to walk away and disappeared from my sight.

Mikhail Lijek. It seemed like I lost him forever.


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