That gnawing feeling…

     Yesterday, I was coerced to say a few words at a memorial service.

     Perhaps “coerced” is too kind a word. I was late for a memorial which I wasn’t scheduled to attend. I attended because the Big Boss called in sick.

     I arrived at the funeral parlour towards the tail-end of the memorial service; the part where friends and colleagues were expected to deliver a eulogy. All eyes were on me when the Pastor asked if anyone else would like to say a few words; someone from the office, perhaps.

     Totally unprepared, I started with the same old tired line: “I have known … have known…hmm…”

     The Pastor sitting near me piped, “Irene”

     “…Irene..for quite some time.” 

     “Irene and I worked together on M & A projects.  We spent many good nights arguing over valuations, complained endlessly over unreasonable timelines and cry when deals fall through?” 

     I knitted my eyebrows and tried my best to talk about a generic occasion or setting where Irene and I would have worked together; because frankly,  I can’t for the life of me even recall working with an Irene previously.

     Someone sobbed loudly.

     I looked up and saw a lady in the front pew, carefully drying tears off a shiny new gold-coloured smartphone with a balled-up tissue.

     Not knowing what else to say, I decided to end my eulogy by offering my condolence to the family.

     When I got back to my seat, my colleague leaned towards me and whispered, “I think you have got the wrong Irene. This is Irene, the office tea lady.”

Flash fiction – The Mentor’s last stand

     “When the root is deep, there is no reason to fear the wind,” my mentor points to the tv screen.

     The tv is mounted awkwardly at the corner of the bar. It has its sound turned down; a ticker tape showing falling stock prices races across the screen. All the big companies on the stockmarket are flashing their stock prices in red. Each flash a cent down from the previous. But my mentor is calm. You can only get bargains when there is panic and fear, he reminds me.

     I draw circles in the condensed droplets impatiently. He reaches out for my flask to pour cold sake into my cup. 

     “You should take the warm drinks instead of chilled. Too much cold drink is bad for health,” he chides.

     “Surely that’s not why you want to see me for, Sir.”  I wave at the bartender to bring me a bowl of stewed daikon.

     “I have the same,” my mentor concurs, “and I would also like some yudofu. Would you like some yudofu? You used to love the hot tofu.” 

     My heart skips a beat. He remembers

     The bartender’s wife places an earthern pot in front of us and lifts the lid, releasing a thick head of briny steam. Inside the pot are four blocks of freshly made tofu bath in kombu stock. I lean forward to inhale the savoury umami flavour of the seaweed.

     My mentor scoops a tofu block and places it into my bowl. He pours soy sauce and some of his sake onto my tofu before topping it with grated ginger and chopped scallions. Carving a piece off my tofu with his spoon, he blows to cool it down slightly. He gestures me to open my mouth. The hot tofu slides in; its soft custardy texture wobbling on my tongue like creme caramel. He hands me my bowl, “Itadakimasu. Eat. We talk later”

     I steal a glance at my mentor. We had worked together for 24 years. He employed me when I was fresh out of university. He introduced me to the seedy side of global investment banking; taught me how to seduce an investor by playing to his own greed. No qualms. No conscience. No what-ifs. Every successful deal closed was a huge jump in our annual bonus pool. 

     He laughs abruptly. I find myself laughing too. Not that I know what he is laughing about. His laughter is infectious; it comes out as a guffaw more than a chuckle; an echo that rises all the way from the gut.

     He turns sharply and catches me looking at him. I blush. He retrieves a cigarette from the case, taps one end against the counter top before lighting up. A slight tilt of the head. A long slow inhale. A coy smile as warm nicotine races down to his lungs. Later, sharp rushes on exhaling before ashes are flicked impatiently readying for the next puff.

     “Let’s go out for a walk,” my mentor suggests, after we had washed down our meal with the one more flask of warm sake. Our third.

     Outside the moon hangs low in the hazy sky. Spring is here. It will soon become hot and humid. But tonight, it feels chilly. I shiver in my white linen shift dress. I untie the cashmere scarf around my neck and drape it over my shoulders. My mentor takes off his jacket and wraps me in it. I resist the urge to press his jacket against my face.

     “How is he?”

     “Look! what a perfect round moon.” I pull the front of the jacket tightly.

     “Why did you marry him?”

     “Is this why you want to meet me for? To ask me why I decided to throw down my last card?” 

     He stops suddenly and turns to me.

     What is there to tell? That I am tired of innuendos at work? Or that my on-off boyfriend had issued the ultimatum? Or..or.. that I am tired of waiting, of hoping…

     “I just reckoned it was time.” 

     My mentor grabs me around my waist. He tilts my face towards him with one hand while the other holds the small of my back. He caresses the side of my cheek and parts my lips gently.

    C’mon, let me hear you lie to me again.

   “Silly girl. Didn’t I tell you that I am trying to get a divorce?” he said