My name is Albert.
My family call me Al, while most of my friends call me Bert. Actually, I think all of my friends call me Bert. All, except one.
She never called me Bert. Nor Al. Heck, not even Albert.
The first time we met was at Tony’s, my friend, birthday party. She was his girlfriend’s cousin. Tony brought her around when I was getting another drink, I heard him giving a swift introduction, “Here, this dude over here is Albert. But we usually just call him Bert.”
I turned my back, facing them. In front of me was Tony with a tomato red face, proof that he was starting to drank too much alcohol, and a gorgeous woman with a shoulder-length brown hair. Her eyes were as black as the night sky, twinkling like there were stars inside.
Suddenly I felt like stuttering. “Hi.”
Her eyebrows shot up a little bit and she smiled coyly, “Hi.”
What a simple word with only two letters. But that, along with her smile, had successfully got me smitten. Oh call me shallow, call me vain. But I was sure at that moment a cupid just shot me right in the heart. Nice shot, buddy, nice shot.
I grinned like an idiot, “Hi.”
Oh wait, that was the second hi, wasn’t it. I was truly an idiot. She chuckled while Tony looked at me like I had just peed myself. Then Tony introduced her to other people and later on the evening I saw her hanging out with other girls. She laughed, throwing her head to the back. Her brown hair swaying, and her head tilted to the side while listening to her friends talking.
The rest of the night was a blur. But I remembered waking up on my bed the next morning, alone, and kept thinking about her. The way her eyes squinted when she laughed, the way she put her hand on the side of her hip, and… her smile. I remembered clearly she had a very beautiful smile.
On the afternoon, I decided I should asked Tony her number. But first, coffee.
I remember the guys said something about a new coffee shop around the office complex. Well, might as well try another new thing today. Other than daring myself to ask for a girl’s number to my asshole friend, risking myself to be a teasing object for weeks.
As I pushed open the door and my eyes scanned around for someone I might knew, they were stumbled on a pair of familiar eyes. I felt out of breath.
The risk of being teased for asking her number was gone. But there was now a huge risk of making myself a fool right in the middle of this coffee shop, and right in front of her.
For a split second, I was thinking, did she remember me? Did she not? What if she didn’t? What should I say? Should I reintroduce myself? That were a lot of thinking in a brief moment, so I finally went with the easiest way to make sure.
And my heart was beating faster as her eyes lit up, telling me that she remembered me. She remembered me. A little version of myself inside my head was doing a happy dance, jumping and shouting triumphantly YES!! SHE REMEMBERED ME!!
She waved her hand, “Hi!”
“Hi there!” I said, probably way too brightly. She gave me a broad smile, the smile I remember, and her shoulder relaxed.
“Hi, B.” she said again. Smiling, teasingly.
I was stupefied a moment, then letting out a relieved laugh. It felt like all the nervousness depleted.
That afternoon, my decision to get a cup of coffee at a new place turned out to be an amazing 1 hour of talking and laughing and seeing her laugh which in return made me laugh, deliriously happy. She had no idea this was the new recommended place the guys talked about, she just dropped a document for her boss at a nearby building. Something her secretary friend usually would do, but today that friend was on sick leave so she had to do it instead.
I believe that was fate, the one just like in those romantic cliche movies and novels. Hey turned out it was real. It’s like that quote in a famous book, if you really want something, the universe will conspires to make it happened. Or something like that.
I saved her number to my phone before we left the coffee shop.
And that was the beginning of us chatting all day. Phone calls on nights, talking until one of us fell asleep. A date a week later. Almost nonstop chats. Phone calls every night. More dates.
And a new nickname.
No one ever said something but as we continued our chats and calls and dates, we knew we were an item. People knew she was mine and I was hers.
Life was good. Life was beautiful. It felt like the sky was always bright blue and the birds chirping happily on the background.
On days it was actually raining, I was still happy. We would snuggling inside the blanket and sharing a big mug of hot coffee. We would order delivery foods, watching Netflix, cuddling, warming up each other and at the end of the night, I knew I would fall asleep with her in my arms.
Sometimes on a relax evening, we listened to slow ballad songs using only one set of earphone, swaying our heads in sync, sometimes looking at each other and smiled. And I loved to watch how she closed her eyes, tilted her head to side, and slowly, repeatedly nodding her head, immersing to the song.
Then, as all other couples, we had our first fight. Our second. Our third. And it became countless.
She called me asshole more often now. Oh and jerk. If we count how many times she called me asshole and jerk, I think they would be tied on the first place.
I didn’t even remember when, but it started to felt tense when we were in the same room. Not a desirable kind of tense. Rather like I-could-claw-your-eyes-out-if-you-said-the-wrong-thing kind of tense.
I felt exhausted, everything I said could and would turn into something she held against me. Everything was wrong. We were mean to each other, and I was not sure how, but it felt like we hate each other.
So one day, on a breezy Saturday afternoon, we decided we were better when we’re not together.
Before we parted ways, she gave me a hesitant and wry smile, “Can we… Can we, well, still be friends?”
I looked at her, unblinking.
Then I tried my best to smile lazily, not sure if it looked convincing and assuring, “Yeah. Sure. I mean, sure that goes without saying. Friends. Right?”
That was 3 years ago and for the past 3 years we didn’t exactly be friends. Only contacted each other to say Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, without small talks. Every wish was replied with a “Thank you, you too, have a wonderful day!” full stop.
We never bumped into each other again, because she moved to another city and pursue her master degree there.
Sometimes, on a breezy afternoon when I was sipping my warm coffee in a coffee shop, I would remember her. Like now.
I remember how we coincidentally met at a coffee shop. Her vibrant smile, the way she touch her nose when she was embarrassed, how her eyes went bigger when I brought her favorite cake, the sound of her laughter and how she threw her head back when she laughed.
The episodes when she screamed and yelled at me were not forgotten, but they didn’t feel like they were as infuriating as back then. I could remember how she cried and made me feel like I was such a loser and at the same time, monster towards her. But I wonder if I said better words, lowered the tone of my voice, and tried to talk things out with her… Would it be different now? If every time we fight I stayed and calmly listened to her instead of slamming the door and left the house, would we still be together?
Could both of us be a better version of ourselves?
If I were given a second chance, would I seize it?
Would I press the reset button and start afresh with her?
I smiled mirthlessly and sipped my coffee. Well, enough wondering what ifs. I put the cup down and got up.
As I walked through the pavement, I could feel the wind was getting even colder. Frosty air prickling on my face. I walked faster and got into the subway station, it felt so much better without the icy cold wind slapping my face. I shifted my postman bag and strode across to the escalator.
I stood on the left side, absentmindedly.
But somehow, from the corner of my eye, I caught someone like her. I turned my head to the left. There she was, standing on the other side of escalator going down, eyes downcast.
Hair still as brown as mahogany. But it was wavy now, and longer.
There was a sudden rush urge to see her face clearly so I called her name, but it came out almost like whisper. And I held my breath.
Slowly, she lifted her head. Her eyes looked confused, like she heard someone called her name but not sure if she was imagining it or not.
After a split second that felt like ten years for me, she turned her head to her left side and saw me.
And just like that, she smiled.
A smile that was so radiant, she looked beatific.
As my escalator kept going up and hers kept going down, we were holding our breath while staring at each other intently.
She opened her mouth to say something and close it again.
And finally, she called out,