It was seven in the morning when I came back to my place. It took a bit of effort in finding my keys, but soon I was able to open the door and get in. I live in a small 400 square feet apartment. There was a strong smell of beer, mixed with a stench of what was probably yesterday’s dinner; I had ordered in some food from an Asian store nearby, they serve pretty generous amounts of ramen.
Although some would think my place is small, it actually feels quite big to me. Having lived alone for so many years, I find it easier to maintain a small place. I keep it very clean, almost as if the sanctity of my place reflects the calmness within me. However, a man also needs to earn something. And last year, after losing my job to the pandemic, I decided to rent out half of my apartment. I measured my living space and just halfway across, I placed a pair of curtains, a very dark shade of blue. I moved around some stuff to empty out the space, and put it out for subletting. It was not a lavish arrangement, and my hopes were to have someone rent that at any price they want, which could pay for some of my living expenses down the road.
After some days, I started getting applicants. Most of them would look at the place and turn away, the usual complaints being it was too small, or too dingy, or that the place smells a lot like a public toilet; which, by all means, is as false as it could be, since I clean the house practically every day, having not a lot of other things to do. Two weeks into this search, a man came by. He was short and dark, and for some reason, I felt an instant connection with him. His face reminded me of someone, someone I had once seen somewhere, and the face had an uncanny resemblance to him, though who that was, I could not remember anymore. His voice was deep, a bit deeper than mine. The winning feature, however, was that he looked strong enough to fend off burglars, contrasting to the feeble bone structure that I had.
“I am Tom,” he introduced himself. “I will pay you a hundred dollars more than what you have asked for. But I need to move in immediately.”
“Fine by me,” I said.
And just like that, I had found a new roommate.
That was ten months ago. It seemed for a while that he was a nice guy; he stayed on the other side of the curtains, and sometimes even shared his food with me on nights when I did not feel like cooking. He had a crooked smile, and it reminded me of the time I smiled similarly because of a tooth infection. Did he have a tooth infection, I asked? He said he did not have one. We did not speak on the subject after that.
Today, however, I despise the man. He is better than me at almost everything, including the one place where I never found much luck: women. As I climb onto my bed, I can hear his bed creaking and the moaning just beside me. He has brought another woman again, and as they end up in their climax, I do too. A shameful indulgence. Everything goes silent for a while, and then I hear some noises in the kitchen now. He has drawn the curtains aside, so that the sunlight falls on my eyes and blinds me for a moment.
I get up and pull the curtains again, making the room dark as it was. I look around now, clothes flung around on the chairs, some socks lying around the couch; a trash bag filled with beer bottles just beside the door, along with a pizza box. I wonder when this area was last cleaned. I put the kettle on, warm some water and gulp it down. Then I go and open the windows, sifting through a layer of dust, and inhale the fresh morning air. I hear a humming from the kitchen, a tune I have ever so often heard but fail to place the source.
I walk into the kitchen, pretending it to be a coincidence, but my real wish is to see the woman who was just moaning. Is she good? Is she beautiful? He brings around all kinds of women, so for me, this exploration is a fascinating part of the morning. I enter the kitchen and she looks at me. Our eyes meet. She smiles at me and says, “You are back.”
Why does this look so familiar? Why do I feel I have seen her before? I have definitely seen her before. I try to press my mind deeper into where I met her the last time. Now I remember, it was a few years ago, something about a café, we were drinking coffee. No, that wasn’t it. Something about a wedding. Yes, it was definitely a wedding; she was there, and I was there too. Who was getting married? Well, not important.
“I know you, I have seen you somewhere,” I tell her.
“I have put on a pot of coffee for you, would you like some?” she asks.
And then it all strikes to me. For a moment, I remember the walks in the parks, the movie nights together, dinners at fancy restaurants, hiking through mountains, and flights to distant countries. I remember kisses and fights, and the warmth of love. The moment passes, and it all vanishes.
“We were lovers,” I say. She smiles back, affirming my thoughts.
Why was she here, after all these years, in bed with someone else? I wanted to shout, be angry, but I could not form the words. All I could come up with was, “So are you with him now?”
She looked at me, her eyes slightly moist.
“Are you hallucinating again, dear husband?” she says.
“Don’t you put it on me. Why the hell are you sleeping with Tom?”, I ask.
“There you are again. There is no Tom dear, we have been married for ten years now, it is just you and me. You must be tired, you were out all night. Here, drink this. You will feel better,” she says.
“We are not married,” I protest, drinking the coffee she pours into my cup.
As the coffee goes down my throat, I feel my throat constricting, my eyes closing in, and the world around me becoming darker moment by moment.
I cannot see clearly anymore. “What have you given me?” I ask.
“It will all be fine,” she says, and I drift into my dreams. I can feel it though, she is walking back to Tom, and now they are both looking at me, and smiling at each other.