Sun, 03 Sep 2000


By Diani Savitri

Sylvana stares at the young girl sitting in front of her. Obviously she had decided to pour out all of her emotions she had been trying to contain.

"You've been so kind, willing to meet me like this, listening to my sad story. I know you can't stay long ..,"

"Yes, I can-,"

".. but you have so much work to do, your time is limited,"

"But it's fine with me,"

"... you haven't even touched your food and you have to go back to the office in ..oh!" She lets out a small gasp," ... in five minutes from now! Oh, look what I've done to you! Let me ask the waiter to pack your spaghetti for a take-away. But, oh, I suppose you can't eat spaghetti while working .." the young girl looks lost.

"Really, Sri, it's all right," Sylvana firmly presses Sri's shaking hand that is nervously clutching a soiled table napkin. It has Sri's maroon lipstick and tomato sauce, and is wet from her tears, "I'm not that hungry anyway."

"No wonder you look so slim! I'd do anything to have a figure like yours! Oh, I feel so useless! I feel so ugly ... I guess it's why Patrick left me.

"To think I had to find a rented room and live alone was unbearable, I still can't bear it now. I have to work now to earn my living, but that's not the point - I'm back at SPG you see, my previous work place took me back, thank God.

"That was where he met me, in that plaza. I did everything to please him! I cooked for him, I cleaned the house for him, his study room - God knows how difficult it is to clean that room, with the computer and equipment ... what do you call those things?

"And I massaged him. I massaged him really good, his feet have been troubling him for a long time. I brought special massaging oil from where I lived, Klaten, in Central Java.

"You've heard about where I'm from. But the oil is not branded, it's kampong made. But it's good! I wish at least he would have let me leave that bottle of oil with him ..," her whimpering mellowed a little. She casts her eyes down.

Sylvana waits for next.

".. and you said I shouldn't have done all that," her lips tremble."

Oh how confused I am, she thought. Why is it so difficult with Patrick? Why is it so difficult to understand him, even after Sylvana tried to explain about him?

"No, no, that's not what I said," Sylvana takes a breath before continuing. Sri did not get what she had been implying. She blames herself; she should have put words in a simpler manner. After all Sri is still young, not well educated, and, well ... simple.

"I said, 'I think Patrick, Mister Patrick, I think he'd like it being single, I mean, being the way he is. I think he doesn't like a relationship with strings attached. I think he, well, he likes you," then Sylvana quickly adds when she sees Sri's eyes pained by the selection of word she chose, "I mean, he truly loves you, I believe he still does, it's just he can't get married again. He has kids, as I assume you knew,"

"But he's old, you know. He's fifty-or-so this November. Who will take care of him? Oh, I might as well die if he has someone else ... ,"

"Now listen, Sri," it is well pass the five minutes. She needs an extra ten to walk back to the office.. But it's not the time that hurries her with her next words.

"You're still very young! You're ..., what? You can't be 22. Right? And you've completed your secretarial course? You have the certificate, yes? Good. You have so many things going for you, and I can tell you it's going to be so much fun!"

No strings attached, her own words are played back repeatedly in her head.

"Just don't rush yourself to pressing your boyfriend to marry you," with that Sylvana gives a forced smile.

"But he surely wants to get married again, sometime? You just can't be alone for the rest of your life. And he's already so old! He waited all this time, maybe he had a change of heart. He did. He doesn't love me anymore!"

Poor thing. Sylvana can't help sympathizing. This simple girl just will not get it. It's been, what? Almost a month? And she still can't get over the break up.

They met at Patrick's house warming party. Sri is of medium build, dark skinned and has these round big eyes that are neither shiny nor dull.

Everybody sort of discreetly judged her the first time they arrived at the house and were welcomed by Patrick and Sri.

During the party nobody gave her any attention, not even Patrick. It seemed those young executives did not know what to do with her, so all the guests mingled and moved about trying hard not to glance at her, fearing they would have to chat with her.

Some because they did not want to appear sucking up to their boss, some males because they simply could not think of anything to talk about, and, some females because they simply did not think the lady could measure up ("Hey, even Patrick doesn't seem to care about her, one would exclaim").

Also because the last thing they wanted to do was to embarrass their boss by trapping his partner in a conversation she would not understand.

That left Sylvana to the unwritten task of a private assistant of accompanying the boss' partner at a social gathering, whenever it was needed. That night, the task was desperately needed.

Sri looks at her timidly. "I am poor and am uneducated, but I know how to run a household. I want to have babies and raise them well, I can do that, you know."

"You're so pretty and so smart and work in an office and have a career. I'm sure you don't want to get married soon. You're only .., only thirty or so..," she falters.

"Thirty-three," Sylvana explains without expression, but with an inexplicable uneasiness.

"You're only thirty-three, you're young too - do you know you look like twenty-seven, twenty-eight maximum? And with your situation of course you can get anybody to marry you anytime," Sri says, expecting confirmation that Sylvana does not give.

So they conclude their lunch meeting with a little discomfort, more so than when they arrived at the restaurant. It was made worse when Sri pushed to pay the bill, then found she only brought less than half the amount charged.

Sri was chagrined that Sylvana had to pay. Then having to wait for the credit card to be processed and having minutes to fill with awkward conversation.

The normal 10-minute walk takes almost twice that long. She cannot get herself walking at her normal busy-executive-like pace. Her boss will understand her being late. She walks slowly as if the heaviness in her thoughts weighs down her feet, not just her heart. Among the thoughts, the words repeatedly voiced; "No strings attached".

She had submitted her resignation letter last week. Not much reason given, none needed. Patrick knows damn well company rules disallow couples to work within the company.

So he let her resign.

He would find a new private assistant and explain any necessary details to the board of directors. Of course, skipping the detail of her moving in with Patrick and leaving her rented house.

No strings attached?

She has a renewed hope of getting married, to start a family. The hope was great before, but it had shrunk with the passing of time, the changing of boy friends. All this time she has been thinking of this hope vanishing, only to realize that, however small, this hope has persevered while her heart hardened.

Almost at the office, Sylvana is once again self-assured, he surely wants to get married again, sometime? Because, one just doesn't want to be alone for the rest of one's life ...