[Editor’s Note : Every week we will be publishing one chapter from Ansh Das’s book, The Memory Of A Face. Needless to say, we are super excited!]
Love is as it is. It is we who give it a meaning and attach it to memories. It is we who cling on to it or let it go. There is no wrong or right way. Love is what we want it to be.
Under My Umbrella
The sound box thundered and shook the floor. If he didn’t move away soon, his eardrums would pop out, thought Oliver. Club no.9 was his usual hangout. He had danced away many a night there. But tonight was an exception — his feet weren’t moving and his mind was elsewhere.
He strained his eyes to look at his watch. It was well past 2 a.m. He found his way out, away from the DJ station and across the crowded dance floor, while holding on to his drink. He went past the sofas and let himself out onto the terrace through the door next to the second bar.
Ah, for a breath of fresh air!
Hell, no. Who was he kidding? Central was one of the most polluted districts of Hong Kong. But that didn’t deter patrons at various levels of intoxication from occupying the terrace. They were either talking or smooching.
As soon as Oliver sat down at a table on the tiny verandah, it started drizzling. Just like his own feelings at the moment. He was worried about his latest fight with Priscilla. It had started over a minor thing and had quickly blown out of proportion. They had been together for two years and yet how little they knew about each other! He lifted his glass and took a sip. He played with the vodka lime in his mouth, swirling it around and enjoying the taste.
The drizzle grew stronger and, one by one, everybody went inside to get out of the rain. He preferred to sit there, soaked in his thoughts.
Suddenly, the door opened and the booming noise drowned the gentle music of the raindrops. Somebody staggered out onto the verandah, stumbled down the steps and walked towards the end of the terrace.
Another loser, thought Oliver. He took another sip and started observing the guy, who was now walking along the parapet in an unsteady drunken gait. He stopped and leaned over the parapet, perhaps in an attempt to look at the street below. It was something Oliver had done many times. But what alarmed him was that the guy was trying to climb the parapet. A small slip could result in broken limbs or death! Oliver put his glass down and walked up to him.
“Hey! What’s up? All okay?”
There was no response.
The person continued to move into a more precarious position. Deciding to intervene, Oliver caught hold of his arm.
“Nyle…” It was a whisper.
“You had better get down, my friend.” Oliver wrapped an arm around the guy’s torso in a single-handed hug.
“You’re going to climb down. I’m going to help you. Let’s climb down, okay?” Oliver used light force to pull him back down onto the roof. The guy’s eyes were half-closed but there was no mistaking the handsome face.
“Are you okay? What’s your name?”
“Diano.” Again a whisper.
“Are you alone or with friends? Where are they, Diano? Where are your friends?”
Diano went limp and would have crashed to the floor had Oliver not held him. He lifted Diano’s limp body in his arms and walked back towards the verandah.
The door opened again and a lady stepped out. She was in dark-coloured jeans and a black tee shirt with a shiny pattern that reflected the light from the lamps near her. She stayed on the verandah and turned her head to look around. When she caught sight of Oliver carrying Diano, she rushed down the steps towards them.
“Diano! Are you okay? What happened to him? Oh my God. What are we going to do? Is he okay?” she asked Oliver. “What happened to him?”
“I don’t know. He was trying to climb onto the parapet when I got to him. I think he passed out.” Oliver realized she was Diano’s friend.
He put Diano down on a chair, making sure he was braced up.
“I’m gonna get some water. Watch over him.”
When Oliver returned with a glass of water and slices of lime, Diano was coming around. Oliver sprinkled some water on his face, made him sit up and held the glass of water to his lips.
“Here. Drink some.”
Diano drank a little and then turned his head away.
“Have some lime.”
Oliver made him chew a slice.
“What’s that for?” asked the girl.
“It helps fight nausea.”
“Are you a doctor?”
Oliver smiled. “No, I’m not. It’s just experience.”
“I warned him not to mix his drinks but he didn’t listen.”
“Maybe you should send him home?”
“Let me help you to the ground floor.”
“Oh, that’s okay. We can manage. Thank you very much.” She smiled for the first time. Oliver noticed the dimple on her right cheek. She was beautiful.
“I’m Oliver. Nice to meet you.”
“I’m Summer.” She had a sunny smile.
“Diano, let’s go.”
Diano was still groggy. He tried to stand up but lost his balance almost immediately and fell back onto the chair.
“Let me help you. Let’s go Diano.” Oliver pulled Diano up to a standing position. He passed a hand behind Diano and held him from under his arm from the left. Summer took the right arm and they headed back indoors. Once inside, they made a left through a small corridor, which brought them to the lift.
They stood at the exit on the intersection of Ice House Street and Des Voeux road, waiting for a cab to come by. On a dry night, Ice House Street would be jammed with shiny red cabs. But true to Hong Kong’s peculiarity, none would show up on a rainy night, when you needed one the most.
After contemplating for a moment whether to go back inside or go home, Oliver made a decision.
“Why don’t I drop you guys where you want to go? My car’s parked at the Cheung Kong Center.”
“Oh no. We’ve troubled you enough already. We can manage.”
“It’s okay, Summer. I was going to leave anyway. I’ll be back in a few minutes. Just wait for me here.” Oliver dashed out into the rain.
It took him a few minutes to get his Mazda 3S out to them. He helped Diano onto the back seat and secured the seat belt. He pulled out a paper bag from the glove compartment and handed it to Summer.
“I think you should ride with him, just in case. You know….”
Summer joined Diano on the back seat.
“Okay. Where to?”
“Tung Lo Wan, Percival Street.”
“Wow. That’s a busy place.” Oliver started driving.
“Yeah. But it’s very convenient and cheap.”
“That it is.”
When they got onto Percival Street, Summer asked him to pull up in front of an old seven-storied building.
“Is there a lift in your building?” asked Oliver.
“No.” She looked embarrassed.
“Okay. I’ll carry him upstairs. Looks like he’s still out.”
After he parked the car, Oliver helped Diano out and took him to the stairwell.
“Okay, which floor?”
“Seventh,” came the timid response.
Oliver bent down, picked Diano up in his arms and started climbing the stairs.
Diano wrapped his arms around Oliver’s neck.