Friday, July 3

Tender Moments

I try to rush to the top floor, but I can't do anything about the wall of people going up the escalators. KLCC is not in my favorite list during weekends. I swear half the population of Kuala Lumpur congregate here during non-working days. I look at my watch, a birthday gift from him that I only take off when I shower. Gah! I'm already 45 minutes late, fifteen more than usual. My fingers make a mini Mexican wave on the rubber handrest. There is something about going up the escalator and be greeted by the pale, great rectangular arch of an entryway leading toward my favorite haunt that causes my heart to skip every time I see it. Maybe it's the familiar chrome letters at the head of the arch, spelling out K-I-N-O-K-U-N-I-Y-A. Maybe it's the full glass-panel wall a few meters behind it, with light streaming in, lending it an ethereal glow. But I suspect it's knowing there are countless books and magazines inside, each with their own weight, their own texture, be it rough or smooth, and their own scents, all waiting to be picked up and read. I gulp in paper-scented air when I step off the escalator, suddenly remembering to breathe again. To the left, a plump guard in pale brown on brown uniform leans against the marble wall, smoothing his thick mustache. A banner standing next to him is promoting the cafe one floor up, giving 20% discount on hot beverages with every purchase of RM50 and above. Interesting. I'm already thirsty from race-walking here from the LRT station at the basement level. I rummage out my phone from my leather slingbag. Parts of the bag's surface are already peeling out, making it look like a sunburnt albino cow, but it's still sturdy and can withstand the weight of all the things I stuff in it. Good enough for me. Without looking, my thumb rests on the button '2', his speedial number, but I stop myself before pressing it. He's bound to be here somewhere, lost in his own world. I take two lefts and walk up the wooden ramp. On my way up I scan the stacks of books on my right for any new ones on display. R.L. Stine, Paulo Coelho, Neil Gaiman, more R.L Stine. Nothing new since I came here last week. I continue walking past the new arrivals and bestseller/movie tie-in shelves, toward the fantasy section. I tiptoe the last few meters, and stop with him in full sight. He is sitting on the wooden backless bench close to the glass-panel wall, leaning forward with both elbows resting on his thighs. His hands are cradling an open book, one of the Forgotten Realm series. His face is lost behind the book; I can only see his spiky jet-black hair. He's wearing a chocolate brown T-shirt. I suspect it's the one with 'Make Peace Not War' printed in white at chest level. And his favorite pair of jeans that looks more grey than blue. Right now, at this particular moment, I don't care I'm almost an hour late. Watching a man -- my man -- reading sends a tingle down my spine, spreading this warmth throughout my body. Seeing him frozen, occasionally flicking a page, amidst his ever-moving surroundings, gives my body an involuntary shudder -- no, thrill is a more suitable word for it. "Hey, you." In an almost lazy motion, he lifts his head. His eyes trail behind, and they seem unfocused for a few seconds. His whole face suddenly lights up when he grins. A hint of crow's feet line the corners of his twenty-two-year-old eyes. Sparse hair dot the edges of his lips like fledgling raven wings (he calls it a mustache and is proud of it too). "Li Lian." I love the way he breathes my name. "How long have you been standing there?" "Sorry I'm late." He makes a tiny arc with his left hand. "Don't worry. This book's good. I'm thinking about buying it." "Zarif. You bought a trilogy last week." "Done reading them." He gives me another grin, this time accompanied by a shrug. "So we good for lunch?" I unsling my bag and lean it against Zarif. Then I slide my navy-blue scrunchie off my hair -- slightly askew after lifting the bag off my shoulder -- and readjust my ponytail. "Hey. Leave your hair down. You look better that way. And what kind of girl wears a slingbag?" "And have me sweating my neck off? No way. You bought me that slingbag, and you ask me that question." I roll my eyes at him. "What kind of guy reads so many books?" "Your type of guy." "So you have an answer to everything?" "Not everything." Still smiling, he shakes his head. "Go find a book. I'll wait here." "You're buying, right? What if I find a two-part book? Or...a trilogy?" "Then lunch is on you." "Fine." I stick my tongue out at him, but my smile mirrors his. "Spend more than RM50 on me, and we can get a discount upstairs." "Fine." I walk away from him with a silly smile plastered on my face. As I veer to the left to the Horror section, I turn to steal a look at him. He's still looking at me. He mouths something before returning to his book. "Yes," I whisper to myself. "I love you too."