Yesterday at Starbucks I whiled away my time over an Americano, watching the morning sun wash down an already gleaming Jalan Kiara. Every now and then I turned and made accidental eye contact with a Korean at the table across mine. (Cast your eyes in any direction in Mont Kiara, and they’ll hit on one Korean at the minimum). Whereas I was sprawled in my seat, he was upright in his. Whereas I’m in the afternoon of my life, he was in the morning of his. Our eyes locked only an instant before we glanced away, each toward nothing particular on his right.

In time two ladies walked in, a middle-aged and a teen-aged, and made straight for the young man I’ve introduced above, and began bowing, and smiling with utmost happiness — it seemed — at having met each other. They bowed and bowed and bowed again and made repeat greetings before they sat and began to speak. The women bounced in their seats; the man was staid, shy somewhat. Time passed and I lost myself in some thoughts of me, and when I next looked the mother had left and the boy and girl were by themselves, engaged in each other with the intensity of a first date. Their eyes glowed so, and an aching rose up in me just watching them. In time the mother returned and dropped herself into the ongoing conversation, infusing energy into it, lifting the party to the color and character of the average age of the group.

All that was yesterday, as I said at the very beginning. I remember the scene because it reminded me of the preliminary rituals of the Indian arranged marriage.

Today I’m at a high table at the same Starbucks. Halfway through my Americano, I’ve noticed that yesterday’s boy and yesterday’s girl are at a low table by the window, both wearing light-colored fresh-laundered clothes that bare the full length of their arms
. The young lady has a fat book, a school workbook, open before her, and has her pen over it. The young man is guiding her, and she nods and her hand obeys the advise received.

It’s very nice, but after a few seconds watching them I slip into my own reverie, and the pretty sight fades in my consciousness.

Until … something happens … another scene begins to play out. The girl has pursed her lips on her chubby face. Her eyes have tightened. Her pen-holding hand is clenched, free now of pen. The boy’s hand rises from her book, goes to his black open bag, picks it off the floor. He zips it up and slings it over his back and walks out the door, where, in an instant one with the bright and balmy December day, he looks back once to the girl, who has pulled out her handphone and, gripping it in both hands, is smiling into it.

They didn’t bow goodbye, I’m thinking.