Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Copyright Cristian Vidrascu, 2004 or 2005
This was my first full short story.  I hope my writing style has improved since then. 

Igor flashed his badge and walked into the building.  He had already spent more than an hour and fifteen minutes away from the office, but it was definitely worth it.

The day was perfect for his twice-a-week lunch soccer game.  Panting, he went over his game.  He had played much better than usual.  His two mistakes – the ones that he remembered, anyway – did not take away from the fact that he had touched the ball virtually every other play.  He had dribbled, passed, shot, defended, everything.  Of course he knew how to play, unlike most of the others who showed up, but he wasn’t exactly in top shape.  Even after he quit smoking, he had lost some of his speed and especially his stamina.  And those guys were typical Americans: solid, tall, in great shape, ambitious, and on top of that they ran like crazy!  Regardless, he had been the best one on the field today.

With these thoughts, Igor mechanically walked into the shower room.  He knew he would spend another fifteen minutes or so showering, before returning to his desk to eat his lunch.  Luckily he didn’t have a “real” job, like many of his friends (or a “real” salary, for that matter).  He knew he could do better than that worthless office job, he was conscious of it every day, but at the same time… where else could he take a two-hour lunch every other day to play soccer?  Where else would he be considered one of the relatively harder working employees?

He grabbed his dress shirt and pants from the locker and placed them fastidiously on the bench.  He arranged everything in the order in which he would get dressed.  Then, grabbing his towel (as forgetful as he was in general, on Mondays and Wednesdays he never forgot his soccer cleats, his shorts, and his towel) he hopped into the shower and pulled the curtain.

The lukewarm water felt good.  His body was sore and one of his knees was scraped, but the soreness was not unpleasant.  He imagined himself a warrior back from the battle, returning to the comforts of everyday life.

Then she popped into his mind again.  Get out of my head, he implored her.  But to no avail.  Since he had last seen her, not a day went by without her returning to his thoughts.  Sometimes, when he was preoccupied with his work (his job did involve some work once in a while) he would forget about her for a few hours.  Sometimes, when out with friends, they would talk about other things – usually other girls – and he would completely tune her out.  Sometimes they would even talk about her, but in such an impersonal manner, that they could have been talking about any other girl.  But whenever he was left alone, he could not shake her off his mind.

Alma, the name resounded.  Beautiful name, it means “soul” in Spanish.  He had met her randomly in the elevator, at work, of all places!  She was beautiful, yet he was not intimidated.  He was not intimidated because he knew nothing would come of it.  Every day on the metro many girls caught his eye; they would exchange a glance or two, and then step out of each other’s lives forever.  It would be the same thing this time, but he would enjoy it nevertheless.  No pressure.

He smiled and said something banal, he couldn’t remember what.  It was more of a game than anything – he wanted to see if she would answer.  She shocked him by appearing a bit intimidated by the attention (how ironic!) and told him that she was a temporary employee on the third floor.  Then the elevator door opened and she stumbled as she walked out, her eyes locked in his eyes and still smiling.

Wow, he thought, I can’t believe it’s this easy.  He was always looking to diversify his love life (he still had Carla, but she was a constant), but like everything else in life, he was quite passive about it.  He always let things come to him. 

He decided that he needed to take charge.  What did he have to lose?  He was interested in finding out more about her, what made her so friendly, as opposed to all the others in his building.  She seemed younger, perhaps she was very new and hadn’t yet acquired the bitterness common to all bureaucrats. 

He found himself an errand on the third floor, and ventured down there.  Not wanting to return to his desk, he wandered around, walking aimlessly and thinking what he would say to her if he ran into her.  She never appeared.  Oh well, he thought, at least this time I can’t blame myself for not having tried.  He walked towards the stairs, wondering if anybody had noted his absence – out of curiosity more than out of duty or fear of reprisal.  He rarely took the elevator (except for the mornings, when he was running late, usually between thirty to forty-five minutes after the hour).  When he wasn’t in a rush, he avoided taking the elevator – it bothered him to see grossly overweight women enter at every floor to go up or down one level, only to be replaced by others.  He avoided the unpleasantness by taking the stairs.  His indolence was mental rather than physical.

He began climbing the steps, each one slower than the previous, to avoid returning to his desk quicker than necessary.  Then he looked up.  There she was.  He was taken aback, he had lost hope to run into her, and now did not know how to react.  In a split second he made up his mind.  He wouldn’t think, because thinking always ruined it (in nightclubs, at parties, wherever he tried to talk to girls). 

“Hi,” he said.
“Oh, hi!” she replied with a smile on her face.
“What’s your name?” (Simple; he wanted to think of a joke, of a comment, of something witty, of anything, and all that came out was “what’s your name?”)
Alma” she said.  “What’s yours?”

Her “what’s yours” resounded in his ears.  Here it was – a possibility to begin a conversation.  Without thinking, he plunged into it.  After exchanging names, he began talking, and she responded in kind.  She had a temporary position for the summer, she was from Colombia (he never would have guessed; she had an exotic look, reminding him of Gaugain’s maidens from the South Pacific), she loved foreign languages, and she didn’t know many people in the area.

Then Igor began speaking in Spanish.  He was fluent, and could carry on a conversation just as well as in English (he could always practice with Carla, after all).

He spoke and spoke, without stopping to think, he just wanted to keep on going.  It seemed like he had so many things to get off his chest, he could keep on talking to her, right there on the staircase, forever.  She seemed much more perfect than before.  Her eyes were wide open with amazement at his spoken Spanish. 

At some point, however, he abruptly said that he had to return to his office.  He was lying, of course, he never did much of anything at his desk, but his composure was returning and he knew the best strategy would be to keep her wanting more.

Almost immediately she asked him for his phone number.  It was incredible!  She had asked him for his number!  He gave her his office number, and asked for hers in return.  She promised she would call him.  “No way,” he responded, “I don’t trust your memory.”  She laughed and gave him the number.

Much to his surprise, when he returned to his office, he found a voicemail from her.

Hi, it’s me, Alma, just wanted to prove you wrong.  My memory is working.  Bye for now.

Her voice sounded so melodic.  He listened to the recording over and over.  Aaron came over to his desk and asked him for some help with a spreadsheet, but Igor replied that he has some urgent task and would be able to offer his help later.  As soon as a dejected Aaron left, Igor felt it for the first time.  His heart began racing out of control.

Actually, it wasn’t the first time.  Sometime in eighth grade, he had gotten himself in an awkward situation where he was supposed to ask a girl out, and he had felt the same thing.  The same phenomenon occurred once in early high school at a homecoming dance.  But not since then had he felt anything like this.

He knew that if he waited any longer, he would never call her.  He would be too nervous.  Without thinking, he took a deep breath and dialed the number he had repeated over and over in his head. 

She answered.  He blurted:

Hola chica, te felicito por tu memoria sobrenatural.

“Hey girl, congratulations on your supernatural memory.”  Pathetic, he thought.  But he couldn’t think of anything more clever under such a tremendous pressure.  To his surprise, she laughed. 

“I am glad I can impress you with something.  You are the talented one – speaking so many languages and all,” she responded.  The warmth in her voice told him everything – she liked him.  So he kept on talking, just like on the staircase, and she responded in kind.  They verbally sparred until he asked her for her email. 

“Why?” she asked him. “We have each other’s numbers.”

“I want to send you something funny,” he quickly replied.  He had all types of jokes and funny pictures stored in his work computer, some more appropriate than others, but the real reason was that he was becoming too nervous to continue on the phone.  He had held his own until then, but he figured that his concentration would betray him and he would run out of quick, sharp responses.

She gave him the email, on the condition that he send her something right away.  He promised her he would… think about it, and then hung up.  He couldn’t believe that he had had the strength to do that, to walk away from it all (for the moment, anyway), but he knew it was the right thing to do.  He was no stranger to the intricate, counter-intuitive, completely illogical female mind.

He searched through his pictures on his computer, but had a difficult time finding one suitable for her.  Most were perverted jokes or cartoons devised by males, sent to him by his male friends, and probably funny only to males.  Their crude expressiveness amused Igor and his few close acquaintances in the office, but a girl would never appreciate such a thing.  He finally found a “cute” picture of a cat drinking beer from a can, which he had never found amusing, but had never bothered to delete.  He assumed she would like it.

Igor sent the email, and she replied.  From then on, they continued their conversation via email.  Every few minutes one of them would write back, and this went on for the rest of the afternoon.  The few minutes elapsed between her emails drove him crazy.  He waited, went to the restroom, and fidgeted about in anticipation.

Right before he left the office, Igor sent her an email asking her out.  He invited her to have a drink with him after work that Friday evening at Marimar.  He specified that he knew the place well, and implied that he was only inviting her.  Judging from the previous interaction, he was pretty sure of success.  However, his mood changed.  As soon as he sent the email, he got up, put on his coat, and left the office.  He would receive the answer the following morning.  It would strain his nerves too much to wait now.  He knew he wouldn’t handle it.

The next morning he came to work on time and eagerly checked his email.  Indeed, there was a message from Alma.  She would love to come, but she wasn’t sure how she should dress. 

Igor was floating with joy.  He could only think about Friday (and it was only Wednesday.)  He had picked out a classy lounge, with candles and art nouveaux and a very hip crowd.  He had always hated the clientele, to him a bunch of pseudo-intellectual snobs, but every girl he had ever invited there had loved that kind of thing.  And he had taken quite a few girls there.  The first time he slept with Carla, actually, occurred after dinner and a few drinks at Marimar.  He hoped for a similar outcome this time around – although his growing passion was tempering his hunter’s instinct.  What he yearned for now resembled love much more than the desire for another conquest.  This deeply puzzled and worried him.

While counting down the days, hours, and minutes until Friday afternoon, Igor avoided Alma at all costs.  He did not go down to the third floor, and even resorted to taking the elevator (indeed, with the obese women getting on at every floor).  She wrote him an email, but he forced himself to resist the temptation, and did not reply for a few hours.  Her reply came right away, but again he waited.  She called his phone, but he recognized the number (how could he not? he had mentally repeated it hundreds of times) and did not pick up.  He was horrified of the prospect of a message from her, since he would have to call back; fortunately she did not leave one.

While time only flies during the most enjoyable moments, it does eventually pass, sometimes at a trot, sometimes at a snail’s pace, but it cannot be stopped.  And so the awaited moment came.  Igor ran to take a shower during his waning hours at work (nobody noticed his absence; Friday afternoons seemed even more lackadaisical than usual).  He sprayed on some cologne, wrestled on his only pair of designer jeans, and threw on his best long-sleeved shirt.  These clothes made him feel confident, unlike his work clothes, which made him feel like an office automaton. 

He finally had to call Alma to let her know that he was ready.  His voice almost cracked, his heartbeat increased, and he thought he was going to choke, but managed to keep the conversation to a minimum.  They would meet outside in 10 minutes.

Igor again thought in terms of strategy.  He would be 5 minutes late, enough to make her wonder, but not long enough to annoy her.  He waited and eventually found an interesting article online about the previous week’s Inter - Milan derby which kept him occupied for a few minutes.  He thought he had read everything on the subject that week at work (a disappointing 0-0 draw) but this was a narrative of the fans’ antics in the stands, which was more palpitating.  The fans had managed to turn an eventless match into a show.

He ended up being 7 minutes late, but where was Alma?  Has she left?  Did she wait for me and leave?  Igor was regretting his actions.  However, before his anxiety took the best of him, she came.  She was all smiles, and more beautiful than ever.  Olive-toned skin, straight black hair, defined cheekbones, full rosy lips, and a pair of big expressive eyes – she was full of vitality and youth.

He greeted her, “Why didn’t you tell me beforehand that it was going to be a Latin American 10 minutes?” 

She smiled, a bit apologetically.  Before she could offer an excuse, he put her arm in his and walked to the car.  He had decided that the stakes were too great, he was not going to let this one go.  He was going to do everything right.  He would lead this mating dance which humans go through, he would be cocky, display a superior social status to hers, and then slightly push her away in order to draw her closer to him.  He detested the part he would play – he had never enjoyed the company of the arrogant assholes who coincidentally happened to be successful with women.  But his success was on the line, and he could not let his principles and personal tastes deter him.

At the lounge, he followed in the same vein.  At some point during their initial drink (he had coaxed her into trying a caipirinha, which was exceptional, and – little did she know – exceptionally strong) her cell phone rang.  She picked it up and began conversing, looking at Igor under her eyebrows. 

She is testing me, he thought.  He calmly put his hand on hers, looked into her eyes, and told her (as she interrupted her conversation), “I am going to the restroom and will be back in 2 minutes – not Latin American 2 minutes this time.  If, when I come back, I see this phone out, it’s over.”  He stood up and walked away.  He knew she was eyeing him in amazement, her jaw could very well have been hitting the floor.  At the same time, he felt it – her defenses were broken, the walls to her fortress were shattered.  He had thrown pebbles and stones at those walls all evening, he had teased her to signal his intention, but now he had catapulted his heaviest ammunition.  She was caught off guard, and she was his.

He did not need to use the restroom, but he spent a minute or so inside, giving her time to finish her conversation.  And as he walked out and toward her, it happened.  He caught a glimpse of her through the crowd which had been forming.  She was sitting at the table, with both hands up on the table, waiting for him and smiling to herself.  His heart could not stop.  As his heart began galloping harder and harder, his head began spinning.  She had already spotted him, so it was too late to leave until he regained control of himself.  The bright smile she flashed in his direction disarmed him even more, and the twinkle in her beautiful eyes made his head spin. 

As he walked toward the table, he felt unsure of himself for the first time that evening.

“See?  No phone!” she greeted him.  “And I am sorry for being rude.  At first you didn’t seem to mind, but I promise, I won’t act like this again.  Let me buy you the next drink – if you forgive me.” 

If I forgive you, he thought.  No, I will never be able to forgive you for making me feel like this, for taking away my soul!  Igor managed to keep these feelings to himself, and weakly replied that he would forgive her and accept her offer.   Here was his chance to have the upper hand, to proceed with the seduction process, and he was giving it up.  Her beauty had managed to intimidate him when things were looking most promising.  He could not help it, he felt devoid of any strength.  Igor without vigor, he chuckled to himself as he sat down.  A drink would not hurt, he was definitely sure of that.

He did not remember the details that followed.  All that mattered was that the turning point had occurred, and the fault was his.  The date degenerated afterwards, he could feel it, but could do nothing to stop it.  Perhaps they ate something, he could not remember.  He did remember driving her home.  He had made the move for the kiss but his effort was halfhearted.  She did not refuse, but complied due to social conventions rather than passion.  She acted confused as to why Igor’s attitude had completely changed, but probably didn’t give it much thought.  He was convinced that she had many suitors.

He went out later that evening with his closest friends, told them the whole story and drank with them until eight o’clock the next morning.  They made fun of him, thus comforting him as only best friends can do, and even made him laugh at the whole situation.  He realized that the real reason for having lost his confidence was the very real possibility that such a wonderful girl could be his; after twenty-four years of no real achievements, except for the occasional goals in his biweekly soccer games, this potential success had been more than he could handle.  He laughed at the way his body and mind had sabotaged him.  The next day, aside from a moderate hangover, he was back to his original self-composed self. 

His recovery was only temporary.  On Sunday, he had the sudden urge to call her, to explain himself, to ask her how she really felt.  He resisted the urge with great difficulty.  That night, he found solace in a book – a lesser known book by his favorite author, George Orwell.  It was called “Coming Up For Air” and he could not lay it down.

At work on Monday morning, his first impulse was to call Alma, but he held off until after lunch.  He found it easier to email her (it had worked the first time, hadn’t it?).  It was simple and to the point – no elaboration.  He asked her to go out again on Tuesday.  He would surprise her with a trip to the waterfalls outside the city.

As the minutes passed without a reply from her, Igor’s composure began to fade.  When, by the time he left his office, there was still no reply, he could no longer concentrate on anything.  That evening he desperately wanted to call her, but he managed to resist again.  He visited an old friend from college, and they drank beer and joked around for four straight hours.  He was able to keep his balance, although he felt quite bloated.

The next morning, he hoped to see an email from her, but his mailbox only contained some work-related emails and a few jokes from his coworkers.  He deleted every email without reading it.

At noon, he called her work number.  She did not pick up the phone (he knew she wouldn’t) and he left her a voicemail.  After lunch, when he came back and had no new voicemails, he called again.  He did not leave a voicemail, but hung up quickly and began pacing back and forth like a caged lion.  His cage, however, was a small, cluttered, sun-deprived, windowless cubicle.

After a few hours of pacing, he called again.  Receiving no answer, he left a voicemail again.

“I can’t believe you won’t give me the slightest respect.  After I offered you my time, the least you could have done was call back.”

He hung up, dejected.

The next morning, he had no voicemails, but, lo and behold!  There was en email from Alma!  He was so excited, he could not contain himself.  His heart began racing again – this time he did not bother to calm himself.  He sunk deeper in his chair, as his knees gave way, and read:

I had forgotten to mention that I was away for a two-day seminar but I am back now.  I read your emails and listened to your voicemails (all of them !!!) but I am sorry again I could not get in touch with you sooner.  I wanted to, actually, I didn’t remember your extension number, I looked for you in the directory but you weren’t listed.

I am sorry to have wasted your precious time though!  In the future you won’t have that problem from me, I promise.

Igor read the email over and over in disbelief.  He was so engulfed in it that his heartbeat settled down.

Dammit!  He would never know whether she had lost interest after his display of weakness, and came up with an excuse typical for a girl; or, what if she had actually looked him up in the directory, where he wasn’t listed?  Or, more accurately, he was listed under a different name – those idiots always grossly misspelled his consonant-rich last name.

What would he do?  He regretted his voicemails and his emails, he knew he should have ignored her until she came to him, but he had betrayed his intuition.  He wanted to start from scratch, he wanted to be in control… yet he couldn’t.  He knew that if he had to interact with her a hundred more times, he would lose control every single time.  He could not keep his cool around her.

His last attempt was a desperate one at making amends, becoming friends, and buying time.  He sent her an email apologizing for being so abrupt, but he had thought she was around and ignoring him, or something to that effect.  He only wanted to remain on good terms.

Igor knew that such an email would end it all, but somehow he hoped that, if he ever saw her again, she would return the feelings that had taken root and overrun his heart.  Or at least she would feel pity for his sad state and caress him, and kiss him, and… he allowed his mind to wander.

As he rationally expected, she never replied.  He looked for her in the halls, but she had apparently disappeared.

It had been a week and a half since he had last written that email, and she had not contacted him.  It was definitely over – even though he was clinging to the last hope.  He had tried to call her once, but she did not pick up.  He did not leave a voicemail.

Now, in the shower, his thoughts went back to her.  Since they had stopped talking, not a day passed without her digging her way into his mind; and stimulating his heart.

He still saw Carla every now and then.  He loved her too, but that was a different type of love.  Carla had always been around, they knew each other’s bodies better than their own, and they were entirely comfortable with each other.  Carla inspired a soothing, almost maternal confidence in Igor.  She comforted him, caressed him, and offered him everything she had, yet he ignored her and never returned her sentiments, outwardly at least.  The fact that she was married did not help the issue, as they always had to be discreet.  She had offered to get a divorce for him, but he always dissuaded her, telling her that he was not ready to commit.  Deep inside, he knew that he would never commit, but he also knew that she was still clinging to that hope.  Meanwhile, he could do anything he wanted with her.

Carla, however, never made his heart skip, never made him tremble, and never made him feel unsure of himself.  He knew that if she left him, the void in his heart would quickly be filled.  He was sure he would easily forget her, whereas Alma was different, for some illogical reason.

As his heart raced, his thoughts moved to other things.  His main coping strategy was to think of anything else.  His mind drifted to the previous weekend’s soccer matches – but they blended together.  He couldn’t concentrate anymore.  The water in made his eyes sting, and he closed them.  As he did, he couldn’t help but notice that the water was getting colder.  

Dammit, he thought, these pricks used up all the hot water again.  Not that it had ever happened before, but he must have spent some time in the shower.

As he opened his eyes, his vision had fogged up.  He rubbed his eyes to check his contact lenses, but neither had fallen out.  The water, which by now was quite chilly, was probably impairing his vision.  He felt lightheaded and even dreamy.  He was not sure if he was hallucinating or not, but did not have the courage to pinch himself.

Then he heard some muffled voices.  He couldn’t make them out – he must have filled his ears with water as well.  What is this, he asked himself, am I losing all my senses at once? 

Then the voices became louder, and he thought he heard… no, it couldn’t have been!  Alma’s voice!  It had to be hers!  She was arguing loudly with somebody outside the locker room.  He couldn’t make out the words, but he wanted to intervene, he wanted to see her again.

His eyes still stung, and his ears were filling up – he kept on shaking his head to drain the water out.  He began twitching and his head became even lighter. 

A door suddenly shut and he heard a pair of steps running along the tiles.  His shower door suddenly opened, and there was Alma, looking him straight in the eye, fully clothed, and panting.

Igor was dizzy.  He didn’t know how to react.  He clutched the wall and held on to it.  He didn’t bother to think about why she was there – the shock was too great.  Obviously something was bothering her, but her movements seemed strange and everything was foggy.  In the rush of the moment, he didn’t even realize that he did not feel the very wall he was leaning on.

Igor did not care.  Here she was, in the shower with him, yet he was not ashamed.  He was happy.

She clutched him and held him tightly in her arms.  Her woolen sweater was wrapped around his naked body.  She placed her lips in his ears and whispered,

“Please help me, please, please!”  He heard the locker room door slowly open and close again, and then some more footsteps.

Alma’s face was showing more distress, she was clutching him tightly, digging into his naked body, like a bird hiding under its mother’s wing.  He caressed her face and her hair, and whispered back,

“It’s ok, nothing’s going to hurt you.  I love you!”

He brought Alma closer to him. 

A large man suddenly made his appearance, with a gun in his hand.  Strangely, he seemed engulfed in a cloud.  The man aimed his gun at Alma.  Igor did not have much time to react.  He pushed her behind him, and took a step toward the man holding the gun.  Alma’s nails were dug deep in his forearm, piercing his skin, her heart pounding like a jackhammer.

Igor did not even see the man’s face – it was featureless.  The man’s finger moved in slow motion, Igor heard a click, and his left knee gave way.  Another excruciating click, and his right knee collapsed.  As he began to fall, he expected to hit his head on the tile floor, but it never happened.  His fall felt like it lasted forever – yet he still felt no pain – only numbness.  Falling to the ground, with his last effort, he forced the muscles in his face to form a smile.  Then Igor felt no more.


A few onlookers had gathered, despite the cold, annoying drizzle.  There were a few ambulances, police cars, and even a fire truck gathered around the office building, which had been evacuated.  A few news vans were speedily arriving to the area.

“So, what happened?” asked a middle aged man with an appetite for news.

“Nobody’s sure yet, and the police won’t say.  They told us to stay calm, though, it’s definitely not a terrorist attack,“ answered a lady in a business suit.

A younger man offered, “I work there, it was so scary!  I thought for sure there was a bomb or something.  Apparently somebody was sleepwalking or something and jumped off the building, I didn’t see anything or hear anything though.”  He spoke quickly and the emotion was visible.

As the crowd gathered, the police, the paramedics, and the firefighters made a tighter circle around the interest area, and eventually the onlookers dispersed.  A rather curious bystander maneuvered his way around until he managed to get a quick glimpse of a white body bag, just before an official looking person shoved him away.  The cold drizzle intensified, but the white body bag protected Igor from it.

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