The Bengali Runaway: Standing Up Daniel
I put up a post in the Travellers in KL fb group asking if any other travellers fancied meeting up and Daniel got in touch. We spent a few nights talking through facebook. He was about ten years older and had a lot more life/travel experience than me. He told me he had been to twenty five different countries, had his own real estate business and had given up his apartment so he could live out of a backpack. A true nomad. He shared a lot of details about how he started his business which I actually did not care for much but listened to out of politeness. It went on for a long time and then ended with an apology for doing so. Other than that, he seemed pretty sane and we finally agreed to meet. This ended up being another very long conversation about where we both had been and where we could go that had comfy seats (that was my requirement). He suggested the mall but I wanted something a little more authentic. He said it was a mall culture here. ‘Everyone hangs out in malls.’ I thought it was sad how Malaysians were so keen to become very western and were losing their culture in the process.
Daniel finally suggested Berjaya Times Square, a fifty floor shopping mall near Bukit Bintang. I took the train and was late by about twenty minutes. Not a very good first impression. I still hadn't bought a Malaysian sim so wasn’t able to update him until I got to the mall. 'Here!' I wrote. 'Where's here?' he had written back. It turned out to be wrong mall and it took me another twenty minutes to get to the right one. Once I was there, it took ages to secure WiFi and try and arrange a place to meet. He said he was on the third floor, I was on the sixth. Neither of us came up with a meeting point so I walked around and tried to look for a decent place. I was going to ask him to come over once I'd found one. There was something very deserted about the mall. Low lit, too big and not enough people. Some of the floors weren't even in use. I asked a couple of people if they knew of any cafes and they said no. How strange. What kind of a mall doesn't have a cafe? I walked around some more and my tummy started growling out of hunger. And somewhere beneath the hungry growls, there was something else too. What was it? Ah yes of course. A sense of reluctance. Good old anxiety waking up and making its presence known to me.
Suddenly, it just felt too hard. This was all just too hard. We had spoken for over an hour every night for the past three nights and then finally arranged to meet, I was late because I couldn't book a Grab and had to take the train, got the location wrong and was even more late and now I couldn't find him in this ugly, dingy mall. Plus I was wearing makeup and a floral jacket. I hadn't bothered to wear makeup since coming here because it was too hot but what if he noticed and thought I had dressed up for him? We were just two travellers meeting, this wasn't a date. What if conversation didn't flow naturally and we ended up speaking painfully polite to one another. Or he made jokes and I didn’t get them and he had to explain them to me and by then, the spontaneity of the joke would have died so it wouldn't be as funny. I would have sucked the fun out of the humour. I didn't want that. Situations like that made me feel really awkward and aware of myself, my body language, blemishes on my skin, I'd stumble over my words and wouldn't be able to speak well. And worst of all, the other person would see the discomfort in my eyes, I'd be vulnerable. I couldn't have that. I just couldn't. So I switched off my shoddy WiFi and continued looking for a comfy cafe I could have a cup of tea in and enjoy my own company. Cafes had always been my second home and tea had always helped me unwind. Once Daniel had been eliminated from my plans, the anxiety subsided and I felt normal again. There were no cafes to be seen so I ended up going to a little Japanese restaurant in a dark corner of the mall. It looked nice, clean and private - exactly what I wanted/needed. I ordered sushi and then decided to risk switching on my WiFi. I had about 15 messages from him. Crap… It was almost 2 hours past our meeting time; I couldn't believe he was still waiting for me. I didn't want to deal with it so I switched the WiFi off again, put it on silent and turned the phone face down.
My sushi arrived and I decided that that was all I was going to focus on. Two strips of pink salmon on top of sticky white rice with a blob of green avocado sauce. Beautiful simplicity on a square plate. That's all I could handle right now. I dipped my index finger into the avocado sauce and put it on my tongue. A sudden burst of fire shot up my nose and exploded in my head. What was this?! I thought my brain was burning. My vision darkened. Was I going to black out? I didn’t want to bring attention to myself so tried to avoid reacting. The waiters didn’t seem to notice anything. My eyes teared up as the pain slowly waned. It turned out it wasn’t bland avocado but fiery wasabi sauce. Clearly I wasn’t familiar with Japanese cuisine. Maybe this was my punishment for standing up Daniel.