From my balcony I could see him taking off her clothes.
Eileen had gone out with a group of friends again, so that I was left without company for at least four hours.
I took out a bottle of wine and some cheese and laid a piece of tablecloth over the round garden table. At the same time, I took out the candle stand, lit a white candle, and let the bamboo Venetian roll up a little so that I could look into the apartment on the opposite side of the road. This was a small road.
It was never crowded. I could hear cars passing by only every now and then. But the sound of the traffic gave me the feeling that I was involved, involved in the life outside my flat.
Eileen was a journalist. She wrote for The Gossip Times and often worked late into the night at her reporter’s desk. There was a template she had to type into on her office computer, so she could not bring her work home. Often when she rushed for a story, she did not even pick up my calls.
This has caused a number of misunderstandings and some friction in our relationship. I had been living with Eileen for three years now, and her mother had been pestering us to be married.
I couldn’t explain why I had not married Eileen. Eileen was pretty by all counts. She had an oriental face and slim shoulders. Not too tall and not too short. But just between you and me, like any other Asian girl, Eileen was flat chested, especially in comparison to Anne. Anne was a size C or D.
I first met Anne when I was at an art exhibition. Anne and I both spotted the same painting. In fact, I wasn’t clever enough. I was standing there with a glass of house wine, contemplating buying a piece of art after having gone through several rounds.
I eyed it and then overheard Anne telling the salesman that she was in the process of deciding on one of the artist’s two pieces. This was just some unknown Chinese artist, but I liked the way he painted a lady in front of a dressing table. I turned around and said,
“If you are not buying this piece, I will buy it.”
Now, with a competitor, Anne decided that the piece of work I liked was better than the other one, and she immediately told the salesman that she was buying it. I so much regretted my honesty and stupidity. I should have encouraged her to take the other piece, thus leaving this piece of work available for my buying pleasure. I had never been so frustrated before.
Anne wasn’t bothered with me. She got good advice, and she got what she wanted. She paid for the art piece and finished her cocktail.
“Do you have someone to carry it outside with me? I need to get a taxi,” she asked the salesman.
“I’m afraid no, Ma’am. We are shorthanded. I am the only one here today,” the salesman said, his mission accomplished when he got her cheque. All else was immaterial to him. I stepped in.
“Do you think I can drive you home?”
“Why, of course, you are welcome to do so. I live nearby.” The woman was gracious.
I was only interested in the piece of art. Once I got the owner’s contact information, I could then persuade her to resell the painting to me. The more I thought about the piece, the more I liked it. If Anne hadn’t bought it, I would have done so.
And so, I found out that Anne was my neighbour. She lived on the opposite side of the road in my flat at Wimbledon Lodge. At the driveway of MaryAnn Lodge, I parked my car and helped the woman carry the painting. I wanted her telephone number so that I could call her. Before I left her with the painting outside her unit at #05-01, I told her,
“Give me a call when you don’t want the painting anymore.”
I said when meaning that it was imperative. She did not sense the urgency in my tone and simply replied sure. I did not forget to give her my card. I think my title “President, Baker’s Treasury” should sufficiently describe my eminent status and wealth, and that should impress her, if she was not already taken in by the smooth running of the engine of the BMW that I sent her home in.
I waited one day. Then two days passed without Anne calling. I gave her a week. On Friday night when I was sure that she wouldn’t call, I drove my BMW around to MaryAnn Lodge. I parked my car at the visitors’ lot and went to intercom her.
I pressed 0501, then the bell. No, she didn’t answer. Without being buzzed in, I could not access her floor to wait in the lobby outside her flat. What could she be doing on a Friday night at 10:30 p.m.? I wasn’t too late. If she had a dinner appointment she should be home by now. Did she have a boyfriend? I sat on the parapet with my jacket still on. The jacket was to give the impression that I had just come out of an important meeting.
Then I needed to charge my handphone. I went to security and asked if I could use their power point. They saw that I was harmless and took my handphone to plug it in without further questions. I was quite pleased that I could get things done so easily. It took ages to get a 100 per cent status. Finally, when I ran out of patience, I walked out of the estate.
One of the security guards came after me, “I see her coming back in a red car sometimes.”
I looked at him, annoyed that he volunteered this piece of information. All I wanted was the painting. The artist held my imagination. I pictured Anne in a brothel waiting for clients …
I ignored the guy and walked back to my BMW. My remote control gave a loud beep as told the residents that someone was trying to intrude into their calm, quiet night. Reluctantly I started the engine and drove out of the compound. This was my second encounter with Anne, or rather, a non-encounter.
Anne was a small woman. She was not particularly pretty, because she was short. But her breasts were large, and that made her desirable. On the night of the cocktail she was wearing an off-the-shoulder top and a white skirt, which gave her the schoolgirl look. She had tied her hair with a red scarf. I wondered if her breasts would be larger if she were taller.
Nonetheless, I was not in love with Anne, yet. For now, I only wanted the art piece. Tonight’s trip had been futile, and it was damn annoying.
From then on, I thought of the painting on and off, and I began to conjure up a naked woman right in front of me. The more I thought of it the more I liked it. Fact was that every time I visualized the art I saw Anne in her naked form. The next day during the lunch hour I went to other art galleries to search for paintings, to see if I could find another piece to replace the one Anne beat me to. But none of them suited my purpose.
This painting of Anne had the drawing of a mirror and a comb by the dressing table and much was said in the brochure about the frame of mind of the artist while he was working on his creation.