trout [ 6 ]
Sia Figiel
Three O'Clock in the Afternoon

A week passed. A month. He'd stopped thinking about her. Tended to his patients. His basic routine. Whenever he was in the elevator he'd look at his reflection - before he stepped out. He'd adjust his collar. Sometimes run his fingers through his hair before he stepped out. And there would be a small smile on his face whenever he caught himself doing that. Not a happy smile. Not a sad one either. But a smile nevertheless.

He was sitting in the stands cheering when he saw her walk by. He had seen her once before. In the elevator. Nearly as tall as him. She was dressed in a simple blue dress that covered her ankles -- with a brown leather bag on her shoulder. She looked very smart.
Sophisticated he thought. She wasn't wearing heels or anything. Or make-up. Not even lipstick. This he hadn't seen for a while. Most of his female colleagues wore more make-up than an opera-singer. She had a clean face. Not beautiful -- clean. This made him want to look at her again ... but instead flipped through the roster. Ticking. Circling names with a pen.
She had asked him if he knew the time. There were three of them in the elevator. The Japanese man was not wearing a watch. Her voice full of confidence. Clear. Not soft --but not harsh either. Do you have the time please? she said to him directly --smiling. Do you have the time?
It's a quarter to eleven he said.
Coughing. Covering his mouth so that she couldn't hear him.
Come again?
She said. Turning to look at him.
Eleven he said. Removing his hand from her mouth.
Sorry. It's a quarter to eleven.
Thank you she said.
Thanks.
Straightening the collar to her dress. Straightening her hair. Her collar again.
He nods . Nods politely but doesn't look at her. Not even when she asked about the time -- that second time. Even though he had heard her the first time. Even though he felt her presence the moment she walked into the elevator. He'd just looked at his watch. And then looked up and said a quarter to eleven. A quarter to eleven.
The elevator stopped on the second floor. She got out. But just before she did she nodded politely at the Japanese man. Then at him. Their eyes meeting then. He immediately turned away. And as she walked out the elevator a breeze blew her dress so that he caught stars around her ankle. In that instance he saw the stars and the stars were pulsating green ... the colour of an island ... not the one he was from ... but rather an abandoned island ... which is how she smelled. An island where there were mountains and rivers and no people -- nothing but sacred flowers he thought. He continued up to the eighth floor. His  floor. But before he got out of the elevator he suddenly felt light. Lighter. He couldn't explain it. He's a doctor for crying out loud. Momentarily he stopped. Readjusted himself. And just before he stepped out of the elevator he caught a reflection of himself  in the metal door. Not that that had ever happened to him before. He never noticed those things. He was not a man who paid attention to looks --his own anyway. It comes from seeing blood and wounds on a daily basis. Although he couldn't help but notice the man in the door. Tall. Broad. Greying. With a strange grin on his face. He needed a shave he concluded -- scratching his white white beard -- and continued into the corridor ...
At the end of the day he walked out of the office -- out of the hospital -- towards his car -- nodding now an then to those who recognised him. A man in a wheelchair holding onto an IV on wheels.
Evening doctor.
Good evening ... nodding his head -- he had replied. And nodding again to a woman with a small boy screaming on her lap.
Stop it D.J. or I'm gonna tell the doctor to give you a shot!
He smiled at the child and the child continued screaming. Louder. He walked quickly towards the car. Outside evening had fallen and the scent of teuila and pua hung in the air. Instinctively he looked at his watch. And thought of Her -- the young woman in the elevator. He smiled silently to himself before opening the door to the car. He sat there for a small eternity. Thinking of nothing but flowers/elevators/and sacred islands as he started the car and drove into the eye of the sun ... fading ... slowly ... in the distance.

She had walked by on the grass. She was not wearing shoes. A floral lavalava. A t-shirt that said Look No Further I am God. He smiled when he saw that. And for a moment he wished he was the shirt. Or the grass. Then someone stopped her. Laughed. Laughter. They were laughing. Two men talking with her. Two young men talking with her. There. On the grass. One of the young men pointing at a T-shirts stand.
That was his cousin he said.
That's Pio man.
What the hell is he doing there? He's supposed to be in Samoa.
They all looked at the stand. Pio on the microphone.
T-shirts for sale!
Bright bright T-shirts for sale!
They laugh again. One of the men puts his hand on her shoulder.
His heart stops. Misses a beat. Stops completely. 
The sun blares. Burning his forehead. The crowd cheers. Score! Cheers. She's jumping up and down. Hugs the man with the hand on her shoulder. The man who did not have his hand on her shoulder slaps her gently on her ass. She looks at him. Her slaps her again. The man who had his hand on her shoulder punches the other man lightly on the shoulder and pushes him away from her. They laugh. They all laugh together. His heart starts beating again. Boo-boom. Boo-boom. Boo-boom. He catches them laughing. He becomes envious of their laughter/ Their youth. He looks away. Away from them laughing. Wishing that he was one of them. Standing there with his hand on her shoulder. Slapping her on the ass. Or perhaps punching someone lightly. Like that. And then laughing together afterwards. The sun keeps blaring. He keeps looking. Wishing. Scrutinizing her. 

In the distance the mountain range is a man. Brooding over a forest of black birds. Clouds embrace the mountain. Sprinkling a light rain on tree tops. On vines. Passionfruit. Mango. The leaves of young fern. Wetting the soil below banyan trunks. Home of orchids. Teuila. Pua. Wild gardenia. A cloud moves from the mountain towards the crowd. No one sees the cloud but him. That is to say he could smell the cloud approaching before he even saw it ...

The crowd is noisy. Noisy. There's sprinkles of Pacific languages all over the place. Samoan. Tongan. Fijian. Tuvaluan. Tokelauan. English Pidgin. Pigeons in the sky. Flying above the sun blaring. Tourists stop on the sides of the street. Looking out to the men on the field. The crowd. Some joining in. Others continuing. Towards the beach perhaps.
T-shirts for sale everyone! Come on! Support a man who wants to return to his island home!
The crowd roars in laughter. The crowd roars under the blaring sun.

He looks up from his thoughts. He does not see them. He rubs his eyes. Opens them. Looks out again. Where are they? Where did they go? Where did she go? He's confused. Worried. Where did she go? He looks around. He makes like he's looking at the players but instead he's looking for them. For her. Someone taps him on the shoulder. He turns. A colleague. The young Dr. Wolff with two fs' at the end not one ... and recent graduate of Johns Hopkins ... the first Pacific Islander to do so ... topped his class he reminds everyone. Dr. Fuck.
Hello! I came as soon as I could. You know this is my only day off. They greet each other. Shake  hands. He removes his hat. Puts it between his legs. The young Dr. Wolff is talking talking. Joking. Gynaecologically. This woman came in today and boy ... He doesn't hear a word. He's not listening. He keeps turning to where they were standing before. Where she was standing before. Where are you? Where? Dr. Wolff keeps talking. He nods his head to show interest. The polite thing to do. He is a polite man. That's what everyone says. That's what the secretaries say. That's what the nurses say. The interns. His colleagues (most of his colleagues). His patients. The delivery man. The plumber. The electrician. He's polite. Too polite for a man in his position. But politeness has nothing to do with his personality. Nothing. That's just how he was raised. That's how polite he is.

He hears her laugh. Laugh. She is laughing and that is her laughter. Her voice. What time is it please voice. Only louder. This time there's another woman. The other woman is wearing shorts and has tattoos down to her knees. The man who put his hand on her shoulder is not with them. Only the one who slapped her on the ass. He looks again. Dr. Wolff notices him.
What's happening there?
Dr Wolff jokes. He doesn't hear the young doctor. He's looking at her. He doesn't want her to disappear again like that without him knowing. He grunts only at the young doctor. Dr. Wolff moves over next to him. Sits down. Hands him a can of beer. He thanks him. Opens the can and presses it to his mouth. He sucks at the liquid in the can. He tastes nothing. Cold. That's all he tastes. The coldness of the can. Fr Wolff is quiet. Has stopped his talks on gynaecology. Cheers again and the crowd roars Yes! People jumping up and down and she and the woman with the tattoos down to her knees jump up along with the crowd. The two women are hysterical in their laughter. He keeps sucking at the can. Scrutinizing the man next to her. He better not touch her again he says. He says it silently in his mind.

Silently in his mind he looks at them. All at once. He sees no one else. The players. The man with the microphone and the t-shirts. The crowd. The tourists. Dr Wolff. No one. He can't even see the people on the stands where he is sitting. As if everyone else had disappeared and it was just him and her. Him looking at her from the stands. The woman with the tattoos down to her knees and the man who keeps slapping her on the ass disappear along with the crowd. And it's just the two of them and he is looking at her from the stands. And her hair is blowing in the breeze. Laughing. And suddenly something crept up from inside of him. Slithering around his heart. He could feel it slither. Forcing its way up up up until he could no longer contain it. He hadn't felt it for years. Two decades. Three? Has it been that long? Has it really been that long he asked himself. The first time he felt it was when his Form Three teacher took him to the office and squeezed his nuts ... that Friday afternoon ... after detention ... Could you help me in the office please? Pointing at him. The first to look up. It didn't help that he was in love with her. It was the one and only time he felt light like that. As if someone had drained all the blood from his body. And he could feel nothing. Nothing but lightness. Which made him want to be a doctor. He loathed mystery. Which is how he will always remember her -- Miss L. The very young and very beautiful and very mysterious Miss L. With hair the colour of the sun. Skin the colour of the Moon. And that gap between her teeth ... that kept him awake all through Form Three. Miss. L. Miss. L. Miss L. who had taught him how to pronounce 'the' 'then' 'there' 'those' 'these' all the words with 'th'. He loved the way she rolled her tongue like that. Loved the way she made those sounds.
'The thin boy thanked the teacher at three o'clock in the afternoon.'

In the afternoon too sometimes she used her mouth on him. When everyone else had left and he had to stay behind to help sweep the classroom. Detention. Again. Sometimes she would take off her bra and put it between her breasts and he could feel her nipples on fire burning rubbing like that on him -- on it -- while she moved and rubbed and moved and he would be looking up to the ceiling fan. Spinning-spinning. To a fly on the fan. Sticking to the fan. Spinning-spinning. Sometimes she just held it like that. Squeezed it. Which hurt terribly. But he liked it like that. And whenever she would do that he would close his eyes and forget about the fan. The fly spinning. The world. Sometimes he would rush home and go straight to the toilet and look at it. Her fingernails all over his tummy. He would touch the marks on his tummy. Look into the mirror. Touch the marks on his shoulder blades. Sometimes he put spit on his fingers and rubbed his penis softly. Soothing the pain. The pleasure. Utter pleasure. Which he had never been able to experience again. Even with the women. His dead wife. 'The thin boy thanked the teacher at three o'clock in the afternoon.'

Awakening to this woman. With the breeze in her hair. 'It's a quarter to eleven.' he wanted to say. He wanted to yell out at the top of his lungs. But then his whole body trembled and he felt goosebumps all over his arms. His legs. His thighs. And he began to sweat. He was sweating uncontrollably. He pretended to laugh a bit. Pretended to be interested in the game again. In Dr. Wolff again. Even though he knew he couldn't. Couldn't possibly take his eyes away from her. There. Laughing and laughing with the woman with tattoos down to her knees and the man standing next to her who snakes an arm around her waist leaving him to despair. He tried desperately not to look at her then. Not to look at her do what she was doing to him. 

Half time. A heavy cloud of rain moves to where she is standing. She runs (this time alone) towards the stand. She is running. Running. Towards me? He thinks. He's sure she's running towards him. He doesn't know what to do. He asks Dr. Wolff about the score. Make light conversation. Even though he loathed light conversation. And anyone who engages in that activity. He was repulsed by his own desperation. 
Hi!
Oh Hi! And how are you? Where did you come from? Who did you come with?
I just took the bus down. Could I get a lift from you afterwards?
Sure! Do you wanna join us? Here have a beer!
Dr. Wolff takes out a cold can form the cooler and gives it to her. She takes the can and moves onto the stand. Sitting directly in front of them which means directly under his seat. He becomes mute. Suddenly speech leaves him and he has no other way to communicate. As if he is striped entirely of language. Of sound. Of movement. He cannot even nod. He cannot even nod. He is frozen. Everything stops. His heart. The blood to his heart. To his brain. A million questions flood his mind. A million and one questions flood his mind. But he cannot answer a single one. Am I alive? What's happening to me? She doesn't even know me? And how come she knows him? Him of all people? Of course she would know him. He knows everyone. Women especially. Of course. He knows women. Young women. Any women. Bastard! Fuck. Bastard! He should have gotten into gynaecology -- but he was already married -- and was half-way through his studied in Paediatrics ... what am I saying? He is suddenly ashamed of his thoughts. He is suddenly ashamed. And wishes he is the air.

This is a colleague of mine. We work together at the hospital. Have you people met?
Silence. He's trying to answer his own questions. Leave me alone. And fuck you. In the silence of his own thoughts. He gathers all the strength he has and practically spits out Oh and hi! No I don't believe we've met before.
She's smiling. She has perfect teeth. Perfect straight white white white teeth. She's not looking at him. She's looking at Dr. Wolff who hands her a sandwich. She takes the sandwich. Bites into it and starts talking. This time to him. She's chewing in between ... I think I know you from somewhere ... I forget ... she says chewing ... I've seen you before ... I don't remember. It'll probably come to me tonight when I'm in bed and it's two o'clock in the morning and then suddenly I'll call out A-ha! I know where I met that guy now ... but as always these things happen this way ... I'm sorry ... Hello! There's mayonnaise on the corners of her mouth as she finishes. He wants to point that out to her. Look there's a bit of mayonnaise on the corner of your mouth. But instead grunts only. Looks down to his feet. Then to her again. And forces (once more) a Yeah. Hi.

After the game she stands up from the stand and shakes her t-shirt. 
It's so bloody hot! Isn't it?
She looks at him directly as she says the word hot. He nods just to nod and looks away immediately. Avoiding any contact with her. Anything that would possibly give away to anyone that he had done nothing else but look at her -- think of her -- since she arrived at the game. He nods just to nod because he hasn't heard a single word she has said. He only sees her lips move. Like that. Looking at him. Directly at him. He feels transparent. As if in that one look she has seen all the thoughts he has had of her. Is still having of her. He looks at his feet.

The woman with the tattoos down to her knees appears suddenly and hugs and kisses Dr. Wolff on the lips. He is repulsed by this but doesn't show it. How does he know these women? he asks silently -- seeing the ants play with the bread crumbs next to his feet. 
I'll give you a lift home says the woman with the tattoos. She introduces herself to him. He takes her hand. Shakes it. Nods. Forces a smile. Picks up his hat and places it on his skull. 
Well thank you (She says) for the beer and the sandwiches. It was nice meeting you both. We should get together again sometime soon. Bye! Bye! Bye! 
Sometime soon.
Sure. Sometime soon. He looks at Dr. Wolff. Then at the two women walking towards the parking lot. At the corner of his eye he catches her looking at him. (Perhaps) Silently in his mind.
 

First published in To a young artist in contemplation
Pacific Writing Forum, University of the South Pacific

1998


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