The Inklings: Chapter 113

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Syafika didn’t sleep well on Tuesday night. She kept having bad dreams. First she dreamt that she was living in a block of flats that had replaced her house. Then she dreamt that she was trying to get ready for her date with Anthony but couldn’t find any clothes that fitted and all her shoes were broken. It wasn’t until just before sunrise that Syafika fell into a nice deep sleep, but she didn’t get to enjoy it for long because Ousman started knocking on her bedroom door when he realised she’d slept in.

“Are you ok Syafika?” yelled Ousman. “It’s after 8! I have to leave for school soon. Would you like me to make you a cup of tea?”

“Yes please” said Syafika. Even though she was feeling tired and anxious, Syafika realised she was starting to like having Ousman around.

Syafika quickly put on her running clothes and was brushing her hair when Ousman knocked on her door.

“I’ll leave your tea outside. I have to go to school right now” said Ousman.

“Thanks” shouted Syafika. She finished doing her hair and then went to get her tea.

Ousman had left a tray with a teapot, jug of milk, pretty cup and saucer and a small vase with a bunch of basil flowers in it. On one corner of the tray was a small grey and pink feather and Syafika wondered whether Ousman had left it intentionally or whether it was a sign that Aminata had helped make the tea.

As Syafika drank her tea she thought about how sweet Ousman could be and felt bad when she remembered how awful she’d been to him in the past. Then Syafika planned her day. She’d run to work, have a quick shower, then put her work clothes on. If she hurried she’d get to her desk before the 9:30am team meeting. Syafika hadn’t forgotten that Celine was expecting them to go for coffee again today, so maybe they’d do that after the team meeting. Syafika would have a quick lunch (no run this time) and then work hard all afternoon so she could leave a bit early and have plenty of time to go home and get ready for her date with Anthony. She and D’arby had planned to meet halfway to the city and walk to the restaurant together, finalizing their plans as they went.

Syafika checked that everything she needed was in her backpack and then she ran off to work. As Syafika took the shortcut through the park she had to be careful not to slip because the path was a bit muddy. It started raining and Syafika remembered the day last year when she’d walked through the park carrying a cake for Anthony’s last day of work. Syafika couldn’t help crying when she remembered how hopeful she’d felt that morning, and how crushed she’d been that afternoon and hoped she wasn’t going to have another one of those days. Syafika was trying not to get too excited about meeting Anthony that evening because deep down she knew it probably wasn’t going to end well. Based on past experience there was a high chance Anthony would cancel, and even if they did meet up and had a lovely time Syafika now knew things about Anthony she hadn’t known last year.She wondered if she’d have felt the same about Anthony back then if she’d known he was a spy whose job required him to charm people into telling him things.


Syafika was the last person to arrive at the team meeting. She’d taken so long in the shower that she hadn’t even had time to turn her computer on before the meeting started. Syafika kept noticing that Nelson was staring at her and regretted the awkward conversation she’d had with him yesterday – what had she been thinking! As if Nelson would tell her the truth about Anthony when he’d just gotten back from a meeting where Anthony warned him not to say anything! Syafika realised that when she was excited she was likely to do stupid things. She made a mental note to stop and take lots of deep breaths that day, to make it less likely she’d do more stupid things.

After the meeting Syafika didn’t have to ask Celine about going for coffee because Celine came over to ask her.

When Syafika and Celine arrived at the café Celine tapped Syafika with her elbow and whispered “Your man is here”

Syafika looked around and noticed that the waiter who’d given her a note last week was operating the cash register. He smiled when he saw Syafika and it was such a happy smile that Syafika couldn’t help smiling back, even though she didn’t feel like having anything to do with him that day. Syafika thought he was someone she should like, but because of what was going on with Anthony she didn’t want to complicate her feelings any further by getting to know someone else.

“He really likes you” said Celine. Syafika raised her eyebrows but didn’t say anything. Syafika headed towards a table and wanted to take the seat that faced the window, but Celine got to it first. Syafika sensed she was being manipulated by Celine and it made her cross. She felt like getting up and running away. She began to imagine what would happen if she jumped up and raced out of the café and down the street. She couldn’t help smiling as she pictured the look on Celine’s face as she watched her go.

When Syafika came back to reality she noticed that the waiter was handing her a menu. Syafika hadn’t intended to eat anything but when she saw the list of specials she realised she was really hungry and remembered that all she’d had for breakfast was a cup of tea. Syafika watched Celine order her usual black coffee and then ordered herself two slices of fruit toast with butter, ricotta and figs. When Syafika handed the menu to the waiter she noticed that his hand was shaking.

“Are you having a snack or is that your lunch?” asked Celine. Syafika listened carefully for traces of disgust in Celine’s voice but couldn’t hear any.

“Brunch, I guess” said Syafika. “I didn’t have any breakfast and might not have time for lunch”

“Why not?” asked Celine.

“I have a date tonight, so I want to leave early” said Syafika.

“What about the waiter? Don’t you like him?” asked Celine.

“I’m not really thinking about him” said Syafika.

“So why did you want to come here then?” asked Celine.

Syafika wondered what she should say. She looked at Celine and tried to work out whether she could trust her. Syafika wondered whether anything she said to Celine would be reported back to Anthony and wished she’d been clever enough to think of a way to test Celine’s trustworthiness.

“A couple of months ago I saw you meeting a man here. I think you know him as Lawrence. He is the man I have a date with tonight. I love him, but I think he might be trouble. He says he used to date you. Is that true?” said Syafika.

Celine stared at Syafika for a while and Syafika could tell that Celine was struggling to come up with an answer. Syafika watched carefully, looking for signs of jealousy but only saw fear.

“Yes, I did date him” said Celine eventually. “But there just wasn’t a spark and we ended up just being friends. Sometimes we catch up for coffee. That must be what you saw. How did you meet Lawrence?”

Syafika wondered how she should answer that. She didn’t want to tell Celine that she knew Lawrence as Anthony and wondered whether Celine knew that Anthony went by more than one name. “I used to work with him” said Syafika.

Celine looked terrified when she heard that Syafika used to work with Lawrence. Syafika wondered why, but didn’t know how to ask. Syafika also wanted to know more about Celine’s relationship with Anthony.

“How did you and Anthony meet? And when? How many dates did you go on before you realised there wasn’t any spark?” asked Syafika.

“We met on an internet dating site a couple of years ago and we went on three dates” said Celine. “You don’t need to be jealous”.

Syafika felt like saying something rude. She did feel jealous, and angry, and at that moment she hated Celine, but couldn’t say anything because the waiter brought over their coffees and Syafiaka’s fruit toast.

“Can I sit down for a minute?” asked the waiter.

“Sure” said Celine.

The waited dragged a chair over and sat down. He looked at Syafika for a second before speaking “Today is my last day working here before I start another job but I don’t want it to be the last time I see you so here’s my phone number. Please call me. Will you please call me?” said the waiter.

“Ok” said Syafika.

The waiter smiled, got up, replaced the chair and got back to work. Syafika looked at the note he’d given her. It just said “Nhat” followed by a phone number.

“You realise you just promised to call him, don’t you?” said Celine.

Syafika looked at Celine then looked at the note again and didn’t know what to say. She hadn’t meant to promise anything but now that she had, she knew she would have to call or risk feeling guilty for the rest of her life, and Syafika hated feeling guilty. Syafika decided she wasn’t capable of deciding what to do about that today so she put the note into her wallet and started eating her toast.

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