It was an ordinary working day. The company workers had agreed to meet up later that night for drinks and some dancing in a nice place.
It was that big mid-November gathering that everyone usually attended – all the staff, the management and the employees – to try to break some of the lines established by corporate hierarchy between its working members.
The next big meet-up after this one was the annual Christmas lunch – and James knew no one in their right mind would miss that one. This event was a direct indicator of a person’s belonging and loyalty to the company and his enthusiasm to be a functioning part of it. But this mid-November late night groove was equally important as it set up the tone for the Christmas event: one couldn’t just miss out on it and expect to show up and be forgiven on the holiday lunch the following month.
After deep meditation regarding the scenario James decided it was best to be present tonight at the company gathering. Everyone was going and everyone was excited for it. It was the first time he’d walked in to the company and seen smiles on everyone’s faces.
There was an air of excitement which drove people to work happily and energetically and enthusiastically that day.
Also, there was another pertinent detail: Lydia, a fellow co-worker James had the hots for, was going to be there.
Lydia was coming fresh out of college into her first job and – to James’s great luck – she got into the same company he worked at. She was still in her debutant phase, making friends and trying to learn the names of all the different departments and the hierarchical structure behind their governance, but that didn’t stop him from making advances and trying to get close to her from day one.
He noted however that she didn’t notice him much – only occasionally smiling at him and drinking her morning coffee with him – but she had eyes for another co-worker who James knew well and considered a friend.
James was an unlucky man: he never won the lottery, he was never able to finish college and get his degree and he had a hard time finding love. It was a miracle he was even working at this job and getting paid his mediocre wage and making eyes at the beautiful new addition to the company.
Of course James never even liked his job – until now. He’d originally planned to become a writer but those scripts usually ended up in the big bin in the most advanced countries. In the small third-world country he lived in, he simply had no chance. But that never stopped him from writing on the side and dreaming – just like he dreamt of one day conquering the heart of a woman forever after being left so many times for so many different reasons.
There comes a point in a man’s life where the missing piece becomes too big for him to ignore and he realizes he simply can’t overlook it or cover it up with whatever else he possesses any longer. That was James’s thinking the very first time he saw Lydia – and every time since then. No amount of drinking, writing, working or late-night parties were going to make up for the heartache he felt every time he stared at her radiant face.
He wanted her, he needed her, he was going to have her bring back the spark and thrill of romance into his world.
That morning he followed her into the company kitchen like an excited kid following his mother to collect his Christmas present on Christmas Eve. They grabbed their usual morning coffee together and engaged in their usual small-talk. James asked again if Lydia was attending later that night and she confirmed and drew a fat smile out of him.
The man felt his stomach tingling and excitement brewing in his insides. He couldn’t wait for tonight.
Alcohol, great music and a festive ambiance were the perfect ingredients to make the night his and make Lydia fall for him madly.
The day was swept away by the promises of the night and everyone met up at the designated location.
James had made a quick stop at his place and gotten out of his work clothes and into something more eye-catching: a white long-sleeve shirt and a pair of cool jeans just slightly torn under the knees.
He wanted to enter the night making an emphatic impression and setting the tone – but so did everyone else. All the others had slipped into their finest dress wear and tried to look their best.
Lydia was wearing a black dress with little silver sparkles on it. James couldn’t keep his eyes off her.
A few drinks later got the night going and soon everyone was folding into a corner in pairs. Some had brought their wives or girlfriends for the occasion and others were trying to benefit from the setting to find a matching soul.
James picked a corner and sat in it, watching Lydia drinking and dancing and swaying on the dancefloor with a group from work. He then saw her approaching his co-worker and friend and pulling him in to dance with her.
The image of these two dancing together to the loud music left a sour taste in James’s mouth. He attempted to wash it away with more alcohol but it didn’t render things better.
He saw through Lydia’s eyes and laughter and stared into her charmed soul. She was looking at her co-worker like a woman who’d fallen madly in love and didn’t want to fall out of it.
She grabbed him and put his arms around her waist and started slow-dancing with him. And just to James’s luck, the music playing shifted into a slow music.
James stayed alone in his corner while everyone else danced or sat drunk or curled up with their partner. He thought about the upcoming holidays and spending them alone again. He thought about the upcoming days and big events and not having someone special to share them with.
He thought about his dumb luck and the way something or someone always seemed to get in his way when it came to getting together with a girl he liked. Would he never learn that chasing love almost inevitably led to a dead-end or a stray road of no return?
He had entered the turn-back cave yet again and was walking all alone in circles.
Just as he was about to wipe his glass of whiskey clean with a single gulp, he heard a particular voice asking him, ‘Mind if I join you for a drink?’
It was the same voice that spoke to him every morning over coffee and on rare occasions during the working day. The same voice he had quickly taken to from the first day its owner stepped on company grounds. It was Lydia, sliding next to him on the floor with her back on the wall.
She looked miserable. She looked beautifully miserable. She looked miserably beautiful with her sparkling dress and her cracking sad voice. James handed her his drink and she drank it in a trot. She was observing her co-worker with utmost care and worry, like a mother would watch her child playing outside from the window. He was still on the dancefloor – this time, dancing with another girl and wrapping his arms around her and kissing her every time the tempo of the music slowed down a notch. Lydia watched and her eyes were close to tears, while James was fixated the same way on her trying to hold back his own.
They sat next to each other, both enveloped in a thin sheet of melancholy, amid the noise and the music and the dancing and the laughter of the people which seemed to drown their sadness and depression.
Both sat there, and James wished they were sitting the exact same way under different circumstances – more favorable circumstances where perhaps they were in love with each other and holding hands with their backs against the cold wall.
Lydia put the empty glass on the cold floor between them and looked into James’s pale face and told him, ‘It’s cruel to love someone who doesn’t love you back when there’s nothing you can do about it. No matter how hard you try. It’s the harshest thing in the world.’
James nodded. ‘It is. Is that someone you like here tonight?’ he asked her.
‘Yes,’ she said in a broken voice, ‘but he’s with someone else now.’
She fell silent for a couple of seconds. ‘What about you,’ she asked him, ‘isn’t there someone you should be dancing with now?’
‘Yes,’ he said. He paused. ‘But she’s not going to dance with me.’
‘How do you know that?’
‘Because her heart belongs to someone else. And there’s nothing I can do about it no matter how hard I try.’
They both fell silent, warped inside the beautiful atmosphere, sharing the same moment of intense heartburn in two seemingly different spaces, like two different pages of a book telling two sides of the same story without meeting at the middle.