Tia peeked through the curtains as the car drove up and parked in front of the gate. She saw Readen Nabila get down from the car, Hafiz remained seated in the front passenger’s seat. He waved to his mother who waved back at them before they both drove away.
“How’s the dinner?” Tia asked when she saw her aunt entering the house.
“It was nice, Ahmed brought us to a lovely restaurant near the bay,” Raden Nabila said.
“Ah, he’s a very good host.” Tia brooded.
“Mmm” Raden Nabila looked at her perceptively. “If you wanted to see him, why didn’t you come with us?”
Tia suspired, “I wish I could, but I think it’s in everybody’s interest if I stay away from him.”
“Everybody’s interest?” Raden Nabila looked at her inquisitively.
“Can I speak openly to you?” Tia was hesitating.
“You should, maybe I can help you!” Raden Nabila kissed her on both cheeks.
“Today Madame Al Rashid called me to her office. She pointed out a very painful fact to me. The company is having financial issues. One of their investors is thinking about withdrawing their investment.” She exhaled.
“Yes, I heard that from Ahmed.” Raden Nabila nodded.
“So you know that his mother wants him to marry the daughter of that investor so her father won’t continue with his plans.”
“He told me that too. But she can’t force him to marry if he doesn’t want to.” Raden Nabila smiled.
“That’s what confuses me. I know how Ahmed feels about me, and I know that he’s very sincere. And I can’t begin to describe my feelings for him. But today, Madame Al Rashid interviewed several employees in front of me, and all of them felt that the company plays a very important role in their lives. How working there helps provide for their family, how pays for their children’s education. These are people who have worked there for years, from the time the company started, people who are about to retire. They are my friends, my companions. I can’t let them lose their jobs because of me.” Tia bowed her head an looked at the floor.
“Hmm…..How slick, she’s using psychology to put pressure on her opponent.” Raden Nabila thought. Then she asked, “Tia, when did you start to hear about this financial issue?”
“Mmm, a few weeks ago.” Tia.
“Hmm…interesting…” Raden Nabia nodded. “So is that why you’re avoiding Ahmed?”
“How would you feel if he agrees to marry that girl, what’s her name Ratna was it?”
“Yes, Ratna. If he marries her, of course I’ll be sad, very sad, but I can’t put myself and happiness ahead of my colleagues.” Tia explained.
“Let me ask you a question, and I want you to think about it carefully before you answer.”
“If for some miracle, the company gets another investor and the financial problem is solved. Do you think Ahmed’s mother is going to approve, or even consider your relationship with him?”
Tia thought for a while, “I doubt it.”
“Then the real reason for her to want you to separate with Ahmed is not the investment, don’t you think?”
“No more buts…..I’m tired, I want to go to my room and rest. I want you to think about what I just said.” Raden Nabila kissed her cheeks, “Good night!”
“Good night, auntie…”
* * *
“What’s with the look?” Hafiz chaffed as they were sitting at the bar while taking a gulp at his whiskey.
“That look, the pinky ring, the shiny leather shoes with the matching belt, the hair, everything. For a dinner out with us? When you stayed at our house you walked around in a T shirt and jeans when you weren’t working.”
“Well, it wasn’t just with you guys….”
“Ah, that’s right, my cousin. So how did you end up being with her anyway? I know she works for you and all, is she even your type? Wait, come to think of, she is your type isn’t she? Outspoken, smart, long hair, has a vicious side. But weren’t you still whining about Daniyati running off to Bali and marrying another guy few months ago?”
Ahmed smiled and nodded, “It started in Bali at Daniyati’s wedding. I actually went there to stop it and get Daniyati back, and turned out, I wasn’t the only one with that idea, so did Tia.”
“Why would Tia want to stop Daniyati’s wedding?”
“Not for her, for her husband to be. Apparently Jason was her life long friend and crush.”
“Hmm, Yeah I remember once a long time ago she told me about that. And then what?”
“Well we ended up sharing a room, and before we knew it, we became closer and that’s how it all started.”
“Wait, sharing a room? You didn’t…”
“No, nothing happened….in Bali…”Ahmed gave him a partial answer.
“Okay good! Because if you dare touch my cousin before you marry her, I’ll break your bones. I might be a bastard, but no one messes with the women in my family! Promise me that you’ll keep your hands off her.” Hafiz’s face was serious.
“Let’s not talk about that…” Ahmed looked at his glass.
“What are you hiding? Why won’t you promise me that? Ahmed! You…” Hafiz’s face became red, “You’ve…”
“Hafiz, we’re both consenting adults, and we’re…”
Hafiz grabbed him by the collar “Shut up! How dare you sleep with my cousin!”
“Sir, if you want to fight, please take it outside.” The bartender reproached them.
Hafiz let go of Ahmed’s shirt.
“Calm down, man.” Ahmed said composedly, “I want you to know that I’m very serious about Tia,and I want to have a future with her.”
“Huh, and you think I can believe that? You’ve been with her only a fraction of months, and you’re already talking about a future with her? How can I know that you’re not only saying this to fool me.” Hafiz looked at him unconvinced.
“We’ve officially been dating for a few months. But we knew each other before that, she’s been working with me for three years…”
“Yeah, but you two weren’t close before….”
“We weren’t, but it doesn’t mean I’ve never noticed her.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I…” Unexpectedly his cell phone rang. “Hello…”
“Ahmed, where are you?”
His mother’s voice almost shouting on the other line.
“I’m here with a friend, Ma.” He replied.
“Are you with that girl? Despite everything…”
“No, I’m not with Tia, I’m with Hafiz, you remember Hafiz don’t you? He’s my brother Ali’s other brother.”
“Bang Hamza’s son?” Her voice was shaken.
“The one and only.” Ahmed didn’t like the sound of her voice.
“I didn’t know he’s here in Singapore. Tell him that I said hello and that I’d like to invite him here to dinner sometime….”
“I’ll let him know. Bye, Ma…” Ahmed put the phone back in his pocket, “My mother said hello,and she’d like to invite you to her place for dinner.”
“Your mother has always been nice to me, since the last time I was here a few years ago.” Hafiz commented.
“Hmm, I wonder why?” Ahmed looked at him frowning.
“Hey look at those cute girls over there,” Hafiz raised his glass at them, the girls smiled and waved at Hafiz and Ahmed.
“Keep that up and I’m going home! I have enough problems already, the last thing I want is for Tia to think that I’m fooling around behind her back.” Ahmed warned.
“Hmm… good answer!”
“Yeah, and I suppose if I did smile and wave back, you’d be the first person to tell Tia.”
Hafiz laughed ironically, “And the last thing I want is to see her get hurt. I want you to put into account our relationship. You and me, we don’t have the same blood, but we share an older brother. Don’t fool around with my cousin, now that she’s given herself to you, take responsibility for her.”
“That’s what I intend to do. Since the beginning…” Ahmed assured.
* * *
“Why are we preparing such a big breakfast, even though Auntie Nabila and Hafiz are here, but Papa is out of town and so is Anita.” Tia observed. “Porridge, fruits, eggs, orange juice, coffee. Are we opening a restaurant?”
“It’s better to have more and not less, can you imagine if we have to apologize to our guests that we ran out of food? That would be embarrassing.” Mrs. Chang replied.
“Do you need help here?” Raden Nabila showed up at the kitchen door.
“No, of course not, you’re our guest, how can we make you help in the kitchen. Besides, I think noble women like you have people waiting on you hand and foot.” Mrs. Chang said.
“I always cook for my family. It’s my favorite activity…”
“But Jiejie, I want our guests to taste Tia’s cooking today..”
“Ah, you’re absolutely right!” Raden Nabila agreed.
“Ma, you can hardly call it cooking, if it’s just rice porridge.”
“Make sure it’s delicious.” Mrs. Chang slapped her head gently while glancing at her cousin.
“I’m going to wake Hafiz up so he can shower and get ready for breakfast.”
“What time did he get home last night?” Tia asked out of curiosity.
“Late!” Raden Nabila’s brow crumpled.
“Hmm….partying huh? Not with girls, I hope.” Tia mumbled.
“You know how young men are these days…” Raden Nabila commented as she walked out.
Tia pouted, but continued to cook the porridge.
* * *
Tia arranged the bowl and spoons on the table. “You have to add another bowl and spoon! Ah, and also add another fruit plate and fork.” Her mother said.
“Why?” Tia was beginning to suspect something. “Huh, did my shameless cousin bring home some girl last night? Was that it?”
“How could you think such a thing? Our house is a respectable family home, not some cheap motel.” Her mother scolded. “Stop thinking about strange things and hurry up bring the fruits out.”
Tia took a deep breath and shook her head. She walked to the kitchen and carried out the big bowl of porridge. She preferred to bring the fruits last so it would maintain its freshness in the fridge. She placed the bowl at the center of the table, feeling good about her cooking she cheerfully pivoted on one foot and returned to the kitchen to bring out the orange juice.
Tia heard a cough behind her, she turned around when she recognized the voice, “Why are you here this early?”
“I stayed here last night. I was starting to regret it until now, you see I couldn’t sleep properly, because Hafiz kept trying to grope me in his sleep. He couldn’t decide if I was Linda, Natasha or a dozen other names he mumbled.” Ahmed snickered, “But seeing you like this, it was worth the suffering.”
“Ahmed, I don’t know if it’s a good idea for you to be here. What happens if your mother finds out about it?” Tia tried to talk some senses into him.
Ahmed huffed, “I’m not a fourteen year old kid anymore, I don’t need to ask her permission to spend sometime with my friends. Heck, I already live alone in my own apartment.”
“You don’t understand, I…”
“Bunda Nabila called me last night and told me about what my mother said to you. Don’t worry, nobody’s going to loose their job. I promise you.” Ahmed came to her and grabbed her shoulders, “Trust me, okay?”
Tia looked at him with hesitation.
Ahmed took a deep breath, “Look, after your Granduncle Tan Ping An passed away, Bunda Nabila became the controller of his estate, since her brother is still serving time. She promised that she will be my guarantor if I need to take a loan to buy off Ratna’s father’s share.”
Tia nodded, “Are you sure that you want to do that?”
Ahmed shrugged, “It means that I would need to work twice as hard to pay off the loan, but there’s a bigger prize waiting for me.”
“Oh? You’re hoping for a prize?”
“Yeah….you. You’re that prize that I’ll gain.”
Tia smiled, her heart was like it was blossoming with happiness. “Hey, when you said bigger prize, what were you trying to say exactly? Are implying that I’m “big”?”
“Eh..what? Ha..ha..where did you get that idea?”
“I can’t believe it, we’re still dating and you’re already calling me fat.” Tia shrieked.
“Somebody help me….” Ahmed called out.
* * *
“What do you usually do here on the weekends?” Hafiz asked Tia who was reading a magazine with Ahmed. “There must be something interesting for me to do than being the third wheal and catching flies.”
“I don’t feel like going out to town…” Tia replied frankly.
“Me neither.” Ahmed agreed.
“Okay, I get it! The two of you are dating, thanks for rubbing it in my face.” Hafiz grumbled.
Tia smiled widely, “Hey do you want to go and shoot some hoops? We can go to the court down the street”
Hafiz looked at Ahmed, “What do you think old man? Are you up to it?”
“Hah! Let’s see who’s the old man!” Ahmed challenged.
“Okay, let’s go…I’ll get the ball…”
* * *
Tia clapped ad cheered from the side as Hafiz and Ahmed plated one on one basketball. She couldn’t help but feel amused, she was cheering for the both of them, which both Hafiz and Ahmed protested, urging her to pick a side.
“hey someone beat us to the court.” She turned to see Jason, walking up. Her heart thumped when she saw Daniyati walking beside him. Brian was following slightly behind them.
“Isn’t that hafiz?” Daniyati looked to the field. “Hafiz….”
Hafiz and Ahmed stopped playing and walked to them.
“Hey, Daniyati, how’s the married life?” Hafiz asked.
Ahmed looked at her without saying a word, making Tia feel uncomfortable about it.
“And Ahmed is here too…” Daniyati continued.
“Hi Daniyati, Jason, how is the married life?” He asked making small talk.
“The married life is full of bliss….” Jason replied.
“Daniyati, how do you know my cousin?” Tia asked.
“Your cousin? Hafiz is your cousin?” Daniyati wondered.
“He worked as a Temp at Al Rashid a few years ago..” She replied.
“Ah…I heard about that…” Tia remembered.
“So what do you say if the two of you play against my brother and me?” Jason beamed.
Ahmed and Hafiz glanced at each other, “Let’s do it” They nodded. “Do you girls want to play too?”
“I’ll pass…” Tia exclaimed, “Jason plays rough…”
Ahmed pursed his lips glancing at her.
“Let’s watch from the side.” Daniyati pulled her by the arm.
Tia followed her to the side as the men began to play.
“So you and Ahmed are serious huh?” Daniyati started.
Tia nodded, “Yes.”
“You know when I saw you with him in Bali, I wasn’t surprised….” Daniyati added.
Tia turned to her, “What do you mean?”