A boy’s voice grew louder near me.
I felt a pair of hands grab my shoulders, and shake my body.
I opened my eyes.
A boy stood in front of me, his eyes wide open.
“You’ve been in the train for two hours, asleep. Are you… sick or something?” he says to me.
I rubbed my eyes and looked around me. Had I really been here that long?
My legs were splayed out across the floor, and a button on my dress shirt had come off. My work bag, which I remember clutching tightly to my body, was flat on the floor.
I felt a tightness across my face.
Is that… dry saliva? I reach my face to try and wipe it off somehow.
“I’m sorry, I must have dozed off…” I replied.
The boy’s eyes furrowed slightly, seemingly worried.
“You looked like you passed out… are you really okay?”
“Yeah, I – I’m fine. I just… sorry, what time is it?”
He took a quick glance at his watch. “It’s eight 8.42 a.m., sir. Do you need to get somewhere?”
8.42 a.m.? It can’t be…
I was forty-two minutes late for work. I straightened myself, pull my bag toward me and stood up.
“Yeah – I’m kinda… late for work.”
“Oh, then maybe you’d want to get off this station? We’ve just stopped for some maintenance work. It’ll take some time before we get going again.”
“Right. I’ll get off here then. Thank you!” I say to him before speeding out the cabin.
Outside, I check where exactly I am.
Batu Caves. I’m about ten stops from my workplace. Getting on a Grab will cost me a bomb.
But I was late, and today was important. Too important to be late.
I take my phone out to order the car.
On the notification tab were 15 missed calls from Kylie. My heart pounded faster. I could already hear Kylie’s voice in my ear.
I should leave her a message. To explain.
“Kylie,” I start off, “I know I’m late for the review. I know… but I can explain… something happened last night and – I’ll explain later.”
Please. Please don’t fire me, Kylie.
I key in the location to my office in Grab.
“Your estimated fee: RM36”
My finger hovers over the order button. I hesitate a little… it was a few days’ worth of food, this was probably my last chance at getting to my probation review before Kylie leaves the office.
I click order.
Cherry’s message came in around lunch time yesterday.
I was in the middle of coding something when I heard the bing bing. I had a special ringtone set for her.
But it was 24 hours to her wedding day. What would she need from me at the eleventh hour?
Yury, I know it’s a little sudden… she began, but would you like to come to my Hen’s party tonight?
Hen’s party? Wasn’t that for girls?
That’s for you and your girl friends. It’s clear I’m not of the right gender. haha. I wrote back.
Do something different once in a while Yury. Anyway, this is my night… so… I’d love for you to be there… can you like, not ruin it for me?
Cherry loved to guilt-trip me like that.
You know I’m not someone who does things like these… I tried to say no again.
Come. For me? she said, you’re the only one of Seven I invited… so.
And there, Cherry had pushed the right buttons again, my entire guard went down, and I said sure. I’d go.
I knew she was getting married the very next day, yet I couldn’t help the butterflies in my stomach knowing that she had invited just me.
I felt special.
“Thanks!” I huffed at the driver, then ran out my Grab car the moment it arrived at my office building.
The elevator ride up offered me a rare moment of tranquility that morning. I ran through scripts of what I’d say to Kylie.
The drunken night out at a close friend’s hen’s party. The police visit out of nowhere.
But I shouldn’t have been out on a Tuesday night, getting wasted. That’s not going to go well for the review. Scratch that.
Diarrhoea. I’ll tell her I had diarrhoea.
From a spoilt sandwich I had the night before.
Ding. I arrived on my floor.
I was totally unprepared with my script, but here I was, entering the lion’s den.
I took a deep breath and walk to my office.
I opened the door. The moment I enter, I felt all eyes on me.
They must know I’m late for my probation review. You can’t even do one thing right in front of your colleagues, Yury.
I felt the burn of shame. Of the 12 months I had worked here, I had never been late. If I had a clean and bright record of anything, it was my attendance.
Kylie came up to me and looked me over.
You’re going to tell me I failed my probation. I already know it.
I tried hiding my anxiety, but my hands kept shaking. I tried to say it out, that I had diarrhoea, but I couldn’t. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.
“Are you… are you ok, Yury?” Kylie asked.
Stephen walked up to me and said, “We were all worried.”
“Worried? Why?” I asked. I didn’t think anyone else other than Kylie knew about my review.
Kylie bit her lip. There was a pregnant pause in between before she finally continued speaking.
“So, um, we thought – ” her voice trailed off as if what she meant to say was unspeakable.
“Here, read this,” Stephen handed me his phone.
I felt like I was in a parallel universe, unable to make sense of anything that was happening.
Then, I see it.
Woman, 26, found decapitated. Suspected Foul Play. Murderer still on the loose.
“That’s your area, isn’t it, Yury?” Stephen said.
“When you didn’t come to work this morning, we thought you might have become victim number two…” Kylie continued.
“We’re glad you’re fine though. But that girl – did you know her, Yury?” Stephen asked.
I scroll down to read more. I see a name, then a picture.
I drop my phone.
The police visit – the entire thing – flashed by my mind at lightning speed. Officer Razlan’s voice echoed in my mind.