Catherine follows him for three blocks before her gamble pays off. The man finally turns into a dark alley devoid of pedestrians.
The man in question is an unremarkable, disheveled specimen. His office attire is in disarray, tie loosened around his collar, hair unkempt, white shirt wrinkled and stained. Given the late hour, probably a workaholic whitecollar worker of some sort, most probably in middle management or accounting.
She took a deep breath and quickened her pace to catch up to the man.
At first, George did not register the gentle rap on his shoulder. The dark and dirty alley at night is not a place or time one expects to be politely approached. He is wary and tensed, expecting a hand to shoot out from the shadows, to grab his shoulder, issue a threat and introduce a firearm or blunt force trauma.
Instead, he had to stop walking and concentrate his senses before he noticed a slender digit made slight contact with the top of his shoulder. He paused. The rapping continued and he slowly turned to face the source.
Under his breath, muttered, “ ‘Tis the wind and nothing more.”
Finally, Catherine thinks as the man turns around to face her, we can get to the matter at hand. She scans the face of her quarry, a rather unremarkable face with a slightly concerned look that settled into a neutral, blank look once he gets a look at her.
Before she could speak, the man said, “Oh sorry, you’ve startled me. What could I do for you?”
This is bad, she thought, I should be the one to speak first. “Sorry, I was just wondering, if…”
The man interjects, “Do you need me to accompany you to your vehicle?”
He squints into the alley around them, with its sparse and dim lighting. “These streets aren’t a safe place for a girl.”
She starts to take a breath to speak, but he beats her to it again. “Not for a pretty girl like you, at least.”
Catherine coughs, having choked on the beginning of her words when he interrupted her again. Which only enrages her more when she registers what he just said.
“What do you mean, a pretty girl like me?” staring daggers at him as she speaks.
This turn of events, perplexes George to no end. He wished to be left alone, which is why he chose to bear down this dark alley, instead of the streets so awash with faces.
Now, he has angered this young lady, despite attempting to be polite, with a hint of charm even. Examining his accuser, a slender young girl with the weightage and tonnage of a young Audrey Hepburn, his is mind too tired to compute the necessary social and semantic analysis required to decipher the possible reasons for her anger, so he spurts out the first thing that comes to mind.
“What I mean is you have a nice pair of legs and a great figure, the bewitching vision of your silhouette alone…” he paused for effect, then chickened out and tried to water it down, “Though that might just be the dim lighting in this alley.”
She flashed him a wry smile and his courage puffed up like a sail in a sudden breeze. “But even your eye bags are attractive,” he tacked on, trying to thicken it up again.
The girl in front of George stood still and grumbled inaudibly, through a series of displeased facial twitches as she parsed his flipflopping. The sudden breeze turned out to be a brief gust, and he deflated again, and fell silent.
“That was somewhat flattering, but what I am trying to say is that there should not be any discrimination towards the… aesthetically challenged,” Catherine said, pointing a finger as a gesture of admonishment. “Although it is common practice to favour the beautiful, I don’t think it is good for society to emphasise such an arbitrary quality.”
The man pauses.
Then he asks, “Would you eat a dolphin?”
Without hesitation, she says, “No. I don’t think dolphins should be eaten, and why would you ask such a question, anyway?”
“Well, I think preferential treatment towards dolphins is similar to how society favors beautiful women. Just because dolphins are cute, they’re treated better. It is not fair to other fishes. Just because tuna is not relatable and not to mention tasty, they get the shorter end of the stick.”
He went on , “People don’t even bother to give dolphin a try, for all you know they might be even tastier.”
Catherine nods, “That’s a fair point, but it is still no excuse to discriminate against those who are not pretty.”
“You’ve got a point there,” he concedes. “Though I still enjoy watching America’s Next Top Model with the sound on mute.”
In a bid to keep the conversation alive, George resumes his line of inquiry about how he could be of service. The woman in front of him looks at him and then quickly scans her surroundings.
She said, “Actually, I am here to…”
But before she could answer, he felt the weight of being a strange man in a dark alley with a lone woman, and felt the absolute requirement for one more interjection. “I promise you that I will not be doing anything unsavory to you.”
The subtle smile on her face gives way to a frown once more.
“There you go again, making assumptions. Don’t you think that I can take care of myself?” she asks. “And coming from you, this is rich, your arms are like chopsticks, even my nan could beat you up. For your information, I am…”
Before she could finish her sentence, George interrupts her. “I am very sorry, just trying to put your mind at ease.”
Now thoroughly annoyed, she raises her voice, “Would you PLEASE let me finish my sentences?”
Startled by her outburst, George shrinks and apologises again, “Sorry about that, I tend to ramble on when I’m tired. You see, I just got off work.”
“At this hour?” she exclaims. George notes that her annoyed expression gives way to a worried furrow of her brow. “It’s half past nine now, what time did you start?”
“Quarter to nine,” he replies, “Left the house at eight. This is my life’s tragedy.”
“Haven’t you ever heard of the fortyhour workweek?”
“Of course, but good luck explaining such a concept to management.” George sighed, “The fortyhour workweek is the Moby Dick of work culture, come to think about it, I doubt it exists outside of France and Scandinavian countries.”
“Here’s an idea, why don’t you just leave at the designated end of working hours?
Ninetofive, that’s what you signed up for, isn’t it?”
“It not like I haven’t tried, that asshole of a boss would just shout, asking whether I’ve got work to do. The company is severely understaffed, so the workload never ends.”
Stroking her chin, she asked, “Does your workplace have a cast iron sign above the gate that reads ‘arbeit macht frei’?”
George smiled and thought about the addition of such a sign to the glass and steel entrance of the office. “Not yet, though I’m pretty sure management will put it up sometime soon. This job is sure feels like a concentration camp sometimes.”
She patted him on the shoulder, “I know how you feel, that’s why I gave up on the whole 9 to 5 thing. Guess you just have to live for the weekends, eh.”
“Sadly, I have to agree with you.”
Catherine scrutinises him, her index finger raises to point at the sky “Let me guess…”
My initial impression might be spot on, she thinks.
“The only thing missing is the right pair of glasses. You’re an accountant right?” “Yes, that is spot on,” he answers. “What gave it away?”
“Well, you look like one, and what you revealed about your job seems fitting for an accountant.”
“Even before I started working as one, people assumed I was an accountant,” he shrugs. “It’s your turn, now.”
She pauses and turns her gaze skyward, “All I can say is, nothing legal.”
His eyes widen. “Are you…” he began timidly, “How shall I put this? No offense, are you a moth of the night?”
Bewildered, she exclaims, “Moth of the night?”
“Pardon me, I forgot that the proverbs of my native tongue don’t translate directly into English. Given what little I know of you, my guess is that you are a high class escort. One that I certainly couldn’t afford, although I wouldn’t expect you to be walking the streets.”
Catherine laughs and tosses her hair back. “No, I am not a prostitute.”
His eyes widen at his mistake, “Didn’t mean to offend you, I am really sorry.” “It’s okay, it is said that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute.” She smiles, “Did you
know that one of Jesus’ disciples was a accountant?”
“No, wasn’t Matthew a tax collector?”
“It’s not Matthew, religious texts suggest that Judas might have been a bookkeeper.”
“Oh I did not know that,” he says, “Anyway, pardon my blunder, it’s just that I have terrible luck with women and my girlfriend of six years just left me. I am not used to attention by the fairer sex.”
“Aww, you poor thing,” she gives him a sympathetic pat on the back. “I am sorry to hear that, you seem to be a nice person, at the very least, not that malicious. Sure there’s room for improvement, but that applies to all of us. Did she give you any reason for leaving?”
He lowers his gaze to the floor, “She told me that I’ve taken her for granted, spending too much time working and hardly paying her any attention.”
Catherine nods as he continues, “Admittedly, that is true, but in my defense she’s the reason I took the job in the first place. I was better off unemployed.”
“Anyway, there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask,” she says timidly. “Been wanting to pose this question sooner but you kept interrupting and we’ve gone off on a tangent for awhile, now.”
Realising the length and breadth of his transgression he winces. “Pardon me, I have a tendency to ramble on sometimes, especially when in awkward situation. Do go on, though would you let me know what line of work you’re in. The suspense is getting to me.”
She flashed him an earnest smile. “Well, the answer to your question and what I am about to ask you are related… I was wondering, whether it is possible for you to hand over your cash.”
“Sure.” Without hesitation he fishes his wallet from his pockets and proffers a few bills to Catherine. “I don’t mean to jump to conclusions yet again, but are you a beggar?”
Grabbing the bills, she answers. “No, not a beggar but you’re getting warm.” She begins to count the cash received, “Wait, this is no good.”
“No good? Not sure if I want to find out what you mean by that.”
Waving the bills in his face, Catherine asks him in a nonchalant manner, “I am sure you’ve got more cash on you than this meager sum.” Circling him with slow steps, she continues, her voice lower in tone, suddenly more menacing. “You’d probably guess now, that I am a mugger, and as an outlaw there is only one amount that is deemed acceptable in this instance.”
He blinks, clenching his wallet tightly. “All of your valuables.”
She inches closer from behind him and brushes his cheek with the back of her knuckles. “Forgive me for being so harsh but, as a woman, my peers would not cut me any slack. This has to be done if I want to make it as a mugger.”
With her unveiling at an end, she took the opportunity to snatch the wallet from the dumbfounded man.
“Hey!” he exclaimed in surprise.
As she became occupied with counting her ill gotten gains, the accountant took the opportunity to liberate his cash from her grasp.
“I have plans for that money,” he said with a brave face. “Do tell,” she murmurs.
“I’d rather not.”
Strange turn of events, George thinks. He had been hoping for a quiet end tonight. A leisurely, solitary stroll through the city, followed by a hearty supper. But no, things
have to take an unexpected turn. The woman stood still in front of him, waiting for a reply.
All things considered, this could have been worse. At least she’s civil about it, although a bit too inquisitive. Definitely not your average mugger.
“Go on, spill,” she asks him. “What have you got planned?”
He gives her a onceover. Despite his lack of physical prowess, George has a sizeable weight advantage over her. This gives him courage.
“You can’t just introduce yourself as a mugger and expect me to fall into the role of a victim automatically,” he says. “For all you know I might be a kung fu master or something similarly exotic.”
“Are you a martial artist of some sort then?” she promptly inquires. “Nevermind, let me put it in a way that you would understand.”
The mugger reaches out behind her and then reveals a small machete. “Let me introduce you to my accomplice,” she says as she traces the cutting edge with her fingers and takes the cash from his hands once again.
“Why don’t you tell Frank here, what your plans are with the money.”
Confronted by the machete, the calm that he experienced at the sight of the unimposing mugger gave way to a sense of alarm. “Forgive me,” he stammers, “The power dynamic is now restored. I am no longer a miserable young man on the way home from work talking to a rather attractive woman, but a soon to be mugging victim.”
Visibly impatient, she asks him to get to the point.
“Tonight is supposed to be my last night on earth… and the money is meant for my last meal and other indulgences.”
At his answer, the features on her face relax and returns to a more agreeable expression. “Oh, well that’s a reasonable answer,” she says, returning the cash to him. “Now, why don’t you invite me along.”
Perplexed, George says, “You clearly have the upper hand, here. Why didn’t you force me to take you along directly, instead of this roundabout business of extending an invitation?”
Tapping an imaginary watch, she gives him a sly smile and says, “You should not keep a lady waiting.”
George sighs, “Okay, guess there is no way around this. By the way, I haven’t got your name. Mine’s George.”
“Call me Catherine.”
“Catherine, would you join me for my last supper?”
“Of course. I wouldn’t have threatened you if I did not want to join you. So what are we having?”
“For this occasion, a big juicy steak would be appropriate.”
“Come on George, get more creative with it, although it’s a good dependable choice, it’s a bit too plain.”
“So what do you propose then?” he asks.
Catherine smiles, “Since you mentioned dolphins earlier, I think grilled sea creatures would make an excellent last meal, don’t you?”
George nods at the suggestion. “Is there anything else that I could help you with?”
Catherine’s face lights up at the offer. “Most definitely, your suicide would prove to be most useful to me. There are a few crimes that I would like you to confess to, it would be a great service to me.” She pauses before adding, “However, I might need you to defer your suicide to a later date.”
The accountant puts on a concerned expression. “That would be taking advantage of my good nature, don’t you think?” he says. “I was hoping to bequeath you with all of my earthly possessions, instead of assisting your criminal endeavours.”
“Of course, I’ll be taking all of your valuables, that goes without saying. However, since you’ve decided to commit suicide, such matters should escape your concern. There is no way to undertake such action with dignity, not unless you’re a monk making a stand against a fascist state.”
“But, I wa want to be fondly remembered,” George stammers. “ All my life I’ve been a rather goodnatured soul and I don’t want that to go to waste.”
With a shake of her head, she replies, “Sorry, I just can’t let such luck go to waste, and I’m sure you’re a really nice guy but it’s impolite for me to let such a stroke of luck to get away, and…”
George interrupts, “Did you hear that?” “What is it now?”
“It’s a low rumbling sound… There it goes again.”
“Oh that was just my stomach. It’s been a while since my last meal.”
George smiles and takes her hand, “Maybe it’s time for us to continue this discussion over dinner.”
Both of them walk out of the alley and into the streets, hand in hand. Catherine laughs, “You should teach me how to commit tax fraud and other white collar crime. Mugging is not something I am cut out for.”
By Amir Imran bin Husain Safri from Malaysia