There’s usually someone I can call. Home in New York, or in a steadily growing roster of cities on different continents, there’s a number or email or Skype I can click. But still I get lonely sometimes. And sometimes I prefer it that way. Sometimes lonely isn’t the worst thing.
Singapore is a strange place. I’m a capitalist, and many of my creed consider Singapore a near-paradise. I’m not so sure. I find the city-state somewhat lacking in democracy, and unkind to its Indian resident guest workers. I’m always treated well in Singapore, but I can’t overcome a certain lingering discomfort when I visit.
And then there’s that inescapable sense of dislocation you feel when you’re far from home and the familiar. I don’t know about you, but it makes me more eager than usual to reach out for comfort and human contact.
Ellie is a lot like me. She lives out of a suitcase. She knows the best and worst of airlines and hotels and cities like this one.
And sometimes she gets lonely. I know because she told me over dinner.
Ellie is older than I am, in her 40s. She’s pretty and smart, and I admire her choices of clients and projects – and suits and dresses. The time it took for me to notice her was measured in fractions of no time at all.
We found ourselves thrust together as speakers at the same conference on developing market investments. And we found ourselves simpatico on economic projections and ethical imperatives. I liked this woman immediately. She was… good.
Dinner was Malay food, which is to be found in quantity and great quality in Singapore. The wine was New Zealand for white and Australia for red, with all the delight that implies. The conversation was crisp and fast and exciting. Kindred spirits leaned closer over the small table. Intimacy.
I knew the moment was shifting from one thing to another. Of course I did. I had been wearing my charming hat. I had shared the things I believe, in business and in life. In my comfort with Ellie, I had drawn back the curtain just a tad, to reveal a hint of the man behind the suit, the carefully-conducted interviews and the biography.
I had sensed opportunity. I had switched to a different mode. I had listened with sympathy and without comment to stories about her boyfriend and his insufficiencies. My smile when she smiled was wide, white and bright, and signaled interest. My body became languid and close, and easy to touch.
I knew where this was going, and I was excited. My waiting hotel room was tidy. A bottle of why not? was chilling on the bar.
I put dinner on my card and visited the men’s room. I washed the heat off my face, gazed at the mirror and smiled handsomely at myself.
And I didn’t like the way I looked. My face didn’t look right to me. I shook my head and headed back to the table to collect her.
I smiled and chuckled as Ellie chatted at me, her face flushed and her hand on mine in the taxi back to the hotel, but I didn’t hear what she said. I felt vaguely ill. And angry. Conflicted.
Why the hell not? Why not, damn it?
I didn’t cause the problems. I didn’t create that empty space.
I made my choice – my choice for both of us - in the elevator. It’s not the choice I’d have made in the past. I haven’t figured out all the whys and wherefores.
I have more choices to make, and they stretch well beyond this gilded city and a soft and sweet woman I met here. I have decisions to make. I imagine they won’t be made any easier by seeking hours of comfort with a woman who has her own decisions to make.
I pressed the elevator buttons for Ellie’s floor and for mine. I hugged her and kissed her cheek, and she held my hand just a little too long when she stepped off. I met her eyes just a little too long as the doors closed.
We each swiped our key cards into rooms filled with lonely, and it’s better that way.
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