By Uday Mukerji
Face to Face
I threw off the comforter and ran to the bathroom. I was perspiring, and my heart was pounding inside my chest. I sat down at the edge of the bathtub to put the whole incident into perspective, although I feared the harm had already been done.
The words had just slipped out my mouth. In the heat of the moment. At first, I had tried to ignore the whole damn thing as if nothing had happened and went to bed, but inside my head, I had been fuming – too angry to get any sleep.
Melinda had been holding me tight with her right arm and she was fast asleep. But as soon as she had turned to the other side, I jumped out of the bed. Did I wake her up? I stepped forward and peeped through the bathroom door. Thank god, she was still sleeping.
Through the small opening of the bathroom door, I saw one of her black, fancy, high-heel shoes, her chiffon top, and her black knickers, reminding me of the way we ripped off each other’s clothes a while ago.
Our common friend, Joanne, had introduced me to Melinda. Joanne had repeatedly told me before the introduction, “Listen, she is a very good friend of mine, so if you hurt her, I’m coming after you.”
But her husband and my friend, Jeff, had assured his wife, “Don’t worry, babe, she’s out of his league. He won’t last one date.”
Thankfully, Joanne hadn’t listened to her husband and introduced us anyway, with one cautionary line, “Don’t forget what I said. I meant every word.”
Although Melinda and I had gone out on a couple of dates before, everything was still very casual until about an hour before. It seemed Joanne was pleased, too, with her newfound matchmaking skill. The other day, Jeff had also told me, “You look happy, bro. I think she’s good for you.”
Then, why … why did I have to ruin everything?
I got up from the bathtub and stood in front of the big mirror in my bathroom. My hair still looked messy, but I didn’t even care to run my fingers through them like I always did. Damn it. Why . . . Why? I kicked the laundry basket in front, and my clothes spilled over on the floor. I quietly picked them up and put them back in the basket.
I looked at the guy in front in the mirror. He was young … in his late twenties, and had an athletic built with a short beard. At times like this, that guy had often turned out to be my best friend in the past. We understood each other. I always called him Mike. I assumed he didn’t mind. We had often talked about our mutual disagreements and also fought on several occasions.
But this was serious; my whole relationship with Melinda was on the line, and not to mention, my friendship with Jeff and Joanne. But Mike didn’t look so worried. I blurted out, “What are you smiling about? Are you mocking me?”
“Nope, just wondering—”
“Wondering what?” I sneered.
“Why did you say those words?” Mike asked casually.
“I don’t know … it just came out. Felt right, though, at that moment. Why didn’t you stop me?”
“I couldn’t do that.”
“Why not?” I was frustrated. If only I could shift the blame to someone else.
“Because it’s your life. … I cannot tell you whom you love.”
“But you had always done that before … didn’t you? Remember, since Sofia and I broke up, every time, I brought someone back home, you told me to run?”
“I thought that’s what you wanted to hear,” Mike said with a big grin on his face.
I shook my head in exasperation. “Really? That’s all you have to say at a moment like this? I don’t know why I bother to talk to you?”
“Remember, I didn’t call you—you came running to me?”
“I didn’t come to you, idiot, I was perspiring, so I came to wash my face.”
“Then why didn’t you … wash your face?”
I didn’t want to waste any more time talking to a person in the mirror. I bent down and splashed water all over my face. I ran my wet fingers through my hair and down my neck. I did the whole routine one more time. The water started dripping through my back and my chest hair. The cold water touching and caressing my skin refreshed the wounded pores. It felt good, and I closed my eyes in a temporary peace. The sound of the running water in my sink created a foggy illusion of a serene waterfall in the distance.
Maybe, I’m panicking for nothing. She might even forget the whole damn incident. I splashed more water on my face and extended my left arm to reach for the towel.
I wiped my face and looked at the mirror again. Mike was still standing there, watching me. I asked, “So, what now?”
“You tell me.”
“Can you make her forget what I just said?”
“Who do you think I am?”
“I don’t know … some invisible character who pops up inside my mirror? Can’t you get inside her head and wipe it all out?
“Life isn’t fiction, Michael. There’s no magic wand or eraser to wipe it all off. Everything we do or say has consequences. Words got meanings. Remember, that’s how people communicate? You can’t just say something and act like it never happened. Besides, I’m invisible alright, but I can only get inside your mirror or your head, I can’t get into hers.”
“Unfortunately, that’s how it works.”
I turned away from the mirror and slowly walked back to the edge of the bathtub—my comfort seat. I laughed at my plight. I had a beautiful girl lying naked in my bed, and I was spending the night in my bathroom, talking to a guy in my mirror.
But I also knew I had to get out of this mess. Who says, I love you after few dates? I desperately needed a second opinion. Is this truly irreversible?
I wondered what Melinda was doing?I opened the door a little to take another peek inside the room. Melinda was still sleeping, facing the other side. The comforter was pulled up to her waistline. The silky-smooth skin on her back was shining in the night lamp. Her beautiful dark hair was strewn across the white pillow.
I felt relieved and came back to my seat. But I was running out of time and options.
As much as I hated talking with Mike, I realized he was the only person available before I faced Melinda again. This time, I started on a serious note. I said, “Come on, I understand you have limitations, but you’re my only choice here. So, help me out. We were always good together, right?”
“You’re right. Tell me what can I do?” Mike asked, this time, without a condescending tone.
“What do I say to her when she wakes up in the morning?”
“As I see it you have two choices,” said Mike.
“I’m listening …” I was on the edge though.
“You can always take it back and go on with your life as if nothing happened,” said Mike curtly.
“Are you for real? Everyone knows there’s no takeback in this.” I answered angrily.
“Don’t be silly. The rules have changed a long time ago. Tell me how many people get married today without giving it a test run first? And even after doing so, they call off their engagements and weddings all the time. So, who says you can’t take back a simple I love you?” … I remembered that’s exactly what Sofia did to me.
I kept quiet for a while and said, “I get what you mean … still, I don’t feel so good about doing that … it’s not me. Well, what’s the second option?”
“You own it and forge ahead.”
“Really?” I was shocked. “Are you insane? Don’t you know I suffer from a relationship phobia since Sofia happened? How can I trust another girl again?”
“Maybe, now you’re ready. You have been drifting around for what … two years now? Isn’t that long enough to get over someone?” asked Mike.
“You’re kidding, right? You remember what Sofia did to me, right? Come on … with my friend, Julien?”
“First off, Melinda is not Sofia, and that happened a long time ago … Get over it.”
“But there’s a bigger problem.”
“She didn’t say it back.”
“Ouch!” Mike blurted out.
But Melinda’s voice behind me at the bathroom door startled me. “Michael, is everything okay here? Who are you talking to?”
I turned to her and stepped forward. I said, “No one.”
I nervously looked at the mirror, but I couldn’t see Mike from that angle.
Melinda looked into my eyes and said, “I love you too, Michael.” And she pulled me into the bedroom.
Uday Mukerji was born in India and had worked as a creative director in advertising agencies in Singapore for nearly twenty years. However, in 2009, he left his job to fast-track a new goal in writing.
His first literary fiction, a 2017 Readers’ Favorite Award Winner, Love, Life, and Logic was published by Harvard Square Editions, NY, in November 2016.
His second book, Dead Man Dreaming (Recipient of Book Excellence Award) was published by Adelaide Books, NY, in 2019.
His short stories have also appeared in print and online magazines in the UK and USA.