A year ago, I fell for a boy who did not know what to do with the trembling, confusing and subtle feelings between us. We had our moments, but eventually I let them pass. He has since become distant and our interactions, when we do run into each other, are limited to quick hellos and impersonal chatter of how’s work these days.
In August, again, I find myself falling for a boy.
I thought I could write about him now, despite not knowing where this friendship – or is it friendship-with-potential given our current interactions? – is headed. I admit I’m scared, wary, to hit Publish – what if this jinxes everything? What if everything ends before anything even begun? But a backstory is perhaps helpful so that moving forward I can write cryptically about him.
We first met in July, my first offshore trip. I initially paid him no heed; I’d only heard of his name from my senior/colleague who’d made the trip offshore for the first 2 months of our offshore campaign. But as the offshore field engineer – equivalent to my role as a project engineer, except his playground is offshore – I realized that our roles overlap despite standing on different sides; he’s part of our contractor company, while I’m essentially a Client. It’s not this difference that was my reason for ignoring him – I was being impersonal – but he shared an office with the Construction Supervisor whom I chased daily for my project’s construction progress and before I realized it, we were constantly running into each other.
During that first trip, I’d shared micro-stories of our encounters on my Twitter account – mostly for laughs and fun. I thought our run-ins were cute and harmless, and more than being about him, these little stories spoke about the person that I am especially since I was the only female in the barge (299 capacity) with her colorful headscarved head.
Him: It’s raining so hard! I don’t dare to step outside.
Me: *steps outside*
Him: How old are you?
Me: How old are you?
Him: I asked you first.
On my second trip – I returned here on 24th Jul (today is Day 21 and counting) – things were different between us.
I admit I’d looked forward to return mainly for my project scope, plus I like being onsite because there’s plenty to learn – but I’d also looked forward to seeing him. In the interim that I was back in office, we’d drop each other quick emails – nothing too personal or lengthy, just a funny comment or ‘how are you?’ (we didn’t have each other’s numbers and wifi is limited offshore for WhatsApp). The first week of this second trip was a crazy busy period, especially for him, but we found ourselves spending dinnertime together. We’d sit side-by-side, sometimes with the rest of my project team but mostly only the two of us, and spend the hour chatting. One night, we spent an hour in the mess room chatting, followed by 2 more hours in his office – I’d self-invited myself before I realized what I was doing, and overstayed without noticing.
Whenever we were onsite, he’d stop by and say hello – he would always be the one to say hi, but it’s likely because I can’t recognize him with his ninja mask whereas I’m always noticeable given my colorful headscarved head. But I admit… I would always be on the lookout for him; like a game of catch or ‘Where’s Waldo?’ In the evenings during the daily evening meeting, we’d sit next to each other – I noticed he’d sit next to me – and we’d also walk back to the barge together, sometimes stopping by to the sub-platforms. I recall one particular evening in which we’d separated from my two colleagues and had ventured to one of the sub-platforms; it was near sunset and dinnertime, thus there was hardly anyone left. We’d climbed 3 flights of stairs to get to this huge mechanical piping needing rework (the source of stress for my colleague) and he was, as usual, showing and teaching me things. We stood side-by-side and I’d accidentally grazed his right thigh with my left hand. I pretended not to notice, but noticed he did; he’d slowly turned his face towards me then downwards to where my hand was, now limp on my side. We said nothing about this – I let the moment pass, and so did he.
But it was a moment, present and real, and both of us felt it.
In the period of 11 days in which we’d overlapped, we’d shared what I think of simply as moments. I didn’t think anything would grow beyond the trip because offshore runs on its own time zone and dystopian rules – we’d chat in our pyjamas at night, for instance, because we live and work in the same confined spaces – that would not always hold in real life back onshore. My favorite moments though were always the quiet ones between us. Strange that silence was never an awkward affair between us, whether that was in the mess room between chewing our food or enjoying the random shows currently airing on TV in front of us, or in his office where we’d sit side-by-side or facing each other and chat about random topics (mostly on work). Unlike what usually happens when silence fills the room, with him – even when I wasn’t conscious of less-than-professional feelings running haywire within me – I never felt the need to overcome it. In fact, really, the opposite – I savored in the pregnant pauses and long minutes of not saying anything but being in each other’s presence.
I’ve learned plenty during this trip, but on matters of the heart, my favorite, I think, is the realization that here is someone who
loves likes the me who loves my work – who is somewhat impressed (initially, he’d started out by calling me “Boss” all the damn time) but is always encouraging, coming in from a space of understanding and acceptance. “I think you’re blowing this out of proportions,” he said calmly once, about a recent email fiasco incident that happened to me with him CC’ed. Another time when I was knee-deep in feeling overwhelmed and highly stressed out, he’d patiently listened then immediately sprung to action to act upon my source of stressor (effectively saving the day!), resolving the matter in 2 hours.
He demobbed 2 Thursdays ago, and we’ve since been texting daily – it’s crazy, I don’t know if this means anything. Our vibe is friendly, meaning maybe I’m the only one feeling feelings. But this super friendly vibe is also, I think, what is so wonderful – on the pretext of friends, it takes away any layers of pretense betweeen us. I get to be myself in all my siliness and seriousness whether on work or personal, and he seems to take everything especially these different sides of me, in stride.
Two night ago, I’d a complete meltdown – I’ve been offshore for 21 days and counting now, it’s crazy and I’m just mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted – and was deliberately not going to text him that night (I was going to just sleep on the blues), but he did with, surprise surprise, “How was your day, Jan?” cue floodgates and text venting. I went on for 30 straight minutes – our chat thread was filled with only my messages – and paused with an apology, in which he’d replied good naturally, “Platform blowdown in progress… go on” i.e. not seeming to mind at all. Throughout that 30 minutes too, he’d stayed on the line just ‘listening’ – I knew this because the tick mark on WhatsApp would immediately turn blue, but he waited (he waited!) until I’d indicated I’m done text-spilling before typing in his replies.
I’m nervous to write too much, in case I jinx everything. It all feels unreal, you know?
Here’s a boy who seems to take me in exactly for who I am – whether personality or even my Muslimness (he’s not Muslim). He speaks and responds to me with absolute nonchalance, as if nothing about me fazes or tires him – I am not… difficult, or work – except for the occasional fascination and glimmer in his eyes. And because it’s been 10 days since he left, I admit that sometimes I have a hard time remembering how he looked like. I can’t make out his whole image in my mind, which makes me sometimes nervous – so I lean on our shared moments, and remember the ease I’d felt in those instances. And whenever I’d go through and reread our texts, his warmth is apparent. This boy is real …not just literally.
I have so many things to be grateful about when it comes to this trip, both personal and professional and despite the exhaustion and ongoing sticky situation with my project – hence the reason for overstaying by 2 weeks – but to be honest? What I’m most grateful for is truly, sincerely, for this newfound friend at this particular instance. I call him friend because that’s what he is, but also because I realized that I can not be in love with a person – yet be in love with many things about him. If I’m not careful, I know – I might free fall deeper and there’s no guarantee, of course, on the landing.
It’s August again, and once more, a boy has entered into my life and heart.