I remember being enraged. My then boyfriend and I had had a fight, which had ended in me storming out of his apartment in a fit of rage, and realising shortly after, that I had locked myself out with my handbag and keys still inside. It was like those very rare moments in life when things are going so horribly wrong that you stop reacting and become an audience to the whole idiot-fest instead.
The argument had gotten ugly so I wasn't expecting him to start a search and rescue mission for me anytime soon. There were two locks - one on his front door that locked automatically and required a key to get in, and another guarding the lift lobby which required a separate magnetic card. When I said I had stormed out, I meant all the way out to the street so there was no way I could get back in, or head back to my own place.
Luckily I remembered his phone number, so I headed to the guard house. There were two guards - one seated with his back towards me and another standing and facing the little window. I asked him if I could use the phone. He recognised me from my previous visits and got an inkling of the situation from my slightly smudged up mascara and frantic mutterings of abuse at every unanswered ring. I tried both my boyfriend's phone and mine but nobody picked up. If I were hulk, that would have been my moment to begin the transformation.
"Having trouble with your guy?"
I looked up.
The security guard, a young lad in his twenties, wearing an old tweed jacket and grey worn out pants, was giving me the 'You poor thing' look. I nodded and told him what had happened. He didn't have the spare keys to help me get in, but he said he could get me through the lift lobby so I could go up to his floor and try knocking on the front door.
So off we went. Part of me didn't want to face my boyfriend, but the more tired part of me wanted to get hold of my bag and head home to a nice shower and warm milk. He got me through the gate at the lift lobby and I took the lift to level 13 (that should have been a red flag). At this point I believed a 100% that my ordeal was over, that this was it. There was no way he wouldn't hear the knocking, except that's exactly what happened. I knocked, nay, banged against the door, called out his name for several minutes - silence. I was to find out later that my boyfriend had actually not been home then, because he was outside looking for me the whole time. Now that you have this knowledge, it should make him look like less of a villain. However at that point in time, it was almost 2 am and I was seriously beginning to worry.
I headed back out for some air.
It was the guard again. This time his companion, a scruffy looking old man was seated facing my direction, waiting for an answer. He must have been brought up to speed about this situation.
"He can't hear the knocking I think. The doors too heavy."
"Oh dear. Wait I'll get you a seat."
He ran to get me a stool and I sat outside the guard house for the next hour talking to the two folks through the tiny window.
"Your boyfriend is that fella, about yay high, who leaves for work real early dressed in formals right?"
"That is precisely right haha"
"Well he's funny. I mean this one time, he got trapped in the elevator and called for help and we told him it would be a while till the technician got here and he-" He looked at his older companion and together they burst out laughing.
"He started crying! We could see him! It was just - oh I'm sorry - it was just so funny."
I couldn't help but laugh along with them. I was mad at the guy anyway.
The young guard went on to tell me about how his girlfriend recently left him for another man.
"It's the worst. Absolute worst. You seem mad at your guy now but trust me, he seems like a nice bloke. He'll make up for it. Just don't leave him for this. I can't wish this pain upon anyone."
I smiled. "I am mad alright, but I'll try to work it out."
"That's the spirit! Never give up on people. You want some coffee?"
It was close to 3 am and coffee sounded like just what I needed. I nodded and saw him as he got up to take some old sachets of instant coffee out of a drawer and proceeded to heat up some water over an old electric hot plate. It seemed a little unhygienic but I didn't want to sound too arrogant and was just glad that I had someone to talk me through the night.
A coffee later, he got up and started packing his stuff.
"End of my shift, lady. It was lovely meeting you. Wish I could have helped."
"You did. Thanks for the coffee." He smiled and rode off.
Just then a car pulled up outside the apartment and a large group of skimpily clad women got out. They, very obviously drunk, staggered towards the lift lobby. I looked at the watch - 3.20 am. Deciding to have one more go at the knocking, I headed towards the lobby, hoping I could follow these ladies in. Turned out, they had seated themselves outside the lobby. I went over and asked if anyone of them had the card to get it. It didn't seem like they understood me.
"Hey you over there!"
One of them, sitting in a corner, heels off, wearing a green off shoulder dress barely reaching her thighs, was calling for me. She looked like she was in her mid-30s.
"Hi yes I just wanted to know if you guys had the card to get in."
"Oh the card. No no no. We're just waiting for this guy, our agent. He'll get us in. He should be here in a minute. Sit."
She pulled me down next to her. I complied. I was too tired to care.
"So what do you do for a living?" She asked
"Oh I write code. I'm a software engineer."
"Oh my God! Really? You must be so proud! Guys!! She's an engineer!" She announced to the rest of the women and broke into her native language mid-sentence.
Then turning to me, "We are all from Philippines. We work at this club nearby. It's mainly for rich Japanese businessmen."
It made sense all of a sudden. Their attire, the drunken state, the agent.
"Oh" I didn't know what to say.
"It's okay. I'm sorry we're all pretty drunk. They actually pay us at the club to make the guys buy us as many drinks as we can, so we always end up like this at the end of the night."
"Oh" I still didn't know what to say. Some of the girls were looking at me smiling. I felt like I shouldn't be here having this conversation but maybe it was the lack of sleep or how the preceding moments of the night had passed, I stayed. I knew she just wanted me to listen.
"You know I have a son." she continued.
"Oh?" I was genuinely surprised.
"Yes, back in my home town. He is turning 5 this month." She quickly pulled out an old flip phone and showed me a picture of a young boy standing in a field next to an old lady.
"That's my mother. I'm not married, so my parents are taking care of my son."
"He is adorable." I finally found my voice.
"Isn't he? You know last month when I went home I asked him what he wanted for his birthday and he said he wanted a bicycle! And I was able to save up enough so I can buy him one! I'M SO HAPPY!"
She shouted the last bit and all the girls cheered. I looked around and thought that life was so richly layered.
"Girls! Let's move!"
Their agent - a shabby looking man, wearing a black leather jacket, black jeans - had arrived with the key. I joined them as they entered the lobby.
"You know we live on the top most floor. You should come with us. You're so sweet."
I had to draw the line there. I wasn't that sleepy.
I got off at level 13 and they shouted good byes and best of lucks at me as the lift doors closed - just what I wanted to hear before diving into a second round of knocking and calling out for my boyfriend - still no response. It was almost 4 and I have no recollection of how I felt. I don't remember feeling anything. The night had been a rollercoaster. I headed out again.
There was a small playground next to the apartment with a clear view of the street. I went and sat on one of the swings and in a few seconds, spotted my boyfriend walking towards me from the guard house. The older guard must have told him I was here, I remember thinking.
As he walked closer, I closed my eyes and thought of the young guard making me coffee, serving it in an old cup with a broken handle, of the young woman with a son who was so happy she could afford to buy him a bicycle, of myself knocking repeatedly at the door and not hearing anything back. I felt relief from knowing that soon I would be indoors and tucked in a nice comfortable bed and life would be normal again. But I also felt grateful for having experienced the kindness of strangers. It almost felt like waking up from a dream as I opened my eyes and saw my then boyfriend standing right before me shaking his head.