A syncopation of tin clanged above him. His umbrella lay on the floor near the door. It was speckled with raindrops that had not yet dried due to the viciousness of the heavens.
'So much for a sunny last day,' he mumbled to himself. 'That always only happens in the movies.'
His cubicle had been bare save for his laptop. It featured a wallpaper containing the tiled front cover art of an Alexei Tolstoy novel. Other than a stack of papers that were the files that he processed, there was nothing except a Styrofoam cup of water.
It wasn't exactly a ritual of his, but he often started his work day by reading a few pages of a book or novel that piqued his fancy. That day, it was The Medicine Show. The pages were a bit yellowed, especially around the edges, but well-preserved. He had picked it up at a book sale. Although most of the medicines were outdated, he enjoyed reading it because the book was a well of common sense – common sense that still applied and that still worked even 50 years into the future. Although there were no longer brands such as Isodine, iodine gargles still existed, and they still somewhat worked. He took out his highlighter and marked a line that he thought was pertinent. The highlighter sputtered, however, as its yellow ink gradated toward faintness in a single line.
Its time had come: for over a year it had been his multipurpose marker as it also had a fine tip that could be used like a gel pen. At that moment, however, even the fine tip no longer wrote: he tore the last page of his brown stationery, and tried to scribble on it. The paper was clearly indented with his scribbles, but no ink had come out of the pen. What else was to be done but to throw the pen away?
The trash bin was about ten meters away from his cubicle. It was the perfect distance for a game of fantasy basketball. He looked around, making sure that no one physically present was there to see him other than the watchful eye of the CCTV camera being manned by a guard who was probably watching NBA, anyway, and found no one present. He then emulated Michael Jordan's patented fade-away jumper with a quarter of his airtime and none of his finesse. At the point when he released the pen, a slim, bespectacled girl entered the room. Her glasses had a white frame.
The highlighter bounced off the right side of the trash bin and dully clanged off.
'I never knew there was someone who idolized Jet Li nearby,' she spoke. She then smiled. 'Or was that Chow Yun-Fat?'
His stance was awkward, to say the least. His right foot was raised at about hip level, his hands raised behind his head, with his left foot being the only thing that prevented him from falling. He looked as if he was about to slip, but then adjusted himself quickly after her entrance.
'That was the Crane Formation of Bruce Lee. You should watch more movies,' he said nonchalantly.
The two smiled at each other.
'Should I not ask what you were just doing?' she asked.
'I was playing fantasy basketball,' he replied simply.
He walked to the trash can, picked up the highlighter pen, and then walked back to where the girl and he were talking a moment ago. He disregarded the lady for a while, once again took aim, but was without frills this time around, and then shot the pen. It smoothly swooshed through the waste basket.
'See?' he continued.
She smiled. 'I thought fantasy basketball was played on the Internet, though.'
'I'm not saying that it isn't. I'm just saying this is a different kind of fantasy basketball: essentially what I've been doing was basketball, although I just wasn't using a ball and I also did not utilize a traditional basket. It's all in good fun, right?'
'Good point. My name is Elle, by the way,' she spoke as she offered her hand to him. 'That was a good shot you've made, as well.'
'Thank you. My name is David. I'm very pleased to be of your acquaintance.'
David thought that Elle was going to return to her own cubicle, but she asked him a question instead: 'Aren't we Spartan?'
'Why do you say so? I don't look muscular, and I'm certainly not a fighter.'
'No,' Elle continued, 'I mean your cubicle – it's so clean. Other guys around here often have their cubicle filled with pictures of women in different states of undress, cars that they probably won't be able to afford in their lifetime and basketball players they'd probably never see. Don't make excuse about being a temp, because the temps I know also do those things.'
'I just don't think I'm like them, I guess. A lot of people find me weird.'
'Wait; don't tell me you're gay?'
'Christ, no, I'm not gay. I'm just not like most of the guys I know.'
'Tell me your hobbies, then, Mr. Weirdo.'
'Hey, that's not nice.'
'Tell me your hobbies, then.'
'Well, I like and collect pens.'
'Stop bathing your mind with innuendoes and listen. I said "pens." P – E – N – S. There, I spelled it out for you.'
'You mean the ones that write?'
'Of course I mean the ones that write. I'm not a carpenter, and I don't do any caulking. I collect vintage ballpoint pens.'
Elle had a look that was between a person who was looking for an elusive piece of an intricate jigsaw puzzle and a person who was visibly surprised. She nevertheless continued her questions: 'What pens do you collect, then?'
'I usually purchase pens that are branded Scripto.'
'Is that an expensive brand?'
'Well, Elle, the shipment adds to the cost but it's more of an obsolete brand rather than anything special. If you wanted special pens and pencils you could purchase from Graf von Faber Castell. Those are the pens that cost probably hundreds of thousands.'
'Was there a graph in Faber-Castell?'
'It's actually Graf like the one found in Steffi.'
'Hold up – I thought I was the one who was supposed to sound like that. Your nerdiness is leaking.'
'Anyway, it's a really high-class pen division of Faber Castell that seeks to manufacture fountain pens and pencils that could last a lifetime. For example, the brand's featured pencil costs 250 dollars.'
'That's just for one pencil, right?'
'Yes. It's for only one pencil. Their pens are even more expensive. Their limited edition pens run for hundreds of thousands of pesos. I can't spend that much money, and while I do have enough to purchase a pencil like that, why should I? I'd rather just purchase one Scripto pen, and it would cost me from ten to fifteen dollars, including shipping. It's still more expensive than the pens usually bought from bookstores nearby, but at least it's something I know is within my means. But there's nothing really special about the Scripto pens I have.'
'You know, Dave, you seem more worthy to wear glasses than I am. But why the particular Scripto brand?'
'I think it was about ten years ago when one of my cousins showed me a pen like that and I recalled its ink was particularly attractive to me that I never really forgot about it even though my cousin moved to a different place.'
The two of them had been standing for about ten minutes. Dave stopped talking for a bit and then brought a monobloc chair inside his cubicle, and pointed at the chair. Elle sat down, and he sat down on his chair as well.
'It's way too early for work to begin, anyway.'
He gave Elle the brown stationery he recently used, and handed out a brown pen to her. She took the pen and then wrote a few mathematical equations on the paper.
'There's nothing really special about it, no offense,' she spoke after she finished writing an equation which she dutifully solved as well.
'That's what I was telling you. It's just another one of your run-of-the-mill pens.'
'What's this black tip, though?'
'It's an eraser, Elle.'
'You mean they had pens like this a long time ago?'
'I can't exactly trace the exact date as to the first pen with erasable ink, but it was sometime during the 1970s. This is probably a later model of it, as the packaging stated that it was produced during 1989.'
'It was there that long ago?'
'I'm not sure whether Scripto was the first, but I'm sure they were among the earliest.'
'Okay, you impress me with your arguably useless knowledge among pens, but I'm curious: why do you have to purchase older pens? Wouldn't the pens bought over our bookstores suffice? I mean, at those prices you could purchase a box of the most inexpensive ones and they'd all write quite decently.'
'"History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake."'
'Who said that?'
'James Joyce wrote it in one of his more popular novels.'
'Who is he?'
'He's actually my grandfather. He lives with us, and he's a really smart guy, too.'
'How old is he?'
'140. I was kidding.' David smirked as he spoke. 'He is actually recognized to be one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century.'
'I'm sorry for not being a geek, O Chosen one,' Elle retorted.
'It's not that I'm saying that line just to sound smart, but it does accurately convey the duality of what I'm thinking of. I'm so involved and ensconced in the history of the objects that I like that I want to remember them, and to do it I have to have some sort of remembrance, so I purchase those pens. I don't want to forget, and yet I also want to escape from it as I want to spend money on things that are more useful and practical. I still don't, however, and I can't really explain it all that well.'
'Do you regret any of those purchases you've made?'
'I don't regret any one of them.'
'Then it's all right, I guess. You made a choice, and you stuck with that choice. You have no regrets, and you don't harm anybody. I may not exactly get what you're saying, but I understand that people love what they love. I like Adventure Time, for example. People may say that's for kids, but you like what you like, even if you can't explain the reason why.'
'That was well-said. Thank you.'
'I like reading romances, too. I especially like fairy tale endings, even though I'm not a child anymore because I hope that people would be happy in love.'
'I like romances, but because I'm particular toward classics I usually end up reading tragedies. I think you should admit that you're a bit of a nerd yourself.'
'Oh, I am. I think I'm your usual stay-at-home type who likes reading and then daydreaming about the characters in the novel and their happy endings.'
'I probably can't relate because of the age of the novels I read. One of the more frank romances I've read was Austen's Mansfield Park, but that was it.'
'Pride and Prejudice is more readable. Darcy is so cute, too!' she grinned.
'Hey, wipe your mouth! Your fangirl is leaking,' David grinned back.
'Don't you think classics are obsolete, though? I mean, the action occurs in a time and place different from our time now.'
'I don't think emotions, humanity, or social interaction would ever be obsolete. No matter whether it's 2046 or 1984, people are people, so books should and would never be obsolete. You can't really ever remove the humanity especially in well-written classics.'
'That was an excellent point. So, tell me this: have you ever slept with a girl?'
Half-smiling, David stared at Elle for ten seconds.
'Well?' Elle continued.
With the same stare, he stared at her for ten seconds more before answering.
'Of course I haven't. Wasn't that obvious enough from how we talked?'
'What was obvious enough?'
'The fact that I'm a huge geek – and not really ashamed of it.'
'I'm a geek, too.'
'Well, yours is a different story.'
'To tell you the truth, I thought you really had a girlfriend the first time I saw you.'
'Look at me. I wear glasses. I like pens. I play chess and read books. I believe in the value of honor and loyalty and sex after marriage.'
'Don't you think that's good, though?'
'I won't change myself or my beliefs one bit. It's hard to find someone with the same wavelength as you, though.'
'You just haven't found the right girl yet.'
'Or I may have found her, but she has a different set of beliefs from mine or may like entirely different things. Have you ever had a boyfriend?'
'Have you ever made out?'
'Yes. But that was an experiment, and I don't think I'll be doing that again in the near future. How about you – have you ever had sex?'
The two laughed in chorus.
'As for me, I don't drink. I don't smoke. I read books and stay at home. Sex for me would only come much later or perhaps never, and I could live with that, especially with the person I like.' Elle offered.
'It's a miracle that two people of the opposite sex are so close to one another and are celibate!'
'No, father, it's cock saver!'
The two again laughed together. 'Well,' David spoke, 'at least you made out already.'
'That was pretty much a miracle of puberty. I'm much more restrained nowadays.'
The intercom sounded and it asked for David's help.
'Excuse me. I really enjoyed our chat, but work calls,' David told Elle.
'I'm not deaf. Good luck – and thanks for your time, too!' Elle replied.
The two did not meet with each other after that, as Elle had gone out for an afternoon snack with a girl friend of hers, and David went home as he already packed his things. When Elle came back, she saw a novel left at her table. It was Love in the Time of Cholera. She carefully placed it on her backpack and then went home. When she had arrived, she placed it on her table. She heard an almost inaudible metallic clang, and only realized at that point that David hung his Scripto pen at the back cover of the paperback. When she opened the back cover, she realized that she had scribbled something. Because she was about to take a bath, she had taken off her glasses. The text only came into focus when she put the glasses back on. On a post-it note, one line was written:
'I'll be waiting for you until you return where you belong. You'll enjoy it there, with me.'