A young mans fight with complacency and routine...
Dustin C. Baker
Ow Lee awoke promptly at 7:30 a.m., every weekday, and slept in until 8:00 a.m. on weekends, or at least what he called “sleeping in.” He rolled over every morning to hit the buzzing alarm clock on his mahagony night stand, next to his queen size bed. He knew the bed was far too big for one person, but it hadn’t always been for one person. The night stand was on the left side of his bed, near the window that faced the East, allowing sunlight to enter every morning. Ow Lee always slept with his back to the window because the sunlight bothered him in the morning, and at night the street lamp outside his apartment window crept its light in, casting shadows across his room. He placed the alarm clock away from him so that it would force him to reach over to shut it off, thereby waking him up. Not that it would matter, his body and mind were now accustomed to waking up at this time, as he had done for years now.
He shut the golden alarm clock off and sat up in bed, slipping his sockless feet into his black slippers. The warmth of them made him smile every morning, or at least smile on the inside, for Ow Lee seldom smiled. He stood up, yawned and stretched, and headed for the bathroom.
As he washed his hands he looked into his small bathroom mirror and noticed the hair on the top of his head standing erect. “What are you doing,” he asked his hair, not really expecting it to answer back. Ow Lee had become accustomed to solitude over the years, but the consequence of loneliness involved him occasionally talking to himself, his hair, and other inanimate objects.
As he began his morning shower he softly hummed a tune to himself but for the life of him could not remember the name of the song. When he stepped out he wrapped his black towel around him and then his black robe around him as well. Again, he stepped into his slippers and enjoyed the warmth they cast over his cold, wet toes.
He shaved quickly, brushed his teeth, and fixed his short black hair, making sure that no stray hairs stood upright. The after shave he put on his face always burned, but he enjoyed the smell, and thus continued to endure the pain.Someone else had once enjoyed the smell as much as he did.
Every weekday, Ow Lee put on black slacks, the kind that was pre-creased, and a pair of fresh black socks. He sighed as he put on the socks, enjoying the new sock feeling he knew most people felt, or at least hoped most people felt, so he didn’t feel strange. His white t-shirt and white button up shirt were clean pressed every night, and hung on his closet door, to avoid wrinkles. Ow Lee detested wrinkles, lint, dirt, or any other objects that affected the way his clothing looked. He stared into his bathroom mirror as he put on one of his twenty black ties, and noticed another piece of hair standing up on his head. He frowned, finished tying his tie, and grabbed a comb. “You just don’t want to cooperate today, do you?” Ow Lee felt silly talking to his hair, but it was all he could do to keep from going out of his mind. Although, at times, he felt like talking to himself and his hair most likely categorized him as “insane” in people’s minds.
He sprayed his favorite cologne into the air and walked through it to coat his outfit in its sweet fragrance. Ow Lee had worn the same cologne for years, and as he smelled it every morning, it reminded him of better days. Days he had long forgotten about.
At 7:55 a.m. Ow Lee walked out of his second floor apartment, and headed down the narrow stairs to the outside world. He breathed in the fresh air as we walked out and let out a deep sigh. Another day of work, he said to himself. In all his years working, Ow Lee had never missed a day, and was never late.
At precisely 8:00 a.m., Ow Lee drove out of his parking lot in his small, two-door black car, and headed down the same street he had taken for years now. He drove eight blocks down Boulevard, and turned left onto 24th street, driving the seven blocks down to Main St., and finally turning into the same parking lot he had turned into for years. His parking spot was always the same, exactly forty-seven steps from the door. He knew it was forty-seven steps, because Ow Lee counted them everyday. His shoes echoed across the parking lot with each step he took. Ow Lee entered his job, and walked the other fifty-three steps it took to arrive at the time clock.
He said hi to the same people he did everyday, and managed to fake a slight smile to each of them, although he would prefer not to talk to anyone. Ow Lee enjoyed being left alone, or at least he had become so accustomed to it, he thought that it was what he enjoyed.
At exactly 8:15 a.m., Ow Lee began his workday.
12:00 p.m. everyday was his lunch break, and he always ate a sandwich from the vending machines in the break room. He sat by himself in the corner, near a window that overlooked a small creek behind the offices. No one ever spoke to him while he ate his sandwich, or drank his can of Coke, and Ow Lee preferred it that way. His lunch lasted exactly thirty minutes, and Ow Lee was never late getting back to his desk to continue with his workday.
At 4:15 p.m., Ow Lee shut down his computer and walked the twenty-seven steps it took to arrive at the time clock from his desk. He walked the fifty-three steps to the front door, and then the other forty-seven steps it took to make it to his car, without so much as nodding at another person on his way out.
Ow Lee ate at home alone every night, although it wasn’t always that way, watched the nightly news every night at precisely 9:00 p.m., and then prepared his white button up shirt and white t-shirt for the next day. At 10:15 p.m., Ow Lee picked up his golden alarm clock and turned it on. He set it back down and walked around to the other side of the room and tucked himself into his oversized queen bed.
Everything in Ow Lee’s life was redundant, mundane, and complacent. Little did he know, however, that this particular Monday would be the last day anything would seem logical to him.
Rain was hitting his East side window as his alarm went off. Ow Lee could hear thunder rumbling in the distance as he awoke. He stretched and sat watching the rain for a moment. He didn’t particularly like the rain; he didn’t enjoy getting his clothes wet.
As he walked to the bathroom to begin his daily routine, he couldn’t help but feel that today, somehow, was going to be different.
While he buttered his lightly toasted white bread at his lonely kitchen table, he read the daily newspaper, and attempted to do the crossword puzzle, although he rarely finished it. Ow Lee took a bite of his toast, and stared across his kitchen, looking out the window at the ongoing storm.
He thought about his life, and how he wasn’t sure of himself sometimes. In his mind, he seemed to only be content, but not truly happy like he had once been, when she was with him.
He had waken up next to her, every morning, without the sound of an alarm clock, and he would smile, something he scarcely did now. Her hair would still smell freshly cleaned and it would tickle his nose when he would inhale deeply lying next to her. It was long, and jet black, and every night before they fell asleep, she would ask him to run his hand through it as she slept on his chest. Ow Lee never told her no.
As he looked across his kitchen table at the single, empty chair, he reminisced about all the mornings they had spent together, sharing toast and coffee, talking about their dreams from the night before.
But that had all been long ago.
Ow Lee shook his head and forced back the tears and sadness he felt. He finished his breakfast and left for work.
Rain was falling harder while he sped down Boulevard. The windshield wipers squeaked as they went back and forth, back and forth, across his window. He watched them in silence, and wished there was a way to erase his memory the way the wipers erased the water on his glass. His stereo was always set to talk radio, something he thought he did subconsciously to hear another human’s voice, so he wouldn’t always feel alone. Better than talking to himself, he would often say, to himself. At the moment some conservative host was discussing how the current president’s new budget plan was going to fail. Ow Lee scoffed; he did find much satisfaction in bashing a man who had all the troubles of the world resting on his shoulders.
He reached into his center console and removed his pack of cigarettes. Ow Lee hadn’t always smoked, but that was before she left. He picked up the habit mostly out of boredom; he never enjoyed the taste or smell of nicotine.
As he fumbled around looking for the lighter, his eyes temporarily left the road. “Where are you,” he asked, as if the lighter would answer back, calling to him and letting him know its whereabouts.
Finally, he found it, buried underneath the change he kept for no particular reason at all. As his eyes drifted slowly back to the road he noticed something out of the corner of his eye and slammed on the brakes.
His car came to a screeching halt in the middle of the road, barely in time to avoid hitting the young woman running across the street.She stopped in front of his car and attempted to peer into his window.
She was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, and dark, blue jeans, both of which were soaked from the downpour. Her hair was dark black, and dripping with rain water. But it was her eyes that first attracted Ow Lee. Even in the rain he could see that they were dark green, as if God himself had picked the two most precious Emeralds in the world and placed them in her eyes, for everyone to stare at in envy.
He rolled down his window and called to her, although he wasn’t sure exactly what to say. “What are you doing,” he yelled.
Her voice was extremely soft, almost angelic, as she answered him back, “Can you give me a ride?”
Ow Lee immediately fell for her voice, and began feeling certain things that he hadn’t felt in years. Lust, he thought to himself, is what they call it. For reasons he didn’t fully understand, he nodded his head yes in approval and unlocked his doors.
She slid into his front seat and smiled at him. He felt himself blush at her beauty and at a loss for words, or at least coherent words. “Where going,” he said, realizing too late how stupid he sounded. He couldn’t even put logical sentences together.
She laughed at him and pushed her wet, dark black hair back from out of her face. “‘Where going?’ Don’t you mean, ‘Where are you going?’”
“Yes,” he managed to stammer back.
“Well, first, let’s get out of the middle of the road.”
He hadn’t realized he was still stopped, and that he had already caused a line of honking cars behind him.
“Do you know where Duck’s Pond is,” she asked him, as he continued down Boulevard, passing 24th street, the one he normally turned down to head to work.
Ow Lee knew where it was, and that if he took her there it would make him almost fifteen minutes late. He frowned and said, “what do you want to go there for? It’s raining out.”
She smiled at him and chuckled softly. “Have you ever seen the ducks and geese in the rain. Even when the world around them is falling, they still float in the water so peacefully, without a care in the world. It’s a beautiful thing to see.”
“What are you talking about?”
Ow Lee didn’t mean to be rude, it was just his personality. He very seldom had any human contact, especially with attractive, rain soaked women in his car.
“Come with me.”
It had caught him off guard, and he wasn’t sure how to respond. He could see out of the corner of his eye her staring at him, with her beautiful emerald eyes. “I have to work,” he muttered under his breath, without turning to meet her penetrating gaze, ”And I‘m running late.”
“Just give me five minutes. I promise. I’ll owe you one.”
Owe me one? He felt himself compelled to follow her, but his routine life didn’t seem to be cooperating. He had not been late to work in years, and did not intend on changing that today.
“You’re already going to be late, aren’t you? Just give me five minutes.”
“I’m never late.”
“Well today will be a first for you than, right? Come on. Just a few minutes. You have to see it at least once in your life.”
He didn’t know why he nodded yes, but somewhere inside he felt like it was the right thing to do. Feelings of happiness began to surface, slowly though, because he was afraid of letting his defenses down. He wasn‘t sure if he was ready to feel for someone again.
“Just a few minutes than,” he said to her.
She giggled and clapped her hands. “Wait until you see it. It makes you think about your life, and how all of us rush to do everything. If we only lived like ducks do in the rain, we might stop and realize we need to enjoy what’s around us.”
Ducks in the rain? Ow Lee was finding himself more and more intrigued by this woman, but at the same time confused. She was an interesting character, a beautiful woman, but extremely unique, and contradicted everything his life had been about for years now.
“I’m Natalya, by the way.”
Natalya. He loved her name. He loved her eyes, her laugh, her voice; Ow Lee immediately realized he was falling for this woman, whom he had met just minutes earlier. Was it love though, or lust? He thought to himself.
“My name is Ow Lee.”
Natalya chuckled and Ow Lee immediately knew why; since a young boy people had always poked fun at his name. It was rather unique, but he cursed his parents most days of his existence for giving him his name. “So, your name is Ow?”
“No. It’s Ow Lee. Not just Ow.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s a very unique name.”
He was sure she was still laughing on the inside, but managed to reply back, “Thank you.”
As he turned into the entrance to Duck’s Pond, he noticed the excitement growing on Natalya’s face. It made him smirk slightly, something he had trouble remembering the last time he did. “There they are,” she said, pointing off into the distance.
Pond was actually a rather large misnomer; Duck’s Pond was more of a huge lake, taking up almost five square blocks. To walk around its trail took over an hour, something Ow Lee remembered doing on multiple occasions in the past, with her. But it was all before the accident.
He parked the car at the top of the hill, and looked down upon the hundreds of ducks now swimming lazily about the lake. The rain was still falling hard around them, but he did take notice at how they still moved about gracefully, just like Natalya had said.
She opened her door and began walking down the muddy hill, beckoning for him to follow. Ow Lee stood in the car and hesitated for a moment.
Would she forgive him? Would she want him to move on?
He slowly opened his own door and felt the cold rain droplets run down his neck, sending shivers and goosebumps across his body. “Isn’t this amazing,” she called to him.
Ow Lee enjoyed watching her standing the storm, with a smile on her face that lit up the cold world around him. He continued down the hill until he was standing next to her, on the edge of the lake. “Have you ever done anything this crazy?”
He pondered the question for a moment. His life had been carefully planned for years now, never changing. Everything had become routine, and the craziest thing he could think of that he had done in the past, was the day he wore a green tie to work, in honor of St. Patrick’s day.
“Why not,” she asked him. She was looking directly into his eyes now, and he found it difficult to match her gaze. She made him blush, and he hoped that she didn’t take notice of this.
“I don’t know really.”
He wanted to tell her so much, but wasn’t sure if he was prepared to share his past with a complete stranger, even a beautiful, rain soaked stranger.
“Sound like you need to wear your socks inside out once in a while.”
Ow Lee was confused. He looked at her and she understood immediately the look on his face, as she tried to explain. “Everyone always puts their socks on the same way. Wear them inside out once in a while. Change things up. Live a little.”
She laughed and Ow Lee couldn’t help but smile. “Hey, there it is,” she said.
Ow Lee turned his head to hide his red face. She chuckled, and said, “Let me take you out to coffee tomorrow. I owe you for bringing me out here.”
It had been a very long time since he had been on a date with a woman. He wasn’t sure of the social protocols anymore. Did he pick her up? Did he bring flowers? Did he kiss her at the end of the night?
As was usual, Ow Lee over thought even the tiniest of problems. “No, that’s O.K.”
“Come on Ow Lee. It’s just coffee.”
The way she said her voice made him feel warm inside. It had been too long since a woman called his name. “O.K.,” he answered back.
She sighed and said, “You better run off to work. Meet me at the cafe on 6th street tomorrow at about five. Deal?”
“Hopefully tomorrow I can get you to talk more then you have today.”
“Don’t be. We all have a past, and sometimes we’re hesitant to share it. You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“But, what about you? It’s raining outside.”
She smiled and put her hood up. “I’ll be good. You take care Ow Lee. Don’t forget to live like a duck in the rain.”
That night, as he lay down in his bed, pondering the days events, Ow Lee thought about Natalya, and her smile. He thought about her laugh, her voice, and most of all, her eyes. He wished that she were next to him in bed now, staring at him and whispering to him in his ear. He turned onto his side and closed his eyes. Would she forgive him though, for moving on?
“Oh Nanette,” he called, “I miss you.”
Nanette. That had been her name.
He pulled the cover up over his face and attempted to sleep. He thought about Natalya, the new woman in his life, about Nanette, the love that he had lost, and he thought about ducks in the rain.