... for the last time ... ... for the last time ... ... for the last time ...
The Introduction “You’re not too busy for a quick chat I hope?” Tina asked Razi, after the usual introductions. As an Executive Search Consultant, she had called him on strong recommendation from a reliable source; recommendations she relies on a lot in her line of work. “Nooo, of course not. I was just sitting here contemplating world peace, nothing urgent or important. What can I do you for Tina?” asked the investment analyst, intrigued by the voice on the other end of the line. Tina laughed. “Well Razi, I want to make you an offer you cannot refuse, but rather than tell you over the phone, how about we meet to discuss it. Believe you me, it would be worth your while,” she managed to blurt out in a single breath. “Ok,” he said simply. Managing not to fall off her chair, Tina smiled as she breathed a sigh of grateful relief. Razi was a pleasant and welcome surprise from the mostly grumpy and difficult ones she had to deal with on a regular basis, and with a sense of humour to boost. “I have other meetings scheduled in your part of the world, so I will be flying over this afternoon. How about tomorrow morning at ten?” she asked. “Sounds good to me,” he said and presently hung up, after Tina had told him the meeting venue. He was smiling mischievously.
The Meeting The connection was instant the moment their eyes met, and, as corny as it sounds, it was love at first sight, at least for Razi. “I have to be honest with you,” he said as soon as they had sat down. Tina looked at him expectantly. “I had agreed to this meeting only to meet you Tina. I’m really quite happy where I am,” he said while studying her face. “Oh…” she said quietly, still looking at him. Tina’s disappointment in finding out that he wasn’t interested in the offer was quite obvious, as she was so sure it would be a slam-dunk with Razi. He quickly continued, eager not to upset her for too long. “Listen Tina, having said that, I do know someone who would be perfect for the job; a buddy of mine who I can vouch for. I have already taken the liberty of calling him and giving him a heads-up. He said he would be happy to meet you at your convenience while you’re in town and is at this moment waiting for your call. He is quite ready for a change at this point in his career.” “Oh!” she said again, slightly taken aback. “Trust me on this. I believe he would be spot on,” Razi added, and grinned cheekily. Tina did and he was, as it turned out later. The candidate was hired by her client the following week. Although she wasn’t at liberty to divulge her client’s identity, she knew that he knew who they were. Such was the incestuous industry he was in. In the meantime, feeling obliged, Tina accepted Razi’s offer of a cuppa and some conversation, until her next scheduled appointment. By the end of the meeting, she was smitten good and proper.
The Dinner Invitation “How’s it going with the interviews?” Razi had called her later that same day, as Tina was relaxing with a cup of tea in between interviews. She still had to honour the rest of her meetings despite Razi’s recommendation. “Good, but I’m absolutely exhausted.” “Then let me take you out tonight. We can have dinner at a quiet place somewhere, relax, with some quiet conversation.” “Tempting, but no, thank you. It would be unprofessional for me to be seen with a candidate on a private outing while the assignment is on-going,” but it was actually what she really needed and wanted to do with Razi. “Perhaps when the assignment is over, I could give you a call and we could arrange for something then.” “It’s a deal, although I hope to hear from you sooner rather than later.” Tina felt the same way. “Well, if your buddy is as ‘spot on’ as you say he is, you’ll get your wish.”
The Weekend Invitation It was about a week later when Razi phoned Tina. “You’re not too busy for a quick chat I hope?” he asked her. “Nooo, of course not. I was just sitting here contemplating global warming, nothing urgent or important. Couldn’t wait for my call huh?” “Nope, not built to be patient I’m afraid, but you do realise you owe me big time my dear?” he asked her, with that usual twinkle in his eye which Tina was sure was there, and which had made her weak at the knees during their first meeting. “Yes I know. As a matter of fact, we wrapped things up yesterday, and quite satisfactorily too thanks to you. So, what do I owe you?” “Well Tina, I want to make you an offer you cannot refuse. How about I take you away for the weekend to celebrate a job well done?” “Ok,” she said simply, but almost fell off her chair again. To say that the proposal was unexpected and a welcomed one was putting it mildly. After they had made their plans and Tina had hung up, she did a little jig, much to the amusement of her colleagues.
The Doubt Sets In It was the most blissful weekend Tina had ever experienced. Razi had been attentive, caring and loving, gentle and kind, everything a woman could ask for in a man. Although a short holiday, she had felt well-rested and happy by the end of that weekend. The both of them had indulged in a lazy holiday: sitting on the veranda with their ‘sundowners’ watching the sunset, a little window-shopping during the day, alfresco lunches, quiet dinners and conversation. She felt comfortable with Razi, like they’ve been together for years. She was happy and contented. When she returned to work the following Monday however, Tina was deep in thought. Razi was the most wonderful man she had ever met, but he lived and worked in another part of the world. How would their relationship survive? Worse, what if he eventually asked her to move there to be with him? No matter what the circumstances, leaving her hometown was never going to be an option for her. Sitting at her desk and flipping through her next assignment folder, she felt a fleeting moment of anxiety, as she realised she had to tell Razi their long-distance relationship would never work out, and soon, before a break-up becomes too painful. It was all Tina could do to force herself to concentrate on her work. Once she had gained momentum in working on a new assignment however, Tina was totally engrossed in it, as was her usual way, and she was thankful for it. By then she had decided she would tell Razi in person when next they met, rather than over the phone.
The False Hope Razi and Tina may not have been able to be with each other like normal couples, but they spoke often on the phone, although it would always be Razi who would call her. He never grumbled, never held it against her. Besides, Razi was now very much in love with her, and believed the love was mutual, and so was quite happy to let things run the way they were.
The Goodbye “You seem very far away my dear. Is it work?” “No… there is something… I need to tell you. I just don’t know… I don’t know how to…” Tina stammered. “Listen my love, I want you to relax and enjoy the moment, as I dearly want to enjoy this short holiday with you. Could you do that for me?” he said gently and smilingly to her, as he tilted her face upwards to face his. Tina nodded meekly and cuddled snugly in Razi’s arms, as they sat on the veranda watching a beautiful sunset on their last evening together. It had been two weeks since they last saw each other, and this was yet another blissful weekend. The last thing she wanted to do then was to spoil it. In fact, there never seemed to be a right time to bring it up, which Tina thought was just as well. It was Razi who finally broke the silence. “I want you to remember what I am about to tell you my love.” Tina looked up at him, but Razi was looking straight ahead at the sunset, and he was no longer smiling. The twinkle in his eye was also gone, when he finally turned to look at her. “You have made me very happy and content for having met you. Nobody else has ever accomplished that feat with me, and for that I am grateful to you. No matter what happens from hereon Tina, I want you to know, I will love you forever.” Hugging each other tightly, Razi and Tina wept silently, gently rocking to and fro, as she realised for the first time how much in love she was with him. She thought this was Razi’s way of saying goodbye, because he too realised their long-distance relationship would never work out, although neither of them had said as much. Tina told herself they were doing the right thing, even though her heart was breaking. After saying their goodbyes, she left Razi at the bungalow and made her solitary way to the airport. He had told her he needed to be alone a while longer, which she had understood and respected. It suddenly became clear, some things which seemed odd, but which she had dismissed casually. He had been adamant they meet that weekend; he needed to see her, to be with her. Throughout the holiday, she had noticed he wasn’t his usual calm and cheeky self; a little too earnest, a little out-of-character, just that little bit different. He must have planned to see her for one last time, have one last holiday with her, before saying goodbye. That must have been it. She felt for him as it was obviously the hardest thing he had ever had to do. Yet… Tina felt the entire holiday seemed surreal somehow. Something did not sit right with her. There was something else… something she couldn’t quite put her finger on. The flight home seemed the longest she had ever had to make, and was relieved to finally arrive home just past midnight, totally exhausted. A little while later, the flood barriers broke. She slid to the floor and cried.
What Could Have Been Monday morning dawned, but Tina felt she couldn’t face another working day just yet, and called in sick. She had spent the entire night crying, and she was now sitting on the sofa in her pyjamas, staring into her cup of tea, the tears still streaming down her face, when her girlfriend called. She tried to compose herself. “What are you doing at home? They said at the office that you were sick. Are you ok?” asked Zuria, a stockbroker who was Tina’s eyes and ears in the industry. “I’m fine. I just needed some alone-time. Why were you trying to call me?” asked Tina as calmly as she could. “Well, do you remember the investment analyst I recommended to you about three weeks ago? Razi?” “Yes,” said Tina, her heart skipping a beat, not expecting to hear his name again so soon. “He passed away last night!” The news hit her like a sledgehammer. Time seemed to stand still. Going through a rollercoaster of emotions, Tina could only manage to respond with a soft whimper. She slumped back onto the sofa, and the ground no longer seemed to be under her feet. Composure no longer mattered. “The news is going around like wildfire this morning. Everyone knew him you know, and they are all saddened by his passing,” Zuria continued without waiting for a response. “As soon as I walked into the office this morning, my colleagues cornered me and asked if I had heard the tragic news.” “Wha… how… I don’t… understand… I was just…” Tina stammered, trying to make sense of what she was being told. She felt her world melting away, and could barely hold on to the receiver. “I know Tina, I was at a loss for words too when they told me… I mean… totally stunned! He was so young, and from a heart attack no less.” “But Zuria… it can’t be true… Razi is dead? It’s impossible!” Tina said a little more coherently, tears beginning to stream down her face again. “Listen Tina, there is actually a very sad story connected with Razi’s passing. Did he tell you anything about his private life?” asked Zuria. “I don’t see what Razi’s private life has to do with his death Zuria. Why are you asking me this now?” Surprised at the question, Tina didn’t care that she sounded a little defensive. She was now beyond caring about anything. Tears were now streaming down her face uncontrollably and her voice trembled. “It has everything to do with it Tina,” Zuria said quietly. She suddenly understood her friend’s odd behaviour. “I want you to just listen now.” “Before I called you, I asked around and managed to find out the phone number of Razi’s parents. I called to offer my condolences, and eventually ended up having a long talk with his brother Rafiq. The conversation started off with him firing questions at me regarding Razi’s private life. He said his family needed answers; they needed closure. Like you, I was startled and asked him what Razi’s private life had to do with his death. To explain, he felt obliged to tell me the tragic circumstances surrounding Razi’s death.” “About two weeks ago, Razi had sought Rafiq to confide in him about a happy development in his life. The brothers were apparently very close, and Razi wanted his brother to be the first one to hear the good news. He told Rafiq he had just spent the most perfect weekend with a wonderful girl and that he had fallen in love with her. Razi was convinced she was the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He was even prepared to go as far as to move to the country she was living in. He had then shown Rafiq the engagement ring he had bought her and told Rafiq he was going to propose to her at their next rendezvous. After that, Razi would arrange for her to fly over to meet the family.” “Needless to say, Rafiq was very happy for his brother. He knew Razi could be difficult to be with at the best of times. It takes a very special girl to make his brother happy and relaxed, as he noticed Razi was then.” “The following week, Razi received a phone call from a business associate who was also a close friend. Rafiq was there visiting his brother. This friend lived in the same hometown as Razi’s girlfriend, and knew that Razi was dating her. The conversation didn’t last long, and Rafiq had noticed that his brother had not said very much but had just mostly listened. When it ended, Razi had walked over to him very slowly, all the while staring blankly into space. His face was deathly pale, and Rafiq admitted it scared him. He did not press his brother to tell him what was wrong, but instead waited patiently. Presently, Razi spoke.” “I’ve just been told that my girlfriend is seeing someone else. They seemed happy together,” Razi said calmly and quietly, still not looking at Rafiq.” “His brother’s face then took on a startled look, and then grimaced horribly as he put his right hand over his heart. Razi collapsed right there and then. That was about five days ago.” …for the last time… “At the hospital, the doctor informed Rafiq that Razi had suffered a severe heart attack, and had lapsed into a coma almost immediately.” “Looking back, Rafiq believed Razi had given up the will to live even before the heart attack came on. He could see it in his brother’s face, during the short time between that fateful phone call and the attack. In a sense it provided a convenient means to an end for Razi. He passed away peacefully last night without ever regaining consciousness. Rafiq believed his beloved brother had died of a broken heart.” …he wanted to see me… …for the last time… “Something strange did happen though during his comatose state. As he sat vigil by his brother’s bed a few hours before he died, Rafiq had noticed a small smile suddenly appear on Razi’s face. It was the only movement Razi had made during his coma.” Tina dropped the receiver in her lap, finally giving up the struggle to hang on to it. After a few seconds of respectful silence, Zuria continued softly and comfortingly, sensing the anguish her friend must be going through. “Tina, Razi’s family never had the chance to meet you. As Rafiq had said, his family needs closure.” Silence. “Tina? You still there?”
What Was Never To Be Tina had met Drew at a conference the week following her weekend with Razi. Drew, who ran his own business in Tina’s hometown, had swept her off her feet, wining and dining her every day. After eight days, Drew began to talk of marriage and buying a house together and settling down. He told her he loved her and that she made him happy and contented. Although as yet unsure about her own feelings for him, Tina believed him wholeheartedly, and fell in with his plans for their future together. Upon her return last night, Tina had checked her phone messages. There was one from Drew. He had spent the weekend with his ex-girlfriend and they have decided to get back together again. They will be getting married next month.
The Final Acceptance Tina is walking down the street on her way to her accountant’s office downtown. Along the way she spots a gold plague with the name of Drew’s company gracing the entrance to an office. A small smile appears at the corner of her mouth, and she continues to walk without skipping a beat, her head held high. It has been three years since Drew’s marriage. She has since learned from mutual friends Drew had instigated divorce proceedings just last month, his wife being a constant source of embarrassment with her very public jealous outbursts. Their union was a tumultuous one by all accounts. Tina is however way past caring for Drew. Three month’s after Razi’s passing, she had met a man whose temperament ironically mirrors that of Razi’s, and she couldn’t help but feel at the time she had been given a second chance. She is now married to him and couldn’t be happier. They say we are the sum total of the choices we make in life, and naturally Tina often finds herself wondering what would have happened if she had chosen to remain with Razi. She had gone with Zuria to pay her last respects at Razi's funeral wake where she took the opportunity to make peace with his family. Nevertheless her ghostly encounter with Razi has left a lasting impression, and, no matter what happens, she will remember him forever.