deus ex machina

The click of Maya’s heels echoed in the corridors as they walked towards the server room on the third floor. Jerry scanned his access card and pushed the door at the sound of it unlocking. “Make sure you tag in and tag out, otherwise security will think someone unauthorised is in the room.”

Maya nodded, passing her own card over the panel. No response. She tried again, and the red light flashed twice. Jerry glanced at it. “I told Adrian to add your—” He broke off when it beeped and the light flicked green. “Huh. Never done that before. I’ll ask Adrian to take a look later.”

She gave the scanner a dubious look before following him in. The drop in temperature made her shudder. “I guess I should’ve brought my jacket.” The hum of the air conditioning system was almost as loud as the servers.

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nice to finally meet you

I fumbled with the doorknob, glad to find it unlocked, since I there was no way I could have managed it with the stack of copies I was holding. I almost tripped over the boxes sitting by the doorway. “Damn it, Evan, didn’t I tell you to put those back on the shelf?” I shoved the door fully open with my shoulder to see Ramesh standing in front of the whiteboard instead, an eyebrow raised, and another student I didn’t recognise lounging on the only empty seat we had by the wall. Not from our course, then (we were pretty small), but I felt I knew him from somewhere. Material sciences lectures, maybe?

“Evan went out to get … something,” Ramesh said, gesturing vaguely at the door with the marker in his hand. “He took your car keys. Sorry about the boxes; I just pushed them aside. I thought he was doing something with those circuit boards?”

“We’re lucky he didn’t explode the room,” I said. I looked around, trying to find somewhere to put my papers. Our guest stood up, and I deposited my burden on the chair. “Thanks,” I said to him, and he shrugged, and I turned my attention back to Ramesh. “Seriously, though, did you have to put Evan in charge of this thing? Now he’s panicking and pushing everything on to me! He’s got no sense when it comes to delegating work.”

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She found the cat sitting in front a fountain of milk, daintily licking its paws. It was white, except for a black patch over one eye, its movements sleek and graceful.

“Tell me a story,” she demanded of the cat, and it looked at her with bright, curious eyes.

“What sort of story?” it asked, before continuing to groom itself.

“Any story, as long as you tell it.”

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eastwards on a train

The train was smoothly making its way towards the east and Amy still managed, somehow, to almost trip as she headed back to where we were seated. I shook my head and she just shrugged, grinning. Our carriage was mostly empty. On one side sat two teenagers, watching a screen of a tablet together while sharing a set of earphones, occasionally giggling and elbowing each other. A family of five sat a few rows behind us, the two little girls occasionally running up and down the aisle and clambering into the empty seats to look out of the windows, their father intermittently calling them back. A baby wailed each time he raised his voice.

This little trip Amy had planned was turning out like nothing I had expected. I’d thought we’d be driving up the mountains, and then spend the day looking at old colonial buildings and maybe pick some strawberries before going home. Instead, I was sitting in a train as it chugged its way through the countryside, apparently on my way towards the cable cars that headed up to the Balsands Plateau. We were then supposed to go out exploring a short hiking trail and look at the flora and fauna. (“Fauna, Amy?” “You know, squirrels and stuff.”)

I wondered whether Amy was trying to recreate something from our school years, but as she laid out her itinerary for the journey I was left mostly baffled by the whole endeavour.

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bright lights, big city

I slouched into my seat as the bus slowly made its way out of the business district, watching as the lights outside glimmered brighter as the night grew darker. The bus was only about a quarter full, the few passengers in it either dozing or fiddling with their phones. Most of the city had fled much earlier, leaving the workaholics and the tourists and the people in love to remain late into the night, making the city their own. I was none of those, but I was leaving late nevertheless, and I breathed a soft sigh to myself. My throat felt tight and I was exhausted, all of the earlier merriment and laughter drained away from me.

My reasons for the night out with Amy were entirely selfish. Yes, I had wanted to see her, and yes, she was a good friend, but she was also a friend I hadn’t seen in a while who didn’t know of the ridiculous tangle of non-relationships I had gotten myself into. I hadn’t wanted to talk about Evan or my feelings or how I managed to complicate the uncomplicated.

The past was the past and I should let it go. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t even want to think about it.

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you and me, coffee and tea

“He still asks about you, you know,” Amy said, toying with the after-meal coffee. Dinner had been in one of those upscale, fancy cafés, where everything was overpriced but the atmosphere was worth it. The topic of her half-brother Jay had come up, a boy I had known, distantly, while I was in university. A year or two older than I was, but we had graduated at the same time, though with different majors.

I scoffed at that. Amy had insinuated, in more than a few occasions, that Jay was interested in me. I took it as one of her exaggerations, very much like her over-dramatic renditions of her fights with her boyfriend and her passionate discussions of the last movie we saw. While I remembered Jay from university, I had actually first met him years back, while I was still in school, when I had went over to Amy’s house to stay for a weekend. I had barely registered his existence then; he was a quiet, gawky figure always lurking in the doorways and I was self-conscious and thirteen.

“No, seriously,” Amy insisted, “he was asking just a few weeks ago if I was still meeting you regularly.”

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let’s meet when the rain stops

And when you finally meet again, it’s accidental: the rain is tapering off and the wind is dying down, and everyone’s slowly making their way out of the coffee houses and twenty-four hour convenience stores, and the sidewalk is back to the throng of the usual end-of-day chaos. You spot them sitting in a corner of an alfresco eatery; he’s sipping a drink with his eyes fixed on his phone while she’s murmuring something to him as she flips through the newspaper.

You go over to say hello. There’s a wry smile on his lips and a delighted one on hers, and you can’t help but laugh and all is right with the world.

“I didn’t know you guys were in town,” you tell them, and he looks surprised.

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