A Monkey's Tail
by Dilina Janadith X ChatGPT
The brewing of a cup of coffee is always timed perfectly between the first and second rounds of their lovemaking. It is a ritual that Queresh always initiates, never deviating from the pattern. He always springs out of bed as soon as they finish the first round to make Sy a cup of coffee.
During this time, Sy’s room is filled with a comfortable silence. At least, that’s what Queresh assumes. The only sounds that break the silence are the distant voices of their neighbors and the honking of vehicles from the street below. Despite living on the 17th floor of a building in the heart of Deira Dubai, the sounds of the city find their way to them, adding to the ambiance of the moment.
“Coffee?” Quresh asked as he pulled on his boxer pants.
“Yeah,” Sy replied, taking her phone from under the pillow.
This dialogue is more of a ritualistic start to the silence than an actual information exchange, as both are aware of its outcome.
Before she could answer, Quresh started walking over to switch on the electric kettle.
Sy sat up on the bed, resting her back against the headboard and grabbing the blanket to cover her naked body. She wrapped it snugly around her waist as she sat there, engrossed in her phone.
Sy’s room is a small, cramped typical Dubai bed space that barely fit the single bed they were on. There is a small table in the corner of the room, near the only window. The table is cluttered with a kettle, coffee, sugar, and some biscuits. Next to the table is an old chair, and a small cupboard that was overflowing with Sy’s clothes.
As Quresh waited for the water to boil, he tried to look beyond the small gap in the curtains covering the window. Through the small opening, he could see the vastness of bustling Dubai cityscape. Meanwhile, Sy remained lost in her phone, scrolling through her feed without a care in the world. They faced opposite directions, each lost in their own thoughts.
The ritual of brewing coffee has been a tradition in Queresh’s life in Dubai for some five years now. Despite the many unanswered questions surrounding this habit, he never deviated from the steps, following them as if they were carved into his very routine. He felt that it had become a part of his existence, something he could see himself doing for eternity, in every interval between their intimate moments.
Queresh learned about the ritual during his first night with Sy. He didn’t know much about her back then, not even her name. All he knew was that she worked at a food stall near his workplace. Their communication had been limited to informal nods and waves until that night.
Sy possesses a rather plain physical appearance, with straight golden-tinted hair flowing down to her shoulders and brown eyes. It is difficult to determine her age as she easily passes for someone in their twenties or forties. Her unremarkable features allow her to blend into the background, making her easily forgettable.
In fact, on that first day, Queresh may have walked beside her for several minutes without even realizing it. However, he did take notice when she offered him popcorn, which she had likely taken as a snack from a food stall after her shift ended.
“Have some,” she said, offering both small buckets of popcorn she had, one salted and the other caramel.
Queresh smiled and reached for a few pieces from the salted bucket.
Queresh felt unsure of what to say next. He felt awkward walking in silence with Sy, unsure of how to connect with her. Eventually, he asked her about her popcorn preference.
“Salted or caramel?”
It was the only thing he could think of to keep the conversation going.
“Both are okay, it’s not the taste that I like” she said, followed up with a bizarre reason for eating popcorn.
“You see these hard brown parts?” she showed a part of a popcorn that did not fully pop and remains hard and inedible, “Sometimes when you eat them at night, you can see them when you poop in the morning”
Queresh was taken aback by her answer. He didn’t know how to respond and felt his voice momentarily deserted him.
“Just take a look tomorrow morning, ah,” she said with a mischievous smile, raising her eyebrows suggestively. The “ah” at the end of her sentence is a common habit among Filipinos, and it added a playful tone to her suggestion.
Queresh remembered the awkward silence after Sy’s comment about the hard brown parts in the popcorn. To his surprise, she then extended an invitation to her room.
Dubai is a place with its ups and downs, things to like and dislike (perhaps more things to hate). But there’s something captivating that grabs his attention. He loves the blend of freedom and uncertainty that fills the air in Dubai. It’s a city where anything can happen, where things can be okay or not okay. For instance, he might meet a girl who offers him popcorn and invites him to her room. However, even a simple act like shaking a girl’s hand might not be seen as appropriate. It’s odd how this uncertainty actually makes him feel more relaxed in Dubai than in his home country. In Dubai, he realizes that many others are also trying to navigate through life, just like him. There’s no pressure to conform, no sense of a fixed way of living here. Everyone, including the locals, is still figuring things out. It’s strange that this uncertainty actually puts him at ease, unlike in his home country where it seems like everyone else has it all figured out while he remains in the dark.
He found himself nodding in agreement to Sy’s invitation. He did not anticipate this happening on their first day of talking. Moreover, to this day, he is even unsure if he would ever have brought it up by himself if Sy did not asked.
Queresh barely remembers that they did not exchange a single word after his nod until they reached her room. He also can hardly recall the details of their sexual encounter. Even now, he is unsure if it was good or bad. However, he distinctly remembers feeling an urge to leave as soon as he reached climax.
He hastily put on his pants and glanced at Sy, who was sitting naked on the bed, scrolling through her phone as if he was never there.
Queresh had mixed feelings about Sy. He couldn’t determine if he liked her or not. It was as if he was trying to see a fuzzy picture, without any clear details. Even until now, he remains unsure, and Queresh has come to believe that perhaps this is why he prefers to glance through the curtains while the water is boiling.
There suddenly, she looked up from her phone and spoke.
“Are you leaving?” she asked, giving him a quick glance before returning her attention to her phone again.
“Yeah, I have some stuff to do,” he lied.
“Can you do me a favor before you go?” she asked.
“Yeah, sure” he replied as he checked his pockets to make sure he had everything.
“Can you head to the kitchen and turn on the kettle for me before you go? I want to make a cup of coffee,” she asked. At that point, there was no kettle, coffee, or sugar inside the room. They all were yet to be introduced to the room.
“Sure” he responded, considering it to be a reasonable favor to ask of a nearly-stranger.
“And if you don’t mind,” she went on, “there’s a large coffee jar with my name on it, ‘Sy’ – ‘S’ and ‘Y.’” Here, she revealed her name for the first time, tracing the letters in the air with her finger.
“Can you put some coffee in the yellow mug ?”
If he had even a small degree of clear interest in her, he might have seized the moment to introduce himself, but he chose to simply reply her question.
“Sure, no problem,” he thought the request was still a fair one.
“By the way, if you happen to spot someone in the kitchen, try not to get into a conversation. It’s unlikely there’ll be anyone this time, but just in case…” she cautioned.
Queresh didn’t think it was unusual that Sy wouldn’t want to mix her casual fling with her inner circle.
Exiting the room, Queresh found himself in the small kitchen of the apartment, which was visible from Sy’s door. The kitchen was clean, with shining countertops and appliances. Every item was precisely organized, with no signs of dirt or disorder.
The limited counter space was occupied by only a few essentials, including a row of four coffee bottles. Three of these bottles had names written in neat handwriting: Jene, Mitchel, and Sy. The fourth bottle was lacked any labels.
As Queresh turned on the kettle and grabbed Sy’s bottle, he realized she had only mentioned adding “some coffee” to the cup. He found himself unsure about the meaning of “some.” How much coffee did she actually want him to put? The ambiguity of those words always bothered him.
“Is that for Sy?” Queresh spun around at the sound of a woman’s voice.
There, in front of him, stood a stunning Filipina woman, probably in her late forties. She towered above the average height, making her presence impossible to ignore. Her beauty was striking, and she bore no resemblance to Sy. The way she carried herself with confidence and grace was evident in every aspect of her posture.
“Yeah,” Queresh answered her question.
“Then just add two spoonful of coffee and one spoonful of sugar,” she signaled with her fingers coloured in dark red nail polish.
“Oh no, no, she just asked me to add coffee, that’s it,” Queresh replied.
“But how can you leave without adding sugar? You’re missing the best part. Just add sugar, then you’re all set ” the woman said.
Queresh found her response unusual.
“She just asked me to add some coffee, then I can go,” Queresh explained.
“Gagu!” the woman gently pinched him. “You’re like the first monkey,” she said, moving closer to him.
Her presence was overwhelming, and Queresh’s heartbeat quickened.
“What?” Queresh asked, surprised.
“Do you know how monkeys came into the world?” the woman asked Queresh with a twinkle in her eye.
Queresh shook his head.
“Ahh … It’s a nice story from Philippines”
she stated, briefly pausing, as though she was savoring the story in her mind.
Then, in a calm and whispered voice, the woman began to share the story. “Long ago, there was a young girl who lived in the forest under the care of the goddess of weaving. One day, The goddess gave the girl cotton and told her ‘Clean this cotton and make a dress for you’. But the girl was so lazy and didn’t know how to weave, so she asked the goddess, ‘When the cotton is cleaned, is it ready for use?'”
Queresh, intrigued, asked, “And what did the goddess say?”
The woman continued, “The goddess said no, after it’s cleaned, it must be beaten. And then the girl asked, ‘After it is beaten, is it ready for use?’ And the goddess said, no, it must next be spun. And then the girl asked, ‘After it is spun, is it ready for use?’ And the goddess said, no, it must be woven into cloth, cut, and sewn.”
Queresh chuckled and said, “Wow, the goddess was pretty bad at giving instructions. Eh ? “
The woman playfully swatted Queresh’s arm and replied, “Hey, don’t blame the goddess! You’re spoiling the story.”
Queresh raised his hands in apology and said, “sorry”
The woman smiled at him and said, “I’ll forgive you” She then gently lowered his hand back onto the countertop but didn’t remove her own hand. Instead, she let it rest on top of his. The warmth of her touch spread throughout Queresh’s body, making him feel a burning sensation. Despite that fact that he just had sex, he was aroused by her touch.
“Oh! said, the girl, it will take a long time and much hard work to make clothes that way. This leather hide which you have given me to beat the cotton on, will make me better clothing, because it will wear longer. The goddess was really angry at the lazy girl…”
As the woman spoke about the angry goddess and the lazy girl, Queresh could only feel his heart pounding, the warmth of her hand, and the soft voice whispering in his ear.
“So she took a stick, meant for beating the cotton, and thrust it between the girl’s buttocks”
She acted it out with the spoon.
“This stick will become part of your body, and you will use it for climbing purposes. You shall live in the trees in the forest, and that is where you will find your fruit.’ And from that day on, the girl lived in the trees, her skin became rough like leather, and her tail began to grow. She became the first monkey.”
When she finished telling the story, and a deep silence settled in the kitchen, he sensed a surge of warmth in his body, as if the silence was urging him to do something.
But soon she broke the silence.
“Okay, go give this to her and you’re all set,” as she handed him the coffee mug.
Suddenly, he realized the coffee was already made, but he couldn’t remember if he had made it or if she did while telling the story. It left him feeling puzzled and unsure.
As she started to walk away, Queresh felt a sense of emptiness growing inside him. He had just met her, but already he knew he would miss her. Desperately, he pointed to the coffee bottle labels and asked, “Hey, wait!… Are you Jene or Michel or?”
The woman chuckled and replied, “No, I’m the fourth one,” pointing to the last coffee bottle.
Before Queresh could ask anything else, she signaled for him to serve the coffee to Sy, pointing towards her room. As Queresh looked at her in confusion, she disappeared into a different room at the corner of the hall.
Queresh walked into Sy’s room, feeling refreshed by what happened.
When Sy’s eyes landed on him, they widened in surprise. Without a word, she set her phone down and rose from the bed, reaching for a T-shirt and slipping it on.
She took the mug from him and brought it to her lips, savoring the taste for a moment before declaring it “perfect.”
She held the mug with both hands to warm them up before taking a small sip. She closed her eyes and savored the taste before taking another sip. This time, she took a larger sip and let out a contented sigh.
As she took a break from sipping the coffee, Sy rested the mug on the bed and partially closed her hand around it. She picked up her phone again and scrolled through it absentmindedly.
From time to time, she looked up at Queresh and smiled, but he didn’t feel the urge to break the comfortable silence that enveloped them. He continued to look at her without taking his eyes off her, while also thinking about the woman he met a moment before.
The way Sy drank her coffee was mesmerizing to him as if every sip was an intimate moment between her and the mug.
Eventually, Sy’s gaze met Queresh’s once again and she offered him a smile before taking the final sip of her coffee. She set the mug down and let out a soft sigh of satisfaction.
“Do you want to do it again?” Sy asked.
Queresh couldn’t stop thinking about the mysterious woman, the first monkey, the coffee, and especially the way Sy enjoyed it. Unlike the first time, when he had accepted Sy’s invitation without much thought, this time he eagerly nodded his head. His blurry image turned into a clear image. And unlike the first time, he remembered everything about the second time – every second of it, and how it felt on every inch of his body.
After that day, He found himself visiting Sy’s house more often than he needed to. Every time, he offered to make coffee after the first round, hoping that the woman might come to the kitchen again. He had never met her, but every time he made coffee, he would look at the bottle without a name, feeling like he was somehow connected to her through it. And with each passing day, the second round of coffee seemed to get better and better.
But one day, probably after three weeks, the coffee bottle with no name disappeared from the kitchen. Queresh asked Sy about it, and she casually replied, “Ah, she got amnesty pardon and returned to the Philippines. You know she did not have a visa.”
Queresh decided to stop seeing Sy !
As time went on, Queresh’s recollection of Sy, the nameless woman and the coffee jar slowly disappeared from his thoughts, with his job becoming more demanding and consuming his attention. During a phase, whenever he had a one-night stand, he tried offering them coffee with the hope of a similar outcome, but it never happened. After being transferred to a different branch, he barely gave any thought to Sy, the mysterious woman, or the coffee. However, that changed one day when Queresh overheard his colleagues mentioning the “first monkey’s story” during a mundane lunch break. Although he wasn’t sure how the conversation had shifted to this topic, his interest was piqued, and he became eager to know more.
“Wait, from where did you hear the story?” he interrupted his colleague, eager to know more
His colleague looked surprised by the sudden interruption but replied, “I don’t remember. Why are you asking about it?”
Queresh insisted, “Just tell me.”
His colleague hesitated before finally saying, “It was from a Filipina woman.”
This caught Queresh’s attention, and he asked eagerly, “When did you hear it?”
“About two weeks ago I guess,” his colleague replied.
Queresh felt his heart race as he bombarded his colleague with questions about the story. However, he was disappointed to find out that the description of the woman in the story did not match the one he had met in Sy’s kitchen. Although he knew that folk tales are not owned by anyone and can be shared by anyone who knows them, he couldn’t help but think about the mysterious woman.
On that day, with a sense of urgency, he made up his mind to pay a visit to Sy’s place once again. After finishing his work for the day, Queresh made his way to Sy’s stall next to his old store but found it empty. So he headed straight to her apartment. As he approached the building, he saw that the front door was wide open. The place seemed eerily quiet and empty.
As Queresh stepped into Sy’s apartment, a creepy silence surrounded him. It felt like no one had been there for a long time. He walked slowly through the living area, looking closely at the closed doors of the rooms. The air carried a heavy and unsettling feeling. Standing in the middle of the living room, Queresh felt a strange energy, similar to what he had experienced during the woman’s story. It was as if the apartment had been marked by her presence.
He looked towards Sy’s room door and the door that the woman had disappeared into, wondering which he should knock. Both were closed, and he felt like both rooms were empty as much as the silence surrounded him.
He decided to knock on the mysterious woman’s door, not Sy’s. He slowly stepped closer to the door, his heart racing with each step. As he approached, he could hear a sound of a footstep behind the door. His heart rate quickened, and he was afraid the door would open before he had a chance to knock, leaving him standing there awkwardly. But he was numb, unable to raise his hand. Suddenly, the door creaked open, revealing Sy.
“Oh, hey, you’re back,” Sy said, looking at him without much surprise.
Queresh was speechless. He didn’t know what to say.
“Come,” Sy said, wide-opening the door.
“Did Jene or Michel tell you I changed my room?” Sy went back inside the room and turned around to show him the new space.
“See, I brought a kettle and took my coffee bottle and mug inside, so now there’s no need to go out for coffee making.” She pointed to a small table that was crammed behind the bed.
Written and composed by Dilina Janadith (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the help of ChatGPT chatbot by OpenAI. June 2023.