She would sometimes come with her friends, three or four of them, sitting around the round, wobbly table where he would set down wine glasses after they have ordered a bottle of white wine. She always ordered the Barefoot Moscato that was too sweet for his taste.
Sometimes she came alone, still ordering by the bottle, but Kris could hardly challenge her judgement. She would pull out her laptop in the dimly lit bar and smoke on the hookah that was set before her. Her thick brows would furrow as she concentrated on her work, her eyes squinting at the screen that was too bright. As if out of habit, she seemed to like wiping the fog of the curve of the wine glass.
She looked like one of those freelance artists, always changing her hair and wearing the same clothes. Knitted sweaters and jeans in winter, cropped-top and shorts in summer. It wasn’t until the third visit did she ask for the wi-fi password. Soon she started hanging out earlier than Happy hours, working on her computer on some project of hers.
Kris never bothered to mingle much with his customers, that was what his boss would do. Aruna, the friendly bar owner of two bars along Elgin Street, was known for her wonderful hospitality and generosity with shots. Kris worked on almost all nights except for Sunday, he needed the money to pay off his student loans.
Sometimes he would envy those rich students who come and order bottles of alcohol and shooters for their friends, waving their snobbish credit cards in his face. He hated their laughter and their terrible drunk-talking, but he kept to himself because the job paid well.
It was a rare night where Kris is back because Aruna was ill on a Sunday night. The bar was missing her presence as it seemed gloomier than usual.
That girl came this time with her hair dyed black, different from her usual eccentric and colourful hair. It didn’t quite suit her, but she was in a expensive-looking floral dress which made her look good.
An older woman who was following her walked in shortly after she entered the bar, looking rather glum about the sombre bar. They looked strikingly alike, but this shorter woman looked fancier in a sharp red cocktail dress that clung to her body.
“Don’t even tell me where you work,” she said dryly, dusting the sofa before she sat on it. Her brand name outfit reminded Kris of how he had despised those rich kids with fat pockets lined by Mummy and Daddy. The girl simply shrugged off the remark while smiling at him for the menu.
Kris handed over the neatest one he could find, still covered with some dust and missing a few pages. The bar was not that old, but the menus were carried over from an entirely different era when Aruna used to have another bar down in Lan Kwai Fong.
The girl cleared her throat and handed over the menus with both hands. “Pick whatever you would like, it’s my treat.”
The woman raised one of her eyebrows at the menu, but took it from her despite the dust. She silently flipped through the menu, her pinky finger curled up while she turned the pages, and after a few more looks she snapped it shut.
“What you usually order would do,” the woman said, shaking her curly, shoulder-length black hair.
The Barefoot Moscato fogged the exterior of the cheap wine glass, bubbles accumulating at the rims of the wine against the transparent curves. Placed on top of a Kirin beer coaster, the glass seemed oddly out of place.
“Cheers then, Angelina,” said the woman as she raised her glass with her pinky finger curled.
Glasses chinked as Angelina raised hers to touch the woman’s wine glass. There was a short silence that hung over the Moscato bubbles.
“So,” began the woman with her hands folded across her lap. “Now that the honeymoon period is over, I think we both would agree it would be better for you to find a job. After all, the congregation isn’t till November, but the sooner you start the better. Isn’t it?”
Angela sat there in silence, her fingers gliding across the surface of the wine glass, wiping away the condensation with her finger. Her gaze never met with the woman’s, looking at her wet fingertips.
“We both know that your job now cannot pay for your expensive lifestyle now, can it? You know that too, and you can’t run away now. Not again.”
Still silence on the other end of the phone. It was like watching a failing Shakespearean play where the character keeps on repeating the same lines, hoping that the other actor would remember hers. A rerun of the same scene over and over again.
Two other regular customers came in through the door. Kris shifted his attention and hurried himself along the dim, creaky floor to give the men their menus.
After receiving two orders of Gin and Tonic, he walked pass the two women, noticing that their glasses were almost empty. Angelina had wiped off all the fog on the wine glass.
He input the orders to the POS system and doubled back to pour wine. He didn’t know why he felt the urge to be more presentable, in presence of this demanding red dress.
The faintly citrus smell from the Moscato was promising, although not an expensive wine, it was still a good drink for a mildly humid evening like this one. Kris refilled their glasses and bowed slightly before leaving them alone again.
“Mum, I like my job,” she began, before her mother interrupted her again.
“Do not tell me that is a job. Lazing around like that in bars scribbling is not a job,” her mother hissed, trying to keep her voice down in the quiet bar on a Sunday evening.
“I have raised you well enough to know that you are capable of more, capable of taking over the business I have sought out for you, carefully planned for you and drawn out for you. All you have to do is take the simple steps that your mother has already laid out for you, is that so hard?”
“You misunderstand that I am ungrateful.”
“I misunderstand nothing, knowing that your father would have taught you to hate me and my plans. What does he know of success? He would have jumped at an opportunity to be rich even if it were to hide behind women’s skirts.”
“Stop,” Angela said, rather loudly. The two men from the other table looked over, by quickly averted their gaze as they saw Kris stare at them.
“You may think whatever you like about my father, but that is now how I think you persuade someone to take your advice–”
“Who said anything about persuading?” scoffed the woman, much louder than before. Kris took the two Gin and Tonic over to the table at the other end of the bar, secretly praying that the two men were not paying as much attention to the fiasco as he was.
“I’m cutting off your cards, live without me if you want, but I need you to regret it. Take the deal now, become rich and happy like me and your stepfather, or you are on your own in this one,” she declared, almost gleeful that she had thought of something that would force her daughter to become desperate. She was enjoying every bit of her squirming.
Angelina’s eyes were foggy like the wine glass, but there was a glint of defiance, like the weak light you see in the night sky when a star tries hard to shine amongst all the others.
“Take your charity money and give me back my life,” she said, shakier that Kris had hoped. “You can go back to your husband and tell him I want none of this planned, pre-paid programme you have in mind for me.”
The woman got up and dusted herself, as if to rid her fancy dress of this nonsensical place that was her daughter’s choice. Her clear brown eyes filled with contempt.
“Goodbye, enjoy your cheap bottles of Moscato,” she said coolly, not without putting down a thousand dollar bill on the still-wobbly table.
Kris went to her table to collect the glass the woman had left.
Angela looked up, her eyes were no longer fogged.
“I think the Moscato is getting to me, for the first time.”
Kris couldn’t help but smile back.
“Your colourful hair was just fine.”