A Long Night In Soho

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. All names and events are fictitious.

Have you ever tried to escape from your past? Have you ever had a past that you wanted to escape from?

I have.

Back then I was a cocky, reckless twenty-something who had no dream and direction. I let time pass me by, throwing myself in anything that could distract me from my own problems. Work, sex, alcohol, drugs. With money, everything is possible. All night, every night. Even those short flings that never meant anything.

I was never serious with anyone, never really honest or upfront about my intention but not necessarily the bad guy, the asshole, the jerk, the trash of this society. Evidently, they still wanted me. They came to me with desires and hopes, though I had no clue what they were actually hoping for. One thing I knew for sure was that I was never half as good as they made it out to be. To be frank, I was just like any other pragmatic, terrible average guy who uses money to get some temporary fun. My casual, half-arsed relationships in short were just like those business trades that benefited both sides. Nothing more, nothing less.

Come to think of it, life is such a big joke. You can be cynical as much as you want but at the end of the day, when you look around and you see no one, it still sucks. Just so, so bad. It’s like you’ve felt into a bottomless hole. It is dark and scary. I hated it. I wanted to make it go away immediately.

Last December, I also suddenly felt that kind of loneliness.

That day, I went to one of my ex-girlfriends’ funeral.

Well, not exactly girlfriend because we had never really had anything official. But at least that relationship was serious and I did give that person something very close to love. Perhaps that was why when I’d heard she had passed away, I’d felt strangely empty inside. I’d stayed silent for a long while, then suddenly become baffled. I had thought it was all my fault. Her death must have been my fault. I just did not know why it’d come to me like that. I guess it was because part of me still felt guilty about how we ended. I felt sorry for her.

Her family did not publicize the cause of her death, not even to relatives or friends so till now I still don’t know a thing. When I was at the funeral, I sat by myself at a corner of the room so that no one would recognize me. I closed my eyes and prayed for her, hoping that she would forgive me even though at times I’d ask myself what my sin really was. Maybe I could not remember because I had too many of them. It had been almost one year. One year is long enough for many horrible things to happen.

I remember the first time I’d seen her, she was completely vulnerable as the sensitive girl she had always been. Her tears were as beautiful as ice crystals. They ran down from a pair of bright brown eyes sparkling with young dreams and hopes. She was really pretty — the delicate and fragile kind of pretty. She was even named after one sophisticated kind of flowers — Daisy. I used to say her name out loud all the time because I was obsessed with how it sounded. I thought it was very feminine and elegant just like her. I believed I was in love. I really did try to love her with all I’d got, to be a better person for her. But it is true that there are people who are simply not meant for each other.

Just like me and her. Loving her made me want to run away from her.

Her love for me was all too much. Is it even possible? She made me guilty for the love that I totally did not deserve. It trapped me with all the unspoken responsibilities from an untitled relationship while I dreaded to be tied down unless it was me who decided to be. At some point I’d tried to be better. I swear I did. But when I could not keep it up any more, she just watched me fall and put up with it as though I’d forced her to put up with the terrible me. She made me feel terrible, so terrible that I just wanted to keep being that way.

She was loving, she was patient but all of that was feeble. And I had no capacity to return any of it to her because yes, it was all too much. If only she had not loved me that much, if she had got mad at me, if she had let me fight for her for once, maybe, maybe… we would have still been happy together. Maybe…

About two months later, she came to find me. But by then, I’d already got back to my old life, spinning around with drugs and random hookups. So, I had no time to see her. Well, truthfully, I did not want to see her. I heard that Daisy waited for me for 5 hours straight at my office while she was fully aware that her health was not in a good condition. It got so bad that she collapsed right there and had to be hospitalized for further diagnosis. How foolish of her! She had known too well that I was a complete asshole. Why the hell did she still hold on to me? I felt sorry for her but then I did not do anything about that. I was afraid to see her. I honestly could not bear to see her face, her tears any longer.

Till death would I be able too.

The day Daisy went to heaven was the first time I’d ever cried for her. I felt sorry for her gullible heart that was misplaced in a man like me.

If only we could restart our life to do things differently, perhaps then I wouldn’t have to feel so disgusted at myself. But I did not know how to change and why I had to change. I ran around and I still ended up at the starting point. Bad, still bad. Yes, it was me. If I could hide, I would. If I could die, oh, it would even be better. I just wanted to leave everything behind. No more meaningless flings, no more calculations to take advantage of every encounter. I just wanted to run away from that day like that…

I found a small bar in Soho to drink away my sorrow. It was not as crowded as at midnight but was still noisy enough with all the chatters. I enjoyed the fact that I was simply an unknown man, completely detached from my surroundings. No one knew what was going with me. So, I felt safe. For once, I was allowed to be crazy, to forget who I was.

I ordered a bottle of Whiskey all for myself and sat alone at a table that had the least amount of light possible. It was slightly raining outside. Freezing.

I had a look around. Messy place and people like me. I smirked. This is life and I had played a good part in it. Like everyone else, I made mistakes, I was terrible, I was average. I did not know what is right and I did not do what is right but I could never stop trying to make it sound right in my head. Eventually, it would be right. It must be right. It’s ironic, isn’t it? You look at me, talk to me, sleep with me, even claim that you love me but you can never guess what kind of man I am because you will believe my stories, my version of truths that even I have a hard time buying until they become the only truths to you, to us. What are we really? What is life? What does all this mean?

I kept repeating those dead-end questions in my head until I was disturbed.

A woman sat down in front of me with a drink in one hand. Her eyes were shadowed by the coloured LED lights, making it hard to read.

She asked, “Have you ever hurt a girl?”

I almost choked on the Whiskey. I stared at the stranger in front of me. What was she?

Asking me that kind of question after I came back from Daisy’s funeral, she was such a bad, bad stranger.

I was mad. My eyes were dead cold. I shoot her a look.

“Do we know each other?”

She smiled sweetly, trying to be playful, “Hey, easy. It was just a question.”

I thought it was a meaningless question, just like her charming fake smile. I took another sip of Whiskey then I lit a cigarette. The smoke fogged part of her face then it was quickly all clear to me. She was a beautiful woman.

“Hurt? Probably yes. Well, a lot. I mean, obviously not physically if that’s what you meant.” I answered tonelessly. By the end of that sentence, I let out a sarcastic smile.

She moved from the opposite seat to the seat next to mine. When her face was close, I noticed that she had a gorgeous big pair of green eyes and this confident aura which was somewhat different from the girls I usually met from this kind of place.

She laughed at my response.

“Haha, of course not physically. Well, I want to know how it feels too.”

Her eyes sharpened. She looked smart and mysterious. Totally my type. My fuck type. Maybe a bit more.

“What do you mean? The feeling of hurting someone?”, I asked her again, taking another puff while looking at her curiously.

But she seemed more serious than I’d thought.

“No. The feeling of being hurt.”

All the noise and especially the Whiskey in my system at the time must have slowed my brain down. I was totally confused. Wait. What did she say? Like to be hurt? Oh, this girl. What a nutter — just like me. And foolish — just like Daisy.

“I’m serious. I have hurt many guys who loved me. And now I feel guilty about all that. I want to be punished. Could you help me?”, she said as soon as her glass parted her alluring pouty lips that made me feel like a pervert for staring.

Well, I would believe her. Any sane man would say yes to that pretty little mouth and those round, perky tits teasing underneath a soft layer of her mini black dress and showing lace bra. I was a fully functioning man myself and I was sane, hopefully, but… too bad, she had met me on the wrong night.

Seriously, what was all that crap?

I wouldn’t say I had figured life out but I was wise enough to know what this was all about and I had no interest in adding to my brain any data of any stupid woman.

The funeral, this place, the Whiskey. It was way enough for me to feel like a piece of shit. I did not need this woman to remind me. Such a tasteless conversation.

Hypocritically enough, I went along with her anyway. I told myself that I wanted to pass the time. Or maybe I was just as tasteless.

“I’m bored too”, I responded half-heartedly, “Okay, tell me?”, then continued with my drink.

“I will be straightforward. You have hurt many women. Could you hurt me too?”

I burst out a laugh. Yet, she did not seem to be joking. I wasn’t really trying to understand the meaning of what she said but that much was enough for me to realize that even my look sold me out as the ultimate jerk. Whatever then. I might well play with it.

“Are you sure?”, I deliberately lowered my voice to make myself sound like the text-book bad news — whatever the hell that means.

However, to my surprise, she replied without hesitance.

“Yes, I’m sure. I told you. I want to be punished.”

She went on invitingly, “Could you do it? A game that you will definitely be the winner. Isn’t it easy? Just for fun, but then you get to help a beautiful girl too!”

As she spoke, I couldn’t stop staring at her moving lips. I wanted to bite them so bad. When she finished, I kept quiet for a moment to process what she had said. I wanted to show her that I was just as serious as she was… about how I did not want to be involved in any of her bullshit.

“Listen, it is indeed a very tempting offer and yes, you are beautiful but I’m not the right person for you to play with. I’m not in the mood…”

I guess I was slightly drunk. The words I wanted to say jumped around in my head. When she asked me with her big dove eyes, “Oh dear, what’s wrong?” I immediately spilled the whole “I was back from my ex’s funeral” out without even thinking straight.

It got even worse when I couldn’t shut my mouth.

“I hurt her. Now she died and I’m the jerk that could never be forgiven. It doesn’t feel nice. You have no idea. At least now, I’m not interested.”

“Oh well, I see. That’s no use then.”

She changed her tone fast to a flat one and turned away from me, her gaze falling down the bottom of her glass that was being held tight in her two hands.

“Hey, what’s up? You can talk to me you know”, I asked concernedly. Admittedly, I did want her attention back.

Her eyes were once again sparked with interest.

“Why do you care?”

“Well, I mean, we happen to be here already and I have time so why not? Maybe I could give you some good advice.”

“I don’t need advice. I need you to hurt me.”

“Alright. I must say that’s a very confusing statement. What do you even mean by hurt? How could I possibly have any power on you to hurt you, if not physically, when we barely know each other?”

“What do you want to know then, Mr. Whiskey?”, she leaned towards me flirtatiously.

“Well, first, tell me your story! What is this whole thing about?”

“My story? Do you really want to know?”

“Yes, I do.”

She sighed then looked up at me with a serious, heavy face, “Well, I have done things I’m not proud of. I’m not a nice girl. I admit it. I ruined the person who loved me the most. Our relationship lasted four years. He was loving and sweet and definitely cared about me way more than I ever cared for him. I knew he would do anything, everything for me… But I went ahead and hurt him anyway.”

“Well, I understand”, I nodded sympathetically. The thought of Daisy ran through my mind.

“It got so bad. I couldn’t take it any more. I felt like it was all my fault. It was all my responsibilities. It’s so shit… But that’s why I need your help. Could you please do it for me?”, she persisted.

What? Not again? I almost rolled my eyes.

This girl. She was like the female version of me. Just less cool and way more dramatic plus shit loads of crap. What was up with all this asking a stranger whether they had hurt someone then asking them to hurt her too? What was she thinking? I had downed half the bottle but that much of Whiskey still could not make any of it sound any less ridiculous.

“Okay, I get it. So you broke the poor guy’s heart and now you go around asking a stranger to do it back to you? Hurt me? Punish me? Haha, I’m sorry but it does sound a bit like a cheap porn plot. That aside, like I said, I can’t help you. But trust me, life will have a way to fuck you sooner or later, you probably won’t need me!”

My rejection with the condescending attitude seemed to piss her off. Evidently, she snapped.

“Okay, forget about it!”

She finished her drink in one go then abruptly stood up, meaning to leave.

I grabbed her arm, for god knows why. Perhaps drunk. And lonely.

“Stay and drink with me. Are you not bored too?”

She looked at me intently for a moment then decided to sit down again for some unknown reason. Reaching for my bottle as I watched her, she poured herself a glass of wine. I smiled. I guess it was time we cut all the nonsense.

“What’s your name?”, I gently asked.

She said, “Celia.”


I told her my name. By then, finally, we could have a proper, no-bullshit conversation.

She took her time to tell me more about herself, about how she was born and bred in London and that her parents divorced when she was in high school — all the real, personal stuff. She said, after the split, she stayed with her mother who was then remarried to an old friend of her father. She regarded this guy as the beta man with no back bone, the classic middle-class loser but she was too old to give a fuck about her parents’ business so she did not give a fuck. She moved out as soon as she practically could and lived on her own in a one-bedroom apartment with two racks of fine old wines.

“I love living on my own. I’m the only child and I had never been close to my parents so I’m used to this. I mean, it’s nice to have someone to live with but honestly, I don’t understand the concept of marriage sometimes. Like what my parents did. The whole thing was utterly selfish… getting married, having me then leaving each other. What’s all that for? And dammit, it’s expensive to wed these days. I don’t think I could ever afford two weddings over the period of 5 or even 10 years. You know what. I have accepted that I might live alone till the day I die and that’s totally cool.”

I was thinking the same.

“But I’m a hypocrite. I will change my mind in a heartbeat if it’s convenient to me.”

I laughed.

We actually had more things in common than I had initially thought. I was also slightly surprised by how calm, open and relaxed she was to me but it got me talking too. I shared with her about my countryside background, my boring, pretentious family and the fancy corporate job I took only to keep their mouths happily shut. Then about Daisy. Many other women. And all the dirty secrets. How much of a jerk I had been to these women. With all honesty, genuineness and especially all the human bits I had left in me…

You would be amazed at how comfortable you could feel with a person you’ve only just met. So comfortable that you could tell them your life story with no filter, with nothing but the naked truths, the truths that would sometimes even scare you. I guess it was because we did not have any expectations or any particular intention with each other when all the acts had been dropped. At least for me, no.

After two glasses, she started to reveal about the men in her life and the reason she came to the bar that night.

“I went to my boyfriend’s place and caught him fucking the housekeeper. Housekeeper, you know, how cliche is that? So I came here and I thought I could do the same. Then I saw you, sitting on your own with your Whiskey. I guess I liked it. To be honest, I had never done this before. I was quite nervous.”

“You didn’t seem nervous at all!”, I chuckled, “But if that’s the case, you, out of all the people, must know how it feels to be hurt, right? Especially when it has just happened… like what? A few hours ago?”

“The thing is… no, I don’t. I don’t feel anything… I don’t think I ever even loved him. How sad is that? How horrible am I? I want to feel something desperately I guess. If not guilt.”

“Guilt about what?”, I asked.

“I technically cheated on that boyfriend of 4 years with my now boyfriend who, well, has just cheated on me too. How ironic!”

“Well, I guess it’s even then, isn’t it?”

“Even? I wish it could be. Exactly two weeks ago, my ex killed himself. Open wrist in my bathroom”, she bluntly said, “Sometimes you do shit and you get away with it but there are times you have to face it, every day, for the rest of your life because you are a selfish, little prick.”

I was taking a sip from my half-empty glass, cigarette burning red on another hand. The sweet taste down my throat suddenly turned bitter, then it felt good again.

“Well, I guess that makes two of us then.”

“Sadly, yes”, she smiled, “Life happens.”

It was a long pause between us. We exchanged a look then finished up our drinks. I was not sure if it was the Whiskey or something about this long, strange night that weirdly left me feeling unsettled. It was past two and the bar was closing. We took our coats and walked out together.

“I love Soho at this hour. It’s so sexy, don’t you think?”, Celia said while looking up at me as I was still a few inches taller than her on her heels.

I noticed how small she was compared to me. I thought I could hold her and pick her up easily.

“Yea, London is magnetic. I could never leave again”, I responded to her, placing all my attention down on her almond-shaped green eyes as I moved closer to her.

Like that. Gazing at each other, we said nothing for a moment. I wondered if she could read my cluttered mind then to know that it was one of the very rare times I did not know what to do about a woman. This beautiful, troublesome, complicated woman. Her.

After all, it had been a long night.

“Well, I guess we should say goodbye now?”, she said with a smile like the Casablanca Lily that blooms at midnight.

“I guess so.”

Unexpectedly, she held my face and gave me a kiss. It was supposed to be a goodbye kiss but it lasted longer than I had ever been prepared for. I held her tight in my arms, feeling the warmth and the weight of her body pressing hard on mine. For a split second, it hit me. I had always wanted something more, wanted to explore the possibility of a new beginning, of something wonderful, of being good, of wanting to be good. Again. Whether I believed I deserved it or not.

I just did not know how.

“If we ever end up with each other… whose wrist do you think would be cut first?”, her eyes widened as she asked nonchalantly with that usual charming smile.


Then she walked away.

I was left speechless. That… was a very good question, I thought. And thus, I did not stop her.

I kept that in mind and found my way back when my sleepless London was finally asleep.

Ellen Nguyen/Ellen Gau

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