I first met Aliyah at a posh art exhibition in Singapore. Singapore has lots of boozy events masquerading as cultural happenings; this was just one of many that month.
Aliyah stood next to me at one painting, and asked me what I thought of it. I said I thought it was OK.
She smiled and asked me what I did; I told her I was an editor.
“That’s interesting,” she said — are you looking for stories? I said yes, always. She said she knew a gay bar in Chinatown — would I like to go? As homosexuality is still a crime in Singapore, I said definitely, yes.
The next week she called me and took me to an upstairs room full of people with tight vests, sequinned tops and shiny shoes, drinking shots and sweating lightly. I was introduced to a considerable number of artists, PR people, clothing designers and creative types, all of whom seemed confidently gay despite Singapore’s legal strictures, and intent on enjoying their evening.
It was an eye opener to me. I had only previously seen the straight side of Singapore. It was remarkably unshady, and pleasantly different from most of the straight bars I had been to previously, with their rather impersonal and contractual social scene.
This woman knew cool stuff, I thought to myself.
Aliyah seemed pleased I was pleased, and suggested we meet up again next week, for a drink, and to talk about other possible story angles. She also had the most amazingly smooth skin and lovely, deep-dark eyes, so I said yes, and gave her my card.
She didn’t call back the next day so I arranged to go out for a drink with my best mate Soren and his wife Claudine. Soren is Danish, Claudine Singaporean, and they are both very smart and amusing company.
Soon afterwards Aliyah called and suggested that promised drink — but unfortunately at the same time as I’d agreed to meet Soren and Claudine. I said I’d be happy to meet up — but would have to dash at about 8pm (early by Singapore standards) to meet my friends. She said that would be fine, so we arranged a place.
We met straight after work, had a drink or two, talked of this and that. She moved closer, touched my arm a couple of times, and devoted serious energy to gazing at me with those wonderful liquid eyes. Then she popped the question: “Would you like to go somewhere a bit quieter, a bit more private?”
By this time, I was wavering. I’d agreed to meet Soren and Claudine, but there was no doubt that this was the kind of question many men would like to be asked. I fully understood where the best chance of a rewarding evening lay.
“Sorry I can’t,” I burbled through my beer. “I’ve agreed to meet Soren,”
Aliyah made her displeasure known with an abrupt ‘OK then’, and a very rapid departure, leaving me nursing my empty glass.
I settled the bill, grabbed a cab, drove across town to meet with Soren (and a few other pals), and told him what had just happened. Claudine’s eyebrows rose at the idea of me dumping a fully certified promise for a beer with friends, but we were very good mates and it seemed the right thing to do at the time. We settled in to a tropical evening of bad jokes, alcoholic intemperance and exuberance.
Then the text messages started.
“Where are you? I’m sorry I left. Didn’t mean to be rude. Call me back.” This happened about four times, but my drinking arm was by now fully primed and I put off answering until a bit later.
Next the calls started. At this stage we were all a bit tipsy. Not a good time to chat and smooth things over, I reasoned. I ignored the buzzing phone.
By the third or fourth call, Claudine was getting irritated. “Is it that woman again?” she asked. “I’ll get rid of her.”
Next time my phone rang, Claudine picked up and in her lowest, most sultry and come-hither voice said “Hello, this is Des’s phone. Who is this calling?” The line clicked off immediately. I sighed with relief and put the phone on silent. We finished late, and I got home in a relaxed haze.
Next morning, out for a revitalising bike ride with my pal Andy, I noticed my phone was unusually quiet, so checked it — oh, it was still on silent. I switched it on, and 127 messages flooded out, demanding, cursing, abusing and generally calling my taste, manners and morals into question. All from Aliyah.
“Blimey,” said Andy. “That’s a bit strong. She’ll probably be waiting for you on your doorstep when you get home.” She was.
I reasoned with her, said it was a friend who answered, said it was a joke, said it wasn’t real. She was not convinced, but was definitely convinced I had dumped her for another date. She was very angry.
Nonetheless, after about half an hour she left, and I was left too — feeing guilty. But life goes on, so I ate some chicken rice and continued with my day.
Not long after that the emails started popping up.
Shortly after I met Aliyah I had included her on my email list for a party I was planning. The list was made up of about 70 people I knew, most personally. Aliyah noticed I hadn’t blind copied everybody, just cc’d them. Which meant she had all my friends’ emails and could spam them. Which she did.
She sent out a group mail informing everybody of what an utter bastard I was, how I was a serial two-timer, how my morals weren’t worthy of the gutter but were nearer to sewer level.
Then she sent another detailing how I had treated her abominably, and how people like me gave foreigners a deservedly bad reputation with all Singaporeans, and deserved expulsion if not surgery of some kind. Reputation-shredding doesn’t begin to explain the content of those emails.
I sat in my apartment, washed over by the continuing waves of vitriol that poured from my computer’s email inbox. I trembled at the potential damage the mails could do to my social standing in Singapore. I wasn’t feeling very good.
Luckily for me, another friend, Rowan, who was Australian and very experienced in relationship implosion procedures, had also received Aliyah’s email. He was well up to the task of abuse response, damage mitigation and reputation management. He emailed Aliyah back, and cc’d the whole of my mail list while he was at it.
“Yeah, we already know that Des is a total bastard,” he wrote. “He is untrustworthy, a womaniser, smelly, untidy, ugly and can’t hold his beer either. What’s your point?”
The acknowledging responses agreeing that I was indeed a despicable, revolting, unhygienic and utterly sneaky cad came flooding in from all sides, totally drowning Aliyah’s original abuse. My fears evaporated in a chorus of witty insults and creative examples of yet more disgusting behaviour. She sent no more emails or text messages.
However, I did meet her again, some time later at a mutual friends party. We were cordial.