Chapter 4: Mushroom quische

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I walked nervously behind Nazrul who had been shaking hands with almost everyone he saw. It made me feel like an ugly dwarf going to a ball with a handsome and famous prince. Everyone at the event seemed to know him.

A few pretty girls with heavily made up faces and dressed in very tight Indonesian kebaya greeted us at the ballroom doors. They handed us a small plastic bag bearing the name Nusantara Teak printed in gold. I peeked what's inside and Nazrul glared at me. "Don't open it now," he whispered. "Look and act professional, will you? I'm going to introduce you to a few designers from Indonesia today." An elderly couple walked past us and Nazrul shook their hands and had a brief chat. I took the opportunity to grab a piece of mushroom quische from the buffet table; I munched and swallowed it at one go.

"I'm under-dressed and look so unprofessional. Please remind me what I'm doing here," I said sarcastically as we walked towards a lanky lady who looked as if she had drowned in a Chanel wardrobe. A gentleman beat us; he lowered his head in front of Chanel lady and took her hand and kissed it. Chanel lady looked pleased and they talked animatedly.

Nazrul signalled me to stop walking. We stood near one of the kiosks set up to display pictures of the latest range of furniture from Nusantara Teak. "I want to introduce you to her, but we have to wait for that ass-kisser to finish." Nazrul browsed the pictures and pretended he was interested in them.

"Who is she?" I asked as I eyed the Chanel lady up and down.

"That's Tengku Shazana, better known as Ku Na. She is going to help us get a huge government tender soon. I want you to start making friends with her."

"But, why me? Not you?" I looked at Nazrul perplexedly.

"Because we had history," he mumbled under his breath. I quickly covered my mouth with my palm and tried hard not to laugh.

"Ex-wife? Ex-girlfriend?" I asked him in a whispering voice.

"We were engaged. A long time ago. We were young and ...."

"There you are Naz!" A soft and silky voice interrupted Nazrul's story. We both turned and saw Chanel lady - Tengku Shazana standing behind us, extending her right hand. "It's been a while, eh?" She flashed a 10 Megawatt smile and Nazrul immediately took her hand and kissed it. I lowered my head slightly as my mind couldn't decide which was the best way to curtsy. Or, did I really had to curtsy? Ku Na was a 'Tengku' - someone with royal blood.

"This is Allysa, our consultant." Nazrul introduced me to Ku Na and I almost choked when he called me a consultant. The post on my name card said : 'Interior Designer'. I had never done any consultancy jobs before.

"Oh, great! It's so nice to meet you. I saw some of the designs you did for Sarawak Soil office. They're like a breath of fresh air to me." I blushed at Ku Na's compliment on my work.

"We had a big team for that project," I said with my eyes transfixed on Ku Na's elegant looking heels. 'That alone could cost a few months of my salary,' I thought.

"And she was the Project Leader," Nazrul added proudly. I kept staring down, unsure of how to face Ku Na because Nazrul's statement was only partially true - I was the Deputy Project Leader; Harris was the Project Leader but he had left the company.

Ku Na brought her hands to her bosom and said, "I am getting so excited now. Really looking forward to work with talented and courages ladies like you, Alia." She didn't get my name. Should I hide under the carpet now?

"It's Allysa, Ku Na. Too bad, she doesn't have a nickname. We'll think of one soon," Nazrul laughed at his own joke while I lifted my head a little and exchange glances with Ku Na. She had a pair of piercing light brown eyes. I took a mental note to ask Nazrul whether Ku Na came from mixed parentage.

"Yes! Yes! I think Alia suits her better. She looks like Alia to me," Ku Na agreed with Nazrul's stupid suggestion. I faked a thin and polite smile and tried hard not to cringe. I had been adressed as Allysa for 28 years. My mother would ask me soon, 'Who the hell is this Alia? Why am I getting phone messages for Alia?'

Ku Na excused herself when a few Arab men approached her. I thought I heard her speaking in Arabic to them. I turned to Nazrul with dropping jaw. "Who is she, again?" I asked.

"She's a board member in the Malaysian Timber Association and a few others," replied Nazrul as his eyes started to scan the ballroom. Looking for more familiar faces and he raised his hands to a few he just spotted.

"You want me to be friends with that sophisticated lady, who's dressed in Chanel and a board member in those big associations?" I jabbed Nazrul's shoulder to get his attention. He turned and smiled casually at me.

"Yes," he answered and didn't bother to elaborate. Instead, he started to pick up a piece of mushroom quische and munched it with his mouth closed.

"How is that possible?" I folded my arms across my breasts and let Nazrul think for a while before he came up with an answer.

"You will know how to do it. You're talented, remember?" he said with a single jab on my left shoulder. I felt like stuffing twenty of the mushroom quische from the buffet table into his mouth there and then.

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