23rd June 2019
Federal Highway, Malaysia
“Oh, why won’t she respond?” Liam sighed, looking up from his Samsung smartphone.
“What, who? Who won’t respond? Respond to what?” Carl asked, his eyes still focused on the road, hands clasping the steering wheel.
In front of them, endless gray concrete stretched as far as the eye could see, punctuated by the occasional vehicle whizzing past on the opposite side of the highway. Amidst clear blue skies above, a harsh afternoon sun beat down, as the two friends were on a weekend road trip to Melaka for some much-needed R and R.
“This girl I met on Cinder recently. She was the only one who swiped right on my profile. She used to say Hi, and chat a little. Now she’s gone all silent, and I’ve no idea why,” Liam replied in a dejected voice.
“Dude. How do you know “she”, isn’t a bot account created by Cinder app back-end developers to hook you into using the app more often?” Carl pointed out as he slowed the car down, and gave way to a massive lorry that thundered past with a grateful honk. Peugeot 3008 SUVs in red, blue, and white rattled precariously on the stacked platforms the lorry was dragging along, and Carl, along with the other drivers on the Federal Highway, gave that lorry a wide berth.
“I thought you’re just a growth hacker in a digital agency for thirty-party mobile apps. What made you an expert in back-end development for apps all of a sudden?” Liam grumbled. He slipped his phone back in his left trouser pocket and began massaging his neck.
“Beg pardon. First of all, growth hacking strategies, and mobile app marketing, and mobile app metrics. Second, I’ve met lots of those back-end developers, so yeah, they code and do lots of things to help us with the marketing of the apps.”
“Well, we can’t all be top in our class back in Lim Kok Wing, and enjoy an internship with Celcom’s mobile app division. The rest of us are ordinary mortals, just trying to get by. Well if not Cinder, then how can a single guy like me meet a nice girl?”
“What about your old childhood friends? What about colleagues at work? And then there’s the RSPCA branch at Ampang you volunteer on the weekends. You tell me you can’t find that special someone in those places?”
“No, I can’t.”
The rest of the road trip was uneventful, to say the least. But to Liam’s delight, it was in the evening of that very same day, when he finally got another match on Cinder.
“Ting ting!” Liam’s smartphone chimed in his pocket, as he was enjoying some Cantonese-style deep fried chicken in plum sauce, and a large egg foo yong omelette with Carl, washed down with large mugs of watermelon smoothie.
The two friends were having dinner at a beach-side restaurant in the middle-class neighborhood of Ujong Pasir, and they were scheduled to check-in at the Air Bnb apartment they booked for their trip at La Casarina apartment condos nearby soon after.
“I finally got a match!” Liam gushed happily. He wiped his mouth with a napkin and beamed as he accessed his mobile phone with a few swift swipes of his right index finger.
“Good for you,” Carl said, as he dug hungrily into their egg foo yong omelette. Around them, locals and foreign tourists alike were enjoying local Chinese dishes and white rice, washed down with large chilled mugs of Tiger Crystal Beer, as the sound of waves gushing echoed in the distance. The scent of salty sea water hung heavily in the air, and it was very relaxing and calming in Melaka, unlike the tense, hectic atmosphere in KL among and haphazard roads and infrastructure.
“Her name is Fiona De Souza, and it says here she is from Melaka. Finally! A lady who isn’t into bad boys, and is willing to give a regular guy like me a chance!” Liam said as he reached over the table with his hand outstretched, to show Carl the ‘match’ he just made on Cinder.
“Looks like a nice lady,” Carl grunted in an uninterested voice, as he helped himself to some deep-fried chicken in plum sauce. The lady had mocha brown skin, wore large aviator sunglasses that looked expensive and covered most of her face, and wore a sleeveless black top matched with long brown trousers that matched her skin tone nicely. Her hair was dyed blond, and she was seated at a white table with what appeared to be an espresso blend with the creme facade of a swan artistically etched upon its surface.
“Oh my goodness! She says she’s lonely and would like to meet up now!”Liam exclaimed, rising from his chair in excitement.
“What, now? That seems really suspicious,” Carl said. Unlike Liam, he remained calm and compose, and helped himself to more egg foo yong.
“Come on Carl. You’ve had lots of luck with women before. Just don’t know why you never pursued any of the girls who expressed interest in you. Personally, I never had any luck with women before. Can’t you help me with this, just this once? Please?” Liam said pathetically.
“Let’s finish dinner first. Then check in at La Casarina. We’ll meet her later. If she really likes you, she’ll wait,” Carl said, as he took a swig of watermelon smoothie.
“All right, I’ll tell her to meet up later,” Liam fiddled with his Samsung phone a little, replied back to ‘Fiona’, then sat back down on his seat, as Carl continued having dinner.
“Hi, Liam! You look taller in person!” Fiona said, walking over to greet the two friends.
She looked just as her Cinder Profile picture depicted. Gorgeous and striking, with blond hair, a slim athletic body with the right curves in the right places, and a wide smile across her face. Her nose was small and petite, and she had gleaming white teeth. She was dressed in a loose-fitting blouse of sea blue, and long white trousers. Perhaps what was most striking about her was her lipstick, which was a deep crimson red, the colour of blood, and to Liam, she looked oh so kissable.
“Hi. You must be Fiona. This is Carl, my friend, and designated driver for this road trip to Melaka,” Liam gushed, introducing Carl.
“Pleasure to meet you. Have you eaten?” Carl asked after they had shaken hands.
It was eight o’clock at night, and it was dark outside. But inside the CH kart noodles outlet where Liam and Fiona agreed to meet, it was brightly lit, and waiters and waitresses bustled among crowded tables serving milk tea in large iced bottles, and various dishes Hong Kong was famous for, for example, mac and cheese lasagne, or rice with pork chop, served with a sunny side egg.
“No. Not yet. I was waiting for you,” Fiona said, turning to look at Liam with soppy eyes. Carl rolled his own eyes and prepared to leave.
“Well, I’ll leave you guys alone now. Have fun you two lovebirds. It was nice to meet you, Fiona. Bye. Bye Liam, see you later at La Casarina. I’ll be hitting the sheets soon. Long day,” Carl said, as he was about to make his way to the exit.
“Bye Carl. Nice to meet you too. Don’t worry, I’ll give him a lift home later.”
“See you later, Carl!” Liam waved him goodbye.
“Hey what’s this? Oh my god, that moron! He forgot his phone!” Carl said in an irritated voice, as he entered his car and started up his engine. From the corner of his eye, he spied Liam’s smartphone on the front passenger seat, which Carl deduced must have fallen out of Liam’s trouser pocket.
“Arrrghhh. The lengths I got to for this fool. This was supposed to be a relaxing road trip for me to unwind! Not to babysit and chase after this man-child!” Carl grumbled. He turned off the engine, unbuckled his seat belt, and exited his vehicle. He walked over to the front passenger seat, and retrieved Liam’s smartphone, before heading over back to CH Mart noddles to hand Liam back his smartphone.
“Where is the blond lady with the goofy guy? I just saw them here five minutes ago!” Carl asked the tired-looking waiter at CH Mart Noodle.
“Oh, they left shortly after you did. Didn’t order anything at all.” The waiter replied, in a flustered voice. He peered over Carl’s shoulder and mouthed silently to a customer ‘one moment please.’.
“Huh? Do you know where they were headed to?”
“Said something about booking a room at the Rose hotel. No tourists there, or something like that. Look. Sir, I am very busy I have to go now,” The waiter said.
“Yes, yes. Of course. Thank you,” Carl could only sigh, and depart from the CH mart outlet.
At first, Carl breathed a sigh of relief. He merely assumed Fiona and Liam had gone off for a ‘quickie’ at some nearby budget motel. He drove straight back to La Casarina, where after a shower, he collapsed onto the bed and fell fast asleep. But the very next morning, to his surprise, Liam was still not back yet.
“Must be having breakfast with her,” Carl grunted.
He took a shower, brushed his teeth, and drove over to the famous ‘Kedai Gemok’ coffee shop, famed for its Roti Canai, and boxes of take away mee goreng and mee siam, as well as its Indian style rojak. After breakfast, Carl pretty much explored Jonker street on his own, that famous tourist trap, filled with crowds of Singaporean, Caucasian, and Mainland Chinese tourists plying its narrow streets, exploring old Nyonya houses and traditional Chinese association buildings, amidst chic modern cafes and well-stocked souvenir shops.
It was after Carl walked past a comical golden statue of a past ‘Mr. Malaysia’ all sculpted’ and buffed up, in a back alley of Jonker Street, a massive Buddhist temple in the horizon, that a sense of dread began to creep up from his belly. Finally, Carl realized something was amiss.
“Bloody fool didn’t even bother to put a login security feature…annnddd.. Oh, dear, I was right,” Carl accessed Liam’s phone, and with a sense of foreboding, logging into the Cinder dating app. To his horror, the profile of ‘Fiona De Souza’ had gone dark, and all past conversation histories with her had been deleted by the account’s ‘user’.
“Oh crap,” Carl’s heart sunk into the pit of his stomach, as the weight of what just happened slowly sunk in.
“You nak I buat apa? It’s been less then 24 hours since your friend ‘disappeared’, and furthermore he disappeared in an area that’s outside of my jurisdiction! I am sorry I can’t help you!” The sergeant at the local balai polis said.
“Oh come on! My friend is missing. I came all the way here and I can’t even make a police report?” Carl almost shouted in frustration.
“Well, you said your friend met a lady on the Cinder dating app. Who knows, he might be gallivanting somewhere with her right now! Don’t worry. He’ll be back this evening. In the meantime, have a teh tarik,” the sergeant said, in a soothing voice.
“I hope you’re right,” Carl fumed. He spun on his heel and exited the police station in a huff.
After he left, the receptionist, a lady named Yana, who helped did all the back-breaking office work in that particular police station, such as typing up reports, printing, and photocopying, not to mention brewing coffee and ordering take out for the station’s police officers, shook her head.
“Another one. When will the stupid tourists learn, they should not go looking for love on Cinder in a foreign place?”
“Desperate people everywhere.” The sergeant grunted as he went back to watching ‘Cinta Cinta’ on his Astro on Demand mobile app.
“What do you think happened to his friend?” Yana asked.
“Probably met some organ harvesters. Harvested his organs and sold them on the black market already. Goodness knows what happened to the body,” The sergeant said, still occupied with his TV show.
“Fuck. Dating apps are so dangerous,” Yana remarked. She took her smartphone from her handbag, accessed the Islamic Dating app she had been ‘browsing recently’, and promptly uninstalled it. It just wasn’t worth the risk.