You look better than the last time I saw you, she says, your dark circle seems to be improving.
And here I sit, in the chair that is too familiar with me. I sometimes wonder if the chair would hate having someone sitting on it constantly. I wonder if it hates me.
The cushion is almost threadbare, and it forms a sort of human’s bottoms. No one’s bothered enough to change it. Certainly not the café’s owner.
I am not bothered enough to notice it, that’s all.
But surely you are bothered enough to sleep early, she smiles, and with that, it’s coming back to remind me the distance between us. And I just hate hate hate how the smile never conveys her true feelings.
How’s it going? I ask. It’s more a rhetorical question than a signal of personal concern. Because I know full well what her answer will be.
It’s going good, really. How about you?
Yes, it’s always going good. I stare at her unmoving eyes. She always fixated those pale blue eyes on my face. The pale blue eyes that refuse the temptation to be more than “it’s going good.”
What are you staring at? She asks, giggling. Even her giggling at my dumbstruck face is a rhetorical act, which is too familiar to her and too strange for me.
Come on, you just keep on staring, she tugs my shirt sleeve.
Yes, my darling, I keep on staring. Because where else can I look when the meaning of my existence is right there in front of me?
When’s he coming? Isn’t it past the meeting time already?
She withdraws her hand and pulls both of them back to a safe distance. The same distance between us: a hand’s length and an ocean apart. I keep swimming in that unfathomable ocean. I never succeed in finding the right shore, and I’m always drowning drowning drowning in those pale blue eyes.
He says he will be a little late, she replies timidly. An awkward silence comes spreading out like a deadly disease. I wonder since when this disease begins affecting me. The silence dissects my flesh, cuts my bones, and burns my nerves to ashes.
Hey, how about stopping this? I blurt out.
Stopping this, I touch her hand slightly, closing the hand’s length distance between us. Yet, the ocean distance is still there. And as I expected, she inches her hands away. Each inch produces an unbearable tug on my heart string.
Why are you killing me this slowly, darling? Do have some mercy on me and kill me in a swift blow of separation. You can gouge out my heart, severe my head, and in that triumphant dead, I will keep on loving you the same. Longingly, tenderly, ardently.
You don’t have to come if you don’t like to, she says. Her words bring me back to the café’s noisy reality.
No, I didn’t mean that. I just say it without thinking, I reply, trying to create the same smile she uses on me. Then, realizing the embarrassing failure as I see the growing pity in her eyes, I quickly shut up.
Say, why don’t we just leave?
Why don’t you stay for a little while?
He won’t come.
Then why bother coming here at all?
Does it matter? Do you want me to stay? Or do you want me to leave? Would his coming here be more comforting to you? Or would it not?
She bursts out all of these rhetorical questions. The questions I try to hide behind my disgusting gentleness. The questions I try to erase from our conversation whenever we have the chance to meet. The questions that hurt. The questions that wound us everywhere in between.
I bother, I tell her, I bother enough to come here, to listen to your silly talks about all your ex-boyfriends, your current boyfriends, and your future boyfriends. But –
Yes, but what? I think about the ocean distance between the two of us. I think about her clenched hands whenever she sits opposite me, talking. Her boyfriend sits on the left side of the table, she sits on the right side, facing me. The conversation is always boring. Oh, you’re working in that field. No, I’m not knowledgeable about it. Really, you read those kind of books? Working out is great. Yes, I can see the results on your body.
But what? I ask myself. But I am not bothered enough to take your invitation, to just pack things up and run away, to be free. I know that freedom might not act on the promises that it is giving us with sweet, honeycomb poison. Yet, there’s the hope, and there’s me and you, trying to fill the ocean with buckets of sand.
Let’s leave, then, I say, withdrawing my hand from hers, Let’s continue the conversation at another time.
I will bring a better person next time, I promise.
Don’t, I fix my eyes on hers, engraving every little details on her face to my brain, Don’t make the ocean bigger than it already is. After all, I am not bothered enough to care about the men in your life, I feel my throat burning with every word. They are making a revolution, and my rationality – my cowardice – is losing hold of the strongest forte.
Don’t bring them, I repeat, It’s you that I care about.
There goes my little declaration of independence. And the enemy – the pale blue queen – sits there on her throne, knowing my every move, smiles. Taken aback by the smile that resembles the blooming flowers of the first spring after the long, solitary winter, I accept my defeat.
Let’s give this a try, then, she says.
Give what a try?
This whole thing, she giggles, this you and me, she inches her hands forward. Her fingers wrap around mine, closing whatever oceans and mountains there were between us, Let’s give this sparkle of love a try.
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