Chapter 19: Only You Know
Sit down. State your name. Tell your story.
This will be a little bit personal, Sir.
Yeah, but will it be relevant to the case?
That I don’t know, Sir.
Then tell it anyway.
Are you saying that you have the authority to judge which ones of the evidences are relevant to the case and which ones are not, Sir?
We will see to it.
I was lighting up the rusty yellow bulb in front of Uncle Hai’s wretch of a door. Hai was late. He was always late.
Like the other day. Uncle Hai told him to come home at 7, ‘cause dinner won’t wait for no one. Or yesterday, when he told me he would be home by 5 ‘cause the café was emptier than the word “empty” itself.
Or like today, when I tugged on his wrist, asking him to come home by 7. “I don’t know, ‘cause dinner won’t wait?”
“Nha, Aunt Sau includes dinner in my employment.”
“‘Cause the café is empty anyways?”
“Only when Aunt Sau doesn’t fire the phong long paper.”
“It never works.”
“Who knows. Maybe today it will.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Then how can you be so sure?”
“’Cause – “
“Hai, we’ve been through this before.”
So you have been through this before?
Yeah. Whatever that was, we definitely have been through it many, many times before. Me putting out the questions. He refusing to stay. All of it all of it. So familiar.
And yet you were still putting out the questions?
‘Cause why not, yeah? Ain’t costing me nothing me to try.
I let go of his thin wrist and thought about how the pale green veins lingered on my curious mind. The same shade of green of diluted watercolour, mingled with the feathery purple on a peacock’s tail. All of those forgotten beauties, hidden under the thin, cold human skin. A glimpse of the cold rejection from his hand made me forget my most stubborn reasons.
“‘Cause I’ll be waiting?”
“You can sleep first, Nha.”
“‘Cause the night is cold?”
“I have a coat.”
“You know damn well I’m running out of reason here.”
“Then try harder.”
“Say, what to do when one runs out of reason?”
Hai laughed. He put on his long-sleeve T-shirt – his so-called “coat.” Then, he fiddled with the buttons, brushed his short hair, and looked at himself in the mirror for the last time. Maybe he was waiting for me to said it. The right reason, dropping at the exact moment he walked one step out the door. I can imagine his light footstep, hanging on the door frame. And I wonder, How strange. How curious it was.
The way the smallest actions in the most ordinary setting can chip away at my heart.
“I don’t know, ‘cause I’ll be lonely?”
And were you lonely?
Why are you asking?
Because I think only lovers would feel that way about each other. But you were quite adamant in your interrogation in saying that you and him are not, as quoting here, “lovers.”
I don’t know. Is “lovers” the only choice?
Well, I don’t guess there is. But for the sake of convenience, we have to make do with one.
Then for the sake of convenience, we are not lovers, sir.
“Is that a statement or a question?”
Hai didn’t answer. Of course. Even me, the owner of the embarrassing questioning statement, didn’t know how to answer it. But in a perfect world, he would say that I was right. That loneliness was always a good reason for someone to stay. That no one should never leave a criminal in his own solitude. He would say –
“You know that’s not helping. Loneliness is never a good reason for anything.”
Then he walked out the door. Leaving me waiting for him under the rusty yellow bulb in front of Uncle Hai’s wretched door.
Sometimes, it’s devastating to know that the only thing we can do for the one we care is nothing.
I took down the broken guitar I inherited by accident from Teo, my drinking buddy. The melody was never in tune. But like an old marriage, me and the guitar tolerated each other. And like how any old marriage turned out to be, we tolerated each other quite well.
In other words, the strings had stopped broken and my fingers had stop bleeding on the metal.
I strummed the strings to the melody of Hai’s recent obsession. He had these healthy obsessions with the not-so-healthy depressing songs. I had no right to judge. Though thinking back, I secretly despised the dreary melody of all the bad break-ups, the unrequited loves, and the raspy, sweet-nothing whispers that the singers sang to Hai’s ear each night.
Was that jealousy?
Is that jealousy?
Usually we would call that jealousy, yes.
And is jealousy only applicable to lovers?
There are many kinds of jealousy.
Then again, for the sake of convenience, let’s assume that this kind of jealousy, my jealousy, is not the lovers’ one.
Like the one I was strumming on the damned guitar. Ta-ta-ta-ta, ta-ta, ta-ta-ta-ta-ta.
Maybe one of these days, I will learn to love it.
Only you know where the oceans still have desires
Only you know, each and every night, I’m awake
“What are you doing with that broken guitar?”
I looked up at the source of the voice. I thought about how the angels on Heaven would sing to mortal men. For they have sinned. They have sinned from the day they figured out their only purpose in this life was –
“Drowning in this mess.”
“Nothing. Just a song.”
“A song you can’t play?”
He asked me jokingly, unbuttoning his coat-T-shirt. He meant for me to fight back. And I was meant to be drowned.
“What song is it? Sounds a bit familiar.”
“I don’t know. That thing you played each night on repeat and you forced me to listen.”
“Oh. You have to narrow it down.”
“The one that goes, Ta-ta-ta-ta, ta-ta, ta-ta-ta-ta-ta.”
“Oh, that one. You’ve learned how to play it?”
“Yeah. Hear this.”
I strummed the string again, murmuring, Ta-ta-ta-ta –
“That’s not how to sing it. It’s more like this, One early morning, the sun shines through the leaves, and the wind yearns fervently – “
“Right. Don’t ask me to do the impossible.”
“Come on. Your singing couldn’t be any worse than your guitar skill.”
He signaled for me to continue the tune while he sang the first line of the chorus again. His eyes followed my crude fingers on the broken guitar. There was no tune or melody at all, no matter how hard I strummed the two strings left on it. All I could hear was Hai’s voice, leading the pack of flat, tedious sounds, turning the tuneless ta-ta-ta to the bad break-ups and the unrequited loves that I hated.
I watched his lips dance to the soundless music. My lips formed the same words of the lyrics again and again. In all of the impossibilities I could think of, our eyes met.
“So what’s after that?”
“The song. How will it go after that?”
“Oh. Let’s see. Where are we at?”
“The second part. It starts at, Waiting for you – “
“Nah. I don’t remember that part.”
“Well, then what’s in your little brain? What can you remember? And don’t ta-ta me.”
He asked in that naturally provoking tone that I was so used to hearing. Anger didn’t work well with that tone. I threw him against the wall once, and it ended up making him more provocative.
But I knew what can work with it. I knew the things that can hang him on a rope, tighten his throat, and carve a beautiful scar on his thin neck. And I also knew I was not meant to use them.
But I used them anyways.
“I only know two lines from the song.”
“Well, go on. Sing it then.”
“It goes, Only you know –“
Only you know where the oceans still have desires
Only you know, each and every night, I’m awake
I suddenly realize I have lost in a strange place –
I knew I was singing. But I wasn’t singing. I dropped the tender pain festering in my heart on the paper walls around Hai’s soul. I wasn’t singing. I spoke the words from the old folklore about the prince’s pining for another prince, who was getting married.
I wasn’t singing. It was but a raspy whisper from the despicable singer, which Hai used as an illusion of a lover’s lullaby on his sleepless nights.
I wasn’t singing. All I did was hurting both of us, because I was too much of a coward, and he was too much of an idiot.
“You should sing it to your lover,” he turned away, “you sing that part beautifully.” His long bang covered his face again, and he can’t see it. He can’t see my desire to break through that curtain of darkness and steal those eyes for myself.
Just like how I can’t clearly see him crying. All I did was imposing a feeling of sadness upon him. Maybe he wasn’t crying then. Maybe he never shedded a tear for all it took.
Maybe the saddest part of all my singing, all my acting, all my fervent yearning was just that – his love for me was not high enough to sink the pain in his soul under 8 feet of water, just for him to shed a tear.
“I don’t have a lover.”
“What do you have then?”
“An unrequited love for someone who loves me.”
“That so? I better get going.”
Hai stood up and hurried out the door, leaving me inside our make-believe world of thatched-roof and red brick walls. And by doing so, he protected me from the demons outside while crushing my soul and my existence at the same time. I talked to his fading shadow heading towards the darker side of the small village:
“I wasn’t singing, Hai. I was confessing a love that could never be.”
Was that relevant to the case, Sir?
I don’t know yet as to whether it is relevant to the case or not, Nha, but there is one thing I am sure of now.
And it is?
That this sounds more like a love story than anything I have ever heard of during my years of duty in this line of work.
I laugh. I can already see Hai protesting to the detective’s words, just as in his nature. But not me. Not this coward me. Not this spineless me. Not this criminal me, who the only wish now is just to see his face passing through the windows.
And I will sing to him, on the last of my day, my dearest, dearest little prostitute,
Only you know –