(小)

a short story

They approached her apprehensively, handling her fingers like a newborn fledgling. Her hands felt agreeable to their touch. It was the first time they held each other like this. They had worried for a while about the compatibility. No, not the personality one. That was a given. How could anyone bother being around someone whose presence did not provoke a sense of joy? Well, Xiao had thought that people have been married for less. Financial stability and alimony was incentive enough for some. The existence of prenups were indicative of that. Hell, the couples they grew up around seemed empty of romance. Perhaps that was why they had craved for it so desperately. The movie-kind of love, with an official soundtrack and montages, with grand gestures and a perpetual honeymoon period. I could do it, they thought.

No, the compatibility they were worried about had been the hand-holding kind. Whether her height and arm-length could comfortably fit theirs, rather than have someone’s elbows sag or cramp up due to physical dimensions. If they could easily saunter about the wet damp streets on a moonlit evening for hours, still clasping.

It had only been the first week since they had finally acknowledged their mutual attraction to each other. While it had appeared for her very recently, it had always been on their mind. There was an inkling of the idea when they had first seen her.

It had come with the thought: “I want to know what cereal you eat in the morning.” That was always how they knew when someone would become special to them.

Xiao had always thought of the idea of “friend-zones”- they imagined it was the best place to be! Doesn’t the purest of love surpass that of romantic approval? They would often hear male friends complain of this wretched area- their efforts to befriend a lady thwarted by their inevitable lack of interest in being “more than friends’. They would scold them, saying how communication isn’t so difficult. It is not impossible to convey a message, especially to someone you’re supposed to care about. If the whole objective was to doink, why couldn’t they just go on Tinder? Of course not! I want my sex to have feelings, they would claim. But what is making love without actual love? Who in the right mind would want to kiss someone who did not want to kiss them back? It seemed to simple. Love confessions were never easy, and depending on the delivery, could be seen as rather creepy…but at least it makes things honest. And honesty was important for any dynamic.

Rejection was recurrent in their life, but never once had it affected the way they felt for their beloveds. Great crushes usually turned into life-long friendships, sprinkled with inspiration inducing moments, enough to make even the most obvious and painful truths bearable. They just wanted whatever love they could find to be meaningful.

Wasn’t it already?

They strolled around the park for the first time as a couple- she was shy for having dated someone like them for the first time. What kind of person that was, they would never exactly find out, but they didn’t dare question it. All that matter was that they were there, for the time being, keeping each other warm.

There was nothing better than this, they had thought. A superior definition of togetherness. The knowledge of a prolonged and passionate companionship, whose participants would decide what to eat for dinner, brush teeth, go to bed, and wake up from dreams, still facing each other. Xiao had never understood why the ultimate achievement was “sex”. Why that was what a “home run” meant. They had tried it and then proceeded to avoid it. It was just an anxiety inducing mess.

It was such a suggestive word. An activity that society and advertisements had focused so much attention on. They knew it meant “seven” in Swedish, and that it was necessary for procreation. That it was what their parents were doing that one late night when they were 7 years old and couldn’t sleep. It was the topic of their fellow peers at school whenever anyone did anything remotely raunchy, despite everyone’s prepubescent awkwardness. It was a badge of honour, you know. Bumping uglies. They would wonder what their new lover’s opinion would be. They were slightly afraid. Would they leave me for another, more willing partner? Did they, themselves. crave it as much as everyone else seemed to?

Only time would tell. But for now, they would enjoy the company of their dear one. The smoothness of their fingertips. Their hands felt as if they were about to develop frostbite, but it was worth it, getting to know the texture of her palms.

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Sentimentality Hour: Thoughts on leaving Edinburgh

These days, everyone I meet is a ticking bomb.
And to everyone I meet, I’m a ticking bomb.

There is an expiration date to be revealed with every new interaction that wishes to renew itself, and once the cat is out of the bag and running underneath the bed to hide from the constraints of reality, they always say:

“I thought we had more time together.”

 

We mutually agree on this regrettable truth. We both begin to bitch about the system of foreign affairs and visas and “why can’t we just live in a place with no passports and discrimination.” We toy around with the idea of a green-card marriage like so many tv shows are doing as of late, before dismissing it unconsciously when we promise each other “to visit”. For a single second I feel like a risky investment before I remember that friendship should be more intrinsic than that.

 

There are few people I could stay for.

To stay would be synonymous with falling in love, a “once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity”, or having a reason to justify why I should aimlessly float here rather than somewhere else. Sure, there are my friends…so many friends and lovers whose lives I want to watch flourish. Whose moods I want to help lift when they are drooping into the dark depths of circumstance when routines are crushed by spontaneity and anxiety. But love is not enough to convince the customs officer why I should be able to exceed the limits of my Tiers-4 that took months worth of queuing in awkward waiting rooms in nameless buildings and forgotten downtown districts. I think of those who ponder “wanderlust”, and all I can reply is that “Sometimes, the desire to travel has less to do with curiosity for the world and more to do with aimlessness, fear of commitment, and missing out. A fundamental lack of a sense of belonging and fervent need to fit somewhere.”

 

I’ve found a place. It’s here. I’ve found a person to sing harmonies with who makes me feel like the world is only a beautiful place, as long as the guitar strings keep ringing in the tunnel with great acoustics. I’ve come across groups of likeminded individuals who want to make shared ideas into reality. I’ve started to understand that definitions of soulmates and the nuances of attraction. How to look passively at another person who shares no blood but has the same passion that runs in very different kinds of veins, and letting that be the main fuel of unconditional affection. I’ve come alive in the span of these past 4 years time. I’m ready to let my roots dig themselves deeper into this Scottish soil that seems to grow nothing but Brussel Sprouts and potatoes, to play around with snow drops and burnt patches left by barbecue kits. I could buy a dog, or a plant, or a membership to the theatre, because these are milestones that signify: “I shall be here for a while.”

 

But now, the decision at this point is “to fight” or “embrace”. Do I tackle each day like it’s the last one of its kind I’ll be able to experience for a while, or live in denial until the last week I get to feel “not bothered” about walking 15 minutes and go out of my way to see a friend? Do I break unsaid promises forged by familial obligation? They have given me everything but an identity and a voice…They gave me the prompt and the resources but I have crafted my own story. It started here, and this very important chapter is coming to its climax, and that scares the hell out of me.

Sentimentality Hour: A girl walks into Forest Cafe…

Every now and then she enters, often only exposing a bashful nose and quiet eyes through the crevices of her winter gear. Slipping in deliberately unnoticed, she takes a seat in the corner that detaches herself from the communal nature of the cafe.

She looked so familiar to me, like a face I had seen somewhere else in another life. But then again, there are so many people like this, content to stay planted on the walls in a space where they prefer to observe rather than participate. Those same faces whose features only sharpen in familiarity and philosophical conversation, translating how their hearts and thoughts work in tandem to face the perils of living an average life…whose generic beauty is sculpted uniquely through the context in which you meet.

Still, she comes in and talks to no one, always ordering the same meal, as she summons into her hands a small paperback novel. Her eyes determinedly stay focused on the page, even though the pace of this place is spellbinding in its ability to distract. I am one of these victims, feeling rather rude most of the time when I sit inside, never being able to maintain eye contact with someone for too long despite the intimacy of the conversation. Most of the chairs point outwards and the walls are composed mostly of large panels of glass that make the outside world look more like an obscure reality show. If your back is facing these giant screens of mimicry, you will find yourself turning your head every now and then to see why the person you’re talking to seems to be unable to pay absolute attention to what you’re discussing.

On one such occasion, on a busy evening, she had to sit in the middle area that attracted the most friendly conversation between strangers. I was eager to quell a curiosity and went up to her.

“Have we met before?”

“I don’t think so.”

She had nothing more to say to me, but I wasn’t satisfied with such a curt reply.

“I’m sorry, I just thought I had seen you before.”

“Ah you know, this is Edinburgh. I’m sure you have seen me before somewhere.”

I knew better than to intrude on a private moment, even if it was in solitude.

What piqued my interest the most was the fact that she would enter such a loud and social environment to entertain this introverted nature. Perhaps it was her version of social interaction, watching all these lonely creatures congregate in this crazy melting pot of artists, alcoholics, lost souls and hungry people.

How ironic it was that we mostly stared outwards when we were here.

Glimpses of Life: My Dog, Mika

My mother calls my dog a “ragged piece of cloth.” There he lies, sprawled across the sofa, feet stretched rigid in linear lines of fuzz on his side- a resting canvas of coffee coloured fur that has faded over the years. He is exhaling at the rate I can only assume is normal for sleeping dogs. From a distance, he looks frighteningly still. Sometimes I like to yell at him just to check if he’s still alive.

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The moisture on his nose is gone now; his nose almost touches the surface of the leather couch, looking like an aged black olive that someone dropped on the floor and forgot. His age is an indicator of when I moved to Taiwan, and how long it’s been since I left. He doesn’t look a day over 2, but he is really already 9 whole years old. That’s the time it takes to produce a somewhat comprehensible human being! I am aghast and refuse to think of the future this way.

“Ahem, what an attractive dog I have,” I would always think to myself when I watched him like this, only to swoop in and interrupt the serene sight by impulsively kissing the dryness of his nose, the curls on his forehead, thoroughly enjoying his drowsy confusion as he would probably think:

“Oh god not this again. Why is there a giant creature trying to berate me with physical contortions and infantile gestures??? I have absolutely no time for this. It is cutting into my slumber schedule.”

For some reason I imagine Mika’s head voice as a post English gentleman’s. And no one can tell me otherwise.