Their encounter, the summer they had spent together —caught in between afternoon siestas under flowering bougainvillae and warm beaches stirring under summer’s breath— could all be summed up in one moment. It was like accidentally looking into the sun with naked eyes — they were too tender, and the light scalding. Neither of them could hold that light, burning and fierce with the will to live.
Looking back, their relationship (the nature of which neither he nor she could ever bring themselves to settle on— “romantic” seemed too cheap a word for what they shared, “friendship” left a lot uncovered) had happened, in its entirety, in that instant. The one that leaves you momentarily blind, that catches you unaware before you can even think to turn away or flinch. A moment in life when you stumble into something you cannot handle.
The light pierced through their tender hearts as though fragile retinas, burning holes in them every chance encounter, every stolen moment. They snapped away, for the first time feeling the true burn of their encounter, when the first cool night settled in the all-consuming heat of the summer, first her, then him. The gravity of their common mistake fell over their heads like a bucket of ice water, extinguishing any hope of deciphering that odd relationship.
Years later, when they would meet again in a crowded street in some foreign city, passing each other by, they would not know where these burns came from, except from a summer a long time ago, on an island already subsumed by the water. What once was a happy place.
Athens glanced at her and found she was smiling serenely at the setting sun.
But there was something else in her gaze too: a kind of wisdom, a gentle sadness. She looked at the sun the way you would an old friend who was going somewhere you could not follow. It was a bittersweet emotion and she embraced it wholeheartedly; unafraid to open her arms to the underlying suffering, welcoming the sadness as she did all the sweetness.
He inhaled deeply the scent of the sea. Then with little hesitation bid farewell to the dying sun. And he felt, for one split second, that he understood.
Though he could not put it into words if he tried, for one fraction of that moment in time, light coursed through his pained body, illuminating every single crack, every hidden part of him he had forgotten about…and he understood. He saw himself truly, as he was.
The feeling filled him to the brim, overflowing from his eyes. He could not explain what it was he understood, but he knew that he did and would counter anyone’s logical arguments —including his own— because he knew. Because nothing could feel truer than what he was feeling; he had never been so certain of anything in all his life. He had accepted the truth of life, had timidly embraced the duality of good and bad, and the truth had opened to him. Because he had opened to it.
And how he understood. Everything, all of it, nothing at all. He understood all there was and all there was not as one breath-taking, ever-expanding, nameless entity.
Yes, he understood it all, a breathy voice whispered to him. He understood the world, the moon, the sun, the stars, the gateway to the universe in his own body !
Yet, when he turned to look at her he understood one truth only : that he did not understand her.
Note : Guess who’s been digging up old journals? Yup. This is from the most complete piece of fiction I’ve written in my life so far, all hand-written on a notebook, spanning about 52 pages and still incomplete. They were my first real characters too! I spent so much time looking for the names and didn’t even get to a point in the story where I could introduce hers lol. I am so fond of this, however much it may not have aged well.
“It happens at twilight, always.
That moment when Death and Life finally crash into each other and Death, demanding as it is, states that it will take her soul.”
It happens at twilight, always.
That moment when Death and Life finally crash into each other and Death, demanding as it is, states that it will take her soul.
“No!” protests Life sharply, “You have taken so many already, just today too, you have spread so much agony.”
“No, I will be the guardian of her soul.” Life says tenderly, “She is lost and tired and I shall make her whole.”
“And you?” seethes Death, “How many have you brought into this world today? How many souls have you sowed for me to reap?”
“No, she is tired and would rather not awake. I will take her soul and give her rest.” Death murmurs, and behind his hard gaze lies, for one moment, something soft.
“You cannot take her!” Life chirps furiously, “There is so much that she can do! So much she will be for others! You cannot remove her from—from fulfilling the truth of her own existence!” Life advances, comes in between her sleeping body and Death.
“What kind of truth is worth this much pain?! What kind of—of happiness is worth it?!” Death roars, and for one split second, something in Life’s brilliant gaze wavers.
Death approaches her but Life stands as a barricade between them. Yet, with a gentle shove, Life is quietly standing on the sides, watching as Death’s firm hands sift through her hair, her fitful dreams.
“Release her, give her back to me. She did not know pain when she was with me, before you took her away.” Death accuses.
“Nor did she know happiness at your side! She did not even know herself!” cries Life viciously, yet not making any move to push Death away from the innocence of her sleeping face.
Ignoring Life, Death recalls:
“She was weightless with me. She knew nothing: no darkness, no pain, no sadness, no anxiety, no hunger. She floated like mist, and went about existing in the purest form, in the most neutral way. She was a star, luminescent, such beautiful energy…
“And now!” Death sneers, spinning to face Life in a flash of fury, face now ugly and contorted in rage.
“Now look what you’ve made of her! You have marred her! Sullied her!” Death accuses.
“What should I have done then?!” Life cries “Leave her to you until the ends of Time, and never let her truth unravel? Never let her see the very light she is made out of?
“But you’ve never known that, have you?” Life silently accuses, something cold gleaming in usually warm eyes, “You’ve never seen her when she laughs or cries, when she sits there, grateful for another day. You’ve never seen her ties with Fate, never, never—”
Death is quiet, thinking of those things he cannot understand, and a certain frustration gains him then.
“But I know them and know she would rather be made to laugh in earnest again.” Life looks at Death, pleading.
“Let her, let her,” Life begs, chirpy voice now even more high-pitched as tears threaten to spill. “You will take her anyway, and I will never again look upon her.” says Life, although there is no bitterness in that voice; Life has long since accepted that it will always hurt, that Life will always lose over those most cherished souls to Death.
It is all too quietly that Life speaks: “Let her, for her sake and mine, if you care for that life half as much as I do, let her live.”
Something flashes in Death’s light eyes at the sight of her, at Life’s words. There is inner turmoil boiling in Death’s eyes, and for a moment, Death is at war with his own self. His selfish desire to have her at his side again, but the need to protect that life that had existed so purely before… And her truth, her happiness, her ties with Destiny he knew nothing of, except that it made for more luminous souls, souls that lasted into the universe.
Finally, Death huffs in resignation, clicking his tongue at Life in annoyance.
“Fool. I care for that life more than you do; I was there when it formed.” Death sends a final, longing glance at her, not trusting himself to touch her, lest he glanced again through those nightmares, and decided to take her away.
Ruffling Life’s light-coloured hair, Death turns his back with whispered words.
Zara has beautiful hair, as black and heavy as the night.
It is a black so intense that it should not gleam, should not reflect any light, and yet it does. People are in awe of Zara’s hair. There’s always that split second when eyes unconsciously shift to the sheer mass of curls and waves that is her hair. It mostly happens when she takes it out of her bun, and there’s that sudden explosion, like water bursting through a dam, and her hair cascades down her back in ripples, reaching past her hips. It reminds you of something powerful, like Nature reclaiming its rights, in a way. And it all makes her so mysterious, so startling.
She has always been beautiful, in a way the world never failed to notice. High cheekbones, brilliant dark eyes and a sharp tongue. The kind of person you try hard to impress. But people also tell Zara she should do something with her hair. Dye it, layer it, straighten it. But Zara never does. In the most unpretentious way, and yet with a hint of pride, she knows she is beautiful. She does not need to change. Zara is that girl you notice, but more importantly, she is that girl you remember.
Fast-forward a few years, marriage, 2 pregnancies and the drudgery of working an 8 to 5 at the department store have stolen her youth from her. The prominent cheekbones are now a little lost in the pudginess of her face, gained from pregnancy and idleness. The sharp light in her eyes has also dimmed. Zara wanted the dream life, lots of money and lots of travel. But Zara also dreamed of Prince Charming, found him in a humble repairman and occasionally in one of the buff guys on TV.
Zara is not the same person you remember from 5 years ago—dazzling, intimidatingly beautiful. Zara is the person who works the cash register with a weary smile. But ah, Zara is still Zara with the beautiful hair. People, even now, are not aware that they stare. But Zara knows, Zara has always known. She is Zara with the beautiful hair, and the world will notice her, the world will remember her. Even when she is old and grey, and her hair has all but gone, she will always be Zara. The kind of person too beautiful to approach, too mysterious even until the very end.
Rolling them lazily around the spaces between my fingers, like marbles instead of the microcosms that they are. With a nonchalance that betrays ennui. And an ennui that hides authentic interest— layers, walls, one step away from the truth, always.
With these, I can make it rain even on the driest of days. I can turn life around, stop the orchestra and make it perform my own arrangement. All this when I am tucked away, away, in a small room. Inside a marble-sized world.
So which world will it be today?
A world of rainy days? A world of the upside down? A world of prairies and hills? A world of rooftops, of only the colour blue, of dawns and dusks, a world of too many moons and not enough stars, a world of lace and umbrellas, a world inside a snow globe, on the back of a postcard? Oh but what of the worlds of never-ending roads, or the ones of bookstores and libraries?
Drastically different though they are, they are all alike in one way: there’s never anyone in them.
I collect worlds. But never people.
People are messy. People mix colours you’ve tried hard to keep apart. They ruin skylines and solitude. People wreck your worlds.
But there, in these worlds, where nothing exists but itinerant thoughts, the slightest sound from the outside is a deafening roar.
So the only solution to escape is to go further inside, to lose yourself deeper and deeper into the streaks and striations of these marble-sized planets.
“Have you ever wanted to be a thing?” she asks, her eyes wide and expecting.
It’s been a long time since I’ve thought of being something other than human. Most days, I’m quite happy being a complex constellation of thoughts and emotions and occasionally, home to one or two indescribable inner phenomena.
“What do you mean?”
Her face scrunches up, thinking. Then, she points to the sky. Too bright, too blue, and scorching my retinas.
She shakes her head, pigtails swaying with the movement.
She points harder, her hand moving to follow something.
It’s a black plastic bag, stark against the summer sky. It is flying higher than the tallest building, dipping and soaring, flailing and being blown away towards the harbour. It’s drifting, drifting…
Maybe it’ll even stick to the masthead of one of those sailboats. All the while uncaring of the business of humans below. Unconcerned by the clinking of coins, the rustling of bills. Or the man shouting through a megaphone that you get 2 pizzas for the price of one in the next hour. The whirring of the slurpee machine, blending a rainbow of colours and the condensation gathering on the outside of the clear plastic. The crowds of people trying to enjoy their Saturday. Café-goers sitting by the terrace, one leg on top of the other, loose and content, sipping on some cold thing as the wind ruffles their hair, threatens to pick up their large hats. Or even the thick, black fumes of vehicles and the mellifluous yet angry “Dring! dring!” of a bicycle bell caught among car honks.
“You want to be a plastic bag?” I laugh.
Her pudgy little face scrunches up again, growing red and angry this time.
“Hmm, I wanted to be a clear plastic ball once.” I tell her.
She peeks at me, as though giving me a chance to redeem myself. It’s not everyday you get the chance to impress a child, you know. At least not intentionally.
I don’t know why I still remember though. That clear beach ball. We’d lost it in the summer of 2004 to a roaring ocean. We were playing catch in the sand, right next to the sign that said “Dangerous bathing”. And then the ocean breeze caught the ball mid-throw and it disappeared in the froth of the sea, between the large, black rocks. Afterwards, we could see it drifting ever further from the coastline, reaching for the horizon. There was no saving it, either. We could just watch dolefully as it went away.
“It’s strange, but I still think about that ball sometimes.” I muse.
And it’s true. Many times after, in class or on the bus, I caught myself thinking about where that beach ball could have reached. Only later did I consider the possibility that it could have burst. But it didn’t matter long, that idea. The image of it drifting away was stronger than any imagined truth.
By now, my little companion has forgotten all about her grudge. Her eyes are twinkling, focused on some blank space, living the tale of the departed beach ball.
She grips my hand suddenly, tugging on my sleeve.
“And then! And then! What else did you want to be??”
I laugh as we walk away into the city, navigating the cobbled roads.
There is a scent of vanilla floating in the cold, damp night.
And a warmth like a fireplace beckoning me over. One by one, everyone is pulled out of their rooms like moths to a flame.
If the kitchen was warm before, it is much warmer now with all these bodies so close together.
Without warning, the stove is on and the smells of tea and hot chocolate are suffusing the air. If it was almost uncomfortably warm before, the kitchen is now sweltering. Nevertheless, hot mugs are being passed around. Chatter is lighting the small kitchen up.
And the cake that brought everyone here in the first place is being sliced, the delicate fumes wafting in the air.
And as I take all this in: these content faces, the gentle laughs, the simple happiness of it, all I can think is how long until this all ends?
If the kitchen was sweltering before, it is much colder now.