An Ode For You

An abandonment like a washed shore, frothy remnants of something gone, a few shells left back like scars on otherwise uniform skin.

Missing someone forms a dull ache that you learn to live with.
This year I missed you a little less than the year before. And someday I’ll stop remembering to miss you. Gradually. You see heart is a traitor, a sellout for reasons of one’s own benefit.  One day heart makes you believe, and one day it makes you forget what you believe.

I must have loved the rain. But it was you who made me realize it. When the first unexpected summer rain fell, I ran out to pick the clothes from the line. Even in that moment of urgency, sanity always my being, insisted on flinging a cloth over my bare heads. You tugged mine off and asked me to enjoy the rain. You told it was beautiful and it was a shame to watch it through soggy layers. It was beautiful. It still is. Always.

It was you who pointed out the stars in the sky and told me their names. Sleepy eyes hardly got it registered. But I always knew you would be there the next night to tell me their names all over again. How foolish was I. I never again will see a tomorrow except when I see it.

You said “Love heals, not hurts.” Forgive me for disagreeing, but why it can’t does both? Believe me when I say I’ve had very very very bad times and you, just being exist, keeps me going. Even if you are not around, only in my mind, it’s enough.

How can I forget someone who I see in the stars and the rain?! So I look for a way to capture our memories into words and give them a life forever..

I have always believed that certain things are better left unsaid. Mainly because they seem to lose their magic or beauty, the moment they are uttered. You proved me wrong. Something as beautiful as you, need to be uttered.

Consciously trying to forget someone is a sure way of never doing it. The paradox when you have to think about someone to actually need to forget them.
But I’ve actually forgotten you. Most of you.

However, you stay in stories I tell people. In smells and nostalgia.

You stay in the empty space that you left behind.

almost prayer

Fallen

Do you remember…
How we met one summer, just as you were going out and I was coming in?
How the next summer we went to the zoo to watch the Hippos yawn? How we laughed at monkeys and people alike?

The summer that we first dealt with death? Your hand that you gave me across your bed and mine. I had taken it and slept holding it.

“Stars don’t cry..” You wiped my tears.

Do you remember how you would come to see me, dirty collars and a dusty cycle? How we would talk sitting beside each other on the brown steps of the neighbor’s house, ignoring the pointed looks of our mothers?

When the next summer we went to the snake house? When you tapped on the glass cage and the tired snake gave us a scornful look. I know we both were a little scared though we pretended otherwise.
I don’t know why we went to strange places.

Do you remember how you confessed your fear of cockroaches to me?

Do you remember how we would long to be alone, away from the curious eyes of a cousin neither of us wanted?

Do you remember that sultry summer when you told me I had changed?

When you smiled at the changes of my growing body?
I smacked you from behind the chair you sat on, trying to hide my blush. I was glad you noticed it. It really took a painfully long time growing!

Do you remember the silk pashmina I wore for your brother’s wedding?
Managing it was a so damn irritating especially when my eyes kept looking for you. I know you searched for me too. When you finally found me and brought those friends of yours and I saw their mouths droop in disappointment, my lips trembled. But when I saw the way you always looked at me, the green damn pashmina didn’t seem too awful then and I smiled my first smile of that day.

I always looked best in your eyes.

You remember how you walked away and I never called you back?
I never knew you walked away.
You never knew I called a thousand times.

You were right. Stars don’t cry. But fallen stars do.

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Bienvenue à Paris

 

I.
So we were returning from the party. A farewell party before I departed to France for the next day. The lipstick remained in traces. Part of it on glasses. Partly on people’s cheeks after I had downed more than necessary. Mostly on the glass I would say. A girlfriend once told me that you should discreetly wipe the side of the glass so that your lipstick doesn’t transfer. That I found terribly undignified. Nowadays non transferable lipsticks are the answer. Revlon makes Colorstay. But I do wonder where it all then goes, the lipstick, if it leaves no stain. Just vanished?
 
I was worried if my thoughts could be heard by him. I searched for a suitable music station in car. Ah, jazz. I like jazz. He finds the music repetitive. But I like jazz.

See, this is what happens when I have too much drink. Sugar rush. My thoughts shift patterns like one of my playboy friend.
I heard his voice jarring. I wondered how I once found it suave and cultured. I am sucker for such things.

“You don’t laugh at my jokes these days..” his whining voice sounded like an instrument out of tune.

I burst in laugh. Then I waited for a moment to laugh -awkwardly.
Apparently, that wasn’t meant to be a joke.

 
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—————————————————————-
II.

At the coffee machine.
Coins clanking when they touch another metal. Settling with the familiar, which we do not hear. But they exist am sure.
Bonjours and kisses in the air.
So I pick up my cup and stand by the window. The window is to be shared I see, when someone walks over. I move to give her some spaces.
We sip our coffees in silence after the smile of unfamiliarity and civility.

“Nice clothes..” she says. She addresses the abaaya I wear. I made it from red saree.

I smile and say thank you. Unfortunately I do not find anything to reciprocate.
I look at her colorful shoes a second longer than necessary. Red, blue, yellow and was that green?

She laughs. “That’s my daughter who wanted me to buy them. They go with none of my clothes, but well…”
I laugh too.

“How old is your daughter?”
“10 almost.”

I smile.
As I go back to my coffee and open window, she asks, “Do you have children?”
I tell her, “I’m not married.”

Once again I almost return to my book when her expecting eyes pull me back.
I see her question has not been answered.

“Oh. No. I do not have any children..”

Ah! The French!
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III.
 
 
Champs-Elysées is one of the prettiest walks ever. The French have no doubt, it is indeed the prettiest. I could not disagree. Fragrances of various shades and intensities waft around. Women and dogs of fashionable clothes totter around.

He maintains a pleasant flow of conversation. French history is better heard when from him. I am amazed when he dashes of dates and years associated with places. The non-believer in me wonders if all of it is correct. Nevertheless I would never knew whether or not he is lying. I shoo my own thoughts away. Both eyes on the road, one ear listening to him and the other listening to my unstoppable wandering thoughts.

We take the Parisian customary photo in front of the Arc d’Triomphe. I make a note to myself not to get a copy of it. What would my mother say if she happens to see it one day -a photo of me and this man?

Souvenirs never interest me. They are forgotten memories one insists on trying to remember. Blurs of smells, sights and sounds. I fool myself by forgetting. These days I forget even the forgotten.

He once visited Indonesia. I took him around Surabaya. He knew not a word of English and I knew few French words. Suffice to say it was a disaster. Most of the silence when we driving was dispelled by coughs, cleared throats and while in quiet places, by shuffled shoes. He gave me a French book on parting hoping I would learn. In the years that passed, he learnt English. People have been suffocatingly kind to me.

Shopkeepers who returned more change when I bought a bagel. And after painfully counting the coins and stretching back the rest, a conspiratorial wink and pressing my fingers back to enclose the cold circles.

I stopped cars and stood on gelid pavements while first determining the handwriting and then the address on the crumpled paper.

The day I left, the Chinese good luck doll that I got.
A French guy who gave a Chinese doll to an Arabian lady whom holds Indonesian passport.

Universe. Kindness. Or a bit of it all.

The Imaginary Tattoo

We are walking from one neon light to another at the beach, we take in the warm and salty smell of the sea, the tinkle of ice cream vendors who serve the heaven-in-tongue on a cone, and couple of old women who walk around with brown baskets full of summer flowers.

He buys me flowers. I love wearing flowers. The haunting smell that walks with me everywhere. I love wearing flowers.

His hands feel warm and coarse in mine. Unlike the one I used to hold before and for long months. It is amazing how one can adapt to different things. Or to different men. Sometimes I wish this was the last one. I am tired to adjust. I am tired of being a woman myself.

We make heads turn. Both of us smile to ourselves knowing that we look good together. It pleases us endlessly.

His hands run a line connecting the three little dark brown dots on the length of my hand. My moles. They are the perfect points for a straight line. A graph. Like those three stars you see forever in the sky. I don’t know what they’re called -I am bad in astronomy, but you do know what I mean, don’t you?

“I once colored my hair pink..” he says fondly. Arrogantly too.

It’s my cue to say something I’ve done. To regret, maybe. And to look back and smile in fondness, definitely.

My other hand draws patterns in the sand. No, not those random ones. I realize it’s the one I used to doodle when way back in my daydreaming-phase of secondary school.

“I have a tattoo..” I lie carelessly.

His fingers drop from my hand. The pause. The first step of abandonment.

The longer pause. He takes a step back in our life together. The actual act of abandonment. I wonder what his exit line will be with me. Him being creative and all with the women in his life…

“What? Where?”

Did I ever consider his voice gentle?

I take his hands that have long left my body. Placing them on the lower end of my spine, I lie again.

“Here.”

And recklessly pointing to the random pattern that I draw in the sand, “It looks like this.”

I can now smell the stench of fish. The smell of oil mixed in water from the numerous boats that will never be lost at sea. The sound of the stream and wave profoundly soothes me.

“Tattoos and them being slutty on women.” his voice says.

I lost a guy over a tattoo I never had. We walk back together to where we never came from.
And I left the flowers behind.

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Once Upon A Time When He Fell In Love

I was able to read since I was 3 years old. And ever since I couldn’t spend a day without reading. Anything. From books, to news paper, and sometimes  even the cut of paper to wrap spices that Mom bought from the market.

I was 12 when I had the courage to stride over Dad’s books. He had this antique wooden bookshelf. Standing on a chair and two cushions, I peeked at Dad’s bookshelf. If he noticed what I was doing, he didn’t react. He continued sitting in his armchair and reading whatever he was.
I looked at all the books there. My eyes fell on one of them. Maybe because it was the thinnest among the lots. Maybe that it was white in color and different from the red and black ones that found popularity on his bookshelf. I don’t remember exactly why. But I remember exactly the story he told after I was pulling that one out.

I jumped down.
“Love Story” by Erich Segal.
I opened the book and found written inside:

“Dearest R;

May you never know the pangs of unreciprocated love.

Love;AA”

Looking up I saw daddy looking at me.
“Have you ever heard of this book?”
I shook my head in the negative.

“Hmmm…. Come here”

I knew something interesting was coming up in his tone; he called me in that there’s-a-story-coming-up voice.
This is what I heard that day. Lying on my stomach on the floor of our house.

“What can I say about a 20 year-old girl? That she was beautiful. And kind. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles.”

It was the beginning of yet another college year. 1975 would be this remarkable in his life he never knew when he met his friends after their holiday.

Medical school -the name brought shudders to every college girl, and parent! And it was but natural that every girl would be warned by their seniors on the topic called ‘med-school boys’.

A few uneventful months passed in that summer of 1975. He didn’t do much but the routine stuff: bashed up a few guys, was in turn bashed up, petrified all the girls in college, got crazy drunk all nights, rebelled against the system.. Just regular stuffs.

Girls were always the topic. And on one such topic came up her name. She was from a small town, but still she was considered one of the prettiest looking girls who joined that year.

“You should see her”, his friend said.

“I’ve seen many…” Dad said arrogantly.

“So have we”, another friend quickly defended.

“But there’s something very innocent.. Charmingly so about her… I don’t know… but we all like her!”

“Have you talked to her?”, he asked.

“No way! She would be terrified…”

“Oh! When has that ever stopped us before?”

He won the round of conversation. Next morning they all were at the bus stop near the ladies hostel of the University.

“Oh God…!!! There they come!!! Was wondering where these wretched guys were all these days…”, one of her seniors whispered loudly to the waiting gang of scared first years.

She look a sidelong glance at him, through dark eyes lined heavily with black kohl… And put her head down again when she caught fourteen pair of eyes staring steadily at her direction!
Dad pulled his bike onto the main stand and started crossing the road. One of his friends caught his hand and pulled him back.

“Don’t. Don’t do anything.. We’ve asked around and she really is one nice girl.. she won’t do no act of hers, the wide eyed look is all she gave us all..”

Pulling away, he crossed the almost empty road.

Walking up to her, he said, “If at all I marry anyone, it will be you!”

He could hear collective gasps from both sides of the road as he walked back to his waiting friends..

All this wasn’t common in 1975. Especially not in Surabaya. Definitely not in her life…

Lying on her bed and with a splitting headache, she heard her class mate yell out her name. Jumping out of bed, she ran in the direction of the voice.

“Come to down stair now!” , her class mate panted breathlessly.

“Am not feeling too well”, she said.

“Oh you’ll feel worse if you see what’s there on our notice board. He wrote a letter to you and posted it on our board for the whole world to read!!”

She ran out of hostel. She didn’t wear her slippers.

A crowd- partly amused, partly interested, mostly curious stood in front of the notice board. “She pushed her way through, and found on the green board, his letter.”

Daddy stopped his recital. Both of us didn’t speak for sometime after.

I broke the silence. I had so many questions to ask.

“Did he tell her he’ll marry her with just one look at her?”

“Well, he did take four or five looks actually…”

“But why didn’t he tell her that he loved her instead? Why marriage?”

“Ah, I don’t know. It could be that maybe he was scared too, and he said the first things that came to his mind… It could be that he forgot the one liner he has prepared before he crossed the street and saw her..”

“But how could he love her just like that?”

“He doesn’t know to this day. But he’s glad, for he learned to love her more each passing day…”

“Can you love someone without knowing anything at all about the person?”
“He did.”

“Did she love him back?”

“He thinks so…”

“I want to know what happened after that… After she found his letter on the notice board?”

“But then, that’s her story..”

I frowned at him.
“Shall I ask her?”

He smiled back. He knew I wouldn’t.
Of course, I didn’t.

I walked out of the room with the book in my hands into my bedroom and propping the pillow on the bed and leaning against it, I opened  ‘Love Story’ and ran my fingers through the writing inside.
Opening the next page I read…

“What can I say about a 25 year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful. And brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles..”

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About You

What do you write about a guy who can make you completely happy and completely unhappy?

He’s got my unconditional love. I love his voice, the sexy-cigarette-smoke-husky voice, the way he laughs, the way he writes, the way he talks, what he talks and yes, even the way he sings. Yeah. Women are so dumb.

I could write a book of him. I am terrified of using names to relationships. ‘Best friend‘, or ‘Lover‘, by the time I use such words, they turn to be otherwise or someone else’s.

I’ve known him for a year now. My love for him is constantly changing. A little more than yesterday and a little less than tomorrow. I love the way he sleeps with his mouth partly open and when I nudge him, he would curl into a complete ball and sleep holding the pillow to bury his head in. I love him to the winds which touch him and ruffle his hair.

There are some people who you never think you’ll meet again because they seem so improbable in your life that you often wonder; did they ever exist in the first place?! And you always hope you meet them again.. Somewhere, sometime. And you are amazed when you do. For me, he is one of those people.

It’s a love that was almost –a love of being near perfection only because it didn’t happen.

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He brings sanity to my otherwise insane world. That’s the most I can say. That’s the closest things about him. About you.

Packed Memory

Almost a thousand miles of Surabaya to Jakarta. A memory that never fits in any suitcase rushes back in.

“Come and see me”, I said.
A pregnant pause. Uncomfortable and heavy.
I laughed. It then became a sophisticated joke, which even I didn’t understand.
But I meant every word I said.

“Of course I will”, you said.
We laughed.
You didn’t mean a single word you said.

I fold my clothes carefully. Myriad colors. Very like the men in my life. Good men, men whom I cared. None whom I loved. I decide to quit packing.

I slide off the bed. Practiced ease by time. It’s good though. Like many times before. Sleep is a million miles away. The television, a remote away. My mind wanders unceremoniously.

You talked about her. Then another. And so on. It’s when you didn’t talk about other women that I worry.
Your little fallacies keep alive of what I thought we had. My surrealist superiority. My sanity.
I hope you didn’t notice that I never talked of him anymore. Not because I hate him. But because I don’t want to remember him. Nor forget him.

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I get back to what I’m supposed to be doing. Packing. My early morning flight can’t wait and I don’t want to leave anything here. These days I’m those quiet and efficient farewellers.

Que suis-je?*

I am creatively destructive. When I actually put something into words and time frames and names, I tend to destroy it all. That is why I didn’t do it.

Take for example; I never called him my boyfriend. Never my lover. Not friend.
He is all these and separately so at different contexts and periods and places. I like the namelessness and the vagueness, which allows the independence of thought.

But there are moments when his friends ask about us, about me, then he labeled me ‘just a friend’, then I got all ruffled.
There’s this problem with someone who likes to keep it open, not call things by names: As soon as someone else calls it by a name, you’d feel deprived!

So what does that mean, he’s got a lot like me. But I know that I am the only one reading so much into it. He doesn’t realize what train of thought that careless line has made me take. Is it possible to totally shield a relation, from all kinds of interferences, even if it is from the very same person? Something like the Heisenberg paradox I guess!

Nevertheless I turn a little cold, a little distant.
He notices and asks, “Is everything alright?”
I lie, “Yes”.

Somehow that lie actually makes it all ok.

I am on page 11 of a book, and it has been over a week. Every time I try reading a few words, I hope they string together to make some sense. Apparently, they don’t.
I sit staring at the night lamp beside my bed, plumped up 3 pillows under my head and look at the phone I never pick to make the call.

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I am one of those countless modern women who have moved on from yesterday but not yet reached tomorrow. But between a yesterday and a tomorrow, there lies an infinity. Zillions of moments that happen, may happen or may not. Plotting between those two points are the hardest..

 

*Que suis-je?: What am I? (French words)

No Promises

Lying in the darkness of my room, I think of you and New York. There is always solitude in darkness.

When I landed at the airport, I was filled with apprehensions. What if you don’t find me in this sea of these people? When encircled arms met people who filled the seats around me on the plane, I repeated to myself your mobile number, which I had already memorized. I always have this fear to be lost and people don’t even realize that I am. But when I saw you looking for me and when you wrapped me into you, my relief was vanished completely into the invisible footsteps behind. I like being found.

I liked your room. I especially loved the corner under the your curved window where I could sit holding my legs near me and look out into the street. The fan that groaned in slow circles, it made me feel we were sleeping back then in my room in Jakarta.. Except that I couldn’t hear the traffic. Things were different and yet the same.

I sleep best when I sleep with my face in the curve of your neck… There were no nightmares and dream was a kiss away.

Do you remember how often we would turn off the alarm and go back to sleep? The alarm would be the signal for us if we were at the far ends of the bed, to come closer to each other, find comfortable nooks and curves that hold and contain. Wrapping sleep kissed bodies around each other we would go back to sleep.

New York. I think I’ve fallen in love with the place. Or maybe with you -all over again. I have fallen in love many times and with a lot of people. I have fallen out of times and with all of them too! But with you, I’ve always come back to fall in love again.

Central Park. Sheep meadow is the bestest place in the whole world. When you let me sit on your bag, so that I wont get my long dress (I always wear those kind of things) all wet, I felt I was in college. No, not that anyone in college cared if I sat on wet grass. And when you sat down on the grass and I ran my fingers through your closely cropped hair. Your hair felt softer by the way.

I couldn’t help but wondered. “Is this what lovers do?”

Apart from writing love letters, long hours on the phone and furtive gropes in dark cinema theaters? Anyway, we weren’t lovers like that.

We were.. Wait a second, let me define this carefully. I have to be precise when it is about us. No errors.

We were the lovers who made no promises. We never talk of remember-whens and what-ifs.

We were lovers who laughed and talked and walked and giggled at Indian taxi drivers who were rude and had a funny accent in cabs in New York.

We were lovers who met other people, never talked on the phone, wrote small emails and met once in a while.

When you whispered to my pressed form on the crowded subway that it was not as bad as the Jakarta buses, I could feel your smile on my body. I didn’t have to look at you to see that. I stood there, as near as to you I could get. I could feel your breath on my veiled-hair. I never once looked up.

I am happier than I ever was. Or if I was, I cannot remember when.

But I am sad too. Like the time when I entwined my fingers through yours and squeezed your palm at the movie theater… I pretended not to see your questioning look. Sadness sits on me at the most unexpected times.

When the time came for me to leave and you asked me not to be sad, for we would meet again, that’s the closest to a tomorrow and a promise we would have came.

3 days. It seems like a minute now. In that minute, everything has changed. I think I have left a part of me behind somewhere out there.

Maybe in one of the avenues we walked. Maybe in one of the shops we went. Maybe in one of the benches we sat. Maybe under the pillow on your bed, a little hidden.

 

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Good News

“I am getting married…” he told me.

How on earth are you supposed to react to something like this coming from that one person you’ve always loved?

You’ve tied in foolish years, friendship bands around each others’ wrists.
You’ve cried over broken loves.
You’ve laughed and cried watching all your favorite movies together.
You’ve repeated dialogues from your favorite film in sequence with perfect timing.
You’ve known that even if you fall in love many times in life, you’ll always have just one special friend who is your faith in mankind when the rest of the world walks away.
No, these are not just Hallmark card lines..

I’ve known him for over eight years. And for over eight years I’ve loved him with a love that amazes me. I mean, like 8 years! It perhaps means not so long time for others. But me… If only you know me…
The so-called relationships’ I’ve ever had was never last more than 3 months! It’s not an exaggeration if I called 8 years a life-time.

I loved him when he went all over the place looking for that bangle that so caught my eye when we watched The Notebook together. I loved him when he would slip out of his window at night and come to see me just because I was feeling disturbed. I loved him when he would fall asleep on the bed while sitting with me during my summer classes..
He was the only person who loved me and made a show about it. The rest of the people assumed I knew. Of course, I did. But once in a while someone comes along who shows you just how much.

So my best friend is getting married.

I sit, plucking at my lower lip thoughtfully while holding on to the phone. I’ve heard this line and from him many times.
After a long pause best fit for an art movie, I laugh. Too late, yes.

He laughs. Now both of us are happy.

“I really am!”
“Okay, what’s her name this time?”
The names are always pretty. And I notice a pattern. They all begin with a particular letter.. I tell him that. Now both of us are sad.

Why do you have to always hurt the ones you love? And consciously so? I wind and unwind the long cord of the telephone. These days I ignore the ring. It never is for me.

Why wasn’t I told about the love bit that supposedly comes before the marriage line? I never ask.

But he tells me.
This must be love then. The others he had “loved” before, he would even made retirement plans with.

“What about me?” I almost wail.
“What about you?”

 
I wait and answer.
“Well, remember you were to marry me if no one does..”

He laughs easily. We’ve been through this meticulously before. Those good old days when all my girl friends would hint and lecture that he was the only person in the world who could love me the way he did because he never understood me. I told him about that once and we laughed over them, cruelly.

“No, seriously.” I persist.
He says with the practiced ease of someone who knows the right answer.

“We love each other too much to ever fall in love with each other..” he used my own words back then against me.

I almost throw the phone. I was always good at making fine sounding statements. Maybe I should copyright them all.

Things will change. They always do.

And learning to let go has been the lesson always. Maybe this time I’ll pass the test gracefully. I will make things easier for him. I’ve never been an easy friend to have. Paying dues. The smiling and charming best friend who ushers people in, makes smart statements, flits around and catches everybody’s eye…

January 29th.
I hope the girl won’t turn up this time too.

 
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