The Green Man

“I need to borrow an umbrella,” I inform the front desk of my workplace. The clouds outside are ominous; grey turning to black, staining the world below with its hues. It will most likely mean a torrential downpour, and the Subway is about half a kilometer from my workplace. I would not be risking anything, as I had some important documents tucked under my left arm. Once they get wet, I get fired, ironic as that sounds.

I walk out three and a half steps onto the pavement before the first drops of rain roll down my forehead. My prediction is correct. With one quick action, my black umbrella is swiftly deployed like a parachute over my head. I hug the documents close to my chest, as the rain increases in volume like the ending of a rock concert.

Finally, I reach the first traffic junction. I wait as the light turns amber and the cars slow down cautiously. The wipers are furiously at work and my brown leather shoes have become visibly darker. Thankfully my pants are black and my shirt is a dark shade of grey. The watermarks wouldn’t be very obvious. The green man pops up and I walk steadily forward with acute awareness of the folder, whilst keeping a careful eye on the cars on the side. I’ve heard of people who perish because the cars don’t brake on time in heavy rain.

I walk through a few shop houses and give my umbrella a rest. The shop owners look on glumly into the rain, looking more aged in the gloom. I walk past five empty shops, before positioning the umbrella over my head again. I tread carefully to the next traffic junction. The green man disappears just as I step to the curb, and is immediately replaced with the red man, like guards on sentry duty. Ninety seconds. It would take ninety seconds for the green man to be back on duty. I knew this from years of walking this route. I hug the folder closer to my chest.

That is when I hear splashing from the side, and a flash of yellow. She is beside me all of a sudden. She is covered in rain. Not drenched by any means, but still, it struck me as a cause of concern. I turn to look at where she ran from, and see an open field with large buildings behind. She must have been walking there halfway when she got caught in the downpour. My umbrella is huge, and she takes a while to notice that she is actually under it. She looks at me and smiles a shy smile, a smile that seems to say thank you and sorry at the same time. She isn’t particularly attractive. Her eyes don’t sparkle like in those magazines you see beside Big Gulp at seven-eleven. Her nose is slightly crooked, the bridge of her nose not totally centered. Her eyebrows are too thick perhaps, and her chin a little too sharp. The rain doesn’t ruin her dress. Not yet, at least. It is a brilliant yellow with strange white pleats at the collar crafted with an intricate, flowery pattern. It is sleeveless to reveal slender, white arms that probably haven’t seen any form of physical labour. Her legs are skinny as well, but aren’t the type to buckle under pressure. Overall, she has an average figure; skinny but not spectacular, and not exactly meaty at the right places. And of course, being a guy, I could attain all this information in one quick glance.

Despite that, I felt that all at once, she was perfect. In other words, I felt like she is the one. This is a huge realisation for me, and there is nothing else to base this on, but a feeling. She stands there, with bright pearls of rain on her curly, black hair, casually brushing droplets off her dress. The patter of rain forms a chorus above our heads. There is no other sound, and no other hues filled the world besides the gloom of the surrounding world and the brightness of her dress. To me, it is that simple: it was a feeling that suddenly spilled over so violently that I couldn’t help but feel surprised. It was the feeling of such intense warmth I was so afraid I would never feel again after all these years.

She is definitely the one, I would tell my friend later. It just wasn’t like anything I’ve ever felt. There was certainty in how I felt, a deep certainty and strong foundation in these feelings, one I couldn’t explain. It was as if these moments only occur two to three times in an average lifetime. And that was MY moment. My friend looks at me and rolls her eyes. If you say so, she retorts between sips of beer. But deep down, I am convinced.

So I stand there in the rain, clenching the umbrella handle in my right hand, folder gently pushed to my chest by my left. I think of a way of talking to her. I figure that when we start walking, would be a good time to start our first conversation. I imagine how this conversation would go, imagine it as if it has already happened.

Hello. Hi. This is going to be strange. So strange. But you look really familiar. I am certain I’ve met you before. Yes… I have. No recollection? Wait, no, this may sound weird but it makes total sense to me and it may to you. Let me take you back to when I was in primary school. I’m sure you took the school bus back then. You look like the type who’d take the school bus. Even if you didn’t, please take a minute to listen to my story.  

There was this girl back then. We took the same school bus home everyday, and she lived only a few blocks away from me. She was quiet at first and so was I, and we both couldn’t find any friends on the way home. Until one day, whether by pure chance or not, I sat beside her. She looked crushed that day, and her eyes were red. She was definitely crying in school. That was when I asked her why, and she didn’t answer at first. A few of the girls around asked me to leave her alone, but even at such a young age; I knew there was something she wanted to tell me, something deep within. She didn’t talk to me the whole trip despite my efforts. But before stepping off the bus, she looked deep into my eyes and smiled at me. I suddenly had a new focus to my simple life.  

So I sat with her from that day on, and she didn’t seem to mind it. Slowly, she started opening up. She told me about her anxieties at school, how the teachers didn’t understand her fear of people, and her classmates mocking her for it. I was young, and I was naïve, but I understood every word she said. I wasn’t afraid of people, but of their intentions, I told her. She looked at me and said as a matter of fact, “aren’t they the same thing?” I could tell she was incredibly intelligent. It was with these conversations that I started looking forward to these bus rides home.  

We got closer through the year, and talked about happier things like food and the future. One day in June, we secretly started holding hands under the seat where no one could see. We were young and it felt like the most perfect thing that two people could accomplish. We were both amazed and at the same time terrified of these feelings. Outside the bus, we hardly talked; just a small wave or smile at the school canteen, and we never met privately outside school. The shelter of the bus was our little space.  

Then one day, everything changed. Without warning, her family moved. Rumour had it that her parents had a divorce, and there was sudden mortgage of the property. Either way, I had her beside me one day, and the next day she was so suddenly taken away. She was gone without a trace, and for months I was heartbroken. Call me pathetic, but I still think of her now, even after all these years. It probably makes as little sense to me as it does to you, but the heart does its best remembering things that the mind does its best to forget. It may be a long shot, but all I remember about her leads to this moment. I can still remember her features; she had curly black hair like you, was skinny like you and had that same smile you wear right now. There is no mistaking it, as you smiled at me I immediately knew. Even if you aren’t her, and by no means do I blame you for that, would you care to walk with me for a while? I really want to confirm if it is or isn’t you. Would you care for just one walk?  

That sounds absolutely terrible as I silently rehearse it, but the frantic thumping within my chest is the strong affirmation that I will have to deliver that story to her in one form or another. I could go for a more subtle approach, but it wouldn’t have justified the magnitude of this feeling. I look at my watch and notice I have ten seconds before green man takes up his position.

The traffic light turns amber, the cars slow down carefully to a stop. We are about to start walking. Just as the green man climbs up his post, she turns her head and smiles at me again, a smile that keeps me rooted on the spot, a smile that makes my existence suddenly inconsequential. I can almost hear her say a quick thank you before I can feel the blood in my legs again. But by then, she is off. She sprints off as if having just activated a landmine, sprints off as if afraid she got the weight of the soil wrong. I watch as she runs across the road to the other side, watch as she doesn’t even bother checking the road for cars and puts total faith in Mr. Green.

Perhaps, I should have chased after her. I should have held her shoulders firmly in both my hands and told her all I had to say. I should have realized that these feelings only come about twice or thrice within an average lifetime. But alas, I just stood there and watched the brilliant dash of yellow fade into the raging mist and rain.

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