The Girl Who Roams the U-Town Green

It was about 4 am, when I noticed the couple on the U-Town green from the 24 hour Starbucks that overlooked it. I was churning out an assignment, getting really focused on Nietzsche’s arguments on slave morality. I had a Chamomile tea to my left, my pen and paper laid out expertly to my right, giving some space between mug and laptop. Life insurance doesn’t cover accidental water damage.

I saw the couple walking, hand in hand, strolling comfortably across the green. The grassy expanse was the central instalment of the university, perhaps for students to hold spontaneous picnics and lengthy discussions, plot out intricate ideas and delve into equations, to live, learn, discover. But it hardly played that function, standing largely deserted in the day as the hot sun rendered its supposed function obsolete while we went into cold dark spaces to languish instead.

The couple trailed across the green like two explorers cutting across snow. The girl was tall, I could see from afar. She had a lanky demeanour and as far as I could imagine, a chirpy voice as well. She was an antelope, but not the kind that got hunted down by the lions. She was the majestic kind, in an environment void of prey. That’s the way I saw her, strange as it sounds. The boy had a stocky build, was a few centimetres shorter than her. He probably had a voice that rumbled like thunder, his hair short, his glasses prominent, and his gaze dreamy. He was the hulk, but the good kind, the kind that was never angry. They existed, held hands, smiled, leaned close. But at such a time at 4 in the morning, they may as well have faded into the morning mist, a figment of my imagination. They sat at the edge of the green, him stroking her hair, her leaning on his shoulder. He whispered something into her ear. I’ll see you here tomorrow, I imagined. His words to her could have meant everything, yet nothing at the same time. It’s the sort of thing you tell yourself to turn the mundane complicated, the meaningless meaningful.

I found myself at the same spot the next morning, at the lonely hour before the sun decided to get out of bed. The sun baked the green then disappeared behind the horizon again, I emerged for classes and then receded into the dark, escaping from the presence of people. I was yet again at the same juncture of this self-sufficient cycle. 4 AM. The couple veered into vision, the stocky hulk and the graceful antelope. They were back. An unlikely pairing, I couldn’t help but think again, like red wine and seafood or checkered shirts and striped shorts. But it worked. They sat at the edge. Talked. She leaned into his shoulder. Nietzsche continued to elude me. My Chamomile tea cooled in the night. They were still. Then she stood up.

She slapped him.

He shot his hands out, tried to grab her, but he grabbed at thin air instead. I sipped my Chamomile. It was almost room temperature. She walked off, wild, prancing. Free, gliding along, gilded by the morning mist. He sat there motionless, counting footsteps, losing count. It was not long before he, too sauntered off.

The next morning the couple wasn’t there. It was only the hulk. He was sitting a few tables from me, head buried in his hands. Incidentally, he was wearing checkered shorts and a striped shirt. Close enough. I put my mug down.

“You ok?” I ventured.

He looked up. “Me?”

“Yes, you.”

“I’m not ok.”

“Is it because of her?”

“Who else?”

“I saw what happened yesterday.”

“Must have been entertaining.”

“Sure was”

He scratched his head. He hadn’t shaved in days. His voice was nothing like the hulk. It was shrill. I wondered if her voice was deep.

“We only meet here. When we’re done with the day. Just me. And her. Here. Every night. On the green.”

“Only on the green?”

“Only on the green.”

“Why?”

“No reason. It’s just how it goes with us. Most couples meet everywhere. We keep it to the green.”

I looked at the grassy expanse. The darkness challenged me.

“But she isn’t here tonight.”

“I’m glad you noticed.”

“Text her?”

He shook his head. I had a feeling they didn’t text, either. Not your conventional couple.

“We’re not the conventional couple,” he confirmed.

I shrugged my shoulders. Conventionality was not for me to judge.

“I knew it had to end someday. But thanks for looking out for me.” He looked at me in earnest.

“Why did she slap you?” I decided to ask.

“I told my friends about it. About, you know, us.”

“Was there an agreement that you couldn’t?”

“Not that I remembered.”

“Strange.” I murmured.

“Strange.” He repeated.

 

The sun rose and baked the green, then set, and like clockwork I was at the same spot. I sat typing furiously as Thursday night blended into Friday morning, a day where our hopes and dreams for the weekend flourish at the peripheries, an egg yolk about to burst. It was 4 am when I finally finished with Nietzsche. I stared into space. I hated his guts, I silently decided. The computer screen looked fuzzy right before I slammed it shut. The U-Town green emerged from behind. It was being its dark, usual self but there was no couple tonight. No couple at all. The boy’s gone.

Somebody tapped me from behind. I glanced back.

Antelope girl. She stood in the light, wearing a pink dress. It hugged her body with urgency. She smiled weakly, an attractive smile. “Excuse me, but … is he here?”

“Him? The guy you were with two nights ago?”

She nodded.

“Not tonight,” I replied.

She sat down opposite me. I downed my entire mug of Chamomile to ease the tension. It was cold. There was a faint breeze that drafted in from the green. She crossed her arms.

“What’s wrong with me?” She asked.

I looked at her, but didn’t answer.

“Like, I thought he would be different you know?”

“He’s as different as they come.”

“They’re all the same!” She rebuked. She grabbed a napkin from my table and wiped her eyes.

“Come here every night, I’m sure he’ll be back.”

“No. He’ll never return.”

“But you don’t know that.”

She looked at me. I avoided her gaze, looking at my laptop case, zipping and unzipping it. “Do you want to walk with me?” She offered.

“Walk?”

She motioned towards the green. The green stared back; the darkness seemed the stuff on fantasies. Cold and dense, it drew me in, offered the possibilities only opacity could, and transparency denied. It was firm and it mattered.

But I was exhausted. I had four straight mornings of intense Nietzsche. I was deprived of sleep but then deprived of company all at once. I weighed the prospects. What would I gain from walking with her, and what would I gain from falling asleep to videos of cute puppies and the last few pages of Mrs. Dalloway?

“I’m tired.” I finally said.

As if understanding my meaning, she looked at me, smiled, stood up. Walked off.

Disappeared into the night.

Oreo

Oreo recently underwent a severe tick infection and  woke up one day as a giant tick.

It all started from a few ticks here and there, peppered across his body. He probably caught it from rolling around in grass patches during the evening walks. We should have been more careful and kept to the pavements. Then from there they overtook, fought their way through antiseptic barriers, prying fingernails and extensive grooming. The ticks won, and infested my house with the efficacy of a virus, the frightening imposition of an unreasonable law. My dog suffered, and so did we.

But one morning, all the ticks were gone, every last one. We made sure to check the entire house after our ordeal was over, and sure enough, every last morsel had mysteriously vanished. Except Oreo stood now, crouched over the kitchen sink, a gigantic tick. He was four feet long and as thick as a puffy boaster before your head sinks in.

No one was about to sink anything into the monstrosity. My parents cordoned off the kitchen area, holding their ground. My father told me to stand back from the door as he regarded the thing with fear. “He may stick its stinger thing through the door and suck your blood dry,” he warned. But he’s our dog! I insisted. No one was listening, much less convinced. My mother quickly dialled pest control.

I walked to the window and observed him. The tick had a brownish back that tapered to black towards his head, a few hairs poking out between his eyes. You didn’t notice these things when seen in miniature form, but this was as good as a microscopic view of the damn pest. It was revolting. The stinger probed out, waving about like a wizard wielding his wand in search for an object to cast a spell on. I looked on in horror infused fascination. I was still convinced it was my dog. It had to be.

“Pest control won’t believe us!” Shouted my mother, phone dangling from trembling hands. We were in a state of positive panic. “Why did you tell them the whole truth?” Blared father. My mother placed the phone on the receiver and took a deep breath. “They can’t catch that thing with a butterfly net.”

And she was right. Perhaps a bear trap would have to do, but to think of the juices that would explode and dirty the entire kitchen if it had to come down to using a bear trap. It needn’t come to that, I decided. I had to do something before my parents resorted to the unthinkable. They hadn’t mentioned killing him, but I was afraid the current sentiment would lead to that inevitable conclusion.

I opened the door. My mother ran forward but father held her back. A parent shouldn’t have to watch their kid die, but I was confident they wouldn’t have anything to worry about. I stepped in and closed the door behind me. The kitchen lights were turned off and my eyes adjusted to the darkness. It wasn’t so easy to make out his entire form from the brightness outside.

Beady black eyes followed me as I pranced around the perimeter of the kitchen. He stood on the sink. I was not sure at all about anything he would do, but I was confident it would be anything but to hurt me. I took a can of biscuits from the top shelf. His gaze never left me, and a slight pivot could be discerned as his six legs adjusted to balance on the edges of the sink. It became a game of who could read whom first.

I took out a cream cracker from the biscuit tin and presented it to him. His antennae began to move about wildly, then uncontrollably, almost like ruffled leaves in the autumn breeze. But really, it was more like a dog wagging its tail. It was he. “Oreo,” I called out. He looked up at me. I threw the cracker on the floor in front of the sink and he jumped off like a loaded spring and devoured it. My mother let out a scream outside and disappeared from view behind the glass door. My father watched on, pale faced, holding on to the doorknob, about to burst in on the first sign of trouble. I was doing well. I had to do more to prove he was our dog, and not a hungry tick after our blood.

I reached my hand forward, very daringly and with a heart of faith. Nothing was going to happen. I could pet his brown scaly forehead like I always used to. The texture would be different, the being entirely the same. He made soft squeaky sounds, his demented proboscis of certain death waved about manically, attempting to feel at any flesh that came nearby. But he liked me! I was his owner and he my dog. He wouldn’t use his member against me, would he? It was hard to tell but I reached out, one inch preceding the next before I was a subway 6-inch away.

The door burst open and my father charged in with a hammer raised up high, I could glance from the peripheries, something dark and unnecessary being raised in some sort of aggressive stance, a warrior with his mallet. A huge swing came thundering down with the swiftness of finality. Bang. The floor was struck. Oreo clambered over me before I could react, jumping on my chest but never intending to attack me. One of his six legs clinched onto my shoulder and he propelled himself over me, artfully dodging the hammer, scuttling between my father’s legs like a football. My father fell forward in shock, tumbling over me. The door was ajar, and so Oreo did the sensible thing and scuttled out. Mother was laid out on the floor, struck unconscious by the morning’s interesting turn of events. He sniffed her face before deciding that licking her with the proboscis of doom would do no one any favours. He moved on to the front door, and my mother was none the wiser to his advances. I was relieved.

Father got up in an instant and made a run for the animal. He was in full fight. He’s not going to hurt us, I wanted to say. I should have said. It was hard to get through to a man hardened in life, seeing fingernail size ticks in his fifty-odd years then suddenly encountering a larger, much cuter cousin. Did it even occur to him that maybe, just maybe, this creature was just my dog in a ticks form? Of course not, I thought. We live in a world where form is everything. He would as soon believe Hitler to love the Jews.

I followed closely behind, and saw for myself the true horror of Oreo’s newfound abilities. His proboscis punched hole after hole through the wooden front door, tearing the base of it apart before our eyes like a raging elephant impaling his trainer. Splinters flew, along with my satisfied imagination. My father stepped back, and so did I. It was a work of art. Not the door, mind you. Art is the fact that it was the door, and not us, that was going though this severe treatment. Art is the beauty of a situation despite its potential for ugliness.

He punched a hole big enough for himself and felt about the edges with his feelers. He looked back at us one last time, beady black eyes shimmering. So long old friend, I muttered under my breath.

My Dad and I watched as he scuttled out into the streets. Strangely, there were no screams. Not yet.

“Was he wearing a collar?” I asked.

My father did not reply.

A Place Where Lonely People Go

It was 4 in the afternoon and there I was, in a place where lonely people go. There was nothing particularly special about this place, just a nondescript study area with huge fluorescent lamps inspecting the people dispersed in their solitude. Cubicles dividing, yet strangely orderly and united in their division. Tables grey, some white, chairs charcoal black. Huge Mackintosh screens peppered the space, unable to function in any other way than precisely the way it was meant to. I sat there twirling my pen, ensuring the pen looped around my thumb and came to rest at equilibrium. Time after time. The glass walls stared back and challenged me to talk to them.

I ignored the walls. I had a book in my hand, a political theory text with eighty pages unread. This was a place where lonely people go, the perfect place to devour a text, the sandwich for the flustered businessman, food rations for the starving soldier. Dreaded, but necessary. In the small space there was no one, yet everyone. People of the strangest dispositions, origins and resolutions sat well spaced, like a silent fart saturated through a stuffy classroom. There was nothing to look forward to here, but the shiny prospect of a future that we did not yet know existed. It was a frightening place to be, almost a transitory point to somewhere greater, which it turns out, is anywhere but here.

A man and a woman sat opposite me in the study space, at separate cubicles, weaving tarnished versions of what life had to offer. Their eyes nailed to their work, before the blue glow of Facebook reflected brightly in the man’s glasses. Suppressed laughter, the sound of procrastination ensued. The woman looked over in irritation. Her eyes spoke “fuck you.” I watched as they scribbled, typed, scribbled typed. A white man was falling asleep, drool quickly forming. He sucked the drool like a plumber removing silt from the bottom of a clogged sink. Is this a place where dreams come to die?

It certainly was. A girl stood up to my right. I call her that because a girlish quality could be observed in her gait, a springy one as such, jaunty and excited for the future that didn’t yet exist. She walked past me with an empty water bottle, the emptiness allowing light to pass through unobstructed, undistorted. In the emptiness held the vast reserves of truth and honesty. The emptiness, it seemed, was all our lives are doomed to tend towards. She walked out, presumably to refill her bottle. The door closed with a light thud, the loudest sound I would hear for the next three minutes.

“I want to get out of here,” I whispered. I glanced around, making sure no one had heard me, making sure no one would label me as a lunatic about to set the world on fire. “I want to get out of here!” I whispered again.

Still, no one turned. I smiled to myself. The woman to the top left of my field of vision reached over and scratched her bum. Two men walked in and scoured the space for seats. They came together, but little did they know that this togetherness was an illusion that the cubicles would help them come to terms with.

The Bombay Bicycle Club faded into the soundtrack in my head. “Leaving Blues” danced on the peripheries of my mind. In a space so tainted with loneliness it was only natural that it did. “You’re leaving” somebody whispered, but it was nobody. Sadness truly seeps in when nobody whispers something that would be sad if somebody whispered it anyway. Meanwhile my book would not read itself with the same intensity that my life resisted living. I focused, stone hard vision piercing through a book that seemed to be made entirely of diamond. My highlighter hovered above fresh pages, a laser primed to be shot but a mechanic unsure of how lasers should be shot.

The two men finally found their seats, separated into two different cubicles, softly acknowledging their loneliness. Loneliness was theirs, but they were never lonely, it seemed. Both took out their phones, both felt like they had a life outside here they could very well be at. I shot my glance back to my book. The door clicked open.

The girl was back. The woman scratched her butt again. The white man woke up and grunted. A few people turned their heads. My highlighter fell out of my hand, precisely when the girl brushed past me, it was out of my control. My vision blurred, she stepped on the highlighter. The girl fell forward, let go of her bottle. I regarded the scene with the helplessness of a bystander. The bottle flew in the air, even the white man looked up from his reverie.

It fell onto the table, released its tremulous load and soaked my book in the promises of yesterday, my highlighter crushed beyond repair, my resolutions finding a hole and quickly jumping into it without coercion.

“I’m sorry,” she would later say.

“Don’t be,” I would tell her

“Why?” She was curious.

Because this is a place where lonely people go, I thought.

 

 

Cover Photo Credits

The Hardest Thing to Give is Yourself

I had a good first week of University after the long awaited recess week. Now that that’s over, here we are again, in the depths of week 8, where assignments have been pouring in like sweets into a halloween basket. Stress is what I need at this point, to really function at a 100% and force myself to do some useful work. Other than that all has been good. Sometimes it’s better if life is boring.

I was at a gathering for my school newsletter on Friday. We were just lounging around, having some drinks and snacks and talking about random things regarding ourselves, when the topic of relationships came up. It all started when one of the sophomores leaped into the room wearing a t-shirt with a pie chart labelled “things I look for in my lover” or something along those lines. It was colourful and had silly expectations like “will watch my favourite movies with me” and other trivial comforts. We took this as a prompt, and went around asking each other what we each desired from our hypothetical significant others. A lot of matters concerning love for the outdoors, compassion, admirability, insane intelligence and “good taste” came up. Basically, we listed the attributes that 99% of us covet but 99% of us fall short of possessing. Ideals can be a bitch.

The sophomore with the t-shirt (that particular t-shirt, to be clear), the one who started the entire conversation then came up with her own rendition of her ideal significant other. “I just feel like…a lot of people out there have so much talent, and they invest so much in themselves to become the perfect person, so much so that they don’t have a piece of themselves to give anyone. You know what I mean?”

I knew what she meant. I guess what she said really hit the spot because for many years now I’ve been feeling like this is what has become of me. I’ve become hyper obsessed with being a good version of myself. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the best version of myself but a lot of what I’ve been doing has been very focused on me. It’s very easy to defend this way of life. As a young person finding himself it’s incredibly easy to feel lonely in a world so deceptively interconnected. The more you seem to be comfortable with being on your own, the more you seem to have it together. Taking long walks by myself, finding time to sit down and write, sit down and read, lie down and listen to music, jog around campus, sit down and write again; almost everything I’ve done that has made me feel incredible, I’ve done on my own. And I’ve never really questioned why this was the case. If you’re feeling good, you’re not supposed to question it, you’re just supposed to feel good. It’s just so hard to admit to yourself that maybe, just maybe, you might need something more, someone more in your life.

Otherwise, to know if you’re really shut off from letting anyone in is a tall order; the whole notion of emotional aloofness can be made up by being more open to possibilities, giving yourself chances. But of course, I know to be careful, there is a fine line between openness and sheer desperation. And then who’s to say that someone who is closed off to possibilities will always be that way? Perhaps they just haven’t found someone that they have been truly interested in or who they feel is finally “worth it”. Maybe a lot of us don’t allow our hearts to bleed unless it’s for an extremely important occasion. Maybe extremely important occasions only come by once in a long while. It’s all so cringe worthy, but like it or not a lot of us do think that way. We wait tirelessly for the right moment to the point where we question whether the right moment even noticed us whilst we were standing so still, camouflaged amongst the leaves.

So I’ve been thinking lately, heading into 2016: what do I really want for myself? Do I want to always be this way, or do I want to take some chances? I might have reflected upon this before and I feel like this is a recurring desire in my life; one that prods at me and continues to challenge me like a teacher seeing his student get complacent. What should I do from here? I really have no idea.

The hardest thing to give someone is yourself, but hey, it may very well be the best gift.