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?”
“I’m not ok.”
“Is it because of her?”
“I saw what happened yesterday.”
“Must have been entertaining.”
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.”
“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.”
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?”
“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.
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.