Hello. It’s been a while. Thirteen days. I’ve been a bit lazy, I admit. But then, the one constant thing about life is that it changes. While I was preparing for this next post, I visited Brittle Paper and saw that, surprise, surprise, a story I sent in three months ago had been published. Perfect timing. You can read the story here. So, as you read the story I put up here, do well to visit the Brittle Paper story too. Two birds in one swing. Enjoy.
“You are not writing,” she says. I tilt my soles. “Again.”
“I am,” I say.
“Then you aren’t sharing.”
“They’re not shareable.”
Her eyebrows twitch. “Hmm.”
We walk down the lane, legs at a steady rhythm, arms swinging by our sides. We love swinging our arms.
“No,” I say.
“Yes,” she says.
“I can’t,” I say.
She hits me in the tummy and jogs off before I can react. I pause, smiling, before racing after her. I notice the awkward stares of passersby. “It’s weird,” I want to say. The way we talk is weird. But I love the weirdness.
I catch up with her just at the end of the lane and pull her by the arm.
“Stop, before I do something that’d hurt you.”
“You won’t,” she says. She stops all the same and turns, such that her torso is steadied by my arms. Sort of romantic, except that I don’t like thinking of our relationship as romantic, but as something more.
“Don’t place a bet on it.”
She winks her left eye. “I know you won’t. You won’t,” she says. She hits me and starts running again.
I smile and shake my head. I run after her.
We sit opposite each other in the café. An off-beat song blares from the TV. The artiste’s voice is like a toad’s; to say he’s an artiste is to abuse the noun. The table beside houses a group of freshmen – it is easy to identify them, the way they talk in mumbles, each unable to keep his grandiose idea to himself. The chairs are arranged in a hexagon round a round table. There are six of those tables, thirty chairs.
“I love the arrangement,” I tell her.
“Makes thirteen,” she says.
“I know,” I tell her. We’ve been here thirteen times, and I compliment the sitting arrangement each visit.
The freshmen are arguing about a question. A question in MTS 101, under a topic called Mathematical Induction.
“Mathematics should not even be induced,” one says.
“I agree,” another responds.
One small boy, so small you’d think he was a bagboy, raises his finger, raining silence upon the group.
I turn to my partner. She’s as shocked as I. I hear the boy say, “Our purpose here isn’t to argue about the validity or illogicality of induction under Math, but to determine if the equation –” reads off the equation – “holds when m is 2k and when m is 2k+1.”
Hardly does the boy wraps his non-Nobel winning speech when his peers descend upon him like a pack of wolfs attacking a stray lamb.
“I’m not doing the assignment until I know the concept behind MI.”
“And the man who thought of Mathematical Induction.”
I exchange a smile with my partner. “Get ready to sleep,” I say in response to the last comment.
My partner shakes her head. “They don’t know the water in which they’re swimming.” Her eyes are soft as she speaks, as if she would go over and talk wisdom into their heads, as if it’s her kids arguing over a stupid point.
“I should write about this,” I say.
“Yes,” she says.
I draw my pen and pad. Open. See my last story. Didn’t do so well with me, huh. I shut my eyes, take a breath, part them. I begin to scribble. My partner engages herself in a book, New Creation Realities. Minutes later, or maybe it’s half an hour, but long enough for the newbies to have quieted, I lift my head and close the pad.
I shake my head.
I slip her the pad. I haven’t counted sixty when the sound of pages ruffling against one another reaches me.
“This is beautiful,” she says.
“They are,” I say. “They aren’t.”
“Now, you are confusing me.”
I breathe. “Let’s walk.”
The room is quiet when I enter. I catch a roommate sleeping, his mouth gaping like a ready-to-bite whale. I edge towards him and touch his face. He slaps the nothingness away, correcting his posture in the process. I turn around, unhook the strap of my bag and place it on the bed. I flop on the lower bunk, close my eyes, and whisper.
Then I call her. The phone rings. Rings. Rings. I toss it aside and walk to my closet. I reach for my wallet, unzip, produce a single brass key and insert it into the keyhole. Turning the key, I tap my feet softly against the tiled floor and wait for the crack. I pull the closet door back and wait for the creak.
I notice a thousand other feelings – the faint tap, tap emanating from the back of my block, the puff in the air as I inhale a breath, the growl of a body as my roommate turns in his sleep, the indistinct sound that comes just before some books clatter from my closet. Making a mental note to arrange them properly, I take a new breath. It feels so good, to finally be able to notice these little things.
My phone chirps.
“Hello,” she says.
I hear the sound in the background, like metal grinding against metal.
“Are you in a workshop?”
“Nope,” she says. “Grating pepper.”
Yes. Pepper. The grater. Metal against metal.
“Wow,” I say. I give her a rundown. “You know, over the last two months, I’ve had this feeling that everything I write isn’t good enough. It’s like I’ve set a standard for myself, and anything that doesn’t meet it, not minding the beauty, is not good.” I pause, letting her catch a breath. A door opens.
“Gimme a minute,” she says. Her voice mellows as she addressed the visitant. Seconds later, “Hey.”
“Still here,” I reply.
“You deserve a flogging.”
“But you won’t.”
“No,” she says. The softness of her voice, barely noticeable, pricks my heart. It’s refreshing, scary, intimate. Yes. That’s the word for our relationship. Intimate. “Who cares about standards? What matters is that the story transforms. Are you happy when you write it? Does it resonate? Do you shed tiny drops of tears?” She pauses. “These are the things that matter.”
“The little things,” I say.
“Yeah, like the sound of metal grinding against metal, like the flapping of a bird’s wing, like the color of the sky just before sunrise.”
“Now, if you don’t mind, I have a freshman to attend to.”
I know immediately it’s from the group in the café.
“That’s a story you have to share,” I quip.
“Not if you can write it first,” she tells me.
“I take that as a challenge.”
“And don’t forget –”
“The little things,” I say.
“The little things,” she says.
P.S: When I wrote the first draft, my characters dictated some conversations into my head (e.g. “So…”, “No,” I say). At the editing phase, I had forgotten my intentions for including the dialogue, but I decided to leave it anyway. Though I did not entirely understand it. If you don’t also, just… Pardon!