I am going to miss you. It was the first thing you wanted to say. Because he was a guy and you were a guy and the admission felt bland on your lips, inappropriate, you said, “So, what do you plan to do during the break?”
He did not stop packing. “Man would find work, of course. Work.”
You nodded as if it was norm and leaned into the wall, watching him fold one cloth after another, then throw the small bucket you normally fetched drinking water in. The bucket sat sideways in the bag, like a lopsided treasure box, its lid smeared with dirt that had accumulated over the session. A second bag rested before his closet. The closet door swiveled in the morning breeze, its inside cleared save a nylon bag and a junk of a textbook.
You thought how funny that some weeks back, the textbook was a treasure. The bunk on which you sat was close to the entrance. Your roommates occupied their space, each lost in a floating activity, and you looked at them and thought they were all engaging themselves because, in the smallest way, they felt as if they were floating away.
“Finally, Jos,” one said. He kept a beard. His face was arguably as clean as freshly plucked tomato, with that redness and that evenness and that succulence. His eyes danced like two rings. A bible spread open on his bed. You smiled. Church was not his favorite place to go.
“Have you missed your mum?”
He stopped packing. He towered above you. “No. Not really miss.”
“In ten months?”
He shrugged. You shook your head and looked away.
There’s a laptop on the bed. Not bed. Bunk. Steel bunk. The mattress was cleared off it hours back, folded into bends, like a rolled metal sheet, and dragged to a lodge off campus. The laptop is on the bunk, you are on the bunk, a book is on the bunk. The laptop is opened to a document and you stare at the pages, lingering on Times New Roman and font size, praying silently that inspiration would come.
Kevin is in no need of inspiration. He’s longed stop packing. His legs are folded atop the bed now. Arms to chest, like a nine-year old flogged to silence, to solitude. In his eyes are lost circles, as if those eyes have travelled the desert, journeyed the forest, and are now in a community sparkling with life and are wondering how to adjust, to blend in. Kevin is watching a film. A Chinese movie.
No. It isn’t Chinese. It’s Korean. And Taiwanese too. It’s a sort of rerun. The movie is playing on another laptop. The laptop’s owner wears a striped shirt. He has beards too, unlike Kevin. He watches a lot of movies.
Kevin watches without grunting, without blinking, without breathing. It is so alien to him you wonder if he still exists, if it is only a clone sitting on that bed, a travelling bag at his feet, a Chinese movie before his eyes.
You talked about clones today with a departmental mate. How it’s such a stupid, illiterate idea, though executed by a bunch of scholars. “How many gigabytes of data would it take to code emotions?” the mate had asked.
You look at Kevin now and see the answers in his eyes. In the lost circles. Never.
Five minutes later, you haven’t added a word to the Term Paper. Kevin has spoken some words. Passive comments. This is not the Kevin you know. Kevin, naturally, would not speak except when watching movies. This Kevin is as mute as a mute.
Mute as a mute?
You begin to wonder if the silence is intentional on Kevin’s part, if Kevin is choking on the words because he is trying to hold back himself; maybe the old rule, the words you speak show who you are, is playing in his head and he does not want to reveal what is coursing through his nerves now, hence the silence. Maybe he is thinking of home already, of work, of stretches of hours in steep darkness and eerie quiet.
Maybe he is thinking of the past eleven months.
Yes, roars. Like a lion. He turns in his sleep and mutters inaudible phrases. A moment on, his breath steadies. You want to draw close to him and pat his neck and say, “You don’t have to talk in your sleep, if only you would talk to God.” But then, you remember his hours as your roommate are numbered.
So you shrink in the bed and continue to watch the blank laptop screen.
The sun warming the louvers remind you it’s noon. You tap a few more words and hit the save button before walking out. Outside, you stand under the walkway, staring out at the deserted concrete field. Someone walks by and talks of the football match showing in the evening, and slowly, images filter into your memory. Images of hostel residents running after a leather ball. Images you shot when you were thinking about dinner and the next days. Images you shot when you had to pray and the room was suffocated with noise. Images expressing your first year as a student.
You stare so long you feel tear snakes towards your eyelids. So you blink off the tears. You turn around and walk back to the room, taking even, equal, measured steps, thinking of the term paper.
The movie is done. Kevin is talking with the erstwhile roommate and there’s a small smile on his face and a fragment of light has crawled into his eyes. His sight catches you as you enter and he offers that small smile. You flatten your cheeks and resume with the paper. Your topic borders technology, but you begin to write about goodbyes, about roses that wither for hours before blooming again, about rain and sun, about being a student.
There’s a silence in the room. No one is asleep, and you wonder if the silence is a mutual, unvoiced agreement, if everyone feels there’s a sacredness in the next few hours of being together, and the sacredness must be revered. You stop typing and set the laptop on the edge of the bed, even though it might topple over.
You clasp your hands together and look at Kevin, at the sleeping roommate, at the one who doesn’t miss his mum, and you think of pushing out a lengthy exhale. But because the silence hasn’t been broken, because you feel everyone feels there’s a dangerous teeter in the next few hours, because you think you all have realized there’s a bit of you in the next person.
Because of all these, you stay silent.
P.S: The session is done. Home looms in the distance. How do you feel when you finally have to say goodbye?
Thank you for reading. Thanks.