A drive in the city, he said. But I look like shit today, I said. When did you look like shit? he asked. Never, he supplied. So come on, go with me, there’s someone I’d like you to meet. I hesitated. Who in the world would he introduce me to? In the long years of our friendship, he introduced me to exactly five people – his grandparents, two of his best friends, and one of his ex-girlfriends. Who now, I asked myself. Who, I asked. It’s a surprise, he said, and I can’t help but notice the tension and hesitation in his voice. What’s the matter, I asked, Nothing, he said. Fine, but if you’re planning something, you’ll be in hot water. Yeah, sure, was his lame reply.
I looked at myself in the mirror. There’s just something about meeting with him that rattles me – do I look chic enough, pretty enough, is my make-up off? Do I smell nice, does my handbag match my dress and shoes? And when I finally deem myself presentable (I actually always aim for irresistible because it drives him nuts) I remind myself this isn’t a date date, but instead a friendly catch-up. Yeah right, bitch, I smile to myself.
Finally, I heard the doorbell. He’s always on time, this one. I opened the door and there he was – in his usual white shirt, jeans and comfortable sneakers. He is very extraordinary-looking, but his eyes are exceptional – light brown, and their expression could change from warm and tender to steady and intense in a whiff of a perfume, a laugh, or a twinkling of the eyes. They seem to try and penetrate every fiber of your being, and you find yourself struggling between stopping it or letting his eyes do just that.
“Hey, stranger.” he said.
I smiled. Those two words sent my heart a flutter. Nonsensical, but there you are.
“Hey.” I said.
“Ready?” he asked smoothly.
“Yeah, sure. I’ll just grab my purse.”
Just before I turned around, he caught me and embraced me tightly. I don’t understand just what happened, but there was a weight to his embrace, as if he wanted to tell me things, and each unsaid thought gave way to a weight, that after he let me go, his eyes were watery and my heart sank into the pit of my stomach. He did not say anything, his eyes were sad all of a sudden, and I felt a desperation inside of me. Suddenly, I wanted to just stay here inside the comfortable coral walls of my apartment. I sighed, turned around and walked to the living area to grab my purse. I waited for sounds of his footsteps to echo behind me, or perhaps the sound of him getting a glass of water, or the sound of the fridge opening, anything – just anything to prove that he is walking, running after me. Nothing. All I hear are the dull echoes of my heels on the tiled floor. This also, was a first. I struggled with my emotions as I picked up the purse, and thought, what the hell, then walked to the doorway where he remained fixed, like a hundred year old tree rooted firmly to the ground.
Now the silence enveloped us. We walked to his car, he opened the door for me as usual, a gesture which kept my hopes up, and he waited for me to step inside before closing it too. I don’t understand what came over me, but I ran my hands on the cool leather seat of the car, to the smooth exterior of it, on the dashboard, everywhere I could lay my hands on.
“What are you doing?” he asked, perplexed.
“Looking for echoes.” even I was surprised at that response.
His expression turned somber at once.
How many times have we ridden in this car? How many laughs and lengthy conversations have we had inside this car? How many confessions have we told inside this car, how many secrets have we let go, how many memories, how many hours, how many tiny little things have we shared inside this car that amounted to years of trust, fondness and… love?
I have not told him I loved him. For the life of me, I do not know why. It is definitely one thing I could not confess, but had wanted to for a long time, here, inside his car. His car that served as the only witness to our friendship, the little, cutesy bouts of romance halted by our own loyalties and commitments, his car that served as a secure little world of ours, in its own limited way. I noticed my hands tightly knotted together on my lap, I loosened them in a haste and put them to the side. I waited for that prickly sensation of anticipation when he’d hold and smooth out the lines of my hands. It seemed forever, and it did not come. I panicked and held back tears of anxiety. Why? He used to reach for me, for my hands every time we drive around the city. He never let my left hand go, he lets it rest on the stick shift for a while and put his hand on top of mine, and then drive. When we are on a traffic jam or we were caught a red light, he’d smooth my hand over, as if memorizing the skin and bone geography of it, occasionally he would rest on a finger, concentrate on it, as if erasing something, or looking for echoes, as if it would lead him to a truth, or an unanswered prayer. But now, there is nothing. I looked over at him, and his face was set, eyes on the road, knuckles white on the steering wheel and stick shift.
I fought the sobs back, and it felt as if talons are scratching on my heart, the pain, oh God, the pain is intolerable! He gave me a fleeting look, braved a smile, and returned his focus on the road. I decided to sing to divert my attention, for I don’t know what else to do to prevent the tears from falling.
I broke into Jason Mraz’s You and I Both. Yeah, I know, comic, like a fucked-up Glee scene but I needed to hear something, anything, even my own voice – to not hear the words being spoken in the silence. I do not want to hear what the silence is saying, so I risked the incredulity of the singing.
When I finished the song, I heard a sniff, but didn’t look his way. Then the silence was broken by the sound of his phone vibrating. I took a quick peek at the display, and everything was revealed to me. Of course, the time has come. This is it. He glanced nervously at me, but did not pick it up.
“Are you going to take that or what?” I finally said.
“Yeah…” he said lugubriously before picking it up.
“Yeah we’re almost there…” he said on the other line. He sounded dead, unhappy, or was it just me making things up? Like I have made things up in my mind a thousand times about him, about us, about everything.
He put the phone back on the dashboard. The silence became stale, and I looked outside the window. This may be my last city ride with him ever. Suddenly, the vastness of the universe dizzied me up; I am but a speck, and now, this speck is going to be wiped away from somebody’s life.
He slowed down in front of an elegant-looking bistro, that’s when I noticed we must be in the heart of the city – where all hip, chic and cool little bistros like this exist. How apt and awful, I thought. How cosy and how sickening. He got out of the car immediately and opened the door on my side, but I remained seated. He called my name, and it sounded anguished, guttural to me.
“How very mean of you to rob me of notice,” I said to him. He didn’t reply. I stepped out of the car and he led the way.
And there she was – her long, jet black hair glowing under the yellow lights. Of course. She, who dropped him in my heart’s doorstep years ago, she, who is now back and decided she wants him back. Oh, they could rot together in hell, I thought.
As if sensing our arrival, she looked behind her and practically beamed when she laid her eyes upon him. He waved back heartily, smiled, and touched my elbow to steer me to that direction. I snatched it back and did not say a thing.
“It’s nice to finally meet you,” she said sweetly. I said nothing, but I managed to at least smile at her.
“Oh and that smile, that famous smile.” she crooned. “Do sit down.” She motioned. I looked at her face, and was once again torn by the unusual beauty it possessed.
He sat beside me, which was a surprise, but it didn’t seem to surprise her. And then, for a brief second, his hand found mine under the table, he gripped it tight, and I gripped it back with panic, and then he let go. And then, no more.
“I’ll leave you two.”
Before I could say anything, he moved away from the table, and left the two of us there.
“How are you?” she asked timidly.
“Fine, just fine. But let’s skip the formality, and just tell me flat out what you want.”
“You really are a hard woman to place. He’s right.” she said. This one does not deserve a response, too.
She addressed me in my name.
“You remember, years ago, when I asked you to take care of him? I know you did, and I’d like to thank you. You’ve been a very good friend to him…”
I drowned out whatever nonsense she’s spouting. She has the nerve to talk to me like this!
“I’d like to take him back.” Those words brought me back to earth.
“Come again?” I asked.
“I said, I’d like to take him back.”
She repeated it! She did! I laughed hysterically at her words. Take him back?! She gave him away and now she decided to take him in again.
“I never took him. You asked me to look after him, and I looked after him not because you asked me to. I’ve been doing it pre-you, during-you, and post-you. I did it because I care for him. Now, you say you’re taking him back? Take him. He was never mine in the first place.”
She looked intensely at me, gauging my words, thinking about underlying meanings, feeling the hurt, the weight and the pain of the words.
“I forgot he tells you almost everything.”
“Yeah. Obviously, the same can be said of you.”
This time, she laughed.
“He loved you, you know.”
“Don’t say that, and don’t let me hear you say that again. Don’t put words where they do not belong.”
“Don’t fool yourself,” she said coolly. “You know it, he knows it, I know it. This little ménage trois has been going on for years and it could not continue.”
“We are just friends.” I said lamely. She laughed again.
“Friends? Don’t make me laugh. Perhaps, you both hid in that travesty. Friendship.” She snorted.
“Fine, you are the honest one. I don’t feel like owing you any truths,” I said, “now that you come in telling me you want him back. I suppose he does not have a choice.”
“Oh he has, or rather, he did. And he chose me in the end. I told you, he loves you, but you know it as well as I do – there can only be one. He loves me best.”
“So what’s with all this grandstanding?” I asked hotly.
“A finality. A cutting of ties. You of all people should understand this.”
“I do. I just don’t understand why you didn’t let him tell me.”
“It’s better this way, trust me.”
“Oh dear,” she said, “are you not glad this is going to be over with? How many nights were you tortured by this? How many curses did you throw to the wind? How many times did you beat up your heart for feeling it for him? And may I ask, why did you not tell him you love him before I did? Oh yes, I remember – you can’t.” She dropped those truths on me hotly, unmindful of the wounds, the blood, the guts.
“I am both doing you a favour. I take back what’s mine, and you can say goodbye to your confused friendship. I am sure the memories are enough to keep you both grounded for a lifetime.” She said casually.
She spoke of nothing but the truth, of course. What we didn’t have the guts to do, she did. Maybe we went on with this plan because to say goodbye straight to each other would be next to impossible. Maybe we went on with this plan because in the end we’re both cowards, hiding in the shadows of each others’ hearts. Maybe we went on with this plan because we have come to the point of no return, and all we can do is move forward.
“I like you a lot,” she told me softly, “so let this go. Let him go.” she said with finality.
“Is this the only way this could end?” I asked.
“Yes. I know him too well, and you, based on his stories. I do love him, you hear? I will take care of him. And I will not give him a chance to think about you, or miss you – as a friend, or as something else entirely.”
“Maggots breed,” I said, “in dead stuff.”
“But as the circle of life goes on, maggots become another thing and they die. And that is the time I have set my heart on. The maggots will die, It will end, when you think it would not.”
“You’re right.” I conceded.
Why should I fight for him when he clearly wants this too?
“You know, you’re all right.” She said.
“Don’t fool yourself that we will ever be bosom buddies.” I said. She smiled.
“I think we already are – indirectly, since the day I dropped that bomb on you.” I smiled grudgingly.
“Let’s keep it at that, as you are so awfully adept at dropping them.” She laughed.
“Thank you.” She said sincerely.
The tears fell at last.
“You tell him goodbye for me.” I said after a while. She nodded, and I stood up and left.
Outside, he was leaning over his car, looking up at the night sky. My breath got caught in my throat, and I choked back the tears. I looked up, and noticed that the moon is hovering so low it seems as if you could reach out and touch it. It casts an eerie silver glow to everything. The moon, the night, the end of a day. It is awfully low and bright tonight.
“Someone I know, or will soon be ‘used to know‘, was, or is, obsessed with the moon. She says senseless facts like the moon causes the rise and fall of tides. I didn’t notice it, but she became the moon in my world, and I have risen and fallen with the tides of her presence. Mostly fallen though, and now, the moon will be gone. I wonder what she’ll say to this? What happens to a planet without a moon?”
I wiped my tears dry and answered.
“She’ll say ‘Fuck you,’ first.” He gave a watery chuckle. “And what happens to a planet without a moon? Well, first, the night sky would be less interesting, there would be no moonlight which would totally suck,” he let out a laugh again. I continued on, “Let’s use the Earth as an example, without the moon, it would revolve faster and the days will be shorter, just around 6 hours. The tidal ebbs and flows would slow dow. Plus, the Moon has a great stabilizing presence, and without it, well, the planet’s tilt would dramatically change over time, granted it will take million of years… oh also, the climate of the Earth is sensitively dependent on the 23.5 degrees tilt of the Earth’s axis, and without the stabilizing presence of the huge Moon, the gravity of the other planets would produce big changes on this angle, like it did with Mars. To summarize, it would be very disastrous.”
He let out a sound impossible to distinguish – was it a laugh or a sob?
“I guess I’d have to live without the Moon…”
“Yeah, starting now.”
He stood up straight looked at me with sadness, but I braved a watery smile. I turned my back and whispered my goodbye.
And I could have sworn my life on it, I heard the wind carry his goodbye to my ear.