People - each one of them took away a piece of me, and replaced it with one of their own. I know I might never see them again; I know they might just be around the corner, whose eyes I catch for that transient moment; I know.
I look upon people as characters in a narrative; see random encounters as dots that link together on a collective plotline. But my story does not have a timeline; I have no need for constancy. I do not know if that makes the people I meet seem more human or less so. I am afraid of seeing them as anything more or less than what they are, just as how I am afraid of seeing myself through my own eyes.
My series of settings began with the interior of a train - it being almost my second home. I love the changing landscape. Whenever I was on the train, I would finger the unseen threads woven around me, connecting all of us passengers on board. You were the first person I looked out for each time. When you were not in immediate sight, I would pick a thread and follow it through misleading loops and tangles, but I knew I would always be led back to you. Because I saw you at every station; with every turn of the head, you were somewhere nearby. All I could think of were those six-letter phrases when I looked at you. Love me, I whispered. Save me, I added, almost as an afterthought. After all, Salvation is a provision excessively handed out by religion and well doers who try to reclaim themselves while saving others, but never do. For all their help, they merely end up with extra baggage of lost souls awaiting redirection. You turned back, and I looked away. I was afraid of seeing myself in you.
I sat diagonally opposite you. I watched you watch me; random pieces of paper forgotten in your lap, pink highlighter hovering over the words come home to me while The Carpenters sang “I Need to Be in Love” through my earphones. Your eyes asked me what I was waiting for. I smiled and nodded in your direction. You could guess, I was sure.
I alighted before you, not at our usual destination. I stood in my train and saw you lean forward, searching. Circumstances challenged us to defy the silence strangers are so accustomed to. But we were no more than cowards, incapable of punching Fate in the face, yelling a stream of curses, while running off with our stolen destinies.
My disappointment filled up my absence in your presence.
I stepped out of the train with the ghost of you next to me and quietly contemplated as you attached yourself to my heart. Overflowing with the love I could not give you, I entered the doorway of a Chapel in time for Holy Communion. As I walked down the aisle, I saw you kneeling in one of the pews. Your conviction in Christianity inspired me. I envisaged how backs turned and pillars of support now form the debris of a past when you were fulfilled even by malcontent. When you gazed so fondly at Mother Mary, my dear sister, did you imagine tears of scarlet running down her cheeks, weeping not for humanity’s sake, but rather, for your own selfish plight? You were not there when they crucified her son. You only knew the fleeting ache of separation, of your loss. What could you tell me, which I did not already know myself?
“Why are you here today?” you asked.
“Not for repentance, confession or solace. I come
here for the last time because I am going away.”
I cannot join hands with you as followers of Christ; sin still tugged on my other arm like a pestering child requiring my attention here and now. You see, don’t you, how I cannot get away, at least, not for long? I left you still on bended knees, clutching the rosary like a continuous lifeline. You forgot that it too, could break.
I walked out to the echo of falling beads.
I did not know how long I stood there, observing the Holy Communion. While they engaged in a religious trance, I spilled the excesses of my love into the spiritual well of the believers and wondered if it would form residues that coagulate at their centres. I felt parched from the spiritual barrenness, and stumbled upon an oasis in a kopitiam. We were dying, and feeling more alive than ever. Who cares about time, when we haven’t got anymore of it to waste? I thought, perhaps we can stay alive gasping for breath just above the surface, submerged in our partial oblivion. You foretell your life, and others’, in the residues of cup after cup of Kopi-O. But you must already know, black in any arrangement always brews death.
“How much for the coffee?” I asked you, my fingers pressed against the glass, separating myself from black.
“A lifetime of regrets,” you replied. Your eyes tore through my adopted nonchalance, and I felt the compelling need to leave you.
But you came round instead, clearing tables, stacking plates and wiping away the remnants of the last meal. You pushed a cart overflowing with leftovers of someone else’s burdens, intentionally left behind in an attempt at forgetfulness. You helped me to start out on a clean slate too. I felt humbled in your presence, my gratitude displayed in downcast eyes, while others sidestepped your path, afraid of accumulating pain.
The tarot card deck spread showed that my Empress’s desire for renewed artistic ambition clashed with your Hierophant’s need for the old-world tradition. Were you so weighed down by other people’s past that you can no longer move on?
So soothsayer, did you ever work hand-in-hand with the bellboy of lost baggage?
I donned a shade of grey, defying black, rejecting white. I felt myself decolorizing in the sun. And there you were again, stationed in your chair with wheels in the direct glare of the midday sun. Before a practised look of pathos could be thrown in my direction, I turned away. The thankless heart selfishly holds back sympathy for a phenomenon commonly seen and cited everyday. My patronizing eyes settle upon the outreached palms strategically positioned in a begging gesture; the packets of tissues sold at outrageous prices; and the scruffy look of a liability to society. I was shallow, and chose only what I wanted to see as I condemn, as I see.
Knowingly, I missed out on the earnest look in your soulful eyes; your unfaltering spirit; the pride played down by circumstances and the stigma you were subjected to.
The accidental rain pelted down on us and we quickly moved away to stand side by side on the covered walkway, separated by perceived normality. Is that how it is like, passerby blur into a nature indefinable?
I noticed your gaze on me. A trifle annoyed, I turned to meet the sight of your smiling face, a packet tissue in your hand.
"No, I will not buy the packet of tissue. And no, I will not spare a little change," I was rude, but I did not care. After all, what respect did you command by shamelessly jumping at every opportunity to solicit business out of someone else's pity?
But your smile did not pale.
With a slurred speech, you replied, "No, Miss, I see that you are wet from the rain, thought you would like to have something to wipe yourself with before you catch a cold. No charge."
For the lack of a better word, I silently accepted the packet of tissue as my arrogance was silently cast aside as well.
You bestowed me with a final grin and looked elsewhere. And that was when I saw you for the very first time, with a gaze fixated at a distant future that mingled with the rain that will fall on us all.
The rain barely wet my clothes, but it soaked through my skin, past my apathy and came to rest at a place where shame laid dormant. I was not prepared for self-reproach so I fled to the airport terminals for the cheap thrills of temporary escape. The duality of the word terminal fascinates me as it contradicts and agrees simultaneously: the termination of life versus life as continuous but altering where people embark and disembark on different journeys. I was circulating around on the conveyor belt, would you push the pause button?
When I angled my head skywards in a particular direction, I could almost see you in the cockpit, piloting your life, trailing your dreams to far-off destinations before landing at a runway on the other end of my own. Could you now see what you never could before, when you looked at me, as if through me - the long aerobridge to a different flight?
I recalled how I could once extend my hand and touch you beneath inhibition and kiss away my own fears that you now drew away from.
I missed you. But time could pale even that.
“Where are you going?” I thought you would never ask.
“I think I might just be going back to you,” I said.
You reminded me of someone I met for a long time, but never knew.
Ultimately, I am not airbone like you; I was born without the set of wings built for physical flight. I think I need to feel the tangible ground under me, as my writing spirit takes flight, destinations determined by random numbers on window plates. Like you, I dangled my legs over the bus stop seat, too high for our feet to reach the ground. And with nowhere to go, your ez-link card became the only ticket to somewhere else other than here. Your world ended as far as the bus service could take you. What is the point, I asked. You will return, you will always return in the end. You looked at me with disregard, thinking I did not understand the desire to ride against the traffic. I was once you. With a few articles of clothing, my journal and ten bucks in my wallet, I thought I could survive the world. That was why I was back here with you. I needed another shot at escape. Sounds familiar?
“What are you looking at?” you demanded to know, glaring hard, daring me to avert my eyes.
“My reflection,” I answered, leaving you to ponder.
Yes, my reflection was what I saw in the crystal ball, along with your image and yours, and yours as well. I am not one for divination, but sometimes one needs to relinquish control in order to discover new directions. There was one occasion amongst many others, when my horoscope presented me with a forewarning: You may have run-ins with an artist or two from another sphere. Before your representative planet, the moon, finishes its orbit, if these have not resolved themselves, move on to the new artists in your own world. Forget your strange encounter.
I first traced the outline of your body against the field. Your pale skin a contrast against the grass patch – white on green. I began to pick up your broken easel, torn sketches, paints and charcoal pencils, carelessly discarded a distance away from your lying form. You held my hand to stop me – perfection could not be compromised. I dipped my fingers into you, and dripped dry yourself on me. Were you the only player of my game of Pictionary, defining and portraying me with such wry precision I thought myself transparent?
Words in images:
Strange how I fit into you, I sang Vienna Teng’s lyrics to you, in my tuneless sort of way. You understood my obsession with words, my need to exorcise. You said my words inspired you as you created images, re-presenting my words in your most familiar medium.
Images in words:
Strange how you fit into me. We penned words on paper made from the sap of our hearts - blue on red. The image of your body was camouflaged by my words, on words, on words. Each time, I wrote on your face a gentle caress; on your lips a kiss from mine; around your waist an embrace; on your shoulders the slight pressure of my chin; in between your fingers, the light grasp of my own, against your neck the perfect fit of my head - so you may still feel my lingering touch long after I was gone; so you may still paint me from the memories of my words.
Words in images in words:
Strange how we fit each other. You painted while I wrote. We spoke in hand-drawn images and writings. Nobody could hear us; everyone listened in on us. We stretched out on the field, the world beneath us and above us at the same time. Take me down to the paradise up above. I felt I could do great things. I played God and named every random thing you pointed to, reading inquisitiveness and devotion in your gaze.
But I soon found myself crumbling into a disarray of punctuations and jumbled words; defecating ghosts of past encounters; shedding dead skin that smelt uncannily like black coffee and shame; mutating into trains and chapels and bus stops and open fields and airports and people and you.
You packed me all up and sent me back to where I could remain whole.
All of you constitute a singular you. We are not exclusively different, are we? You, me, us, are just synonyms. I never learn names, never stopped long enough to do so. I am afraid what labels will do to me. I haven’t got any more room to spare. Get a bigger house you say? Maybe in another life, I will.
I am your patchwork design, but the artist’s name is my own.
Yet, I know my name also belongs to every other individual out there, and his or her names are my own.
A journey can be written in five pages, or five thousand, yet never be able to reach the endpoint. Where am I now, on my own plotline?
I need to do something, anything, with clichéd unbridled passion, driving on with a force so compelling I can only cease with the resigned understanding that even everything will never be enough.
I speak to my insatiable self and know there is only one means to go on - Take aim, and miss.