If stranger had a name, it would be the awkwardness that hung over our heads at lunch yesterday, the hope of seeing a familiar face, the desire to add an extra chair at our table. It would be the skillful way I avoid his eyes and hands. Every movement your feet makes in that hour is a calculation, every word; measured and uttered in thoughts before anywhere else. Three years ago, the table we sat at and the food we ate was enough to make me sigh in content all day. It’s a different sigh now. One that comes only after you drop me home. Letting go is a lot easier, now that the stranger between us has a name, a face and seems more sombre than us.
He stopped being he yesterday. He had stopped a long while ago, but yesterday I saw that my him was not the him talking. I looked into his eyes. They looked different than they did 9 years ago, when things were small and dreams were a home, a cot, two windows, and the two of us. I know this dream to its dusty little details. I know which my favourite window is, I know who our neighbors are, I know the door makes a creaky noise every time it closes behind us, I know I clean up, I know we don’t have enough money because you know, kids who run away from home to be with each other never have any money, I know the phone never rings because we are so away from everybody. That was the dream for a long time before I saw life closely and narrowed the details down to where? when? and how? He had no answers and clearly neither did I.
And so over a yummy bowl of Creme brûlée yesterday, he and I stopped being us. It’s not over, yet. But it is on its way. I can see it coming and I don’t know if I’ll ever be prepared because I was never the villain in my imagined break up stories. It was always him, in my head, it is always them for some reason. They mess up, they go away, they stop loving me. I am too weak to look at myself, far too perfect in my head to go astray. Then how did I become the villain here in my story? Why didn’t I think about the people he does not want to leave behind when we go live in our small home? Why didn’t I see that the silence between us may grow louder than our laughs and our stories? Why didn’t I see that the lack of real conversations may bother me?
It is like undoing a puzzle, bit by bit at first and then hurriedly. I watched as it all came crumbling down to my feet, a tiny spoon cracking open the yellow mound of Creme brûlée. There was no crack. I lifted my head up, disappointed, to see the creases around the corners of his eyes, shining the way they always did. He wore a big smile. I smiled too. These are the few moments that tell me it can work out between us. I wish he would stop looking happy so we could both move on. Now, he makes me laugh, now he sings, now he isn’t listening to me anymore because we are passing by a mirror and the curves on his biceps are calling out to him.
And then there’s my writing which he only knows of, on account of all the journals I filled with our stories – his and mine – ones that he has never read. Ones that I continue to pore over, looking for some knowledge that I might have had, 9 years ago about this. This silence around Creme brûlée.
It is difficult to admit to yourself when you fall out of love. There aren’t signs nor symbols to tell you when you do, unlike when you are in love where every tear drop is out of feeling lucky and blessed, every smile is a play of memory and desire and every morning is a prayer. Here on the other side, there is a void now which is slowly beginning to fill with everything you don’t say to each other. A pause that appears more than once in a conversation; it twitches and you want nothing more than to wrap it up and put it in your pocket; to let it out only when it is healthier and is sure to inspire thoughtfulness and shared smiles.
It takes longer to dress up now, you pick clothes you don’t find interesting. When you turn back at your door and see the light and warmth in the curtains and the slow, rhythmic rising of fumes from incense sticks, you sigh and hang on to the hope of another Sunday, when all of this will be yours to touch and feel.
You go to familiar places, hoping it will rekindle forgotten desires, now abandoned in limbos – neither here nor there. The walk from the parking lot to the escalator is the hope for a good day. Then you say something, he says something else. Your face freezes in an expression you know he detests but it’s too late to think of what he detests and loves. Or perhaps you don’t care. Within a minute, the promise of a good day goes grinning by, and all you can do is stand there and wait to finish your thought, the fight.
A warped sense of pity and gratitude beckons you to walk along with him and force conversations on him, like squeezing an empty tube for that last remaining blob of toothpaste. But all you get is a set of grunts to match your ridiculous questions. You are only checking to see if the day still has potential, and then in that little distance between discomfort and accusation, you will know.
As you stand in silence on the escalator, you wonder if it always took you so long to get to the fourth floor. It seems as though another floor has been added because it really is taking you longer than usual to get there. Ringing echoes of laughter and memories of stories that you once inflicted on this escalator, this mall whisper behind you as you finally reach that dreaded fourth floor. And then a faint feeling of loveless coma whacks your face and you are left wondering if you just fell out of love.
Two pairs of hands are lifelessly sprawled on the table – they look yellow and tired. Every movement the hand makes is a battle between a desire to end the bickering, yet to not want to reach out and grasp his hand. The food arrives and you feel relief raining all over your insides. Hours later you are fighting the urge to push his weight off your chest while your face appears to be as calm as the moon. Every touch is a memory that your uncle left burnt on your thighs, hips and breasts. You go through with it and wait for it to end. It ends and you go home.
Choultries are depressing in the evenings. Disorderly empty chairs, echoes of laughing relatives bouncing off lazy white walls, broken flowers; water spilled here and there from water fights between running cousins, goodbyes and wishes hanging in the air, the feeling that the last few remaining people on the earth are pulling away, going far away from you.
It just screams emptiness, like my Sunday evenings back when I was in school. Dad watching the news; me, sprawled on the living room floor doing homework and the only ritual I most enjoyed throughout my school – Packing my bag, arranging books according to size, emptying my pencil pouch, cleaning it and then putting everything back again. It was how I coped with having to welcome Monday. I remember the sinking feeling of familiarity and consistent family time that exploded every Sunday.The news, its ads, the songs, the anchor’s dead voice, mom’s walking in and out of the hall bringing food for dad. When I think of it now, it brings an onslaught of tired whys and hows followed by 2 never mores.
It felt like I was living somebody else’s Sunday evening, on borrowed time, in borrowed space. It was not mine, it could never be mine unless I was older enough to do what I wanted to with my Sundays.
I’m old enough today. But there’s always a but.
When I am getting dressed to see you, a vast nothingness of forgotten Sundays opens up and I look at it with an almost bored desire to not be there but still be there. Sometimes, I don’t want you as much as I want you. Some other times, I think of what it would be like to have a whole Sunday for myself, without having to share it with anyone and I smile. Sometimes, I think of having too many Sundays for myself and the promise of solitude thrills me just as much as it scares me. Eventually, the fear of missing you and wanting what I could have had, but can’t now is what holds me back.
Every time, I turn cold, the memory of your laugh makes me warm. The 101 names you have given me on account of various celebratory accidents, the slowness in your movements when you sleep, the rare outbursts of affection that you show me only in my imagination, the languages you have invented and the songs you sing, the words you distort and change to fit your mouth, the way you laugh when you see people fall, the way you won’t stop laughing when I fall; your face and its creases, your hand and its raw warmth, the tightness in your chest and your hugs, the way you caress my head when I weep in your arms.
These are only some of the things that hold me back from going ahead and having at all the Sundays myself. What brings cold logic to the warm, faint beating in my heart and the voice of your laugh is the Choultry; its ugly dullness. It’s how I will be if I am with you.