Letter on a Saturday

It is Saturday again. As I wake up to the chirping of the birds, there is a sense of calm around me. No noise. It is still early in the morning, though later in the day, this silence will be broken by the lawn mowers and garbage collection trucks that are invariably going to make their way into the alley, where right now, only a cat sleeps on top of the trash box. Hidden behind the thick curtain of clouds, the sun tries to shine, not strong enough to light up the window, but its rays make a faint shadow of the window on my floor, marking the beginning of my day.

I look around my room, and there is a pile of mail on my table. The mail came in late yesterday, and I did not get a chance to filter through those. It is always the same: a pile of advertisements, cheap clothes, cheap food, a pizza flyer, and some insurance deals. Today however,  a particular envelope catches my attention. It is addressed to me by name, and is written with a pen. I recognize the handwriting as familiar, but cannot place it. At the bottom right, I see her name. The wandering squirrel.

It was the pen name she used for her blog. We had collaborated for some posts many years ago, when blogs were still a thing. I look her up on the internet; the website has since been discontinued, the posts we wrote, the stories we weaved, all vanished from the internet like the clouds that were now disappearing from the sky, bringing in the blue of the sky and the brightness of the sun to my window. A generator that had been running for the past few hours stops, and it makes me realize that I had completely ignored that noise and had assumed it was just a part of my world. I look out the window, and the sun now glistens onto the river. It is a weird place, this house. On the west, there are the high-rises, some of the tallest buildings in this city, obstructing everything beyond it and making it feel like a box of buildings stacked up, neatly arranged to optimize for the most people in the least space, and feels like a page out of a dystopian novel. And on the east, where my eyes frequently rest on mornings like these, the river flows with its ebb and tide, the boats ferrying people to and from the dock, a mixture of tourists, workers, laborers, and high tech engineers.

What could she be writing about? I try to guess as I carefully slide my finger inside the envelope to tear it with the least damage possible. When did she move to this country? It had been almost five years since she moved here, so I must have met her around seven years ago, in a different land, in a different world. Was that the last time I met her? I try to think about that evening, my brain short-circuiting the details and filling in the pieces, adding bits of inaccuracy throughout my story. It was a cold evening, so it had probably been one late in the Fall, maybe October. As I think about the evening we met, my eyes scan the letter, trying to summarize it. I would probably read this a couple more times during the day to make more sense of it, to read between the lines, but for now, a summary is all I need.

“Hey”, she writes. She goes on to explain some of the current stuff in her life that I skim through. As she moves into the second paragraph, she introduces the main theme of her letter. She is getting married in November, and would like for me to attend her wedding. I try to imagine her in a white dress. Pictures of our graduation float up in the air in front of me, then vanish into thin air and my eyes gaze into the wall ahead, a white wall with some picture frames, of which none have her picture. I try to count the years it has been since I last saw her. It was probably six years ago, she was walking across the street from me. I did not muster up the courage to walk up to her, so I let it be. So much time has passed; I wonder where she got my address, though it would not be difficult to guess; we have only two common friends here in the States, both of whom know my address.

I open my phone and try to look her up on Instagram, hoping I will catch a picture of how she looks now. I try to imagine but the only pictures that come to me are from seven years ago; much must have changed since then. I hit a dead end with her private profile, and so I let it be. It was probably best I kept away from all of this. I get out of the bed and put a pot of coffee to boil. The trees on the west have almost turned red. The smell of fall mixes with the aroma of coffee and I am transported to a world where she and I sit together under a bench, in the autumn of a different country, sipping our coffees and interlocking our hands; she looks into my eyes and smiles, then rests her head on my shoulders. So much could have been different.

Morning Coffee

It was seven in the morning when I came back to my place. It took a bit of effort in finding my keys, but soon I was able to open the door and get in. I live in a small 400 square feet apartment. There was a strong smell of beer, mixed with a stench of what was probably yesterday’s dinner; I had ordered in some food from an Asian store nearby, they serve pretty generous amounts of ramen.

Although some would think my place is small, it actually feels quite big to me. Having lived alone for so many years, I find it easier to maintain a small place. I keep it very clean, almost as if the sanctity of my place reflects the calmness within me. However, a man also needs to earn something. And last year, after losing my job to the pandemic, I decided to rent out half of my apartment. I measured my living space and just halfway across, I placed a pair of curtains, a very dark shade of blue. I moved around some stuff to empty out the space, and put it out for subletting. It was not a lavish arrangement, and my hopes were to have someone rent that at any price they want, which could pay for some of my living expenses down the road.

After some days, I started getting applicants. Most of them would look at the place and turn away, the usual complaints being it was too small, or too dingy, or that the place smells a lot like a public toilet; which, by all means, is as false as it could be, since I clean the house practically every day, having not a lot of other things to do. Two weeks into this search, a man came by. He was short and dark, and for some reason, I felt an instant connection with him. His face reminded me of someone, someone I had once seen somewhere, and the face had an uncanny resemblance to him, though who that was, I could not remember anymore. His voice was deep, a bit deeper than mine. The winning feature, however, was that he looked strong enough to fend off burglars, contrasting to the feeble bone structure that I had.

“I am Tom,” he introduced himself. “I will pay you a hundred dollars more than what you have asked for. But I need to move in immediately.”

“Fine by me,” I said.

And just like that, I had found a new roommate.

That was ten months ago. It seemed for a while that he was a nice guy; he stayed on the other side of the curtains, and sometimes even shared his food with me on nights when I did not feel like cooking. He had a crooked smile, and it reminded me of the time I smiled similarly because of a tooth infection. Did he have a tooth infection, I asked? He said he did not have one. We did not speak on the subject after that.

Today, however, I despise the man. He is better than me at almost everything, including the one place where I never found much luck: women. As I climb onto my bed, I can hear his bed creaking and the moaning just beside me. He has brought another woman again, and as they end up in their climax, I do too. A shameful indulgence. Everything goes silent for a while, and then I hear some noises in the kitchen now. He has drawn the curtains aside, so that the sunlight falls on my eyes and blinds me for a moment.

I get up and pull the curtains again, making the room dark as it was. I look around now, clothes flung around on the chairs, some socks lying around the couch; a trash bag filled with beer bottles just beside the door, along with a pizza box. I wonder when this area was last cleaned. I put the kettle on, warm some water and gulp it down. Then I go and open the windows, sifting through a layer of dust, and inhale the fresh morning air. I hear a humming from the kitchen, a tune I have ever so often heard but fail to place the source.

I walk into the kitchen, pretending it to be a coincidence, but my real wish is to see the woman who was just moaning. Is she good? Is she beautiful? He brings around all kinds of women, so for me, this exploration is a fascinating part of the morning. I enter the kitchen and she looks at me. Our eyes meet. She smiles at me and says, “You are back.”

Why does this look so familiar? Why do I feel I have seen her before? I have definitely seen her before. I try to press my mind deeper into where I met her the last time. Now I remember, it was a few years ago, something about a café, we were drinking coffee. No, that wasn’t it. Something about a wedding. Yes, it was definitely a wedding; she was there, and I was there too. Who was getting married? Well, not important.

“I know you, I have seen you somewhere,” I tell her.

“I have put on a pot of coffee for you, would you like some?” she asks.

And then it all strikes to me. For a moment, I remember the walks in the parks, the movie nights together, dinners at fancy restaurants, hiking through mountains, and flights to distant countries. I remember kisses and fights, and the warmth of love. The moment passes, and it all vanishes.

“We were lovers,” I say. She smiles back, affirming my thoughts.

Why was she here, after all these years, in bed with someone else? I wanted to shout, be angry, but I could not form the words. All I could come up with was, “So are you with him now?”

She looked at me, her eyes slightly moist.

“Are you hallucinating again, dear husband?” she says.

“Don’t you put it on me. Why the hell are you sleeping with Tom?”, I ask.

“There you are again. There is no Tom dear, we have been married for ten years now, it is just you and me. You must be tired, you were out all night. Here, drink this. You will feel better,” she says.

“We are not married,” I protest, drinking the coffee she pours into my cup.

As the coffee goes down my throat, I feel my throat constricting, my eyes closing in, and the world around me becoming darker moment by moment.

I cannot see clearly anymore. “What have you given me?” I ask.

“It will all be fine,” she says, and I drift into my dreams. I can feel it though, she is walking back to Tom, and now they are both looking at me, and smiling at each other.

The Alley

There is sometimes an obsession, bordering on the line of guilt, to be alone and in silence, without the eyes of anyone on the work you do or the life you live. You are the only one on this planet and the world is contained within you; you are one with the world, with the universe as it is. And that the sole purpose of this life is to have no purpose, for you are here for eternity as long as the world is alive. For you have the power to diminish this universe to a thought and flick it around, were you to do it, but you would not. You understand the responsibility that comes with the power, and all that is living in it, living within you, much as the child that is born from you, that comes into this world and goes from this world.

That is perhaps the almighty power that someone might care for, that someone might want, and be obsessed with it forever. For him, it does not matter if or not the day follows the night, or if the sun follows the rain. All that matters in this tiny shell within which he lives, is if he is able to control his desires, and on his whims repress them, surface them, or amplify or diminish them. Feelings are but another dimension of his world which he can carve out on his will. And for those that he suggests that those feelings be missing, he can coin stoic words that make them feel proud of their non-feelings, a paradoxical world in which some have lost the capacity of feeling, and yet feel the absence of it deeply.

Were such thoughts to come to me, I would have been horrified at the premise, at the suggestion that we are in fact, capable of such acts, as to withdraw the feelings from someone else. But for the woman who has been smothered with love, suffocated to the point where she is not sure if breathing would help or harm her, who looks into the fire and sees the shadows of those who taught her how to love, but alas, forgot to teach her how not to love, so that now she is swaying like a pendulum between extremities, love and hate, fire and ice, being burned in the morning and still freezing in the winter night; if you would ask her if it is possible that one man holds the key to everything that is dear to her: her life, her love, her thoughts, wishes, dreams; she would look at you with her empty eyes, eyes too tired to respond back to your loaded question. She would look at you deeply and make you feel uncomfortable until you take your eyes off her and flee the scene into one of the dark alleys around the corner.

And when you reach the depth of the alleys, with no lights shining except the moonlight falling on patches of water on the sides, you would look up, and when you see the moon in its thin crescent trying to light up the darkest parts of the town, you would remember the fading lamp that you had seen in her hands, the lamp trying its best but illuminating nothing but her eyes; and her eyes would glare back at you, promising to tell you all the stories that you have wanted to know, all the darkness that you have attempted to kill, all the alleys that you have attempted to cross, splashing water across as you jump and run, trying to make it out as soon as possible.

But the alley is never-ending, the darkness is never-ending, and soon you realize you are stuck in the maze with no clue of how to get out, and the moon cannot guide you out because it looks the same from everywhere. The only clues you get are some pictures hanging on the walls of the maze, memories from your life, memories that you had erased from your mind; only to realize that they have found a new place now, on the walls of this maze, and you touch them but the papers crumble down; weathered by the heat and the rains, they were not kept as safely as you had kept them in your mind, but now it is an irreversible path, you cannot bring back those you have lost, and the darkness engulfs the walls once again, and all you have is the moon to guide you, deeper and deeper, with no way out.

Metamorphosis

A summer night,
And after so many years, I sit down to write to you,
A thought that has been troubling me of late,
Would you recognize me if I were to,
Come up to you as I am today?

Time changes how the river flows,
The rocks on the mountains,
Today are pebbles in the sea,
I pick one up as it comes to the shore,
Wondering if the mountain misses his rocks,
Knowing that he can never get back,
What once belonged to him.

I laugh at that thought,
For isn’t it true, that mountains will crumble too,
And mix with the sea one day?
Is not everything in the present,
Just in the present, and every fleeting moment,
Changing the world around me in myriad ways?

The air I breathed in, is not of the world anymore.
And I feel my feet wearing off,
As I walk the sands tirelessly.
There is no end to the sands, do you know?
They were all mountains once.

Memories, much like the air,
Forever changing, so much that our minds,
Filling up the missing gaps,
Make them into stories that were never really told,
And actions, that were never really taken.

So if I were to come up to you,
And ask you if you would rather hate me,
For what I was,
Or try to fall in love with me,
For what I have become,
What would you say?

Lost

On some days, the mornings are the worst. I wake up feeling lost in this world; no one to hold, no one to see, no one to listen to. The emptiness in my heart complements the emptiness in my house, and a thousand chirps of the birds outside cannot fill the void within.

Those are the days I don’t want to wake up at all. I want to sleep and go back in my dreams, to a world where things are better, where love is abundant, where people’s hearts house hope in them, where apathy is unbeknownst to those around me.

I dream of a world with all the same people that I hang out with, with all the same things that we do. I do not desire new avenues or adventures, and I do not crave for experiences absent from this world. All I wish for is some love to be shown towards me. In my dreams, love comes unconditionally, in various forms and shapes.

When people smile, I wish to see the ingenuity in them. When they come to me with questions, I do not want to solve it for them. I wish to be empathetic, try to help them solve their questions on their own, and be there for them. That is the world I wish to live in.

And when I come back home, I wish I could see her. But in my dreams, she comes back and wants to see me too. We smile and make love, and the world around me goes dark and the only thing I can see are her eyes. But then the dream breaks, as shattered glass on mirrors, reflecting light in weird ways so that your face appears contorted, revealing the truth; if even the shattered glass can show the world your true face, how do you think you’ll manage to keep it hidden for long?

But I don’t have anything to hide, do I? I want to wake up now, wake up to a morning where I don’t feel lost anymore, when the window brings in hope and love along with the sunlight, and brings in compassion and empathy along with the rains, so that I can soak myself in them, bask in all the feelings, and feel complete once more. Or be lost in it with you.

Uninvited

I sat amidst the noise, everyone talking to everyone, no one really listening; everyone trying to explain how their life had been challenging, interesting, demanding, difficult. No one seemed to have had their lives easy. Everyone had faced hardships, struggled in the wake of it, and overcame obstacles.

Even the kids. Listening to them talk, I realized how everyone in this room felt they were deprived of happiness. They were smiling, speaking with their friends, catching up on lost time; it surely seemed like something to be happy about. I was happy. I was here to meet no one. But as I looked through the crowd, I saw many familiar faces. It felt as if I had met them in another lifetime, in another world, where they had described to me how they were happy with what they had.

It was sunny today. That was another reason to be happy. The snow had thawed, and although in some nooks and crannies under the shade of the fire escape stairs one could still spot a lump of ice, waiting patiently for the summer, the sky above shone blue with the sun blazing wild.

I take in a deep breath. I am sitting in a room that is usually a lobby of a building, but has today been transformed into a make-shift cafeteria to serve lunch to everyone present here. Old and young.

As my eyes scanned through the place, the oddities stood out. The elderly talked only with the elderly, and the kids hanging out only with kids. The elders still had my accent, been brought up in another part of the world and immigrated here in hopes and dreams. Dreams to live in a better world. Dreams to love in a better world. Their contented faces make me feel that they achieved what they came for.

The kids on the other hand, had the usual foreign accent that I never caught up to. It seemed to fit them well, just like imported T shirts which you’ve never imagined you’d wear but once you wear them, they fit so well as if they were custom-made for you. I stop looking at everyone, close my eyes and take in a deep breath, inhaling everything around me. Along with the smell of the food cooking in the kitchen, and the scents of the people huddled near me, unaware that I am present, I smell pretense, I smell impatience. I look into the eyes of the boy beside me. He doesn’t look at me, but his eyes tell me his story.

He tells me he feels awkward speaking to me because he doesn’t know me. He says he thinks if he tried, he would probably understand me too. I look at him now, he has my full attention. When he realizes I want to listen to his story, he gets nervous. No one has paid so much attention to him. He coils back into his world, his eyes betraying his thoughts, and I stop looking at him, leaving him to his own. Maybe his world isn’t ready for me yet.

I look up and see that a queue has formed now. It is a short queue now, and now it is already getting longer. It is as if everyone was waiting for the first person to get in line. Once it starts, it is a domino, people piling up against each other, racing to be the first to get in line, but only moments ago no one wanted to be the first. Everyone is lining up for lunch. There’s a faint smile on everyone’s face now. Apart from one kid who is shouting in exhilaration. In this part of the universe, food unites people.

I walk slowly and get in line. A couple more people join behind me. Soon the line is served. I make small talk with the servers. They are varied in age; the kids seem especially excited to be helping their parents in serving the people. Maybe there is a ray of hope and happiness that we find in helping each other.

I eat my meal in solitude and start walking back. It is a short walk on a steep hill to reach the bus station. At the bus station I plug on my headphones ready to listen to a podcast. A Korean girl comes and stands beside me but I pay her no heed. Soon she is waving at me, gesturing to remove the headphones. I look at her, wondering if she is interested in a conversation or if she just has a question. I cannot make that out from her smile. It is inviting, but too often it is the same.

I take off my headphones. The podcast is still playing in the background. She says her battery is dead so could I tell her where her bus would come. I ask her where she wants to go, and it turns out to be in the opposite direction, as often happens, people meeting only to go opposite ways; I show her the way. She starts walking away but it starts raining, so she runs. It snows for a moment but then the rain is gone. The sun comes out again. I patiently wait for my bus to arrive.

Looking back, it wasn’t a bad day after all. In the bus, everyone is talking to everyone, no one really listening. I listen to all and one for a while, but no one is really talking to me, so I stop eavesdropping. I put on my headphones, and swap my podcasts with music. Then as the world carries on draining its life, I melt into my dreams like the snow on the streets.