I would like to be the girl who meets you on the corner of the street, I think, just by the red Post Office Box, two people colliding on their way to work, trying to move around the other but ending up blocking the other’s path with each attempt, smiling in spite of ourselves.
But of course eventually our feet would find their way past the other – nothing stays together forever – but as we walk off, a little breathless, in opposite directions, both our hearts would be lit by a secret glow to smoulder quietly through our day.
Later on, as evening draws close, the sky deepening, a faint wash of yellow spilling out across the horizon, when my heart has already forgotten you and is busily trying to slough off the day’s debris, I will visit a bookshop, just down the street from my apartment, because being around books, which are like bits of souls left behind by their authors, always make me feel less alone.
You will be there, too, just by coincidence, browsing the shelves – but I won’t notice you, not at first, mired as I am in my melancholy. You will see me, however, and recognise me, glancing back down at the blurb of the book in your hand without really seeing the words. You will replace the book on the shelf then take down another, blindly, glancing back over at me as you do so, unsure and uncertain.
Meanwhile, true to my personality, I will be oblivious to my surroundings, flipping through book after book with a calm ferocity, unaware that what might truly ease my heart stands only a few feet away. I will look sad, and you will see that I look sad, and feel sad, too. Many things will be roiling inside my mind (for I am not really seeing the words, either): fears of failure, the jealousy I feel towards my contemporaries who have carved out writing careers and now have families of their own, terrified that perhaps both conjugal and creative bliss shall be denied me in this lifetime due to my own inadequacy or stupidity or ugliness or lack of talent or discipline or lack of something. Perhaps, as I sink deeper into these thoughts, the world will a blur a little, hot tears filling my eyes, and my hand will shake so hard the book will fall from my grip.
Two outcomes can then branch out from what happens in the next moment: either I wipe my eyes, scolding myself, and pick up the book and put it back on the shelf and leave the store, or you pick it up and hand it to me without a word because no words are needed. In real life, cynicism impels me to believe the former would occur; you, perhaps, would be too crippled by a fear of rejection and your own sense of inadequacy to do anything, watching helplessly as I leave the store, telling yourself probably nothing would have come of it, anyway. But I am in sore need of some delight in my life right now, so let us pretend that it is latter that occurs. I will look up, surprised, blinking through the wet haze as I reach for the book, then blinking again, in quick succession, this time in recognition.
“Oh, thank you,” I would say, my voice full of shock, too taken aback at seeing you again so soon that I will not have time to re-assemble the false, affable persona I shed after leaving work. Before you I would stand, very sad and lonely and broken, all the cracks showing, in all likelihood unable to meet your gaze from shame.
If it were some sentimental moment in a romantic movie, you’d probably lift your hand up to my face and wipe away a year with your finger. I think I would hate you if you did that. I hate anything sentimental, even though I am a desperately romantic creature myself, which is perhaps why I do not like myself very much. There is a disconnect between my love and my hatred; the two emotions mixed up where they should not be mixed up, which, you, if you have ever cooked anything, will know always leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. Instead, you will just look down at the book I am holding, and say, “I like that author’s work. Have you read anything else by him?”, in so casual and calm a way that I will fall in love with you almost instantly.
A nice dinner at a cafe, under amber lighting, would be next on the agenda if this were a romantic movie, the two of us discovering all the myriad things we have in common, falling deeper and deeper in love by the second as we sip our cappuccinos. But that is, again, too sentimental for my tastes. Too easy. I would rather have us leaving the book store together, empty-handed, awkwardly trying to build up a conversation as we walk down the street with a good amount of space between us. Where do you live? Oh, just down the street…what about you? Oh, yes, just across the road from here. Ah, so now we know then how close our homes are, just a hop, skip and jump away, and the knowledge will hang between us strangely heavy, as all unspoken knowledge, good or bad, does.
It is a very long walk home. There are gaps in the conversation, silences during which I act nonchalant, observing the nightlife swirling around me in pulses and blips of coloured light, even as my heart tosses like an alarmed horse. Soon we will fall back on the default topic people use to find common ground – work – and you will tell me you work at this company, doing this for them, and I will tell you that I work at this company, doing that for them.
But after a while, digging deeper, I will find out you are in fact trying to start a business on the side, selling artwork you paint, and you will find out that I am a writer, published sporadically here and there, but yet to hit my big break. We will commiserate on the impossibility of turning your passion into your job in this society, not voicing the true fear, that perhaps we are not good enough to truly succeed at our passions. At this point the air between us will be weighted, a canvas roof caving in with its load of rainwater accumulated overnight.
As my apartment is closer than yours, we will stop at it first. I will force a smile onto my lips, knowing you know it to be forced, and spit out a cheery “Goodbye! Have a good night!”, my heart still sad but safely hidden so it can be sad all on its lonesome, and you will politely return the farewell. And we will part, once again walking in opposite directions, me up the steps into my empty apartment, you a lonely figure crossing the road, this time each of our hearts heavy as stones inside our chests.
It is very likely, if this were a real story, that that would be the end of it. For you see, there is always an end to the magic, and it makes no difference whether it comes before you meet and kiss and move in together, or afterwards, when you are married and have children and are old and have long stopped sleeping in the same bed. This is because there was no magic in the first place; we all made it up, in our heads, working in tandem to build an intricate and beautiful illusion. Everyone eventually finds out, once they have lived long enough, that life is but a never-ending sense of dissatisfaction. Each time we think we have found something to make us whole, it falls into the void within us and disappears, some faster or slower than others, whereupon we try, never learning, to find something else to fill it, rinse, wash and repeat, until the true end, death.
Far better would it have been if we had met each other at the corner marked by the red Post Office Box then never saw the other again. That way, at least a little of that magic would have been preserved as a sweet memory, to be taken out during lonely hours and turned over this way and that, embellished here and there, like a present we cannot open and can only wonder at what it holds. It is hard to say who feels the greater misery, the one who can never open the present, or the one who opens the present and thus dispels the magic, the sense of possibility; all I know is that we must be grateful for whatever gifts come our way, and keep a great deal of wrapping paper in our drawers for others.
But this is not real, I am writing this alone in my room as the sun sets outside the window, so let us pretend that we do meet again, years from now, a successful artist and an established writer, on a plane or in a grocery store or at a resort, this time, as we catch the other’s eye, smiling at each other in way that feels like both an end and a beginning.