Dear Subconscious (Those were your words, not mine)

“Well, do you ever still think about us? About what we shared?” Her tone is somewhat insouciant, but a subtle curiosity clings to the back of everything she says. Her words settle for a few moments while I put a Marlboro Gold in my mouth and light it. My heart thumps against my chest slowly but powerfully. Not a combination I recall experiencing before. Each beat surges through my torso.

I let out smoke through my nostrils.
“Do you?” I eventually respond with my eyes on the potted areca palm in front of me.
She crosses one stretched leg over the other, swirling the water around her. I’m sat on the edge of the bathtub. We’re in complete darkness save for the candles she lit.
“I used to all the time,” she begins after a thought. “It’s because you left a deep, deep impression on me. Kind of like how an owner of cattle might press a branding iron onto the flesh of his livestock. You were the one who gave me my first taste of love. Or at least what I thought love was. How perfect was that summer we first met. When was it now?…”
“It was 2003.”
“Yes, that was it. Doesn’t feel like four years ago, does it?”

She raises her arms to the sides of the tub. Then she extends her right leg, drips of water and bubbles slithering down from her foot to her thigh, back into the water. She then bends the leg, bringing it close to herself.

“Anyway. Remind me again how we met exactly. I know you must have replayed that moment in your head over and over after I’d left you.”
I blow out smoke and say nothing. Without looking, I can feel her glaring powerfully at me. It’s difficult to tell whether she’s being playful with the remark, or if she’s being slyly devious. Despite her sustained nonchalance, though, I still feel those echoes of curiosity around the room.

“I ran into Adriana, and you were with her. It was a quick hi-bye but even within that small space of time, I was slightly awestruck by the look you gave me… your smile, your eyes, I thought you looked amazing.” I stop here, contemplating motionlessly. “So the same day, I insisted that she gave me your number.”
I toss the end of the Marlboro Gold out through the small window.

“It didn’t take two days for me to receive a call from you. What immediately interested me is that you saw what you wanted, and pursued it. You and I then met three days later. From the first day, everything was so natural. I felt I could open myself and not worry about what pours out in front of you. You gave me that kind of space. A space which I could share with you and be entirely myself, a space where I didn’t feel as though I needed to suppress parts of myself. And as much as I offered you the same space, you were hesitant, never wanted to pour yourself out. Though I hadn’t realised this at the start.”

I mull over her words. She’s right. Simply put, she was willing to give me all of her when, on the other hand, I gave her hardly anything. She continues.

“Our first months were as bliss as that first summer we spent together. Then problems between us started to arise, mostly due to your passiveness and lack of effort. We were so young. We could have grown together.”

She pulls in her other leg and submerses her body in the water, arms are crossed over the stomach I used to lay my head on.
Casually she asks me if I remember our first kiss. Amidst the dimness of the room, I know her eyes are low and her face bares a faint smile of pleasant reminiscence. She made me wait so long for that kiss. We saw each other almost daily through the summer, and it wasn’t until one mid-autumn evening that she eventually allowed me to kiss her. We’d gone to a restaurant. She wore a crimson red dress which made her stand out like a rose beneath the brightly moonlit sky. We were having so much that we’d lost track of time and her mother called.

Reaching the corner from where she stayed, we stood under the gleaming moon clutching onto one another, sharing a few last words and smiles. We both didn’t want the night to end. I could feel it in her embrace. We looked each other in the eyes and said nothing for a short while. She then drew closer to me slightly with narrowed eyes. I also drew close, and gently laid my lips against hers. It was all euphoria. My hands caressed her amorously as we kissed with flaming passion. We didn’t want to pull away. But she had to go.

Yes. Flaming passion, she says after a long silence. I sigh and reach for a cigarette, and she asks me for one.
“You don’t smoke.”
“I do, actually.”
“That’s a shame. You hated that I was a smoker and said you’d never become one.”
“That was a whole four years ago. I’m not the same young girl anymore. Times change, people change.”
I edge closer to her, she sits up and sticks her neck forward. Then, struggling to make out any details of her face, I put a cigarette to her lips, and light it saying,
“I guess the real shame is the fragility of human consistency.”
She exhales and retorts with,
“Humans are bound to change though. It’s something we can’t afford to see as a shame because it’s a human condition. Maybe what the shame is, is the existence we are born into without choice of condition. We grow, and our perceptions widen. As time moves on and as we find ourselves in different situations, we all go through our own personal natural metamorphosis which is likely to contradict or drastically alter from previous natures of ours. Whether its’s our opinions and views, the way we carry ourselves, our character, habits, likes, dislikes, whatever it is, we change.”

A quietness follows. The burning candles flicker. She appears to be brooding over what she said with just as much regard as I am.  Raising herself to a standing position, water and bubbles stream down her slender form. She gives her light brown hair a backstroke, then drains the water and steps out of the bathtub. I stare at the areca as she carefully dries herself down next to me with fine grace. Placing the towel back, she loosely wraps herself in a bathrobe.

“Thanks for coming over, by the way. It’s been a pleasure,” she mentions with her back turned to me and her hand on the bathroom door. She opens it and light pierces through the dark of the room. I look up and see her silhouette.
“Wait. Before you head off, tell me what you meant by you used to think about us. When did you stop?” This utterance flows from my mouth half consciously.

“What I meant? Those were your words. Not mine.”
“What?” I have no clue what she means by this. She walks through the door and the beam of light slowly thins until it’s completely gone.

Now the room is pitch black. I can’t see a single thing. For some unknown reason, my shirt feels damp. I sat right on the edge, no water got on me, I say to myself confused. Feeling down my shirt, I realise it’s not just damp but in fact drenched. I begin to smell the distinct odour of blood. At this, my stomach sinks into itself, and my heart restarts its’ violent thumping, only much faster. What could have possibly happened, I’ve been sat right here. Questions hail in my mind as I try to stand up. My head throbs and spins that I can barely balance. My entire body feel weak, and it burns. Loud ringing in my ears. I clutch my stomach with one hand and feel around with the other in the darkness. I can’t see a thing.

“Cheers for blowing out those candles, I forget!” I hear her shout from another room. Candles? I didn’t blow out her candles. My brain throbs with more intensity at my puzzlement. I begin to feel myself slowly slipping into unconsciousness, too much blood is being lost. I fall to the ground with a thud. Then I try to call for her, but my voice and chest are too frail to produce any sound above a mumble. My breathing becomes lighter and more painful. Those were your words. Not mine. What? I think of death, but refuse the notion of it taking me in such an unexplained way. If only I could see, if only I had some light. Immobilised and dying, I give up, putting both of my arms across my stomach. I now feel a chill. I’m cold and wet.

*

I open my eyes and I am darkness. Turning myself over in my bed, I read the digital clock on the desk next to me. 04:22AM. I drop my head back onto the pillow and let out a sigh. My mouth is dry. And my t-shirt is cold and wet. I remove the covers and head to the bathroom. I’m soaked in sweat, what kind of dream was I having, I think to myself.  I place my t-shirt and night shorts inside the washing basket. Then I look at myself in the mirror, then to the bathtub, at which I pause curiously. Those were your words. Not mine. I begin to recall a bathtub having some significance to the dream I just woke from, but I can’t figure out why. The dream is gone from me now.

Unable to sleep I stay up trying to remember my dream. After some forced contemplation I recall very few details, but I at least remember who was in the bathtub. She was sat cosily in the tub, and I sat at its’ edge.

Why did I  dream of her though? I haven’t seen her in years. I don’t even think about her anymore. I used to all the time. She left a deep, deep impression me.
I guess though even though times and people change, the subconscious will always store away memories and desires that you once experienced. No matter how much you change, every once in a while, maybe a long while, the subconscious – through dreams or random recollections or whatever – will remind you of what you once were, once had, once lived.

Those were my words, not hers.

*

*

*

*

Thanks for reading. Criticisms and feedback are very welcome. Some recent works in the drafts that needs editing, I promise I won’t always muse my love loss, haaa

Purple Clovers (The Proverbial Peacock) Part 2

This is a second half to a two-part piece. I recommend reading the first half before this. Link to Part 1: https://mmwiinga.wordpress.com/2017/02/14/purple-clovers-the-proverbial-peacock/

*
*

I’d first met Remy through an old friend some years back. We only greeted each other briefly though. But then I saw her a second time; this time at that same friend’s funeral two years ago. We exchanged a few more words on that occasion, but still, we only started speaking more regularly after I’d ran into her at a furniture shop. At first I couldn’t tell it was her, she recognised me first. She was with a five-or-so year old girl who I assumed to be her daughter (looking back at it now, it was probably a little sister or cousin. She looks far too young to have a kid that age). She helped me decide on some new curtains for my front room. We then exchanged numbers, and she rang me not too long after our encounter the same day. She suggested we meet up some time, and I agreed to it.

*

We chat at length about various things over a small dinner and two more glasses of red wine. The bar has only increased in gaiety since I arrived. By cause of all the wine we’ve been quaffing at, Remy’s eyes are now more pinched than usual, and her gestures become less cultivated than when we had begun. Her movements and speech are more flimsy and playful now. Since she removed her sweater, I’ve been repeatedly eyeing the red brown pendant hanging around her neck which cleverly matches her eye-shadow and lips in colour.

Remy reaches into her purse for a 20-pack of Purple Clovers, and lights one up. Then offers one to me.
“I quit.”
“I tried to quit a few times,” she says, blowing smoke coolly to the side as she sets the pack down on the table. “You know, for my daughter’s sake ‘n’ all.”
“The girl you were with that day, that’s your daughter?”
“Yeah, Ameerah. She’s four and eight months. So cute, she always tells me, Mummy, smoking is bad for you. Your lungs will fall off.”
I laugh, telling her, “Well, she’s not far from right.”
“I never wanted to start again, ya know. It’s just something I found myself doing when me and her dad split.”

I respond with nothing to this. Her chin is buried in the palm of her left hand, while the cigarette burns in her right. Her eyes then stray and settle on some void space behind me. Ken. His name’s Ken, she begins. A dull, dry undertone cleaves to her voice.

“We fought too much. When I say fought, I mean fought. He and I barely agreed on anything. For some reason, we kept going on a break, then getting back together. Going on a break. Getting back together. I’d move out for a week or two, then come back. Then do the same after the next big fight. Over and over. We eventually filed for divorce. But when I found out I was pregnant, we had to keep in contact regardless of how we felt about each other.

“We may not love each other, but we both do love Ameerah with all of our hearts. We agree to try our very best for her, at least, do you know what I mean? After we got divorced, I went back to my parents’ house, and gave birth to Ameerah a few months after. Then I moved into an apartment in East eventually.”

Remy lets out some smoke from her nostrils, then continues:
“My mum doesn’t like the idea of Ameerah living in my apartment, so she insisted that she stays with her on weekdays, and that I have her on the weekends. I see them all the time, though. Every day, almost.” She stares blankly to the side for a few seconds with her Purple Clover close to her lips, then smiles, as if remembering something pleasant.
“My mum says Ameerah having her grandpa as a consistent father-figure is better than an inconsistent father. I can’t argue with that. I’m not entirely sure what effect it’ll have on Ameerah. But she seems happy. As long as she’s happy, that’s all that matters, right?”
I nod slowly, gyrating the remains of my wine, and say, “The situation isn’t perfect, but it could be far worse.”
“She doesn’t see Ken much. She loves him a lot, though, as does he her.”

Remy is now 27 years old, and works full time at a call center which makes her enough to pay her bills, put Ameerah in a private school, and buy expensive clothes like the burgundy fur she has slouched neatly on the back of her chair.

Out of the blue, she jerks her fluttery eyes directly at mine and says,
“Do you have kids, you?”
“I’m not even married.”
“Neither am I,” she smirks, catching me out.
“Touché.” I then take a concluding gulp of my third glass.
“We were only married 14 months, can you believe it? I have an issue with rushing into things, as you can probably tell. I had Ameerah at 23.”

In deep thought, she pauses.
“But although I admittedly rushed into things, I regret nothing. Ameerah is the best thing by far that’s ever happened to me. I’m capable of taking sufficient care of her for her to have a normal childhood.”
How normal can you call a fatherless childhood? I say nothing and let her continue.
“But my mum is concerned, she thinks that I’m still not over the divorce… I’m well over it! He’s an ass.”

She crushes the end of her Purple Clover into the ashtray with an insouciant look on her face. We both remain silent for a moment. A comfortable, reflective kind of silence. Our old friend, the one who died, springs suddenly into my mind. Neither of us even once uttered a mention of our deceased friend, which I swiftly begin to find strange. I had no idea how to bring up the topic, or if there was even any need.

“For a garden to bear good fruit, it requires both rain and sunshine,” she says all of a sudden. Plainly and fluently. As if reading from the back of some packaging. Muddled, I look at her silently, and she points to the peacock behind me. Peering deeply at its beady eyes.
That’s what he’s saying today.”

I smile.

 

 

Freedom (Summer ’98) II

“We smoke and talk for some time. We talk about everything and nothing in particular… Simply exploring the dynamics of each other’s minds. Extracting from the sunken crevices of our characters. Displaying to one another the abstract and innermost of our desires, fears and hopes. Or just bantering.” – https://mmwiinga.wordpress.com/2017/02/12/freedom-summer-98/
I recommend reading part I first.

**

 

A fleet of birds glide overhead. Lana begins to chase after them gleefully from below. When I realise how far into the meadow she is, I trail towards her. Jimi Hendrix continues to ring from the car stereo on the knoll now far behind us.

“Look, look!” she suddenly yells from a few yards in front of me. I trudge my way through the tall grass.
“What is it?”
“Oops. Ah shit, it got frightened by my voice.” She kneels down slowly, concealing herself amidst the grass. I thoughtlessly do the same and try to spot what ‘it’ she is referring to.
“Did you see–”
“Shhhh!” She commands. And in a whisper, says, “It’ll run away. It’s so cute. Wait.”
“Did you see a rodent of some sort?” I murmur.
“Yes. Over there. It’s a bunny.”
“A bunny? Where? I don’t see it.”

There, she says, motioning my head with her hands in its direction. I see the tall grass ruffle very subtly. She suggests we move closer. Taking slow, muted steps towards the animal, she remains at a low stance. I sluggishly follow behind. Lana begins to make a soft clicky sort of sound. A noise you might try getting a cat’s attention with.

“Here, here, little bunny,” she calls. Click, click. “Here. Come, come. We don’t wanna hurt you, little guy.” Then turning to me, she says, “I bet he’s so scared.”

From a closer look, it appears to be an ordinary brown hare. Lana edges closer and closer. The seemingly inattentive creature nibbles fervidly at some grasses and flowers. She turns to me without a word, and smiles cockily. Her eyes are bloodshot red, as mine probably are. Returning her focus back to the hare, Lana draws in a lungful of air before taking an instantaneous plunge at the brown hare. I immediately howl with laughter as she hits the ground with a thud empty-handed. Damn it! shouts Lana. With obvious disappointment daubed on her face, she watches the brown hare scurry away into the deeper wilderness. I chuckle uncontrollably.
“It’s not funny, you prick.” She sits up and dusts off her arms.
“It is! How did you miss? It must have a sixth-sense for leaping lunatics,” I tease. She simply mocks with sarcastic laughter.
I pause and say to her in a serious tone, “Wait, there’s another rodent.”
“Where, where?” she whispers, scanning our surroundings scrupulously.
“Over there!” I shout, diving at her much like she did at the brown hare.
“Get OFF, you fool!” she bellows in laughter.

We jovially tussle and roll around amid the tall grass. Lana pants heavily from below me as I stall, staring deep into her dark brown eyes. That dainty, contagious smile of hers sprouts on her face. I feel her tender hands clasp and pull my head towards her. Our lips meet with me still kneeling over. She’s lying flat on the grass with one knee bent upward. From the car stereo, ‘Stir It Up’ by Bob Marley plays in the distance, barely audible from where we are.

We continue making out for some time. And my hands seem to take on a mind of their own, sauntering salaciously across Lana’s form. Tender groans break from her. Slowly, unconsciously, we shed items of clothing one by one. Overtaken by euphoria and senseless aphrodisia, one action leads to another. I love her with every fibre of passion my soul possesses. I grope her and caress her beneath the sun. We make love. We make song. We make poetry. Every thrust, every note, every line oozing its own electrifying flavour of affection. Sweating and huffing, we wordlessly lay beside each other in the thick of the overgrown meadow once we finish.

*

Lana and I stay out in the countryside until evening, talking, listening to music and smoking some more. We lay on the hood of her father’s Honda Accord and watch the cloudless blue sky turn to a handsome, starlit navy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom (Summer ’98)

“It’s this left, right?”
“Nope. The next one a little further down.” I tell her, gesturing with my hand. She often gets confused at this point.

The sun beams down bounteously as we ride through the countryside in her father’s 1992 Honda Accord. Crosstown Traffic by Jimi Hendrix whistles quietly through the car stereo. She handles the steering with one hand, while her other motors a Marlboro Gold to and fro her lips. I am slouched on the passenger side with my left arm hanging out the window, tourism magazine in lap.

“What about Penang?”
“Pen-wha‘?” she says with her eyes fixed on the road.
“Penang. It’s on the north-western part of Malaysia.”
“Never heard of it, I don’t think. Does it sound good?”
“Well it says, Broadly known and admired for its affluence in culture, breath-taking natural history and jubilant festivities, Penang stands highly esteemed as Malaysia’s third most popular tourist destination, as of 1995. Unwind beneath the southeast Asian sun and witness some of Malaysia’s most stunning beaches and islands located on the northern side of Penang, not 30 minutes from the city’s capital, Georgetown. Venture through Penang National Park with an optional private tour guide or boat operator and view the beautifully exotic landscapes, jungles, rivers and wildlife that Penang has to offer. 

“Bountiful in historic architecture and temples, Penang displays an array of wonderful and memorable sights to ingest. It is also home to some of Asia’s finest and most diverse cuisine, blending recipes from Malaysia, China, India, Thailand and Indonesia.” I pause here and turn the page. She edges the half-smoked cigarette towards me and glances over to the magazine.
“Definitely some place I’d like to go to,” she says thoughtfully. “It kinda sounds like where Rishi and Dalia went in April. Bali, was it?”
“Yeah, Bali. The Indonesian islands are relatively close to this Penang.”
“We should check the prices and compare with our other options.”

It was now a toss-up between Penang, Zimbabwe and Venezuela. My girlfriend, Lana, and I had been planning to go on a holiday for some time, though we never actually got to taking any steps of actively looking for somewhere we’d like to visit. It was only recently, once we’d managed to put some money aside, that we’d started seriously considering destinations for the summer.

*

We’d known each other for just over a year now, though it was unclear when Lana became my “girlfriend”. I met her through a mutual friend and we started seeing each other, casually at first – you know, meeting up for a drink at a bar, or for a smoke session at her place. Then before long (and before either of us had realised), we were suddenly in physical and emotional entanglement with each other, so to speak.

I became more and more comfortable around Lana, and her around me. And when we started sleeping together more often, I would sometimes spend three or four nights at her place in a row. I suppose that’s roughly when you could say we solidified our commitment to each other. It became blatant to her that she meant more to me than just a casual friend or a girl I was sleeping with at the time. And it became increasingly clear to me that she, too, was serious about our brewing relationship.

*

I make note of the page number before tucking the tourism magazine in the small compartment under my seat, from which I also withdraw a small jar filled with marijuana. Lana veers off the main road into what we call one of our ‘out-of-town-chill-spots’. She turns up the volume on the stereo, singing along to Hendrix’s ‘Freedom’.

The sun continues to beat down with intensity. It’s the perfect type of weather for occasions such as this; when Lana and I go out of town and simply relax under the sun away from the city’s tireless engagements, and the various responsibilities in it. We both love the serenity the countryside offers. It’s somewhere we can escape to, alone, together. A place where the flow of time seems to spread itself throughout the openness, where everything slows down and becomes weightless.

A captivating selection of waist-high vegetation is spread through the expansive grassy plateau. Some would have thought it a shabby, neglected landscape, but we’ve always seen it as undisturbed. Natural. Somewhere where nature has been allowed to take its course. Beautifully and gracefully undomesticated.

Lana parks the car beside a tree at the edge of a small escarpment a few feet away from a slope that leads into the abundant sea of tall grass and wildflowers. Agave, purple asters, lace wildflowers, meadow buttercups, pale pink betony – too many to name. After I roll up a joint, we venture playfully into the tall grass.

We smoke and talk for some time. We talk about everything and nothing in particular. Getting high and engaging in deep (sometimes thoughtless) conversations is how we spend a considerable amount of our time together. Simply exploring the dynamics of each other’s mind. Extracting from the sunken crevices of our characters. Displaying to one another the abstract and innermost of our desires, fears and hopes. Or purely bantering. Lana and I always liked to share placid, unhurried moments together – whether it be over dinner, on a long night cruise in her father’s Honda Accord, a quiet night spent at her place, or away in the countryside.

Thank you for reading. This is an excerpt from something I’m planning to develop (the second part to this piece is here: https://mmwiinga.wordpress.com/2017/02/12/freedom-98-ii/). My focus was on trying to create something more comprehensive than what I usually post. Feel free to give criticisms and feedback!

Sweet, Sweet November (The lady on stage)

It was a Thursday evening. I had clocked off from work a little earlier than usual. And so with that little extra time on my hands I decided to go to a bar for a drink or two. Somewhere different from my usual local selection. Somewhere not too far out though, I had a long Friday ahead of me and wanted to keep the bar visit fairly brief. I hailed a taxi.

“Do you know any decent bars somewhere away from this area? Say, a little further north perhaps?”
“Hmm, up north… up north.” The taxi driver gave it some thought with his hands gripped firmly to the steering wheel.
Half turning back to me, he said, “Ah! I know, there’s one I like to go to in Brent Cross. About 15 minutes’ drive from here. That’s a fairly decent joint.”
“What’s it like?” His face became smirched with a utterly reflective expression. “Umm… Well, it’s nothing fancy, I’ll tell ya that. It’s convenient, though. Reasonably cheap, and it shouldn’t be too packed on a night like this.”

I had no idea what a “convenient” bar was supposed to be like. But as he hadn’t mentioned anything notably terrible about the place, I checked my watch and decided to give the bar a chance.

The bar, named ‘Arthur’s, had a very hollow feel to it. The lighting was dim, and not in a relaxing sort of way. Just dim. It was as if a few bulbs had died out a while ago and the owner had no intention of replacing them. The carpet was dull and plagued with spill stains, decorations were minimal, and very few souls occupied the building (of which hardly any looked as if they even wanted to be there – like attending the bar was some kind of duty they had to serve).

Removing my thin scarf and jacket, I ordered a chilled brew and pondered why anyone would name a bar ‘Arthur’s’. Unless of course the owner’s name was Arthur, which would prove Mr Arthur to be a very drab and unimaginative individual, much like his bar setting. I sipped slow while surveying the interior of the building. Then I retreated my gander and noticed my fingers tapping against the counter to a Radiohead song which hooted unfittingly in the background.

I didn’t stay for very long. I downed the beer and left the bartender a £5 tip beside the almost empty pint glass. When the frigid winds outside struck me I buttoned my coat to the top, burying my chin inside my scarf. The beer had left a grimy, salty taste in my mouth. I had to wash it down. So I began to amble through the unfamiliar streets, hands shoved in pockets, searching for another bar. One characterised with a little more ambiance, I’d hoped.

Five minutes’ walk down the high street, I strolled into a bar which enticed me for reasons I couldn’t give. I mean, it didn’t look all that great from the outside for one. It may have been the faint noise that was coming from inside. It sounded like a live band performance.

The inside was fairly large. An impressive-looking bar stood at the far right of the room, a smallish stage was directly opposite the doorway, and there were tables scattered in the centre of the room. People chattered, laughed, watched the live performers, and drank. But even with all this going on, the place held quite a relaxing air.

I took a seat at the bar. The young blokes who were a few stools away gulped down beer after beer and undisturbingly cheered on the performers. The couples and individuals and groups who loosened up around tables sipped away at their various beverages. The atmosphere was loose, a pleasant energy filled the bar. And the jazzy performances complimented the mood, too. It seemed as though local artists and bands were invited to display their talents on stage at the bar on specific nights. I’d happened to stumble in on one of those nights.

“Welcome to Blues Ariawhat can I do you for, sir?” My fascination with the lady on the stage delayed my brain from computing what was said to me.
“Umm… uh… I’ll have what they’re having.” I replied, gesturing to the lads on my left.
“Coming right up!” he said, disappearing gleefully.

The lady on the stage couldn’t have been any older than 22. She had on grungy boots, dark clothes, and had long braided hair, black with midnight-blue streaks in. Her lips were coloured in a bright pink, which I thought was ill-fitting with her tender cinnamon brown complexion (but what do I know about all that).

She sang over an enchanting blues melody. It reminded me of Paul Desmond’s ‘Glad to Be Unhappy’ collection. Cool and dark. Her emotionally fuelled voice gave the number something more though. It was somehow like a graceful butterfly’s reflection on a still, forgotten pond. She would occasionally face the trio supporting from behind her. Then she would turn back to the audience, giving us an intense, meaningful look whilst clutching the mic close to her lips and swaying in motion to the music.

Once the song was done, the lady thanked the audience for its’ round of applause before exchanging a few unheard words with the band, and they geared themselves up for the next number. I recognised it almost immediately. It was a jazzy rendition of SZA’s ‘Sweet November’. The lady on the stage sang with such striking passion and with a certain bounce to it that didn’t do away with the elegance the original carries.

Our eyes met at one point. It was strange. I got one of those weird little sensations you can never quite put into words. I was so caught off guard my stomach sank a little. And it was like in that very brief slice of time, the pace of everything changed and grew unclear.

I stood motionless, beer in hand, taken aback by the brilliance of it all. When she and the band were through with her set, they waved thankfully at the applauding audience and took a bow. The lady on the stage blew kisses to audience, the band behind her, and exited the stage while the applauds still reigned.

Thanks for reading! This is a revised piece from roughly two years ago now. I wanted to continue it, but thought I’d better redo this part first. I didn’t really have a particular focus with this one, simply just writing. Criticisms and feedback are always welcome. Also, let me know if you’d like me to read and give feedback on anything you’ve written, I’m more than happy to.

When Your Lover Has Gone

 

My uncle is a wise man. Forty-two years of age this Autumn. He graduated from the Imperial College London university in 1988 where he had studied civil engineering for seven years. In the same year he received his master’s degree, he found work as a structural engineer for a top firm (partially due to ample prior experience as a trainee and then an intermediate engineer). He excelled in whichever position he reached, and was generally liked and looked up to throughout the board for his commitment, ideas and adeptness.

He got married also in the same year, and moved to Brighton with his wife a few months after the wedding. Before they were married together, my uncle and his wife had only known each other for six months. Everything was so abrupt but he didn’t mind. That’s the way he liked to do things, that’s the way he maneuvered through life; quickly, quietly and without too much thought or planning involved (though also with an incredible measure of efficiency).

He and his wife found a nice little home and set out to begin their life by the coast. To my uncle, it only made sense for him to alter his profession slightly to coastal and geo-technical engineering as he had decent experience in both sub-disciplines. Unsurprisingly, he flourished in these roles. He had an unmistakable knack for whatever he put his hand to. It was a product of discipline and hard work just as much as it was product of some natural flair he seemed to emerge from the womb with.

By 1996, my uncle became a senior engineer, and in the following two years, a specialist. He made a lot of money, more than he and his wife even knew what to do with. They didn’t have kids; she didn’t want to at the time. Fortunately, he wasn’t so keen on having children either. It’s not something he ever looked forward to (til this day, he still has none). My uncle hated living in Brighton, he missed London dearly. Though, his wife had made it clear before they were married that she wanted to stay in Brighton near her parents until they died.

*

Since he retired his engineering work in 2001, my uncle has been for three years the owner of a ritzy restaurant in Central London. Fair-sized and specialising in seafood, the restaurant is managed day-to-day by a close friend of his, whom he met whilst in Brighton. Living by the coast for twelve years seemed to have fueled an affinity for seafood in him. And even though he wasn’t involved practically with the restaurant, he had become a kind of expert on all types of edible fish during his time in Brighton, and learnt variant ways of preparing seafood gourmet.

My uncle and the woman he had married got divorced in 2000 when she admitted to him that she was having an affair with her ex-fiancé. She’d claimed to have lost feelings for her ex-fiancé, and that she was no longer in contact with him. Naturally, the news completely tore my uncle apart. He had had an idea that she may have been sneaking around; seeing someone here, another person there – for something casual, maybe a couple of drinks with a pinch of coquetting every so often (it’s what married couples often did for whatever reason, at least he thought). But that did not seem to be the case in this particular instance. He was devastated. My uncle truly loved her to whatever extent he knew how to. He really envisioned spending the rest of his life with her. They made plans together to move to the south of France once her parents had passed away. I never met the ex-wife, and he rarely spoke of her. In fact, he only ever brought her up once when I asked him if he’d ever want kids of his own.

*

My uncle is a loving and honest man. He loves to paint, though he never thought himself to be any good at it. He is, however, exceptionally deft with words, and equally good with women. On average, he brings four different women home every three-or-so months – always in their 20s – and sleeps with each one for weeks at a go before repeating the cycle all over with a new batch of women. Though at times the women desired so, my uncle never pursued committing to a real relationship with any of them. He no longer trusted women. It was unfortunate, he said, that one bad experience had changed his entire outlook on women. But what am I to do – leave myself vulnerable to hurt again?

His experience with his ex-wife etched an everlasting grey area in his mind which he felt no woman could ever purge. Some menacing pool of apprehension and gloom that taunts him, piercing his conscious whenever he dared forgetting his wife and that whole episode of his life.

He never used to, but after the divorce my uncle began to drink a lot. On most weekends, he and some old colleagues meet up at some bar and the boys go wild. Occasionally, though, he stays in and quietly spends the evening with a chilled bottle of whiskey while some 60’s jazz capers in the background as he laps a random car mag.

All in all, my uncle isn’t a terrible man. Just a simple, humble, hardworking soul submersing himself in the many mysteries and adventures and scenarios and turns which life presents. Taking life one day at a time, he is just another man with his own set of flaws and struggles.

 

 

Thank you for reading. With this piece, I was focusing on character building, and also simply practising pulling words together for the joy of it. No promises, but I may write up a second part to this which expands on who the nephew/niece is.
Criticisms and feedback are much appreciated!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alone Together (Traditions, traditions)

“Hurry up, Zack, or we’ll be late!” I hear from the other room.
“Mum, mum. My tie, mum. My tie,” Zack said.
I fold the corner of the page from the book I’m reading and place it on the desk beside me.
“Here,” I say to him, rising from the sofa. “Let me give you a hand with that.”
His eyeballs stay unwaveringly focused on my hands as I wade through the steps of tying his tie.

Zack and his mother, Elaine, are going to the wedding of a family friend. Elaine’s long time friend’s daughter is getting married. My mother, who is good friends with Elaine and the mother of the girl who is getting married, is also attending the wedding. I, too, would have been attending, though Elaine’s daughter, Sandra, is feeling poorly. And so Elaine had asked me to come over to the house and watch over her while they went to the wedding (Sandra is seven years of age, she was born mute and almost completely blind). I told her it was no bother. I wasn’t so keen on going to the wedding anyway. I packed a novel, a small lunch and my pen and pad.

“She’s getting married to an accountant from New Zealand. God knows how they met. The mother had told me some time ago, but I’ve forgotten,” Elaine says to me as she peers at the Elaine in the mirror who meticulously applies a thin sheet of eyeliner. “Isla. Beautiful girl. Not much older than you, actually.”

“Uncle,” Zack says. “why aren’t you coming with us?”
I kneel to him and place my hand on a shoulder of his. “I’m staying at home to make sure Sandra’s well.”
“To make sure Sandra is well and gets better?”
“Mm-hmm. Now you go have fun. And behave yourself.”

Five or so minutes pass, and as Elaine does her last minute scurry-around for anything she might’ve forgotten to pack with her, she says, “There’s a leftover casserole in the fridge that you could warm up for you and Sandra at some point. I think there’s some garlic bread in the freezer, too, if you want to put some in the oven.”

*

I hear the steady roar of the car engine, and listen to it as it gradually fades off until I can no longer hear it. I stretch myself languidly onto the sofa for some moments and remain motionless – physically, and also in state of mind (to whatever possible extent the mind can be motionless).

***

It was well into the spring of 1993. A lax downpour of sun spread itself over the church building, and around its steeple a small company of wrens praised cordially beneath the sun’s generosity. The church building was brimmed with men, women and children – all suited in their cleanest, sharpest attire – smiling uneasily at one another. There were awkward verbal exchanges amidst an abundance of forged, nervous laughter. The mass awaited the arrival of the bride in sour and frantic anticipation. There was a peculiar air of tense excitement about the place, though it all weighed fickle, as if everyone couldn’t wait for it to be over and done with.

The bridegroom sat in one corner of the church building, alone, gently though unconsciously stroking his knees with the sweaty palms of his hands. He was nervous, and whenever he felt this way, his hands seemed to take on a mind of their own. Like some strange, independent organisms that latched themselves onto the end of his forearms. He took several deep breaths.

Friends and family members approached the bridegroom multiple times to either check on him or provide him with some urgent piece of information of which he needed to receive. If they had nothing he deemed important to say, he’d send them away hastily, almost foully. I need to think, I need to prepare myself, he’d tell them, Go find something else to do for now!  Understandably, he was erratic and impulsive – he was about to echo wedding vows to a woman he’d never met before in his entire 47 years. The bridegroom’s father and the parents of his soon-to-be-wife had met a few times beforehand, and had spoken even more frequently to each other than the couple who were about to be married.

It was an old tradition that both families kept; if a man’s daughter reached a certain age and had not found a husband to marry, the father of the unmarried woman would find a husband for his daughter to marry, regardless of whether she desired the chosen man or not. It was a custom that went back several generations.

*

“It’s stupid,” said the woman, exhaling smoke from her nostrils. A stern look daubed her face as she glared into the mirror before her. With both hands, the woman slicked back the few unfettered strands of hair on either side of her head. A Marlboro Gold burned between her lips. A young lady was crouched at her waist, tugging at any pleats or minor creases on the woman’s wedding gown, and scrupulously checking for any visible imperfections. Eyes and hands still trained on the wedding gown, she said to the woman, “I think it’s a beautiful thing to get married, regardless of how it comes together and happens. The ceremony, the vows, the celebrations the—”
“Are all meaningless,” the woman then interjected nonchalantly, though with evident undertones of conviction and antipathy. The young lady paused and sighed. The woman continued:

“The vows are nothing but hollow promises spurted in the moment. I’ll literally be repeating what the vicar says without an iota of passion or real meaning. I don’t know the guy [She drew in one last pull of her Marlboro Gold deep into her lungs before crushing its remains into the gravid ashtray behind her, then she looked back into the mirror]. It’s all an act for my parents. They want this, not me. All I know about him is that he dropped out of med-school after two years and decided to chase his seemingly unsuccessful career as a musician slash comedian, he’s in his late forties, and he has a wealthy father who has four wives. That’s it. Technically zilch. Nothing of importance, nothing that’ll make me mean it when I say I’ll love him in sickness and in health and all that shit.”

The young lady stood up and placed her hands on the woman’s left shoulder and gave her a half smile as if to say, ‘I understand what you mean, I really do, but…’.
She said to the woman, “I understand what you mean. It’s all true, but what’s also equally and unequivocally true is his side of the coin, too, right? His wealthy father… well, essentially bought him his wife, in an indirect sense, of course, but you know. He doesn’t know you either. This is also an unexplored landscape for him. I know the difference is he was looking for someone to marry and you weren’t, but what’s done is done now, and the only way you can make it work, is to make it work! Together. That’s the only way it’ll be bearable. Don’t let this crumble before you’ve even started building it. You never know, you could learn to like him at least, if not love him. Think of him as a friend. A very close friend whom you must live with and share your entire life with. But once you get a little comfortable with each other, you can begin to draw the lines. You know, set rules and make things clear and stuff. He knows just as much as you do that, from your part, at least, this is all an act for your parents.”

The woman’s eyes didn’t avert from the young lady’s eyes not for a millisecond. The words which emerged from the young lady seemed to penetrate right into a receptive canyon of the woman’s soul, and perhaps left an impression.

“Look, Elaine”, the young lady concluded, “I cannot imagine how it must feel. And I guess I kind of envy you for that. But please, please. Try. You’re 42 now. Tradition is tradition at the end of the day. We are all equally, though unjustly constrained and chastened by it.”

The young lady was barren, and, by the ruling of her country’s tradition, was not allowed to get married.

Thank you for reading. With this piece I was focusing mainly on narrative, and so have left character and scenery descriptions to an absolute minimum. Feedback and criticisms are very much welcome!!

P.s – I sincerely apologise for not following up ‘Washed Up on Love’ with the part two I initially promised my readers, but I will be working on plenty new material when I get some time! (or discipline myself to make time. Yes. Make time).