I watch the window pane of the canteen, misted by the breath of puffing tea and sweating chicken rolls. Its smooth glass cheek is frosted with rain, painting over the newspaper cut-out people outside. All I can see are sloshes of the milling crowd, so many puddles forming and drying up, splashed into and out of existence by the brush of the rain.
And in the distance, I see a smidgen of dark blue. The blue smudge coalesces like spilled paint, evaporating into a defined shape. I can see you now, tall, round-shouldered, trudging along towards me in your blue jacket. I smile involuntarily. The glass can no longer fog your progress, as you walk towards me, only me.
As we leave the canteen together, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. “Look at me, with my friend,” I want to proclaim, “Look at our friendship!” We will never fall into the clichés we so dearly despise. You belong to me anyway, every inch of you: from your unkempt hair, to your eyes that seem to say a thousand words which only I can see.
The road to my house seems to shrink every day. The hawkers fringing the road, with their sizzling fritters and bleeding fruit, slice through our discourse, ignored. Flimsy shopping bags swallow groceries greedily, as their owners fix us with an appraising eye. I have learned to dismiss the glances. Even if you are holding my hand, it’s alright. You are my friend after all. It seems natural enough for you to gently slip my hand into your palm, while crossing the streets. Your hand is so much bigger than mine, and warm, enveloping my fingers like a breathing blanket of comfort.
Sometimes, very seldom, I feel a twinge of uneasiness, in a spasm of something like foreboding. My hand is suddenly oiled with perspiration in your grip. The awkwardness, midwifed by the sweating air, is thickening around us, cloying and stifling.
We have almost reached my building. The street lamps are dimmer here, and our shadows grow close, almost touching, tremulously. I’m talking to you about a book I’ve read recently. I thought it would interest you, but you seem more distracted than usual.
“Are you listening?” I ask, irritably.
Suddenly, you lean over and kiss my cheek. The world stops. The street lamps are blinding me. My cheek is burning.
If this were a movie, then this would be the happy ending. The audience would mistake my shock and fear for the shyness of joy long sought. It would misinterpret your clenched hand crushing my fingers for the true love of the tagline, and the credits would roll in. The camera would zoom in on the rain-streaked grey sky, and everyone would leave feeling hopeful, feeling like their own happiness is just around the corner.
But this is not a movie, this is real life. And this is just the beginning for me, the beginning of the end. I’m falling, drowning, thrashing in a covered well. And I am mute in my terror.
“Didn’t you like it?” you ask forcefully. It sounds like a demand. You seem so aggressive suddenly; I’m afraid of you now.
“Yeah, I guess.” I am lying, and I don’t know exactly why. Some part of me cannot bear to let you know the truth. This is not what I wanted; this is not was I was looking for. I trusted you and now we’ve fallen head-first, right into the middle of the clichés that we laughed about. This is part of the Friday night blockbuster, not my life. But still, I am dumb, and I can’t tell you.
“What’s the matter with you?” you ask, as if nothing has happened.
“I’ve never been kissed by a guy before.”
And then you bend over me again and kiss me again, and again. My second and third kisses are over before I can blink.
“And now you have,” you say.
I give a choked little laugh in reply, even though I want to cry. It’s strange that I can still see your vulnerability beneath the suaveness, and that stoppers my true feelings in my throat. Why am I the only person who can see through the doors you’ve closed for everyone? You are blind to my fear and unwillingness, but I can see the fear of rejection in your aggressiveness and bravado. Or maybe you know how I feel, deep down, but you’re ignoring it, the way you ignore the disapproving looks and the rumors creeping up around us in college.
“Did you know that PDA is illegal here? We just broke the law!” you say, jubilantly, like a child, like we’ve done something to be proud of. I can feel the silent, real or imagined rebukes of every person on the street like the blows of a hammer. The road to my house has engorged itself and multiplied, stretching to infinity. The last few steps are like the mockery of a prayer, hiding underneath the distance and slipping into view just as I see the end.
But now, finally, we’ve reached my building. You notice my hand shaking as I rummage for my keys.
“It’s pretty cold. Here, take my jacket.”
“It’s okay, I don’t need it,” I protest, but you’ve already taken it off. I shrug into it self-consciously, and it reaches my knees. You laugh at how big it is for me, and for a moment, I pretend that nothing has changed.
We say our goodbyes, and I start climbing the steps. I’m still shivering, even in your jacket. I can feel a ghostly imprint of you in its warmth. It’s heavy, much heavier than I expected. By the time I reach my apartment I feel crushed by its weight. I rest for a minute, wondering how one jacket could have grown so heavy, so suffocating.
[AN- This is a semi-autobiographical pieces. Sometimes cliches can slip into your life unnoticed and make it a nightmare.
This is a response to a prompt on The Daily Post. ]
Clichés become clichés for a reason. Tell us about the last time a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush for you.