“Hushpup”

He was tucking into his brunch of rice when suddenly a thought struck him. It was one of those strange yet familiar, so close yet so far ones that would plague his mind for the rest of the day.

It was the fuzzy scene of him tucking into a home-cooked meal at someone else’s home. And that someone else was a gal whom he corresponded with over mIRC. She had been in Perth for the past six years of her life, having exchanged Singapore’s stifling and competitive education system for a more laid-back but fulfilling time at high school and then college.

They met only because he was in the first semester of a two-year stint to get a degree from a university in Perth. All hopes of romance were dashed because they were from different denominations.

She lived alone. In fact, she had been on her own since the day her parents sent her to a boarding school in one of those girls-only colleges. He admired her for the fact that she had pulled through it all.

As they ate, they talked about the people they knew from the particular mIRC channel they visited regularly. Then the conversations took on a more serious tone as she shared about the struggles she faced when she first arrived at the college, fresh-faced and about to plunge into the culture shock of her life.

He remembered how insensitive the twenty-odd-year-old version of him was when he commented about how good it was to have all the freedom of living on her own. The image of the response on her face was something that was still fresh in his mind – her hand close to her mouth, slightly gaping, and her eyes, which expressed her surprise.

Her mIRC nick was “Hushpup” and he would visit her again for a meal, once more at most, before they would lose contact of each other.

Ridicule

‘Twas a night of soft lights, stories and songs.

Cosy setting. Romantic even.

Yet, there was a crowd. Unfamiliar faces.

He gazed at them, picking out one face from another. The roomful of strangers unsettled him.

Every word he said tonight, none of them came close in articulating the thoughts he had and the emotions that swirled in his heart. He felt detached from himself. It wasn’t pleasant, but the show must go on.

Despite all of that, his mind wasn’t the least silent. In fact, it tossed out one thought after another in quick succession.

“Did you see that guy at the corner with his gal?” his mind barked.

A comparison was drawn.

“How about the bouquet of roses? It’s more than 16 years of love!”

Something tugged at him.

“Look at their smiles. When was the last time you really smiled like that?”

They went on and off in his head. As the night progressed, he felt out of place. He became more self-conscious. He could relate to the guy at the mic who was talking about the ridicule inflicted upon him for being fat when he was a child.

In one unexpected moment, he caught a reflection of himself on the glass pane. Thankfully, the reflection was only from his neck down; he was spared that ghastly looking face staring back at him. Yet, he knew there was something so very wrong and instinctively, he moved away to avoid being seen … by himself.

Somewhere, a still, small and clear voice came on – a piece of unsolicited ridicule followed by a snigger.

There was nothing he could drown it out with.

Confused

He stared at the screen. His eyes traced the outline of her face in the photo. He gazed at her smile and observed the slightest hint of a dimple on the side of her cheek. That photo was meant to portray the bliss in a relationship between lovers, yet he knew that smile of hers was a just front to hide the many thoughts she held in her heart.

He closed his eyes for a few moments. His mind reminded him of her words, which resonated despite the fact that they were spoken weeks ago. They cut. They hurt. Collectively, they formed a threat.

It was not for the first time he wondered if she really meant it that way.

Perhaps it was a gentle prod, he reasoned.

Perhaps it was all in jest.

Perhaps it was borne out of something.

He couldn’t find any other plausible explanation behind her threat other than the fact that she meant it.

There was once he harboured thoughts and feelings for her. The hopes were long gone now, buried in the sands of time; the feelings, drowned in the sea of impossibilities.

At the end of it, it was all bittersweet. He was glad for the realisation that it was never meant to be because they could never be the lovey-dovey couple he envisaged a long time ago.

Opening his eyes, he looked at the photo of them, of her, again. Despite the pain of having something wrestled out of his heart, he was thankful for having let this one go.