V-day short story: White milk and red dress

“I love soya bean milk. Especially when they’re warm,” she exclaimed upon taking the first sip of the beverage she just bought. The white liquid – held in a transparent plastic container with a logo emblazoned outside – contrasted with the red flower dress she was wearing. A dimple flashed on her cheeks as the milk negotiated its way up the straw.

He thought it was a sweet and innocent moment, no matter how mundane it seemed to the people walking briskly to and from the interchange. The fact that they’ll look all touristy and that it would bring attention on her – something she didn’t like – stopped him from whipping out his camera phone.

“Do you want some?” she held out her drink toward him. There was the impish smile on her face again, with a faint hint of the white milk on her lips. Obviously she didn’t mind if they shared a drink.

He flashed the widest grin possible in response. He pulled the container towards him, positioned his head and sipped just enough to convince her that he was glad to have shared in her pleasure. The sweetness of the drink lingered in his mouth as it was flushed down. Yet, nothing was sweeter than being with her.

Glorious day, he thought.

She took the drink back and started to sip again. Unexpectedly he felt something brushed against his right hand. It was skin-on-skin. It caught him off-guard. It left his heart pounding faster than he would have liked.

Gamely, he returned the gesture with a firm grip, after catching her hand. She responded with a tellingly look on her face – still smiling – and her grip tightened.

Spring in his step when he would drag his feet.

A moment to savour.

A dream start.

***

He sat on the stone seat near the shop which sold her favourite drink. He observed the queue there. A woman wearing a tudung handed the casher coins from her purse before handing the drink to a little girl who clapped in delight. A man with a turban stood behind them – his arms folded – and facial hair barely concealing the smile on his face. Behind him, a lady decked in sharp suit and tight skirt – all black – rummaged through her bag, presumably looking for loose change to pay for her drink later. An old couple walked past the shop. It was a rare sight to have the both of them holding hands, especially in this part of the world. The lady said something and pointed to the board, which gave information on the prices and types of soya-based beverage on sale. The old man looked up, adjusted his thick-spectacles and examined the board for a few minutes. A shake of his head and a terse reply meant that he wasn’t in the mood for soya bean milk. They then walked away – he using his walking stick, she holding onto his arm for support.

Gently, he sipped the drink in his hands. The milk seeped into his mouth with its promise of warmth and sweetness. Yet, drinking it on his own was now a stark contrast from enjoying it with someone else. Somehow, it wasn’t as sweet. It wasn’t as memorable.

For the umpteenth time, he wished she was here, somewhere. Around. With that scene flashing over and over in his head – that impish smile, those dimples, the thinly disguised accidental brush of her hand against his, and the red dress, it was hard to forget. Something burned in him. The regret he held for being less self-conscious. He raged against himself.

He could and should have taken the photo. It would encapsulate everything about them – him and her – and the blossoming of a year of sweetness, of love, of smiles, of sunsets, of hugs, of kisses, of hopes, of dreams in his life. It could have been something he could remember her by, a memory he could keep forever of their short relationship…

A couple just joined the queue at the shop. He was wearing a royal blue polo-T-shirt with a logo of a man riding a horse and holding his mallet high. His hand was clasped around hers. She was decked in a flowing dress, red with white polka dots. Sitting smugly in her left arm was a bouquet of red roses. While they wait, the couple sneaked a kiss – a gentle peck on their lips.

The resulting scene was that of a curiously familiar impish smile on her face, complete with dimples; a sheepish grin on the guy’s face; and him turning his gaze away from the shop.

He didn’t need that. It was just too much to bear.

14 February. It might have been the worst of dates to conjure up memories and scars of her. Yet, he had to do it. If only it wasn’t the day when it all begin with that sip of milk and the brush from her hand…

Life’s lessons

I’d hold you up to say to your mother, “this kid’s gonna be the best kid in the world. This kid’s gonna be somebody better than anybody I ever knew.” And you grew up good and wonderful. It was great just watching you, every day was like a privilige. Then the time come for you to be your own man and take on the world, and you did. But somewhere along the line, you changed. You stopped being you. You let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you’re no good. And when things got hard, you started looking for something to blame, like a big shadow.

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!

I’m always gonna love you no matter what. No matter what happens. You’re my son and you’re my blood. You’re the best thing in my life. But until you start believing in yourself, ya ain’t gonna have a life. Don’t forget to visit your mother.

– Line from the film, Rocky Balboa (Clip)

1/101 women

He spotted her.

She was standing at the corner of the train, just beside the glass panel by the door. Decked in a crisp, baby blue long-sleeve blouse; hair, dyed golden brown and tied up in a ponytail; she caught his attention when people were pushing their way into the crowded cabin.

For that few seconds when she shuffled in, he saw her face. He thought he was looking at an angel. Then again, almost every OL that he sees in the train looks like an angel to him. If there’s any consolation he had for taking trains in the morning, it would be these OLs, and those fleeting glances, perhaps reminding him about the sorry state of his love life (the lack thereof, that is).

So as he stood, trying not to breathe too hard so that the woman standing in front of him wouldn’t think there was a Darth Vader behind, he admired from afar. Yes, she might have fair and smooth complexion (adding to the archetype of the perfect female that any male would find hard to resist). Yes, she had stuff piled on her face to look good. But he knew there was no Photoshop in any of this.

Then, his mind drifted. He wondered if she’s married or attached. Then, he fantasised about how it was like to have her as … a girlfriend, a soulmate, a companion… (Note: Not activity partner). They (these thoughts) made him smile for a bit and God must have some sympathy for him at that moment because Khalil Fong started to sing his rendition of “Wonderful Tonight” on his mp3 player right at that very moment.

He was thankful for it. Just because Khalil’s stirring vocals drowned out the condemning voices in his head. His morning and start for the week (let alone the day) were not spoiled by the incessant condemnations that would rain at him in his mind (perhaps for days on end).

The train door opened. The crowd made a hurried beeline for the escalators. He tried to pick her out from the double rows of people making their way up. Then, he saw her again. It was the back view this time and then, he noticed the colour co-ordination – baby blue for the top and jet black for the bottom, including the high heels. She walked with poise. She negotiated her way through the gate with poise. She got up another escalator also with poise.

Never again he was able to see her face.

The lingering image in his head was her walking towards the people distributing MyPaper to the hordes.

It was also the last time he would see her.