Nipples and being happy

“Walk me to the bus stop,” she said.

He didn’t have to look out of the window. The pitter and patter was enough to convince him that walking her to the bus stop was a decent idea if only she hadn’t objected to the use of an umbrella.

“No one looks cool holding onto an umbrella,” she made that declaration one day. He was only way too eager to please her.

“Shall we wait for the rain to stop?”

“No. I have to go.”

Within minutes, his nipples were modestly concealed by Rick Dees on the rain-soaked T-shirt and the bottom of his white school pants were stained with mud. She was saved from the lustful looks of the horny old men because her pinafore covered everything that would pique or arouse unwanted interest.

Their shoes would probably need to be placed under the refrigerator for them to be dry in time for school tomorrow. But that was the least of their concerns then.

So, in the pouring rain and attracting the gawks of passers-by, the two of them negotiated their way to the bus stop. On a sunny day, it would have been a pleasant but somewhat sweaty 10-minute stroll. It was a different story altogether because this was a heavy downpour.

They walked in silence. As absurd as it seemed, his heart was simply lifted by how she spent two hours after school hanging out at his home. They did nothing funny though. They watched a video recording of The Chart Show, which she brought, and commented on the various indie acts. What made him happy too was the smile on her face when Axl Rose was prancing in the music video for “You Could Be Mine”.

The bus driver frowned at them when they boarded the bus. The passengers, like the passers-by just now, gawked at the sight of two rain soaked school kids. But in his world, they didn’t quite exist. There were only her and her words.

The journey in that stuffy bus took 45 minutes. They didn’t talk much, perhaps because they had already spoken all they wanted. Only a few words that were exchanged and the brief exchanges about how she was writing down the lyrics of all the Guns N Roses songs she knew in a little sketchbook.

“I’m doing this for you,” she reminded him. “I want to turn you into a Guns N Roses fan.”

He walked her to the lift. The rain had eased by then, but they were still attracting curious glances from gawking passers-by. As the lift doors started to close, she made a hand signal which he recognised as that of the phone. “Call me tonight,” was what she meant.

It was another long 45 minutes of embarrassment on the bus ride home in that rain soaked Rick Dees T-shirt and having to converse with no one but his thoughts.

Yet, that simple hand gesture of hers made him smile. There was something to look forward to tonight after a nice and warm shower.

It would be her voice.

Being locked up for twenty years

On the commute home from work one evening, he saw a young couple decked in their school uniforms holding hands. As much as it has been said time and again, he has never, ever held the hands of a non-familial female anything longer than a handshake.

But that moment in his life was enough to trigger memories of another day, from a time so far back that he could only recall bits and pieces of it. It was the time when the likes of Rick Astley and New Kids On the Block were gods on radiostations and to thousands of teenagers.

It was then that he was simply an average schoolboy who grew out a tad later than his peers with regards to the standard disdain for females. It was a 180-degree change because, like many of his hormonal raging peers of the male species, he started to pay particular attention to females.

And whatever’s been said about how the first flames of love are rarely forgotten was true because at this grand old age of 34 (and some say 35), he could still remember her, and the moments involving him and her. He might have forgotten what he ate last week or how Steven Gerrard scored that wonderful goal against Burnley, but it was particularly hard for him to forget her.

In 1990, they got close. He became besotted with her. Firstly, she was from a convent school which was considered a “premium” catch amongst his peers who were all from that neighbourhood school. Secondly, they had loads to talk about. Teenagers of those days almost worshipped the phone and would hog it for hours. There were no large social networks or multiple MSN windows then. You had a friend on the other side and she was the centre of your attention.

So, they talked about school. They talked about rock music. She would gush over Axl Rose, who was her favourite rock singer. She would introduce him to the songs by Guns & Roses that she loved. He would tell her about the latest songs that were hot in the UK. He would talk about “modern rock acts” like Nirvana and the Verve. They would chat and wait until 1.30am in the morning on Tuesdays before tuning in to the BBC to find out how their favourite songs were doing on the UK charts.

The catch was, the words “I love you” were never uttered in any of the conversations they had and they went out only thrice during the five years of friendship or … relationship they shared. Never during their three meet-ups were their hands lovingly clasped around each other’s.

He met her at Clementi once. She was bored and wanted to get out of the house. She called him and, like an overly-excited puppy, he obliged.

Then, they met at Orchard. And because he dressed like some turd of a teenager to her then, she insisted that he wore his JC uniform, even though it was a Saturday afternoon and he needn’t have to wear it. And no matter how weird it seemed, she wanted him to be in shades, like her.

“I don’t want people I know to recognise us together,” she explained.

At Orchard, she shopped for herself and for him too.

“Here,” she said, taking out an orange turtle-neck pullover. “You’ll look good in this. Buy it.”

The memories associated with these three short excursions were enough to bring a faint smile on his face whenever they appeared in his head. He never held her hand. He never felt insulted by some of her rather insensitive comments. Because she was one helluva beauty, he was simply happy to be with her.

Somehow, he never quite recovered from how their friendship or … relationship ended. He remembered how he wrote a three-page letter to a sympathetic friend, telling her about his pain. The friend could only deduce that he was in love, despite his vehement protests about them being only platonic friends.

“She had a boyfriend and is now married,” he wrote. “How could I have been in love with her?”

Looking back through the eyes of an adult male, he was aware that things of this world were never really that straightforward. His friend was right. There were things in his heart he couldn’t admit then, but were obvious to others.

These things never quite left him, despite all of these twenty long years that had passed. He had feelings for her. And no matter how she would have remained as a distant memory, he could still not let go.

It took the teenage couple in uniform he met while crossing the overhead bridge to trigger the bittersweet memories of her in him. At first, he wondered what really make people that young decide to come together. It didn’t take long before he was reminded of her.

It has been twenty long years. Maybe to the day. There hasn’t been that many close encounters with love in his life since then. He wasn’t sure if it was because he had held onto the memories of her too tightly that it sabotaged any attempts for love to blossom in his life down the years.

It feels as though the only way he could be freed from the memories would be for her to appear again in his life and lock these memories away once and for all.

But for twenty years, he never saw or heard from her again.

The disgraced playwright

He was invisible to most as the lights went up and the curtains, figuratively speaking, fell. He could empathise with the mixed emotions of exhilaration and disappointment that the people on stage felt as the applause from the audience rang all around. Exhilaration, because they can now see the fruits of their labour after so many long hours of hard work and preparation. Disappointment, because everything has come to an end.

For two nights, he watched his work come to life by walking into the hall incognito. Only one person recognised him as the playwright and expressed her appreciation for what she termed as a “powerful story”. He broke into a smile and returned the compliment with a firm handshake. And then, he walked off quietly with his friend – the only person he invited to watch the production. Unlike the previous one, he didn’t linger on and hang around after the show was over and mingle with the cast and crew.

This time round, he felt disconnected.

Moments later, they would talk about theatre, productions and musicals they had watched while savouring the Holland Village’s famous XO fish bee hoon. He enjoyed the discussion and the company, but this was simply a night when he wanted some time alone, to converse with his thoughts.

On the second and last night of the performance, he went back to where he was seated the day before. It was at some dark corner at the gallery, just beside the people who managed the stage lights. There, he settled down with a bottle of water and watched – perhaps for the final time – the story he weaved and the characters who filled it. He mouthed his words to the songs that were sung, and teared for the second time at certain scenes.

Whenever the audience laughed during certain parts of the show – which were meant all for humour’s sake when he wrote the script, he giggled along. Having watched it on the first night, he could now anticipate the audience’s reaction to some of the scenes. He knew when they were mostly likely to laugh and when they might exclaim as the twist in the story was presented.

As the curtains fell, he headed for the backstage, feeling the need to compliment the few familiar faces he knew for a job well done. There hadn’t the need to be critical – something that he couldn’t avoid, being a (failed) perfectionist. As he walked in and scanned the room, there were only a couple of familiar faces. He pat them on their shoulders and shook their hands before making a sheepish and quick exit.

He impressed upon the director the need to start planning for the next production, not once but a few times. However, the disconnectedness of it all made his words sound too hollow and meaningless. They might have an impact at another time and place, but not now and here.

All he knew was that the ship had long left the harbour and perhaps, never again it would turn back.