1.27am, 29 March

I think you might have forgotten. From the look on your face and the stuff you said, I know the significance of it all was lost on you. It was something special I thought I could share with you. It wasn’t just the number, the amount, the lights, the temperature and the things I wrote.

What I said didn’t register. It was only days later when you asked. But by then, the moment has passed. Talking about it was like getting me to taste milk that has expired for days. And where we were wasn’t the most appropriate place for me to talk about it.

It has passed. Something that could have turned into a beautiful moment for memory’s sake has dissipated. I alone hold this memory for now, until it fades. Maybe one day, something triggers it and my emotions will make sure that I will revisit everything and anything associated with it.

It’s the same thing all over again, isn’t it? What’s special to me won’t mean a thing to anyone else, even if I were to talk about it there and then. You know, like cherishing the moment and wanting to share it with someone, anyone about it?

Because it’s there, I’ll carry it with me maybe until the day I leave this world. Quietly. And I’ve been driven so far into the woods that it’s harder now for me to come out. I don’t think I will and I know this will cripple me more than what I have already done to myself.

A month or two later, some unsuspecting woman will stumble into my life. She may think that I’m some Tramp and probably decide never to see such a wretched creation of a being again in her life. Or if she thinks there’s something in this man that is worth salvaging, she’ll try to pry the shell open. She’ll probably be so frustrated that she’ll give up crying. I can show her the physical scars, the scabs, the lesions, the red blotches and the black ones. Would she be brave enough to look at me and tell herself that this person is worth her world?

Perhaps for the fear of polluting the gene pool, not many women may want to continue on this path.

The question is of whether or not I want to correlates to how much hope I have left. I don’t deny the fact that I may be deceiving myself and through that deceive women who may deserve better. If accepting all the other flaws of my life wasn’t hard enough, I have to accept this physical aspect that will, perhaps, never go away. Save for a miracle (but how often does one experience a miracle)?

***

I received your text today. You were keen. I was keen. But this has inevitably raised the question about who was the keener party. You or me?

I don’t want you to be too keen. Yes, I would love to have your company. I know we’ll have things to talk about over the dinner you suggested. I have the choice of whether I want to be all superficial about the things I tell you or I suffocate you with enough stuff that may just make you feel like the world’s about to end.

For your sake, I won’t. I’ll censor. I’ll hide myself in the woods. It’s a place where the demons in my life come out to play and I have to garner all my strength to ward them off. But they pale in comparison to what I’ll have to face when I head out.

I know you have your demons too, from the many conversations we had in your car when you were sharing about your struggles and account after account of incidents that threaten your faith in humanity. But I don’t want to dump my demons on you. You have enough on your hands already.

So, for two more days (including tomorrow), it’s the shell of me that you’ll see and talk to. Don’t think I want to meet you again until a miracle happens and I find that it is safe once more to crawl out of the woods.

I hope you understand hiding in a shell expends energy and I don’t have that much of it within me right now.

* This post was written with this song on repeat mode.

Contrasts

He walked out of the building feeling relaxed and hopeful. In his heart, something was bubbling. It was too faint to resonate within the rest of his being, but he knew such moments were precious. They don’t come too often his way.

Compared to this, the 26 short minutes he spent in another office was nothing short of a disaster (“The Disaster”). The heart-shaped cushions, in all of the red splendour, against the black sofa unsettled him. The photos of their success stories – featuring people who could have been plastered on the front cover of magazines – did nothing to boost his flagging confidence. Even in the room, he felt claustrophobic.

But now, he knew where and how to draw the line between a business driven entirely by profits and a business run with a bit of heart.

***

On both occasions, he was asked about his preferred or ideal partner.

The girl from The Disaster could only repeat the question when he was finding it a little difficult to find an appropriate response to it. In his mind, he didn’t want to just start on a person’s looks (because everyone will age). He was not in the mood for latching into a lengthy explanation about why this is not top on his list. If it was physical attributes (height / weight / figure, etc) they were looking for, he had indicated most of the basic info in the form (which he had to fill in earlier). Case in point, not many women wear their hair long as they grow older.

“I don’t know where to start,” was the only answer he could muster.

Question was repeated. He too repeated himself.

Then, there was the insistence about participating in group events when in that form, he has explicitly stated his preference for one-on-ones.

“I fade into the background when there are more than four people in a social setting. I don’t think I’ll find this very useful,” he explained.

“Oh… Don’t worry about that. We’ll ask the facilitator of these events to draw you out,” she was trying to be helpful.

For someone who is extremely averse to being in the middle of the spotlight, he was abhorred with the idea. They were the stuff of nightmares for him, ranked alongside those involving him going on a fall from some high-rise building.

“I think I’d prefer one-on-ones,” he smiled tiredly.

“No, no. You must learn to participate…”

That was when he switched off. The girl from The Disaster went on about how he must strike a balance between sit-down events and those sporty ones. There were good reasons why he avoids sporty events unless they involve him being wrapped up in some suit or gear from head to toe.

By the 24th minute, he thought it was obvious that the girl from The Disaster felt as though she was banging against a wall consistently. Her body language showed and her attempts to get his “buy-in” (in the form of touching his knee [which he thought was a little contrived] and then assuring him that he would not be alone in attending their group events because other singles would feel the same) were clearly not working.

For the second time, she pressed a postcard into his hands.

“If you have the time, you can log onto the website of our subsidiary. It’s an online dating site,” she explained.

He was half expecting the words “Foreign wives agency” sprouting on some big and bright spot on the postcard.

The look on her face was a signal that the session was coming to an end.

“So what happens after this?” He had to ask.

“Nothing,” was the terse answer, expressed with a smile he thought was a little forced. (The same smile you get from salespeople when they were rejected.)

It was too late for him to stop cocking his eyebrows.

“Nothing will happen?”

“Nothing,” the smile remained.

“No follow-ups?”

“No.” She could have repeated her “Please visit the website” the third time.

A minute later, he was shown the door. They exchanged fake but cheery “Byes!” and “See you again!”

***

“Tell me about the last woman you were attracted to.”

He thought about her and immediately there was the slightest hint of a lump in his throat. He described her very briefly (which she helped by asking if she’s petite) before going in depth about how well they connected.

“It was as though we could not stop talking. Like, there are people whom I go out with and by the third time we meet, we’ve run out of things to talk about. But with her, we haven’t run out of conversation topics by the tenth time we met!”

She was able to draw him out through questions. It didn’t feel like she was reciting or doing something out of an SOP or a routine. In fact, she took time to examine the questionnaire he had filled in earlier before asking specific questions.

“So, you are open to women who might be older?”

“Yes. She was possibly a few years older than I am.”

Then, there were the questions about past relationships. For him, he could only talk about “close encounters.”

“So was it emotionally disturbing for you when you found out that she was getting married?”

He was stumped for a moment. For starters, he wasn’t sure what she meant by emotionally disturbed.

“I was a little… No, I was emotionally disturbed.” He made a guess.

She nodded. “Well, the women you’ll meet are singles. So, rest assured, they are also in this together.”

It wasn’t a room where all of these were conducted. There weren’t red heart-shaped cushions that were so “in your face” or blindingly obvious. Their business premises were a quarter of where The Disaster operated from. There was enough time for him to observe where the little hearts (in a pleasant shade of earth green) were plastered to form the petals of flowers on the partition wall. Instead of a black sofa, there was a white non-descript plastic chair. Instead of having to look up at the consultant (the girl at The Disaster was sitting on a chair which puts her eye-level substantially higher than his, as he was seated on the sofa), they were at the same eye-level here.

By the 90th minute, he was listening to her as she brought him through the different “packages” they offer.

2.03am, 25 March

T’was an evening of D Rice’s TBD and scenes of Closer running in his head. Then, faces of women he was attracted to recently flashed in his head before the face of an actress lingered. It was a close-up of her face and just below her left eye, there was the streak of a teardrop which carried bits of her mascara down her cheek.

A scene perhaps he could write about appeared in his head. It would have been about how a woman was meeting a man she loved for the past six years. When once they were so much in love as youths, their lives now meant nothing to each other anymore. The jokes that they giggled over lost their humour through time. They might yet live to regret it, but for now, it was the pain that drove her to make the decision that they should and must part. The man, realising only now how different their lives are, looked pensively at the cup of latte before him. He couldn’t say a word because he too was in pain. He knew she was right but he couldn’t understand how he would have to cope with all the memories of the six years.

Laid before him tomorrow would possibly be another first step — to happiness and the path to pain. He knew that the pain he had to deal with every night would one day be amplified by someone whom he would have to share his life with for love’s sake. It was, at the same time, a glimmer of hope; a sliver lining amongst the clouds and the promise of heartache, disappointment and loneliness.

He remember how a couple of months ago, he declared how a two-year curse was broken unceremoniously. Tomorrow would be when he would take his first few steps towards breaking a curse that has lasted and tortured him for the greater part of his life. He was unsure if he has anything left that he could offer. Like the uncertainty he felt during the recent trip, he has no idea how much there is left inside him that can make someone feel loved, like no other man did before he came into her life.

The romantic notions of love, he thought. These thoughts were borne out of a man who has never loved or been loved tangibly in return. Perhaps he might be considered by some as one whose emotional state has remained unchanged for decades. But he hadn’t an idea how he could change or make his first steps towards the eventual paradigm shift for his life.

D Rice’s TBD is playing for the nth time on his iTunes. Someone commented how this was depressing for a Friday night. She might not know that it has become very much a norm for him.

“Life goes easy on me… most of the time…”

4pm, 21 March 2011

The Cross, once so illuminating,
Is now hidden amongst the dark, foreboding clouds
They call themselves “Legion”
For they are many
Who came visiting
All through the year – 2010
They were first made from Doubts
Freshly harvested from scars and wounds
That came with The Great Fallout
Which took place at Macca’s
Where everything was torn to shreds
Another deafening silence ensued
The darkness, once considered minor
Grew into something sinister
Nothing was done about them
They festered because there was no one
To brush them away
Or to clear their cobwebs
No one understood him
When he said he was tired
He could not muster a fight
Against these agents of darkness
He could no longer lift his sword
Which was now encrusted with the brown rust
Of neglect and despair
None came and none are coming
To his help in his darkest hour of need
Collectively they assumed
That he was the fighter he once was
Not that courageous, not overly brave in battle
But fighting once alongside them as their comrades
One by one, they left him
Abandoned and standing alone in battle
He watched in horror
The devastation before him
Engulfing everything in its path
Nothing was left that he could hold
Nothing was said that he could be inspired
Existence, he cried to himself,
Is merely an excuse now.
He knew he had to fight
But could he? Would he?
Bereft of will and belief
He grabbed his sword
And wearily swung it one last time
In the raging wind
Agents of darkness in hordes have arrived.
The Cross, once so illuminating
Still lies hidden amongst the dark, foreboding clouds.

4pm, 11 March 2011

As we pulled over at the car park, we were hungry, sweaty and tired. For the past hour, we were trying to scale two trees – one at 62 metres and the other at 72. The sense of accomplishment – understandably so since both of us were no longer teenagers and have developed the fear of heights – was to be overshadowed by something else.

We walked to the restaurant, which was on the outskirts of a picturesque towne called Pemberton, found it to be largely empty (except for a group of tourists, like ourselves), got ourselves a nice table by the pond and settled down to peruse the menu. Everything seemed normal. At the back of our minds, we might have been aware of the political upheavals that engulfed most of the North African countries. Like the media coverage on the developments, we felt distanced from it all. Perhaps it was also because we were half a world away at that moment, being two sunburned tourists in Australia.

I asked my partner for her order. “Rainbow trout,” she muttered without looking up at me. She was pre-occupied with all the photos she took from our travels for the day.

I found the counter empty. The wait staff might have been working on something in the kitchen. But before I could pick up the little brass bell that sat on the counter and give it a bit of a tinkle to get some attention, the waitress appeared. She was decked in a black polo T-shirt and protecting it was a white apron (with the restaurant’s logo emblazoned on it).

Before I could place my order, I observed how there was a strange expression on her face. It seemed like a mix of fear and concern. Could have been a situation in the kitchen, I reasoned and was ready to say “We would like two of the rainbow trouts set lunch please.”

Well, I didn’t get to utter those words. Not immediately anyway because I was interrupted.

“Have you heard about the earthquake in Japan?” the waitress asked.

“No,” I felt like some idiot who had been living under a rock for the better part of the century.

“My husband called to tell me about it just now. They are saying it’s 8.9 on the Richter scale.”

“Oh really? Where in Japan?”

“Not sure,” she replied as she left the counter, clutching a remote control device. Standing in front of the wide screen television in the restaurant now, she began flipping the channels.

Far from being upset because I wasn’t given the opportunity to place my order, I was trying to figure out if this was higher on the Scale compared to the 2004 Indian Ocean or the 2009 Sichuan earthquakes. A few seconds later, the familiar NHK logo came on the television screen.

By now, the waitress husband walked out of the kitchen and came to join us. The three of us were looking at the screen in rapt attention for a minute. A raging fire was tearing through an oil refinery, the footage showed.

“That’s horrible,” I commented.

“Yeah,” the husband replied. “They say it’s 8.6 on the Richter scale on the radio. I didn’t know they’ve revised it upwards. Look at that!”

The footage had switched from the fire at the refinery to the landscape. At first, I wondered why they were showing us the sea until the words “tsunami” appeared on the screen. I instantly made the connection and continued watching in horror.

“What’s your order?”

I was interrupted briefly by the waitress.

“Two rainbow trouts,” It was my turn to speak without looking at the person whom I was addressing.

“Coming right up,” she disappeared into the kitchen again.

Then, I remembered my travelling partner, who was sitting at the table by the pond.

“There was an earthquake in Japan,” I related the news to her.

Half an hour later, our eyes were glued to the screen while we filled our tummies with a lunch of grilled trout, salad and French fries. We were treated to footage after footage of entire towns being submerged in seawater. We saw devastation then, but the realisation of the intensity of devastation only dawned on us much later.

As the car pulled out of the restaurant’s car park, I hadn’t come to grips with the enormity of the situation. Many thoughts crossed my mind. On one hand, I had been fed with many reports down the years about how prepared Japan is in dealing with such situations. On the other, the degree of which Nature inflicted her wrath on the affected areas, not many would have been prepared for it.

By the time we got on the highway, it was nearly dusk. Our car was in no way equipped to deal with animals that might wander onto the middle of the road at this time of the day. The task now at hand was to get us safely to our next destination – a grueling three-hour drive. So, interspersed with the thoughts of the catastrophe were the anxieties that we might have to drive in the dark of the night.

At the back of my mind, I knew my anxieties could never compare to those who suffered one of Nature’s greatest wraths. As I drove on, I whispered the faintest of prayers for the victims.