Sliver; silver

Sometimes words would never be enough or that there’s no point in broadcasting thoughts and expressions.

Maybe this is the beginning of an end. Time has given another perspective, which simply highlights how it can possibly be self-absorbing and propagate attention seeking behaviour.

What does it serve? What cannot be shared privately and that it has to be said publicly? At the end of it, it appears to be simply an avenue for feeding one’s ego or the never-ending race to win yet another online popularity contest.

Friendships were weakened. Cracks were exposed. The search for understanding or empathy becomes fruitless. The feeble craving for acceptance dissolves as one attempts to shout louder than the other. And sometimes, rage rears its ugly head. The spirit of being human breaks.

We forget that life is much more than this. There are other races we have yet to put ourselves in. There are other battles waiting for us before we breathe our last. In our haste to broadcast, the thoughts of how there are kinder places and people become myths.

The lack of acceptance or even understanding can break a man’s soul, but the propagation of this through hate, rage and anger can destroy whatever kindness, even if it appears to be merely an illusion, that is left in this world.

Perhaps the greatest lesson learnt through all of this is to be responsible whenever I express myself. It should never be caustic. It shouldn’t be to hurt.

***

It’s now mostly about living life on the edge. In the past, everything else was an illusion. They appeared solid at first glance, promising honey and nectar and “happy ever after”. But when the illusion they carry shatters, the heart breaks. Once. Again. One time too many.

Patience and the occasional flutter of the heart are the fuel for life for now. There appears to be no other solution, no other source of strength, until the storm recedes. It may never recede. It may just be another of those illusions that play with my heart – being carelessly tossed about, notwithstanding its fragility and the hope it has been craving for.

Or it could just be the start of when hope finally enters, prevails and heals.

The morning after; the night before

She stood out amongst the women in the room. For starters, her height was just right. She had nice, wavy hair which rested nicely on the back of her shoulders. Under the white fluorescent light, the tresses reflected just that little hint of dark brown highlights. There were those dimples on the side of her cheeks whenever she smiled, which, given her personality, was often last night.

He was drawn to her immediately, but the voices within him argued vociferously and repeatedly that given his rotten luck or the lack of Divine blessing, the chances of her being his team-mate (or partner, if you like) for the cooking competition for singles were thinner than a sheet of paper.

He hung his head low throughout the cooking demonstrations of the three chefs who taught them how to make their signature dishes, one step at a time. The inhibitions, brought about by his ever-present tormentors – the voices in his head, forbade him from looking anyone, much less the females in the room, in their eyes.

But Lady Luck (or Divinity – delete where applicable) was smiling at him on this night. She was paired with him. The voices were silenced, if only momentarily.

He allowed her to take control, trying not to expose how long since he last cooked something. Besides, there was this stereotypical gender roles at play here. But, he reminded himself over and over again that he should make himself useful – more than useful, perhaps – without being bossy or worse, repulsive.

The first dish they worked on together was awkward. In between her chopping the raw fish and him whisking away at the salad dressing, they made small talk. There were a couple of occasions when he thought she dropped some hints – opening the way to future opportunities – in some of her answers. His heart became lighter, as he mulled over the pleasant thoughts of how his luck (with women) might just be about to change.

As the night wore on, they became more of a team. Though there were times when they both forgot the sequence of which the ingredients should be thrown into the saucepan or that they did not add a certain condiment to the concoction, there were sheepish smiles all around on their faces. Obviously, they were having fun.

They discussed about how they should decorate the dishes they painstakingly made. “This strip of preserved radish should go there.” “No wait. Maybe we should put the small bunch of raspberry on this side.” With very low expectations that they would win anything out of this competition, they presented their three dishes for judging.

Yet, finding himself seated along a long table, with her in front of him, but amongst the 15-odd pairs of singles in the room, he slowly faded away. Working their way through the three dishes they cooked themselves, the conversation became more awkward. There was once when she asked another guy, seated across her (but beside him), what his name was, when he suspected that she probably had no idea what his was.

When all along they did not, at the very least, expect to win anything, it was a pleasant surprise when the organisers announced that they were the winning couple. The prize was two sets of two return tickets to an exotic island. Still reeling from the shock, they got up from their seats and for the next few minutes, posed together with the three chefs for the cameras, smiling like Cheshire cats. But it became awkward again when the emcee asked if they intend to make the trip to that island together.

Both of them couldn’t muster an answer. The emcee knew better and saved them from potential damning embarrassment by saying something else. Cue the uncomfortable smiles.

Not long after, they shared a cab home. Allowing shyness (or cowardice, delete where applicable) to overwhelm him again, he only asked if they could exchange numbers when the cab was mere metres from her place. She offered to pay part of the fare, but he told her she needn’t.

Her last words (before the obligatory “bye”) were “Enjoy your trip to [semi-exotic] location.”

His heart sank. The significance, value and sentimentality of the envelope, which held the air tickets, dwindled in that few seconds and those few words.

While brushing his teeth the next morning, he could detect the smell of thyme and other herbs on his fingers, but thoughts of her had started dissipating.

Vday short story – Go where the pain is

“Baby’s breath!” she exclaimed once. When, where and how she said it was etched in his head. It was eleven months ago. They were in a quaint little bookshop. She was flipping through a collection of photographs on flowers. And it made him mildly embarrassed because they were not the only people browsing through the shelves of books on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Her favourite flowers, he made a mental note. It would appear repeatedly in his head, and its frequency accelerated as the big day draws near. And oftentimes, he would be glad that it wasn’t roses, which would be extremely dear when florists make the best of this once-in-a-year opportunity to raise their prices.

He stood at the front of the shop. The petals of the white flowers swayed with every passing breeze. They were neatly arranged in a metallic-crimson plastic vase. Closing his eyes for a moment, he tried to imagine that expression on her face when these white living things were presented to her, whipped out from behind his back. He wouldn’t feel the least embarrassed if she were to exclaim loudly (if not louder than when they were at the bookshop) in the restaurant. At least, he thought, it would be better than the very common two syllable “roses!”

The florist with a pair of matronly plastic spectacles looked at him as he entered the shop, with the chime placed at the door signaling his entrance. She was probably in her fifties. The problem for him was she didn’t look the least friendly. He thought women working in a place full of colourful, cheery living things and plants would be cheerier.

“How much is that bouquet of baby’s breath?” he broke the silence.

“They are not for sale,” she replied curtly as she went back to wrapping a single stalk of rose in fancy paper after spending a few seconds looking at him.

“Oh. Why not?”

“They are not for sale. That’s that,” She answered as she plucked a piece of sticky tape from the holder.

“So only the roses are for sale?”

He caught her giving him an icy stare.

“What do you want?” Her fingers were no longer wrapped round the stalk of rose.

“Baby’s breath.”

“They are not for sale, young man, as I have mentioned. I have only one vase of that left. You should have called to order in advance.”

“All right. Thanks.”

The chime by the door announced his departure. She sat down and went back to wrapping yet another stalk of rose.

***

“Baby’s breath!” she could remember the first time the bouquet was presented to her. How she cradled it carefully in her arms. At times, she would gently pick out a stalk from the bunch and admire the purity that its colour represented.

She could remember the dimples on both sides of his cheeks and that mischievous smile of his. Till today, the faint smell of sandalwood would somehow linger its way to her consciousness. It was the perfume he wore and then, there was that image of the well-ironed white shirt of his. She remembered the musky smell of the old movie theatre. The dress, in psychedelic colours, she wore and made her worry for a brief moment that it would be too loud for him. How she spent twice the amount of time trying to make sure that every hair on her head was in place and the ruminations that followed when she had to make a choice – white, black or flowery; heels or no heels – for her footwear.

Most of all, there was him and his company, the milkshake they shared that followed the movie.

The bouquet of Baby’s Breath was present two years later when he knelt down in front of her and everyone else at that milkshake shop. She remembered how flushed in red her face was and the gentle nod of her head in agreeing to his proposal, and the cheers from the onlookers (some squeals from the other women). As he got up, she heard his whisper, “Baby’s Breath for you everyday.”

She walked to the window and gazed wistfully at the metallic-crimson vase of white flowers that swayed to the breeze of spring. They were the last bouquet left in her shop, their shop. She could have made good money selling them to that young man. But they meant so much to her and perhaps to him.

As the skies turn into hues of golden yellow, orange and a few strands of crimson, she would flip the sign at the door, pull down the shutter, cradle that last bouquet of flowers gently, and make her way slowly to where he rested – a place where few souls would venture on the eve of Valentine’s Day. Then, she would whisper softly “Baby’s Breath” to the wind and gently place the bouquet of flowers down, on a stone tablet in front of his black-and-white photo with that same mischievous smile she grew to love and now, miss.