Home > prose and poetry > no one wished to settle here

no one wished to settle here

It had been raining the entire day. Somewhere below me horns honked and people swore, all the while trying to get from point A to point B without losing their sanity somewhere along the way. I could only smile in contemplation of how different things were from the small town from whence I came.

Come to think of it, one of the mysteries I first grappled with when I moved to this city is how even a few drops of rain will slow traffic down to a crawl and turn roads into parking lots. What was even more perplexing for me is the fact that it usually only happens after the rain has stopped.

I was sitting on the balcony (one of the few luxuries I have,) watching the sun slowly set behind distant apartment blocks, lighting the skies up in hues of orange as if a thousand fires were burning brightly behind them. By this time, the rain had faded into a drizzle, and even that was beginning to lighten.

As I looked upon the city I now called home, I began to think upon the city itself and its mass of roads serving as paths in between towering buildings of glass, steel and concrete; of the sheer amount of people of different backgrounds and of various extractions going about their lives in the hustle and bustle of the city; of the people in their suits and their ties, working 9-to-5 jobs like they were in a loveless marriage, and, finally, of yours truly, lost in the bustling metropolis with only a shabby apartment to live in and just about enough money to last a month or so.

I would have to find a job. That was the main reason I came to the city, anyway. A job, and to get away from the same old faces and places of my youth.

“But first,” I said to no-one in particular, “But first, let’s get to know this city.”

And, with that, I went inside and spent the night uneventfully.

I awoke the next morning at 7:30 am, having gotten very little quality sleep the night before. With red eyes and my senses dulled by sleeplessness, I stumbled into the bathroom and felt around for the lights.

I turned on the tap and cupped my hands, expecting to feel the cold water rush over them. Instead, there was…

Nothing. Not even a drop of water. “Shit,” I said. “Perfect! Just perfect!”

I was planning to go back to bed and curse myself to sleep when, in a rare moment of clarity, I tried the shower. I turned the tap and, yes, there was water. Glorious, cold-as-fuck 7 am water, made even colder by the cool temperatures and sporadic rain that had been falling through the night. But that didn’t bother me much. I was used to the cold. Having to bathe with cold well-water at 6 am every morning before school for nearly 12 years does that to you, I guess.

I undressed, stepped into the shower and let the water slowly run over my whole body.

Later, I learned that the bathroom tap was “kinda fucked.” How I hadn’t noticed that fact beforehand was a bit of a mystery, but, come to think of it, I am quite prone to overlooking such matters.

I decided to take the stairs down instead of wait for the elevator, partly because I thought I needed the exercise and also because I just couldn’t be bothered to wait for the elevator to get up to the 10th floor from the ground floor. Besides, the elevator smelled of piss and beer, a combination of smells which I found particularly disagreeable, most notably in a confined space such as an elevator.

Once downstairs, I headed over to the nearest restaurant and sat down. I ordered a light (particularly on my wallet) breakfast, and found that it wasn’t half as bad as I expected it to be. I have to say I enjoyed it quite a bit. I finished my meal off quickly enough, but I sat there for quite a while longer sipping on my cup of coffee and, once again, pondering upon life in the city.

And, in particular, the other reason I was there.

I still had a picture of us together in my wallet. It was slightly worn and dog-eared, but she was still there. To me, at least, nothing could diminish how beautiful and how happy she looked in that photograph. A reminder of times gone by.

We were two bored teenagers living in a small town that had nothing to offer us, bound to it by our families and our responsibilities. Perhaps to some it was a relationship of convenience, but to us it was as real as anything that life had ever thrown our way. It just felt right.

We didn’t have much, but we had each other.

And that was all that mattered.

But one day it all ended. Her last words to me on the last day we had together still rang clear in my mind: “I’m moving away from this town. I know we said we’d leave this town together someday, but this is all out of my hands. I thought it’d be such a relief to finally be able to get away from here, but . . . I don’t feel relieved. I don’t know if we’ll ever meet again, but if you find yourself in the city some time far away from now, please try and find me. Somehow. Goodbye, and . . . sorry.”

I never heard from her again.

And so, long before I got sick of my hometown, long before the desire to try and find my way in the city emerged within me, I was drawn to the city simply because of her.

That was nearly two years ago then, but still, I hoped (perhaps in vain) that I could somehow find her somewhere in this bustling metropolis. I knew that the chances of that ever happening were slim, but I wasn’t going to give up hoping.

The loud crash of plastic plates on the floor jolted me back to the present day, and I realized that I had spent far too much time lost in thought. I got up, paid for my meal and left. I felt strangely full for a meal of that size, and walked towards the nearby LRT station with the relaxed gait of one who has just had a satisfactory meal.

The day was developing into one of those typical stiflingly hot and humid city days, the kind of day where all you want to do is to sit in a comfortable chair with the fan pointed straight at you and just do nothing at all. The kind of heat which, more often than not, indicates the coming of rain. But that was the farthest thing from my mind at that time, since I had things I wanted to do, a city I wanted to get to know. And so I walked on through the heat and humidity.

The LRT station was mercifully empty, save for a few other people hanging about waiting for the next train. I took it that the stop wasn’t one of the more popular ones and sat down beside a balding, grey-haired man in a suit and tie, his shiny leather shoes making a (presumably) satisfactory sound to him whenever he tapped his feet, which was something he did far too often.
He began to get on my nerves. And so did the heat.

Fortunately, the train arrived soon after that, and I boarded it with relative haste in order to escape from both the heat and the old man. Fortunately, the train was also sparsely populated and I had a free pick of seating. I sat down at a seat nearly directly below an air-conditioning outlet and breathed a sigh of relief.

Soon, the train’s doors closed and I was on my way into the heart of the city.

The sky had already started to darken by by the time I reached the city. I knew then that more rain was coming, but I hoped that it would hold off until I had at least gotten some exploring done. In the course of its journey towards the city, the train I was in had picked up many more passengers, and I, not knowing what exactly to do, simply followed a large group of them away from the LRT station and out into the concrete jungle of the city.

The city centre was even more bustling than I thought it would be: large groups of people walked here and there to the sound of honking horns, the rumble of smoke-belching buses, the Neubauten-esque rhythm of construction works and that unmistakable big-city buzz, the sound of voices and other miscellaneous sounds coming together as a sort of ambient backdrop to the more noticeable punctuations mentioned earlier.

I stumbled along, clueless and somewhat lost, convincingly playing the part of a map-less, guide-less tourist on his first time in the city. I needed a map. No sooner had the thought crossed my mind when I stumbled upon a small roadside kiosk selling, amongst myriad odds-and-ends, maps of the city. I paid for one and sat down on a nearby bench to study it.

I had a difficult time just finding where I was on the map, but eventually I just about managed that. After that signficiant advance, I began to roughly plan a route, taking into account the list of “recommended places to visit” that the makers of the map had so kindly provided and trying to visit as many of them as possible. Unfortunately, the sky was getting darker by the hour, and I knew that I would not have much time before the weather took a turn for the worse.

And so, armed with a hastily-prepared route and an with uncertain deadline looming over me, I set off.

I wandered through shopping complex after shopping complex and through busy street-markets selling various original and pirated goods, the lifeless tinkle of piped-in muzak and the chill of climate-controlled air alternating with the hot, dirty city air and the din of people haggling over prices over a soundtrack of the week’s latest pop hits being played at obscene volumes. Sometimes these two worlds were only separated by thin, automated glass doors, but they were still worlds apart, regardless of how close they were physically.

I had been wandering for a few hours and was heading towards my next destination (another high-class shopping complex, judging by the description of it in the map) when I began to feel hungry. It was nearing lunchtime and I had to grab something to eat. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find any restaurants offering cheap, good-tasting fare anywhere in the city, but I was gladly proven wrong when I came across one of them down a slightly dingy side-road. It was, as I expected, filled with people, but fortunately one of the tables was vacated just as I stepped inside. “Lucky me,” I said to myself, and I sat down. I ordered a plate of fried rice and a glass of iced tea, sat back and waited for my food to arrive.

There were two people eating in front of me, both of them female. They were discussing fashion and something they had read about men in some magazine I didn’t catch the name of. One of them (the one with her back to me) was dressed in some gaudy, supposedly fashionable combination of mis-matched items, while the one facing me was dressed much more casually (and, I might add, much better) in the ever-popular t-shirt and jeans combination. Her hair was short but not overly so, with bangs covering her forehead and combed to one side.

There was something oddly familiar about her. The way she smiled, the way she laughed, the way she ate her food, even the way she held her cutlery. I couldn’t figure out why, I just knew she did. I spent some time unsuccessfully trying to figure it out, and I was ready to dismiss it as the delusions of an overactive mind searching for someone or something familiar in an alien landscape when it finally dawned on me.

It was her.

She had changed, but it was still recognizably her. That same grace, that same beauty that I had once loved and that had once loved me. I had the chance to put two long years of longing to rest with a few simple, effortless words, and I wanted to, but something was holding me back. Something kept me from just going up to her and saying four simple words: “Hey, still remember me?”

All this while, I thought that we could just pick up where we left off, like one continues an interrupted telephone call or unpauses a paused CD, but that was impossible. The two years had passed by quickly for me (as time always does), yes, but it was only then that I realized how long of a time two years actually is: enough to change people and places irreversably, enough to bury feelings that were once prevalent and unearth feelings that were once unnoticed.

In the cold light of day, faced with the object of my desire, away from the quiet nights spent alone, away from the tears and the longing, my emotions seemed a mere shadow of what I thought they were. Perhaps I was afraid. Afraid of rejection, afraid of being seen as a hopeless, love-lorn romantic unable to truly move on where others have all done so. Afraid that I’d see first-hand exactly how much she had changed, and, perhaps, afraid that she’d make me realize just how much I had changed, as well.

I kept staring at her, admiring that beauty I once knew so intimately, hoping that she would notice me and somehow, together, we’d work things out and re-ignite that long-extinguished flame. But she didn’t notice me. I don’t think she even saw me. She looked in my direction a lot of times, and I am sure she looked into my eyes at least once, but I never saw that flicker of recognition people get in their eyes when they see someone they know. To her, I was no longer anyone she knew. She had her own affairs, her own life to deal with, her own friends to see, and who was I to attempt to force myself into it all like a modern-day Jay Gatsby?

Perhaps she felt the same way. Perhaps pretending to not recognize me was, to her, the best way to dismiss me, to say “no” without actually saying it to my face. And who am I to argue?

It suddenly occurred to me that it wasn’t her that I been loving and missing all this while; instead, it was the memories, the rose-tinted rememberances of happier times long gone that I had thought I loved and missed so much. Things that I could never get back, no matter how hard I tried . . . No matter how hard we tried. The concept of “us” was already in the past, receeding into the dark night as we forged our separate paths through life. I had once tried to deny that fact, tried to hope that we would make things work again and pick up where we left off, but at that moment I knew that I had been deluding myself.

I couldn’t sit there any longer. I had to get away.

I got up and walked past her table, and I saw, out of the corner of my eye, her eyes following me, her head tracking my movements. The rain began to fall just as I stepped out of the restaurant, as if on cue. When I turned to take one last look at her, our eyes met, and I saw what I think was a tear rolling down her cheek. And she smiled.

Smiled a heart-breaking smile. The kind of smile that conveys a thousand unsaid words.

She knew.

I guess she was trying to say “sorry,” but she didn’t need to. She had nothing to be sorry for. She opened my eyes that day, made me realize that I couldn’t keep yearning for my memories, that I couldn’t keep hoping to just re-create the past, re-create us. She made me realize that memories are meant to be cherished and remembered, and that sometimes that’s all that one can do with them.

I looked up at the sky and saw that the sky was getting darker and darker. Things would go from bad to worse soon enough. I would have to be on my way.

When I shifted my gaze back at her, she had already turned her back, and I knew that she wasn’t going to look my way again for anything in the world. I didn’t want her to, either. I stood there for a moment with jumbled thoughts racing through my mind, confused and lost, like a little boy separated from his mother in a crowded shopping mall.

She’d said goodbye to me a long time ago, and now it was time for me to do the same.

I pulled my hoodie over my head, turned and walked away.

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