prompt: chicken rice, sofa, bicycle, written while listening to now (there is no tomorrow) // troublemaker// and as much as I’d name the character the person who gave me the prompt its odd and so heh
“We carry these things inside us that no one else can see. They hold us down like anchors, they drown us out at sea.” This had been the second proper thing she had whispered in his ear before she grabbed his hand, before she pulled him towards the unfamiliar train station.
It had been a matter of course, his usual perch on the peach graying sofa outside on the woody balcony with a fragrant plate of takeaway chicken rice from the same old stall down the road from the oldest food centre in the neighbourhood as he watched the children play and flash by on their miniature bicycles; he was a taciturn man who would do nothing but reply to questions in monosyllables. With his black-framed glasses complementing his flawless jaw line, he gave an impression of distance and seriousness against the bubbly nature of the young neighbourhood. He was different, and definitely indifferent for he lived in his own world, once in awhile slipping his leather boot across the smooth marble finish of the ground, above the yellow tape which marked the border splitting reality from his reverie only to shy away into the comfort of his resides kept under wraps of several layers. In the eyes of society he might be adequate with regards to his outer appearance for he carried himself particularly well for an introverted man like himself. He would never have a moment in his life where he left his house without a proper glance in the mirror topped off with a few minutes of adjustments. Naturally this implied his slightly perfectionist elements which helped him largely with his field of work. An extra tip about getting along with this captivating character would’ve been none other than – avoid the usage of the word ‘now’.
If a fact about his career choices were crucial to understanding and treating him as he would like, he was a freelance photographer and film maker; he made short films and some snapshots of things he saw day to day – primarily the children on bright hues of bicycles and well, his daily dose of chicken rice in the different places he could eat them: the porch, the couch, the master bedroom you name it; he would probably have it saved in his cramped hard disk. With such personal details in mind they pieced up to form a rather odd man who went by the name of Rai, a befitting name for his gorgeously unique nature. He took pride in the fact that his inspirations often formed a steady gush of fluid – many people who were involved in such acts of literacy and art met the recurring hurdle of blocks yet he had a preciously intelligent mind completed with his riveting imagination. Perhaps it would have been the case if he had not stumbled upon the path of the young creature who spoke of the word he detested the most in majority of her befuddling statements. Undoubtedly however, she had been the belle of the summer in his chestnut eyes.
A week ago;
He pushed open the heavy glass door with ease as the wind chimes were sent swinging in odd directions, giving off an adorably cheerful jingle as he stepped into the cold air-conditioned café. It was a toasty café down the road run by an old woman the town called Mrs. Gran because she was a grandma to all of them. Knowingly, despite the young air that permeated the town, it had been a segregated community made of little cliques and groups, which kept themselves, split by the borders of fences and concrete walls. If it had been love and attention a lone soul required in the steel cold hectares of the town, perhaps this old woman would’ve been the one you’d thank for being the light at the end of the long winding road. Her coffee and pastries were the best and each and every time she got the awards in the mini-award presentation held annually in the musty community centre to thank the outstanding services provided by the shops down the road, she would stand on the cardboard stage facing the mere five heads bobbing in the audience seats while saying her annual default phrase, “Its because of love, soul coffee and soul cakes are the best; they’re in right now – if I tried to speak the young people language.” She would then chuckle and clutch her walking aid while she hobbled down the stage and returned to the warm three hundred square feet shop across the road. He would always be there clapping for her because they were acquainted and she had helped him in matters he could’ve drowned in, matters of the confusing heart. Since then it was another habitual visit to her café daily after he had completed his heavenly meal of chicken rice and an hour of standing before the mirror, of course. He enjoyed his lattes undisturbed, relishing his cappuccinos with the company of a thick book, appreciated his morning tea with his eyes closed.
The small café had its alluring characteristics that had its customers coming time after time – after a few trips one would easily be able to tell the difference between two zones, making the café two cafés in one. The front would have the cashier and a few tables under the innovatively bare lamps hanging from wires guised as coarse strings that barely made any use given the bright midday sunlight pressed in through the thick square glass panes that formed the outer wall along with the sturdy support of grey frames. As for the back, customers would probably need a little walking with some caution as you would be led up a dark spiral staircase into a smaller room on the upper level which was an atypically dark room on the contrary to the bright perky ambience couples would definitely enjoy in the lower deck. It was a haven, as Mrs. Gran said, a haven for thinkers and the daring. Thinking was for the daring, for it explored places we probably never ventured into; once in awhile bringing us into places we would never dare to even imagine. As menacing as the engulfing shade might appear, the soft gentle touch of luminance would make up for the negativity one would get from a first glance. It was reflective of your thoughts and character, he believed. Rai ordered his usual Monday latte and heaved a short sigh when Mrs. Gran looked at him with slight suspicion as though telling him that something would happen that day – she was a pretty good psychic at time as well, as a matter of fact. Holding the hot beverage in his left hand, he made his way up the staircase with careful attention as though he was entering a looming forest – not a pleasant one hikers would enter daily for their hikes but rather a dark one with wolves and unseen dangers lurking beyond moonlight’s reach, one which he had gotten used to yet felt tingles of uncertainties despite the thousand times he had embarked upon this mission.
Pretty quickly his habitual visits paid off as he found his way to his preferred table and sat down on the pliable leather cushion but he had not noticed the figure admiring his strikingly fine countenance, the silent flutter of eyelashes as the feminine silhouette turned away and stared into the distant gloom of the corners of the room. She sighed and moved her feet awkwardly.
“Sir, I’m afraid you’ve entered my sanctuary.” She spoke under her breath as she picked up her iced tea, its cold shocked her hands a little as she retreated and rubbed her palms against each other. No answer. She frowned at this man’s indifference, which in her strong principles served as insolent behaviour, bringing a heavy penalty in her books. She chuckled a little at how odd she sounded against his cold front and spoke with a relatively hostile tone which worked well with her frown, or so she thought, “Would you please move now? It’s rather unsettling to be sharing a table with a stranger who disregards your presence like the still wind in the room.” She observed as he stiffened up a little and curled his thin fingers into a ball, clutching the handle of the porcelain cup tightly within his fists. He breathed heavily for a little while and looked up to meet the pair jade emerald eyes staring intently at him. He felt breathless for a moment before looking down and shutting his eyelids for three seconds; one, two, three, “I’m sorry miss but its my usual perch and I’m used to it. Don’t go frowning that much, gives you wrinkles in your later years.” He watched as a smirk was painted flawlessly across her milk smooth skin as she buried her face in her thin hands. He observed how her thin wrists were cuffed with several bracelets reminding him of beautiful objects – scarlet berries, sapphire drops of water and emerald eyes, like hers. She picked up her cup and began to stand up from her seat, “I’m sorry. I’m not in the mood for games so I’ll just pack up and go. Enjoy your drink sir.” Just as she walked past his broad shoulders an instinct sent his hand towards her swaying wrist as he held her wrist, feeling the sharp corner of her protruding bone. “Please, if you would sit and have a talk – Just don’t ever mention the heartless word of ‘now’.” Her strong will grew limp from the relaxation of her hand as she breathed out deeply and muttered a soft ‘okay’. Tracing her steps backwards she moved back to the chair and sat back down and leaned backwards onto the comfort of her chair. Staring straight into his eyes, she scrutinized his facial features for a few minutes in the deafening silence. “So, talk?” She was getting impatient perhaps but it did not feel like time enough for Rai as he sat there with a subtle smile from the side of his dry lips, remembering that he hadn’t let go of her hand, and oddly enough she hadn’t broken out of his grasp but held on delicately, the strength of her cold grip constant despite the movement of time. Her fingers had something special and meticulous as it occurred to Rai that he felt read. He felt as though he was being read through the silly touch of fingers, as they seemed to be trying to find and verify something inside of him.
“You know what, I’ll begin. So tell me why you dislike the word n-o-w which you forbade me from saying?” She said without inflection as her hand fell limp in his palm, which was surprisingly free of sweat. He loosened his clench and leant backwards. He tried recalling the source of his aversion towards the word. It felt surreal and deceiving. Speaking of things in the moment i.e. now was, in his opinion, ignorant for it would be over in a second or two. It made him feel like he was out of control, like he was being manipulated by the thing people referred to as time. It was heartless, cruel and taxing. He was not shy to admit that his live long ambition would’ve been to be able to stop time yet he knew the boundaries of science, he knew the things people would never be able to achieve – it was too vacuous and dim-witted for such cravings. The most he could’ve done would be to live everything to the fullest but his powers were limited, blocked by the infallible walls of edginess and tension. He was also, in a whole different world, hardly relatable to people he met on the streets and perhaps she was the first one he felt willing enough to share his problems with besides Mrs. Gran. He paused to take a breath after his words came out in strings, reminding him of the caterpillars he had dreamt of puking after he was forced into a social event, reminding him of the day he decided that he hated and utterly despised the word “now”. The woman before him seemed empathetic, the sort of look in her eyes which showed that she was now one step further into his world, perchance interested in his ways. Once again she had never once let go of his soon sweaty hands as she pulled his hand tightly with some thought.
“Well that was one good speech there Sir. I’d like to say that I understand your feelings and its not easy to break out of that shell of yours – If I wanted to help I’m afraid I might need the help of a dozen strong men armed with hammers as strong as a construction crane but its unfortunate those items aren’t something I would happen to have. But, there is one thing I can do for you.” A mysterious air blew past his gelled hair as he looked inquisitively into her eyes, noticing the way her side fringe fell almost perfectly in place despite the cool wind puffing past her. He debated for moments with regards to placing his fragile trust into the hands of a stranger he had met barely an hour ago and it was peculiar, definitely puzzling how she made him feel like he was home, like he could drop all guard and believe in her warmth as much as her palm fell pretty well in his paw. “And what would that be?” He picked up his cup once again and brought it up to his lips, blowing at it lightly while keeping his gaze on the slender figure sitting opposite of him.
“We carry these things inside us that no one else can see. They hold us down like anchors; they drown us out at sea. Come with me and I’ll try to be a little lifebuoy at your service – at a price.” She got up and tightened her grip on his hand and pulled him upwards; well this elfin lady had much more strength than anyone could’ve imagined.
The bell twinkles and he trailed behind the scent of daffodils her tresses left in the summer wind. His is tongue-tied, with no idea how to begin. As he left the café Mrs. Gran smiled as she shook her head – probably a good thing given the years of acquaintance they had shared. It had been thanks to that bit of assurance that he relaxed a little, feeling less tense with every step they took into the quiet streets. He considered the possibility of this girl having some sort of ability where she would understand his thoughts and ideas inside out through a peculiar yet affectionate wordless communication. His fingers tingled a little as he thought of the communication traveling in one rigid direction rather than back and forth, he thought of how his heart had been split open for her perusing and for once he felt vulnerable yet comfortable which was amusing because his hard-covered book containing the myriad insufficiencies he had struggling with for ages was now open for browsing, open for this one girl he had never met before that day. Her attention and contact was conceivably draining for his legs soon grew tired of following her thin legs stride through the gravel path on pale violet stilettos. It felt like forever, the distance they covered on their bare legs made a remarkable record for Rai. It could have been a good ten kilometers leaving him to marvel at how her sylphlike frame held tough after that long, and how her knees seemed to be able to collapse any minute on the pressure against her five inch heels as she went traipsing down the road at an indubitably quick pace.
“Here we are, and its time for you to meet someone wise and probably as suave as you are.” She chuckled and let go off his hand finally. Finally. He paused for a moment and a little wave of chagrin filled his blemished psyche, finally catching his breath, finally free yet empty. He peered out towards the town from the upper deck of the train station; he had never embraced the underlying beauty within the unique architecture of the town. One thing he especially appreciated was the tenacity of the pastel rooftops which faded away into grey nothingness under the merciless rainfall which hit them once every winter. It was definitely film and photography material he had to mark down in his mind – his next work would grow from here. An old, hoarse cough sent him whirling around to face a man evidently in his dotage, hunched over his bronze walking aid. He was a thinly built man who hardly towered over Rai but his excellently impeccable posture made him appear impressive and powering. His gaze was close to penetrating, in certain areas similar to a camera’s diaphragm which Rai was familiar with; the moment in which he adjusted the aperture. His eyes fluttered up and down about Rai as though grading him for his choices of fashion despite his own clothes. The man standing before him wore a dark sapphire blue cardigan above a white button up shirt with dark woolen trousers. Each piece looked as if it had been worn daily for decades and they conformed to his limp frame perfectly.
“Sorry for making you make the trip down for it isn’t exactly convenient for me to leave this place of mine. This foolish girl has known no better than to treat you proper.” His voice was impactful as he spoke with an intonation too clear to be local. He walked over to lean against the wooden railings as he squinted at Rai – evidently his eyesight had begun to leave him for his decades of experience and fatigue burst beneath his similarly emerald eyes. He seemed like an exact photocopy of the woman who by now stood a few feet away from Rai just with a few additional hints of aging and the inexorable appearance of hushed wrinkles. He was a mysterious man and had traces of an outspoken youth for now he had been laden and tired, “If its an antidote to your ailments you require, I have your cure in this very place. It is none other than the air, the atmosphere, the place you see day to day. It is none other than yourself.”
Rai stayed silent for a few moments in bewilderment at the philosophical side of this man for he sounded similar to a university professor speaking of the next examination topics. It was time for some deep thought, he sank into the cold air which wrapped itself around his tall body as he felt pacified and composed. Rae shrugged and stared back at the old man with close to no emotions entirely as he shot questioning glances, requesting tacitly for an answer to the hanging question he had difficulty understanding. The old man answered with another round of questioning, never getting far from wanting to understand Rai’s source of imagination given that had been like a story spirit, a little genius in which his element was an endless supply of fresh fancy. As though magically, this old man was clearly aware of the loopholes in Rai’s perfect world – the reason behind his strong sense of despise against the word ‘now’, the reason behind his awkwardness and the reason behind his never-ending inspiration which kept him up on the coldest of nights. And with that they made a deal, a little exchange – Certainty and freedom in exchange for his inspiration. It was costly, yet worth it to Rai for in that moment, he agreed.
Within an hour of blackout and deep slumber – “The deal is done, and there is no turning back. Thank you very much, and live happily from now on; hopefully you’ll get out of your personal labyrinth someday, young fellow. You’ve been of much help, hopefully I have provided a satisfactory bit of service.” The old man chuckled as he linked arms with the young lady and they treaded off into the darkening street as impending rain threatened to fall as the heavy clouds loomed above – the woman turned around and smiled at him, a little display of bidding farewell and he was left alone in the desolate train station.
The nights fall one into another and for the first time he is worried for his mind is nothing but a blank against his flickering nightlight. He stares at his blank document as he runs his fingers down the black keys of his keyboard while shaking his head to the rhythm of his favourite music blaring through his in-ear earphones. He was indeed no longer lost in the entanglement of social awkwardness yet his loss of imagination proved to be a major handicap in his daily life – as much as a leg injury would matter to an athlete, as much as a lost voice would matter to a singer, as much as a life would matter to man. He was lost in his thoughts, realizing that his unfortunate experiences were the kerosene to his lit matches of thought, forming the flames of literacy. He was as good as crippled, limp, dead without his imagination and perhaps he had taken it for granted. He was gone.
The next morning he awoke to the familiar squeals of young children riding down the street on their brightly coloured bicycles as he rushed downstairs to his usual couch as he picked up his packet of chicken rice hanging from the main door handle with a note attached, “We carry these things inside us that no one else can see. They hold us down like anchors, they drown us out at sea – Yet looking backwards, they could’ve been the things that made us stronger and enabled us to survive. Live well my dear, and I’d await the day we’d meet again. Remember the emerald eyes and the wordless communications we shared that day – indeed I read you. I read your myriads of insecurities and I understood you pretty well – you’re vulnerable yet strong, a peculiar man I would say.”
Rai shrugged and relaxed on the couch as he poured the contents of the packet into his pale green plate. It was heavenly, as usual