If you think that human nature is good and powerful, then you go around frustrated because the perfect society has not yet been achieved. But if you go through life believing that our reason is not that great, our individual skills are not that impressive, and our goodness is severely mottled, then you’re sort of amazed life has managed to be as sweet as it is. – David Brooks
Do you feel it too? I know I do. That sensation when a stunningly intelligent and beautiful woman or man walks into your vicinity, or an impeccable programmer, or a/ an **insert the person you admire here**? That sweet sting of insecurity that grips you, slowly, like a giant vice squeezing your body gently? You feel yourself closing in on yourself involuntarily, adjusting your shirt cuffs and brushing an imaginary stain off your shoulder, wondering whether that person could ever be friends with you, whether they will ever see what a beautiful person you also are.
You slide deliciously into a spiral of self-loathing, asking yourself why you cannot be better, do more with your life, get off your arse and get a flat tummy and a rounded bottom like her, finally finish that story you have been meaning to send to that publisher friend of yours, and on and on, until blackness sucks out whatever sunshine you had in your soul. It is a wonderful type of agony, berating yourself for your shortcomings, perceived and otherwise, this slicing of the grooves of your scars and your new wounds deeper, reaching out for yourself by wallowing in your comparative mediocrity.
I stand in awe in her presence, letting my eyes dance over her chiselled cheek bones on her flawless golden skin, feeling time slipping away while I work up the courage to say something interesting, feeling the same time draw out slowly like an awkward break-up. A quick hello does it and I walk away, back to my fantasies. She smells familiar yet exquisite. I wish I knew the name of her perfume, that loveliness that follows her wherever she walks and in which I am now drowning myself. I watch her turn, tracing her curves guiltily, careful not to let any one see me looking at her.
It usually takes a walk or an episode of Daria to shake off the defeating reverie, to remind myself that I am here to do a job, to grow and contribute, not be liked. It is easier to say that than to apply it. Of course I want that hot hot chick to like me, to smile at me every so often in that way that I can see the gap in her front teeth. I would be a barefaced liar if I said I do not like some form of attention. Of course I would like a pat on the back from that veteran engineer, the occasional “Good job!”
He is smiling. A smile is always playing on his mouth and he still has the look of a man who knows what he is doing, a man who has figured this life thing out. When he mentioned that he used Google to figure out a piece of troublesome code, he seemed even wiser. I use Google and I still feel stuck at a little more than “Hello, World!”
Then there is the other guy. He does not smile often. Most of the time he is staring into his Mac Book Pro, the new one with Retina Display, all red earphones and a flurry of fingers. I interrupt him by waving reservedly to ask him a question. He slowly pulls out the earphones and responds like an experienced teacher: patiently, eloquently, concisely and completely, not wasting his words or leaving any details out.
The opinions of the people we admire and look up to become facts in our ears and we mirror their movements and mannerisms hoping to somehow ingratiate ourselves with them. We seem to unconsciously seek their approval, even at the risk of great embarrassment. I find myself chiming in when a conversation on programming comes up, despite the fact that most it makes my eyes glaze over. I can only admire in wonder at what strings of text that look like bad grammar can do. It takes a great deal of fortitude and self-knowledge to be aware that you do not need any one to like you or approve of you. Uko tu sawa.
** Attractive people unwittingly set high expectations that are begging not to be met.
Listening to Majid Jordan fills me with a blueness unlike any other kind I have ever experienced. In October of last year I somehow stumbled on their music, I forget exactly how. What I remember was the piercing loneliness and sense of despair I was drowning in at the time. Their haunting music was not helping and I could not tear myself away from it. It appealed to the pining part of me that is ever a tickle at the back of my neck, that hunger that never seems to go away. I felt disconnected from my friends, from my family, and however hard I tried I felt that there was something I had lost: a key into a room that I was locked out of and could only strain to look into. My connections never felt more tenuous, that they could have been washed away at any moment. The worst part about it all is that I did not mind in the least, hiding the despondency well. I know how to hide behind a smile.
There was a girl I was infatuated with at the time, and we shared quite a few intimate weekends. She went quiet around that time and I felt that I had been yanked away from her bosom and left naked. I was holding hot coals to keep her warm and her back was turned, leaving me dancing in pain. Again, I had made it about myself, forgetting that she had her own life to unravel. However, I could not shake the feeling that she had moved on. I did not, and still do not, have the right to be jealous. Our realities are more complicated than romance permits, and this knowledge ate at the granite that was my angst ever so slowly, each bite seeming to diminish me. I held hard to the anger. It was the only thing I could feel completely.
At the time, my life had been put into rude perspective. I was not doing well and it was bearing down on me. If I had money I would probably have been drinking heavily. I was stuck and the rest of life was moving past unapologetically: a dead-end job, a school course that seemed to be mocking me with its complexity no matter how hard I tried to grasp it and a pervasive silence from the people I had come to lean on at times like that. A Place Like This was one of the first albums I had on my then just-acquired smart phone.
I bought it from my father for a reduced price because he had found it difficult to use. I have not even started paying for it and he still does not know I lost it. I do not know what I am more afraid of: coming across as that crying and careless six-year old too scared to look him in the eye and sense some disappointment or my sneaking suspicion that he will, most likely, laugh and “Hebu tell me about that…!” and go on about how such experiences as muggings are good for you, that they remind you that life does not always go the way you want it to. If ever there was a man who went with the flow. I digress.
It was the perfect soundtrack for my love life at the time, and by extension, all of my life. It resonated with my unfulfilled desires and hopes that were looking vanquished. All these months later when I come back to it, I am reminded that I am not as far from the edge as I think. One misstep and I will be sucked back into that abyss. It must be some cosmic joke that no matter how far you have come, how far you still have to go.
He goes first, ever the sleepier one. She goes to the kitchen, after supper of plain boiled rice, lentils and steamed cabbage, with their dirty plates. I hear splashing, the tap runs as she cleans up. She walks straight to the bedroom after. They giggle and chat animatedly, their words muffled. A sudden silence then engulfs everything, like their world has been sucked into a vacuum. Then the sonorous rumble. It was a source of much frowning after the Christmas Eve party in the boys’ room, an unwelcome trombone orchestra. This is how it usually happens.
She takes the plates and places them gently on the ceramic counter top, the glass clinking lightly on stone. There is no water running. She comes back and whispers in his ear, close, her lips brush lightly against his right lobe. She pulls away and smiles, sashaying into the dark corridor and beyond. He follows not long after, a knowing grin playing on his lips. What follows is a different type of mirth.She moans sensually, a quietly ecstatic song interrupted by sudden intakes of breath. Pleasure-pain sounds, high-pitched, punctuated by strained breaths add to the quiet cacophony. There are some words interspersed: “Not there”, “Stop”, “Oh, God”, “No”. And the music plays for about an hour.
Running water. The shower, the sink or the toilet. Or all of them. There is more laughter, lighter and more spontaneous. The house seems to exhale and settle into a pregnant satisfaction. It is still again, the turmoil has been released and one could imagine they lie uncoiled and spent, waiting for the unwelcome daybreak. The energy dissipates fast and no one would know whether there a raging fire just moments before.
And then there is me.
I sit still, watching and listening to all of this, exploring my own voyeurism, guiltily happy with my silent intrusion on their privacy. I take it all in, wondering whether there is another somewhere out there doing what I am doing, knowing there are such others on the opposite sides of such walls as well. They do not know that I am here. I am invisible and silent, dead to them in their fervour. Maybe they think the walls contain them, like deaf people talking and not knowing that they are shouting. My head tilts towards the wall that separates us, diaphanous even though it is made of stone. A deep silence seems to ooze from it now. Then rumbling. I wonder how she sleeps amid that chaos, resting peacefully when thunder surrounds even the outside.
My own stirrings have long been calmed and my mind wanders back to the past, where it is fixated, trying to draw some meaning from everything I have touched and been touched by, trying to unravel those shortly passed ecstatic and tense moments. I wonder whether there is such a thing as ‘a present’, when I have barely moved from where I sit and yet everything has changed irrevocably, all seeming to have happened when I was not there. Idly I imagine that these thoughts can be heard on the other side, transmitted across the film that separates us. At least some-ones are not troubled. Morpheus comes calling and I heed. There is tomorrow for these thoughts.
(French): Literally translated to “the call of the void”; contextually used to describe the instinctive urge to jump from high places.
Reckless. That is what we are together. It feels right, despite the dangers we are flirting with. There are things we are both not ready for, things no one should ever be ready for. It feels good. I am not sure I want it to stop, this surreal ecstasy, this freedom I have found in being tied to someone else. We are both scared, her more than me, her jitters make the air around us cold, yet we remain hot. I tell her not to be anxious. Whatever happens, she will land on her feet. She has the one person who will never leave her: herself. She loves to the point that she hardly recognizes the person she used to be. I tell her not to lose herself but I fear she is not listening. I like that. I have someone I can burn with.
(Portuguese): The feeling of longing for something or someone that you love and which is lost.
A darkness pierces the light, igniting long cold embers to a bleak resonance. I can still see her through the smoke of the lingering doubts and regret, blinded by what I imagine, choked by longings that may never be satisfied. I can hear laughter through the walls, wishing I were him and her, I know it’s a her at the other end of the phone call: I wish she was her. Her reflections shine off the surfaces where she paints her words with energy, a warmth I miss. Holding myself, I close my eyes and wish she was here with me, that she would even pretend that I still mattered. Why is it so difficult to stop dreaming? Grasping the fading flowers of memory that are now thorns tightly, mesmerized by my own dripping blood and numbed by the pain, I wait, still, watching this macabre canvas take shape. Any shape will do, however twisted, to remind me that I once felt with my very life force, that once I was so alive. One day I will forget her, and this cloying sentimentality may disappear from my words, or words disappear altogether. I might have no more use for them: a heart was broken without trying too hard, and even that mends. How many times have I said goodbye? How many more times will I have to say it?
She uncoils herself with serpentine grace, slowly, sensually. A woman who knows what she can have, and what she already has had. Beneath the satiation still lies a hunger I can barely feed, a fire that burns me over and over like a never setting Equatorial sun. I, the cold lizard that never warms up, keep coming back to bask in her glow. We sink our fangs into each other, alternately, together, until we are pierced shells: empty and hollow, with holes all over from which we have oozed emotional venom. We hide with each other, in each other, twisted like an old tree’s branches. I hide from myself with her, losing myself in her, to her, forgetting that there are hearts I am waiting to break. She still cannot see me even though she looks straight at me. She sees what I let her see and I let her keep her illusions. They are as beautiful as only shadows can be. I cannot know what she is keeping back, busy as I am with my masquerade, in step with her in this dance, both of us puppeteering colored figments in each other’s faces. Hers are a shade darker, inscrutable and drawing, pulling me dizzyingly into her orbit, faster and faster. We circle each other closely and cautiously, entwined by our fears for and of each other. Sensually curving out the other’s lines, we paint hopes and dreams on the sinking sands on which we stand, as we move deeper into a mutual destruction. We are both heroes and villains in this space where there are neither heroes nor villains. She is my saviour, she is my doom. She is whom I have shed this skin for, remaining naked, drawn out of my cave to find shelter in her curves, in the sweet pain of her bite.