AND SHE LEFT… a love story!
I wrote this fiction story for Women’s Era Magzine in August, 2017.
When we first met, she used to draw pictures. She was young. Growing up.
The pictures were like works in progress. Each one a part of something bigger. Nascent potential. All of it filled with hope, character, individuality, and a dash of irrepressible youth.
I fell in love with that freedom. I fell for the enthusiasm, and the passion, and the raw emotion.
At a time when people called me a robot, she chose the word subdued.
It felt like something special between us.
It felt like something warm.
We sat together in lonely cafes, and let our coffees go cold.
I scribbled words and sentences. Played, mostly. Too short to be fiction, too long to be poetry. Ideas like fragments of broken glass.
She sketched objects. Played with shape and form. Sometimes a pair of hands, sometimes an ear. Sometimes the silhouette of a sleeping woman, or a sleeping man. A sleeping cat.
Everything was asleep, back then. Everything mere moments from waking.
We were bundles of incomplete ideas and half-experienced feelings.
In this way, we fell into something like love.
When I left for Japan, there was an ocean between us. There was space.
It stretched time. Tampered with the flow of it. Slower some days, faster others.
We shared emails and waxed nostalgic. It felt easier to focus on the past, ignore the present and the future.
We shared that. The past. The others were shadows. Clouds. Haze.
Sometimes, I shared my new world. I wrote it down in words, but they were always lacking. Japan changed me in ways my words would never change her. It warped my perspective — expanded it and made it flexible.
In that space of stretched, tampered time, we found empty romance and lost, lingering feelings with other people. We held other bodies and kissed other mouths.
This, too, felt something like love.
Home was difficult. Hard. Impossible. The same, but different.
I was always foreign, in Japan. Always a foreigner. But it was unsettling to return home and feel the same way.
I don’t belong here anymore, I thought.
Still, I longed to meet her. See her. I thought she would be different. Hoped she would be different. She would understand — or at least try — to see the colors I saw. The blends and the hues and the shadows.
She might share of the fading warmth.
She didn’t draw anymore. Said she didn’t have time.
She worked at a small PR company as an account assistant. It was busy and hectic. Frantic. Every day, she said, but she loved the rush and the pace. She talked about office dynamics, hush-hush new deals, press conferences and potential promotion.
There was too much I didn’t know. Too much I would never catch up with. I could only listen and nod.
We tried to talk like old times. I told her I hadn’t kept up with Breaking Bad. I didn’t know who Sam Smith was, or his latest album. I said politics at home felt like watching a foreign film without subtitles.
I said I still wrote stories. Had actually finished a couple.
She smiled then, like a mother might smile at a child with a crayon drawing.
She said she wished she had time to sketch again. She missed it. Loved it. Loved those days, that time, and that freedom. She sighed, like it was gone now.
Like it was never coming back.
She stood to go back to work. Said it was nice seeing me. I said I would get the bill, and she laughed.
She said my gentle gaze and smile reminded her of a robot.
And she left.
I sat at that lonely cafe, and I let my coffee go cold.
In my notebook, I scribbled some words and sentences.
It was something like heartbreak.
I realized that in that stretched, tampered time, I’d clung to an idea. A hazy fragment of what could be. It was a seed, which I planted. It flowered in my mind.
But the soil of my imagination was vastly different to what remained back home.
I never loved her, I thought. Not really. I loved the flower I grew. A flower I didn’t want to stop watering. It had grown to look so beautiful, however non-existent it was. Surely, somewhere in this world is a flower just like this one, I thought. I believed.
It was something like hope.
Not long after, I made the decision to leave.
Everyone asked what I would do about money, health insurance, a pension, life, the future, my yet-to-exist family.
It seemed so trivial, at the time. Out across the sea were completely different worlds. Whole new spectrums of color and culture and experience and language. People living completely different lives.
And you want me to stay here, and work, and prepare for the day I retire?
Yes, they said.
We agreed to disagree.
I will work things out, I said. Or things will work themselves out.
I will be okay.
It was something like faith.
She gripped my hand in hers. It was warm. Soft. There were memories in it.
So this is it, she said.
I have to see the world, I said. I want to see it, and write about it, and live it. I can’t do that here.
She looked me in the eyes for some time, and she smiled.
And for a fleeting instant, there was something between us — the flash of a flower that could have been but never was. A flower we’d planted together, and lost in the forest that grew up around it.
Good luck, she said.
There was trust in her eyes.
It was something like understanding.
Something like love.
And for that, I was grateful.