“I want to tell you about my past…so that you can understand.” she said.
He braced himself. Even if the story was about how she grew up with pirates and made horse porn for a living, he would still have to understand.
At least the restaurant was good. Chinese food was his favorite.
The waiter placed two bowls of tomato soup before them.
“I loved the first guy I ever dated. I really loved him. I have never felt feelings like that again. We were together for three years. It was really different, you know, that first relationship.” she said, lost in memory.
He understood that.
Love at that age was mostly a thousand different ways to reassure another soul that yes! Yes! You are indeed loved, now please keep the phone as some of us would like to sleep. But that aside, he too had learnt a lot of different things the first time.
“He was actually cheating on me for two of those three years. I always suspected. But I loved him…so…” she said and paused, looking up for a reaction.
But he had a spoon in his mouth and a ‘deer in headlights’ look. The moment passed.
“Then one day he just told me he loved someone else and that it was over.” she said, going back to her soup.
No reaction seemed to be expected. He took another sip of the soup and chewed on a crouton.
He was not given that talk by his own first love. In fact he had made the call himself. She denied nothing, but had repeatedly stressed that she loved the other man. He had no idea why she thought that would matter to him.
He had stayed silent, pondering on the most diplomatic way to call her a whore. In that silence she had said she was glad he was being so understanding. It was the first time he had heard that phrase.
He had given up at that point, kept the phone, and wept.
“But I never understood, you know. I never got it. Why did do this to me? If he loved someone else why didn’t he just go? I still don’t know…” she said.
She sounded hesitant, as if expecting to be told that she was just stupid and easily fooled. The pot was not about to comment on the shade of the kettle.
“I guess it is true, all is fair in love and war.” she muttered.
Perhaps, he mused, that sentiment would be different if the losers, instead of the winners, were allowed to come up with the one liner.
Then it would probably be along the lines of ‘haul it higher, she’s still breathing’.
What a lovely image.
He shook his head and refocused on his own table. The waiter had already removed the soup and plated the starter. Spicy dragon chicken with cashews.
“I had tried to be a presence in the life of my first love after all of that. Just to be in touch and all…” She said as she fiddled with pieces of cashew, separating them slowly from the chicken and piling them to one side.
Trying to stay in touch was a better reason that why he had gone back. He went to beg. And he had begged long and hard, with tears when necessary. Eventually he had not only guilt-tripped her back into touch, but into several other physically oriented acts as well.
“I had given everything for this guy. But he did not even want me in his life, in any manner. He just wanted me to go away and leave him with his true love. So I just walked away.” she said dully.
He was sure there was more to the tale, but as he stared at her aggressive segregation of cashew and chicken, he figured the ugly parts had been carefully filtered.
He could not claim to be any different. He formed the *clean* version of his own tale in his head – His love had cheated on him and left him because of her love for another man. Now she was cheating on her love for him. In time she remembered that she loved another man, not him. And then she left.
He stared at the pile of cashews. They seemed to be more numerous than the chicken.
“I think my understanding of love changed after that, you know. I always thought I would wait for love and, you know, get that special feeling…but things are…different now” She said as he lifted the lid off a jar on the table.
It was soya sauce. Spooning some out, he dripped some onto the table cloth. Soon a hundred tiny lines of black spread in every direction as the fluid soaked into the fabric. It was a stain. A deep one. It was obvious that the cloth would never truly be clean again.
Maybe the stain could be washed off and then hidden and so that the cloth could be reused on another table.
He looked up to see her staring at the stain.
The waiter, ignorant of metaphorical values, came up to glare at him coldly and clear the plates.
He wanted to say that it was an accident, and that these things just happened, and that he had never meant to hurt anyone. But he just grinned sheepishly instead, silently telling the waiter it’s not you, it’s me.
“I figured I have to, you know, try and move on.” she said, eying her pile of cashews at it headed towards the kitchen. He nodded, doing his best to imply ‘why not’.
Fresh plates were put down and the main course, fried rice and lamb in garlic sauce, was served.
To just jump into the main course was crass and only done at lesser joints.
If he understood it properly, you had to work up to the main meal in parts.
You ate bread or cut fruit and drank water or sipped a drink. Then, you ate a soup and muddled through a starter or two. Only then did they serve up the main point on the agenda.
“It not like I am bitter, but unlike me, he certainly seems to be happy now. He just got engaged.” She said, seasoning her rice with vinegar, as if to ensure there was some bitterness somewhere at least.
Yes, such main points certainly needed a lot of working up to, he figured.
His own love had also been seeing someone for years and was perfectly content.
And that was it wasn’t it? He had done nothing wrong. Well not much wrong anyway. And yet here he was still trying to understand while his love was being loved and humping like a bunny rabbit.
He took a giant helping of rice and shoveled it into his mouth, chewing hard.
“I dated a few guys after that, but I didn’t really love them or anything. I was just…you know…with them…I thought maybe I could love again.” she said, eating with more civility.
Well, he had thought that with his next one as well. So what if he could not find love, he would create it.
It did not go well.
In the end, when he coldly snapped ties, he was asked why? Didn’t he realize she loved him? He told her to understand. He had no idea what that meant. That was the story he was given and that was the story he was passing on.
“Then this guy came along…and you know…things are different.”
He looked up at her.
He wondered if he was going to be told another love story. In a way he hoped for it.
After all, when the tale of the customer who freed their bedmate does the rounds of the brothel, even the heart of the hardest whore beats ever so slightly faster.
He stopped eating. This required attention. Possibly even a smile.
“It’s not like I love him. I just like him.” she quickly clarified.
He went back to eating.
“Honestly, I don’t know if we have a future together or not. We are not very close. But I feel we may as well try it out.”
Empires lay in ruins but the embers live on, he thought. She had grabbed onto an ember and was going to fan it for all she was worth. He only hoped she would not burn the house down. This time.
“But that’s beside the point. I had told you at the very start I was seeing someone.” She said, giving him a mild glare to cover up the moment of unexpectedly honest confession.
Morals were like a banister. It’s really fun to slide all the way down. But climbing up the stairs once again – not so hilarious. Personally, he had given up after three steps.
But what people usually did, was take the lift. That way they can just show up at the top of the stairs looking refreshed and pretend that they never, ever went lower than the top stair.
He was always amazed how people never realized that it was glass elevator. Stair-climbing is putting those below out of breath. It is not causing blindness.
So she could glare all she wanted. Everyone knew she was seeing someone. But she let him play a round with her anyway. He glared right back.
“It’s not like I don’t like you. But I am already seeing him.” she mumbled eventually.
He nodded along, finishing up the last of the rice.
“And as long as the time is there, I may as well be with him without, you know, thinking too much about the future or anything. We enjoy each other’s company so we may as well be together…” she said, looking at him again.
He wondered what to say. This was not exactly Juliet pleading the case for Romeo. But he could not argue with the reasoning. It was the same one he had given her.
“So basically, I think that kiss we shared was a mistake. I feel it was wrong. And I want to stick to, you know, my morals….” she said, with a quiet air of finality.
Morals? He knew it was really just a random rule she chose to enforce at this particular time. But he sort of got it.
If she admitted, even to herself, that it was just a random rule, then she would have to live with the fear that that one day another random rule would be applied to her as well.
If there is one thing he definitely understood, it was that everyone feared the possibility that one day they might have to eat the food they cooked.
As he chewed some lamb in garlic sauce and pondered on his own cooking skills, he realized it was a terrifying thought. Even as a metaphor.
“Say something na. All you have done this whole time is nod.” She said.
He knew what he was expected to say. Screaming and crying was optional, but unnecessary. Saying the expected was compulsory. The circle had to be completed.
He didn’t really understand or even agree with the reasons. But that was never part of the deal anyway.
And the food was actually pretty good. Chinese food was always good.
But he would not say it to her face. He might lie about getting it, but he would not tell a lie to her face. Well not in this particular instance anyway. He had some morals after all.
He caught the eye of the waiter, who walked over silently.
“I understand. Bill please.”