“Tell her you want a divorce.”
If it were that simple, I would’ve done it the first time I laid eyes on Her. Because, it was that simple. She played Elvis too loudly on the bus and she looked at me and it was that simple. Because sometimes, someone looks at you and you forget everything before it happens.
But now, it wasn’t that simple. Because sometimes reality gets in the way of passions and desires and wishes. And instead of walking away from my wife, I plodded along with Her, telling Her I’ll walk away soon, just so I can be with Her. It wasn’t that simple. I had this realistic duty to stick it out or make it work, right? If only it were that simple.
“Drive home now and tell her.”
“If it were that simple.”
“Everything will be afterwards.”
This time on the bus, there was a student scratching his formidable beard. He was wearing a grungy T-shirt with a triangle on it because he thought he was different. He tucked his eyes under a knitted beanie and got lost in his music, his head dropping and bobbing, wishing that this trip would end soon.
There was a middle-aged, plain woman not far away with a dirty hoodie. She paged through a glossy fashion magazine, half-wondering if she could pull off an Armani blazer. She raised her eyebrows at adverts with models who opened their mouths like they were ready to trap flying insects. She’d half-open hers, then close and page on. Not one to get her hair done and she bit her nails every now and then, probably from stress, anxious when her rent came around because she’d be living on noodles for a few weeks. But she still had enough for the glossy magazines. There was always enough for that.
On the far end, a young couple were holding hands. She was talking about the holidays, going to her parents and how proud they were of her, how she found the best thing in her life. She told him that he shouldn’t wear red anymore because it was too brash and in-your-face. He nodded along and squeezed her hand. She moved a finger around his jaw, finally silent and he did the same. They looked away from each other, then at their watches and then she found words again, saying he looked good in blue.
Next to me, an old man clenched his walking stick while he fingered his glasses, the rims, then scratched something that he found on his ironed-out, checkered trousers. He caught my eye and looked embarrassed so looked straight on, his hands steady but his knuckles still, dead-white on his stick.
I smiled, “To you, too.”
He looked me over again and nodded as if he had come to some conclusion about me. A better one than he had of triangle boy.
“Where you headed?”
“Home. And you?”
He scratched his trousers again and sighed, “A light whiskey at home,” he chuckled, “then a newspaper with my wife.”
I bit my lip when he said ‘wife’. I would see mine tonight, maybe for the last time because it was time to tell her about Her. But it wasn’t that simple. It never was between us. When I met Annie ten years ago, it was easy at first because we found each other on a tennis court and it was fine because she had blonde locks and blue eyes and she ticked off the boxes and we dated, got married, went on honeymoon and shared our lives every night together. She would pour me a red, tell me about our friends, her parents, work and everything in-between. She paid for something we owed, what do I want for dinner the next day, we’re going here this weekend, it’s so-and-so’s birthday next and this is what we got them. Then she would kiss me and I’d kiss her and it used to be my favourite thing.
“You married? You look too young.”
I smiled again, almost forcefully. “I’m married. Eight years.”
He lifted his fluffy eyebrows and relaxed his grip.
“I’ve been for fifty…”
He looked straight on again in some thought and smiled to himself and looked at me again, embarrassed that I caught him in a memory.
“What’s the secret to lasting that long?” I had to ask, it sounded corny and romantic and something that the middle-aged woman’s magazine would feature. The wise, the wisdom, the secret to five decades. That would be the headline.
“Patience and not going through with anything else.”
I didn’t understand but I did. He explained it anyway.
“After I got married, I met someone pretty nice. Didn’t go through with it. And glad I didn’t. Life will test you a little bit along the way but then you figure out that you love and love will last.”
I didn’t understand but I did, not wanting to believe him.
“What if it’s a mistake?”
He shrugged heavily like he thought that it might be. What if he made a mistake?
“You will never know. Or you will and die unhappy.”
“Are you happy?”
He looked straight on, not answering for a while and turned to me finally, pointing at the couple at the end. “Think they’re happy?”
She was talking about her mom and he looked on, he moved his fingers between hers, clearly not listening but consuming everything, everything about her. Like I did.
“I think so…”
“I’m happy. I’ve decided I am. Are you?”
“I think I’m about to decide I am.”
He chuckled and gripped his stick a little tighter, watching the couple look at each other in silence again. He looked relieved because he knew how much she liked to talk about everything. She was playing with his collar, admiring the way he kept looking his best around her.
Her dropped her hand to my forearm on the bus, unsteady. I smiled at her as her headphones poked out. “Sorry, sorry, sorry!” she rummaged through an untidy bag and hadn’t noticed Elvis fell out of her ears.
Love Me Tender
Love Me Sweet
Never Let Me Go
She looked up at me and apologized, her hand back on the polished pole. She smiled at me and retrieved her headphones again, one popped in her ear again while the other dangled with her darker hair. An old lady sitting behind us scoffed and looked away.
“I’m not very good in public places,” she mumbled at me, blushing.
“You’ve got Mr. Presley, though. That counts for something.”
She chuckled, a genuine smile as she took the dangling ear piece that rested on her shoulder and held it out to me. Was she asking me to take it? Was she amused?
“You heard it?” Her eyebrows clenched together and it was something I wanted to keep seeing.
“Everyone can, fortunately.”
She held it out, a question again, a look in her eyes, a fantastical sparkle, an interest, a question. It was simple. I took the ear piece and we finished the song together, silent, staring, smiling. And it was that same consuming power. You didn’t have to listen to what she was saying but how she’d say it, how she’d lift her eyes and look at you like you were something different, how she’d move her hands while she was talking or how she thought when the lyrics slowed and suddenly ended. And the childlike excitement guessing what song would come up next.
Annie had fallen asleep while I finished my book, her head in the crook of my neck and she was lost in something, her eyes twitching and grasping in scenes in front of her. I decided to move, waking her as she opened her eyes and looked confused for a couple of seconds before catching my eyes and realizing where she was.
She smiled at me, shut her eyes again and breathed in heavily.
“No, it was perfect. We were here.”
We were at our home, in this hammock, our weekend spot when we decided not to immerse ourselves in weekend plans. When we decided we just needed each other’s company for a while, creating our own impenetrable bubble.
“That sounds kind of perfect…”
“Except we had marshmellows.”
I chuckled and moved my body further down so that our noses were almost touching and I could see her properly, her eyes still finding focus.
“I apologise I can’t live up to your wild dreams.”
She shrugged and kept still, her left hand grazing my neck, deep in thought. I wanted to know what thought she was in. She seemed to read my own mind.
“I’m just thinking. If I dreamt about us, right now, right here, then it is happiness, right?”
It seemed ideal. The way we could occupy each other’s time and spend it reading and sleeping in a hammock, afternoon beers slowly swaying off the time. It seemed ideal.
“I think so. I don’t think it can get much better,” I took her hand, soft and small, and tried to see something different in the grooves I was so accustomed to, “I think it’s perfect…”
There was this almost perfect swivel on her palm, right in the centre, something that could only be mastered by something God-like, something supernatural. I had not noticed it before, the way it marked the palm, like someone had stamped and branded her. But it was softer and it glided between her other lines. I knew her lines. All of them. Just, not this one.
The old man got up slowly as if preparing his muscles for the walk home. The couple were straight off, the woman leading the way, slowly cursing the signal on her phone. Formidable beard was scrolling through his music, huffing and puffing, checking his watch. Hoodie had rolled up her magazine and found her way out, checked her pocket for change she would need for some cut-rate dinner for one.
“Good day!” The old man gave me a wave. Only then did I notice his newspaper that he tucked under his brown jacket. The same he’d read with his wife of fifty years. New news, new news every day. But the same old, same old.
Her had fallen asleep and she fell into the crook of my neck and it felt like Annie but different. Instead of falling prey to idealistic dreams, Her was peaceful and still, her lips holding the only faint movement. And her brows were drawn back, unmoved. Her hand was resting on my chest and I watched it closely. I watched new grooves, new paintings, new lines that I have never seen before. All universally linked. Some freckles on the outside of her hand, three that made a triangle and some that made a half-circle. Then she caught me staring.
“Entranced, are we?”
“Just looking. I like seeing different stuff about you.”
She lifted her finger and poked my chest. “If that makes you happy.”
For the last two years, I’ve been counting the steps from the stop to home. Seventy three steps. And I’ve been doing it because I’d make it seventy three – even if I had a larger stride that day or had to trot in drizzle. Sometimes, I’d take my time. It was always seventy three, though. Maybe it was the routine and complete truth about it that I liked and needed. Because nothing was the same anymore and this was. It was just so simple.
Through a window, a family is readying the dinner table. A little girl trying to place the cutlery in line with the wonderful bouquet. Do they always have that presentation?
There was a man with greyed dreadlocks asking for money. He wanted dinner tonight because he just had an apple today. Do I have change? I found some in my pocket. He blessed me.
The stairs were also part of this. Our postbox was empty, it was empty for a while. Annie usually got the post. She put it on our side table at the entrance usually but now that I think of it, there was nothing there for a while. The Post must be striking.
There was a hush that was unfamiliar because she’d be in the kitchen usually cooking whatever we discussed the night before. It was a few more steps to our bedroom. A few more to our bed.
There was a rushed panic, Annie and another man, tangled, breathless, and panicked. There was flick of sheets. Seventy three. Seventy three.
I could run away, I was going to run away, I should run away.
It’s not that simple.