Jocelyn Soh had walked out of my life, or I had walked out of hers. A lot of walking was done that night on both sides, both geographical and mental. It had been the happiest and at the same time most frustrating two years of my life. To a certain extent, we'd anticipated how explosive the ending would be. The two of us were so melodramatic at nineteen, so theatrical. It was like we had decided what would be a proper ending to a play and then act it out so that some unseen audience could then applaud in appreciation at the artistry of it.
The problem was, by that time, we were both acting out different plays. So it didn't end properly after all. Just an awkward clash, speeches made by both of us that neither of us understood, or in the end, even wanted to remember. Right at the end, Jocelyn threw a clay pot at me. It was the one she had made in primary school for an Art project. I still can't believe she actually did that. I was washing clay dust out of my hair for a week. Of course, I had called her a fickle-minded little bitch whose personality would be much improved by a gang rape, but I didn't know she'd take it personally. Besides, she'd suggested various graphic methods of castration for me, so it wasn't entirely one-sided.
The last words she said to me, as she escorted me out the door, were, "Go to Hell."
She slammed the front door of the house in my face. I blinked slightly, as if finally waking up to the fact that the last two hours hadn't been a dream.
"Good night, Jos," I muttered, and walked away. I expected her to call me, eventually, but she never did. My own pride stopped me making any attempt on my end.
Three years passed.
"Well?" Jocelyn said, smiling at me, "Is that all you've got to say?"
Being near Chinatown, lots of Singaporeans, Chinese particularly, gravitate into Leicester Square eventually, especially students living around that area in the Intercollegiate Halls of London University. I often bumped into people I knew there. It was almost inevitable. Paradoxically, we found that we were eating Chinese food more often in England than back home, mainly because it was the cheapest cuisine around. The quality, if compared to places like Newton Circus, was of course questionable, but the demands of a rapidly shrinking pocket drove us there.
However, the last person in the world I would have expected to run into was an ex-girlfriend, especially one supposed to be in Singapore. I was too numb to say anything then. I just stared at her dumbly. All I had managed to get out at that point, after I had turned around and spotted her, was her name.
She didn't seem to have changed much physically, even though she was wrapped up in a cashmere overcoat and scarf. Her hair was the same way I remembered it, jet black, spilling over her shoulders. Her eyes still flashed with the same inner fire and her smile still made me feel good just by looking at it.
The first thing that ran through my mind was to ask her what the hell she was doing here. How long had she been in London? Was she staying long? Was this an accident? Did she know I was coming here? What had she been doing for the last three years? Why was she here now? What was going on, for God's sake?!
"Hi," I said, finally. So much for eloquence.
"You look different," she said, "You grew your hair."
"Oh," I said, brushing a lock of it back, "Yeah."
"I like it. You look good."
"Thanks. Er... so do you. You look great. Nice coat."
"Thanks. I just bought it last week. Selfridges had a sale."
"That's nice. That they had a coat... a sale... a coat sale," My God, what was happening to me? "Nice that they had a coat sale. Nice for you, that is. Nice coat. Really."
"Right," she said, after the flood of gibberish had come to an agonising halt.
So it wasn't the most intelligent or meaningful conversation in the world, but what did you expect? I'll bet even money your own party chatter isn't that scintillating either. It hadn't sunk in completely yet for me. My stomach was still adjusting to the situation, and my nervous system was sending warnings up and down my spine. It was like I was standing aside as an observer just watching my body go through the motions.
"So, how are you doing?"
"Fine. I'm doing... fine."
"Good," she said, glancing around - the universal signal that the person is looking for a way out of the conversation, "Well, I guess I'd better get going. I'll see you around."
"Yeah," my own smile was painful to wear, "I'll see you."
She started to walk away. Then it hit me. She was here. I was here. This wasn't a dream. Just like the last time, it was real. I hadn't seen her for three years. I still had my questions to ask. And what I had said was true. She looked great. There was a choice to be made now, and I let my gut instincts make it.
"Jos?" I called after her, "Jocelyn?"
She stopped and turned again.
"Look," I said, "You want to get a cup of coffee or something?"
She nodded, smiling that smile again as I went forward to meet her. I let my breath out - I had been holding it, and I hadn't noticed.
Whatever I had let myself in for, there was no turning back now.
The last few months of the relationship are a little vague. Some memories are like that. They exist, phantom-like, at the corners of your mind. When you try to focus on them, you can't, but they come back unbidden when you least expect them to. This one was just before my entry into the Army - I saw it looming before me like a freight train and I wanted to spend as much time as possible with her. This was getting a bit difficult around this time. She was spending more and more time with her own circle, which didn't intersect with my own. And we were finding less and less to talk about. More often than not, conversations were strained, and ended in long, drawn-out silences.
I phoned her up, and she wasn't at home. Her mother said she had gone out to a party. I phoned her up again the next night and asked her about it. I asked her who were there. She identified the names. Yes, it was her bunch, all right. What I liked to call yuppie larvae. These were the sons and daughters of the Singaporean power and financial elite. Those who wore Armani creations, traded country-club memberships and complained about the rising cost of maintenance on their Porsches. A far cry from my own HDB-flat middle class origins.
"Oh," I said, "Those people."
"Yeah," she said, "You would have hated it. What did you call me for?"
"I thought you might want to have dinner," I said, "Didn't know you were out."
"I'm not going to be stuck in all the time," she said, and there was an edge to the voice.
"Well, obviously..." I began.
"I do have other friends," she went on. This should have tipped me off. She was spoiling for a fight of some sort. Unfortunately, I took the bait.
"Jos," I said, "Those friends of yours are the most vacuous, shallow type... they're the type that think projectile vomiting is the intellectual apex of Western civilisation."
"But they're still my friends."
"You hate them," I reminded her, "You've said that often enough."
"Maybe I don't," she said, "Maybe that's the kind of world I live in, okay?"
"Fine," I tried to brush it off, "Whatever you say. What about dinner on Friday?"
"For God's sake, Jos..."
"What? I've got a life, too, you know. My world doesn't revolve around you."
"Your world revolves around fast cars, hair gel, hand phones and Chinoiserie."
"Look," she said, "I know you don't like my world, I know you won't try to fit in it. But I have to. These are my friends. They're the rest of my life. I won't have you insulting them."
"Jos, what the Hell's the matter? What are you talking about?"
"You're the matter."
"What do you want? Do you want me to be like that? You want me to preen and strut and pretend I'm really concerned about the rising price of fashion? I can't lie, Jos."
She laughed. A short, sharp, high laugh that cut through me. I wanted to say something then. I can't remember what, but she cut me off before I could.
"Look," she said, "I'm getting ready to go out. Good night."
I heard a click on the other end, and then the engaged tone. I put the handset down, slowly, like it was made of porcelain and would break if I made any sudden moves.
I'm still trying to figure out what we really said that night.
The Long Island Tea Club is tucked away in a corner on the way from Leicester Square to Covent Garden. It plays great rock music, it's not too smoky, and has the most impressive cocktail list I've ever seen. What's better is that they actually tell you what's in it. Sometimes I just sit there reading the ingredients and filing them away for future reference. And it's never really that crowded, unlike the Hard Rock Cafe, so you can always find a seat.
I ordered myself a Jack Daniels, on the rocks. She ordered Perrier. I felt guilty, like an exposed alcoholic. You can't get more extreme than that.
It had been three years, I knew that. But they didn't seem to have happened, somehow. Maybe it was because when I walked away from her doorstep, I never bothered to go back. I never bothered to find out where she'd been, what she'd been doing, who she'd been seeing. She didn't want me in her life, so I totally divorced myself from hers. So there was no sense of time passing for her, from my point of view. It was like she had hopped onto a time machine and popped three years ahead and was here now.
"Nice place," she said, looking around.
Cut the crap, Jos, I wanted to say. Small talk isn't becoming of old friends. And we were much more than that. Talk to me. Not these standard conversation gambits. Talk to me.
But all I said was, "Well, it's got a nice atmosphere."
She sipped at her water. I was playing with the ice in my drink.
"It's been a long time," I said.
"Three years," she repeated, "And a continent away. You finally made it. You always wanted to. Getting away from that little island, breaking free."
She laughed. I smiled politely.
"I can't believe I used to talk like that," I said, "Thank God that guy's dead and buried. What the Hell did he know? He was only nineteen at the time."
"Oh," she said, a trace of sarcasm in her voice, "And you know everything now, do you, at the ripe old age of twenty-two?"
I grimaced, holding my hand to my heart in a wounded sort of gesture. We both laughed this time, feeling much more comfortable.
"God," I said, drinking from my own glass, "It's good to see you. Where have you been all these years? I always thought you'd gone to NUS or something."
"I was in the States," she said, "Doing a I-don't-know-what-the-Hell-I-want degree."
"Ah, Liberal Arts," I commented. It was an old in-joke between us. I was glad she still remembered, "Where?"
A silence fell over the table. I thought back to Christmas. If Kwok had known she'd been there for three years, he would have told me, wouldn't he?
"I was in Berkeley," I said, finally.
"I know," she said, "Visiting Kwok. I was back home at the time, with my folks."
Jocelyn saw my expression and jumped in. She could still read my mind.
"Kwok's a good friend," she said, firmly, "I only found out about your stay-over after his room-mate told me you had bunked over that month. I practically had to drag it out of him later. He knew what it would have been like for both of us. Don't blame him."
"I'm not," I said, "It's just that... well, I would have liked to have known. So, what are you doing over here? You haven't graduated yet, I suppose?"
"Actually, if you work like a horse, you can graduate pretty fast," she shrugged, "I did a couple of stints in summer school, and I just graduated. Now, I'm on vacation."
"Over here?" I said, eyebrows rising in disbelief, "For how long?"
"A few months. I'm going back to Singapore in Summer. I'll be taking a break for a year, working with Citibank, until I go back and do my MBA."
"Your father arranged that, I suppose," I said, trying to sound neutral.
"It's not unheard of," she said, testily, "And it's not nepotism. I do happen to have a degree, as well as a decent Grade Point Average, and I did do some business courses."
"Sorry," I mumbled, trying to change the subject, "I find it hard to believe you'd want to spend your holidays in London. I mean, I have to live here, but you..."
"It's a nice city," she said, "Colourful. California's really cool, but too laid-back most of the time. Mellow gets to me after a while."
"Come on," I said, "Europe's a dying old lady in ruins. Why are you really here?"
"You're a smart boy," she said, drinking, "You figure it out."
"You came here to see me?" I nearly choked, "I'm flattered. But why?"
"I don't know," she said, looking at me wistfully, "I just wanted to see you. See what's happened to you over the last three years. How your life's been, whether you've got a girlfriend. Whether you've changed at all."
The whiskey didn't taste so great all of a sudden. If I hadn't been paranoid before, I certainly was starting to, now. Had that meeting in Leicester Square been arranged somehow? Did she know I was going to be there?
"I went in the Army," I said, feeling a little defensive, "I got out. Now I'm a Reservist. I'm doing a Law degree. My work's a mess. I don't have a girlfriend. People always change in some areas, stay the same in others. Does that answer your questions? What about you? Do you have a boyfriend?"
"No," she said, her voice hard, "I don't. And that's not what this is about."
"Isn't it?" I said, "Jos, it finished itself years ago. You threw me out of your house, and I walked away. Now you show up in London? What is it all about, then?"
"You egoistical, self-deluding son of a... This was a mistake. Forget it."
She rummaged around in her handbag, and slammed a ten pound note on the table. She gathered her coat and scarf, got up and practically ran out the door of the bar.
I ran after her, calling her name. She stopped at the pavement across the street and turned around, anger in her stance. I ran across the street and joined her. My heart was racing, and my breath heavy.
"You show up," I said, "I'm supposed to act like nothing's happened, is that it? Like it didn't hurt back then, like it was all a bad dream? Is that what I'm supposed to do?"
"No!" she practically yelled back.
"Tell me then," I said, "Tell me what I'm supposed to do."
"You can't give anybody a break, can you?" she said, "You just push, and go on pushing, and on and on. You really want to know what to do? You could have been a friend, instead of being a bastard."
She pulled herself out of my grip and stormed off. I was left standing there, looking at her retreating form. The strange thing was, I felt nineteen again.
You remember the first time, always. Your first crush, your first love, the first time you held hands. You remember the first hug, the first kiss, the first time you told the other person you loved them. You remember when you were happy.
It was just before the A-levels. We were studying at her house. I was reciting the entire history of the Cultural Revolution, with a cast of thousands, at her, while she checked my ramblings with the facts in the book. At the end of that session, I got up and opened the window. I looked at her. She was reading her Biology textbook, a furrow between her eyebrows denoting her extreme concentration.
I walked out of her room, into the corridor. I looked upward at the door that led to the attic, and the roof, and reached for the ladder that leaned against the wall. As I began the climb up, she popped her head out of her room.
"What the hell are you doing?" she asked.
I just smiled, and climbed. I went on the flat roof, Jocelyn following behind. She started to say something but I waved her off and pointed upward.
"What?" she asked.
The stars were out, brighter than I had ever seen them on the mainland before. Normally they were shrouded by clouds, but tonight they were glittering around the crescent moon, hanging mid-way in the night sky. The night breeze was cool.
"Shhh," I said, "Wait. Just stand there."
"What is it now?"
She didn't notice it, but I did. The moonlight was on her, mixed with the street-lamps. It formed a sort of halo around her, giving her skin a curious little sheen. Her hair was blowing up gently in the breeze, and her silhouette revealed each little curve of her face, her lip, and her chin. She had never been more beautiful as she was at this moment.
"I want to remember this," I told her, "Just the way you are now."
"Don't get corny," she said, grabbing my arm, "We've got work to do."
"It'll wait," I said, holding on to her, "Let's stay up here for a while."
I kissed her, then. A light peck on the lips at first, which then lingered. We had kissed before, but this was something special, somehow. There was an electricity that was there beyond what we normally felt. When we separated, we were actually shivering.
"Nice," she whispered, stroking my cheek, "Maybe someday I'll find out what I did to deserve that. Let's go back, okay?"
I watched her go down back into the house, then followed. In another six months, it would all be over. That's why it was special. Maybe we knew, even then. You always remember the last time, too.
The Singaporean community in London is pretty small, in the sense that if you trace it back far enough, everybody really does know everybody else. It's just a matter of finding the connections. It wasn't that hard to track her down. It took me two days to arrange things.
Hampstead is one of the more up market suburbs of London. It's also the only High Street that isn't dotted with fast-food joints and Kwik-Saves. It actually has a rather homey feel to it, red-brick and all that. When I'm in Hampstead, I don't feel like I'm in a hustle and bustle of an urban jungle. It's actually peaceful there. Hampstead was originally populated by a lot of American expatriates, so it's kind of adapted to that dynamic over the years. There's a Unitarian Church which doesn't seem to include God in its services. There's a restaurant specialising in Cajun food served to the sound of blues music, next door to the Old Orleans. There's a branch of Ed's Diner with a rocket-ship neon sign. There's even a proper delicatessen. Hampstead is also the only place I know in London where I can get a can of Cherry Coke, which is a taste apparently shared only by Americans and me.
There's also a very famous stand, staffed by French people, selling crepes. The best I've ever tasted. Jocelyn was there getting one - banana, walnuts and honey, it looked like. When she turned away from the stand, she saw me there, seated on a bench, waiting for her. She didn't look happy to see me. I wasn't particularly cheerful either, to tell the truth.
"Hi," I said.
"How did you find me?" she asked.
"Made a couple of phone calls," I replied, "Michael from LSE told me you were staying with Lisa. I went up to the house just now, and she told me you'd come here."
"I'm impressed," she shrugged, taking a bite out of the crepe, "What do you want?"
We took a walk. No particular direction. You don't really need one, sometimes. When you're doing something totally mechanical, something that's totally automatic, your mind is free to do whatever it has to do. That's why people gravitate to parks when they want to think. It's not so much the park as the space to take a walk.
"Look," I began, "About the last time. It was a cheap shot. I acted like a real pig, and I'm really sorry."
She didn't say anything. We couldn't even look at each other.
"I don't know what got into me," I went on, "I haven't lashed out like that at anybody in years. I thought the Army had weeded that out of me a long time ago."
"You were really hostile," she said, "It scared me. It's been three years..."
"Jos," I interrupted, "Three years or not, it didn't matter. We never got a chance to end it properly. You threw a pot at me, and I walked out. I said some things, you said other things - neither of us were listening. I certainly didn't give myself any chance to handle it. We started to break up three years ago, and we haven't finished breaking up yet. It was just put on hold. And when you showed up, well..."
My voice trailed to nothing. We walked in silence for a while, and found ourselves back in the High Street. Automatically, without any of us mentioning it, we turned back and started up the side street again.
"Jos," I said, finally, "Why did you come to London?"
It took a long time for her to answer. When she did her voice was strained.
"I wanted... I wanted to... to see you," she said, "Is that so hard to believe?"
"I don't know," I said, "Maybe it's hard for me to believe anyone would actually want to come all the way here to see me. Especially you, after all this time."
"Listen, mister," she said, exasperation in her voice, "Don't get any ideas. I didn't come with any expectations. I didn't come to ask you to come back to me. I've finished three years of my life in another country, and I'm going back to Singapore, and I just wanted to see a... a friend. And... and... damn it!"
I knew what she was trying to say. We were more than just boyfriend-girlfriend. We were best friends. I had known her in a way that I've known few other people in my life. We had no secrets, no fears kept hidden from each other. We couldn't lie to each other, and it wasn't just a conscious decision. We were incapable of it. But that was then, when we were eighteen. She needed more than a friend now, for whatever reason. She needed someone who knew her past, who would understand things without her telling them. She needed someone with a shared history.
The problem was, the person she was looking for was three years in the past. There were three years of history we had not shared. I knew nothing of that time. If I had changed, maybe she had, too. Could I fit the bill now? Did it really matter?
"Jos," I said, holding out my hand.
Jocelyn looked at me, properly, face on, for the first time that afternoon. Her eyes flashed with emotion. Her fists were clenched. She looked like she was going to cry, but I knew she wouldn't.
"Please," I said.
One day, during my first year of junior college, I came back home and realised something. I took a look at my calendar and noted the date, then I went to the phone and dialed her number. I had to do this before I changed my mind.
"Hi," I said, keeping my voice annoyingly cheerful. I knew that would annoy her. It had been a hard day for all concerned, "Guess what?"
"Today's the anniversary of John Lennon's death."
"Gosh," she said, deadpan, "How interesting."
"And guess what?" I went on, still chirpy.
"I'm watching a video of 'A Hard Day's Night' to commemorate it."
"That's so morbid," she said, "And so you."
"And guess what?"
"I love you, Jocelyn Soh," I said, dropping my voice. There was a stunned sort of silence on the other end. I hung up, and immediately felt drained. I had been building up the nerve to say it all day, all week, all month, all my life. It's easiest to say things like that when you don't mean it. And the fact that I had meant it made it the hardest thing I had ever had to do. I slumped against the wall, like a punctured balloon. I had gone from chirpy to exhausted in less than three seconds.
The phone rang.
"Guess what?" she said.
"What?" My voice was trembling.
"I love you too," and she hung up.
It took them three weeks to peel me off the ceiling.
Term started up a week later, and the revision went into high gear. I spent what was left of my spare time showing Jos around town, and talking over old times. We caught up on what she had done in the States, what the Army was like for me. We filled each other in on old friends, and went on about "Remember when...?" and "Whatever happened to...?" We were living in one universe, and desperately trying to recapture another one that had faded away three years ago.
Contact with Jos was sporadic. Some weeks I talked to her, or saw her, every day. Other times, a fortnight would go by without any word. She said she was giving me time to study, and for that I was grateful. But there seemed to be other reasons, ones she wasn't telling me. I teased her about having a secret toy-boy, which she vehemently denied.
I paid it little attention. I was more concerned with getting all the ramifications of the Law of Property Act 1925 into my head, and hoping it wouldn't erase what I already had memorised about the law of Defamation. A lot of loose ends were hanging around.
I met Derek for lunch one afternoon in Tottenham Court Road. We were going up to Senate House, the main library for the University of London, to do some research. I asked him how things were with Cassandra and Pamela. I hadn't been spending much time with the group, lately.
"Cass has found Christ," Derek said.
"I didn't know He was lost," I quipped.
"I'll ignore that," Derek shook his head, "She's really into the Baker Street church - the one with the Chinese services? The full fundamentalist package. It's really weird to talk to her now. She doesn't talk in sentences anymore. She talks in slogans. For all have sinned and fall short, et cetera, you know?"
"Well, at least she's happy," I shrugged, "How about you and Pamela?"
"We're fine. One day at a time. Cassandra seems to have accepted it. Your turn. What's this about you and Jocelyn Soh?"
"What do you mean?"
"You've been seeing a lot of her lately," he waggled his eyebrows.
"You've got a filthy mind, Derek," I said, "She's an old friend. I don't see her that often anyway. We've got exams, or haven't you noticed that minor detail?"
"I don't know," Derek said, "I've never really bought into that we-can't-be-lovers-but-we-can-be-friends routine."
"What about you and Cassandra?" I countered.
"That's different," Derek waved it off, "Besides, we're not really that close anymore, since what happened. Cass is walking with her Lord now, and I've got Pamela."
"You've been watching 'When Harry Met Sally' again. Men and women can be friends, you know. It's not psychologically impossible."
"I grant that, but when you've got a history like you and Jocelyn... Answer me this. Has she had any relationships since you two broke up?"
"None that she's told me of," I said, "What does that prove?"
"And you," he went on, "You haven't had any real relationships with women since you broke up with her, either. I'm just wondering why."
"Because I haven't met anyone else," I replied.
"Maybe you don't want anyone else," Derek said.
Sometimes, your friends mean well, but that doesn't stop you wanting to kill them. I told Derek to shut up. We paid for lunch, and went to Senate House. We didn't go back to the subject again.
I was sitting in a corner of the chalet's compound, chewing on a half-cooked piece of chicken. The sounds of a mini-compo blaring some Euro-pop garbage came through the window, while the smells of the barbecue were omnipresent in the evening air. It was Ken's party, celebrating the end of the O-Levels, and it was getting as hard to swallow as the chicken. I was trying to do a balancing act with the paper plate in one hand, an empty cup in the other and a open bottle of 7-UP on the grass, with no table in sight and trying to figure out how this was going to be done.
A hand reached down and took up the bottle and poured it into my cup. It was a smallish-build girl with long dark hair and an elfin-like face. She was extremely cute, and I felt quite inadequate, suddenly.
"Thanks," I said.
"Lionel said I should come and talk to you," she said, glancing back over to Lionel Rozario, who was over by the barbecue pit.
"Oh, we were having a discussion about indie music, and he said you have the same weird ideas about it as I do. My name's Jocelyn."
I held up my cup and my plate.
"I'd love to shake hands, but..." I grinned, "Jocelyn... wait a minute. Jocelyn Soh, right? You do some work for Night Music."
Night Music was a fanzine, a fan-produced magazine, that was being published non-professionally by a group of various rock music aficionados left over from the sixties. It was the sort of magazine that would eventually evolve into the commercial ones like BIGO. At the point, its contents were mostly submissions from interested parties and students who were into the same sort of counter-culture and independent music scene they talked about. I knew the guys who ran it, and had seen Jocelyn's name in the magazine once or twice.
"Yeah," she said, "Actually, Richard's told me about you. He says he's been trying to get you to write for them for some time. They're having a party over at his place next Friday. Are you going to that?"
"Damien's asked me to go - the guy who does their reviews column?" I said, "I don't know. If you're going, maybe I will, too."
"Probably," she smiled.
"So what was Lionel filling your poor little mind with?" I asked as we went off to find a place to sit down. This barbecue wasn't turning out to be so bad, after all.
It was the middle of May, the exam period was just about to begin, and Jocelyn was preparing to go back to Singapore. I went over to Lisa's house in Hampstead to help Jocelyn pack.
She was very quiet. The only things that were said between us that morning were where I was supposed to put the luggage and where to put stuff like books and CDs. She wouldn't allow me to touch her clothes. And she ordered me out of the room when she started packing her underwear. Can't really see why.
Basically, I felt about as helpful as a third wheel on a bicycle. After everything had been packed away, and the room was basically stripped off all traces of her ever being there, from the posters to the plush toys, she stood back and sighed.
"Let's go get some crepes," she said, "I want to remember these."
We did so, and walked around the High Street, just like we had done during the last week of the Easter break. She didn't say anything at all for a long time. She just walked around, staring at the shops, the people. It was as if she was trying to remember everything, preserve it in her mind forever.
"You don't have to, you know," I told her, "They'll still be here. You'll get to come back here someday."
"Will I?" she said, her voice and eyes far away.
"When do you want me to pick you up tomorrow?"
"The flight's at ten, which means I'll have to check in at around eight. Let's go for dinner first, okay? Six should be fine."
"Great," I nodded, feeling a bit strange, "I'll miss you."
"So will I," she said, quietly, "So will I."
A lot of things went through my mind at this point. I wondered what these past few weeks had meant to her, or meant to me, for that matter. I wondered what she was thinking - I wasn't so sure of that anymore. I thought about what Derek said.
I asked myself if he was right.
"Jos," I said, voice barely more than a whisper, "Do you want me to say I love you?"
"I can't tell you what to say."
"That's no answer."
"And if I say yes, and you tell me you love me, that's no answer either. Because then you won't have said it because you meant it, but because I said I wanted you to. Haven't you realised that by now?"
"I hate this," I said through clenched teeth.
"The game. The rules. I'm not a subtle man, I never was. I can't deal with this stuff. Why can't people just say what they mean..."
"...And damn the consequences?" she smiled.
"That's more like the guy I used to know. I thought you said he was dead."
"He's stubborn. He needs convincing every now and then. Hey, you. Stay dead."
I sighed deeply, "Jos, I love you."
"You don't mean it," she said, softly.
"How can you tell?"
"Your tone of voice," she shrugged, "It's a monotone."
I did a double take.
"But I always talk in a monotone, you know that. You'd rather hear it in iambic pentameter? Hey nonny nonny I love you? Do you want that? Jos, I've always loved you. I've never loved anyone since you, and I don't think I've ever stopped loving you. Everyone I've ever been attracted to since then has been me trying to capture an approximation of you. Nothing's worked out because I'm continually comparing them to you in my head. You haunt my dreams. Since you showed up again, I'm searching crowds for a sign of you, every day. I eat, breathe, sleep you. I thought three years would have blocked up the hole you left when we broke up, but when you showed up it shattered just like that. I can't stand filling it up again, not without you to fill it. Is that what you want? How am I doing so far?"
"Not bad," she agreed, "Go on."
"You don't believe me."
"It's a very sweet speech," she shook her head, "But no."
"Three years. I spent three years building up that speech. That doesn't mean I don't mean it, though. I do."
"I know you think you mean it," she said, touching my face, "And I do love you. But..."
"Don't say it," I cut in, quickly.
"I have to. Because it's the truth. I know you hate it, but it's the truth. I love you. Sometimes, so much it scares me, but I'm not in love with you. Not you, as you are. The same way that you love me, but you're not in love with me. Not me, as I am."
"Oh, Jesus, Jocelyn..."
"We've changed. I've changed, and so have you. For you it was the Army. For me it was... look, the point is, what we're still in love with is the memory of what we once were. You look at me and you see that eighteen-year old Jocelyn. Rebellious, vivacious, full of anarchic ideals..."
"Sexy as hell," I added.
"Thank you," she said, "Let me finish. I look at you and I see you back then... radical, intelligent, iconoclastic..."
"Sexy as hell," I added.
"In your dreams," she laughed, "I'm trying to be serious. The point is, those people are gone. All that's left of them are ghosts. I'm not that person anymore, and neither are you."
"I can be that person again."
"Stop that. Don't say things you don't mean, and don't sound desperate," she chided, "You can't be that person again any more than I can be that Jocelyn again. And even if you did, I don't want to be her, and that's where it breaks down."
"Look, what if you're wrong?" I suggested.
"Don't look so surprised," I said, "You can't be right all the time. If we really were that great together all those years ago, then can you explain why it exploded beneath us? Maybe this time, it'll work, because we've changed."
She thought about this for a while.
"Maybe. But you know it isn't true."
She was right. I knew it wasn't true. Somewhere inside me, I knew that when I looked at her, I was looking into the past. Maybe I could grow to love this new Jocelyn, and her me, but it wouldn't be the same as it was before, and we would have to learn to do it all over again. She was going away, going home, just when all this was coming to a head. Talk about your lousy timing. It wasn't going to end properly, ever, was it?
I knew it, but I refused to believe it.
"You're fighting it," I said, "I don't know why exactly, but you are. Maybe you need time to think, to do whatever you have to do. Fair enough, I'll give you that time. But someday, you're going to wake up to how crazy you are about me."
"Your ego hasn't changed, I see."
"Neither do souls, Jos. Our souls still fit."
"Soul mates? I don't think that's true. Not now, anyway. Are you willing to wait?"
I took her hand in mine and gave it an affectionate squeeze.
"I've been waiting three years. I think I can wait a bit longer. Some things are worth waiting for," I smiled, "Or so they say."
"Friends, then?" she didn't take back her hand, but placed another over mine.
I let my shoulders slump in defeat, and placed my own hand over hers, completing it.
"Friends," I sighed, not too sadly, "For what it's worth."
"I'm glad we are."
"Not," I shot back, and we both laughed.
I looked up into the sky. Twilight was descending fast, and the grey was settling in all around us. A wind was starting to come in from the North.
"I wish it was snowing," I said, suddenly. She looked puzzled.
"Oh, then I could find a metaphor for all this. It just seems dramatically appropriate. A snowflake's all light and fluffy in the beginning, and then more and more pile up and then it gets to be pretty hard going later. It's a nice image."
"Which is totally irrelevant," she said, trying to keep a straight face, "Since it's Spring, and everything's..." her voice trailed off.
"So? It's still a nice... Jos? Hey, are you crying?"
I wiped a tear off her cheek. Her eyes were glistening.
"No," she said, "It's just... a snowflake."
I put my arm around her shoulder, and pulled her close to me. She leaned against me, holding me tight against her.
"Come on, friend," I whispered in her ear, "Let's get you home."
We started the long walk back together, one step at a time.
this is part of a novel-in-progress entitled The Lion In Winter.
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