Saturday, 3 May 2014

Windows and White Cedars

Imagine that he is standing along a dark street, somewhere tropical. Maybe a village near the beach. Maybe a neighbourhood that can’t quite make up its mind between being a jungle or a bird sanctuary or a middle-class subdivision. For the sake of setting the stage, let’s pretend that he’s in the latter. He is standing by a dark street in a neighbourhood that can’t quite make up its mind if it is a jungle or a bird sanctuary or middle-class subdivision.

There is a good-sized house right in front of him and it is night time. And he looks up, his eyes are carefully making out where a certain window is. In the dark, he cannot tell where the window is for all the trees along the house’s fence.

A light is turned on behind the window facing southwest. He thought, It is her window and she has the most wonderful views in the afternoon. But now those views must be obscured by the branches and the leaves of this tall pomelo tree. It is taller than the house. It was merely a sapling since the last time he was here. Her father planted it. She never ate a single fruit from this tree. How do I know these things?

She may still be able to see him through the leaves, he thinks. And she does. She does.

How do you usually smile when your day goes just as you expect it to? Give this man your smile. Imagine that he is smiling like that now. (And if you’re wondering what he’s wearing—just imagine he’s wearing whatever it is you’re wearing right now. But not those shoes, those are too nice.)

There are moments of great importance in our lives wherein all we have to do is take a deep breath and our mind is wiped clean of all the rubbish and selfishness of our natures. For him, this is not the case (whether it is a moment of great importance is also debatable).

His mind not only retains all its resident worries, irrational fears and doubts, but acquires new tenants like worrying about how his breath smells and the vague feeling that this is a night he will regret for the foreseeable future. 

She has left the window now and is on her way down to meet him. 

A lock unlocking.
A door opening.
A door closing.

And then The End Of The World. And The End Of The World smiles and says hello.
“Hello! What are you doing here? Have you been ringing the doorbell? We didn’t hear anything.”

He stares quietly, slowly for what seems to be an age, because all he’s doing, really, is stalling while the more intelligent part of his brain was asking the retarded part of his brain What are you doing here?

“Nothing, I just—I was just in the neighbourhood and I remembered this was your house.” He isn’t stammering as much as he feared he would, that surely was a good sign. “Do you still live here?” 

“Er—“ she ponders this question, “I just came from inside, and I’m dressed like this, so I suppose it’s safe to say that I do.” She is wearing a pair of mint-green cotton pyjamas that look very, very comfortable. If he rubbed his cheek against her shoulder, he would most definitely fall asleep. But she looks tired and older, and he quietly wonders how he looks like to her.

He sighed a short sigh. "There was a party here—your brother’s party, I think. He was dating my sister. He was a jerk.”

Shit. You idiot.

“But a nice jerk.”

“Yes that’s what we call my brother, Jerk But Nice Jerk Jacob. But he never took it with him to the seminary, a bit too flashy I suppose.” He forgot her flair for sarcasm and it took him a while to remind himself to not take this seriously.

“Hey, listen, I’m really glad you stopped by and all. But I really have to go to bed.”

“Oh, yeah, yeah, sure no problem go ahead.” He said all this in one breathless word.

She turns to leave.

“Actually, no, wait. Can we go for a walk?”

A heartbeat. Then two.

“I don’t think that’s a very good idea.” she says gravely.

“I see. Well, can we stay here and talk a little? Just a little while to justify my coming all the way here.”

“I thought you said you just happened to be in the neighborhood?”

“Well—that too. I—I happen to be here because—you know—you’re here.”

Not so long ago she would probably have said yes. But not so long ago, the more intelligent part of her brain tied up the retarded part of her brain and banished it into the broom closet. And now she only says—“Sounds really nice, it’s a nice night for a walk but I don’t think that’s not a good idea. Thanks for stopping by. Goodnight.”

She turns and walks to the gate.

“Your trees are taller.” he calls out with a desperate air of someone who needed to be on the next plane to Sydney because his Aunt Mildred died and unless he was there for the reading of the will, he’ll lose his share in the hefty inheritance but sadly the airport runways were flooded as it was the monsoon season.


“This tree in particular,” he points to the pomelo tree that has been robbing her of the magnificent sunset views, “it was barely a foot high when I came here that one time.”

“Well, trees are known to grow.” She rests her back on a tall post by the gate, and she is looking at him with an odd smile.

“Yes they are. How long do you reckon it takes for a tree to grow this tall?”

“Probably as long as it takes for friends to become strangers, give or take a decade.”

“And for friends to become more than that?”

“Ah, well. That case isn’t a pomelo tree, it’s a white cedar.”

She gives him a little look, a little nod, that was like saying—this is our world as we made it, and we must live in it.

“I’m sorry for bothering you. Didn’t know what I was thinking.”

“It’s alright. Would you like me to call you a cab?”

“I’ll walk, thanks.”

And he waited for her to get safely inside the house—because really, the two meters from the gate to the front door are laden with sinister forces—before he started to walk away slowly.

If you pull back a little way, you will see a house lit up with a warm white glow from the inside. What you cannot see is a silhouette of a woman watching a man dragging his feet along the street below. Her outline, her shape, fuses with the clusters of leaves and thick branches of the pomelo tree outside her window.

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