Hello, my name is Reed. No, not Reid, Reed. You know, like the grass. My folks named me after the ancient Aesopian fable of the oak and the reed. The oak stood tall and firm in the tempest, and broke fighting against the wind, whereas the reeds bowed down and yielded to the winds and survived.
It’s a nice story, Aesop was a clever man. My only problem with it is I am not a reed, I am an oak, ancient as time and broken with the so many tempests that have zapped past me. I am glad my name isn’t oak though, that wouldn’t even have an alternatively normal spelling to pass off under. All in all, I would say from birth things were very odd in my life, but I found my way through all those odds.
I found my way enough to be raised strong and smart in three different countries, I made friends, I got good grades, I always kept myself happy despite everything working against me. Everything seemed to be making sense, and then, as people sometimes do, I turned twenty.
Twenty was a spiffy age, one that buried traces of the outrageous teenage years and harboured vessels raring to embark on adulthood. I also met her when I was twenty, just a passing notion, you know. One that stayed a trifle too long I suppose.
You can call her Sandy, but why would you considering that that isn’t her name. Let us just stick with calling her ‘her’. Not that she in any way is the ‘her’ of my life, but that’s funny me saying that right now, because a few years ago I would have sworn otherwise.
That is one thing the twenties tells you, nothing lasts forever, nothing good and nothing bad. You just teach your mind to dictate certain ‘truths’ that you believe in for the moment, and when the moment passes, so does the sincere honesty of all you believed in it.
The twenties also sway you past a hundred different groups of people who you at some point call friends. There was one particular such group that I would say is exceptionally carved into my mind.
The four of us met on a tour of our town’s vineyard, where we were each left looking bored and standing in corners awaiting for the entire ordeal to be done with. Cory, an exceptionally chatty young fellow, approached me asking how I was enjoying the tour. When he learned that I was as hopelessly lost as he was, he decided that we were a clan waiting to be discovered and brought together. Ignoring all the strange looks I threw him, Cory walked around the vineyard proclaiming that “There are certainly more of us around, we owe this to our family.” The only family I could think of were really far away and related to me by actual blood, I am guessing he had something else in mind though, so I demurely tailed my new pal along.
To my great surprise, we found our ‘family’ right at the front of the line, looking up at the tour guide with expressions so vapid, that you simply knew that you had to save them. Cory, with a me right behind him, worked his way through the crowd to approach the two ladies at the front of the line.
Quick introductions were made and once it was ascertained that our deductions about their state of boredom in the vineyard were astute, the four of us decided to skip the rest of the tour and make better use of our day.
With us were Eleethia, a rather tall and outspoken woman, whose words were as surprising as her looks, curious, a little odd and carrying worlds of unsaid meaning. And then there was her, she was, unlike her best friend, a practical cool cat. A logical thinker, a no nonsense young dame with a firm head on her shoulders and a heart buried somewhere way at the back of her mind.
So my new found family and I left the vineyard and went for a stroll along one of my favourite streets in the city. It was a picturesque few stretches of road with nothing but stone brick villas belonging to residents who were probably there before time itself. The houses looked more or less identical but what made them unique were their gates. Each house has a gate so singular and structured to suit the personality of its occupants. Some were tall and majestic looking, some were as long as the house itself, some were arched and some pointed, some had intricate designs that they were twisted into and some had patterns carved into them.
We stopped in front of a house, marooned from most others, with an iron gate exquisitely worked into the shape of a flower in the centre. It was enshrouded with branches of bougainvillea’s toppling over and as Eleethia cleared away some branches, at the corner of the stone brick wall by the gate was a rusting plate with the words BOUGAIN VILLA deftly carved into it.
“Bougainvillea’s are a phenomenon, aren’t they?” she sighed “They are flowers that look like coloured leaves! How does flora get more spectacular?”
Cory made a face and shoved her to move on, but I saw him secretly pluck a flower and press it into his pocket.
The street had several cul-de-sacs one of which was an old cottage church with a narrow stream flowing by it. Eleethia and Cory plunged into the sacred walls with little second thought where as she stayed behind, and so did I.
Sitting on a rather large boulder she spoke tentatively, “Churches are really not my thing.”
I almost felt sorry for the apologetic look she threw me “Hey that’s alright, each to his own.” I reassured her.
“I feel an immense sense of burden being there, like a thousand rocks were just rolled into my soul, and I feel terrible. There must be something wrong with me because Eleethia says that when she steps into a church she feels like nothing in this world matters, like she is a feather. She says that she feels goodness scurry into every inch of her being. I don’t know why I don’t feel that way,” she said.
I looked deep into her eyes for the first time and saw something of a longing nestling there, “We can’t all be Eleethias now, can we?” I smiled “I’ve only known her a few hours but she is something else.”
“She sure is” she beamed right back “I have known her all my life and there really is no one like her. She may be the greatest dreamer I know, she belongs in a whimsical world, but she doesn’t need one, she sees this one in a pretty fantastic way! Sometimes I wonder what it is like to be that way.”
“Well, if you dream of becoming a dreamer, you are already there I’d say,” I told her “But like I said before we are each ourselves for a reason, I believe we are something and leave something in this universe, a special, one of a kind print, and we should be proud of our own print.”
“Probably,” she smiled.
Our conversation was cut short by Eleethia walking out of the church, looking anything but peaceful, throwing Cory a million spiteful glances. Cory, on the contrary, stumbled out rolling in laughter.
She and I didn’t bother asking what happened, we were kind of getting a hang of how Cory and Eleethia would work.
As we each parted ways, on my mind were the three individuals I had just met. Little did I know that we would come to be the very definition of fast friends.
Hey, I am Wendy. Despite the so many Wendys on your mind right now, I was named after Peter Pan’s Wendy. I don’t believe in mermaids or pirates or the magical kingdom of childhood. I don’t believe in magic, don’t think I ever did all my life. Although someone once asked me what was the closest I have ever come to believing in it, and I had to say it was that one time.
It was years ago, my best friend Eleethia and I met two young men at a rather unfortunate wine tasting event that Eleethia had dragged us to. They were each deeply aware of our pain as they felt it themselves and the four of us decided to leave the place pronto.
Cory was the most extraordinarily garrulous lad I had ever come across in my life, and he had a way with Eleethia, mostly annoying her, but it was easy to for anyone to see that they were two people meant to know each other, in whatever manner, for however long.
And then there was him, I won’t mention his name because, well, because we do some things in life that we cannot give reason to in words.
He was definitely more intelligent than Cory and infinitely more focused. He was a driven man and I wanted to know what his drive was.
The four of us spent the day together and when we parted, we promised that we would keep in touch.
And we did, over phone calls and endless text messages the four of us grew quite close. Cory and Eleethia stuck to each other like silly putty and were probably what kept us all together. Despite their so many fights, they seamlessly poured love into our friendship and spoke of us all staying together for life.
He and I had no lofty expectations, we didn’t know how to have them. We were both rooted and grounded in reality. We weren’t dreamers, in fact we barely had dreams at night.
Eleethia was in a hurry to know it all about everyone’s life and asked at least a dozen questions every single day. We each learned a hefty amount about each other over the next few months, right before the onset of summer.
With the arrival of the season’s heat, both Cory and Eleethia made vacation plans at colder and livelier holiday destinations and bid adieu to us very soon. Their departure was like cutting the pulse of our little group. He and I felt like vegetables, lifeless and empty. We didn’t even speak much to each other for weeks, but then he decided to pick up the phone and call me to meet him.
We met one hot Friday evening at a coffee shop he loved.
We chose a corner spot next to a large window where we could see life buzz by us as we sat down.
We ordered two cappuccinos and instantly I began wondering if meeting him was a mistake. The awkwardness was palpable, I’ve known people be more at ease on a first date, I thought.
“So Cory and Eleethia,” I said “Do you think he will ever tell her how he feels?” It was the easiest conversation I could think of at the moment.
“And how do you propose he feels?” he asked.
“Like proposing?” I smiled. So did he.
“What would the use be? Eleethia isn’t exactly single.”
“True that, I suppose. She hasn’t been in a very long time. Sometimes I wonder if she will ever be again.”
“And why should she be?” he sounded amused by the turn this conversation was taking.
“Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know. I have known her since she was seven, she began dating when she was fourteen. I won’t say she chose terrible guys, they were alright, but they were all so clearly wrong for her. She had opportunities to choose differently, but they all presented themselves in between her relationships and she never gave it much thought. It’s just that I’d like to see her function in a relationship that is actually going somewhere for once.”
“And you think Cory could be one of these potential relationships that she is missing out on?” he asked, his brow furrowed into a confused mess.
“Oh no! Absolutely not. He would probably drive her off a cliff before she even said yes to him. I was just getting carried away in my thoughts about her,” I laughed.
“Thank heavens you said that! There is no way I see the both of them functioning together. I think he knows that too, you know, which is why I don’t think he would ever tell her how he feels even if he had a chance,” he said thoughtfully.
“That’s probably true,” I confessed.
We both knew we couldn’t talk about those who weren’t present here forever, but it just seemed so much easier to talk about them than about ourselves.
And then he steered onto the highway with “So why haven’t you ever been with anyone?”
“I really don’t know. I just don’t see myself as much of a romantic. I would certainly like to be with someone someday, it’s just that I don’t see it happening in a very fancy and serendipitous way.”
“I don’t even know where I stand on this whole business. I haven’t ever given it much thought until recently. Life always seemed to have something else in store to keep me occupied,” he said.
Our conversation gradually shifted to our families, to occupations, to economy, to world politics, to fruits and vegetables, to the past and the future. It was safe to say we covered a plethora of subjects in our short two hours together.
As we left the café, my heart began to beat rapidly, so fast that I barely knew what to make of it. For the first time in my life I felt as though a feeling from another world has found its way into ours and I was a recipient of its glory. That, I would say, was the closest I have come to believing in magic.
That summer drew her and me really close. We would talk for hours on end each day and meet every weekend. Despite the vast expanse of the city, we both always met solely at the café where we had our first meeting, we believed that it was lucky for us. On the last weekend before Cory and Eleethia returned, she and I went to the beach.
It was an overly populous stretch of unclean sand and semi polluted water, but it was at the last minute that we decided that we needed to step out of the café and do something memorable to commemorate our time spent together. She said she loved the ocean and so we decided on the closest beach.
“Does the crowd bother you?” she asked demurely.
“Not so much, I like the cadence of a crowded place” I replied.
“That’s nice,” she said, finding us a spot to sit in a relatively unperturbed stretch of soft sand.
I knew that she chose the spot because it had the clearest view of the ocean. As I glanced at her beside me, she looked a whole universe away. I wanted to know what she was thinking, what people think when they get lost into the blue of the waters and the sky, but I did not wish to break her reverie.
After what felt like a mini eternity, she looked right at me, the most into my eyes that she had ever looked, cast aside the timid demeanour that always possesses her, and asked “Do you think we would ever have become friends if Cory and Eleethia were still here?”
“Well, I believe if two people are meant to know each other, they will, no matter how long it takes. So yes, I do believe that we would have become friends.”
She smiled, a warm, indulgent smile.
We sat there in silence for an hour with an occasional comment or two, but mostly both of us just being acutely aware of how our lives would never be the same again.
It was true, it was never the same again.
After that summer, things fell back into the rhythm they were accustomed to harp along. Cory, Eleethia, he and I, all got busy with our own lives. For the next half year we tried to talk to each other once in a week or two and tried to meet once in a couple of months, but there was only so much it would last, and we all, some more begrudgingly than the others, accepted it for what it was.
He and I still continued talking oft and again, although in a few months he was transferred to another city. Six months later he came home for a short holiday and we met. He insisted we go to our old café, and I complied.
“You look the same,” he said.
“It’s hardly been six months since you left, what did you expect?” I laughed.
“I guess you’re right. It feels nice to see you, feels like coming home,” he smiled.
I believe at this point I must have blushed because no one had ever told me something like that before. It also made me deeply uncomfortable.
“What’s the new place like?” I quickly steered direction.
“It’s funny really, because I have all the solitude there that I need but it isn’t until I’m here that I actually feel at peace,” he replied.
“I guess peace isn’t always about solitude then?” I pondered.
“You’re right. I don’t know what it’s about though. Contentment, maybe.”
He sat straight and looked me in my eyes and had me arrested for those few minutes, more with his eyes than words.
“Wendy”, he said “I don’t know how people do this or if there is a way to do it, so excuse me if I am all over the place. Being away really reminded me of the places where I truly belong, and the people with whom I belong. Your name was the top of that list. Everyday tasks began to have your name written on it. I began to think that what if I lose what we have when I get back? I suddenly realized that in the past year life itself had become so much sweeter because you were a part of its definition. I was living without you, but I didn’t feel this alive and awake. Being away made me realize the reason to my happiness was you. The reason I was happy when I ate my cereal or brushed my teeth, not in that order of course, was you. I didn’t even realize that till the distance between us made me fear if I might lose you. I know my speech is way less than perfect and there might be a million things wrong in what I just said but I do believe that I am in love with you Wendy. I’d like very much for you to be in love with me too,” he ended with a sheepish little grin.
I couldn’t help but reach out to my burning cheeks, they felt like they must be scarlet by now, but I knew I never showed any colour on the outside so I wasn’t worried. I wasn’t exactly flummoxed by his words for I felt a variant of the speech he gave within me as well, but in all fairness I wasn’t expecting him to sprout it out of a hat that way.
“I do believe that I am in love with you too,” I said.
We were in love, the both of us, except it was nothing like what I thought love would be like. It began in pretty much the same way I have heard people talk about it but then things were just not how I thought they would, or should, be.
I don’t know what it was really, I think that she was never able to make the transition from a friend to a boyfriend in her mind. I know that friendship is a key component of any relation, but it felt like friendship was all we had. Gradually, she began to have less and less time for me in her life and ever the love struck fool, I relentlessly tried, until that day.
A year later, when I opened my inbox one day I saw a mail from her saying that she knew she wasn’t the kind of girlfriend I wanted and wouldn’t be able to be that girl. She said she thought it was best we ended it before it hurt either of us more. I was undone.
I know I broke his heart, but what was I to do? I was hurting too, my heart was broken too, I did it only because I knew that it was the right thing to do. I didn’t stop loving him, I just knew I could never express it how he wanted me to, I could never be the girlfriend he hoped he would have, I could never be the person he wished I was.
There was so much in me that he had handpicked as partner material that this would seem the oddest of problems to arise out of a relation like ours, Eleethia always said we were designed for each other, that girl was team romance all the way, maybe in ways he needed someone like her.
It’s five years later. I don’t think of her every day. I have had a couple of other girlfriends in these years, none lasted as long though.
I would be lying to you if I said she was never in my thoughts. From time to time I wonder, actively, how she is doing. I wonder what direction her life has chosen to flow in and I wonder how it has moulded her as a person. I wonder if she still thinks the same, talks the same, believes in the same things. I wonder, not so actively, if she still thinks of me, what she thinks of me, how often she thinks of me.
Subconsciously, I think she is etched into a part of me where it will be difficult to forget her entirely. She is a part of my pulse, of the air I breathe, of every beat of my heart. No, not because I am still in love with her, but because in life there are some people, some experiences, that you can never forget. She was mine.
It’s five years later. I still think of him, I wouldn’t dare talk to him, but I think of him.
How often? I am not sure, but frequently enough. Sometimes there are days, weeks even, that I can go without him coming to mind even once, but then there are times when he is woven into every other thought that forms in my head.
I wonder sometimes, did I make a mistake? No relation is perfect, you need to work on it. I didn’t work on anything, not hard enough, I just let go.
I don’t tell anyone but I wonder about love sometimes when I am alone, I wonder if I had it with him. Sometimes I emerge from this incessant pondering with a positive answer and sometimes negative, but I have learnt to let go of both answers anyway.
I don’t think we were two people meant to be. Sometimes life is tricky that way. You think you fit so very well with a person, like two halves of anything that has a half, but then you snap out of that and realize that life isn’t about that at all. Life isn’t about finding a half, because you are a complete version of yourself, it’s about finding a whole, a whole that can roll along by you and take all the risky turns and cross over all the potholes with you. He wasn’t my whole.
To SOHAGATI. The first place I ever really belonged.