“Do you ever feel like you are too many different people?” I asked.
It began pouring. My friend, who was sitting across the table from me, liked to call it ‘the rain Gods clearing their bladder’. I didn’t care too much for this definition but it was what it was, a downpour worthy of having a God’s hand (or bladder) attached to it.
“What do you mean?”
“Like in every space, you present a different version of who you are?”
“I don’t quite know.”
We knew each other since too long, we were what one often calls ‘old friends’. After a certain number of years you lose track of the time that went by. The details of the thirty million questionable things you have witnessed each other do dissolves into right now. Into the splatters of raindrops that make its way into your cup of coffee, rich with the Arabic taste of cardamom and sweetened by (what I like to imagine are) dessert dates.
“Well I do,” I said. “If my classmates from college saw me talking to strangers and hosting community events every month, it would be a very confusing sight for them to behold.”
“I didn’t like talking to people much back then. If I got to class early, I’d avoid eye contact and slink into a corner inconspicuously.”
“You’ve changed then.”
“Not really. I am still like that.”
“You talk well to people, new people. It doesn’t look like that.”
“Trust me, I am still like that.”
Trust is an odd word. It’s one of those words that takes form and loses form in people. I looked at my friend and thought about it. I could trust him, in ways that I couldn’t quite describe. I knew that what was caught between the net we tied knot by knot and created together, would stay in our net no matter how far into the sea we cast it, no matter how many fish we caught.
“I guess people from work would think that I am a problem solver, a mediator,” he said.
“You are all that.”
“I don’t know anymore.”
The rain began to pellet harder, tearing its way through the air between with the rush of a lover who had waited years for her loved one to come home to her.
“I am drinking rose petals,” I said, peering into my cup.
“You ordered a coffee called La Vie En Rose.”
“I only got it cause it had my name in it!”
La Vie En Rose, a fancy term coined by the French for rose tinted glasses. It was the most popular drink at the cafe, probably because it looked beautiful. It almost looked too good to drink.
“I like this cafe,” I said. It had a very urban Japanese vibe about it — minimalistic design, strong brews, and silent human beings lost in the euphoria of creating and creation.
We had stumbled upon the place. There is something mystical about the words ‘stumbled upon’. If I had said we found this cafe while passing by, it would not leave the same impression. Stumbling upon something reminds one of tripping on a well-rounded stone, ever so slightly, but enough to make you pause and look around, and discover a previously undiscovered place, serendipitously. Though serendipity is sometimes a well-rounded stone, and sometimes it is an online restaurant tracker mishap.
“But you were saying,” I said, looking up at him, “You weren’t always this way, a happy-go-lucky guy?”
“Not until I changed my school when I was 16. I was a quiet kid before that.”
“And then what happened?”
“I found the right people.”
I wondered, for a short moment, what he would have been like as a shy, awkward kid. I could picture it with ease. Sometimes you knew people even before you met them. It felt like we were always ‘old friends’.
“I have only studied in one school, I was there for 14 years,” I said. “When I was in eleventh grade, I had a bunch of people ask me if I was new to the school.”
He laughed, but a kind of laugh that echoed his sympathy.
“That must have been awful.”
“It was. I felt like I had been invisible. And people kept telling me ‘Well NOW we know you’ and I wanted to shriek ‘AND WHAT ABOUT THE TWELVE YEARS BEFORE NOW?!’ ”
I finally shrieked that out.
“Do you still feel that way?” he asked, “Like you are invisible?”
“It’s not like that anymore,” I said, taking a merciless, large gulp of my coffee, petals and everything, that had done a fine job of turning stone cold.
I thought back to my years in college. Sometimes as you meet different people, a part of you that was cast aside as withered rustles in the wind and ignites itself. It awakens and rips through you. At first, you feel alive, but then you begin to realize that it’s churning you. I thought of my spark that turned into a forest fire before I knew what was going on. I remember looking at the ember and wondering why I let myself burn so hard. It was easy to forget the warmth that tucked itself into a frozen heart and made it beat so loud until no one could ignore it. That’s what it was like to stop being invisible.
“I met the right people too,” I said. “Even with thousands of students around, I didn’t feel invisible in college, although I wanted to in some ways.”
I went back in my head to the 19-year-old in the corner of her classroom, her face buried in a novel she had dragged on reading for too long. Maybe it was easier for her to pretend like no one saw her because she knew how to play that part quite well.
“I found all my friends on the very first day, you know. You and I met on the first day too, do you remember?”
“Yes, yes I do remember.”
From being the sort of friends who would say “I haven’t seen you in forever!” when we crossed paths on our way rushing to beat the 9 am bell, we became whatever it is that we were now. Friends who discussed the recurring ways in which we missed the countries we grew up in and who, while mulling over our pain, spoke almost exclusively in metaphors. I wasn’t complaining.
“How did we get here? How did we become this, man?” I asked.
“You’re saying that like it’s a bad thing.”
“Maybe not. But when life changes you so many times, you kind of lose track of who you are. When no one’s looking or listening, when you don’t need to listen or speak, who are you?”
“Who are YOU?”
“Who were you before the world told you who you had to be?”
We both laughed, it was an old joke.
I remember the first time I held a little piece of paper that asked me the very same question. It was the 14th of February and we were setting space for a letter writing event we were to host. He’d printed it out and I was not satisfied with the pixelated colours on the paper. It made me look a few extra times at the paper. I then began to wonder, what sort of a question was that? I am who I am.
I never imagined that it would be that very day that a change would begin, one that would usurp me. I’d realize that no matter how many old selves get charred, or how many phoenixes arise from within you, everything you were will be a part of everything you are.
We sat there for close to four hours, over two cups of coffee and an apple pie. The rain didn’t stop but the place eventually cleared out and we, the last customers hanging around, were asked to vacate.
I’m glad we decided to get coffee that day.