We are at the MRT station, waiting for the train to arrive. He holds my hand by the fingertips and raises it up. Instinctively, I twirl inwards, as though we are coming to the end of a dance. Perhaps we have been dancing all night. He kisses the top of my hand. "Strangely old-fashioned," I muse to myself. I look at him and laugh.
I think it was my fault. It started with a kick. Or more specifically, with me accidentally kicking his feet under the table. We were at the Chomp Chomp, and it was our second "outing". I insist on using the word "outing" as opposed to "date", since every time he went out with a girl, he saw it as an "outing". Like a picnic, without any fruits and bread. Like trying on clothes without having to buy them. Like a trip to the supermarket and back home. "Outing".
In response to my sleek 'seduction', he tried to hold my hand. We were at the back of a white van in Batam, and he clumsily threw his big ugly bag onto the chair and it slid and fell onto the floor with a thud. "So unglam," I said. He smiled shyly, as if I had caught him in the act of doing something completely embarrassing.
It was the same little smile he had on his face when we first went out together. He was waiting for me, and he pretended to lean oh so casually against the glass banister; armed with a philosophical book in his hand- his security blanket.
It was the same smile he had when he tried to carry my bag for me, and I refused adamantly. He ended up looking as though he was a thief trying to steal from me. We both clutched onto the bag as it swung innocently between us and everybody stared (I was sure everybody stared). If it was a black duffel bag we were fighting over, security guards and police officers would have thrown themselves on us in order to obtain its baffling contents- a packet of tissue paper, my wallet and a pocket umbrella.
It was also the same silly smile he had when I realized that he was hiding in the bathroom eating prawn crackers. I was trying to sleep and I complained that he was making too much noise in the room, stomping around and chewing loudly.
“What are you doing?!” I exclaimed when he slowly opened the bathroom door.
“Erm. Eating,” he muttered inaudibly.
“What? Why are you eating in the toilet??”
“You said I was noisy.”
“Oh my god,” I said, absolutely guilt-ridden, “Are you hungry??”
He nodded like a mistreated undernourished child.
“You can just tell me what! Then we can go out and eat together. Why didn’t you??”
“I... didn’t want to wake you up.”
In the van, he sat beside me without saying anything, and put my hand in his'. I let it lie there lifelessly. My heart rose and fell and froze. It was comfortable at first. Secure. And then I felt ridiculously violated. I wondered if I should allow my soul to leave my body. I wondered if I should allow it to become an unfeeling impenetrable shell- my defence mechanism, which comes almost effortlessly when I detach myself from the rest of the world. Was there a need? I had no idea. And yet there was such an odd sense of discomfort. I took my hand away and uttered some bland joke and changed the conversation altogether.
I'm not innocent, even if I look it. Things have been done to me. I have done things. And every touch reminds me of that fact. I have watched the flesh stretch and strain and break and bleed, hands curling, nails clawing cheap peeling furniture. I have heard raw animal cries clinging urgently to the tired air as I chopped the blonde hair off my eternally beaming naked Barbie. Where were her nipples? Where were her clothes? Why was she still so happy? I have played roles, enacted scenes, trying desperately to imitate the woman moaning euphorically inside the tiny television screen. Someone's oversized beige flora bra was always hanging and falling off the skeletal frame of my eight year old body. Where were my breasts, those lumps of fat? I had to pull the stained hollow cups back up to my flat chest from my stomach. There were parts I had to lick and pretend to like. I giggled to hide my humiliation and waited and wondered where the fun was supposed to be.
I still have no clue.
Later on, after a giddy bumpy ride on the ferry back to Singapore, we found ourselves waiting at the bus-stop for the only bus that would bring us to Tanah Merah. We sat on the grey bench and he removed his glasses and rubbed his eye with his fist.
“Are you having a headache?” I asked softly.
“Yes,” he stated plainly.
“You’re so weak,” I teased him, “One boat ride and you’re like that already. You're falling sick lar.”
He shut his eyes tightly and hunched and let out a loud sigh. His hand fell onto my lap. I gasped softly.
“Your hand is so cold,” I said, widening my eyes in surprise.
He didn’t reply.
I watched him frown gravely, his eyelashes moving. I wondered if he looked that troubled in his sleep. Slowly, I took his hand and covered it with mine to keep it warm. I rubbed my fingers tenderly over his hand and waited for the same horrible feeling of filthiness to descend again. It didn't. (Or perhaps it did, but this time, I knew better. This time, I was ready, to reason.)
The sky was amazingly purplish and the air was cool. Towards the right, I caught a glimpse of an aeroplane soaring to some far-off destination. I closed my eyes as well and took in a deep breath.
After a while he turned towards me and asked, "How?"
"I'm not going to wash my hand," he declared.
"Why? Do you think I'm a star?" I grinned, "I can sign my name for you! I don't have a pen... but I have eye-liner!"
I always imagined that I would like someone who was similar to Randall (this character from a book I read, 'The Gardens of Kyoto' by Kate Walbert). Someone who hardly spoke at all. Someone who was brooding and totally mysterious. Maybe he smoked in an elegant manner, as though he belonged to a black and white picture. Maybe he had sleek gelled hair; fringe combed all the way back.
Well, this one talks way too much. He likes to passionately go on and on about Kierkegaard and Baudrillard and other impossible to pronounce names. The only name, or rather (to me), word, I could remember to articulate after his tremendously long sermons was, “Kafka”. It was like learning how to speak all over again. Kaf-kaaaa. Carve-car. Cuff-ka! Kafka and cockroaches.
This one is a clumsy and awkward klutz. He is always doing something completely dumb like stepping on my slipper, which nearly causes me to trip while I walk. He likes to think that he is some super smooth and good-looking flirt (which is obviously pure delusion on his part). His attempts at romance includes corny lines like, “You’re so attractive that every day, I fall in love with you all over again” which, makes me want to take a fork and stab myself repeatedly or vomit (whichever impulse comes first).
And yet, these are precisely what I find so simply adorable. These are precisely what I fell for.
Once, after we had Nasi Lemak, we took a walk and I offered to carry his plastic bag for him.
“Don’t want,” he said, “I want you to hold my hand.”
“Can,” I agreed, “I’ll hold the plastic bag and I’ll hold your hand.”
I slipped my hand into his’. Our fingers entwined. We walked for a bit and then he stopped and extricated his hand from mine. I raised my eyebrows. He wiped his hand on his shirt worriedly.
“What?” I asked, concerned.
“My hand... is sweaty,” he confessed coyly.
"Yah, I know," I laughed amusedly, "And then?"
“Oh nooo...” he mumbled fretfully, “Why is my palm sweaty when I hold the hand of the girl I like?? Must be psychological.”
Instantly, I felt a wave of affection for him. He is so much like a kid sometimes. Like a really big and silly little boy.
“Never mind,” I said, and gently held his other hand.