I didn’t know why I was there. I guess that day, I was feeling moody. I walked in a daze and ended up going to the aquarium. And then I saw you.
You stood in front of the gigantic display, admiring the jellyfish. Your fingers glided over the railing. You seemed like you were in your own world.
Why did it have to be you? Even now, I still don’t know.
Perhaps it was the summer cologne you were wearing, it reminded me of fresh linen. Or perhaps, it was your fluttering skirt that gave you an air of elegance.
‘Miss,’ I called you.
If you hadn’t looked at me, I would have walked away. I would have walked back home, feeling down and dejected. And I would’ve forgotten all about you.
Your beautiful eyes, your slim wrists, and your perfectly painted nails with French tips.
But you turned around at me. The tips of your lips curled up a little.
I cleared my throat. ‘Do you believe in love at the first sight?’
I came home to see Sylvie waiting for me on the couch. A bottle of whiskey on top of the table, half empty.
‘Where have you been?’ she asked.
‘Library,’ I said.
‘I went for supper.’ I averted my eyes. ‘With some friends.’
She stood and looked into my eyes. ‘You’re lying.’
She grabbed the bottle on the table and flung it across the room, hitting the white brick wall. The glass shattered into thousands of tiny pieces. Golden liquid poured all over the wooden flooring.
‘Stop lying to me! You’re always lying to me. Always, always.’
I grabbed her arms. ‘Then why don’t you stop lying to me as well? Do you think I don’t know what you’ve been doing with your boss?’
Her eyes widened. ‘Who told you that?’
I said nothing, but she continued to stare and wait for my reply.
A long pause developed.
‘I’m tired,’ I said. ‘I’m going to sleep.’
‘Have you eaten? There’s pasta on the table, I can heat it up for you.’
‘There’s no need. I’m not hungry,’ I said, before climbing up the staircase. ‘Also, do me a favor and leave me alone.’
If I said I was sleeping, I would be lying.
It was one of those long and bizarre nights where darkness seemed to linger forever. I lay in my bed, eyes wide opened, feeling uneasy. No matter what I did, I couldn’t fall asleep.
The moonlight found its way through the gaps of the thick brocade curtain, and provided the bedroom with a dim lighting. It spread across the white ceiling, illuminating a patch where the paint had been peeling. How long will it take before the paint fell down? A month, a year, a decade? Maybe more?
On nights like these, time seemed to stretch and my senses becoming heightened. I could hear the rumbling sounds from the air conditioner and the occasional passing vehicles in the distance. If I put my mind into it, I could even pick up the ticking sounds from the clock’s second hand. It was moving slower than ever.
The knocking on the door disturbed the stillness.
‘James, are you awake?’ I heard Sylvie’s voice from the other side of the door.
I said nothing and pretended to sleep.
‘Can we talk for a moment?’ she asked, before starting to sob.
Woman, why are you crying when I’m supposed to be one who should be crying?
I turned my body to face the wall. I folded the pillow to cover my ears, but it was no use. I could still hear her. The night was too quiet. Her sobs traveled as clear as the glass panel in the aquarium.
The jellyfish swam around in the vast water, illuminating the darkness. Their movements slow and lithe. It was as if time moved a little bit slower for them as well. They were gentle, peaceful creatures.
I wish I could be more like them.
‘Do you come here often?’ you asked me as we stood in front of the jellyfish display.
‘Only when I’m feeling down,’ I answered.
‘So what happened yesterday?’
‘Bad things happened,’ I said. ‘Bad things I don’t want to talk about.’
‘Must be about a woman.’
I thrust my hands on my pocket. ‘Don’t ask if you already know.’
You sighed and tucked your stray hair behind your ear. Your pale skin seemed to glow under the dim lighting. You caught me looking at you and we both smiled.
‘How about you?’ I asked. ‘What are you doing here, all by yourself?’
‘I was waiting for someone. I supposed to meet him here. It was going to be our first date. I was looking forward to it.’ You showed me your hands. ‘Look, I even did my nails. What do you think?’
‘But on the way here, I…’ Your voice trailed off, you couldn’t say it out. You crossed your arms and dug your fingers on your sleeve. ‘I can’t remember what my name is, or how old am I, or where do I live. You’ve no idea how scary that is. The only memory I have is of him telling me to meet him here. Ever since, I’ve been waiting.’
‘How long have it been?’
You tightened your lips. ‘I don’t know, I’ve lost track of time. It’s been years.’
‘And he never came.’
You shook your head and looked down. ‘Even if he comes, he might not be able to see me. It’s been so long. He should have forgotten all about me.’
‘You don’t know that,’ I said.
You forced yourself to smile. ‘Are you not afraid of me?’
‘You’re not real. Why should I be afraid of something that’s not real?’
‘Then tell me, what’s real?’
I closed my eyes and memories of the times I spent with Sylvie flooded into me.
The moment where we met during an orientation party. She had her friend passing me her number on a piece of paper. I called her and asked her out. She told me she had been looking at me for quite some time. And I flustered.
‘I like you since we were in secondary school,’ she said, blushing. ‘And I bet you didn’t even know my name. But trust me, I really like you, for a long, long time.’
I looked at her with widened eyes. ‘For real?’
She nodded. ‘For real.’
I opened my eyes and saw the white jellyfish in front of me.
‘I don’t know. I don’t know what’s real,’ I said. ‘Maybe this is just a dream.’
You tilted your head. ‘You sound like you’re looking for an escape.’
‘Guess so,’ I said. ‘How about you? Do you feel like escaping this place? Is there anywhere else you want to go? How about running away together?’
‘Are you serious?’
‘Of course. Staying here for years must have been stifling. How about we go to the ocean? Not some giant tank, but a real ocean. Where the waves meet the shore. What do you think?’
‘I think you’re out of your mind.’
‘Come on, do you believe in destiny? I mean…’ I scratched my chin. ‘That day, out of so many people, it was you that I saw. It must have meant something.’
‘I know, but…’ You tightened your lips. ‘But if we do this, we might not be able to come back.’
‘It’s all right, because you’re with me.’ I reached for your hand. ‘None of us will ever be alone, ever again.’