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One night, her words won’t rhyme.
Her verses will die a slow death,
a little at a time,
mocking every memory she wrote.
On that night, your poetry will write
herself a suicide note-
broken, baffled, bereft of hope,
wishing, she could feel
a little less empty,
and a little bit more.
On that night, kiss your poetry to sleep,
tear her note to shreds, give her a shoulder
on which to weep,
tell her that you believe, in her stead;
and in the simple fact that poetry
can never truly be dead.
Tell her, that you believe in her,
and in tomorrow, a time
when she’ll turn her sorrow
into the most beautiful thing the world has ever read.
Watch over her, until she rips apart
her suicide note from end to end.
Then pray, that on nights like these,
she learns to write something better instead.
When the cold and pristine winter air first kissed my face as I got off the plane at Narita Airport, Japan, I opened my mind to a world full of infinite discoveries. I’ll be honest, there are certain concepts and elements I am yet to fully grasp as a writer; Love is one of them. I was hoping Japan would help me understand it a little better.
On the 8th day of my Japan expedition, a tiny house in one corner of Saiki Bay made a few revelations. I finally fell in love again, and I’m pretty sure I understand it a little better. So here’s what Japanese women taught me about love.
Who are you really? (Himino-chan, age 6)
– Every relationship starts with a conversation, if not, at least with a feeble attempt at one. However, from time to time you’ll come across a woman who speaks a different language. She probably won’t share your obsession of sipping freshly ground coffee from your favourite mug. Maybe she swears by the subtleties of white chocolate while you choose the intoxicating allures of bitter dark ones; it doesn’t matter. Words are lost in translation, emotions are not. Deciphering her tongue takes exhaustive efforts; she’s met many who speak the same language but still never really understood her. She could speak Japanese for all I care; but does that mask the honesty inside her every time she starts to speak?
– Learn to intrigue every little part of her imagination to the point where it bursts at the seams. Don’t do the same magic trick over and over. You might have the upper hand now, but someday she will learn to play her cards better, or worse, learn to read yours. Be unpredictable. Don’t pull out a rabbit from your hat, pull out a cat; maybe it’ll claw at your fingers and embarrass you completely but your misery will be worth her laugh. The day magic stands still, the world will think it’s a trick; for it to remain a beautiful illusion it must be rethought, reconsidered and reinvented for what it is.
– Learn to forget yourself around her. You’re not 22. You aren’t someone who has seen more or less of the world than she has. You’re never too mature or too naive. So every time she tries to discover you, learn to blur your lines. For you to win her over, you must make yourself vulnerable to her first. Remember, no conquests were made from staying under defensive cover.
– Make a conscious effort to give her choices a chance. Don’t you already know most of what you love and prefer? Maybe it’s time for you to indulge in things that have always differed from what you’ve loved. Maybe she thinks fish tastes better fried than when it’s poached. Maybe she thinks an accompaniment of seaweed is more digestible than a helping of sautéed onions. It never hurts to try the things she loves. After all, you’re one of those things, aren’t you?
The things I never say (Tsubaki Chan, age 3)
– When she looks at you for the first time, do not mistake her quiet, piercing gaze for aggression. Some women measure your worth before they grant you the privilege of a conversation.
– When she finally acknowledges that you exist, make every little gesture to tell her that you care what she talks about who she is. If she’s 3 feet tall and you’re 5’7, don’t let her crane her neck when she speaks. Don’t be distant. Don’t be out of reach. Instead, go down to your knees and look into her eyes when she talks. Her voice will be warm. Her smile will be warmer. You can tell by the tinge of pink that spreads itself across her rosy cheeks.
– When she pulls you by your hand (or even wraps three-year-old fingers around your solitary index finger), don’t stop to question her intentions. Let her lead you wherever she pleases. Live the quivering excitement in her voice with her, watch her eyes grow wide in anticipation when she opens the surprises she keeps giftwrapped inside her mind. She wants you to be a part of her wonderment, her emotions, her universe. Why would you even refuse?
– One day, she’ll let out slivers of thoughts you won’t be able to grasp. She’ll say words with a weight you cannot comprehend, or maybe she’ll just sit across you and break down into quite sobs from beginning to end. At times like these, let her know that you’re listening and hanging onto every thing she spills. A gentle nod, a reassuring nudge, an encouraging word; little gestures to remind her that everything she said is heard. She could speak in rapid Japanese for all you know; in the end, what you sense matters more than what you take in.
– When it is time to say goodbye, give her something to remember you by. Embrace her, leave her with a little kiss; like you want the warmth on your finger tips and your skin to fill her empty depths with happiness. When people leave, all that is left is memories; so give her one that she can go back to time and over. Be the book she never gets bored of reading, be the song she replays in her head when she’s breathing in emptiness; when she needs something to remind of reasons to keep existing. That way, if you find yourself living a day when you have to leave without knowing when you’ll return, at least you’ll say good bye knowing you did everything to be a part of something she’ll cherish all her life. She’ll grow old, she’ll grow up with them; one day when she gets to where she wants, she will remember you.
Know the easiest way to woo a writer? For beginners, don’t set your sights on being their muse. A writer’s work tends to be a reflection of things they understand, but their minds are constantly preoccupied by thoughts they cannot grasp and concepts they cannot comprehend. A writer is curious and eternally intrigued; what they already fathom will never fascinate them.
In essence, never be a known entity to a writer. Instead, be the enigma that evades them. Be the emotion that toys with their inhibitions, but one they would still give a part of their sanity to decipher. Be an incomplete poem, be a half-written story; be the crumpled piece of paper tossed frustratingly into a bin because they couldn’t find the words to describe what lies within.
Know the easiest way to woo a writer? Be the paradox they couldn’t put into words.
I do this once, maybe twice a year, and it makes it all the more difficult to write this. I hold on to 364 days worth of memories and regrets, only to struggle with myself on your birthday. On the first of October every year, I take something from the empty space inside and try my best to cram it into an empty one outside. There are just too many memories to choose from, ones I recall like it were only yesterday.
Yes, I remember putting a hand on my zip and dancing like a second-hand Michael Jackson for you when you were on your wheelchair. I also remember how you spilled filter coffee on a pristine white bed-sheet of your hospital bed, and the nurse gave you a look like you had murdered her family or something. I still remember laughing until my eyes watered.
I also remember not-so-happy things; fighting with you and telling you I wouldn’t talk to you until you ate, didn’t matter if the cancer made you nauseous. I remember carrying you to the bathroom in the middle of the night as you winced in pain. Things that I try not to think of, but still a part of the limited time we spent and loved together.
So today, as I write this, everything just comes flooding back. It happens everyday, but just that little bit more today. Happens when we cut your birthday cake without you; it happens when we eat a dinner dedicated to you with one empty chair at the table. But it also reminds me how lucky I have been, and how much I’ve learnt and continue to learn from you. It also keeps my feet on the ground; the standards you’ve set for perfection are so far and distant that it drives me on even more to keep your legacy alive. You live through me and I know I might never get there, but I promise to try and show the world who you really were.
I love you, you beautiful, beautiful person. I miss sitting on your bed, staring into the same eyes you gave me and talking to you.
Happy birthday, I miss you. Thank you for everything I am today.
I had never felt so uncomfortable in a place that I had come to call my second home. The small, muddy ground with two rusty goalposts at each end had always been reassuringly familiar to me; but not on that one night. Over the past year, I had covered every inch of the ground more than a thousand times; right from the first day of college to the last day of the university team trials. I loved the ground so much that my once gleaming, white Star Impact Spectras were now permanently coated with a dull brown tinge that so often ended up on my shirts after rough falls. My legs had almost memorized the physical attributes of the turf; how the far left corner was slightly elevated and how a little patch halfway up the ground was particularly hard to sprint on. I can embarrassingly admit, I didn’t even know my girlfriend as intimately as I knew about the little, muddy pitch in the centre of my college.
When Mom’s cancer happened, I was forced to see two of my most cherished things in the world spiral towards unimaginable predicaments. With Mom’s steadily deteriorating health, I was slowly starting to spend more and more time away from the little field I used to practice in. I sorely missed what it once made me feel – the thrills of exquisitely timed sliding tackles, the earthy aroma of petrichor during rainy football sessions, the joys of the wind beating against my chest while sprinting; the sheer nostalgia of memories was overwhelming. Those poignant shards of a shattered imagination were now replaced with far graver memories.
On that night, I stood once again on the same ground after God knew how much time. The sound of gravel scrunching beneath my shoes felt like listening to a song that I had long forgotten, but one that I suddenly rediscovered on the radio. I could hear the crowd roaring and the bright floodlights illuminating the field radiantly, lending its brown colour an alluring, lustrous glow which I think it always deserved. I had been there so many times before; soaking in the pressure, the crippling expectations and the electric atmosphere. But that night was different. It was strange for me, this feeling. I had built my footballing reputation on being a calm central midfielder who feared little. But on that night, I felt nervous and uneasily anxious. The worst thing was that I was fully aware of why it was happening.
I didn’t look on my right-hand side because I knew she was watching me. I also knew she understood little about the game; had no clue about the intricate tactics, the industrious endeavor and the orchestrated teamwork it required to assert one team’s supremacy over the other. All I knew was that I would mean the same to her on the pitch as I did off it. She cared little about my team or the opposition’s, she was only going to watch me and be oblivious to the rest of the world. In 18 years of my life out of which I had spent 10 playing the beautiful game, this was the first time that she had come to watch me play. That night, I wanted to give her something to smile about after what had been a tumultuous few months for all of us.
I still remember how it felt the same way like my first match did. My legs felt like jelly, my stomach had turned so violently that it felt like someone had tied my guts into a scout’s knot. I couldn’t focus, I was sweating and the game hadn’t even begun. Trust me, there is nothing worse than sudden self-doubt on the big stage; that one moment when you completely forget your very purpose of existing. That horror of letting everything unravel when it matters to most was terrifying to me.
When I heard the whistle, it took me a few seconds to register that the game had kicked off. It was like the world had dropped its burdens on my shoulders, but I told myself that nothing mattered more to me than the lady who got up from a hospital bed after a chemotherapy to watch her son do what he loved. I wasn’t going to let her down, I knew I wouldn’t forgive myself if I did. Failure was unacceptable on any night; but tonight it was simply unthinkable. I had no way of knowing if she would ever watch me play again, so I knew had to make this one performance count.
Over the course of the next 20 minutes, I played like a man possessed. I dived recklessly into tackles, ran twice as hard as the man I was supposed to mark, and constantly told myself that this was just another game. I don’t think my body was listening. By halftime I looked like I had taken a momentary dip in the college’s heritage well; my head was aching with the lack of composure that usually regulated my body’s physical output. It was then that I realized what my fear truly meant. And for the first time since the match started, I smiled.
I realized that I felt different because that night, I wasn’t playing for myself anymore. I was playing for someone else, someone far more important. None of the hundreds in the crowd had ever seen what it took me to become the footballer I was, but the lady smiling quietly at one dark corner of the field certainly had. She had seen me caked in mud and exhausted from training camps, she had seen me in hospitals with sprained ankles and torn muscles, she had seen me distraught after defeat. She had witnessed and understood the true aspects of my art and my worth as an artist, which is why on that night, the weight of expectations felt heavier than it ever did before.
Before the second half began, I went up to her and talked to her. My heart felt lighter knowing that today, all I had to do to make her proud was just to be myself. Just like how I was the centre of her universe, she was all that mattered tonight and nothing else came remotely close. Win, draw or lose, it didn’t matter anymore; just knowing that she was watching me was all I could be grateful for.