Only 20 minutes in and the humidity was already killing her. She tied her hair into a pony tail, as she waited for her phone to connect to the airport WiFi. Two decades into the century and the WiFi was still unstable, and baggage collection still took forever.
‘Waiting for my luggage. It’s gonna take forever,’ she typed.
‘K, just wait for me at Gate 6,’ her best friend replied.
Her head jolted up as the conveyor belt started to move. A bright blue luggage came out, it’s tag reading DXB in bold. She went to check the screen again, and sighed in frustration. The Dubai flight landed 5 minutes later than hers, it made no sense. She shuffled her way back to the spot where the bags make their first appearance.
It can’t be, she thought to herself, her feet stopped moving, her heart beat became increasingly noticeable, as she spotted a side profile that she would never miss, even among the busiest crowd.
He was scrolling through emails, working even after a horrible long haul. He caught a glimpse of his bright orange suitcase, and looked up, only to see a face that he thought he would never see again, not outside a screen. He stood motionless as his luggage approached, went past her, past the space between them, then past him, in an airport they were both most familiar with.
‘Hey,’ she finally broke the silence.
He had a million words lined up behind his tongue. What are you doing here? How have you been? How’s your family? Are you with anyone? Do you still think of me?
‘Hi,’ it was all he managed to say. I missed you.
Three years ago, South
‘I used to wish I had one of these bunk beds with a slide,’ she said, as they strolled through the mazes of Ikea, holding hands, both extremely full as he got greedy and ordered too many meat balls, as usual.
He told her that they should get one for their future kids, and she smiled at him, the smile that made him fall in love over and over again. She loved it when he spoke of the future as if it was happening tomorrow, and he loved how she’d smile and lean her head on his shoulder. He stole a sniff of her freshly shampoo-ed hair, she rolled her eyes. She could never understand his obsession with her hair, and why, if he loved the smell so much, did he not get the same shampoo.
They were two poor students, in an expensive foreign country, working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Despite the constant tiredness and small arguments about who contributed more to the surge in their electricity or water bills, she was contented. She was studying culinary, with a vision to open her own confectionery store in her new-found home. They were always busy through day and night, juggling between classes and jobs, but they always had each other to themselves at the end of the day, and it was all she needed.
He was frustrated, tired of the status quo. He’d notice the businessmen in suits and ties, chuckling over glasses of imported beers, as he cleaned after a table of messy eaters, and sigh in envy, those people must have nothing to worry about. Him on the other hand, was working day and night to pay bills that were barely his doing, saving up for a business which, at this rate, he would never start. Also, how was he going to save enough to marry her, without her mother giving him the cold shoulder as if he was never good enough for her daughter.
‘Who does she think she is?’ she was ranting about a co-worker again, the one who made her weekend job a living hell.
‘I forgot that I have an assignment due next Wednesday,’ he talked over her as she went on and on about things he was hearing for the hundredth time.
She threw him a glare, stormed into the bathroom, and slammed the door behind her.
Of course, her problem was always the bigger problem.
‘Thanks for meeting me,’ he said, as he sat down opposite her, in an empty Starbucks. He cracked a slight smile as she handed him his drink. Mocha Frap, his favourite Starbucks indulgent years ago, but it was too sweet for him now. He would’ve gotten a latte, but he kept that to himself.
She looked great. Her hair was long, with soft mild curls now, and red highlights, a colour that he’d always convince her that she would look good with, and she’d say, what if I regret?
She laughed as he made remarks mocking the new Starbucks drink, updates about his family, his new niece, his new job around the corner, his first car, his recent ex-girlfriend who turned out to be an obsessive shopper and spent way too much on eyelash extensions, how he almost died running his first marathon, and a Beagle puppy he just got.
‘Two years huh,’ he said as their gazes locked, ‘It feels like forever.’
‘I know, ‘ she pursed her lips, worried that the next sentence would escape her mouth. I missed you.
On a humid Sunday afternoon, two people, who once believed in forever, now as unfamiliar as strangers, tried to fill in the gaps of those two years they spent pretending not to give two craps about each other.
Two years ago, North
It was her first time visiting him, after 9 months apart. He moved here for a job opportunity, one that he had been eyeing for months before.
She stepped out of one of the busiest airports in the world, into the crisp autumn air. Her eyes darting left and right, looking for the bus stop. She’d asked him not to see her at arrival, because she knew how much trouble it would be for him to take time off work.
She dragged her luggage up two flights of stairs, into his tiny rented studio, surprised by empty beer cans and take out containers that greeted her. He’s been very busy with work, she told herself to calm the budding annoyance, and started to clean up the room.
His phone buzzed in his pocket, disrupting his chain of thoughts. It was a text from her.
‘Are you meeting me for lunch?’
‘Busy. Dinner at 7. I will send you the location,’ he replied.
He grunted at the ‘D:’ which appeared on the screen 2 seconds later. Did she not understand that he had work to do? She shouldn’t have come. He had warned her multiple times that he had no time to entertain her or to take her around. And yet, she still went ahead to book the flight tickets.
He still loved her, but it was a different love now. It was a love that cared for her deeply, but not one that longed for her like it did 2 years ago, and it bothered him. He wanted a career that will prove his worth to those who doubted him, and he was prepared to give it all he had, and she was of no help. He’d go home after 14 hours of work, and she’d call him, telling him about her day, and get whiny when he said that his day was ‘ok’.
‘You need to find ways to solve your own problems, I can’t always be there for you,’ he told her once, while she was going on and on about her new boss, his friends raising their brows at him over two buckets of beer. It caught her by surprise. She apologised for ruining his night out, hung up, and cried herself to sleep, his last few words replaying in her head on loop.
She knew then, that she had to build a routine for herself, based on happiness that was independent of him and his attention, and she did. She had newfound reliance on her friends, things to do on weekend nights that took away the loneliness, and she became a person who was her own.
‘I told you! I can’t just ditch work for a day, just because you want to see a stupid museum,’ his voice stern and almost loud. She was stunned, blinking back tears.
‘I only asked you a question. It was an invitation, not an obligation. I really don’t need you to live you know,’ she turned, grabbed her handbag, and left the studio, already regretting the last sentence.
It was the second last day of her stay there. Guilty of her outburst, she made him dinner that night. He came home to a piece of sirloin steak, roasted baby potatoes, and a few stalks of asparagus.
‘How was your day?’ she asked, her eyes wide and bright as she grabbed the cutlery.
‘It was okay,’ his gaze downwards, studying his medium-rare steak. It wasn’t the only thing that was bleeding in the room. She stopped trying, and they finished their meal in silence.
‘I can’t do this anymore,’ he finally gathered the words to say, the water was still running, her hands in the sink covered in soap bubbles. He stood behind her, and watched her, in slow motion, cleaned her hands, and dry them with his red checkered table cloth.
The truth was, she saw it coming. She never imagined it being said out loud, but that night he told her that he couldn’t always be there for her, she knew it would take a great deal for them to end up together, forever. Previously, it never crossed her mind that they would come to an end, perhaps because she was willing do anything to keep them going, maybe because those times when they were happily together, that those memories would stop him from pulling the trigger. However, at that very moment, she knew that she’d never be enough.
‘I’m sorry, but I realised that I’ve stopped caring, at least not the amount that you deserve,’ he explained, his voice soft, mildly trembling. Lie. He felt his insides twist and his chest tightened.
‘I can’t see a future with you anymore,’ also lie.
She was sobbing now, still not a word said.
‘You deserve someone better,’ he said, straight out of every on-screen break up scene in the world, ‘Thank you so much for the memories, and your love. I’ll always appreciate that.’
She shook her head in disbelief. She looked at him, and saw a man she now barely knew, reciting words he thought were the ‘right’ things to say. His gaze was gentle, his face unreadable, emotionless, he looked away. She opened her mouth, and closed again, unsure of what to say.
‘Is there someone else?’ she finally muttered.
‘No,’ he answered quickly, and felt his heart ache a little more from her distrust.
‘Wow, so it’s all me then,’ she spoke through her sobs, never felt worse about herself her entire life. Within minutes, she saw her hopes and dreams, her comfort zone, her trusty pillar and anchor break into pieces, and vanish into thin air.
They didn’t sleep that night.
He told her that they were heading in different directions, that he couldn’t be the one to care for her anymore, that he had too many plans for the future, none of them involving or accommodating of her. He told her that he still loved her, but not the way a lover would. His love was almost out of pity, out of guilt, and bits of responsibility.
The irony, she thought, was that she always felt lucky to have him. Despite his shortcomings, and flaws in their relationship, she always felt blessed to had share her life with him, and to carry his burdens and his fears. Little did she know, she was a liability.
She was very quiet. She didn’t dare to say anything to salvage them, because she was scared of what he’d say to reject her plead, because she knew how cruel he was capable of being, and how he can destroy her soul with merely a few careless words. She kept quiet, and she’d spend the rest of her life hating herself for being too cowardly to even try. She’d spend the rest of her life wondering what things would be like if she had begged him to take her back.
They were back for good now, both with new jobs, living 20 minutes away from each other.
‘You want meatballs?’ he took two days to summon enough courage to type this, and erased it again. He stared at the picture of her next to her name for the next 5 minutes, wondering if she was happy, if he should come barging into her life again, and if she would allow him to.
She let out a huge sigh, eyes fixed on her phone, at the word ‘online’ under his name, wondering who he was texting.