My watch says that my friend is now twelve minutes and twenty-seven seconds late to the dinner, a time he himself set. I hope that I don’t look pathetic sitting alone here at this restaurant’s alfresco section. During these awkward moments, I try to hold my cigarette, James Dean-style – thumb and index finger gently pressing the cigarette’s filter – so that I won’t look pathetic. I hope that I don’t look even more pathetic by trying to emulate the personification of cool.
Shit, this is already my second cigarette in fifteen-minutes. I think I am losing my cool. How can that boy be so late to a restaurant that is only a three-minute walk from his parents’ house, where he is staying over the weekend? Yes, he texted me to say he will be tardy, but sending a text just seven minutes before the scheduled meeting? Wigga, preaze.
But canceling this dinner I would not do. Not only am I hungrier than the wolf and I only have durians at home, this is an old friend whom I have not seen in years – a damn good friend, to add. And I probably won’t meet him again in a few more. He rarely swings by. I truly understand his plight; he is not well-liked here. OK, his parents love him. He has a handful of guy friends that he retained from childhood, and I am one of them. Even more ladies are close to him. But most people here look at him with disgust, because…
Well, my friend is detested by our community because he likes vanilla ice cream.
It is absurd, I know. I have heard that in some parts of the world, they have ice cream parlours that sell up to thirty-one-or-so flavours, and customers have the liberty to select the flavour they wish to consume. That’s blasphemous, if you ask the people here.
There are only two ice cream flavours sold in my neighbourhood: chocolate and vanilla. Chocolate is exclusively for men; vanilla is women’s sole poison. Transgressors of this age-old rule will be subjected to ridicule and isolation. There was even an incident where the town’s mayor accused his political opponent of deviating from his gender-assigned ice cream flavour, and the latter was sent to prison for that.
My friend is by no means a crook, if you ask me. That poor bastard had never even stolen a Hacks sweet. We had known each other since our first year in school, and had gotten closer over the years. He is cool with me and he is funny; why should I not be friends with him?
During one hot afternoon when we were in our secondary school years – we were sixteen, I think – I asked my friend if he would like to go grab some ice cream. He gave a look of worry usually made by closeted atheists when their pious parents invited them to church.
“Dude, I think it’s high time for me to tell you something,” said my friend.
I shrugged and gave a curious look.
He stammered for a while. “I don’t do chocolate ice cream. Never had.”
I gasped as if a rat crawled onto my belly button. “The fuck?”
And my screaming made him regret the spill. But words could not be taken back, and he regained his composure. “I thought that since we’ve been close friends since we were kids, I could tell you this; I like vanilla ice cream. I knew I always have liked it since I was a kid.”
There was a pause. Oprah must have felt this awkward when Tom Cruise went crazy on her talk show.
Then my memory started to come back; every time my friends and I were out for ice cream, he would always come up with some lame-ass excuses like, “Oh, I’ve had too much ice cream last night,” or “Crap, I left my wallet at home!” At times he did buy a scoop of chocolate ice cream, but he would just bludgeon the ice cream with his plastic spoon as we all chatted away.
“Well, I hope you can still accept me as a friend,” he reversed a step or two, waiting for me to say something.
I did not. So he left.
Eventually, I went to the ice cream parlour alone. He broke society’s taboo, was all I had on my mind then. I did not even know how I would handle the situation going forward.
Weeks went by. We did not talk when we bumped into each other in school. Like him, I, too, did not know what to say to him.
My curiosity was actually piqued; did my friend choose to like vanilla ice cream? Did he just try to be different? Or was it something he was just born with? So I did an experiment: I popped by the usual ice cream joint, ordered a pint of vanilla ice cream – “For my mom,” I told the cashier – I went back, locked my bedroom shut and scooped a bit of the ice cream.
Egh, it’s so white, I thought. The spoon was getting closer to my mouth.
My mouth opened.
I started to pick up the vanilla scent.
The spoon was thisclose.
Jeez Louise Vuitton, I can’t stand the sight of vanilla ice cream, let alone its smell. I simply threw the spoon away.
That was when I realised that we were born with our quirks and we have our own preferences. It is just like when my friend tried to convert me from a Star Wars fan to a Trekkie. Some might like what’s popular, some might not. My friend likes what society detests, but he is still a human being.
The next day, I gave him a call and told him that I understood his choice, and that it would not stop us from being friends. I said I accept him as he is, as he does with me, even when he thinks that Darth Vader is just a character with a snoring problem.
Maybe my little experiment could be a good story to tell him when he arrives here for dinner. I am sure he will laugh his ass off and say, “So you know how I felt like when all of us went out for chocolate ice cream.”
And maybe, just maybe, before that, I will kick his ass for being so late.
Kamarul Anwar is by no means a hipster, despite his currently working from home as a freelance writer (contributing almost exclusively for August Man Malaysia). He writes his articles from an Acer laptop, not Macbook Pro. Definitely not a hipster.