ISSUE Magazine

We must live for the few by Syazwina Saw

As I write this, I am outdoors, sitting on a bench in the cool late evening sun (one can’t use the word ‘twilight’ without self-conscious, ugly pop-culture connotations clouding them and making everything after the word cheaper). This is part of my promise to my editor to write in a sparse, realistic narrative. Apparently I use too many adjectives. “Show me, don’t tell,” she’d said, and if she weren’t such a good editor and a better writer (than I am) I wouldn’t have listened to her.

But I trust her and her opinion, so here we are.

[It’s definitely nice to have a female editor on my side. I get along well with boys usually, and men sometimes, but I always end up becoming the Other at some point, like when they make misogynistic jokes and I throw my shoe at their heads, or when I have my period and start doubling over in meetings. We should stop being embarrassed by our biology and start teaching our sons that uterine blood is okay and that vaginal contractions can get painful and real and they need to shut down the idea that having a penis makes them superior.]

Wait. There’s a couple walking hurriedly out of the café. A man and a woman – both relatively young and seemingly sober, in such a rush to get out of the door that they’re stumbling over each other’s feet.

Oh, standing near me now. Hello.

They probably think I’m listening to some inane boyband on my earphones while writing my History homework and they’d only be half right.

What a mismatched pair. Her face is an amalgam of too much of everything – dark eyes big and slightly close together; nose both too wide and too pointy; lips very full and shaped perfectly into a pout. The only thing just right about her are her eyebrows, although they are untouched. An easier way for a writer would be to place her ethnicity, only I cannot tell with her. Also, the way this city rolls, she could be a mixture of anything and everything.

And he is the sort of man who tries so hard, especially with his odd face. I can see light blue eyes with a seemingly random combination of aristocratic features that would not translate well on anyone else, only he has cheekbones and they usually bring most things together (but not his slowly yet surely receding hairline). He speaks first and they laugh softly, with hesitation. He is always leaning forward and she is always leaning away. His face looks….expectant? [Revise this point later; look in mirror to identify emotion.] She looks wary but happy. [I know that face so well.]

He points at something on her hand and she flinches further back. “That looks interesting,” he says, his smile growing gentler. His voice is a velvet baritone, smooth and comforting. [Next protagonist must have his voice.] “Is that new?”

She nods and smiles shyly. “How are you?” she squeaks, finally stepping forward.

“Oh, same old,” he declares with a wave of his hand [I never know whether this is meant to accentuate or belittle the statement it accompanies]. He’s peering into her face in a way that would have made me uncomfortable. But she seems to take this in stride, matching his stare with her own. “I’ve been waiting for your call. You never called.”

She is (carefully) keeping her gaze away. “Oh, you weren’t waiting for my call.” Her voice is light but laced with something else. “If you really were, you could have called me yourself.”

He looks chastened. “You’re right. I could have. I’m sorry.” This time he looks away. “How have you been? What brings you here?”

“You,” she says quickly. Oh, girl. At least she recovers fast. “You did,” she adds. “You’re the one who pulled us out here, said there was something you needed to tell me. What was it?”

I can’t tolerate two idiots playing coy.

“I’ve missed you,” the words leave him in a clear tone. He looks relieved, like he’s kept those words with him for a long time. “I still miss you, even though you’re here. Isn’t it insane?”

Her breath leaves her in a rush, her profile heaving in one exhalation. “Oh, Christopher,” I can hear her say softly, “you were asking for something difficult. It never would have worked.”

“How would you know?” he asks, his tone upset. “We haven’t even tried.”

“How exactly would it have worked?” she replies, voice sharp and tremulous. “Would you be able to bend enough to do what I asked you? – No, don’t go there.” She raises a hand before the grin on his face, looking amused herself. “You know that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about compromise, which you seem to have completely disregarded.”

His voice, when it finally comes, is soft and yielding. “You know I’d at least try. It’s the best that I can do.”

“I know.” The next words she says are too soft, so I read her lips; she’s repeating “I know”, her gaze cast at his feet.

“Our lives are so different, they might as well be worlds,” she says next, her voice surer.

“That’s why people say ‘worlds apart’, love,” and at the endearment, she flinches and he winces. “Sorry. But I know that.”

“Do you? You seem to ignore the fact quite easily.”

“If I asked you to stay, would you?” his voice more wistful than daring.

“If I asked you to come with me and leave all this, would you?”

His pause is too long.

“I thought so.” Her voice is more resigned than triumphant.

“It’s hard,” he says shakily. “You can’t expect an instant answer when you ask me to leave everything I’ve spent over a decade to build. That’s more than half your life I’ve spent on my career. And I’ve only just become comfortable with where I am. I wouldn’t ask you to the same.”

“And you think my work means nothing to me? But I would have stayed, for you,” she admits, and even her face looks pained to say it. “I would try to rebuild what I have and try to make it work here, if I had to.”

“This isn’t some bloody romantic comedy, you know.” He’s taken to pacing, and the fluid movements agree with his gangly limbs. “Nobody sacrifices anything off the bat in real life. They talk. They discuss. They come to terms together. Nobody runs off alone and becomes the noble idiot.”

She laughs weakly; I only recognise it from the movements of her body and the wistful smile on her face, the sound is so faint. “I know. You think my age is showing again.”

“And that’s another thing.” He claps his hands on her shoulders briefly, before seeing the look on her face and pulling them slowly away. “You have to stop mentioning our age difference. It means little to me.”

“Well, you brought it up first!” She’s trying not to sound hurt. “And it means a whole lot more to me. Your friends look at me and think I’m after you for your…your money, your status, your stability? Something! And—”

“Those who matter know you’re not.”

“But people think it all the same. I try not to let it bother me, but it does, Chris. And don’t tell me you’re not conscious of it.”

He shrugs defiantly, the gesture rough and angry. “Sod them, Lia. Sod their judgment. Like I said, the ones who matter don’t care for any of it.”

“But what if I am after something?” her voice high in the wind. This street is surprisingly quiet for a Sunday evening and a few pedestrians turn to glance quickly, then look away. “What if the attraction for me is how…how perfect you are?”

“Well, thank you,” he finally says in a strangled voice, a little too loud. “I – I rather think you’re perfect too.”

There’s a lovely pause as they both look at each other’s feet, and then each other’s eyes.

“Anyway,” she breaks first, her eyes still on his face, “what about children?”

Oh boy.

He straightens up, defensive. “What about them?”

“You want children. I want children. And you’re not getting any younger, and I…I want to give you that, that piece of our lives together, but will we have time, with us trying to decide how this works out and on which continent and how long before –”

He looks surprised and touched, his light blue eyes somehow darker as they gaze at her head. “I – I had no idea.”

She smiles up at him. “I’m a bit pedantic, I know.”

“No, no, it’s fine. I just…I had no idea…how I factored into your plans.”

“Of course you do,” her brow is wrinkled – no worries now about her looking too young for him, “I told you. I’ve considered this more than you have.”

He grabs her hands suddenly, and holds fast even as she tugs them lightly. “It doesn’t matter when we have children, if we ever have children.” Her arched eyebrow makes him laugh. “Not much, anyway. All that matters right now is us. We can…do all the calculating later.”

She laughs, and the sound is pretty. “Us,” she continues laughing, almost a gleeful cackle, and the passers-by smile as they walk past. “Are we really doing this? Are you sure?”

“I want to. Please. I am sure and I will do all this if you will. To talk about us, for one.” He looks at her measuringly and starts to laugh with her.

The pair continue laughing in place, their hands latched together, an anchor stopping them from flying away. Someone, perhaps one of their party, comes out, sees them, and goes back in. I see a group slowly flit out silently led by this friend, all of them smiling and walking out of the club almost single file. They give each other quiet sidehugs once they’re far enough away.

The couple continue to giggle at each other. I’ve stopped listening, because I can hear the bickering begin; she’s threatening him with her phone and a call to her mother to tell her the news. Last I paid attention, he’s agreeing to buy tickets.

They look quite perfect. How about that.

I guess I’ll come here again tomorrow. It’s dark now and my battery is running out and I still haven’t got enough for a story, damn it.

(Photo by Syazwina Saw)

Syazwina has found that she rather likes One Direction and their preppy outfits and their jumping around and would like to adopt all of them as her human puppies. She tweets about them intermittently. She hasn’t blogged about them yet because she fears the fan backlash. She is thoroughly ashamed of herself but she can’t quit.

This entry was written by syazwinasaw and published on 06/10/2012 at 23:11. It’s filed under Fiction, ISSUE5, Syazwina Saw, Writings and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

6 thoughts on “We must live for the few by Syazwina Saw

  1. The scary “us” conversation of a relationship… *insert SOME sort of a facial expression here*

    I like how it was narrated by an outsider, a random person who just happened to be in earshot of the mess. It’s quite touching at points, and I think it worked well because of the distance between the characters and the narrator, and as a result, the distance between the characters and the readers. The minimal input from the narrator leaves the dialogue as it is, with snippets of body language thrown in by the observer. It shows, without telling, and because of that it seems to speak much louder.

    This was real fun to read 🙂

    • Thanks Dhi!

      I was inspired after having my work edited by Syar for Issue #4 and how much refreshing it was being told where I went wrong or where I should reign myself in that I thought I’d write a meta-ish piece on the things we do to improve our craft.

      It was fun to write too, because it isn’t my usual style, although I’m afraid that shows here and there. That balance between show and tell is always tricky for me, and I wanted that to be apparent here, in the way I veer between too much details and too much repetition, leaving it rough and rambly the way I would write an observation.

      And although I’ll leave a proper comment on your page, let me just say I was bursting to tell people about your pieces this month! Love your work, Dhi!

  2. Avie on said:

    I think I somewhat failed to notice when the writer ends and the characters begin. Lovely trick, Syaz. A seamless piece.

  3. Thank you Avie 🙂 The style was fun to explore and was good practice too.

  4. Hahahahah Verbatim Transcript of THE conversation hihihihi the FBI should hire your arse! It was good and very well written! You little spy xx

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