She always came to him at the strangest times and this time it was during his morning, you know, business. He was perched on the toilet bowl, cigarette in one hand ashtray in another peering out into space. “Coffee and cigarettes gives me the shits,” she used to say. He laughed at her voice, the one in his head.
And then there she was, perched comfortably atop the bath tub, peering into her fingernails nonchalantly as usual.
He took a drag of his cigarette and looked up at the wide-eyed innocent face with a smirk that was painted red. A conversation that came up before they parted ways years ago surfaced in his mind:
Her: So today I had a conversation with my boss about a pity date I had which resulted in a statement that went something like this. “Men are born to make women happy. We should not deprive them of that happiness.” The statement was born out of the conversation that flowed from there, and as we continued discussing feminism she had said that women should never struggle to take the role of man.
He thought about it for a second or two; her boss is a typical femme fatale sort of character — a bit of an anti-feminist in the most feminist sort of way. She was just the kind that is out to get the most out of a man, often demanding they lived up to this figure of an ideal man and it often got him angry – just the thought of that woman in that slinky dress sitting around preening. Before he could say anything, she continued —
Her: I subscribe to a similar ideology.
Him: Well, wait, so let me get this straight; you’re saying women are different from men, yet women are men’s equals?
Her: I believe that women are men’s equals. But they are not the same. Is that not already physically obvious in that men have muscles in places women do not, and women have fats in places men should not have? These physical differences are nature’s, or God’s way of indicating the deeper fabrics of what make men and women different.
She looked up and her ridiculously long fake lashes irritated him a little as she fluttered them at him nonchalantly.
Him: So, in other words, you want to say, “What’s exclusively yours is mine, and what’s exclusively mine, is mine?”
Him: Men and women are two completely different creatures. Hence the cliché “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.” Why would it be okay for women to have equal positions with men in the boardroom and wear pants, when God forbids that men even dream of wearing skirts and becoming househusbands? Even Marc Jacobs can’t put on a skirt without people criticising.
Him: Men should just stick to what gender roles they’re are assigned to, and so should women. Whatever that was thought of by our forefathers on how women should behave — daintily and tenderly — accentuate women’s beauty.
Her: That is what I said!
Him: No, you said we were the same.
She rolled her eyes. As she always does; he always thought her eyes might get stuck to the roof of her head one of these days.
Her: We are different, but equal. I know you find it hard to comprehend, being a man – oh, you pitiful, simple-minded creatures.
Him: What’s the point of women trying to gain what men should be getting, and take that away from us?
Her: How so? I am not even subscribing to the usual feminist fight. You know, equality in the boardroom, in the bedroom, whatever. To be equal in some of the ways I feel are superficial and a little futile, because we won’t attain the happiness we think we might in abandoning certain indulgences. What are we out to achieve? So what if we hold boardroom positions and dress like males? Does that in any way cultivate true equality in the form of mutual respect, where each has a role to play, and we, each in playing our roles, complement, support and build a well-rounded society.
Him: Yeah, be proud of having boobs. If we stare at ’em like we wanna pounce on ’em and turn our faces into motorboats, that’s because we’re impressed. Boobs and vaginas make women, “women”. They’re magical, they’re unique.
Her: Yes, feel free to interject any time, of course.
Him: Come on, how can it be insulting when the “chauvinistic men” tell you women to “get back into the kitchen and put on a skirt”? You should be proud of it. Instead, some women think it’s cool to be one of the “bros”. I think if I were a girl, I’d be so fucking insulted if someone had called me a “bro”. “Can’t you see that I have boobs?” I would ask.
Her: What the f@#$?
Him: Oh, wait, now I’m objectifying you into a mere sexual object? See, people will only want what they can’t have. Men can’t grow boobs. At least, not without keeping a slender waistline. That’s why we keep on chasing women.
Her: Oh my god, you have managed to turn a valid intellectual conversation into sex talk. So typically male.
Him: Be proud of what makes women, “women”. Men and women are not the same. At all. If we are, then what’s the point of wanting each other?
They had by this time pulled up to his porch.
She slipped up onto the bench by his bar and crossed her legs.
Her: Okay, sugar muffin. Look up at me when I am talking to you. I meant look at my face, darling. I do not see how you could get worked up when all you did was agree with me. Yes, we should stick to our own roles, that is all I am saying. But since you brought that up, let me remind you that it was men who seem to have departed from playing their role, pushing women to have to stand up from their pedestals and lift their fingers. If only you stuck to your role and were responsible about it, then I could sit here all day in my throne preening daintily while you ogle at me.
Him: Let me get you a drink. What would you like to have? Have a martini. I’ll get you a martini.
He began making the drink and then slid it in front of her.
Him: Oh, yes, you were saying?
Her: There is never a time of day I do not wish to be pursued, and protected. To be able to exercise my femininity fully, managing the household like how our grandmothers used to. But lest you forget, for the longest time men have strutted around on a power trip without being responsible about it. They have worn the pants, if you like, while being boys, taking advantage, treating the women they pursued with recklessness, when there needed to be due respect. Instead of being the beautiful beings, wives, mothers that should have been cherished, protected and loved, you irresponsible and ungrateful creatures stripped women down to being objects, and the next thing we knew we were rag dolls to be played and thrown around, and once worn, it’s made out to be our fault, and to be your right to only pick up another. This is but an oversimplified version of the things that had gone wrong with our genders.
But that, dear sir, makes me sad.
Him: If I may, that’s a tad too much of a generalisation, wouldn’t you say? Have you met every single man there is on this planet and known them inside and out? Not all men are how you described. I’m sure that somewhere there are the knights in shining armours that women clamour. But getting back to our conversation here, beautiful — men do treasure women. You complement us. Thus, I agree with you that these two genders are completely disparate classes of creatures.
She sips her drink quietly.
Him: However, I think you and I can agree that both men and women mutually have this feeling of unhappiness towards the other gender.
So what both you and I can do is to learn to accommodate each other. We both have different roles, different needs, different wants.
But at the end of the day, I believe that tolerance is the key to a harmonious male-female gender dynamic. And the ones who tend to exploit their…”maleness” or “femininity”, so to speak, are just being plain selfish.
And she nodded.
He took a drag at his cigarette and closed his eyes. That was the last conversation they had, really. They split ways that night and he was giddy. She left him pining for more, but before they could explore the magic of her boobs together, fate took a cruel turn. And there she was, only ever appearing intermittently at toilet breaks and solitary meals.
Something he would always want, but could never have.
He smiled and looked up at her who was smiling sweetly from the bathtub. She turned to him and said, “By the way, I never told you — yes, I agree.”
And with that, she was gone.
Kamarul Anwar has yet to pick up a copy of The Game and Raina Ng believes she can fly.