His words were assured and clear.
He knew how he felt about her. In every letter he wrote, whether they were long or brief, simple or wieldy, the tenderness and longing was obvious.
He knew how he felt; every night, he made sure he wrote it down – every pent-up daydream, each fluttering hurt. He never missed a single day; every night, he’d brush his teeth, wipe his hands on the towel hanging over the sink and sit down to write.
He’d tell her about the day, everything he wanted to hear. His hands spoke with great honesty, they did not stay away from the gaze that lingered a bit too long on bus girl’s neckline, or the scolding that he got from Mr Kareem that day for messing up his deadlines. He told her how he was glad that he caught the sunset, even if it was from the back of a bus, or how he couldn’t put his phone away even though it was burning his ear because his mother kept asking him to repeat every point. But most of all, he wrote to tell her that he loved her, and that he was missing her. Hopefully tomorrow, the both of them could spend some time with each other, maybe dinner.
He would write the day’s letter and then take his hands off the keyboard.
He’d look at the screen, and scan through the text, reading through it again and again. He’d never change anything, but he would read it as if he was putting it to memory.
He’d save it, watched as the window quickly faded, then went to bed.
The number of drafts displayed on the screen crept by one each night, and in that folder all his emotions and experiences and hopes pooled, never sent to its recipient, and never looked at again.
Anna wasn’t a stranger.
She wasn’t someone he was pining for from a distance as he watched her go about her day. They talked, were friendly, and sometimes hung out, with other friends. Less often now since they left school, but their circles were still tight enough that bumping into each other here and there was inevitable.
He had loved her for so long now but he’s never said anything. And seasons had come and passed, but the affection he felt for her never lifted.
This is an infatuation, I’m sure of it, he wrote in an email in the early weeks of his relationship.
I look around whenever I see someone wearing clothes like yours. When suddenly I catch a whiff of that perfume you always have on, but there’s no one around.
I cannot help but believe you’re a wonderful person, and your every laugh and smile and every happy line on your face only strengthens my witness. I cannot imagine life without you.
I wish you knew. I wish I could tell you. You might not feel the same way.
That email was never sent.
+ + +
You were right there today, right next to me, so close I could see the pores on your arm.
It makes me feel almost saintly; to know that there is a reserve of self-control within me that stops me from reaching over and feeling your shape, your contours. To know how it feels to touch you and to hold on to you, I crave those sensations intensely, still I sit next to you quietly with the patience of a monk.
He never revisited his old writings — he had not time for that. He was always putting down something new daily, with a momentum strong enough to punch a hole through a wall.
That day, it had been raining for a couple of hours and it seemed like the gloom was starting to go when he left his apartment.
Another friend had just gotten married the previous week, and it was a gathering of many old faces, some of which he had not seen for a number of years. It didn’t matter to him, they were faceless shadows to him. Two years, three months, it made no impression to him when or where these people were from, or where they were now. She was there too, and he was always glad to see her again, even though it had only been two weeks since the last time they hung out.
The roads were busy and wet.
He leaned against a damp wall while waiting for the lights to turn green, trying vainly to avoid the drops of rain. He looked at his watch and shook his head. He had to move now and stepped towards the curb, quickly looked to the right and left, and made a run for the other side.
It was a dark night when it happened. The car appeared out of nowhere.
When her phone rang, she was watching something on TV — one of those inane shows where nothing happens but the predictable. Bodies moving to fill blank air broadcasters desperately wanted to sell.
It was not a number that she recognised, she ignored it.
It rang again.
The teen on TV was about to break up with her new boyfriend because he didn’t “get” her enough, which she found frustrating, Anna couldn’t believe she let her previous boy go for this; sure he cheated, but he was more likeable.
The phone rang once more.
She picked it up and looked at the number, it was a mobile number – random digits offering no clues – who was calling? What was going on? She held the glowing phone in her hand and stared.
“Hi, is this Anna?”
“Yes, who’s calling?”
“There’s something we need to talk about.”
People tend to disappear easily in this city. There are just too many names and faces to keep track of in this small tract of land of four million. Individuals smushed together into a humid ball of sweat that rolled on endlessly. It’s easier to assume that people are just occupied when you don’t hear from them.
He never turned up that night, and they went on dining just fine. Sometimes things come up at the last minute and you don’t show — an accident, an appointment, a depression. Everyone has internalised that people won’t always show up when they say they will because everyone’s done it, at least once.
“When did it happen?”
She wished someone had called and checked up on him when he didn’t show. Or looked for him the next day.
They were all friends, why didn’t anybody care to check?
“There are some things that we want you to have a look at, which you may find unpleasant.”
Writers sometimes get the chance to live second lives, when someone picks up a book, or a note, or look at a scribble they made that speaks their thoughts or whispers their memories.
Months had passed since his death, and his body was earth and eaten. His words however – in life sterile and isolated – were in death, potent.
He wrote 2,385 drafts, which she had read through twice, thrice, many times. She returned to them again, and again, saying out the words to see if there was something in its sound, or in the way it was arranged on screen, and on paper, that would help her understand why none of these words were ever spoken.
Anna, I love you.
Even in this foul weather when it’s dry and the heat is crazy, and you cannot stop complaining about how sticky you feel. Should I have asked you if you wanted to step in to the shade? We could wait it out, and only leave when the sun’s gone down.
We wouldn’t have to do anything, or say anything. I can pass the time just looking at you. How pretty you looked.
Lutfi Hakim is a shy guy. Lure him out of his shell at @ltf_ha
* Featured image by Abby Tai