Words

I was fifteen and he was the same age, perhaps. Or perhaps we were both younger, or older. Who is to say after so many years? He lived nearby and he sometimes came over to deliver a message from his mother to mine because they were friends. He and I – we did not say a word to each other because we were young, like I said.

It was not that I was shy, rather it was because he was always tongue-tied and I was always loud. Or perhaps, that is how I remember myself. It took me a few months to realise that he was the one that called me everyday at the same time even though he never said a word. He played songs sometimes, and I stayed on the phone asking who it was and therefore drowning out his music.

Over time and with the shared maturity that comes with sharing such secrets with the school best friends, I learnt to identify his patterns. He called when I was alone, or when he was alone, he never said a word, he hung up when I had said Hello – he did this everyday. That is all he did. He never tried to talk to me. He did not strike up conversations if he saw me alone at the corner shop. He saw me with other male  and female friends, yet he persisted with his silence.

I got used to the phone calls over the years, my parents laughed about the situation. They were too kind to say anything to him and they pretended that they did not know it was him that called us ever so often if he came over.  I was not that kind though, sometimes I gave him a talking to on the phone, sometimes I rolled my eyes at him when he walked past.

Age gives you that kind of confidence, you feel brave and free and you can discard the attentions that come your way.

You can make fun of love when you are young. Only when you are young.

I met other people. Interesting people. People who called me at designated times and people who talked. I would take the phone off the hook on days like those when I did not want the phone lines engaged because some voices were so important to me.

He called me and played music for me for seven whole years. Every Monday. Every Friday. Every Sunday if the parents were out and about.

The song was the same too – the actual words are hazy now but it was a song about life changing forever because of love at a first glance.

It made me feel good on some days, the song, it made me feel beautiful and loved and desired on the days when high-school maths and bad hair days and perceived affairs of the hearts had reduced me to tears. I went from high-school to university, I got a degree. I packed my bags and left. He called and played the song whenever I went home for a few days.

I moved overseas and my mother gave me snippets about him over the years.

He graduated from college. He took over his father’s business. He built a new house. He got married.

Somewhere along the way, the calls stopped. I still went home once a year, I still saw him around the place. But he didn’t call. Not anymore. That thing about growing up spares none of us.

We went to his new place for a house-warming party when I visited my parents last year. My daughter sat next to his children. His wife and I discussed the weather. His brothers spoke to me, his mother insisted that I eat some more.

He was in the room all along. I saw him and he saw me as we mingled but there had been too many phone calls and silent hours to let words ruin anything now.

My mother disappeared into the crowds with Miss A in tow after lunch. So did his family.

After twenty odd years of the silent communication, there we were – two grown-ups, finally face to face, without a telephone in between.

“Your mother,” he said, looking at me, “did she eat? Did she like the food?”

That was all he said.

His eyes did not leave my face. Not once. Twenty years of looking away now bundled into one gaze.

I had never once acknowledged his feelings. He had never once said anything. He was young and so was I. And yet here we were. And now there was no music and there were no songs and so much of life and living had happened since.

Yes,” I said.

That was all I said.

He smiled. I think I smiled back.

Then we finally ran out of things to say and it ended that day, the little one-sided love story that began many summers ago.

Words, man.

They end everything.

When We Were Young

I was convinced I would grow stronger and invincible as an adult. I believed the little things would not hurt me so much, not any more. I thought I would learn to separate the big battles from the small ones and the small battles from the ‘not-battles’. I thought fear would fade like a sketchy nightmare – strong and unpleasant and then grey and wispy and then just a memory.

And yet when Miss A announced her intentions to run for house captain at school, I was a child again. Eager and trusting and full of impudent hope. Oscillating between those wretched twins of victory and failure. Not knowing and at once knowing. Sure and unsure. Proud and scared.

I helped her with the speech. I got a teeny bit carried away when I asked her to stress on some of the words. I talked strategies (like how the Year 3s were too little and probably would not understand nor care about her plans for house meetings, how the Year 5s would vote honestly, how all good speeches needed humour) and I talked dreams with her, her the little child that once said “Tupsember” instead of September.

When she said in her speech that everyone had something to contribute, I nodded. When she said that a house needed athletic people and painters and singers and maths wizards and good friends and great listeners, I cheered.

“I was Captain of the Blue House too,” I said to her. A million times over. Another country and another time but it felt like I was passing the baton on. That like recipes and family stories, this was yet another thing we could share.

And then at night, a sleepy face turned to me and said “Mum, I have butterflies in my tummy and I may not even win.”

“You will,” I said. And that all-knowing adult inside of me, said “Umm, actually there is a chance she won’t.”

“What if no one votes for me?” she asked.

“They will,” I said. And the adult laughed and whispered that children can be cruel and children can be whimsical and that children do not follow norms when it comes to choices.

“What if I don’t get even a single vote?” she asked again.

“Of course, you will,” I said. Glad for the dark in the room because adults become children too when there is no light around.

And that voice inside me, cold and clever, reminded me that children fail. Oh yes, they do. Because everyone does. That is how life works. That is how we grow and fall and walk and stumble and eventually get somewhere.

“If you lose,” I said, the words bitter and sharp in my mouth, “you just congratulate the people who do.  And get on with the hurt because nothing hurts forever. And you will win so many other things. Sometimes it is okay to just try because only ridiculously, brave people try even when they know there is failure involved.”

I believed myself then, I really did. You have to be a grown-up to understand some things. I wouldn’t have said these words as a child because I knew words like forever then. Now, I know how transient everything is and it makes things easier, as sad as that is.

“You will dream a million dreams,” I told her after she had fallen asleep. “And so many of them will come true and so many of them won’t. But it won’t matter Miss A. Because you will dream a million dreams.”

I did the dishes then and I went through her speech again. And this song  came on and my bubble burst and I sobbed for the little person who had a speech ready and a house chant and who did not think to ask anyone to vote for her because “that would be like forcing them, Mum.”

You do not see your children growing, you miss the way their limbs grow and their faces change, the way their baby lisp disappears overnight. You get to see their horizons change though, you see the scraped knees and the broken hearts and their stash of hopes and you know that they will open the door soon and go chasing things in the clouds, that growing up and adulthood is here and that there are lessons around the corner.

I kissed her and told her that she was wonderful and brave and awesome the next day when we arrived at school. I told her she would do so well, oh so well and that I was so, so proud of her. And then, I tried not to tear up as I waited in the car while she walked to her classroom, her speech cue cards in her hand.

I had butterflies in my stomach when I went to pick her up at 4:00 PM. I only looked at the clock a few thousand times throughout the day. I practiced my “Well done, I bet you were great” and “I love you and it does not matter” in a daisy chain all the way in the car.

And then when she shrieked and said “I got it Mum, I won,” I forgot to hold my breath and I started to breathe again.

I did not cry this time though there was a knot in my throat. I wiped my eyes when she said she had walked over to the others and given them hugs and said they had done a great job too.

And later that night, still in the dark, just before falling asleep, she said “I was not afraid, Mum. I saw the big girls with their Head of the School speeches and I realised that this was just one milestone out of many. I knew that if I lost today, I could win other things.”

That is when my voice gave away. There was no use pretending anymore. Her childhood and mine were both getting wispy, there was so much to do and so many bends in the road and so many horizons ahead.

You don’t cry because your child is growing up. You cry on days like this because you realise that once your child grows up, the last links to your own childhood become obsolete too. You cry because you realise time does rush by. That it changes, all of it, life and age and everything you knew. And there is not a damned thing you can do.And yet, there is much wonder in the years ahead.

So many milestones.

Some which we will meet, some which we will miss.

A million dreams. Missed and not missed. But most importantly, a million dreams.The things time cannot steal from us.