It was three years ago that I unexpectedly stumbled upon what beauty truly meant. At a tender age, impressionable and naïve, I was easily swayed by anything that stood in front of me and thus, having my perception of beauty constantly re-defined. But just like how true love only touches one’s soul once, I realized how the privilege to experience beauty, just pure and simple beauty, is given only once to a person.
Near where I live, there is a beige building lined with a wide and high footpath. Across the street, long and thin trees border the small stretch of field that extends the place. During the winter months, the branches are naked (almost as though being stripped of dignity) and curled into snake-like bodies. The sun rises, but rarely does it bless the bleak days with its light. So, any chance for a fantastic explosion of life to happen diminishes greatly. However, the period of autumn that precedes the hollowness of winter is where I suppose something magical happens. Just like how a traveller finds the greatest pleasure and joy during their journey and within the detours they take than more so in the destination itself, autumn is the journey before winter is reached. The cold is soothing and the warmth charming; you see life slowly shying away from you like how a child hides behind their mother in front of a stranger. It becomes the final chance to experience the vibrancy of life before spring arrives with its fresh and new perspective after months of darkened days.
I was returning home from school during an autumn month in my friend’s car, sitting next to the window on the right. The sun was shining in the most tender way; not too bright that it robs one’s eyes to see anything, but not too weakly either wherein everything seems too ordinary. The trees were dressed with a coat of leaves of varying shades of red as though they were caught in a fire, but didn’t occur to them to call for help. The street was fairly quiet with rarely anyone passing by, except a Man walking down the footpath.
My Father is someone who likes to make up his own quotes and deliver them to people during everyday conversations, but we rarely pay much attention. One such phrase that used to mean nothing to me was: “Every Man has beauty”, but who knew that I would see this maxim transform into reality and perhaps even transform me?
The road ahead slightly curved causing the car to slow down. As it did so, I looked out of the window to see the Man walking down the footpath. And perhaps like the moment in one’s day when everything seems to have come to a halt, my life had paused for a slight instant. The Man was simple: he was wearing a purple jumper and from the car I could make out the soft zig-zag patterns lining the fabric, and the collar of a white shirt worn underneath around his neck. He had paired that with light brown trousers and dark brown shoes. His skin was slightly tanned, hair a little coarse and one could say that it wasn’t his biggest point of concern, and the Man was walking with his hands in the trouser-pockets. As I leaned in closer towards the window, my fingers gripping onto the edge, I saw how the sunlight streaming in through the leaves was playing with the strands of his hair, making me appreciate the different tones of brown that came along with it. The Man wasn’t doing much. Just walking down the path like many other passers-by do on a regular basis. But I suppose, the main difference was that I found that Man, or rather those fleeting moments, to be the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen. The car was driving away and I was turning around desperately just so I could continue seeing that Man underneath the sunlight for a few more seconds, but soon enough, he became a mere dot disintegrating into the distance.
I don’t know why, but after I had come home that day, I felt so incredibly sad and I remember thinking that there wasn’t anything in the world that would be able to make me happy again, but that Man. That Stranger. I felt like a child torn away from its favourite toy and being told that I would never be allowed to play with it ever again. I kept asking myself ‘why did I find him so beautiful?’. It was funny though because I kept on thinking how such feelings may have never existed- and my idea of beauty may still be indefinite- if a few factors were not the way they were. What if I were sitting on the left side and not the right? What if the day wasn’t sunny? What if the Man didn’t have his hands in the trouser pockets? Would I still have found him beautiful? The moment may have never existed and nor this funny memory of mine.
I have spent these past years nurturing this image of a Man walking down a path on an autumn afternoon and I admit that it has perhaps been my greatest inspiration for everything. I imagine talking to him and play out hour-long conversations in my mind. That Man for me has no name, yet I imagine him to have the most beautiful name there is to be had in this world. I wonder what he is doing now as I write this. And if I were to see him again, when will it be? Another autumn afternoon? Or perhaps in the winter when he may be wearing a thicker jumper and a coat? How old will I be and how old would he be? Will I still find him beautiful?
I think I will.
The following post is a follow up on the last piece, American Dream. It is in the form of a letter. I hope you enjoy reading it! Thank you 🙂
My Dearest Mother,
I miss your calling terribly hard. You used to call me “My Dreamer” and gently stroke your hand through my hair. I remember shrugging away with a smug look like a naïve novice, who is yet to receive a visit from reality, and click my tongue and roll my eyes. “Dreamer” didn’t hold any meaning: it was more a curse to me. The fear of just being only a dreamer still sleeps within me like a deeply-rooted illness of the mind. It wakes me up frequently during the nights. Jolts me out of the layers of fabricated comfort. Even so, when you used to call me your ‘dreamer’, it sounded sweet like grandmother’s winter treats. But now that I stand amidst the blackness of my future, it no longer is. My very own dreams are now the metal claws around my neck, stealing every breath I take. I bury myself in the ashes of my dreams every night, hoping that you will come and save me. Come and save your dreamer.
I can no longer keep up with this city. I feel old. In fact, you may not even recognize me! My skin has become like paper, similar to the old factory worker you used to talk about. Dirt and dust from this city’s restless ambiance have embedded itself between my nails and my eyes have sunken in, like your cakes when you forget to add baking powder in them. I have shaved my head because the thought of having shoulder-length hair no longer excites me. The cracks in my skin mock me, resembling the different paths I perhaps could’ve taken in life.
I can no longer keep up with this city. Its energy. Its jarring rhythm. Its ugly betrayal. My Father would be happy to know that I no longer dream. And that I want to come back home.
Sometimes, I go for walks by myself around this city during the nights. It’s a different sort of beauty. But it makes me laugh because it’s as though the sins of this city seep through amidst the neon lights and you see your dreams scattered here and there: scrunched up in between dollars; spray-painted across the walls; abandoned in packs of cigarettes on the sidewalks. You hear the police raids (sometimes with the rain) and the prostitutes, and the deaths of many young hopes and I eventually return to my small apartment, which I still have not called home. It’s funny.
I was cleaning my apartment a few days ago and found a photograph of myself from my first time in this city. I have lost a lot of weight and the sweater that I was wearing, which you had made for me, no longer fits.
I miss your calling, Mother.
Struggling to find my way through this busy maze, just like these New York taxis, I arrived in this city with many other hopeful and naïve dreamers. ‘The American dream’: so bright, so ambitious, so tantalizing. It was the brightest star of a dreamer’s sky, promising for a better life which couldn’t be bought anywhere else.
The heat of New York was like a mother’s warm embrace to me the first time I placed my tiny, desperate feet upon the American soil. I remember feeling so new; nothing compared to the magnitude of this city. Enamoured by the flamboyance of the giant edifices and cafes, I gladly used to stroll down the streets- a disillusioned fool- almost as if I were happy to be lost, void of any navigation. I was a defenceless ant in front of these colossal giants and any moment I would be devoured mercilessly into an oblivion where dreams never come true; only I didn’t realize it. The city was too incredible, enticing my childlike eyes with colours that never had encountered my sight before. Cacophony of car horns; the screams and swears of New York drivers; frantic typing on old-fashioned typewriters were a melody sung by a fantastical fairy to me that I slept to every night, ignoring the fact that I was so tired. So exhausted.
Suddenly, pushed violently into the reality of my fantasy city, realization poured down on me like hailstones. A realization that only came too late. Searching for a map to find myself, horns threatened to run me over whilst impatient office workers trampled on my unsheltered desires, rushing to enter the closing doors of the lift. The discordance- that I mistook for an orchestra- soon became terrifying cries of an abandoned child.
The American dream: a fairy tale stitched by a wicked witch to beguile us who perhaps dream a little too much.
On a quiet summer morning, a lone soul went out for a walk. The trees were slowly waking up, their young leaves shying away from the morning light. “The world is mine for these few moments.” He thought as he roamed through the empty streets. The lone soul picked up a flower from the ground that beamed the most under the sunlight and gently placed it in his pocket. The lone soul continued his silent voyage until he reached a lake of scintillating water and sat down on the step leading down to it. He closed his eyes for a moment and opened them again. He thought back to the day when his father had asked him what he wanted to do in life and how he had no answer prepared. That question played on his mind for several days like a broken, old record and he hated himself for losing to such a simple ask. The lone soul felt agitated and closed his eyes again. But this time he didn’t open them. Rather, he thought back to the day he fell in love for the first time. The left side of his mouth curved up slightly at this charming thought. He remembered how the girl was a few years younger than him and had eyes like a hypnotizing black night, and had lips like rose petals that GOD had sculpted with His own hands. The young girl had no name, but he called her ‘Gentle Night’ because he would imagine that his pillow was her lap that he laid his head on, and the night sky that he surrendered himself to was her eyes, and the whistling wind was the melody of her laughter. “I wish I could touch her, her soft fingers brushing against the skin of my palms. How complete I would feel.” The lone soul basked in this warm, whimsical thought and gently opened his eyes. A small bird flew by. He marvelled at the bird’s freedom and began to feel caged again. He stood up, breathless. He walked away from the lake and to a nearby mosque, where he prayed to GOD. The lone soul let his heart speak:
“GOD, what is the reason behind my emptiness? Why did You make me so foolish and naïve? GOD, You made me enter this world only to abandon me in isolation. GOD, You make me fall in love and then leave me void of her touch. GOD, You make me realize beauty, then make my heart restless. GOD, am I not a loved child of Yours?”
The lone soul raised his head and wiped away his tears with his sleeves. He went outside and saw that his sandals were stolen. “This world has a good sense of humour,” he thought and softly chuckled to himself. He walked barefoot, still aimlessly roaming the streets. The rest of the world had woken up, laughing at the lone soul’s fruitless expedition. “When will I receive GOD’s reply?” He pondered. And as though the boy’s mind had a voice of its own, the rain started to pour down with fervour and with much needed generosity on the parched land. The boy- defenceless and shivering like a dying, autumn leaf- ran back into the mosque, ruminating on the hopelessness of his little life. He attempted to remember a time where he had wronged someone so terribly that could justify the reasons behind his fractured heart. But the boy’s good soul had failed to. Though the young soul may not have been of any stunning talent, he never believed in the act of deception, even if his life had kept him under the shadows. Maybe he was not cunning enough to think so intricately, but the boy always saw deception as the last resort when all else had become obsolete. He was not there yet.
The lone soul quickly prayed and sat on the steps of the mosque. The rain was still continuing to beat against the morning spirit, and the few people left on the street had covered their heads with their hands and scurried away like ants back home. It wasn’t long until the lone soul was left alone again with only his thoughts and the raindrops as his company. The boy laughed at his loneliness and wandered whether the girl he loved so tenderly was also alone on a rainy morning like him. He envisaged how her sweet scent would mingle with the fragrance of the rain to comfort him against a bad day. He fetched a prayer mat and laid himself onto it. He imagined how it would be easy to mistake him for a beggar at the House of Faith if anyone were to walk past him. The thought of his grandmother rushed into his head, and how whenever she would stroll past a beggar holding his dirt-stricken palm out to her, she would say: “Young man, you don’t need my silver coins, but what you need is love. And unfortunately, I can’t give you that. I have none left.” The lone soul wandered whether his grandmother would’ve said the same thing if she had seen him in this poor state.
The rain had become more violent and his quivering more desperate. The boy hugged himself and began to cry. He screamed and screamed, but his cries became muffled by the cries of the rain. “How selfish!” he thought. For a long while, the only sounds that played in the background were the vehement downpour and the occasional reciting of prayers in the mosque. He wanted to fall asleep, but the cold kept him awake as it stabbed through his damp skin. He contemplated his admiration for rain and all of beauty in that moment and eventually giving up on his life- which now seemed to resemble an oblivion- when quite unexpectedly, his rumination was interrupted and the constancy of his hopelessness was broken by a small sound, trying to speak up amidst the monopoly of the rainfall. The lone soul stood up and looked out of the mosque. And in the distance he could see a beautiful girl cycling up the empty street, ringing her bell.
Though it had taken quite some time to convince my stern Father, my Aunt managed to cajole him into saying “yes” that we could spend a night at her new house. My Aunt, her 6-year-old daughter, my sisters and I. So, we set off on this wonderfully simple journey in her new car on an evening during mid-April. Despite our minds bustling with excitement like a fairground during the summer, the ride was fairly quiet; I suppose we were reserving all of our energy for the night. The longest conversation in the course of the ride was between my older sister and my Aunt, and lasted around a couple of minutes. My Aunt kept on mentioning how grateful she was that my Father had entrusted her with his daughters and how his trust was the greatest gift that she had received since the birth of her daughter. And I could see her perspective on this, I suppose, because I recalled a time when my sister was practically begging him whether she could spend a night with her cousin and our Father- sharing the same kind of adamance as my sister- blatantly kept refusing. My sister even cried herself to sleep that night and her pillow became so damp that it reminded me of the towels in public washrooms after they had been used by dozens of people. But, now that I think about my Father and his habits, it wasn’t a matter of trust with him- in fact, it never was. It was more so the fear of letting go.
The new house looked rather congested from the outside, but both my sisters and I were surprised at how much space there was inside. When exploring the various rooms of the house, I kept on thinking of my grand-mother: she always had a fear of places that held no resemblance to how it looked like from the outside because it reminded her of her past lovers; and how they had all deceived her with their faultlessly polite looks. Though I shouldn’t have, I chuckled to myself. I envisioned how perhaps if my grand-mother were to come, my sisters and I would’ve needed to physically force her into the house, and if we had failed at that, we might’ve needed to return back to our own house, which my Father probably would’ve silently rejoiced in.
My Aunt’s new house was nothing like her previous house. Though amongst all the variety of differences, the biggest difference was that finally my Aunt could claim the place to be her own. The house hadn’t been decorated completely yet, but already I could see traces of her in the various corners of the house: how the bed was slightly angular in its position; how the curtains were tucked away at the bottom; and the residue from her rose-scented perfume in every room. The house held a sort of charming disarray about itself, which contradicted my Aunt’s ‘well-put together’ appearance but created a perfect reflection of how chaotic her mind could be at times- though she never liked to admit that aspect of her personality. As I walked from room to room, I could still smell the fresh paint and feel the haste with which it was smeared across the walls for she had missed a few places wherein the previous hideous shade of yellow was still visible. I was going to hold my hand up to feel the roughness, but I think my Aunt must’ve noticed because she hurriedly stepped into the room- similar to how she perhaps painted the room- and said:
“It’s not finished yet! I still have to do a few more layers.” I could sense the underlying mortification in her voice and gave me a look that said she would like for me to go to another room.
For dinner that night my Aunt had prepared a couple of different dishes; one being her renowned, and much-loved, Red prawn curry. All of us sat around the different items in a circle on a brightly-coloured bedsheet spread across the floor as the dining table hadn’t been arranged yet. Following tradition, my Aunt took everyone’s plates, laid them out in a straight line and served a pile of steaming white rice and in the centre of the mound placed a spoonful of the curry, topped with a big piece of prawn and handed the plates down one by one as we waited like a line of hungry school children at the cafeteria, but only this time the food was worth the wait. As my plate was served, I couldn’t help but notice that my plate had almost double the portion of rice and prawns. Instantly, I tried to recall any recent grand favours I may have carried out for my Aunt and this generosity was her token of gratitude; however, when I failed to retrieve any such memory, I took into account the possibility that maybe it was just out of pure love. No one less seemed to have spotted this partiality and so I didn’t reserve any other thoughts either.
It wasn’t until much later into our dinner that I had managed to grasp at any idea behind why I was given the extra amount.
As I had made my way through the pile of rice and was almost at the bottom of the pile, the tips of my fingers seemed to have grazed across something uneven on the surface of the plate. Initially, I didn’t ruminate over it much, but when my fingers ran along further, I discovered that the crack took up a significant amount of surface than previously anticipated. It was almost like a root of tree, or even the edge of a map of a country, and appeared to be stained yellow by overuse. Again, my Aunt noticed me peering into the chasm on the plate and had a gaze that took me rather by surprise. I was waiting for her to say something like “I was going to throw that plate away” or, “I forgot to switch it”, but it wasn’t until we were alone- just her and I- in the kitchen that she said anything to me.
“I don’t like this habit of yours.” I stopped wiping my plate mid-way and looked up at her, expectedly surprised.
“I’m sorry, Aunt. Is it the way I eat? Or, the way I am wiping this plate right now?”
“No.” Her tone was noticeably sterner than I thought it could be. “It is the way you cannot let go of things easily. Like your Father.”
When I was around five or six, I had a phase where I refused to go to sleep in fear that a one-eyed monster would break through the crack on my wall whilst I was asleep and engulf me in one go. I would throw violent tantrums and even argued- with the limited understanding of an infant- that I would only sleep on the couch or, if my Father was present in the room. I must have been rather aggravating for I remember my Mother giving up and exiting my room with a long, tired sigh, leaving me alone with my Father, who then gently grabbed me by my arms and looked straight at me with an unwavering stare, which only softened as my screams slowly faded away. My Father then brought me a little closer and placed his hand on my shoulders before simply telling me to let go of my childish attitudes. I suppose, those were rather a harsh choice of words for a small child, but he said them to me with such a tender tone and such kindness that I remember going straight to bed that night. I was still living with that fear and didn’t manage to outgrow it until a year later, but I had learned not to react too much- or at least when my reactions weren’t due.
“Are you listening? I hate the way you cannot let go.”
“I saw you look at my walls with disgust; you think you could do better?”
“Your walls? Disgust? Aunt, I don’t understand how you would like me to react right now.”
“Don’t anger me even more now! Just learn to let go, okay? Don’t hold onto trivial details like that smudge on my wall or, the crack on my plate. I can do whatever I want and however I want to.”
“Aunt, I never said anything to you. I think your house is marvellous; even the way you have painted it.”
“Stop! Just stop! Just let go already, okay?”
“Let go of what?”
“Agh! You are so frustrating! Just like your Father you are- can never let go of small things.”
“What would you like me to let go? I’ll happily do it for you- just tell me what it is, Aunt.”
I must have really aggravated her by that point for I remember my Aunt giving up and exiting the kitchen with a long, tired sigh, only to return with a bucket of fresh paint and dumping it straight onto my head.
This writing, which is in the form of a letter, is inspired by the 1988 film ‘Dangerous Liaisons‘, starring Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer in the lead roles, and based upon a French novel of the same name by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. I saw this movie in March of 2021 and shared a very unique experience, intrigueded by the story’s mischievous and deceitful actions. Within this film, the most common form of communication between the characters is through letter writing, and I think this is the aspect of the film that inspired and fascinated me the most. It was so entertaining watching the characters convey their emotions and cunning plans to each other through letters, and eventually inspiring me to devise a letter on my own. The letter discusses an affair, which is perhaps the main focus of the film. However, the names that I have utilized are not taken from the film, nor are the events/the affair. I was purely inspired by the idea of letter writing and the concept of affairs.
I hope that you will enjoy the reading process!
Dear Mr. Whitlock,
I hope that my letter finds you in the greatest of conditions- though I am afraid that by the time you will have reached the termination of my letter, your mood- regardless of its current state- will have deteriorated. I do sincerely apologize for creating a rather inauspicious tone right from the inception of my message to you; however, I would much rather alarm you know than risk a fatal fall of yours at my revealing of the word. I must also explain my certainty at the utilization of the modal verb “will” for I know that you will be devastated by the time you will have embarked upon the last punctuation. Now, kindly allow me to commence.
Last night, I was returning home from the market after purchasing some fresh oranges- that had arrived from an exotic Spanish region- for my Mother’s fruit cake, which she was going to be preparing for our neighbour’s sixth marital anniversary. I am not necessarily of the ‘wanderer’ nature, Sir; however, the weather during that particular hour was so tremendously blissful, I could not but engage in a slight detour of the town as though the breeze had brushed past my neck, whispering in my ear to join her in her epic journey.
My detour had lasted a short period of time, but each moment I cherished with great tenderness like one does a fleeting summer’s dream. I explored the famous campus (that my cousin had mentioned to me quite some time ago now) and saw a few eager students exiting and entering the antique library with a bundle of books. A while later, I escorted myself to the park, where I sat near the lake and even exploited the liberty to indulge in one of the Spanish oranges bought for my Mother as I allowed myself to be entranced by the way the moonlight danced on the surface of the lake. I was always afraid of being left in my own solitude and company, but within that moment, my childish feat had left me as I stumbled upon the epiphany that as long as you are surrounded by unadulterated beauty, you will be fine.
I cannot remember the last time I had basked in such a pure, beautiful silence and I was just about to respectfully take my leave, when quite abruptly my ears picked up on a rather unusual sonic activity; and I describe it to be ‘rather unusual’ for the sound was not complimentary to its natural surroundings. At that current moment in time, I interpreted it to be some sort of feral creature rustling through the pile of leaves; however, now I understand how far from the truth I stood like a lost soul is from its home. I did contemplate going forward with this private investigation of mine and my original decision was to return to my Mother, awaiting my arrival, but Mr. Whitlock, I am sure that you are aware of the intensity of curiosity of a young mind.
The last time I was this terrifyingly shocked at the occurrence of a certain event was when it was announced that our other neighbour (who lives to the left of us, not the right, for whom the fruit cake was going to be baked) had won the ‘Spring Baking Contest’, despite the fact that she had deceived the system by secretly hiring a professional baker to decorate the exterior of her cake. Therefore, you can imagine how unfathomably astonishing the actual identity of the sound must have needed to be for it to transcend the event that I have just detailed to you. And, Mr. Whitlock, it shatters my heart to say that it was and how I was even more stupefied to discover (dare I say) your respectable wife, Mrs. Whitlock, wrapped in passion with her private stableman underneath the foliage of the tree next to the lake. The exact origin of the noise I heard I speculate to be the coarse voice of the stableman whispering in your wife’s ear. The man had his hairless head on your wife’s lap as she intertwined her hands with his as if he was the only man she had ever loved. They did indeed look like forbidden lovers, who were completely lost in each other and no form of navigation could make them return to reality. Now, I am aware that my words maybe harshly questioned for you are a man who has placed great faith in your wife and moreover, I have uttered a bold accusation. But Mr. Whitlock, the way the moonlight shone on the lovers left me certain of their identity; though, I am not glad that that was the case.
Mr. Whitlock, I am not a believer of cheap, dispensable town-gossip, nor do I actively partake in it. However, considering the recent lamentable discovery, I cannot help but ponder back to when you recently had married your wife and how many women in our town would constantly say:
“This wife of his is bound to taint the family name. She is young and we all know that youth brings with it a free spirit that pays no heed to rules!”
I will leave it at that for you, Mr. Whitlock.
I do perfectly comprehend that I have divulged a great amount to you and what you do with this information is up to your liberty; I aspire to become a good citizen and that is sole reason behind my letter. I hope now that you have reached the end, you have not collapsed or have been left void of consciousness for I would detest to be the cause of your ill health. I pray of only good things for you and your revered family.