relics from a romance

2:15 AM. I am thinning out a brick of butter into a pan, waiting for you to intervene and scoop out another cube. Only that you are in my inbox slipping me bad puns and dad jokes. I wonder if what we share also began like this. Some runny pancake batter, given carte blanche over a flame.

It had all started outside that pub on the fifth block. I had gone out celebrating my flatmate’s friend’s baby daughter’s birthday with my flatmate and her friend and her baby daughter. I had worn my new flamingo-pink earrings, navy blue denim shorts, and paisley-print pink top. In that order. The top was also the one I had worn to Goa earlier. Used to soaking up brine and tequila, I had reasoned.

Fast forward four hours when we were just about to hail our Uber to get back, stuff in the remaining cake in the fridge (this part had been just me), and call it a night, you walked up to us. You said you had felt distracted by how cute the baby was. Or at least you let on that he had had. Whatever. You spoke on. And I was drawn to you like a moth puzzled by incandescence. Just like that, a brief interaction pared down the distance between your world and mine.

It was a blank sheet of paper all over again. The frailest thing. Cracking at the slightest hold. The mightiest ammunition. Cracking up the toughest in its wake. Disarming and humbling in an instant. At the face of its emptiness. At the depths of its void. A paradox of sorts. Torturous but benevolent. New vocals for an old soundtrack. Fresh aroma oil in an old diffuser.

We eventually drifted away but not before I had given you my phone number. Of course, at the time I had no idea that two years later, I would be saving cigarette stubs in an old Bacardi bottle in my cupboard. A monument to an afternoon we would have shared on a hill. When we wouldn’t have been able to bookend our emotions. When time would have become a Gregory Alan Isakov song.

You had met me at a point when I would have welcomed lovers into my life almost omnivorously — trying to substitute the entropy in mine with theirs. I just fell into your arms, like one sinks deep into a leather armchair, swivels 180°, and never puts a foot down again. You became a placeholder to me, for anything and everything that I could be bothered with at the time. Not that I could quite understand or grasp at who or what you were. Only that sometimes you just know, you know?

But you still were a foreign movie to me. Without subtitles. And I couldn’t care less. I fell in love with the beauty of the frames.

It wasn’t very grand if I think about it now. It was really just the boy-next-door thing. Something like neon. Inherently inert but bright-as-fuck at times when it was. An anthology of sorts. Short stories written down in the oddest hours of the night in apartment basements, car parks, under-construction houses, stranger’s parties, friend’s hallways, cold highways, and crisp hotel beds. Except that every time we forgot to change the plot.

But you never know you are not just dabbling in something, precisely when you are not.

I didn’t.

To me, commenting on ‘love’ had been like saving online screengrabs of recipes to matcha green tea muffins and orange caraway seed cakes when you know you don’t even own an oven. So christening what we shared with that label was like trying to zhuzh up a bowl of Maggi with some chilli sauce and oregano seasoning.

And I haven’t come very far. As I write this, I almost think, love is a bean bag. Seeming all comfy and warm at the first look but really just viciously waiting for you to fall into it to fuck up your back.

But then there were moments that had hit me like the sea stabbing at rocks only to envelop them intimately into itself for however brief a second it does. Moments more like wistful reminders. Of a native touch. Of a feeling of home. Like how you feel when you hear chalk graze a blackboard? Or fingers tapered at a keyboard clicking away in devotion. And before you even know it, you are a surface burning golden, in the hold of a wooden spatula and its soft, sacred strokes.

I discovered I ain’t the one to turn the heat off too soon.

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