A CER­TAIN KIND OF LOVE

The Jakarta Post - JPlus - - Front Page - WORDS LAT­IFA SEKARINI ILLUSTRATION BUDHI BUT­TON

The cracks in time high­lighted our pres­ence once again as we sat across from each other. He stares at me in the dimmed din­ing room light that I have turned down on pur­pose, and the still­ness of the neigh­bor­hood presses down our shoul­ders tightly, mak­ing sure that we are aware of the de­ci­sion we will be mak­ing.

I am aware, of course, but I am not sure of him, or his feel­ings to­ward me, or the fu­ture that we both hold in our hands.

For in­stance, we both have very dif­fer­ent ideas about love.

My par­ents had al­ways re­minded me to fall for the right boy and to never come out as gay. Ap­par­ently, worse than hav­ing a daugh­ter who falls for the wrong boy is to have a gay daugh­ter.

I am 28, and I know one day I will be some­body’s bride, and if that one per­son, that one heart that be­longs to a ves­sel suc­ceeds in fill­ing my days with some­thing more than just bro­ken beer bot­tles and ar­gu­ments buried deep within the night, I have to love them back.

Pi­eter has much, much more to lose.

With me be­ing his first love, I was un­for­get­table. How could you for­get the girl who had ac­cepted the rose you handed her and later ad­mit­ted she had never loved you at all?

I told you, I was what they called un­for­giv­able, heartless, ru­ined.

No, no, I was not just ru­ined. I was ru­ina­tion.

This is my sec­ond week of mov­ing in with my sis­ter and her girl­friend. They live on the edge of the city, their apart­ment lo­cated at the ex­act point be­tween high-rise con­do­mini­ums dot­ting the outer part of Jakarta and the di­lap­i­dated slums that some­how sur­vived evic­tion.

Any­way, I un­lock the apart­ment door and open it slowly, not want­ing to wake up its in­hab­i­tants, and yelp as I find Zoe stand­ing be­hind me.

‘‘Go on in, then,’’ she says, nudg­ing me with her wet hand. It never oc­curred to me pre­vi­ously how beau­ti­ful she looks when she stands in the poorly lit hall­way, try­ing to squeeze the wa­ter out of her hair as she tugs off her bomber jacket.

‘‘ What brings you here late at night?’’ she asks me.

‘‘I thought it was clear, the fact that I was stay­ing with you and your girl­friend.’’

Zoe raises an eyebrow, clearly baf­fled by what I just said. ‘‘Your sis­ter, my girl­friend?’’

‘‘ Well, she couldn’t have been talk­ing about me when she writes those sappy po­ems about elfin women fall­ing in love with girls like you.’ ‘‘You mean Sap­phic.’’ ‘‘Of course, I do.’’ I help my­self to a glass of or­ange juice from the pitcher and sit on one of the stools as Zoe pulls off her wet jumper and drops it to the floor. ‘You are the one, as far as she is con­cerned.’

‘But I’m not sure if she is the one for me.’ ‘‘ Why wouldn’t you?’’ ‘‘Every­one else thinks we’re made for each other, of course, but it’s that feel­ing that al­ways sets my world off its axis, that one ques­tion filled with doubt that threat­ens to tear this re­la­tion­ship apart,’’ Zoe squirms as a gust of night air breaks through the kitchen win­dow.

‘‘Is it weird?’’ she asks. ‘‘You prob­a­bly don’t get it, I mean, you’re prob­a­bly much older than me and much more ex­pe­ri­enced in terms of love, you’re en­gaged with a per­fect man who loves you to death— ’’

‘Yet I’m not sure if he re­ally is the one.’

‘ Why not?’ Zoe’s ex­pres­sion is a mix­ture of in­credulity and relief, and maybe a lit­tle tinge of sad­ness, too.

‘I’ve never been in love with him. Not since we started dat­ing at the age of four­teen,’ I say.

‘‘But you’re not sup­posed to feel this way,’ she says. Her words feel heavy and they linger in the air, like the smell of some­thing burn­ing. ‘‘Isn’t love sup­posed to free you, not con­demn you?’’

I glance at the gap­ing door­way, at the aching heart I have been sav­ing for some­one spe­cial, and fin­ger the laced table­cloth on the kitchen ta­ble. I’m not

sup­posed to like you this way, I thought, and de­cided to save my thoughts like the draft mes­sages I have al­ways kept on my phone.

Zoe has al­ways walked like she be­longs in a bet­ter world, and it is a sur­prise to come home early from work and find her loung­ing across the sofa while watch­ing a movie and en­joy­ing a cup of milk with honey cook­ies.

‘‘You caught me,’’ she grins, beck­on­ing me to sit on the other end of the couch. Her bare feet are cold, and she talks over the movie with the free­dom I have al­ways en­vied, the charm I fail to pos­sess, eat­ing while she ig­nores the screen, sav­ing her eyes for me, and only me.

Oh, how won­der­ful it is to be the ap­ple of her eye when my sis­ter is not around.

Maybe I am not the only one who no­tices the chem­istry be­tween her and my sis­ter, be­cause when my shift starts and I be­gin stack­ing baby food at the lo­cal su­per­mar­ket where I work, my sis­ter catches up with me, run­ning through the aisles, pass­ing through a pair of lovesick teenagers who prob­a­bly have gone out of their way to find a quiet place where their par­ents would not be able to find them. ‘‘Hey.’’ ‘‘ Was I ex­pect­ing you?’’ I frown at her messy hair and pa­jama bot­toms.

‘‘Zoe’s leav­ing!’’ Her hand grips my arm tightly and I feel so, so sorry for my sis­ter. I feel a pang of remorse as I try to re­mem­ber what the world was like without her girl­friend.

What would the world be without the lips of that par­tic­u­lar per­son rest­ing on mine, her hands trav­el­ling the veins that made up the lost path­ways that would never lead any­where? I force my­self to seal my lips shut and never tell her the truth about what hap­pened. There is noth­ing I could do, of course, to un-love the girl I fell in love with; but I know, by read­ing the book Zoe had left me, there was a chance ev­ery­thing else would be all right, even if things are never go­ing to be the same.

And of course, months pass, and the wed­ding I was sup­posed to have is fi­nally called off, in ex­change for a fu­ture for my­self, and af­ter reread­ing the let­ters Zoe sent to my own apart­ment, she is not ready yet to rec­on­cile and mend things over, and I am sure we are both look­ing for more than we are sup­posed to have, for a fu­ture that is both re­li­able and clear.

My 29th birth­day rolled around and I am still here. I have chased more than

a dozen MRTs, I have been late to the of­fice nu­mer­ous times, and I am still liv­ing alone af­ter a whole year of rea­son­ing with my sis­ter. I have stared at the faces of many peo­ple when I walk around the city, sim­ply be­cause any one of them could be Zoe. I have found more and more things to love, yet none of them are the ones I want, and maybe that is okay.

The per­son my heart has cho­sen to love stands un­der­neath the lamp­post, and it is rain­ing again in Jakarta, a usual thing on a gloomy Sun­day af­ter­noon. I take a sip of my latte and pick dis­taste­fully at my crois­sant, and watch the fig­ure draw­ing nearer and nearer. The ra­dio is on, play­ing a song I know too well, ex­cept this time I am not lis­ten­ing.

The cracks in time high­light our pres­ence once again as we both sit op­po­site each other, fists un­clenched, our smiles flour­ish­ing un­der the starry sky. My lover stares at me in the dimmed din­ing room light that I have turned down on pur­pose, and the still­ness of the neigh­bor­hood touches our shoul­ders lightly, and for once, it gives us the time that we need.

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