by Qal Fessehaye
Her eyes were of the brownest mud, the kind that you sink into and need help to detach from. She idly scanned the world with those eyes and in their shine you saw values. In her eyes, everything was alive and nothing to be taken for granted. People were really just people with part and passions. Nothing more.
We grew into the same vicinity by coincidence if you believe in coincidence. She did.
“It could have just as easily been that guy or that girl. But I met you. It was a complete card shuffle.” She told me.
On the roof our building, we danced our way to a cleaner part of the roof where we could sit. As clean as we could get it with the shining bird poop decoration. As we looked around moving about in the narrower parts, a corrugated iron sticking out tore clean into her jeans and into her skin drawing blood. Apart from jumping when the metal touched her skin, she didn’t make an event of her injury. She touched it, stood up and went on to find a spot. We settled down by the edge.
My fear of heights had my head spinning. There was too much blood on her leg for her to be okay with but she wasn’t paying it much attention. I wanted her to talk but I didn’t know what to ask her.
The air was getting colder by the minute and the sun pierced into our eyes. I used my hand to shield my eyes.
She took out a little package from her jacket pocket. It was a pack of cigarettes. She pulled one out, stuck it at the edge of her mouth and used a match to light it. She put the used matchstick back into the box and back into her pocket. She didn’t offer me any and I don’t smoke but the fact that she didn’t offer went straight to my head.
“You smoke?” I said stupidly.
She smiled then locked the cigarette between two fingers. “It’s sexy isn’t it? And dangerous? You get your ears pierced and you get your tattoos to be cool and sexy. Why not smoke? It’s shitty really. It tastes bitter and I sound like fat African American woman the morning after but it makes me feel sexy in the moment.” She shrugged.
“Can I try?”
She handed me the one she was smoking. I took a drag, held it for a couple of seconds and exhaled. I didn’t feel sexy. I didn’t feel anything. I gave it back to her.
“You’re bleeding a lot. Shouldn’t we do something about that?” I said eyeing her bloody leg again.
“Nah. It’s just a little blood.”
“That was some old iron. You might need a tetanus shot or something.”
“What are we doing up here?” I asked pulling the sleeves of my hoodie past my fingers and holding my cupped hands to my mouth.
“We’re going to watch the sun go down.”
“But it’s freezing and it’s going to get colder.”
“Do you have somewhere important to be?”
“No. But it’s freezing out here. We’ll be warmer inside.”
She turned from the waist to face me and I got scared. “Yes it’s colder here. But you know what you are going to do if I let you go back to your room? You’re going to get comfortable and warm and you are going to put on one of those overdone movies on your computer and you are going to let yourself get numb and stupid. I get it. I get it. It feels good not to be thinking about all the uncomfortable things you have to do. Exams, chores, hanging out with people you hate. It feels good to be numb but it feels better to feel alive.”
She pointed a clean nailed finger to the distance. The sun was like a large drop of gold. It was like a splash of hope in the misty horizon. It was like God smiling sadly at us. It was like a promise.
I hated her and loved at the same time in that moment. I hated her because she was right but I loved her because she was right.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” she asked.
I shook my head a little ashamed. Had it been anyone else asking me the same question, it wouldn’t have mattered. She made me want to be perfect. She made me feel like I had to appear a certain way or I had failed.
“Neither do I. Boyfriends are a drag,” she said. “Do you like anyone?”
Again I shook my head.
“Well that’s depressing. You need to have someone to think about, don’t you think? You may never get with them but just someone to think about.”
“What is the point if you never get with them?”
“Well, they give you the pretend promise of something to look forward to. You can’t get along with people? You failed at something? Well, at least there’s that boy who doesn’t know you exist.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Do you have a crush on anyone?”
“It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t care.”
“Does he know?”
“I don’t know.”
“Shouldn’t he know?”
“No. I don’t want him to ask me out because I like him. I want him to ask me out because he likes me.”
“Why don’t you ask him out? Because you like him.”
She shrugged, sat up and put out her cigarette on the concrete.
“There are only two kinds of women I know.” She said. “I don’t want to be either one.” She lit up another smoke, and leaned back on her elbows. The Sun was a tiny dome now and the darkness was creeping in. She was turning into a shadow in front of my eyes. I didn’t like the smell of her smoke and the cold was seeping into my bones but I wanted her to keep talking so I said nothing.
“There are those sweeter than honey, delicate like little flowers in their soft colors and secretive smiles. In all God’s glory they always turn the other cheek and somehow they never run out of cheeks to turn. They treat heart break like a flesh wound and they aren’t only afraid of getting their hearts broken but they have screaming nightmares about being heart-breakers themselves. They root for the hero in the movies because he is good not because he is right.
“Life is their bowl of candy and every taste is something to be thankful for. The sun always shines in their window and Karma is their distant best friend; the one who isn’t around very often but definitely shows up to defend their honor. Bad fortune such as bad grades or bad hair days is their own damned fault. Global warming and cracked cellphone screens are God’s will.
“Even when you’ve flipped them in their face or yelled at them to fuck off or straight up slapped them around in public, they are the victims who’ll die with the unbroken claim that you’ve done nothing wrong and no matter what, they still love you.”
She took a long drag from her smoke and stayed silent for a few minutes looking at something I couldn’t see.
“Then, then there are those women who rein terror if scorned and telling them they have a leaf on their hair is enough to be considered scorn. They’ll hate you but they’ll still sleep with you. You’ll never see them shed tears of sadness because they don’t get sad. They get angry. They don’t want your pity. They want your heart. But they won’t tell you. If they love you, they love you with everything. It’s a passion that will run out for her but you get a ride like on a fiery chariot. It’s love he’ll remember when he’s 80 and she’s long gone from some terrible way to die. Like a car accident or a city bombing or having overdosed on something and is found in a pile of her own puke. Or perhaps by that good fellow’s heartbreak she had committed. He’d stalk her carefully and slowly until he can muster the courage to one day step up and stab her right in the pride.
“Yeah, she’ll definitely die too young but she’ll have touched so many lives, ruined many of them and there will be a few days when she was very happy and there was nothing but music and lights in them. I don’t want to be her either because she won’t really be remembered but she was good enough to be.”
I was crying. I don’t know why.