He picked her. Out of the many names of the new girls that were coming to their school – her name appealed to him most. Perhaps he recognised her by name, as his soul mate, but at such a young age, he would never have thought of such things although perhaps he had - without him realising, in his subconscience, not in his alert mind. No, never there. He was never a lady’s man and never has been interested in pursuing any girl. It’s not that he was disinterested, because he was. But frankly, no girl in his 19 years of life has ever really appealed to him, physically nor emotionally. The rest of the boys went for all the other names available but he did not spare the other names a glance. Only that one. And so he picked her to be his ‘conquest’, as the rest of the boys chose the other names to be theirs in the new term.
The boys were waiting for the girls outside the refectory after tea. It was not their normal routine but this time it was different, as the new girls were having their tea inside and they all wanted an introduction. The school had nearly twenty Malaysians and they were really a close community. News of new Malaysians coming to the school would always excite everyone and so they stood patiently outside talking to each other while waiting for the girls to finish their tea.
He studied her in between the eager heads of boys wanting to be introduced to the new girls. She barely looked at him but he was quite happy with that, as he was able to study her quite discreetly. He would not classify her as a beauty. But she is attractive. And small – she must only reach his shoulders. When she talks, her face lights up and becomes animated. Her face is small and pointed and her cheeks lifts up becomingly each time she smiles. Her large eyes and slightly heavy lids are very similar to his own. Perhaps he’s going to take his ‘booking’ seriously after all, he thought. He smiled at a joke fervently made by one of the younger boys, eager to make an impression on the new girls. He must rejoin the group to appear as part of them, but he cannot command his legs to do his bidding when his eyes have found a straight path to her, from a spot that is surely out of her vision with all those boys standing in front of her. And so he stood there unable to move, watching her, his mood spiralling down as he thought of his prospects with a girl like her.
Some of the other boys did indeed pursue their ‘booking.’ It doesn’t matter, he would not pursue his interest in her. He will let it be. He is after all too young to dabble in such things. Nothing will become of his attraction to her. He will not let it happen because he doesn’t want it to happen. He wants to work hard for his studies. His parents have put all their hopes in him, being the eldest, and he will not let them down. He will just admire her from afar. The Christmas dance tonight will enable him to watch her again, discreetly, as he does everyday in the refectory while she ate and in the library while she read and worked. Nobody notices. He will take a glance at her now and then to see what she was doing while he does his own thing. Maybe she would dance tonight. She would laugh at her dance partner and smile or laugh at his jokes and he will bask in her laughter. From afar. He will not ask her to dance. No, they hardly knew each other and he would find it awkward to ask her hand for a dance although he would probably ask some of the other girls for a few rounds of ceilidh. But he’ll sit out the waltz – that dance is too special to waste on the other girls. Yes, he would have to satisfy himself by just watching her waltz, instead of dancing with her.
‘May I have this dance?’ he asked her, before the start of the waltz.
She was taken aback, because he has been dancing with all the other girls but her and she did not expect to partner him for any of the dances this night. She trembled as she took his offered hand and went to the dance floor with him, feeling small beside his tall figure.
And then the music started and they danced.
And then suddenly she looked up, into his eyes and said; ‘I’m in love with you.’
She did not notice him at the refectory that first time they were introduced 2 months ago. And when the girls mentioned his name later, she looked at them blankly for she honestly could not remember that name or a face to associate with it. She remembered all of the other boys but not the one described as tall and lanky with longish hair and spectacles. She doubted she could forget any of the boys for there were not many – only 12 of them. She remembered the funny one, the handsome one, the laid back one, the Chinese one, the short one, the friendly one, the quiet one, the one with his hands always in his pockets, the cheeky one, the one full of self-importance and the big sized one. Not the lanky one. Why would she miss that one? But she did and she vowed she would notice him the next time they meet.
She wondered why she did not notice him that first time. Maybe it was because he was standing a little apart from the other boys - she has come to notice that he is a little quiet when surrounded by a noisy crowd. But during that walk back to the house – on that fateful day when they were destined to leave the hockey pitch at the same time and had to walk together, or else risk ignoring each other forever, he easily made her warm up to him. He charmed her with his jokes and dry wit – a side of him she had never seen previously in the days before that when they had always only smiled at each other occasionally and he seemingly taking great pains to avoid having to talk to her.
They had bonded during that short walk. And she was confused by the fact that later he maintained his previous detachment towards her, especially when they were in a crowd. But she was even more hurt by his indifference when they were alone in the library, only the two of them left after all the rest have gone for their lunch or break and she had purposely waited to see whether he would leave or stay back as he usually would and she would hope that he would approach her again and talk again. Like the closest of friends. Like true soulmates. Like that fateful day at the hockey pitch. But he never did.
And she was dismayed by the fact that he had ‘forgotten’ her. And she realised that maybe, perhaps, she had fallen in love with him, for why would she be feeling such heartache at his indifference? But 'in love' from that short conversation during that short walk? She will not entertain her own ridiculous notion. She will forget she ever had any feelings for him. She refused to acknowledge that she ever had any feelings for him. But still she could not help thinking about him from the moment she open her eyes in the mornings, and right before she went to bed. And so she must concede to her heart’s demands, telling her that she has fallen in love with him.
She was sad to the point of depression by the fact that he did not ask to dance with her. His charm and wit and smiles were given liberally that night to everyone but her. And so in a moment of sudden boldness she made up her mind to tell him of her feelings for him – to bare her heart to him so that he will reject her and tell her that she’s crazy once and for all. So that she will be forced to forget about him. So that her heart will break and be done with, instead of aching so deeply.
And so as the music started and as he lead her to the dance floor, she looked up into his unreadable eyes and said, “I’m in love with you.”
She could not have said what he heard her say. His heart soared against his own instincts and sane conscious thoughts and he felt himself at the top of the world. A cliché, but no other description will do. But he was a little confused as to the reasons why and so he whisked her outside through the entrance doors and there they stood apart, looking at each other.
“Why?” he asked her, simply, but his voice was strained.
“Perhaps,” she replied slowly, “I’m going crazy because I cannot think of anything else but you day and night and I currently doubt I can do anything else but pine for you for the rest of my life if I don't have you. Or perhaps my heart is just playing tricks on me – puppy love and all that. Or maybe, and I don’t doubt this is the truth, it’s simply because my heart recognised its mate. I know, you think I’m crazy, right? So I need you to tell me now that you don’t love me and you don’t have any feelings for me so that I can try and get on with my life,” she said, her voice steady and nonchalant but he could almost hear her heart beating against her chest.
“But,” he said feeling exhilarated and suddenly desperate at the same time, “you have given me no indication…at all!” he replied, his intonation strange, as if pleading.
“It doesn’t matter. I just need you to tell me..now.”
“Tell you? Tell you that I think of you day and night and that I believe I have finally found the mate to my very own soul? Tell you that in fact, from the moment I glanced at your name, I have felt myself attracted to you? That I have fallen in love with you from the moment I saw you?” he said, suddenly feeling relieved, like a terrible burden has been lifted off him and now he is free to do whatever he wants to do. To love, to cherish.
“No, you don’t understand,” she began.
But he lifted his fingers to her mouth softly and said, “because, I have been through all that and I am telling you just that.” And then it was her turn to feel the confusion he felt earlier. And yet, her heart too soared, against all logic, for she had not seen any indication of any of this from his behaviour.
“But, why have you been so..indifferent?” she asked, wanting him to explain more, for at that moment, she wanted so desperately to feel happy and yet she still could not believe what he was telling her.
He sighed slowly and said, “Because I thought I could suppress my feelings until it will all go away. And I don’t want to hurt you or distract you because we are all here with a mission to study and I don’t want to distract you. If you hadn’t told me how you felt, I would still try to be indifferent towards you and pray to God that I can forget you. But I have tried and tried and now…”
They just stood there for a long time, looking into each other’s eyes. If they were meant to be together, they would be good for each other, they would support and encourage each other and they would succeed together. They will brave their lives together. And they will be there for one another. And he, he will love her for the rest of his life for he knew that he has found his very own soul mate. And as he looked deeply into her dark brown eyes, he knew that she too, have found hers.
*Specially dedicated to my husband on his 30th birthday.