In the cinema, Mark’s arm had migrated in search of her, and the presence of this arm, suddenly filled Alison with a sudden flush of longing and confusion. A puritan instinct asked if she should move away, and if terrible retribution would be meted out if she held a hand she was not sure about. She briefly entertained the thought of kissing him. In ten minutes, she changed her mind and shifted away uncomfortably. But she allowed the hand to remain there. What the heck! she thought to herself and abandoned herself to the moment.
To understand her revulsion and desire would mean understanding how the previous barren months had gradually led to a sudden suspicion of all men, and eventually herself. Some love gurus would have called it a refusal to ‘let go’, so as to speak. But she believed that it was simply not the right person. But was there a right person?
The prospect of the relationship took on mythic dimensions: there was a moment in the future they could seem to anticipate in their idyllic, carefree moments. But whenever there was boredom, irritation or anxiety she would reconsider those feelings. In the romance novels the quest for love was beguiling and thrilling. In real life things were more bewildering, and even frustrating. They went on dates but they were not dates, really. How could they be when they were only seeing each other casually? Alison’s faith in intuitive understanding was also starting to wane when he said, sometimes teasingly and sometimes not, “I think you don’t need to guess how I feel, you are usually wrong.”
After the movie, they walked to a food centre for dinner. On the way, Mark pointed out the colonial buildings of the past—not that Alison noticed as she was savouring the pleasure of being next to him. The contours of her affection seemed to waver and strengthen from time to time. A motorcycle whizzed past them dangerously. He pulled her back reassuringly. “Thanks,” Alison shuddered. “That was close.” She remembered the warmth of his fingertips upon her arms. This was a side of him she liked to remember. He watched out for her, moved her gently aside when she was about to knock into someone, grabbed her before she fell and tugged her protectively when the traffic was heavy. It was simply the down-to-earth side of his reassuring hands that drew her to him. But, they were not a couple. Not yet. She lifted up her face, looked at him, ashamedly, warmly.
“Sorry. Dunno why I am so ‘blur’. ”
Mark’s hands came closer as he combed a strand of her hair back from her face. “Yeah..You are right..”
So many hopes surround the world, one may say with confidence that love is one of them, having an almost miraculous effect on individuals, leading them to surmount all barriers and obstacles. Well, not quite.
Alison in a myriad of ways seemed to care more and more. She watched his fingertips and liked the look of them. He had nice stubby fingers that were square-tipped. It seemed to be the central feature she remembered about him. He often tried to hold her hands at the traffic light. Was this the only way he could express love without encountering the risk of rejection? Or was this the reflex action of a man realising he may have to spend lonely Saturday nights alone if he didn’t do so? If only romance could have some hint of structure, so that she would be ready to give more. But she didn’t want to gamble on his hands alone. She freed his hands with some difficulty, knowing that to risk more was normal for most people but she didn’t feel like doing so. She wanted to judiciously balance her independence and her affection, but at the same time she realised that she cared for him more than she wanted to admit to. Walking back with her shopping, she contemplated the events of the day and tried not to think about anything to do with Mark Whatever the answer to such tortuous questions, she decided not to think about it anymore. His hands did not seem to hold the answer.
She wrapped her hand in the end of her sweater sleeve and remembered the warmth of his hands upon hers. She played and replayed the evening in her mind, trying to recall what happened. Hadn’t she told herself she would forget? But how could she? His hands had travelled up a bit further as the evening progressed and she did not even know how she could have allowed it to happen. She couldn’t analyse why, but sitting on the sofa in her darkened living room, she felt a sudden and dramatic loss of confidence. She couldn’t summon the energy to verbalise her feelings when she remembered with guilt, how his hand had travelled to stay on her inner thigh and she had allowed it to happen. Were his affections real or had he allowed his desire to take over? Could the two be distinguished from each other? And what about herself? She traced the path where his hands had travelled and then uncurled her fingers with both regret and desire.
~Ng Xiao-yee (Singapore)