John’s name is unimportant. He is old enough to have lost some of the advantages of youth, yet old enough to have done so gracefully. He is no longer the dandy that he once was, and that consumptive lust that occasionally threw him at some newfound thing had dissipated and given way to an easy elegance that was comfortable and knew when enough was enough. His raw selvedge denim had grown with him, and telltale wear in the shape of a key was beginning to show on his right pocket.
Erika comes from the north of India but she was brought up locally. She prefers to bring lunch to work and reads during lunch. John thinks she is fat because of all the carbohydrates and he’s read that it spikes, then crashes your insulin and keeps you hungry. When he was telling Erika that he liked to sniff his books, and that a good book smelt of musty cabinets, Erika did not flinch, she smiled too eagerly and shaked her head as John forgot what he was talking about. Fat people reminded John of a desk cluttered with the detritus of life – bank statements, unopened letters, papers with a draft of a story that would one day be written. Fat people just hadn’t the time or the desire to tidy their desks yet.
John woke up one day and left for Starbucks at 6 in the morning but put away the book he had brought. The problem was that he was reading the wrong books. There is nothing to be done about this, just as it is when an ugly girl meets a mirror. It is only happy providence that puts a good book in our hands at the times in our lives when advice is moot but a good book rings with truth. John had read about the forty eight laws of power, the seven habits and the fifth discipline, but the numbers didn’t add up.
Occasionally, a girl would say, between a great many books, “Do you have a sister?” “Yes, I do, but she’s fat.”
Or she might say, “You’re here! Don’t you miss us, do you want to come back yet?” and a rosy tint would colour her cheek and make John wonder if it was make-up. This particular girl reminded John of Wally, that red and white striped bespectacled geek with a winsome smile and always hiding in a crowd, and when he told her that, her eyes crinkled and her mouth bunched up into a tight smile. He felt guilty just looking at that from the corner of his eyes. She always wore whimsical dresses – John remembered the one with a green scoop neck collar, sheer sleeves, and elastic poofy cuffs, as if she had decided to dress for a picnic instead of for the office. Her hair was messily parted, it was a thick, knotty afterthought.
The american accent did it for John. He decided he would have fabulous lunch conversations with Sarah. Now Sarah did not know John, but when she first saw him, she thought she now had a channel 5 friend. She offered her hand and said, “Pleased to meet you, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the view over here.” John looked out at the sea and did enjoy the view, but the people were even better.
After a month, she mentioned that they had another meeting to go to. This bored John but Sarah was fresh from school, and worked with the enthusiasm of a recent graduate trying to love her job, having seen the youtube commencement speeches, the editorials in the paper, and wondering if it was at all possible. John had watched and read the same and he concluded that he would try from Mondays to Fridays, but that on Saturdays and Sundays, when his finite love had been exhausted, he would need to be elsewhere recreating himself. When work began to intrude into his weekends, John began to wonder idly on his one and a half hour commute if he could do better.
He found her one saturday morning at work already at her seat.
“Oh my god, thats strange, usually you’re a bit late, but you’re in the office already! Maybe you realized that this in your destiny and you’ve decided to come early every morning!”
“Uhm, no, I have a meeting at 930.”
“Want to have lunch at the cafe on Tuesday? Let’s do something before I run off. I figure we can play pool and loser treats, since I’m broke and can’t afford anything”
“I’m fully booked on Tuesday though!”
“Ugh, do I have to have lunch with William again? You can never be sure about these married Indonesian types.”
“You’re so bad!”
At lunch, their conversation skipped lightly around his plans for Europe. John was to follow the trail of economic destruction, braving the rioting and unemployed youth, and post a picture of himself in Mykonos with the tag – “Sarah made me do this.”
John had many schemes in his head all the time, like tailoring or tutoring, why, he even had a friend his age who was a hawker. He decided to try stand up comedy and bought a chair. This was much less complicated than buying a house, which you had to time macroeconomic cycles for. In his small house, John saw a canvas to express himself, no less strong or important than the biological imperatives of eating and making love, and as susceptible to periods of indulgence or temperance. So the chair was not just a chair, but it completed the wooden coffee table that was bathed in a warm pool of light. The light would create an intimate space surrounded by shadow which people would naturally gravitate toward. The chairs were all different because people are all different, and the table was wooden and had a beautiful grain because John was no longer a dandy and wanted something artless. But John refused to get a coffee machine, or a smart phone, or even internet access. Once in a while Singtel would send a brochure to entice him with fibre broadband, but John stubbornly threw these away.
John saw many patterns that needed to be constructed in his home. For instance, the pattern “lounging in a coffee shop” consists of certain elements, and like any living language, this is open to contest. For John, these are – a simple white blouse, a constructed blazer, a mane of luscious thick hair, and pert breasts which rhythmically rhyme with each footfall. Four storey high ceilings, a glass facade with soft lighting filtered through a cloudy sky. Finally, an espresso and a bench to afford this view.
In America, he took acting class because he listened to his heart, like how a cow will lick salt pillars if it is sodium deficient. John wanted to be more like himself, and so he took acting class. Paula, his acting teacher taught him about Adler and Stravinsky, and he distinctly remembered some of her words – “What do you say if you want someone to ask how you are? You ask him first!” “Look for the conflict!” “What’s my motivation?” John tried to find the motivation for every line of dialogue he read. He also found Mary. One day, he had her over, and he rehearsed his lines with her. She spoke again with an american accent. On the last day of class, she played the piano in class and he sat beside her and was filled with self-pity because he could only play chopsticks. As he turned to go, she hugged him from behind and said she would miss him. John was more embarrassed than flattered and said something unmemorable to her before he left. He no longer cared as much for fatness, but found enthusiasm beguiling, he thought that this could compensate for lazy eating habits.
When he returned, he was sick of himself. His books did not ring with truth, they were sincere, to the point, and flatulent. His guitar had lost its tone in spite of the calluses he was building on his fingertips. His friends were onerous and ugly and he could not muster the energy to have have coffees with friends and tell them stories, so he left to look for a Mary that would take the place of the one he found in America.
When Kim spoke english, it took all your concentration and attention to figure out if she wanted her coffee black or with milk. John could say as much for his korean. Kim did not hug John from behind, instead she gave John some chocolate which John thanked her for then threw away immediately when she turned her back.
John went back home and bought a fork which was not just a fork. For instance, Coffee Bean will give you an americano in a tall glass cup that looks like a vase. This makes the coffee unfit for drinking. John continued shopping for things for his house.