noting down all these characters i meet on campus because i’ll likely never see them again aft graduation:
the morning is cool, grey, wet. i meet L (i know way too many L’s) at our seminar. we start talking bcos we typically show up late and sit in the back. after class, we have a smoke by the stairway behind the canteen, somewhere she always goes during seminar breaks. L’s safe haven is really a concrete bed of forgotten cigarette buds. she talks abt her fuckboy boyfriend – a diving instructor she met over the hols – and goes on abt some vague plans to start a business and sailing on a yacht her parents had bought her.
“so he’s the one i’m dating right now,” she laughs, “and fucking.”
“that’s a natural progression of things.”
“actually, it was fucking and then dating.” we both laugh at that.
“that’s also a pretty natural progression of things.”
this must be the second cigarette i’ve lit up in my entire life. my anxiety is so crippling that a cig does nothing for my nerves. L is trying to quit. i almost feel bad for being enthusiastic abt getting it right. you have to inhale it, feel it in your lungs, she says. i just choke and grimace. but i fumble much less than i did my first time. it’s even somewhat pleasurable once you get used to it, although the sensation is nothing i’d kill for.
L has ordered the two books we have to read for this module. how much did they cost, i ask her. 300 bucks. that’s a lot, i say. to this, she says nothing. i start to pick up clues abt my newly-made acquaintance: blue coloured contact lenses. wild party animal. her parents are going to buy her a yacht. she lives in dhoby ghaut, the heart of this wretched city, and offers me a ride when i mention that i’m meeting some friends there later – an offer i politely refuse, bcos we’re practically strangers. so we hail from very different socioeconomic worlds.
she says her boyfriend makes her cry and keeps her up at night. i want to say: are you sure you want to divulge all this information to someone who was otherwise a total stranger just three hours ago? i don’t know you, i don’t even know what makes someone a “fuckboy” – is this just another term for man whores who fuck around a lot? or guys with fucking shitty personalities? or guys who make you feel bad for not fucking them? – and i don’t know how i can help.
it’s too easy to say “you deserve better” or “don’t get upset – it’s not worth it.” so i stay quiet and let her talk. i even place my hand on her arm for a fraction of a second.
hot cigarette ash can feel good on your skin. i tell L that after this, i am headed to the library to engage in the plebeian practice of photocopying our assigned texts. there are imitations of designer handbags. and then there are imitations of expensive af college textbooks. i want to toss the bud in a bin somewhere, but she takes what’s left of my cig from me and puts it out on the ground.
i always end up finding one thing to like about a person. this way, i am always a little in love with the ppl i encounter.
this is a curse though; i can cut ppl out of my life but i can never forget them. L, for example, will always be at the stairway behind the school canteen, generously offering a cigarette to a fellow student, with her nicotine-stained lungs, a cig between her fingers, a frown on her tanned round face, smoke tangled in her hair, and a fuckboy boyfriend to mull over.