The melancholy of reading a love story is hardly avoidable. The more tragic it is, the more fascinating it gets. A heart-wrenching story like Romeo and Juliet has captured the hearts of millions all around the world because they want that forbidden romance in their life. A teenage girl after watching Leonardo DiCaprio portraying a young beautiful hopeless romantic lad would cry out loud that she wants her own Romeo. We all have thought about it, an epic love story with the one we are meant to be. But what if, you are meant to be with someone who is meant to be with someone else? No one has set the rules for the mechanism of soulmates, no one says it has to be a binary relationship.
The most heart breaking thing is not not able to find your one true love, it is to see your true love in love with someone else. The gut hollowing feeling appears whenever you think about how his hands are touching the wrong face, his lips kissing the wrong lips, and his heart captured by the wrong eyes. The outsiders, who are not a part of your story, would say letting go is a demonstration of a greater love. They do not know how hard it is to breathe when you are incomplete, like a cripple trying to run. The Greeks once said humans were born with two sets of everything but we were cut in half, which leads to our lifelong search of our other half. The dilemma comes when the hurt is real. Is it worse to fail finding your other half? Or having found the other half, just to have someone else to cut your other half from you straight from the line all over again? Wounds do not heal that easy, not when it is torn the second time.
It was raining when he stumbled into me. Living in a metropolis like London means you probably have to rush out of the door every morning in order to get on the underground in time for work or school. I carried this giant maroon satchel with me every day to work ever since I graduated. It was a gift from my sister who thought satchels were for people who write for a living. I never checked what was in there but I always knew it carried all I need. Phone, Earpods, Notebook, a few pens, my purse, oyster card, a tiny plastic bottle filled with tapwater, and a book(it was The Great Gatsby). Everything I needed, but an umbrella.
After another boring day working in my publishing firm, which specialized in hopeless romance novels written by middle age women with cats, I decided to visit my favourite café two blocks down the building where I worked since it was Friday. I did not notice how the sky has gone quite grim and how people around me were carrying umbrellas in their hands in case of the rain. As usual, I minded my own business walking with my earpods on, blasting some old Stevie Nicks tunes but keeping my excitement inside. There were no signs, and then it was like the entire Pacific Ocean has dropped on us. I had to sprint for a block until I reached The Ink Room and darted in. After taking off my soaked trench coat, I carefully walked towards the counter and ordered a Grande latte.
Anna was my favorite barista in The Ink Room and luckily, she was on her shift then so I got a free upgrade and a chocolate cookie. Anna and I became friends when I started to join the writers’ activities in the café, which were held once every two weeks. She was my age and a part time writer. She told me she liked working in The Ink Room, a café for the writers, where she could see people bring out the best in their mind in words and transform them into art. She once told me that it was the people in the café that inspired her to write. Once I asked her what she usually wrote, she shrugged and took out a tiny notebook from her apron. A tiny hardcover black moleskine. She turned over the pages real quick and I saw words in clutters next to some pencil drawings. “Poems, mostly. No one has the time for novels now.”
Sitting down at the furthest table from the door next to the window, I looked out at the people. Under the rain, you see a different side of them. In a city like London, people are always wearing masks. They can be a mask of etiquette, a mask of dignity, a mask of sternness, or a mask of annoyance (basically everyone on the underground). But when something crashes into their lives, the raindrops would wash their masks away and you can see how they truly are. For example, the colour of their umbrella. Mostly I saw some businessmen carrying plain black umbrellas, keeping it professional and neat. Then, an old lady dressed in a matched azure outfit like The Queen carrying an elegant white umbrella with ruffles on the edge, pacing carefully through the rain. Maybe she was rushing home to take care of her grandbabies, or going to the market before it closed at six. Not long after the old lady disappeared from my view, a bright yellow umbrella with white dots caught my eyes. I tried to look at the person beneath the umbrella, but her (or his) face was covered completely by the shade. That person too was in a hurry.
More black umbrellas floated along the wet pavements, another masks for the people of London to hide their true self.
After a while, I took a sip of my latte (which has turned cool because I forgot about it) and decided to take my The Great Gatsby out. It was not my first time reading that book since I loved it so much. I first read the book back in college for a class. It was not as good then as it was years later. I guess it was the kind of melancholic stories that I mentioned earlier, a devastating love that would change your life forever. There would always be a soft spot in my heart for Jay Gatsby, a hopeless romantic that I could not afford to become. I could not imagine back then, how it would be to love someone for so long and after all the things you have sacrificed and done for them, it turned out they do not love you the way you love them. The trouble is that people always expect that in a relationship, both sides would put out the equal amount of affection and when the expectation fails, people become upset.
As I lost myself in the book (and let the latte went cold), the rain outside just kept pouring like a stubborn child crying for one more popsicle. I always take a little pause after finishing a chapter, and that was when I saw a pink umbrella entering The Ink Room. I was a pink person in disguise. I never wore anything pink, but eight out of ten pens I have were in the shade of pink or violet. It always caught my eyes when people demonstrate their own shade of pink in public. The person closing up the pink long umbrella turned out to be a man, brown short hair with hipster glasses (like half the customers here). My gaze followed him to Anna, who seemed to be friends with that man. After a few words, out of my surprise, Anna pointed at me with a smile on her and the man followed her finger to me.
He has the bluest eyes ever that stood out so sharply, I could see how bright they were from the window. Not so good with eye contact, I gave a quick smile and then in a panic, open where the bookmark lied in my book and pretend to read. I could not focus on the words so I just look at them. The letters in a row, making sense and not making sense all at once. I tried to slow my heartbeat down by drinking the remaining latte in the then completely cold glass mug. It was a mug I got from a thrift store near Camden, it only has the world “Thoughts” written on the white porcelain. I stored it in the café’s cupboard since I was there almost every three days.
Trying to calmly sip my latte, I switched my focus to the window. Not the people but the thousand tiny droplets of water on the glass, each slowing moving downward. I tried to focus on one tiny drop on the top and see how it goes down by joining other droplets, like thousands of tears slowly streaming down. I thought it was beautiful, like those paintings artists create by shaking their painters to spray the colours randomly on the canvas. Not one is identical. I must have looked incredibly stupid to the people on the other side of the glass, a girl in her early twenties wearing a grey sweater staring at the glass with her mouth slightly opened. I did not notice my abnormality until I accidentally locked eyes with one of those black umbrella businessmen. I nearly dropped my mug out of panic and decided it was best to order another latte, or maybe a mocha this time.
And he sat down across the little round table. The first thing I noticed was his eyes, again. I was wrong about his eyes, well, one of them. Something about his eyes captured my attention like nothing before, maybe it was because while his left eye is the clearest of electric blue, his right eye is the richest shade of emerald.
“Hi, Anna told me you’re in the writers’ group. I just moved here. I’m Theo.” I couldn’t take my eyes away from his and we were locked in this staring game for a few seconds until I came to my senses that he just introduced himself.
Social convention requires me to reply.
“Oh hey. My name is Jemma. How are you doing?” Then we went on and on, eyes locked, until the rain stopped.
Theo told me he came back to London after a few years aboard in New York for his job as a junior editor. His friend, Jordan (a very nice violinist slash writer in our group), invited him to join our gathering and he decided to pay a visit to The Ink Room in advance today. He told me he wrote short stories. I told him I wrote short stories, too.
“So, are you a full time writer?” His question caught me off guard because for the past i-don’t-know-how-long, the focus was on this strange man. But then, I suppose when he was my stranger, I was his stranger, too. Then I told him about my boring job as an editor assistant in a bad publishing firm and how my only duty was to proofread bad romance novels. He chuckled. The focus of the conversation has changed and I was astonished. I did not know I could be interesting enough for others to be curious at anything about me.
There we kept going, talking about our favorite writers, artists, songs, coffee, cities… All our favourites. It was fascinating how soon he and I became us. The rain stopped when we finished our third coffee (I had two cups of mocha while he had three hot chocolate).
“I’ll see you next Friday?” His precious eyes still locked on mine as mine are locked on his.
“Sure.” We made a promise the very day we met, that we would meet again.
Life went on as always with a few distractions of thoughts about his eyes. But it was not as great as you read from novels. I did not forget to eat because of how perfect his face was nor did I forget to breathe because our hands touched before we went our separate ways that night. It was business as usual for me. Netflix, tea, popcorn, books, and more Netflix. I cannot deny that my heart did race a bit faster whenever I remembered the gathering on Friday. Growing up as an anxious person, I always tried to envision how a situation would happen before it ever does (which just did nothing good but stress me up).
I imagined myself wearing a burgundy blouse with a black pencil skirt, walking into The Ink Room vigorously like Miranda Priestly, and seeing Theo saving a seat for me in the circle. He would stand up with the corner of his mouth a bit crooked up and we would chuckle because we would be having an embarrassing to-hug-or-not-to-hug moment. Then, we would sit down and talk about our week and bond further. Sometimes, it scared me how powerful imagination could be. I had then envisioned what I hoped would happen in exact details, which would lead to potential disappointment even when one single detail is off. I had made up, with the limited knowledge I had of a man I met not one week ago, the man I hope he would be. He was a stranger, but he was a close stranger in my mind. When I imagined what it would be like to meet him again, I had put a part of myself into this new Theo.
That is the way all kind of relationship works. A first impression leads to a wide imagination that one, without any prior notice, would have to meet up to for the relationship to develop in a fair atmosphere. Ironically, whenever the expectation is not met, one would felt cheated and the relationship would go foul. I did not know it then. I had hoped Theo would be the Theo I want. That was the root of the problem, in hindsight, because I was never in love with the real, breathing Theo. I was in love with my own Theo.