Tiny Movements, Big Movements
Sunlight shone from below, reflected off the water beneath the old stone bridge. They sat there on the edge, catching whatever breeze they could, oblivious to sounds and stares of Beijing around them. She was a half-width too close to him, and desperately wished he was too.
The day had been a hot one. She loved the sensation, like a humid embrace on every part of her body, like a warm bath you brought with you all over town. The other girls in the office complained, bemoaned the way it made them look and feel, how they’d do best indoors. She couldn’t wait to get out again, out of the passionless recycled air, grey-blue and frigid, sucking the life out of her day.
The boy sat uncomfortably, loose shirt drenched with sweat, fingers slipping off the strings of his ukelele as he struggled to avoid seeing her. He was still a boy to her, ten years on, and she was certain she was that girl he teased in school. He would remain the boy for as long as he stayed blind, but she wouldn’t force it. She had to know he’d learned it on his own.
“I’m moving abroad,” he said, six notes from the end of the song. He didn’t play the rest, just sat there, looking into the water, the crickets filling the gap in conversation.
There were so many things she wanted to say. Don’t. You can’t. Not now. When? Where, and how will you get there and what will you do and how will it change you and will you remember to come back or is Beijing just where you started, and not where you’ll end? But most of all, she wanted to beg him to take her too.
“Oh,” was all she said, and stared into the water.
“University,” he explained. “Three years.”
“And then?” she asked.
He said nothing for a minute, put the ukelele on the bridge between them, and wiped the sweat off his face.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I don’t know.”
“Are you scared?” she asked, and caught his eye. She was hopeful, hopeful he would be scared, that she could keep him here with her until he saw the shirt she wore just for him, the way she cut her hair to catch his eye. Appealing to all the tiny little clues she’d learned about him over the years, to piece together his idea of the perfect woman. She wanted him to stay so she could be that woman. She just needed time.
“Scared?” he repeated, looking at his instrument, rubbing the edge with his thumb to clean off a scratch that wouldn’t budge. “I suppose. It’s normal to be scared, though, isn’t it?”
“I would be,” she said.
“You’re scared of spiders,” he laughed. “You’re scared of everything.”
“I’m not scared of you,” she said, and this time, their eyes met for longer. Long enough that she didn’t need to say a word, and he didn’t need to reply. She picked up the ukelele and moved it to her other side, so there was only stone between them.
“My parents arranged it,” he said, picking at his thumb, wet skin sliding on skin. Distracting himself, poorly. “My father knows someone at the school and he said I’d make a great lawyer.”
“You would,” she said.
“I don’t know,” he muttered. “I’m not very strong-willed. I let you push me around all the time.”
“That’s just wisdom,” she smiled, and he smiled back, rested his hands at his sides, and brushed his fingers against hers. “Your father is right. You’ll be great at anything you do.”
“I should stand up to him,” he muttered, and she forgot herself, took his hand, squeezed it. His father could shut him right down, and the day was going too perfectly for that to happen now. “He’s arranged a marriage for me.”
Her hand froze.
The crickets carried on, oblivious, but the rest of the city seemed to stall, waiting to hear what she’d say.
“What will you do?” she asked, wishing she didn’t have to.
“What can I do?” he asked. “I can’t say no, can I?”
She looked at him, tears mixing with sweat, tried not to make it harder on him, no matter how hard it was on her.
“I don’t know,” she said.
He took her hand in his, laced their fingers together, and squeezed her. She closed her eyes, turned away, trying not to cry. It was unbearable. The cruelty of it, of his kindness, of his blindness.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I noticed too late.”
She sniffled, sat herself straighter, turned with a smile.
“Noticed what?” she said, and her voice barely cracked.
They looked at each other, there in the humid bath of the late afternoon, and said nothing more until they said their goodbyes. It was a long, long day, but it always seemed mercifully brief in her memory.
This 1kStory is for Lot ("boy, Beijing, awakening, ukelele, love").