She was packing when it started raining outside. Even with just one window to her small dorm room, she could hear the rain drops hitting hard at the pane, drops after drops. She picked up a small bag lying next to the night stand and took out a pair of her headphones. She wanted the silence. Tracing the side of the luggage with her fingers, she zipped it up, switched off the room lights and pulled away the luggage out of the building.
Just two months ago in this same building, a boy with blue eyes asked her if she wanted to grab a cup of coffee with him in the corner of this little town of Cambridge. They had met in a class where they learnt about Enigma cipher machines that were used by the Nazis during World War 2. The cipher machines helped Germans relay coded messages to each other which was deemed unbreakable at the time. It was a small class of 10 unjaded adolescent students, taught by a Scottish professor, head full of white, dressed in jeans and in an indifferent smile. Students were sparse in the big classroom but the blue-eyed boy came and sat next to her. Florescent lights reflected off his blonde hair and his straight posture, his tall shadow towering over her. When she politely declined after he asked her during one class break if she wanted to go take a smoke, he asked her what she thought of the class.
It was fascinating. Almost fun to be in a class when it’s so nice outside.
She was intrigued to learn about that aspect of wars – strategies and tools that were used in defeating the other side. No debates over which side was evil or honorable. No “objective conclusions” that were reached on who was wrong or right. She recalled her middle school history classes where she had learnt to label, with thoughtless acceptance, the opposite side of Myanmar heroes as “the wicked and malicious”. The defeated were simply not courageous enough. They were the deserters. Which was probably true enough. But she learnt few things about luck and or the occasional inevitability of its counter part. Or about what went into devising war tactics, except simply having courage. Later in her life, when she examined the reason for her innocuous but chronic resentment towards the teachers of her early teenage years, she would realize that it was not solely because of the lack of factual or serviceable knowledge taught in class, but mostly because of the teachers’ dismissive (or even ignorant) approach to understanding the complexities of human efforts and capabilities in this phenomenon called life and war.
That was what she told him in the bliss of caffeine. Across from her, past the blue cup of Cantabridgian coffee on the small table, was the boy who smiled with his whole face and articulated his childhood incidents with candor. He had been diagnosed with ADHD since 9 and had to take medications that somehow made his hands tremble. He once was about to fake a Harvard acceptance letter to his parents before he got one from Cambridge. Or about how his love for Ernest Hemingway stemmed from his dad reading to him before bed. And then they were laughing. Suddenly, the table that barely had enough room for one seemed to not bother her anymore, their joy radiating from their cheeks under the crimson dusk of the late afternoon sun. What a sight they must have been. So young and so much potential.
Somewhere in the middle of the town, they passed by a public monument called Corpus Clock. On top of the clock sat a monster called “Chronophage” that was eating each minute and consequently eating the ever passing time. How hypnotically beautiful yet haunting at the same time. She could feel the affect of the Chronophage eating away at the fabric of the universe.
Weeks, months and perhaps years passed during that summer. In this town of sunshine, boats and literature, it was beyond delightful to be next to someone who adored her. Even under the imminence of the end of summer, there was something so uniquely precious and captivating to loving someone you know you will leave. Tampering with the possibilities of something developing beyond these months of June and July seemed hardly consequential. So that was what they did.
In high school, her math teacher told the class of a story about a wife and a husband who loved each other dearly. The wife passed away one day, leaving her husband across the abyss of death and life. But they could not accept each other’s empty vacancy so the wife’s soul remained in the house with the husband. They made each other’s breakfast, tea and bed. Because of his close proximity and his abhorrent relationship with the dead, fangs started growing on the husband and other signs of him turning satanic were showing. But neither of them minded or cared. They had each other. They had their love.
That’s the kind of affection that people expected and glorified. The kind that lingered and persisted even through death. But even the hearts that once raged wars would turn stoic and cold. Now she was taking her luggage out of St. Catherine dorm and was more familiar with this aloofness to the looming departure. She did not wish to run away from here but she would not stay. She looked forward to the future that she held and to the pictures she would take that wouldn’t include him. Then, her plane ascended from Heathrow Airport. There she was, airborne, free of roots, free of ties and broken promises.
Falling out of love, she realized, was the most nullifying feeling. It neutralized things but she was sure it was nothing like the abyss of life and death. Perhaps, she will be back here again to retrace the steps that she once took, the thoughts that she once had and to relive the laughters that she now held dear. Or perhaps not.
Still, this is not a vacancy all the same. He now lives in songs and in blue cups of cappuccinos. He now resides in the memories of a former 19-year-old girl whose first footprints in Europe roamed this town of summer in her sun-baked skin and in her navy sandals. She’ll find him in curiosity and content just like she hopes he’ll find her in the warmth of the early morning summer rays.
And that’s where they will stay.