So she said, "I could never love him, you know? I don't know why, but I think I don't know how to love."
I looked at her, this young, petite woman five foot two, brown eyes and long black hair. She could have been anyone. Then I counted back the years I had known her, twenty years in all, give or take I could never really keep track of years or figures and pondered what had brought on this sudden revelation. The earlier part of the conversation had consisted of the regular bout of I-haven t-seen-you-in-ages and other exchanges of pleasantries and minor news of that genre. Then there had been silence for a while, slightly awkward, but nothing too strange. I had been searching for things to talk about and had been about to ask her about the guy I had heard she had been seeing, when she startled me with her statement. Had she been reading my mind?
She had been looking down at her coffee mug, fingers tracing the little stain ringlets on the table, but she suddenly looked up at me.
"Why don't you think so?" I asked her back.
"Yes, angst is the name of the game, and I don't know what he wants."
"Why do you need to know what he wants?"
"Because he obviously wants it."
"Then why don't you ask?"
"It's difficult, you know? At any rate, the relationship never progressed. Maybe I'm too cold or something or he had no nerve. I hate guys who have no nerve."
"Maybe he wasn't really interested."
"Oh? Yeah, that could be it, really. I'll never know, will I?"
"You could have asked..."
"Me, ask a guy, if he liked me?" Eyebrow raised, half-smile, fingers pointing - ah, that was a really familiar look of incredulity.
"Okay, so bad idea. Ask his friends."
I shrugged. "Any friend. But at any rate, you said you couldn't love him, right? So what's the big deal?"
"No big deal. I mean, I liked him. I did. Really. In that sappy kind way."
"What sappy kind of way? I think you have to be a little more explicit, you know. I'm not exactly a female with a mind in tune to yours."
She stared at me.
"That sounded weird, I know. I'm working on it. I meant elaborate, I think," I said.
"Yes, I know you're male."
"Yes, I know I am too. Was that ever in doubt?"
"So you want to know what a sappy kind of way is?"
"I guess, since you brought it up."
"Err. Well." She leaned forward and leaned her head on her hand in a really pixie-like way and looked at me. "It's hard to describe. I think the best way to put it would be like..." she paused and bit her lip. "I don't know how to put it."
"You're not being much help."
"You're not female. I can't give out trade secrets."
"Right. Then moving on, you liked him, and?"
"And I don't know. After a while, I just didn't think that he liked me in the same way, so I gave it up."
"Gave it up. Wow."
"Sorry, I know I'm this unemotional bitch kind of person."
"No, I'm not saying that."
"You're implying it."
"Am not. I'm just saying it's tough - how do you ever just give anything up?"
She shrugged. "Just decide not to care. I mean, emotions are just emotions, right?"
"They mean a big deal so some girls. Sometimes even more than a big deal. It's like their world, this emotion thing."
"See, girls. I'm a woman," she parried.
"How old are you?"
"If you don't know, I m not telling you. Old enough, anyway."
"Fine with me. I think I know anyway." I shrugged and sipped at my coffee.
It was getting cold, and if there's anything worse than being stuck in unreal conversations, even with a very old friend, it's room-temperature coffee. "Look, I'm going to get something to eat. You want anything?"
She smiled, lifting her coffee mug in cupped hands. "I've got coffee. That s enough."
"No breakfast? This guy's got you on a diet."
She scowled. "I told you, I couldn't love him. If I couldn't, do you think I'd diet for him? Go on, I'll still be here with my dilemma when you get back."
When I sat back down with two donuts, she was busy wiping off her fingers with a bit of tissue. I watched her for a while then offered her a donut.
"The question really is why I can't seem to love," she said as she took the donut from me.
"I thought you were dieting."
"Sugar is good, it helps you think. And I need to think now."
There was silence as we munched companionably.
"Why don't you think that you can love? I asked.
She took a while to finish swallowing then said, "The lack of relationships in my life. Everyone my age has at least 10 broken relationships down the track - I'm exaggerating, I know, but yes, everyone I know has been in at least one relationship - whether it lasted or not is a different matter. I, on the other hand, have never even held hands with a guy excepting during those games or prayer and support group things, which really doesn't count, does it? It's strange. I thought maybe no one really liked me. Maybe I m too brash, crazy, weird, loud, or something. Then after a while, I got to thinking, maybe it's because I don t really like people. Do you really like people?"
"By liking people, do you mean liking them in a love kind of way or in a platonic kind of way? I like people. People are nice to talk to. Nicer than talking to myself, or to the wall or the appliances or something. But loving them is a different matter - it's difficult to love someone that you don't really know."
"I think I really mean liking in a more platonic kind of manner."
"You don't like people? But you're talking to me."
"Well, I don't hate people, but I figure I don't really like them either. They re just there, you know. Like another part of life. Just like..."
"Like the furniture? I could possibly dig being furniture in your life."
"No, I don't mean you."
"Yes you do."
"Okay. I do." She was tapping her fingers on the table. "Yes, maybe I do."
"You don't know?"
"How can I tell?"
"I don't know."
She sat fiddling for a while.
"I guess in a way, he must have liked you," I ventured.
She stared at me. "Why?"
"I don't know."
"No, I mean, not why he liked me, but why do you say so?"
"Well, we heard rumours."
"What kind of rumours? Like, people talking about us? Not that it was actually really an 'us'."
"Something towards the trend of 'hey, did you know who Jake has been seen going out with?' and the requisite astounded replies."
"Astounded? Hmm. I didn't know that I was astounding."
"Well, something to that general effect. I don't know. You should ask the girls."
"Maybe I really should."
"You don't talk to them much do you? You've got that whole loner thing going on."
"You managed to realize that, huh? I thought I was being pretty sneaky about it."
I shrugged. "And yet, as you say brash, crazy, weird, loud."
"I don't get the whole social thing," she finally said.
"What's there to get or not get?"
"The whole social make up, like how person A gets upset because person B does or does not like her. Or him. Like," she paused and rubbed her nose. "Like I said earlier, I could never love him. But does that make me feel any better or worse?"
"Who is he, by the way?"
She laughed, huge breath-taking, guffawing laughs, as if she couldn't believe that I had to ask. I had a suspicion that her coffee was spiked - frankly the whole conversation this morning had struck me as completely surreal. The question was who spiked it?
"You don't know?"
"I thought it was Jake at first. But then again, the Jake thing was a pretty long time ago - I really haven't seen you for ages, have I? Besides, the way you talk seems to imply that it's not him."
"Well, if you don't already know, you don't really need to know."
"Then why are you telling me?"
She smiled and leaned back in her chair. "It was just a random observation, and I really needed to say something. Besides, I've known you for - what's it - twenty-two years of my life, and I haven't had a decent conversation with you until today."
"So was that the real purpose behind this early morning coffee run?" I paused. "Twenty-two years, really?"
"Actually, Serene wasn't available, so you were the next best option. I'm sorry, I'm actually quite socially inept, as you would probably have found out just now. But I could make it up to you."
"No need. It was quite a refreshing chat actually. I think I'm gaining insight into the strange workings of the female mind."
"You are? Mind you, I'm not exactly typical. You might just very well get extremely skewed results if you try it out on other females."
"Who says I would dare try it out?"
She shrugged. "You're not the psych major are you? Oh no, you're not. That was Liang. You were the - oh dang, I forgot."
"Finance, not that it matters. You're not exactly socially inept, by the way. It isn t exactly ineptitude. More like... shoot, I don't remember the word something like different. Unique? Surely not retard. More awkward, I think. No, distinctive. That s the word. Socially distinctive."
"You make me sound like a freak show."
"It's alright to be different." The sun's rays were striking everywhere I could think of in the shop, and the growing heat was starting to overpower the air-conditioning. I guessed it was approaching eleven, and looked at my watch.
"It's almost twelve," she said.
"I know. I should be going."
"Me too. I'll see you next week then?"
"What, is this to be a weekly thing?"
"If it isn't too socially distinctive for you, it could be."
"It's actually been quite interesting to catch up with you."
I pushed my chair back, and stood to go.
"Just two old friends, what," she mumbled to herself as I left.