Playground Talk

It's too early to tell when I'm going to die, and certainly too late to prevent my birth. I am sixteen years old, but I feel like the oldest person in the world. I know truths that are years beyond my age, statistically-speaking, and this acquired maturity is viewed more as a curse rather than a gift by me.

I voice my concerns to my boyfriend. Gem is his name. (Yes, his parents love him a lot. They got him a Mercedes-Benz for his eighteenth birthday.) He wears his name like a perfect birthday suit, and possesses all the qualities of his namesake. He is by far the most gorgeous guy I've ever seen. His eyes are large and brooding, and the dark circles under his eyes bring out their intensity and hint at something tragic. He unintentionally wears a perpetually tortured look on his face, although it doesn't necessarily reflect his feelings, and he has an adorable hump on the bridge of his nose that others see as a physical flaw, but to me, his imperfection is beautiful.

"I don't know anything anymore," I say to Gem. We are making out at the back of the restaurant, where he waiters in. It is after lunch time, the restaurant is closed and dark, and we are alone.

He kisses me on the cheek, and rests his head on my shoulder. "What do you mean?"

"You know, like, everything is just..." I struggle to find the right words so that I can effectively share my feelings with my boyfriend. "Like...messed up."

His lips are on my neck, and they slowly work their way up where they graze my earlobe, my cheek again, and finally my lips.

"Thinking too much again?" he murmurs, his breath warm on my face.

Without waiting for a reply, he presses his lips hard against mine. I know what he wants to do, and normally, I'd be up for it, but I'm just not in the mood.

He doesn't seem to realise it. He continues to kiss me, somewhat hungrily, prying my lips open his with tongue and rubbing it against mine. I feel his hands on my bare skin under my shirt, and they burn like acid on my skin.

"Gem..." I start to say, but he doesn't stop kissing me. His hand begins to wander down, hovering at the top of my waistband, but as his kisses get more and more intense, it starts to inch downwards.

I push him away. He's breathing heavily now, as I am, as always, but I'm no longer feeling the spark between us.

"What is it?" he asks, slightly impatient.

"I'm trying to talk to you," I say softly.

He sighs, a good-natured sigh, not an exasperated one. He takes my hand and brings it to his lips.

"Relax, Lani," he says. "You're always thinking too much."

That's not true, I want to say. You only think that because you never think at all.

When he sees that I did not answer, he leans in and plants a quick kiss on my lips. He smiles, and his dimples illuminate his carelessness.

"Just live one day at a time, you know? Don't think about the future and let it take care of itself. And, just...don't think so much. You age quicker."

All of a sudden, I envy him. I envy how carefree he is, and his take- it-or-leave-it attitude towards life. I envy his anti-introspective nature, his simple life, his simple mind. Nothing is ever too complicated, for if it were thus, he'd leave it and move on to something else. He doesn't brood over the things that were and doesn't regret his past mistakes. "What's done, is done, and no amount of regret would change it" is his motto. Nobody has it easier than him than...well, he himself.

It is also at this exact point of time that I don't remember the reason I was so attracted to him. I look at him now, and I don't feel anything. No race of the heart or a sudden intake of breath. Not even any desire to get into his pants.

There used to be a time where one kiss from him would send me into a state of pure, utter bliss for three days straight. What used to be lust- inducing kisses are now empty and hollow, and somehow, my lips have long since stopped melting against his.

_

I go home feeling sad, as if I've lost my youth on the back of a bus and I've forgotten to take down its license plate number. When my mother asks me where I've been, I tell her, "I had remedial."

"What remedial?" she asks. I'm avoiding her eyes, but I feel her stare boring into me anyhow.

"Maths," I reply curtly, and proceed to lock myself in my room.

She doesn't relent. She follows closely behind me, and her voice rings loud and clear and blisters my ear: "Don't lie to me. I know where you've been. You've been out with that guy, haven't you?"

I roll my eyes and flop down onto my bed. The softness of it comforts me, and I feel like I could lie here for the rest of my life.

"Whatever you say, Ma," I mutter. I close my eyes, and imagine Gem's kisses. I wait for my heart to at least stop a little, but nothing happens.

My mother looks at me for a while, and sighs. She sits down next to me.

"Lani," she begins. "It's not that I object to you having a male friend. It's just that...you're so young, and he's what, six years older?"

"Five."

"Okay, five." She pauses and looks at me, to check if I'm listening. I am. But barely, for I know this speech by heart.

"You're only sixteen. You're not ready for this kind of relationship. You can still talk to him, of course, but only as a friend. Okay?"

I nod. I don't feel like talking anymore. The blanket of melancholy has not lifted, and I don't really care that I can't date Gem, for I'm not sure if I still want to anyway.

"Ma," I say suddenly. "I love you."

My mother looks at me, and her face softens. She envelopes me in her arms, and we hold each other, and it's nothing like holding Gem.

_

At night, I get a phone call from Holden.

Holden is my friend. We met in an Internet chatroom, and we related to each other really well so we met face-to-face. He was reluctant at first as he was insecure about his looks, but I convinced him that I could not care less if he looked like Brad Pitt and that I just wanted to hang with him, not Brad. My friends have told me that we're so in tune with each other that we might as well start dating, but the truth is, he's more of a brother than a potential boyfriend, and anything more feels more incestuous than romantic, so we never tried.

"How're ya, little girl?" he asks.

I smile. "Decent. You?"

"Decent too," he replies.

I'm glad to hear from him as I'm sick of hearing myself talk. Since Gem is more interested in my body than my mind, I'll tell it to someone who's worth it.

"Actually, Holden," I say. "I lied."

"About what?"

"I'm not decent right now."

"Oh." A pause. Then, "Do you want to talk about it?"

And just like that, he's lifted the weight off my shoulders. Maybe I would marry him one day.

"Yes. But not over the phone."

"Okay. Meet me at the playground." He starts to hang up, but I stop him.

"Holden," I say, laughing.

"What?"

"It's ten o'clock."

Another pause. Then he replies, "And your point is?"

_

He's already waiting for me when I get there. He's sitting on a swing, humming to himself. I walk closer, and catch stray phrases of melodious music that I don't recognise.

"Composing a new song?" I call out.

He looks up, and sees me walking towards him. He grins. "Yeah. How is it?"

"Hit of the week material," I answer. "But that could be good or bad, depending on how you look at it."

I sit down on the swing beside him, and rest my head against the metal chain. It's quiet around here tonight, and for once, the stars are showing their faces.

"I'll take it as a compliment," he replies dryly. "So. What's eating you?"

I think about it for a while, contemplating how I should phrase it. I decide to go straight to the point.

"I don't know what my meaning of life is anymore," I blurt out.

Holden nods. "You lost it on the back of a bus and forgot to take down its license plate number, right?"

I laugh, and the sound of it seems to fill the silence of the night and drowing out the singings of the crickets. "Yes, exactly."

He looks over at me, and purses his lips. "What happened to writng?"

"I haven't done anything productive in months."

"Is that why you're suddenly unsure?"

I nod.

He lets out a sigh, but not an exasperated sigh. This is more of an Eureka, I-got-it sigh.

And I knew he would.

"People go through dry spells, you know," he says. "Just because you don't write as much as you used to, doesn't mean you've lost your talent. A person's talent is something she's born with, and don't tell me you weren't born with it 'cause I wouldn't buy that, and it stays with her for the rest of her life. I understand the frustrations of not being inspired, but that's normal."

"Really?"

He frowns and shoots me an incredulous look. "Duh!"

He seems to find that funny. He starts to laugh his hyena laughter, and he's laughing so hard that he falls off the swing. Even then, he doesn't stop laughing.

"Holden," I say. "You're an idiot."

-

We talk through the night, right up to 12 a.m., and it is the best talk I've had in ages. I tell him about how I'm reluctant to grow up as growing up means being one step closer towards death. He tells me he feels that way all the time, but c'est la vie, he says. We talk about our fears, our joys, and hopes for the future. We talk about world peace and its oxymoronic nature. We talk about football, about basketball, about his dying sister, everything. We even talk about my failing relationship with Gem and tear it apart, examining every loophole and going over every detail. We reach the conclusion that he's an airhead and that I'm too good for him.

Well, he did. I'm not too sure about that.

"Gem," he says. He shakes his head. "God, what a name."

"It suits him," I retort defensively.

"Fine, whatever you say. But didn't you laugh when you first heard it?"

I stare at his face, which is daring me to lie. I press my lips together. I refuse to answer him.

Then, Holden smirks.

"Okay, yes, happy now?" I snap. Good-naturedly, of course.

He cracks up again, and his laughter drowns out even the sound of my own thoughts. He sneaks a look at my face, and doubles over with laughter.

"I knew it!" he says, gasping a little. "I just knew it!"

I want to smack him, but I think the better of it, and just let him be the way he is.