A tale about the importance and the significance of love
"To love another person is to see the face of God." These were the words that kept Tina from faltering in relationships. Not just romance in particular, but also family relationships. Especially family. Tina has always found it difficult to love, particularly the deep ones. The last time she really loved a person, the person ended up scarring her for life.
Okay, but what about Brown? Years ago, Tina dismissed the slightest hint of love. But look at her now, sitting in a caf waiting for her date to show up. How much had happened in such a short period of time, Tina thought to herself. Is this right?
The contradicting yet sometimes funny conversation she has with herself has long become part of her. Tina believes that everyone talks to themselves more than they think. Everyone needs a constant companion in one way or another.
Tina remembered the first time when she met Brown. He was a dorky, lanky teenager who adored his books more than anything else. Hitherto Tina still could not figure out the reason why he loved them so much. It was summer break in Australia National University when they met. Tina was pursuing her degree in political science; while Brown was completing his Masters in Engineering. Tina was introduced to Brown by a mutual friend over lunch. It was the most awkward situation in the beginning, but it did not stay stagnant, in fact the friendship grew so rapidly that they got together just after six months. No one knew the reason they got together so soon, not even Tina. There was just something special about Brown. Perhaps it was the willingness to listen, or maybe it was the subtlety of his love which made Tina feel comfortable.
Tina can never forget the crunched up tissue Brown used to confess. It was during one of the usual lunch at the campus cafeteria. Brown was fidgeting with something in his hands and he was extra nervous. Tina felt something wasn't right and snatched the object away from him. Brown tried his best to retrieve it but to no avail. He sat back down, hoped for the best and expected the worst. He was pretty sure that he was going to be rejected until he saw the smile on Tina's face. On the tissue were a few words scribbled with pencil. I really, really like you. What do you say? Tina said nothing, looked into Brown's eyes and grabbed his hands. From that day onward, Brown had never dimmed his love for Tina, not even for a second.
Brown has always found Tina different. Unlike other girls who would talk about the choices of stilettos and the array of lip balms they own, Tina talked about substantial things such as politics and philosophy. Although at times Brown would just nod as though he understands, he truly enjoys her company.
There was one time when Tina brought Brown to the National Gallery. Brown was hesitant at first, but gave in to Tina's persuasion soon after. They were looking at a sculpture made out of chalk when Tina told Brown her past. Before this, Tina was very reluctant in sharing such personal information with Brown. Tina said that the sculpture reminded her of her mother; elegant, special, everlasting. "Did you know that chalk lasts for a very, very long time?" asked Tina. "One of the very reasons why I love chalks is because of its ability to create beauty, and that it is nearly immortal." Tina then went on to talk about chalks for nearly an hour.
Tina paused from her thoughts and looked around. It was a busy, busy night in Gus's, despite the chilly weather. Tina squinted to her left as the strong breeze brushed across her face. Two couples were feeding each other some Bruschetta and some of the basil and tomato fell onto the plate and they burst out laughing. Tina shifted her attention back to herself. It's Valentine's Day. He's late. It's not like Brown to be late. What could have happened? Tina reached into her handbag and pulled out her Motorola. She held the '1' button and waited for the dial. Tina then looked around, clutching her phone close to her ear. The night was beautiful. It wasn't a usual Thursday night as buskers filled the front compound as they cheered and danced joyfully. Intricate red and pink lights lined the roof as they blinked rhythmically, bringing out the romantic atmosphere. The subtle rustles of leaves from above and the gentle touch of evening zephyr were like a cherry on a delicious cake. It was not a typical night in Canberra. It was a gorgeous one.
Brown wiped the beads of sweat that formed on his forehead. He rolled his sleeves up and tucked at his shirt, hoping that the gesture could create some breeze. Brown could not make out the things he was seeing. Wires here and nuts everywhere. Goshdarnit why am I so stupid? Brown felt an itch at the back of his thighs and got up to scratch it. Unfortunately he forgotten that his torso was still under the hood and his head knocked unto the metal, causing a loud bang, followed by a few cusses.
Brown rose from the bending position which hurt his spine so much, stretched and rubbed his palm against the bruise. Not at a time like this, please no. Brown walked to the side of his Nissan Sylphy and leaned his back against the side window and sighed. Suddenly he felt his phone vibrating in his back pocket. Quickly he reached into the pocket and grabbed the phone. He fumbled as he was about to press the green button and the phone landed on the rough road with a thud. Dumb dill! Brown bent down and extended his arm to reach the phone under his car. When the phone was finally in his hand, the ringing stopped. Brown hastily tapped on the buttons to find out who it was. Tina. Brown squeezed his phone tightly and prayed that she would call him back. Apparently his phone was problematic as outgoing calls were somehow disabled. Five minutes passed and he pressed his elbows against the cold metal hood of his car. The bouquet of indigo roses lay motionlessly in his car. Brown looked up to the starless skies and heaved a huge sigh. Brown could only hear the pulses of his veins in his forehead as the night remained silent, especially on a secluded highway where vehicles were rarely seen driving through.
The phone rang once, twice and entered voice mail. Tina grunted and slammed the phone shut. She was starting to feel anxious. She was literally tip-toeing and cold sweat began to form on her forehead. Some of them meandered down her temples and gathered at the sides of her eyes. Tina wiped them off, clearly annoyed. Not now, Tina. Not now.
Tina held her latte up to her mouth and gave it an awkward sip. The warm liquid slid down her throat, providing her with warmth and assurance. She closed her eyes and tried her best not to think about it. No Tina, not now. Little did she know that she has already failed from the very start.
It was a cold morning. Tina could almost smell the burning scent of wood from the fireplace. Tina was thirteen then. She paced along the walls of the living room and came across a calendar. 14th of February it said. Tina walked toward the fireplace and observed the mantelpiece. There was nothing but a photo. A photo of a beautiful woman; her nose was perfect as it brought out the impeccable complexion of hers. Her eyes were huge, unlike most Vietnamese. To the left was a man who was tall and skinny. He was wearing a chequered shirt and a necktie. The weird thing about the man was that he had his face cut out. Just above the man's collar was a massive hole, more like an eternal void which could never be filled. The outline of the cut was jagged, as though the person who did this was either furious, or had a mild symptom of Parkinson's. Tina strongly doubted the latter. In between them was a small little girl. The girl has the mother's nose and eyes, mesmerizing to say the least. It took Tina a moment to realize that she was actually staring at herself. Tina often questions her own identity. Who am I? Tina would think aloud. Vaguely at the back of her head, Tina remembered her mother telling her the meaning of her name. In Vietnam, parents usually name their children based on the meaning of the words. Tina's full name is Tina Nguyen. Tina could be broken down into 'Tin' and 'Ai' which means 'thinker' and 'sentimental love' respectively. "What about yours, mama?" Tina would ask. "My name is An Phuong, sweetie." Her mother would say, grinning happily. "'An' means 'peace' while 'Phuong' means 'phoenix'."
Tina walked to the the wall on her left. The green wallpapered wall was cladded with photo frames. There was a similarity in every single photo: the face of the man was cut out. Tina did not know who this man is, and will never know. Whenever Tina tried to ask her mother questions relating to the man, her mother would always end up either very furious or very solemn. The fireplace behind her spat out some charcoal and this startled her.
Tina stared at the fire dog as the fire crackled like popcorns in an oven. Just the sight of it sent shivers down her spine. Tina then went upstairs, into her own room. There she was, lying on the bed, playing 'JiaJia' with her Barbie Dolls. 'JiaJia' meant play pretend in mandarin. Tina stood at the door as she watched her past self, so care free, so...happy. Her past self didn't seem to notice her, but Tina was not shocked. This isn't her first time encountering this confusing, nostalgic, terrifying experience. Tina sat at the corner, facing her past, watching her as she poured Mr. Beary a cup of tea.
Tina smiled. She couldn't help it. She kept on smiling, cherishing the moment, although deep down inside she knew that it was going to happen any time now.
Tina felt splashes of cold water on her thighs. She immediately snapped out of her thoughts and wiped the damp spot with a piece of tissue. She glanced to her right and saw a cleaner mopping the floor. The beads of water must have come from her. Tina quickly looked at her wristwatch and gasped. She reached into her handbag and searched for the tickets. She pulled them out and frantically searched for the time when it starts. She was twenty minutes late, and Brown is a millennium behind time. Tina hastily called for the bill, paid and left.
Having lived in Canberra almost a quarter of her lifetime, she knew the place like the back of her hand. The Canberra Theatre Centre was just around the corner. Soon enough, Tina arrived at the front porch of the centre. She stared at the steps and contemplated whether or not to go in. I could stay here and wait for Brown, Tina thought. Or I could make good use of the tickets and watch the show. Brown has promised to watch a play with Tina this evening, and it seemed like he was either kidnapped, or he has eloped with another woman. The front porch was nearly empty, as there was only a couple sitting on the steps, gazing into the starless skies. The centre's neon logo of a person dancing was as bright as ever. After a few minutes of self discussion, Tina decided to enter the building.
Tina walked along the hallway and entered the main venue. The play was already going on as the audience was in pin-drop silence; and there was a girl on the stage. Tina was guessing that she was the main. Tina plopped unto the soft cushion of the seat. She heard a few whispers from the back and shifted her torso closer to the front for a better view. Tina remembered reading about this play. It was about the hardships experienced by a girl and her mother. The theme was based on family ties and the importance of it in life.
"Mama, mama!" The girl on stage shouted.
"Yes darling, mama is here. Do not worry," answered a woman from backstage. "I will be there soon."
The girl curled up on the floor and led out a soft gasp. Soon, she started to cry. "Where mama..mama.."
The lights above went out and low murmurs came from the audience. Some of them even gasped out of surprise. Soon, the lights were turned back on. This time, there was a woman sitting on the floor with the girl lying on her lap. The girls eyes were wrapped in bandages. Two red spots substituted the position where the eyes used to be. The woman seemed to be in distress. She was staring into space. Her eyes were puffed up and bloodshot, as though the tears have been drained from them. Her cheeks were as pale as paper, indicating that she was unwell and clearly needed help.
"Mea culpa!" She cried. "Why did You take them away? Why now? Why didn't You take mine instead?"
Rivulets of fresh tears cascaded down her smooth cheeks, as though from a snow-laden hill. "First you took her father, now you took her sight. What else do you want?!" Her voice echoed throughout the spacious hall, creating a sad and melancholic atmosphere.
At this moment only one thing was in Tina's mind.
Tina found herself back in her room, starring at her past self, now soundly asleep. She knew that it was anytime now. She sat there and waited. Minutes later the doorbell rang. Tina's heart raced like a hurricane. She saw her past self waking up due to the sudden noise. Her past self walked clumsily to the door. Tina followed. How she wanted to warn her past self not to listen, to go back to sleep and pray that this was all a nightmare. But she could not.
First there was silence, then the argument started. She could hear her mother downstairs, shouting and bellowing. Then she heard a man's voice. The voice was familiar, but at the same time distant. They were arguing about money, and she could tell from the tone of it that it was not a pretty one. The argument lasted for almost half an hour. Tina saw that her past self was sobbing forcefully. Tina wanted to help, but realized that she herself was also crying.
Minutes later, a shriek was heard. It was loud and clear, not to mention filled with fear. Tina's past self gasped and pressed her ear against the cold wooden door. A few seconds later a door slam could be heard. Tina's past self opened the door and dashed out. For the umpteenth time, Tina tried to stop her, knowing that what she was about to see will scar her for life. But like every single time, her effort was to no avail.
Tina went downstairs, already expecting the horrendous sight. The smell was terribly familiar and horrible. She could recognize the smell anywhere, anytime. Tina attempted to block off the scent by covering her nose with her clothes, but the smell of roasted flesh seeped through the crevices like oil oozing out from the base of a strainer. Tina choked. It was beyond words, the smell. It was a mixture between an overnight rat carcass and a hint of roasted pork. Tina tried to hold her breath, but ended up choking herself.
Tina's past self was not choking at all. She just stood there, staring into the decorated fireplace, stunned. In front of the fireplace knelt a body of a woman. Her clothes were identical with her mother's. Everything was normal, except for her head. The head was already half charred, lying in the fireplace, crackling and smoking. Someone had stuffed her mother's head into the fire. It had nightmare written all over it.
Tina's past self finally let go. She knelt on the floor and screamed. Just screamed and screamed and screamed.
Tina woke up from her flashback, this time not from a few drops of water, but the loudness of the scream. Tina felt her forehead. It was wet and cold. She was sweating more than ever. She turned around and scanned the whole area. Everyone has left. The performance was over.
Tina saw a janitor sweeping the floor just down a few rows and did not hesitate to approach him. "Sir, when did the show end?" She asked. The janitor looked at her in what seemed to be either awe or pure confusion. "Fifteen minutes ago, madam." Tina stepped back and tripped on a seat and landed on her bottom. "Is all good, madam?" The janitor asked, this time worried. "Yes, yes. Thank you." Tina stood up and rushed out the door.
Tina was exhausted, both mentally and physically. Although this has happened for a million times, she has not, and will not get used to it. The cold wind landed on her damp skin and this made her shudder. Tina sat on a bench just beside the theatre centre. She brought her palms together, blew into them and rubbed them forcefully, hoping to produce as much heat as possible. She reached into her handbag and took her phone out. There were 13 miss calls from Brown. Tina immediately got off the bench as started to run toward Gus's. The freezing cold air brushed across Tina's face and it was not pleasant. But Tina did not care. All she wanted is to find Brown and hug him as tightly as possible.
Tina stopped at a road where cars were passing by. The shops around her was about to close. Tina waited patiently for the light to turn green. At the back of her head she saw the distraught face of her past self, puffy-eyed and pale faced. Somehow she reminded Tina of the woman who acted as mama earlier on stage.
Tina's thoughts petered out as something, or perhaps someone caught her attention from across the street. A man dressed in a suit, all sweaty and gasping for air was waving at her. In his left arm he held a bouquet of indigo roses; and on his right a blackboard. It was Brown.
Tina squinted as she tried to read the chalk-written words. Due to the strong wind and dim lighting, she could only make up a word or two. But that was all she needed to see. Brown knelt on one knee, placed the flowers onto the ground and stretched out his hands. It was a red box. He opened it and the object glimmered in the pale moonlight. He inhaled deeply, puffed up his chest and shouted across the street.
"WILL YOU MARRY ME?"
Tina laughed. She felt something touch her cheeks and thought that it was drizzling, but soon found out that it was her own tears. It has been a long, long time since she has cried tears of joy. Her heart was pounding, adrenaline was rushing through her body, she could feel her whole body warming up.
It seems like February 14th isn't such a bad date after all. At this moment, Tina could clearly see the significance of the phrase. It was truly the face of God she is seeing. The joy, the serenity, the peace. Tina has made a step closer to love, and a step farther away from the nightmare that haunts her. Love, a subject which was a curse, slowly turning into a blessing. Without doubt, Tina cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted back.
Tina ran across the street, pushing through the crowd and flung her body toward Brown. She squeezed him tightly and he kissed her on the forehead. Brown lifted Tina's finger and slipped the ring onto her finger. The amethyst ring was beautiful. The mild shade of lilac brightened up Tina's skin. A small crowd had already begun to gather around them, forming a semi-circle. Some were taking photographs with their phones and cameras; while some cheered on.
"Sorry, my car broke down on the way and I couldn't---"
Tina placed her finger at his mouth to shush him. No more words. She was just enjoying his presence.
Tina looked into Brown's eyes and smiled.
She just could not help it.
Deep down inside, Tina knew.
She knew that this was going to last for a long, long time.