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Real Gone

Sharlene Teo




It’s like a movie, she said.


There was that defining moment.


What defining moment?


When I realised how small I was, how small and boring. Just a talking head, spewing nonsense.


I looked at her. In a book, it would have said, “you regarded her oddly”. It’s true. I regarded her oddly.


Just a talking head.


It was the tenth day that we had been traveling together in city X and we were getting sick of each other. It wasn’t anybody’s fault, it was just that we were always walking around and being stubborn and getting lost and refusing to back down. In the first place, we’d chosen the wrong time of the year. In summer, it would have been glorious. In this sort of soggy not winter almost spring, it was a city gray and mean and shuttered.


Now it was daytime. We were in some shitty cafe, having sickly sweet coffees, waiting for the rain to pass. I liked to look at all of these foreign people leading their intractably alien lives in this intractably alien place, they were so used to it, maybe they visited it daily, this random cafe I would probably never visit again, would probably never have heard of. There was an impossibly blonde woman reading a newspaper, two women having a boring-looking conversation (like us, perhaps?), a man waiting for his cake, all of them minding their own business, all of them unintelligible. It made me think of all the small, unremarkable cafes all over the world I had never heard of, would never visit. At this moment in time maybe all over the world grumpy girls with shitty flat hair were stirring their sickly-sweet coffee and thinking in the exact same way, and listening to their friend talk about herself.


A couple of nights we went to dingy basement clubs and got painfully drunk. Not the fun-sort of drunk, the uncomfortable sort of inebriation where you knew full well that you were losing control of yourself, would invariably say something stupid or do something spectacularly embarrassing. In my case, I lost my wallet and I stumbled about and eventually found it deep in my pocket. And then I spent the rest of the night waiting around, trying not to look hurt or expectant or desperate or even like I was waiting but I was, because Men were always approaching her. Not the soft, seal-like, vaguely gooey boys we met at school, but Men who looked like they belonged in a low-budget Russian gangster movie. Men, who knew what they were talking about, who leaned toward her and did not clumsily appropriate subtext- they wrapped their words around its waist. In that sense, they were all knowing and formidable. There were about three or four of them who spoke to her on an average night. Most of them were from Spain or America or Greece.


What’s your name, these men would eventually get around to asking me, when they noticed that we were together. They would blink like alligators at mid-day.


I always said my name was Marsha. Even though it was commonly spelt Marcia, in my head I thought, Marsh-a, Marsh-a, I was mired in the miserable marshland of my unattractiveness. My unattractiveness versus her prettiness, the unfair disadvantage, it hung like wafer-thin gauze between us.


She never did anything with any of the Men; that was part of her charm. She just let them talk to her and whisper things and buy us some drinks. And then we always left. One night one of them tried to follow us back to the hostel, but it was okay in the end. That isn’t even a story worth telling.


And every morning when we got up, before I put on my face and I was an erased, androgynous mess, there she was across the room disheveled but infuriatingly beautiful. She always wanted to sleep a little more. A week and a half and it seemed like we had been smudged in this routine forever. We were meant to have seen so much and felt so much and been the best of friends- but I kept on getting subsumed by disappointment, fatigue, envy and the nit-pickiness borne from being so inescapably proximate.


Let’s travel somewhere, she’d said, five months ago.


I don’t know if I can afford it.


Of course you can. We’ll travel cheap. We’ll be like real back-packers.


It will be an adventure.


I’d been excited. I thought of the pair of us lit by X sunshine, all linen dresses and retro shades, beautiful and effervescent. Of course it wasn’t like that. It was getting lost and finding our maps illegible, folding and re-folding them until the creases spread over the coordinates and we couldn’t tell a transport museum from a monument.


It stopped raining and we had to get up from our chairs. The chairs scraped on the floor but nobody in the cafe looked up. We got our things and headed for the door. I looked down at my sneakers. They were dirty. They looked sad and lost: sad for city X, lost because I was no fun.


Where will we go now, she asked. I could sense that she was getting frustrated with me; I was acting too downbeat, too laconic. I was getting sour like a child cooped up in the back of a car. She was driving the car but she had no license.


Do you have a preference, she prompted?


I felt bad for her, or I didn’t. She was trying. She was just herself. I was just myself. The pavement was wet and her shoes looked dirty as well. It was odd, but at that moment, she felt much younger; a sudden, condescending thought. She was looking at me. So I said,


No, anywhere is fine.


Anywhere at all.


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  • c.b.boy says:

    This is the sort of writing that you can read, re-read, re-read again, and still not know what the hell it’s saying.