An extract from ‘A Fig Adrift’ (1997)
Translated from the Burmese by Thett Su San
This is how I have been starting my days lately: close the door of my studio flat and stare at it all day. Outside the door are human feet going up and down the staircase. Feet in high-heeled slippers, feet in Thai-made wedge shoes — I don’t know if anyone gets agitated to see anyone’s feet but I feel giddy every time I see someone else’s feet. I blame myself for having rented this flat at the top of the staircase. Still, I pat myself on the back for deciding against the other room facing the street. It is more peaceful to see leaves and flowers than bicycles, faces, arms, and legs scurrying in the street. My flat has only one window, facing the backyard. Over the window hangs my favourite satin curtain. My curtain might not be as lacy as that in Andrew Wyeth’s paintings but it is seductive enough for a ne’er-do-well like me.
Counting the indistinct shadows of floral pattern on the curtain casts my mind back to his emotionless thin lips, and to a lovely scene from a Burmese film where frangipani flowers fall whirling in the wind. Listening to the sound of the curtain flapping in the wind, I recall my childhood experience: catching baby dragonflies and imprisoning them in a jar. I remember the music of a barn swallow singing under a Mezali tree. Suddenly the scent of a flower I used to know a few years ago comes back to me. Remote voices from ten years back fill up my mind. When I am not writing in my diary or to my family, or not reading, I like to sit on my bed and stare at the curtain dance in the wind. The window smeared in crude oil and the white curtain are the love of my life.
‘Love’ has been in my thoughts since I was a young girl. What is love? Defining love is like watching a shapeless shadow from afar. Filled with curiosity I had tried to define love in many different ways. But when I came to the same conclusion over and over again — ‘love is a kind of excitement in a silly way’ –– I gave up. They say I will find love one day. What they say is not very agreeable, but I find it quite interesting. Hmm … what is a lover? A company for a lonely woman? Somebody who would queue for me for movie tickets? Somebody who would walk me home at night? Somebody who would cheer me up when I have bloody exams? He would say “You did good, didn’t you? You will definitely pass this exam. Relax”. Someone who would get jealous when I talk to other men? “Hold on! Who the hell is that son of a bitch you were smiling at and talking to?” Should I love this kind of man just for his help and jealousy? Hmm … a lover should be able to warm my cold cheeks, light my lustreless lips up with a kiss. But thinking of a stranger as a lover is beyond the bounds of possibility.
In any love affair both parties have to be in love with each other. To love him is, simply put, not to feel funny, disgusted, or bitter when I look at his face. His stare alone would have to be enough to make me feel bashful and look away from him. His eyes so hypnotic it would make me feel uneasy to make eye contact with him. He should make my heart thump hard and his talks should mesmerise me. Oh, where could I find such a desirable man? They still say I will find someone someday. I sometimes try to picture the man of my dreams. Would he be as rakish as Rhett Butler, a quick-witted man who always wins with an ironic smile? Would he be a man like Qi, a weirdo with round-rimmed glasses, who is anti-social but smart in a quirky way? Would he be a poet in name only, one who is weak-willed and greets everyone with his head bowed? Whenever I see candles warped in sunlight, I feel so distressed and think to myself, “I would never choose a man like one of those candles.” Would he be a sharp-witted house surgeon who always enjoys playing dice and cards? Not my type. Any of them. Even after I turn twenty-four I have got no regret for having not chosen any of those types. I must admit that I often think about them when life gets extremely boring. I start with their names in alphabetical order. If it doesn’t work, I make a list of years and start with the one from my childhood or the one I remember most. Then some familiar faces float across my memory: two faces with glasses, or maybe three –– I am not sure, one of them was in the habit of putting on and taking off his glasses all the time –– an ordinary face, a less-attractive-than-ordinary face, a smiling face, an emotionless face, fleshy lips, thin lips (just having beautiful lips is not enough to win my love, though I am still addicted to those lips). Some of them have even proposed to me. One of them said, “We have one thing in common.” “Oh, no! We have nothing in common. Let me tell you one thing. I never bow to anyone. So I have more enemies than friends. And people like you always bow with respect. So you have more friends than enemies. Got it?” was my answer to him. One or two of them said they loved me out of pity. They said, “Don’t you feel tired of struggling alone, let’s face everything together.” With a surge of anger, I riposted, “Go away. Love doesn’t need help. I don’t need your love!”
This extract is taken from ‘Voices from the Outside: UEA MA Translation Anthology’. The full anthology can be purchased from Egg Box Publishing.