Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Declaration

We were at The Cliff at the Beaufort Hotel in Sentosa. As luck would have it, we had secured a table at the outside fringes of the restaurant. Nobody could see us, or hear our uninhibited conversation pierce the night air. We laughed a lot, often without restraint. Mine a loud, explosive cackle. His a trajectory of infectious chortles and convulsions.

His company was kinetic. Through the course of dinner, chairs would rock, table settings would get disrupted and feet would touch under the table as we lost ourselves in thought, amusement and each other's company. Thankfully, where we were sitting, we didn't have to contend with disapproving glances from diners or hovering waitiers.

We had been friends for little over a year, but we had become close very quickly. I sought his advice frequently on my career, and he sought mine as a guide to Singapore's quirks, psyche, and daily contradictions. We did not meet for dinner very often and today we had a lot to catch up on - 26 years of living for me, 38 years for him.

He had been extremely affectionate tonight, calling me his 'soulmate' any number of times. And more than once, I found myself blinking back tears as I told him stories about my adolescence, my mistakes and how jaded I felt by life in Singapore. It was a strange kind of night.

"It's ok to cry," he said, reaching over the table to stroke my arm. "You have to let it out of your system once in a while."

"Easy for you to say. I'm not used to this. I can't believe you have this effect on me. I don't feel the need to 'emote' very often," I studiedly avoided his gaze, my hands folding and refolding the unresisting napkin on my lap.

"Why not?"

"Because there aren't that many people I find worth 'emoting' to, to be honest,"I paused, meeting his eyes briefly. A traitorous tear had escaped and wound its way to my chin. I brushed it away almost viciously.

Desperate to change the subject, I said: "Alright, enough with analysing me. Remember this dinner was supposed to be about you. What did you want to tell me today? I haven't forgotten."
"Nice counter-attack," he smiled ruefully. "Nah, let's not talk about me today. We're having such a good time and I don't want to spoil the night."

"Oh I really hate people who do that...just tell me! I promise, we won't let it spoil the night." Both captivated and curious, I pressed him to tell me - at turns, pleading and at turns, demanding. I wanted to know.

"Er...all right...well, ok before I start...can I hold your hand?" He reached over the table to hold my hand, before I could reply. I did not pull away.

He began to speak haltingly."So you know how I always tell you I love you very much. I'm so glad I met you and you've become one of my best friends in Singapore....But really, you would have been a dear friend no matter where I met you in the world...You've just got such a positive spirit and a rare talent, I've always said..."

"You're stalling..." I interrupted, somewhat threateningly.

He cleared his throat before continuing. "Well, you know I always said I loved you...which is true, but well, I guess I never told you that I'm in love with you." Before I can reply, he grips my hand and hurtles on.
"You see what I mean? I knew I'd fall in your estimation after this. Now you think I'm another one of those pathetic middle-aged expats salivating after you..."

At this point, I was only half-listening. It all clicked. The long pensive stares, the nervous fiddling with his wedding ring, the long walk in the Botanic Gardens, his visible discomfort with my 'father figure' jokes.

My mind still racing, I asked: "But why...and how...and when? Of course I'm flattered, but what does this all mean?"

"Well, nothing's going to change between us. I just wanted you to know. Think of it as a 'gift'. I don't want or expect any reciprocation. I don't think you've been loved enough, and this is my small way of trying to make up for that small inbalance...until someone else comes along I guess," I could feel his palm sweating into mine.

He attempted to lighten the mood. "Hey so now you'll always have someone to turn to, or to 'emote' to, and someone to laugh with and to have dinner with. You don't even have to make an appointment!" he said with mock-jollity.

I stared at him blankly, not joining in.

He continued hurriedly. "Really, I'm big and ugly enough to know that you don't feel the same way. I can live with that...well actually, I've been living with that. Of course, I'm not asking you to hurt me unnecessarily. I mean, just don't ask me to give you away at your wedding..." he broke off and half-coughed, half-laughed at the thought.

This was not what I had been expecting at all. I had numerous responses to lascivious advances and insincere flattery on auto-pilot, but nothing for this except for a thousand staccato heartbeats.

Nothing had changed, and everything had changed. This time, when the tears came, I let them flow.