“Because I love him!” she wailed, clutching the pillow angrily to her chest. “You wouldn’t understand. You don’t even have a boyfriend. You don’t know what love is…”
Her words echoed painfully in my ears.
“You don’t know what love is…”
I was used to Jess taking her frustration out on me, but that was a low blow even for her. We had known each other since kindergarten and we were more like sisters than friends. But sitting there on my bed, declaring love for some stupid boy who didn’t deserve her, and sniping at me… it was just too much.
“You want to know about love?” I said bitterly, barely able to choke the words out. “Let me tell you what I know… Love’s not hearts and flowers and candy kisses. And it’s not the butterflies in your stomach when he calls your name. Love hurts. It’s an ache inside. It’s a nagging pain that won’t go away. But it’s a pain you cling to because it’s all you know, and you’re frightened to lose it.”
I swallowed hard.
“Love is being your friend because I NEED to be near you, despite knowing that out-of-reach is the closest you will ever be…”
There was a lump in my throat and my voice trailed off into a whisper.
Jess stared at me, pale, expressionless and silent.
The secret I had been too afraid to give voice to was finally out.
Superstar author and all-round literary genius David Mitchell (the guy who wrote Cloud Atlas, not the chubby British comedian whose wife plays poker for a living) has been persuaded by his PR company to open a Twitter account.
And to celebrate, he’s written a short story which is being published sentence-by-sentence, a few tweets at a time over the course of the next few weeks.
Mitchell freely admits that it’s a gimmick and that he won’t be taking up personal residence in the Twitterverse any time soon (the PR company is posting the tweets on his behalf), but it’s an interesting way to use social media to promote his up-coming book, The Bone Clocks, not least because you have to scroll down to the bottom of the feed to find the start of the story, then scroll UP the page to read the sentences one by one. On top of that, you only get a handful of new lines each day, so you need to remember to keep coming back for more.
Well, maybe not. It appears to be working because in the past few days he’s gone from a standing start to over 12,000 followers.
Not bad, I thought. Why not give it a try myself, I thought? Why not set up a Twitter account and put a short story on it? Or maybe a few short stories? A new one each day? I wonder how many followers I would get?
“Twelve thousand? Pfft! I’ll shave my head if you get half that…” chimes in my dad sarcastically over his newspaper.
Let me repeat that.
“I’LL SHAVE MY HEAD IF YOU GET 6,000 FOLLOWERS…”
Doubtless David Mitchell will have hundreds of thousands of followers by the end of the month and by the time his book comes out in September he will already have a another best-seller on his hands from the Amazon pre-orders alone.
But I just need 6,000 to stick it to the old man and take him down a peg or two… and with his big nose and wing-nut ears, a bald head would make him look like a freshly-hatched parrot.
Who’s with me?
You’ll find David Mitchell’s story here:
And you’ll find mine here:
UPDATE: I posted my short story just over an hour ago — it’s only 13 tweets long — and I’ve managed to get 100 followers so far. That’s a long way from 6,000 of course, but I’m in no hurry… I’ve got all summer.
“Aren’t they beautiful?” she whispered.
I hesitated. In the silvery moonlight, the breeze blowing gently through her hair, she was a black and white photograph. Surreal. And she was indeed beautiful.
“I love it up here on the roof. It’s so quiet. So peaceful. And it’s nice to have somewhere to escape.”
The sound of glass smashing on the kitchen tiles broke the silence.
“Oops, there goes the flower vase…” she smirked sarcastically, taking another swig from the bottle.
Her voice sounded hollow. Distant. As though she wasn’t really there.
The front door slammed as her father left, and her mother’s sobs rose up into the cool night air.
Maria winced as she drew the razor gently across her hip bone again, parallel to the previous cut, and several more shiny crimson beads rose up in a delicate line on her pale skin.
Steam rises into the cold night air as sweat-soaked bodies jostle in the darkness, writhing to the rhythm of a driving rock beat. The roar of the crowd. The heat of the night. The rumbling, pounding heartbeat of the earth, rising up through the soles of our bare feet.
We are one. Countless arms flung into the air in celebration of life itself. But we are one. A seething, euphoric mass, savage, wild and hungry. Ferocious. Tribal. Free.
Then calm. The gulal. A long, droning, guttural chant washing over us. A deep, low animal growl, painful, almost as if it was torn from the soul. Yet soothing. Gentle.
A ghostly cloud lingers in the starry sky, haunting and pale, casting a spell over the dazed crowd below. A whisper of anticipation. An intake of breath. A sigh…
BOOM! The silence is broken by a million hands showering the air with Technicolor rainbows. Vibrant powder fireworks flung high into the night sky. Faces, hair and clothes drenched in spectacular colours, and everywhere the brilliant, happy smiles of the ecstatic throng.
And as the cool night air melts into crimson dawn, the sun rises on a sea of colour-saturated strangers, united by the moment, bound by the experience.
For many, this will be their only Holi. But the memory will live on in every night sky and be rekindled by every dawn.
Neon lights can’t hide the soulless dark grey concrete of the buildings around me. Cars zoom past noisily and a cold wind whips through my hair. There are huge towering glass giants all around and the air beats with the rhythmic pulse of metallic wheels on metallic track as I make my way past the station.
The sun is setting now and I can already see my breath clouding up in front of my face. I pull my black coat around my body – the closest thing I have to a warm embrace – tighten my scarf around my neck and stride forward through the icy wind.
I see something in the distance – something out of place in the concrete jungle – and as I approach, I see a dusty red lantern hanging to the right of a little blue curtain above the door. The worn-out hut looks dwarfed and insignificant among to the colossal towers around it. Yet despite that, there is some sort of air about it that seems strangely appealing.
I reach the small wooden shack and slide the door open, leaving the flashy neon city behind me, to be greeted by a stiflingly hot, dark, musty room. The place is packed, although to be fair, there’s only enough room for seven people. Each one sits on a bar stool at the long wooden counter, head down, faceless, stooped over their meal. The only sound is a loud, energetic slurping – very much a group activity – as if the customers are racing each other to see who can finish first.
The man behind the counter calls out “Heiiiii,irasshai!” welcoming me to his humble home and I sit on a tattered stool – the only free space – and look at the menu on the wall. There are just three dishes to choose from, all of them noodles, and order the second one: the “combination”.
I pour myself a glass of water from the jug on my right which is dripping with condensation in the humid atmosphere, and I reach for some old chopsticks that could have been fashioned by the man himself. I turn back to the counter and find my lunch is already waiting in front of me. Seriously fast food!
It looks like my grandma’s knitting kit has been boiled and served in a washing up bowl.
I plunge my head into the bowl so my nose is merely inches away from the steaming liquid, the same as the rest of my fellow diners. The aroma is overpowering: pungent, meaty and salty, with vegetables and seaweed floating on top.
I lift a piece of meat to my mouth with the chopsticks and take a cautious bite. It burns my lips and I immediately understand why everyone is sucking in such a lot of air while they eat: they’re blowing it in reverse to cool it down. I wince and pull my head back in surprise to find the man behind the counter staring at me with his small beady eyes, studying me carefully.
In the darkness I hadn’t been able to make out his features properly before, but now that my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, I could see he was in fact a very small, wrinkled old man. He reminded me of a monkey in a way: his tanned, wrinkled skin, his beady eyes which shone in the half-light, and his carefree grin. He smiled at me, nodded wisely and mimed putting his head into a bowl of imaginary noodles, grabbing some with his make-believe chopsticks and then slurping them so as not to burn his mouth. He looks up from his imaginary meal, and grins broadly, pointing towards my bowl. I smile back and nod, plunging my face into the bowl again, embraced by the warmth and the comforting aroma of the dish.
I slurp and suck and gulp and swallow for about a minute before coming up for air and when I do, I find that my eyes are watering and my nose is running. I blink away the tears and sniff hard so I don’t have to take my head away from the steaming hot dish, and I go down again for a second helping. The old man next to me is chuckling to himself with the noise I’m making, clearly an amateur, but enjoying every mouthful: slurp, sniff, swallow, blink, slurp, sniff, swallow blink.
As I reach the end of the noodles, I tip my head back, lift up the bowl in both hands and drain the soup. Every last drop. There are no spoons here.
With a satisfied smile, I place the empty bowl back down on the counter and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand, sweating, nose running and eyes watering. The old man is still staring at me, grinning broadly, and he stretches out a leathery hand on the end of a skinny arm with his palm facing the ceiling.
I place a 500 yen coin in his open hand and as his gnarled fingers close on it, he pats me on the back with his other hand.
I stand up from the counter, fit to burst and make my way towards the door. Before I leave I turn to thank the old man, but someone else is already sitting in my seat and he is preoccupied with the new customer.
I slide the door open once again and step out into the cold, dark, busy street, leaving the warm, magical world of the ramen shop behind me.
I was in the station last night.
It was cold and that large clock on the wall pirouetted on its axis, dancing the time away. Dead leaves skittered across the floor and I was alone. Not lonely. Just alone.
I lay on the station floor, drinking cheap wine, gazing at the night sky through the holes in the roof. Mateus. Do you remember it? We used to drink it when we were young and had no money – it was cheap but somehow it made us feel rich.
I remember dancing there together when we were drunk. You were fuzzy and I was happy. And our feet whispered over the tiles, floating on the warm buzz of Ella Fitzgerald’s voice. The thrill of those nights, Michael… every moment was electric.
And as I looked up at the stars, I remember you once told me the sky was full of exploding suns. Eternity never looked so inviting.
I remember the first time you told me you loved me. The breeze of the summer night stroked your hair lazily and the star-jasmine glowed in the moonlight. I remember I could see the words dancing on your lips like tiny flames, and the sea of city lights blazed in the distance.
“I love you…”
The sound of your voice felt like sparks on my skin and made me shiver with delight.
I remember every scene and I cherish every moment we spent together, but without you nothing seems real any longer. The game’s just not fun any more. There’s nothing here for me now.
Sometimes, on warm summer nights like these, I think I see you in the shadows, waiting. Dance with me one more time, Michael. And then take me home.
Babel stared at the computer screen with her large brown eyes, wondering how to phrase the email. It was raining outside, which had unfortunately brought Melancholy knocking on the door with a tub of ice cream and a crappy romantic comedy. And naturally, she had invited him in with open arms.
That meant Logic went out of the window and fell face-first onto the cold, street floor below. But he was used to that kind of treatment so he picked himself up, dusted himself off, and made his way into the bar on the corner. He wondered if Juliette was on her shift tonight. At first he felt fairly confident she would be because he knew that she was always in on Fridays. But after an hour at the bar, he began to doubt himself. The unfortunate thing about Logic was that he had broken up with Self-Confidence a while back, and now they couldn’t even be in the same room together.
Whatever happened though, Logic knew that in the morning he would turn up on the doorstep of Babel’s apartment, still slightly drunk from the night before, and he would have the pleasure of going over all the stupid things she had done while he had been away.
Sadly, in the absence of Logic and Clear Thinking (who had gone bowling when Babel had started gorging on the ice-cream), she was regretting that she had recently split up with her idiot ex-boyfriend, for reasons which now seemed quite childish. The main reason was that the grey, rainy evenings reminded her of the times they had spent together. But the irony was lost on her, that “dull and miserable” were the two words she most associated with her “happy” relationship, so she just sat there, attempting to compose a heart-warming message which would send him scurrying back into her arms.
What to say though?
“Hey it’s raining, and for some reason I started thinking about you and about when we were together. I know this is completely out of the blue, but… do you think we could put the past behind us and work something out?”
At least, that’s what she wanted to write. But Babel’s stubborn nature wouldn’t let her. True, she craved his presence. And true, the rain reminded her of him. And she really did want things back the way they were. But she just couldn’t shake the gnawing feeling of resentment she felt towards him. He had been a real ass. And even if she forgave him, he would still be an ass.
After much internal wrangling, Babel punched out a single sentence and hit send.
“It’s raining and I hate you.”