I tiptoed towards the door with my hands unconsciously raised in front of myself as a zombie would. The carpet padding muted my footsteps, but then again, it was really unnecessary as everyone in my household slept behind closed doors.
I opened the door, there was no creak, and soon I was no longer in the comfort of my own home, but enjoying the chilly winds and the eerie but serene quiet of midnight.
I headed to where we were supposed to meet. At first I didn’t see her, but as I approached the meeting point, there was a figure sitting beside the bush. She was not obvious at first because she sat in the shade cast on the bush by the streetlamp. She dressed like how a mugger would; surreptitious black hoodie, black pants, black shoes, and with her hoodie drawn. Then I looked down at what I was wearing and felt guilty for passing that judgement, for I was wearing exactly the same thing.
I sat down quietly by her side. She was smoking, something I didn’t do myself because I didn’t approve of it.
“Hey,” she acknowledged me.
I replied her with the same word. I could smell the stench of cigarettes on her breath and instinctively twisted my mouth. She noticed and mumbled an apology and cautiously exhaled away from me before continuing, “Nice to see you, Ern.”
“I wish we didn’t have to meet like this every time.”
It was something I felt ever since the first meeting but the initial excitement from the mischief of doing something past my bedtime had faded and was eventually not enough to overwhelm the annoyance I felt from always having to meet her under the cover of darkness and at the hours when most living creatures slept.
“What’s wrong with the way we meet?” she asked nonchalantly, as if nothing was wrong, while exhaling smoke into the frosty night air.
I did not have a plan of how to confront her about all the things that were wrong with the way we were meeting, so I decided to drop the subject and change the topic instead. I asked her why she was dressed like that.
“Do you have a problem with how I dress, Ern?” She emphasized the word problem. Her tone suggested that she was not particularly fond of my constructive criticism about her dressing. She also said it without making eye contact, which made me flinch.
I was about to apologize, but before I could, she beat me to it.
“I’m sorry, Ern.” She said as she turned to me. “I’m just feeling a bit cranky now that’s all.”
I laughed nervously and told her I totally understood, although I did not understand in the slightest bit. She finished her cigarette and I watched as she tossed it into the drain-hole that was set in the pavement. Littering was one of the reasons why I disapproved of smoking, but I kept my mouth shut.
“So, do you want to make out now or what?” She removed her hood, which revealed her beautiful mahogany brown curls, turning to face me once more.
The virgin within me perked up and began to scream at me, “WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?” But her cold demeanor had turned me off, and I was not particularly feeling in the mood to make out with her, especially with the stench of cigarettes fresh on her breath, along with all the worldly problems I was facing at that point in my life. I politely declined her, while the virgin within me began to hurl curse words at me that I did not even know myself.
I did not realize I was blankly staring at the ground with such intensity that could have bore a hole in the tar road until she jerked me by pulling my arm.
“Hey Ern, I may not have much practice at this, but I can tell that something’s bugging you. And I may not be the right person you want to share this with, but I think you should share it with someone. It’s not good to keep all those problems bottled up.”
When I made no move to reply, she continued, “Everyone has problems, Ern. And everyone deals with them differently. For me, I smoke, I steal, I get high. And I believe you don’t do any of those things, right?”
I shook my head, although she was not expecting a reply because she already continued talking.
“So, one way or another, you have to find some sort of stress relief. Those feelings you have inside you, those bottled-up problems, they’re going to eat away at you for every day that you don’t share them and don’t solve them. You’re going to be worrying about them day in and day out, then you can’t live your life to your fullest, with those burdens on your shoulder. Trust me, Ern, I know.”
I abandoned my mission to bore a hole in the tar road and looked up. There was truth in what she said, and she was also true at suspecting that she was not the one I wanted to confide in, so instead I mumbled a lame ‘thank you’ and gave her a weak smile.
“It’s chill. Always glad to help,” she chirped as she withdrew her pack from her jacket pocket. She held it out to me.
I gave her a face which made her laugh, piercing the tranquil silence of the night. I looked around in sudden panic, glancing down the road at my own home, looking for lights in the windows.
“Relax, Ern,” she said coolly, as she breathed out a cloud of smoke.
I calmed down and resumed my hole-boring mission while she smoked beside me. We were from such different worlds, I thought. She respected my choice to not smoke by not exhaling in my direction, but I could smell the nicotine fumes which drifted rebelliously beyond her control. It was a disgusting smell. At first. But as the minutes ticked past in silence, the fumes got to my head, and I began to feel a numbing calm.
How weak, I scolded myself. Getting numb on secondhand smoke. Seriously, Ern, get it together.
Just then, I heard sounds of gravel rubbing on gravel. I glanced up just in time to see a black box truck approach us, headlights turned off, despite the time of the night. I recognized this truck. It belonged to one of Lynn’s friends. It also signaled the end of our meeting, the end to this unlikely overlapping of two very different human beings from two very different worlds.
“Got to go, Ern.”
I waved my hand in farewell.
“Take care,” she said, blowing a kiss in my direction before entering the back seat and shutting the door behind her.
I watched the truck crunch gravel as it drove off until it melted into the inky darkness. Then I sat on the pavement for a bit longer, appreciating everything the midnight hour had to give, until there was no trace of nicotine fumes and until my butt hurt. Then I got up and trudged home, feeling like a vessel without a soul, as I returned to my own world.