I did it again. I fell in love with a stranger. I first spotted him at around midday, outside the mosque. I was sitting on the steps surveying my surroundings, whilst my companions decided which attraction to visit next. There he was, standing about twenty yards to the left, alone against the high sun. He caught my eye immediately, a shadow in all black. Long, sun-kissed blonde hair tied back in a scruffy ponytail – I usually prefer brunettes – but aside from that, he fit me like a glove. A plain black t-shirt outlined his toned, youthful frame in just the right places, hinting at the muscles that lay modestly beneath. Taut, tanned skin over strong lean arms. He wore black jeans despite the 35 degree Malaysian heat, suggesting he was a seasoned traveller. He was a world explorer. Tattered Vans, the finishing touch to his devil may care trap. The skater boy, the surfer dude, the aloof and elusive, the trap I fall into, headfirst, every time. I sat and watched him take endless pictures with Chinese tourists, a constant smile on his face. He was good natured.
“We’re going to the museum!”
That was that, a beautiful boy passing in and out of my consciousness. A rare solar event, spectacular to witness but never to be glimpsed again in this lifetime.
Eight hours later, after dinner, the Moon passed over the Sun again . We were strolling down Jalan Alor, and there he was – a jewel amongst the chaotic amalgamation of sounds, lights, and smells that made the heart of Kuala Lumpur. He was sitting outside a restaurant, alone again, one metre away from me. He was close enough that I could make out his features properly. A young face, no facial hair, twenty-one maximum. Steel blue eyes, exuding the quiet confidence often owned by young men. He had masculine enough features to offset the ponytail, yet was not exactly rugged. He had a softness about him, maybe it was the smile. He heard my accent, or simply my English as I spoke to my companions and looked up at me. His steel met my obsidian for just a split second before we both pulled away. That instant was long enough. Suddenly we existed to each other. I was no longer the lone voyeur, observing through the glass. Our universes had collided, opening innumerable possibilities and decisions. As I walked on down the street I looked back several times, and caught those blue eyes, again and again. Each time the gap had widened between us. I watched him pay for his dinner, and saw the laughter light up his face in response to a joke – too far to away to hear either. My heart began to flutter, softly, expectantly. Would he come this way? I glanced again – still waiting for his change, almost out of my range. Then, I had walked too far and his sun bleached halo was out of view. I threw tentative glances back up the street, too distracted to understand the words of my friends.
“No, I’ve never tried mochi.”
How much time had passed? Two minutes? Five minutes? If he’d walked this way he’d be here by now. My entire body stood to attention, on high alert. My vision attuned to search for a single target. My skin prickled and I could feel the blood surging through their vessels. Desperate, I used my last option: stage a reason to return. Although my reason was genuine, I had wanted hand made ice cream from the stall which was conveniently near his last known location. But when I arrived, he was no where. He had disappeared like an apparition. Gone. And with him went the flutter in my heart and the acuteness of my senses. The hunt was over. The game was up. We moved on, and I forgot again. Within a matter of minutes he had been propelled from a forgotten blip, to the star of the show, only to fade back into obscurity again. Later in bed I smiled at the beauty that coincidence can bring and the absurdity of it all.
The next morning was laborious. I woke with the whispers of a hangover echoing through my skull. After a slow start we were finally sat on a busy MRT carriage, on the way to visit the Batu Caves. Whilst talking to my friend my mind suddenly drifted again to the stranger in black. As if in direct response to my musings – there he sat! He was at the end of the next carriage, drawing in a sketch book. He was an artist. I drew in a sharp breath of surprise and turned away. How could he be here again? What were the chances? I wasn’t a believer in fate or destiny. I knew that the odds existed, though they seemed small. I knew about apophenia and the gambler’s fallacy. Yet, I couldn’t help but get sucked into the meaning of it all. He became, once again, a figure of importance in my life.
I stalked him through the slow moving throng of tourists as we queued to exit the station. He had stopped for a drink outside and I passed him woefully unnoticed. As we made our way up the 300 steps in the stifling heat and sweat started to dew on my forehead, I knew that the exertion was only partly responsible for my elevated heart rate. I tried to focus on the view, but it was futile. My attention was always drawn to scanning the figures below me, searching; searching for the one coruscating bullseye amongst the hundreds of little ants. Eventually I had no choice but to descend into the cave, and endure the angst of not knowing if I’d see him again.
My patience was rewarded when we stepped out into the sun again. Once liberated from the darkness, my eagle eyes finally fell on their prey. He sat in the next platform, exactly where we had planned to go. He was calmly observing the baby monkeys, unflinchingly allowing them to come nearer to him than anyone else dared. He was brave. My path took me straight to those monkeys – straight to him. I felt the imperceptible shift in his manner as I approached, subconscious acknowledgement that he felt me too. My mind raced with a million possibilities, a million hellos, a million strategies. We watched each other without ever looking directly at the other, yet scrutinising every minute detail. I drew closer and closer until, at last, we were close enough to reach out and touch each other. The air between us was a morass of expectation. This was it. Finally, I could bear it no more and yielded, gazing directly into those eyes. He stared back into mine with a look of understanding, but we both fell short of the courage to speak. I return his humble coy smile before continuing up to the next step and out of reach once more. Up and away I moved with the acrid taste of regret lingering upon me. When I finally dared to look back, he was walking down the steps, soon to be consumed by the gaping mouth of the cave. Our paths had diverged for the last time.
In an alternate reality we spoke. In an alternate reality we spoke and fell madly in love. In an alternate reality we spoke and detested each other. In an alternate reality we spoke and became acquaintances, best friends, colleagues, muses, heroes, villains, a passionate fling, a casual conversation, a story to tell. But in this reality, we passed with nothing but that smile. In this reality the story was over. In a way, it was better like this. We were nothing but ideas to each other, idealised, never showing blemishes or wrinkles, never causing pain. A love story that can never be tarnished. We would remain, forevermore, perfect strangers.