Memory is a beautiful thing. A lot of things can happen in a year, and you could as easily forget about all of them. Those little moments on a day you really, really love, though… now, those are the ones you don’t readily forget.
Take for instance, this girl I’ll be telling you about. I met her one Thursday afternoon when I decided to spend my time on the rooftop instead of on the track. I would have loved to join the sports team, but my P.E. teacher wouldn’t allow me because of my asthma.
Nearly short of breath, I just sort of walked in on her when I opened the door to the muted five-thirty sunset. Her back was turned on me, and her long black hair was flowing freely in the wind.
I wasn’t really planning on talking to anyone, so I just walked to a corner opposite hers with my head down. My buttocks felt the mild warmth of the sun as I sat down on hard stone; the rooftop’s just cooled enough to be bearable.
She must have sensed my presence because as I was opening the book I was planning to read, she called me.
“Hi,” I smiled. Her eyes seemed to smile back, but if she was happy for the company, her lips were not giving a hint.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Mark,” I replied. “What’s yours? Also, I’m sorry if I’m interrupting anything.”
“No, not really. I’m just not used to people being up here. I’m Ella.”
“What do you mean? I come up here all the time. I should be the one surprised,” I said.
She finally gave me a smile. “Okay, you got me. I have only started wasting time here since earlier this week.”
I nodded. “Well… okay,” I said, not really knowing what to say next. I started to turn my attention on the book I brought with me.
“I was checking out the perimeter,” she told me.
“Okay,” I replied, not taking my eyes away from reading. “I’m sure you found it nice.”
“It is, indeed,” she said. “So, what are you doing here?” she said as she walked to wards me.
“Would just read. I don’t have P. E.,” I said.
She sat a few inches in front of me.
“What’s it called? What are you reading?”
”‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’” I said.
She chuckled. “You haven’t read it yet?”
“I like that story because it’s not about Charlie, and it’s not even about the Chocolate Factory,” she replied.
“Yep. It has always been about Willy Wonka, right? It’s like a coming-of-age story for people who did not have a chance to come-of-age.”
“Yeah, I guess…” and I do not appreciate your spoiling the story, I thought to myself. I closed the book, knowing that I’m not going to get any reading here today. “What are you doing here, again?” I asked.
“I’m checking the perimeter,” she said.
“That’s a weird word to use. Perimeter for what?”
“To practice my ballet moves.”
Come to think of it, she was not wearing the school uniform. She wore tights and I noticed that she was barefoot. “Oh, I see. And your shoes…?”
She pointed to a corner near the door to the stairs.
“So, you practice ballet here?” I asked, genuinely interested.
“Yeah, I try to.”
“Nope, sorry!” And with that she turned her back on me, walked towards her shoes, put them on, and proceeded to go down the stairs, closing the door behind her.
I had no idea what to do after that, and I sure as hell wasn’t in the mood for reading, now. I stood up and rushed after her, hoping to catch her again. “Hey!” I shouted as I ran through the stairs. “Ella?”
Down, down, down… after working my way through five flights of stairs, there she was, waiting for me on the ground floor. “What?” she asked.
“I, uh… nothing,” I said. “That was weird, you just leaving like that.”
“Sorry,” she said. “I hope I wasn’t a bother. I knew you were trying to read,” she said as she walked away.
“No, no, it’s okay… Hey, are you free this afternoon? I was thinking we could get some ice cream,” I said.
She smiled. “Well, this is a surprise.”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing,” she said. “Yeah, I guess some after-school ice cream wouldn’t hurt.”
”…and so there I was, scared as hell for my life while this mammoth of a snake had its way with my legs,” I said, telling her about the time when my friend showed off his pet snake. “I could feel myself shaking the whole time.”
Her chuckle was light, but it was not because she was trying to subdue it. I could tell that it was genuine mirth, and it’s not just about the ice cream, too. Never have I felt more confident around someone, like I could share the most ridiculous experiences I could think of and she would just laugh it off with me.
We sat in front of each other at a 7-Eleven, a white square table being the only thing that separated us.
“So… why did you decide to practice on the rooftop?” I asked.
She gave me a smile. “It’s for my last performance. I wanted to focus on it as hard as I possibly can.”
“Yeah, I had been taking ballet classes since I was a kid, but I figured it really wasn’t for me,” she said. “After this, I’ll quit.”
“Whoa, now… don’t give up that easily. If you took it since you were little, I’m sure it’s something you really love?”
She scoffed. “Yeah, sure, it’s something my mother really loved.”
I understood. “Hmm. Well. At least you got some ice cream for it?”
I sensed a sudden sadness, and a split-second later I saw it on her face. “I really, really hate ballet, you know. But I did not want to break my mother’s heart. This is her dream for me.”
I wasn’t really sure what to say. “You know what? You could just tell her. How bad can it be, right? I’m sure she’ll understand.”
Never mind their being mother-daughter, it’s just not right to force a person to do unnecessary things, especially if the person doesn’t really want to do it.
“I’ll get through it. As I said, it’s going to be for my last performance,” she replied. “Enough about me, though. What about you? Any hobbies other than stalking girls on rooftops?”
“Hey!” I said with a laugh. “You’re the one who invaded my space today! Right,” I added, “besides reading books, I love going to churches.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Hmm? Why?”
“Oh, uhm… yeah, our family is religious, but me, not so much. They took me enough times as a kid to get me fascinated about the way they’re built, though,” I said.
“I hope you weren’t offended; I was just surprised,” she said.
“Yeah, I get it. That’s why I only tell my closest friends about this.”
“Got it.” She leaned forward and added, “So, I’m one of your closest friends now.”
I met her eyes as I said, “That would be nice, yeah.”
“I’d love for you to take me to church one day,” she replied.
We talked about everything, as I was not planning on ruining an impromptu date by running out of things to say. I had expected that she would be silent for most of the time but no, she was never shy. It seemed like she’s used to dates, or talking to guys for that matter. She considered me an equal, not a potential suitor who asked her for ice cream because I thought she was cute.
She was very… mature, and she treated me like an adult. I loved that for once, I could hold a sensible conversation with another human being for so long.
I wasn’t really surprised that we did not end up being weird, or awkward. When we were finished, she stood up, grabbed her bag, and said “I really should go. Thanks for the ice cream!”
“It was really nice. Hope we could do it again sometime,” I said as I stood.
“Yeah, sure. Let’s exchange numbers?” she said. And why the hell not. I fished out my phone as we walked through the door.
I would have insisted on walking her to wherever she would catch a bus or jeep on, but I thought that that would be too much for a first date. Besides, it turns out that our homes were on separate ways.
But you know what? If I knew that I was never going to see her again after that day, I would have insisted.
I dreamt about her that night.
We snuck into the school very, very late, almost midnight. Just the two of us, trying to get to the rooftop. Our rooftop.
After what seemed to be like five infinite flights of stairs we found ourselves out there with the open sky; mild sweat glistening in the moon, catching our breaths, but smiling. She looked at me and said, “I’ve always loved it here.”
She took a few steps away from me. “Watch,” she said.
She raised her right hand as she arched her back, and how perfect her form was at that moment. She twirled once, twice, thrice and she drew closer and closer and closer to me until she was just a few inches away. And then she pushed me hard, my back against the door as it closed with a bang. She wrapped her arms tightly around my body… she was so close. Too close. I can feel her breasts pushing against my chest. I can feel her heart beating. I can feel the warmth of her breath on my neck. Her eyes gazed at me, as if those deep rings of abyss were trying to drown all of me.
And then she kissed me.
Her lips were soft, and so sweet… perhaps because of her lipstick. It was the most marvellous thing. I felt my body heat up as she let her tongue glide along mine. My mind was nursing a hundred-thousand explosions, my mouth but a slave to the movements of her very flesh. My eyes were closed and everything should be black but instead I saw splotches of color playing along the nothingness of my vision. I let my hand glide from her shoulders and cupped her breasts. Our lips parted for a moment as she gave a light moan.
Her left leg stepped back as she kissed me again, not letting go of me, urging me to follow. Another step back, her right this time, and I realized she was leading me into the most erotic dance I will ever experience in my entire life.
We spun. My tongue ran on her neck and she was wet and I was so lost in ecstasy that I did not realize we were nearing the edge of the roof top. I only opened my eyes because for the first time in this whole crazy thing she let my body go and pushed, and there I saw her, standing on the edge of the rooftop.
Smiling, like I just gave her the happiest night of her life.
“Thanks, Mark. It was beautiful.” She said. And then she jumped.
I was too shocked to move.
Everything went black.
The next day, I tried to go through my routine as usual, thinking nothing of the weird dream I had (although I woke up crying, scared as hell). Of course, I was looking forward to seeing her again but, as I told you earlier, that would never happen.
It turns out that she was not kidding when she said it was her last performance. She called me that afternoon, saying that she is scheduled to perform at an event at some mall, and after that, she’s not planning to go back to school. She explained that her aunt from overseas offered to take her for a year, and she saw it as a chance to get away from her mother, and ballet, for a while.
“It’s a now-or-never thing, Mark. Sorry, I really should’ve told you, but that would ruin what we had yesterday,” she explained.
“I understand,” I said. It made my heart heavy. It hurt. My ears rang.
“We could still call each other,” she said.
“Yeah. Hey, listen… I got to go to class soon,” I said. I just wanted to end it before she hears the slightest hint of a sob.
“Okay, bye. Call me later?”
“Sure.” I hung up.
We spent the next few months just talking to each other over the phone, trying to make… something, anything, work. Eventually the calls started to drop in frequency: from daily, to twice a week, to once a month… to never.
Six years later, she met her husband at an art fair she attended. It turned out that her passion were for paintings, and she met him at a time when she was just starting to discover that passion. They got married a couple years after that.
I sat at my rooftop with my laptop in hand, browsing through her Facebook posts. She has two kids now, a boy named Mark and a girl named Jayne. I couldn’t do anything now but be happy for her as I browsed through the pictures of their yearly family vacations. They planned to visit famous churches around the world every year. They went to St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, saw the Westminster Abbey in London; this year they’re planning to see the Notre Dame in Paris.
Bittersweet, isn’t it? See, memory is a beautiful thing. It stays in your head, it lives, it takes up space, but you can’t really do anything about it other than… to remember.
I wonder if she still remembers me from time to time.
I wonder if she still remembers the boy who ended up chasing her off of a rooftop.