Unattended Romance

Aster Yan Cheng

-- Romance is a game of at least two players? Says who?


“Does it taste that good? The lotus root.” Another topic. 

“It was spicy, but I finished it all. I was panting and sweating, but I couldn’t stop. It was too good.”

Giggles. “Then I will have to send you some.”

“That will be too much trouble.”

The only light was a short desk lamp of muted yellow glow. Who turned it on and when? There must be uncountable stars in the sky against the window. But he couldn’t see. Perhaps it’s because the city of Utrecht has it every day and night.

“That beer, oh, I shouldn’t have got it down so fast.”

He pursed a smirk. “You went down with it?”

“No!” A protest. “It was really just slight dizziness.” This is the first experience of a world going unstable inside you and you just let it be. “But it was the first time I felt alcohol working. The lips, the heartbeats, the footsteps all feel floaty.”

“Uh-huh.” “Really.”

What a manual reply.

“There is a thing I want to tell you.”

Here it came. “Wait.” He needed the wait. His lowered unseeable eyes also said so. “I think I know what you want to tell me.”

“Really.” This one was out of surprise. “You say it first.”

There was a risk of getting it wrong. But his insistence was as desperate as this obvious message he was sending, so the risk was low. In fact, his nervous gearing-up for what might happen after he sent this message blinded him to that message he could receive, so the risk was none. That message would be unattended.

Have you been to the city of Omelas? Do you know Omelas? Maybe you haven’t even heard of Omelas. It doesn’t spread well on social media, constantly overshadowed by something viral – intellectual pain, interesting evil, or something actually viral such as a novel coronavirus bookmarking a brand-new decade.

But if you care to know about it, here is a thumbnail of the city. Omelas is a utopia where millions are kept permanently happy on one simple condition that a child of six or ten years old in a locked-up filthy basement under one of the beautiful public buildings should lead a short or long life of lonely torment which transforms it into a deformed imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect.

He certainly hasn’t been to Omelas. Even if he had been there or even heard of the child, he probably hasn’t seen the child. Or even if he had seen it, he will be frightened into an instinctual escape from this naked disgust and terrible paradox too soon to have a moment to look at him, and then gather the courage to make his way round the rules and talk sensibly to it.

Even so, once an adolescent girl, or maybe it was a boy, went to see the child and spoke to it. They talked for a long time, unnoticed. The girl got to know its mood, its opinions about the weather, its daily routine before she asked about how it ended up here.

“Millions in this city who know of me, some of whom visit and soon run away from me, actually don’t know one unarguable truth. And they will never know.”

That is how an imbecile speaks.

“What is it?”

“That I love them.” 

“You love them?”

“I love them.” “It explains why I am here, and why they can be happy.”

There was a long silence, long enough for us to question how they could still be having this conversation.

“But now I know." "How can you say, ‘they will never know’?”

“Because you will never believe it.”

Yes, millions of Omelas never know they are loved, so does he.

“Ok, I’ll say it.” Get ready but preserve the euphemism. Take a deep breath. “It’s related to Kevin.”

“Uh-huh.” Shy consent.

“You should have told me about him before you let him tour-guide us.” The complaint could be let out now.

Silent agreement.

“Well...first I’ve got to say, ‘don’t come back’!” Long laughter burst out for awkwardness relief. “Hahaha.”

“You know China doesn’t say yes to this kind of thing. Just work your ass off, and, and find a way to stay here.”

“Uh-huh.” He was finally liberated, finally. “When did you realise it?” His voice became lively.

“I am not blind.” Is our blindness to love a choice or a default? “I could tell when you two were acting so close.”

Shall we introduce him to Omelas, or more specifically, the conservation between the teenage girl and the child at the basement of Omelas? Maybe until then he still “never knows”.

Winner of the Second Prize in the Postgraduate Category of the 15th English Short Story Writing Competition

Aster Yan Cheng

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