He remembers all too clearly what happened six months ago on the other side of the world as he stands among strangers under a statue of St Michel, waiting for an old dear friend to emerge from the Metro.
“Don’t bite your nails.”
“You’re starting to sound like my mother,” she replied to him sarcastically as both of them sat by the table, feeling a little bit nervous by each other’s presence. This was six months ago.
“Okay, but you should listen to your mother,” he said.
She gave a curt but a cute “pfft”. Her reply made him smile, but he regretted saying what he said almost immediately. He didn’t want to annoy her unnecessarily, although such teasing was exactly the thing that brought them together in the first place. Life is so full of paradoxes.
“Why do you like to bite your fingernails, anyway?” He was genuinely curious.
“Well, that’s how I clip my nails.”
He wasn’t quite sure if she was either joking or being serious. The cultural gap between them was wide enough that one makes an assumption on one’s own peril. But he risked it anyway. He wanted to hear her voice. He wanted to see the expression on her face.
“Really? You expect me to believe that?” he incredulously asked.
She smiled, perhaps realizing the outrageousness of her statement. But it was true. She bit her nails to keep them tidy. Almost.
“I don’t believe it. Give me your hands.” He grabbed both of her hands and inspected her fingernails, which were surprisingly neat.
“Wow” was all he could muster.
“I told you so,” she said almost mockingly as her smile became wider. She loved being right.
He didn’t quite think much of it at first. He had innocently taken her hands, but it soon struck him that they were holding hands for the first time. And in this cold weather, her hands were soothingly warm. They felt so comfortably soft. Holding them felt like a sinful sensual pleasure.
He felt guilty. He liked her but he also respected her. He didn’t want to turn her into a sensual object, a being that existed just to present this private moment to him.
Most importantly, he didn’t know how she felt towards him despite having gone out with her and having simple fun together several times already. Movies, dinners, kayaking, theatres, funfairs. He knew he liked her, but a relationship such as this must always be mutual. He was still unsure, but he couldn’t ask her. One cannot be too explicit with these things.
He didn’t want to be presumptuous about whatever happening between them. It could be that they enjoyed each other’s company as friends and nothing more. If that was the case, then he didn’t want to ruin it. He could live with being close friends, but he couldn’t imagine losing her completely.
He decided to loosen his grip, even if reluctantly. The conflicting emotions were tearing him apart. No longer smiling, she must have realized whatever he felt. His hands were slipping away slowly but surely.
But she wouldn’t let that happen. She quickly took his hands and held them tightly. And she smiled at him, hoping to assure him of something.
He sighs forlornly in the cold Paris, ruing how time has changed. He wants to meet her for one more time, but something tells him that that isn’t the best of all ideas. Another friend of his was convinced that it is the worst of all ideas.
“It’s the end. You’ll suffer more if you meet her again,” the friend said.
“I know, but I just want to see her again for one last time,” he stubbornly replied. “I need to see her again, just for one more time.”
“You’re a sucker for pain, you know that. You going there will only hurt both of you. You need to move on and get over her.”
Whatever it is, it is too late to back out now. There she is, walking straight towards him, smiling and looking beautiful, as she has always been.
He smiles back, partly relieved to see her again, partly devastated that he won’t be able to hold her hands again.
“Hi…” she says rather nervously, wearing a smile to hide, perhaps, the past. “How have you been?”
In his mind, he wants to say I miss you so much. He doesn’t. Instead: “I’m feeling great, and I’m excited to be here for the first time.”
A necessary lie, perhaps.