drinking coffee in bed - the balcony

THE BALCONY

The poor guy and the rich girl had one thing in common: their mutual hatred of each other. This was unfortunate because of two major reasons:

One: they believed themselves to be generally good people. But running into each other brought out each other’s worst characteristics, characteristics they found difficult to disguise. And they often ran into each other often because:

Two: they were best friends with the same people, and thus had to see each other frequently.

Since the poor guy and the rich girl were both naturally polite, they never really told anyone about their hatred for each other. In fact, they rarely admitted to themselves that they hated each other. Like most hatreds, they kept it bottled up in their hearts.

The poor guy was a social person who enjoyed the beach, the sun and participating in long phone calls that led to nowhere. The rich girl spent a lot of time looking down on her phone and liked to ask difficult questions about life. She read a lot of books and, during conversations, enjoyed namedropping philosophers no one had ever heard about. The last time the poor guy read a book was three years ago, and it wasn’t even a book. It was a blog post that summarised a book.

One evening, during a group dinner, the poor guy said a hilarious joke about someone from work. Everyone laughed except for the rich girl, who, believing it would’ve been dishonest to even smile at what he said, sort of looked downwards, scowled and took a sip of her coffee. The poor guy noticed this and asked her, “Don’t you think it’s funny?”

“Not really,” she said, and everyone laughed.

The poor guy was taken aback. He’d waited a whole week to tell his friends this joke. Feeling his face become warm, he muttered, “It’s funny,” and left it at that. When he arrived home he couldn’t sleep. He was poisoned with all sorts of thoughts about the rich girl: about how she was terribly cold for someone who wasn’t even good looking, how she must have looked down on him because she had rich parents and he didn’t, how she shouldn’t have even been in their group. As if suddenly possessed, he rushed to his phone, went to her Instagram page and liked all of her latest posts and commented things like, Looks like you had a great time, and, So jealous, that looks soooo good on each one.

The rich girl received none of these notifications because her phone notifications were turned off.

She was in bed with her MacBook on her lap, and she was chatting online to a friend who was studying literature in Prague. She casually brought up the poor guy in their conversation and how although he was a probably a good person, she couldn’t understand why her friends kept inviting him out. He was so different from them.

“Have you ever heard of the hedgehog’s dilemma?” The friend asked her.

“Maybe,” she replied. “Can you remind me?”

“It’s about how hedgehogs want to huddle each other in the winter, but they can’t because they don’t want their spikes to hurt each other. Same with humans. Because of our hurts, our fear of rejection or whatever else we have going for us, we can never truly love and be loved in the way that we want to. So in the end we keep our distance from each other.”

Not knowing what to do with this information, the rich girl changed the subject.

There were several occasions where the poor guy and rich girl were left alone with each other (when their friends would go to the bathroom, or when they’d wait in line for something, or when there would just be two of them in the back of a car, for example) but whenever these rare moments would happen, they’d merely stay silent and stare into their phones. Although they always felt obliged to invite each other to their birthday gatherings, they still expressed their secret hatred of each other in the subtlest of ways: they’d buy each other presents that appeared thoughtful, but had hidden malice. For example, once, for her birthday, the poor guy bought the rich girl fashionable pants that were one size too large for her; once, for his birthday, the rich girl bought the poor guy a restaurant voucher to the hottest new vegan restaurant in town (he hated vegetables).

One day the poor guy decided to put an end to the tension between the two of them by inviting the rich girl out for a walk. He decided a walk would be a perfect way for them to melt away their mutual hatred. Firstly, a good walk tended to loosen anyone’s tension, and secondly, if things became too unbearable, he could merely run away from her. “Going for a walk” irritated the rich girl—she would’ve much rather have had coffee, but she went along with it anyway and met the poor guy.

The walk was horrible at first. The poor guy thrived on engaging, lively conversations. He loved how conversations blossomed to life by the way each person in the conversation competed for their turn to tell their stories: he was always used to excitedly telling a story, and then the other person telling their own story, and so on and so forth. But the rich girl was different. She didn’t care about people’s stories. Whenever the poor guy would share a story, she’d respond with, “Oh?” and leave it at that, and whenever the poor guy would ask her a question, she’d drop one-worded responses, such as, “Four,” or, “No,” and, “I don’t know.” How could she be such a bitch? The conversation wasn’t working. He was about to run away when the rich girl pointed to something in the distance.

“See that bird?” she said excitedly.

“Yeah.”

“I painted a bird like that the other day.”

“You paint?”

“I try to.”

“Since when?”

“I don’t really tell people about my paintings.”

Finally, an opening! the poor guy thought. Through asking her about painting he managed to ask her more about her life, and for the first time he noticed her when she smiled. She had dimples, and her ears were small. Soon, she was excitedly telling stories about her life: about her brother, about her mother, about her best friends, about all these philosophers like Socrates and Plato and others whose names he couldn’t pronounce.

“Want to go for a drink?” he asked her.

“Sure,” she said.

They went to a bar and drank, and drank, and drank.

“Have, have you ever heard about the hedgehog’s dilemma?” The poor guy asked her with a drunken slur.

The rich girl’s eyes lit up, but she kept quiet. “Maybe. Can you remind me?”

“It’s about, like, hedgehogs. You know how hedgehogs have spikes? Well, their dilemma is that when it’s winter, they want to huddle against each other to keep each other warm, but they can’t, because their spikes are in the way.” The poor guy looked at his hands, keeping them apart, as if he was acting in some kind of play. “And like with people—”

“They can’t be with each other, because they have their own spikes?”

“Exactly.”

They ended up in the poor guy’s apartment. The rich girl walked to his bathroom, had a shower, looked at herself in the mirror. She was drunk and so was he. She had a feeling the night would end up like this, so she shaved her vagina the night before. She stumbled out of his bathroom naked and kissed him. He took his clothes off and they looked at each other’s bodies. Here before the rich girl was a man she’d secretly hated for several years of her life. The poor guy looked at the rich girl’s vagina. It was the cleanest, greatest vagina he’d seen in his life.

The next morning, the rich girl opened her eyes to see the poor guy looking out of his window. He turned to face her. “Have a good sleep?”

She said nothing.

He walked to his fridge and filled a coffee mug with cold water and gave it to her.

“Thanks,” she said. She looked at her knees. The only thing she was wearing was a shirt. “Hey, do you have a balcony?”

“I have a balcony,” he smiled. “Want to have breakfast there? I’ll cook eggs.”

The rich girl nodded.

“Want to cook with me?”

“No thanks.”

“It’ll be fun,” the poor guy insisted, secretly feeling a little inadequate. Every time he had a woman over, the poor guy would often invite her to cook either dinner or breakfast with him and she would always respond with excitement. “I can fry the eggs and you can fry the bacon. I’ve got toast here, and avocados too.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“It’s your loss,” the poor guy said, trying to look positive. “You’re not a vegetarian are you? What would you like to eat?”

“Anything.”

“Okay, sure.” The poor guy pursed his lips and headed to the kitchen.

The rich girl played around with the mug in her hands as she waited for the poor guy to cook their breakfast. Although she observed everything about the mug—the tiny cracks, the faded colour, the stains, the shape—she didn’t really think about any of it. Her actual thoughts hovered on numerous other things: books, exams, her computer, her cat, her father… but just like how she observed the mug in her hands and just like how she observed people’s pointless conversations, she was also just an observer of her thoughts: she knew that these “thoughts” she was observing weren’t “true” thoughts. The thoughts she observed were merely pieces of junk that littered the surface of her mind. She knew that the only truth worth prodding was what lay inside her subconscious. But what was in her subconscious? What was lying in the dark? What was lying in the light? And did that darkness (or lightness) matter, if you placed it in the entirety of time? Maybe it didn’t, maybe it did. She tucked some hair behind her ear and replied to a few messages on her phone.

The poor guy grinned at the breakfast he made. He glanced at the rich girl, who was inspecting his mug. He loved how women inspected his things. She was probably wondering where that mug came from and thinking about how thoughtful he was for giving her water first thing in the morning. Although he found her quite an average looking woman, she looked pretty from where she was. He picked up his phone, took a photo of the breakfast he made and checked his Instagram. He liked and commented on a few posts from friends and then proceeded to his bathroom, where he fixed himself up in front of the mirror before proudly walking to the balcony with the plates of food on his hands.

“Let’s eat,” he said.

To the poor guy, the breakfast was quite frustrating. Although the rich girl was responsive to his questions, she had reverted back to her one-word responses and did not in any way try to deepen their conversation. The rich girl, in turn, spent most of the breakfast responding to texts from her mother, who was trying to figure out how to activate her new iMac. The rich girl quite liked the eggs on her plate, and made a mental note to Google fluffy scrambled eggs recipes later in the day. She glanced up and suddenly remembered she was eating with someone.

“I like your balcony,” she smiled.

The poor guy looked surprised, as if he’d just seen someone come back from the dead. He cleared his throat. “Yeah, like, I like to spend a lot of afternoons just chilling here, you know? You should come by and check out the sunset here some time. It’s beautiful.”

The rich girl said nothing.

“That’s why I chose this place to rent,” the poor guy continued after the silence. “The balcony. I’d been in so many apartments with small, crappy balconies. But this balcony has everything.” He then spoke at great length about his choice of pot plants, furniture and quirky, hipster-looking decorations. He couldn’t tell if the rich girl was listening to any of this as she continued eating and texting, but he ploughed through his story anyway.

The rich girl finally looked up from her phone. “You’ve chosen your furniture well.” Her eyes widening, she noticed something behind the poor guy’s head. “Oh my gosh, I love that view.”

The poor guy turned around and saw the view. It was a city view. “It’s a good view.”

“What’s that building over there?” The rich girl stood up and walked over to the balcony rail. She still wasn’t wearing pants or underwear. “The one with the green light above it?”

The poor guy glanced at the rich girl’s legs and stood up next to her, their arms brushing against each other’s. “Which one?”

The rich girl gently placed her hand on the poor guy’s back. Her hand felt warm, loving, tender, and it was exactly the touch the poor guy had been longing for. The rich girl then used that hand to push him as strongly as she possibly could—the poor guy’s body tumbled over and he fell, the patient morning wind unable to stop him from plummeting to his doom. There were no screams—just a remarkable silence—until he fell on the pavement below with a wet thud. They were about five storeys high, and the rich girl wasn’t quite sure if that height would kill or permanently injure him. Either way, she watched his body on the pavement for a few more seconds before returning to her chair, eating her breakfast and texting her mother about her new iMac.

 

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Book I’m reading: Killing Commendatore

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