Author’s note: This is a short fiction about Liv. In a sense, we are all Livs, trying to hope once more. Always trying.
It all started on that dark, rainy day.
I was running home from work and as I always had bad luck, that day was the only day I forgot my umbrella. Only really, I didn’t forget to bring one. I lent it yesterday to a colleague because she was too scared that the unseen rain would ruin her hair, so I gave her my umbrella and walked away.
It didn’t rain yesterday.
So I was running home, using my soaked-to-life brown leather bag to cover my head. Taking the usual route, I would go pass this bridge of love where lovers, tourists, soon to be exes, and new couples bought fancy padlocks and keys to declare their love for each other.
Obviously, I didn’t buy that. If there was a research, I bet 87 per cent of these people have broken up.
And that, was when I met him.
Man, twenties, brown eyes, black coat, black hair.
He was sitting there on the wooden bench, looking at the countless padlocks with no keys, oblivious to the stormy weather.
He must had been quite a sight because I paused for five seconds, on which he noticed and returned my gaze.
I could have sworn he was crying.
Heart pounding, I ran to my house, trying to do as little damage as possible to the newly vacuumed carpet. Of course, I failed miserably.
“Oh dear Olivia, don’t walk on the carpet with those boots!”
That would be Mother.
“Sorry, Ma, can’t you see there’s a storm outside?”
“Fine, I’ll clean them afterwards.”
I went to my bedroom on the second floor and dumped all my clothes in the laundry bag. I took a quick shower with the image of a man crying at the back of my brain.
Well, most probably, his girlfriend just dumped him.
I locked my room and went straight to bed. I could hear Mother yelling from the kitchen but…
Almost unbelievably, I ran into him again three days after.
This time, it was daylight and I was going to work. By now you may have noticed that I was just a waitress who always cursed her luck, who was still living with her Mother, and who didn’t really believe in love. Blame it on my father, who left us when I was still seven and now, I needed to take care of the family – which consisted of my Mother, my little brother, and I. Such a party. Blame it on him.
The man was sitting down on the bench, looking fondly at the padlocks. They were colourful, written with heart shapes, love notes, names, and dates. And if I was to be extremely honest, they were beautiful to look too. But I would never tell that to anyone in a million years.
He wore a leather jacket this time – brown colour, which matched his eyes. But those eyes were just empty shells. He was still thinking about her, I guess.
“Forget her,” I said before knowing.
“Excuse me?” he looked up and found my gaze, and I swore I saw a hint of tears under his eyelids.
“If she left you, then she didn’t choose you. Forget her.”
The man looked at me for three seconds too long, then broke into a small laugh. “You’re right, I guess, Miss…?”
“Name’s Damien,” he extended his hand, which I cautiously took. His hand was cold. “But you’re also wrong.”
“Why is that?”
“Because she could come back.”
“That’s always been my luck. No one’s coming back for me. And even if she does come back, what makes you think she’ll stay this time?”
He smiled then. A forced one. “I don’t know. But one can always hope.”
There was such a longing in his eyes that I couldn’t bring myself to utter the next sentence I had in mind.
“Well, good luck.”
“Not luck. Hope.”
I started to walk away then.
Hope never did me any good.
“A rough night for the tips, but every penny counts,” I mumbled. There was this drunk customer who couldn’t keep his hands in his pockets. I really needed to take a bath now.
It was two weeks after I met Damien. Of course, I hadn’t met him again. Perhaps his hope really did come true. Perhaps he just sat at different times on the bridge. Perhaps I shouldn’t really be thinking about him.
But somehow, his eyes haunted my dreams.
It was past midnight and I didn’t feel like going home. Less tips meant working harder tomorrow, and I didn’t want to sleep to just wake up.
So I sat there. Looking at the padlocks.
“James and Claire forever,” one said.
“Forever and ever. KS loves JY.”
“14.8.10. I love you, M.”
Where were they now, and how were they doing?
Were they still together?
Did they remember these locks?
I gripped the collar of my jacket and bit my lower lip.
It was time to go home.
The next week was uneventful. There was work, and more work. It was almost the holiday seasons, and restaurants were always packed full. More money for me, yet less sleep for my body.
One night, after I finished my shift, I heard someone calling my name.
I turned around, and recognised the owner of the voice. It was Damien.
“Damien? What are you doing here?” I subconsciously buttoned my coat, not wanting him to see the waitress uniform I had underneath.
“I was just around to grab some supper. You?”
Might as well told him. “I worked here,” pointing to the sign behind me.
Awkward silence. Well, too bad, this restaurant was famous for hitting on girls.
“Well, I’d just go home no-”
“Have you eaten?”
“I’m just asking if you’d like to have supper with me, as it looks like you’ve just finished your shift and by any luck, you wouldn’t have had dinner yet.”
This guy must be crazy.
“Sure. Where to?”
I must be crazier.
We went to this 24-hour kebab stand nearby that served wonderful food. Couldn’t believe I never knew this place before. We walked while eating, wordlessly, until we reached the bridge.
“Shall we sit down?” he asked, then proceeded to take the furthest part of the bench.
So I sat.
By this time, you should have known that I couldn’t do small talk.
“How’s your work today?” he started.
“Not too bad. There were a lot of tourists. They are good tippers.”
“Right. So I guess you’ve had a productive night?”
“You might say so.”
“I mean, I don’t entertain the guests or anything. I just take orders and serve food,” I said defensively. Why should I be defensive anyway?
“Oh no, don’t take it the wrong way, I don’t mean to insult you or anything.”
We finished our kebabs, and stared at the locks.
Right when I was about to excuse myself, he asked, “Do you believe in fairy tales?”
“What kind of fairy tales?”
“You know – a guy meets a girl, falls in love, lives happily ever after, that sort of thing.”
“Oh, those fairy tales. No, sorry, I don’t.”
“Because they don’t exist.”
“How do you know?”
“Been there, done that.”
“Sorry to you too.”
“It still can happen, you know.”
“Fairy tales. They can exist.”
I looked at his eyes. I tried to see a hint of longing, desperation, or even hurt. All I could see was the reflection of the moonlight.
“What happened to you and your girl?” I asked.
“Long story,” he looked down and played with his hands. “But she chose not to choose me in the end.”
“Don’t be. Perhaps we drive each other crazy. What’s your story?”
“You said you’ve been there, done that. I reckoned you have had something happening too.”
“Oh. Well, he didn’t choose me either.”
“Don’t be. He’s happy in someone else’s arms now – who doesn’t have to serve others to put food on the table.”
Silence. I hated this silence.
“I better go home now,” I said.
“May I walk you home?”
I was taken aback. We barely knew each other.
And we walked without a sound.
It was funny, because when a guy walked me home, I always assumed that he was my boyfriend, and he would kiss me goodnight before I disappeared into the door. But he was just there waiting for me to go in, said goodnight, and “Until next time.”
Then he went on his way, walking silently alone, and I couldn’t help but thinking that we both were just two lonely people with a series of bad luck attached to our lives.
We met each other a couple times more after that. Sometimes I caught a sight of him on the bridge. Sometimes he dropped by the restaurant to see if I was working and had supper with me. Always with a companionable silence, always with the moonlight.
It became a game.
Unbeknownst to me, I tried to locate him every time I walked past the bridge. I waited five minutes more before going home after my shift to see if he would come by and say hello.
Unbeknownst to me, I became used to anticipate meeting him.
But one day on a particularly cold night, as I was throwing an imaginary coin in my head if whether Damien would show up, someone else did.
Someone else. Curly, handsome, just the way I remembered him. He grew taller. His shoulders were broader. He seemed happy.
Which shattered me.
My palms were sweating and I was shaking. I told my manager that I needed to go home and snatched my coat. On the last minute before storming out of the door, I tripped.
And I could feel his eyes.
I ran as fast as I could and since I had no other place, I went to the bridge.
Alone. With all these proofs of love around me.
And I cried.
I cried for my forgotten childhood. I cried for my broken love, for my share of bad luck, for the odds that were never in my favour. I cried for my broken heart. I cried because, through those years I had always told myself to be strong.
But I was not.
When I had calmed down somewhat, I thought of what Damien said to me.
“Fairy tale doesn’t exist,” I whispered, praying the wind would rebuke me somehow.
“Yes, it does.”
I jolted. How long has he been here?
“Damien?” I wiped my tears. “What are you doing here?”
“Actually, I went to the restaurant where you worked earlier and they said that you left early. Then there was this couple who acted very weirdly upon hearing your name. So… I figured… And here you are.”
“Oh,” was all I could muster.
He sat down beside me. We were there for what seemed like forever. He didn’t say anything, or do anything. He just sat there. With me. In the dark.
He wore a grey scarf today. Black jeans, black coat. His hair was gelled perfectly into place.
And his dark brown eyes. Always haunting. Always believing.
I wanted to believe.
He didn’t ask anything. He didn’t ask me how I was doing, nor what happened. He was just there.
As if he understood.
So I closed my eyes, and said a silent prayer to let go.
It was nearly midnight when we realised that it was late enough, and he walked me home.
We tried to make small talk, but we had been together in silence for so long that it didn’t bother us anymore. He told me brief stories of what happened at his work and that was it. We just walked side by side, like we used to do, together, without words.
I pulled out my key to open the door, but he took my hand instead.
It was warm.
He said, “You know, fairy tale can exist.”
I could see the lines on his forehead, as if he was thinking this sentence hard and long before he finally were able to form the words. “It’s the same like people saying that fairy tale doesn’t exist. They don’t have concrete proof. Neither do those who say it does. But that ambiguity opens up a gap to be filled up.”
I stopped. I wanted to believe otherwise, to say otherwise, to tell him that he was wrong and we were just two lonely people who would be forever lonely. But deep down, I knew I believed him.
He had made me believe.
I took a deep breath, looked at his brown eyes and said, “Like hope, you mean?”
“Yes,” he broke into the biggest smile. “Like hope.”
I turned around and opened the door. Then I remembered the man with his black coat, sitting on the bridge on a rainy day, staring at the padlocks who were trying to be the keepers of hope.
And I couldn’t help but smile back.
Photo by Sven