I like grocery shopping. Even though I’d subscribed to the online grocery service, I still pop into town once in a while to get the stuff I missed out ordering online. It’s funny. When you’re online and are able to conveniently buy things at a click, you can’t think of anything you really need and you just get one or two things for the sake of shopping. And then when the groceries come, you realize you needed a lot more than what you ordered.
I usually make a second trip to the mart and end up carting home loads which was really what the grocery service. Was. For. Such is life. In my defence, when you walk down aisles and aisles of stuff, you just suddenly realize that you need a lot of things. The delivery service did save me a lot of travelling hassle, though. Next to packing my own groceries, I don’t like to carry groceries home. When Mother does grocery shopping, we raid the supermarket and get away with it because we had the car. Here, though, I have to walk something like 20 minutes carrying stuff. It’s not that much, but the handles on one of my shopping bag are too small to sling over my shoulder and the other one keeps catching the ends of my hair when I sling it on and then it slips off and I’m just like argh, can you just not.
Anyway, I went down to town that day to get more stuff. Homey things. Food. Stuff. By the time I made my way round the mall, I was laden with two bagfuls of goodness. I was on the way back to the flat, struggling with the shopping, alternating hands and bags and shoulders when the thought hit me and I saw shoes.
His shoes. Smart, shiny, black leather boots, proud and handsome, standing neatly, gleaming a smug smile at me from the pavement.
I heard him before I saw him. I never really liked looking at him directly. It was too odd to look at the perfect face I had fashioned for him. I might forget myself. May have overdone it some.
“Need help?” he quipped with his knowing, eager grin. He liked to play innocent, the ever-compliant servant who knew that his mistress would never do without him and yet, feared that he would no longer be needed.
I didn’t bother to pretend I had it all together. I tossed him my shopping, glad to be rid of the troublesome bags and straps. I watched him adjust the shopping over his beautiful black coat, almost as long as a cape, with shiny zippers and a fine belt buckle. They matched his shoes perfectly, the whole ensemble oozing ridiculously of luxury. He had exquisite taste. He did so take after me.
The bright, green leafy-patterned tropical shopping bag clashed terribly against his entire, carefully put together image, as did the other purple one but he didn’t complain. If anything, he looked pleased that the garish bags clashed. It reflected his dedication to his service.
It also got him attention. He liked attention. He was already being paid a great deal, looking just a tad out of place in his fancy get up, strolling down these humble streets. Now he indulged in playing his role of the handsome young foreigner helping the struggling exchange student with her shopping. He pretended not to notice the curious, admiring glances thrown our way, everyone wondering who this fellow was and thinking me lucky to be acquainted with such a person.
He was so like me.
“What are you doing here?” I asked as we walked.
“Exploring.” he returned, in a quiet, half singsong voice. I could hear the ripple of excitement on the fringes of his voice.
He gave me a smug, sidelong glance. “Everywhere, everywhere you’d like to go, but can’t.”
He listed a list of everywhere I’d wanted to go but couldn’t.
“That’s not fair.” I sulk. “I have school.”
“I would go to school with you but you won’t let me.” He reminded me matter-of-factly.
I knew what he was thinking of and steered the conversation to a different direction.
“Have you found a place to practice?”
“I’ve been looking but I haven’t found a place I’m at home yet.” He replied airily.
I snort. “I’m sure they have large enough practice spaces in school. Rehearsal rooms and things like that. Use those.”
He turned away, pretending to lookout for the traffic. “I don’t like those.”
“They’re places to practice. What’s it matter?”
We cross the road and wait for the second set of lights to change.
“I want to practice in a nice place, the kind professionals train in.” He elaborated, his eyes shining at the thought.
“Professionals train in crummy places too, I’m sure. Only the stage is beautiful.” I say, knowing that both of us didn’t fully buy it. We minded. We liked lovely places, theatrically romantic places. We did so believe in the glammed up versions of everything. We did hope in such a reality.
He gave me a sly smile. “I’m going to find a space to practise in the grand theatre. Do you reckon they have practice rooms there?”
I stopped. “The grand theatre?” I repeated. “No way.”
He grinned, pleased at my reaction. “Yes way. I’m going. I have it all planned. I’m going to practise in the grand theatre.” Then, “You want to come?”
I resume walking. We’re going downhill now, my flat at the foot of the hill.
“You are a horrible, horrible person.” I intone. “You know I can’t.” He chuckles while I sulk. “It’s not fair how you can do everything and anything while I can’t.” I grumble.
A short silence elapses before he speaks.
“…That’s because you matter.” He says quietly, thoughtful now. His voice floats somewhere above my head, the laughter gone from it. “And I don’t.”
I don’t reply. I don’t reply because he’s right and I don’t want to do this now.
We stop, the last crossing before I reach my flat. It’s the first time he’s walked me, but we both know that we had to part here.
“I’ll take it from here.” I raised my arm awkwardly to relieve him of my shopping.
“Let me walk you to the gate!” He wrests the shopping away from me. “Just to the gate.” He pleads.
“No.” I say firmly. “I can’t risk you meeting the others. You know that.” He lets me take the shopping from him, deflated.
“I know. Because I don’t matter.” He says, defeated and defiant at the same time. “And if I meet them, I might begin to matter. And that might ruin everything.” He spells out mechanically.
He’s hurt, the way he says it. He means for me to see that this hurts him, but I brush past him emotionlessly. “Right. If they associate you with me, you might begin to matter.” I look straight at him. “You can’t matter to anyone.”
Something softens in him and he manages a faint smile. “Except you.” His smile tightens. “I do matter to you, don’t I?”
I lower my eyes. His gaze is difficult to bear. “Yes.” I say at last. “Yes, you matter to me. That’s why you can’t matter to anyone else.” I didn’t really want to leave him but I made to move.
He tries to follow me, his eyes a pleading question.
“I will call on you when I can.” I find myself promising. “When I go out to mail the letters, or shop. I’ll call you.”
“Can I watch you cook?” He asks hopefully. He knows that there mayn’t be anyone in the kitchen when I cook. Of course he knows.
“No. There are always people moving in and out of the kitchen.”
“If there’s no one in the kitchen, can I come to watch you?” He asks, as if he hadn’t heard me.
I make an exasperated sound. “No.”
“Call me if there’s no one when you go up.” He says as I retreat from him.
I know why he’s trying so hard. Of course I know. Because I did want him to come up with me, to accompany me. But I knew I couldn’t.
He might begin to matter.