the night under the stars
by The Dreamer
(just my daily dump of thoughts; hoping to do this every day to clear my mind of hangover emotions, but we’ll see…you know how i am with finishing what I started)
and it is purely this habit of mine, a bad habit stuck stubbornly like gum on the sole of one’s shoe – of leaving projects half-dangling, unfinished – that have resulted in me never being able to document my Cambodian trip memories in its glorious entirety.
yet, certain feelings linger, like the smell of smoke clinging onto clothes after a campfire; every single second of that memory etched so deeply in me as if it has carved out a territory for itself in the wrinkles of my brain.
night always descended gently in Cambodia; softly and quietly, bringing with it the refreshing, subtle breeze that chased away the stagnant heat of the day and bringing all of nature (sadly not visible with the naked eye) to life.
it brought along a wave of peace as one observed the lingering light of the sunset obliterated by the rapidly falling night, and everything was so clear and breathtaking without skyscrapers cutting across vertically and erecting itself obstinately in one’s line of sight. the once salmon and purple sky was soon transformed into a vast expanse of jet-black that engulfed the entire village.
we bid goodbye to the kids, who noisily chased after the sun on their bikes before the darkness crept up behind them. then we sat in a circle for the usual debrief, exchanging honest thoughts and heartwarming smiles.
“that’s it for today, i guess. we should head back to the hostel.” the teacher-in-charge says with a hint of fatigue in her tone.
the walk back is a fifteen-minute journey. because of the unadulterated darkness, our group stumbled through the paths, partially blind with only the comfort of each other and the smudgy illumination of light from our torches/phones.
being only able to see my fingers when it was outstretched in close proximity of my face, a faint sense of fear rustled itself in my ribcage, which i hurriedly tampered down. everyone was starting to drift out into the wilderness, leaving only me to refill my bottle from the tap in complete darkness, in complete isolation.
but as i hastily capped my bottle and turned around, eager to catch up to the chattering voices growing fainter and fainter at an alarming rate, i saw you, hovering wordlessly at the corner beside a tree, kicking at stones with one hand jammed into your pocket and the other flicking the flashlight on-and-off mindlessly.
“aww, you’re waiting for me?” i teased lightheartedly, attempting to coat my gratitude and bliss. my heart does a little leap.
“yeah,” you admit, and maybe there was a faint blush dusting your cheeks, but it was too dark to see, but you shrug if off, cocking your head towards the exit. “let’s go.”
stepping out, we both simultaneously took a deep breath of awe and promptly stop in our tracks.
“jean, look up,” you tell me.
“already am,” i whisper breathlessly.
a canopy of luminous stars materialised amongst the ocean of blackness. some were dull, merely flickering into existence every now and then, but there was an adequate amount of shimmering stars to illuminate the dark, moonless night.
words were not sufficient to sum up the amount of genuine beauty painted across the black canvas. scratch that. this masterpiece was not meant to be summed up; it was meant to be admired in its magnificence and its overwhelming presence; meant to make you feel so small yet so safe; meant to remind you of your place in the world.
we look at each other, and under the luminescene of both our flashlights, i saw the dazzling assemblage of glittering stars in your opaque eyes as we shared a meaningful look.
“i can’t stop looking,” i breathe, craning my neck skywards and trying to soak everything into my skin; all of the stardust and its magic seeping into every fibre of my being. “this is-”
words formed at the tip of my tongue but refused to fall out, ebbing away as fast as they came before i could register them.
“tongue-tied?” you laugh, as if immediately understanding my dilemma, as if reading my mind. “i feel the same way.”
a comfortable silence settles between us like a third companion as we walk leisurely back to our hostels, a good distance from the ruckus coming from the rest of the group. detached from the gravitational pull of the others, we circle in our own orbit, in our own pace, enclosed in our sphere of our own, feeling as though there is no distance between us and the sky. as if we are drifting upwards, with hearts buoyant and weightless, with breaths arrested from us from the playful glint of the stars, tugging us towards heaven.
“beautiful,” you suddenly blurt out when i am lost in my own thoughts, making meaningful eye contact with the stars.
“beautiful,” you repeat with a peaceful hum in back of your throat. “Elizabeth Browning’s last words. you know her?”
“yeah, a poet, yeah.”
“her husband asks her, ‘how are you feeling?’ and she replies just that; her final words.”
“beautiful.” i say to myself under my breath. “wow.”
you chuckle, and continue. “i’ve been reading up on people’s last words – very interesting, really. raphael’s word was ‘happy’. grant’s , the american president, was ‘water’. quite a waste, isn’t it?”
and then you went on, your voice lilting higher and higher with fascination and passion, and that was when i fell in love, vaguely and vastly, with you.
that was when i fell in love with quiet boys; quiet boys that wait for me, quiet boys that notice beautiful things, quiet boys that open up a secret valley of words to me and just me.
“what do you want your last words to be?” you ask me, as if noticing you’ve been going on for too long, not that i really mind.
“truthful,” i say earnestly. even in the darkness, you are bright. “and grateful.”