[Editor’s Note : Every week we will be publishing one chapter from Ansh Das’s book, The Memory Of A Face. Needless to say, we are super excited! Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 15, Chapter 16 and Chapter 17]
The white kiss
Diano looked around the room. It had two big windows on the far side. One opened on to a shared space with the neighbour next door. The other was a regular window. Samuel’s stuff was strewn all over the place. To their right stood a big Christmas tree decked with ornaments. Behind the tree was a flight of stairs going up to the attic.
“So where do we put your stuff?” Diano asked.
Andy smiled and pointed upwards.
“Let’s take a look first.”
The attic floor was dusty and needed a scrub. The walls looked alright but the roof slanted to one side, at an odd angle down to almost three feet off the floor. The wall at the far end had a tiny window, the size of a porthole. There was no furniture except a bare spring bed and a big chest. There was neither an air conditioner nor a fan.
“This place needs cleaning, man,” Diano said.
“Yes! Samuel said the maid would be here soon,” Andy smiled. “She comes once a week, only on Sundays. I’m glad she’s coming in today.”
“What about mattress? We forgot to bring it.”
“That wasn’t my mattress,” Andy said. “It was the landlord’s. I need to buy one. I also need a table fan. This place will become an oven in summer.”
They took a cab to IKEA and went through each section of the store, keeping their eyes open for anything that Andy would need at his new place. By the time they finished, they had bought a mattress, a few cooking utensils, a table fan, a painting, a tablecloth, bed sheets, a pillow, a bucket and some other smaller stuff. Diano bought a big green crocodile soft toy, which he planned to give to Andy later. They rolled up the mattress and squeezed into a cab.
Back at the new place, the maid had arrived. Since she hadn’t bothered to clean the attic while it was unoccupied, Andy preferred to supervise her.
Diano sat alone downstairs until Samuel returned. They struck up a conversation. Samuel worked as an admin at a nearby office. He had moved from Qing Dao a few years ago and planned to stay in Shanghai for the rest of his life. He was interested in visiting Hong Kong later that year and so they exchanged MSN id’s. Diano thought Samuel was a good guy, albeit a little lazy. He loved to eat and joked about it a lot. It showed on him physically too. He was well-rounded and proud of it.
After the maid had left and the floor had dried, Diano helped Andy unpack. They were both hungry and worked at double speed until the attic looked acceptable.
“There’s something I wanted to ask you,” said Andy, shyly. “I hope you won’t mind.”
“Sure. What’s up?”
“Do you mind if I sleep over at your hotel tonight? I’m exhausted and I think I need a good rest before I come back to sort out the rest of the stuff here.” Andy looked at Diano’s eyes and then lowered his gaze.
“Of course not. You’re welcome to.”
“Thanks. Let me pack something quickly. Then we can go eat!”
Andy was ready in five minutes. Having informed Samuel of their plan, they said goodbye to him and left. They walked to a nearby restaurant and ordered some hot noodles, fried rice, vegetables and xiao long bao, which they gulped down without bothering to make any talk. They ordered another round of xiao long bao.
After the meal, they strolled along the bylanes. It had rained again and the air was cold and damp. Then the unexpected happened.
Small flakes of snow drifted down from the sky.
“Wow. Look. Snow! It’s snowing!” Diano said.
“Yes! It’s snowing.” Diano held out his hand to catch some flakes. “Look.”
“Wow, snow. I’d never seen snowfall before,” Andy said.
“Yeah. This is my first time.”
“Ha-ha! You’re a snow virgin then,” teased Diano.
“Really? Is there such a term?” Andy asked.
“Yes, of course. ” Diano lied. “As real as you are. Tell you what. You must do something special to make this a memorable occasion. It’s your first snowfall.”
“Ha-ha. Do what? Dance?”
“It’s a romantic moment. You should kiss…” Diano trailed off.
“Quick. This is your last chance.”
“What? Don’t play me lah.”
They stood there in the middle of the lane under the lamppost facing each other while the snowflakes continued to sprinkle on them and all around them. Andy took Diano’s hand. He wondered if Andy was calling his bluff!
Andy pulled on Diano’s left hand gently, making him bend down a bit. Then he closed his eyes and tilted his head backwards, offering his lips to Diano.
Diano stood there — frozen. Was this even real? There stood the most beautiful guy he’d ever seen, right in front of him, ready for a kiss. And it was snowing all around them. He saw a lady passerby slow down. She looked at them in shock. Or was it wonder? Perhaps both. More passersby slowed down. All eyes were on them. It was quite a public moment and yet it wasn’t.
Diano raised his right hand to Andy’s neck and held him gently, while he closed his eyes and brought his lips down towards Andy’s.
The kiss lasted for a second or two perhaps. But it felt like forever and yet not long enough.
They pulled back a bit. Andy smiled shyly and looked away. Diano felt as if his heart would burst, there were a thousand birds fluttering two thousand perfect wings inside it.
The people who had slowed down to watch them moved on. Andy held on to Diano’s hand as they started walking again.