Partners

Day 18, 500 words, 31 days.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, this time tomorrow evening, I’ll be in India.

I admit, I don’t have any expectations about this trip. For all I know, I’ll be spending a majority of my time working in the hotel. That would be a shame of course, but it isn’t out of the question – it’s not vacation, after all.

Maybe that’s why my own excitement for this trip is a little tempered. But this is the way it often feels whenever I travel without my wife.

Sometimes, I do wonder what it would have been like to have done more traveling as a single person. What sort of adventures, or troubles, could I have possibly gotten into then? It’s not a feeling of regret, so much as it is an innocent curiosity of what could have been – or more specifically, what I could have become.

I’m of the belief that, for anyone still without a permanent partner, traveling alone would be a most enriching, enlightening experience. I can’t think of many other opportunities that would be as stretching to one’s soul, or as illuminating of it. The discovery would be two-fold, really. The broadening of your own physical horizons would only go so far, I feel, as the deepening of your innermost being. The kind of openness and awareness I expect from a humble traveler, while alone, must come with a genuine posture of self-reflection. And how much more room there is to do so, when there just isn’t anyone else around?

But, I only speculate. Most of the traveling I’ve done as an adult, I’ve done with my wife. There were seasons when we were apart, and they were the loneliest kind. And yet, even then, I had the company of friends, who, while they couldn’t always assure understanding, they’d most certainly try, and for a while, it was enough.

When I go on these trips now, there’s always this sense of leaving something – someone – behind.

And that changes everything. I can’t help but imagine the other alternative – that is, not to leave – wouldn’t actually be so bad. At least, I’d have my wife with me. It’s just the way we’re designed now – like, uniquely compatible parts.

We’re partners. To do things without the other feels like telling a story without an audience. Who cares when there isn’t anyone around to listen?

She and I aren’t particularly good at filling each other in with the details anyway. Every time I’m away without her, the sort of exchanges we have typically involve how strange our cats behave when I’m gone, how tiring our respective days are, and at worst, I start asking her what she made for dinner without me. None of it feels all that comfortable, and this is a good thing.

I find it a lot more fun when Shuli and I tell of our travels together, to our friends. It’s an entirely different way of recounting the details. Often, it’s an honest but imperfect account of what really happened, and it’s what happens when two people are given brushes to paint upon the same canvas. Our competing strokes turn out messy and make for an embellished and improvised piece until the final product turns out, well, good enough. For us.

I haven’t left, and I miss her already. I worry for her, unnecessarily, too. She rolls with my anxiety like a good sport. She’ll just take my cheeks in her hands and say something completely nonsensical, and not at all addressing what I have asked her to do. This is her way of telling me she’ll be fine.

And so will I. The work will keep me busy and my senses likely won’t run out of stimulants in India. I’ll manage, sure…

I just might not have as much fun, not having my partner around to grab hold my face and remind me how it’s all gonna be ok.

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Routine

Day 15, 500 words, 31 days.

The coffee is always best within the first few sips. After a few minutes, it becomes the lukewarm, less bold version of itself and I have to remind myself to enjoy it just the same.

It is also best, black. Every time the cashier offers milk or sugar, I give a smug little smile, as if I know something that she doesn’t – which is the way to have a proper cup of coffee in the morning. I hope she’s not thinking I’m flirting with my silly grin. Only that I’m mysteriously wise.

It’s been a while since I’ve visited my neighborhood cafe in Tanjung Bungah. Gusto Cafe was started by a former teacher who used to work at my wife’s school. He’s a local with some “international” sensibilities – he invited me to join his fantasy football league and he makes a mean burger. I’ll probably have to sit down with him another time when he isn’t working the grill and have him explain his life story to me again, so I understand.

Having a serious cup of joe here is a treat – mainly in that it costs more than three times the sweet, milky concoction of “kopi” I can get at the shop on the corner. I want to make a clear distinction here between “kopi” and “coffee”. One is the Malaysian way, the one mixed with a generous amount of condensed milk, which I genuinely enjoy for what it is. The other is the way I expect it to be – smooth, black, and delivering of a surprising kick of alertness an hour later. Which is right about now.

I was hoping that stopping by Gusto would be more routine than what it is, but every time I visit, my friend, Jason, the owner, always asks me where I’ve been or if I was out of town. It’s the sort of question that makes me feel both welcome and distant, implying that it’s good to see me, and yet I’m not seen often enough. So I plan on making it more of a habit to be around, even if it means shelling out RM6 for a long black Americano. Suffice it to say, they make it well, and hence, it’s worth the trip.

Soon enough, I’ll get to the point where I can start ordering “the usual”. In fact, I already tried ordering this way once, and I received a blank stare from the new hire behind the register and realized then and there how I had made it fantastically awkward for the both of us. It’s going to take some time.

The routine is supposed to go a little like this: Say “Hi” to Jason, Order the Long Black Americano, Deliberate on the Best Seating Option Available, Make Myself Comfortable, Bring Out Choice Reading Material, and Stay for Hours.

So far, I never have the courage to take the more comfortable, cushioned seats downstairs because there isn’t anyone down there and I don’t like mosquitoes. Also, I tend to take my iPad with me, assuming I’ll be around long enough to get some reading and some writing done.

I set out Bird by Bird on the table, but immediately resort to checking  my e-mail on my tablet instead. This is the trouble with Wi-Fi. E-mail always becomes the first option.

Somehow, my mornings at Gusto get more productive than I intend for them to be. They’re supposed to be blocked off time for intentional nothingness and yet, I get about 3 things done that I didn’t account for, and all of a sudden, I feel compelled to remain responsible for the rest of the day.

I came across few articles on Flipboard I just had to post on Facebook – for work, of course. I wrote some people back via e-mail on my thoughts about the optimism around the Warriors because most of my friends are from the Bay Area in California and I feel the need to still try and relate. I checked who’s playing today and who isn’t. I made my daily perusal of the New York Times.

And after I did all these things, I realized, I was in the middle of the cafe, the only person drinking cold coffee by himself. It was time to go.