Mousetrap: Part 1

Malibango. It’s a Carrie original. Just for you,” Carrie grinned, her eyes glinting in the reddish glow of the candles. “But when you’re gone the music go-o-o-o-o-oes, I lose my rhythm lose my – Anytreeeeeeee, you look so nervous!” she abruptly stopped crooning to the music. “Don’t be. I promise,” she leaned toward me and fluttered her sparkly pink kohl-lined eyelids as she pinched her index and thumb fingers together in an almost circle. “just a lii-ttle Malibu rum and a lot of mango juice. Won’t get you remotely drunk. It’s sweet. You’ll like it.”

 

“Alright, then,” my words broke out of nowhere in a breath of nervous laughter.

 

“That’s the spirit!” she exclaimed. Her light blue eyes scrutinized me as she filled a black plastic cup a fourth of the way up with Malibu coconut rum and then poured some V8 Splash mango-peach juice almost to the brim. The liquids swirled into a balmy orange, but quickly turned murky in the confines of the jet black cup. Carrie was singing along to the music again as she rummaged through wooden drawers and pulled out a hard plastic fuchsia straw patterned with white polka dots.

 

“Now remember,” she said in a watchful tone, stirring the drink briskly with the straw, “just like with any alcoholic fusion drink, you want to keep stirring it before you sip.” And then in an offhanded aside, “My personal advice, just go for it. Drink it up as quickly as you can, and I’ll make you some more,” her glossy red lips curved into a smirk as she handed me the cup.

 

“Sounds good!” I said. I didn’t like that I sounded like a bird. I held the cup in one hand and twirled the straw with the other.

 

“Okay ohmygosh we need to do your makeup. Come on, get your wig out, this is going to be FUN!” she pulled me towards the dimly lit living room and shoved me onto a futon. With a couple of swift strides in and out of her bedroom, she was armed with an arsenal of cosmetics and beauty tools. She sat on a velvet chair facing me and began working on my face like it was an old peeling wall that needed to be revamped with a splash of color. A dab of liquid here, a dab there; her fingers spread the spots of liquid in a whirlpool all over my face. Light, airy brush hairs stroked my cheeks and eyelids, a powder puff patted my nose bridge and chin with a dusty rose fragrance, a mascara wand twirled my eyelashes rigidly upwards, and a smooth, round pencil-tip traced the contours of my closed eyelids. Finally, my hair was scrunched up and pulled back tight, and the feathery tips of the false hair flowed onto my bare shoulders. I slowly sipped the Malibango, trying to imagine what I looked like. A slight bitter taste surfaced from the depths of fruity sweetness as I wondered what Tandury would say if she saw me right now.

 

“I don’t get makeup. Why do people paint their faces? Like come on, you have that nice, natural face for a reason – don’t drown it in cheap chemicals! Anytree, don’t you agree? This is ridiculous. Promise me you’ll never let anyone clump your beautiful face into a cake of paint and fluff.”

                                                                                         

“Tandury, I’m the last person who would let my face morph into something artificial. Rest assured.”

 

Someone chuckled in a low, husky voice near me, drowning Tandury’s voice in my head. “Wow. That makeup looks insane,” he said.

 

“Stephen. Doesn’t she look gorgeous? She is sooo Halloween-ready,” Carrie responded.

 

“I think that’s it, you can open your eyes Anytree,” she turned towards me, “Oh wait, I forgot the most important ingredient. The lip color! I’ve been wanting to try this on you ever since I saw your face. It’s a lush red that will pop with your skin tone.”

 

“Interesting. I hope it isn’t too flashy,” I managed a weak laugh.

 

“Gu-url, no. This is meant for you. No one else in this room could pull it off – we’re all too pale. You are going to rock this red. Come on, gulp down your drink so I can finish your Halloween look,” she folded her hands across her chest and watched me slurp the rest of the Malibango in nine seconds.

 

“Good. Now give me your sassiest pout,” she said, before slathering the lipstick.

 

“Perfecto!” she exclaimed, proudly glancing down at her masterpiece.

 

“Oh, and, by the way, that’s Stephen and Matt,” she nodded at the two guys who had spread themselves across the sofas and were watching me with curious smiles on their faces. More than their stocky builds and tiny eyes, it was the way their podgy fingers grabbed heaps of cheese-flavored Doritos and stuffed them into their meaty faces that reminded me of Dudley Dursley from Harry Potter. In my mind, they were now the ‘Dudley twins.’ Their lips (or what little of their lips was visible under their beefy cheeks and sagging chins) curved into one-sided smiles. Stephen spoke to me, “You’re a perfect little Strawberry Short-cake,” and then to Matt, “Get it, get it? She’s so short!” but Matt was too busy balancing Dorito triangles on his nose and sliding them into his cavern of a mouth.

 

Carrie led me to her bedroom. It was almost as big as the living room. A queen-sized bed with floral bedcovers and hanging silk drapes took up most of the space. The rest of it was divided equally between a trapezoid study desk and wooden chair, and a tall, ivory chest-of-drawers garnished with the choicest of cosmetics and baubles. I stood before a gigantic mirror that spanned an entire narrow wall. But I saw someone else in the mirror. She was a small girl with powder blue hair that had cotton-candy-pink tips spilling over her shoulders. She had on a pink-and-white checkered mini-dress (replete with a red satin bow and a large white pocket adorned with a juicy red strawberry) over her long, leafy-green and white striped stockings and glossy black ballet shoes. Her face shimmered in various colors – her kohl-lined glittery turquoise eyelids were framed by purple, curled eyelashes, and her coral red lips accentuated the hint of pastel pink on her cheeks. If it weren’t for her brown skin tone and her baffled eyes, I would have denied any possibility of looking like her. Clearly, Carrie’s transformative skills weren’t limited to just the chemicals we worked with in lab everyday.

 

“Whatcha think?” she broke my trance.

 

“Wow, I did not see that coming. Carrie you’re something else,” my attempt at a cross between a wide smile and a surprised gape must have looked funny, for she laughed hard. Just the way she had laughed when I had told her I’d never celebrated Halloween. “Gu-url, you HAVE to come over this Saturday night. I’m having a party at my rad pad. After lab, we’re gonna go shopping and find you a costume,” she had said in the midst of helping me pack a mammoth column with silica gel slurry. That seemed like an entirely different universe now.

 

 

The Ominous Ring

From afar, it is hard to distinguish between the girls and boys in the room, because they are all wearing crisp blue and white shirts. Their spines are pulled into tense primary curves as their necks lock their heads above their desks. Sharp pencil tips stab and drag themselves across blank white papers on the wooden desks. A clock snaps its hands maliciously, each tick fueling the growing pit of anxiety. A closer look at the room reveals the man in the front of the room who is facing these students. He is short in stature and his egg-shaped head sits surprisingly firmly on the sagging rings of his neck. The thin wisp of grey hair on his head sways ever so slightly each time he turns to glance at the clock. But he holds his hand clasped together in the same position under his round belly, as though he were holding it up against the pull of gravity with his interlocked fingers.

The man’s eyelids are now beginning to droop and his head is rocking back and forth gently as he breathes in and out. Time seems to have frozen like an ice block, except for the mechanical ticking of the clock and the nervous, hurried scribbling of pencils. Suddenly, this ice block cracks open with an eruption as a sharp, high-pitched ring boomerangs across the room and the entropy of the room reaches a new high.

Everyone is looking around in confusion as the ringing continues to blemish the sanctity of the room. The man now has his hands on his hips and he trudges along the room to locate the source of the ringing. His narrowed eyes scrutinize every corner of the room while his brain processes the fearful expressions on the faces of the students.

He knows he only needs to look for that one pair of eyes that will not meet his gaze. Ah, there is the boy, hands cupped around his cheeks, head turned toward the wall. The man walks up to him and bends down to look him squarely in the face. He notices the boy’s clammy forehead packed with beads of sweat that are slithering down his nose. Good, he must be scared. He must have realized the impact of just having broken the one rule he was asked never to break. This is an exam hall for God’s sake; he should never have had a cellphone in this exam hall in the first place.

The man takes a closer look at the boy’s face and then glances at his answer sheet to verify his identity. So this is the “star student,” then. An oddly satisfying smile creeps up the man’s mouth as he realizes he is in complete control of this boy’s fate. The boy turns towards the man slowly, just as the ringing stops. His lips are parted open as if he were to say something but there are no words. His shocked eyes meet the man’s glare and immediately the room is pierced by a low-sounding yet clear splurge of cold, biting words: “Hand me that cellphone. And see yourself out of this room and into the headmaster’s office. Now.”

This thunderclap of a mandate is absorbed by a quiet moment of silence. And then the stillness is ruptured by the sound of a feeble gulp and the hesitant creaking of a chair as the boy gets up to fulfill his fate.

 

Did someone say love?

Today I listened to a podcast. It was one of the episodes from the Modern Love series, where people read essays written by other people on love, something that I’m forgetting, and redemption. I can’t remember the title of the episode (because I think I might just be a case of borderline short term memory loss), but it was basically about this writer who befriends his 80-something-year-old neighbor and falls in love with her, but all that while they are just “friends.” The best kind of romance, he says, sometimes comes out of friendship.

I agree. Sometimes I wonder what is the distinction between friendship and love. I don’t mean the sexual kind of love, but more like that warm feeling that someone makes you feel, or the thrill and wild eyes that someone brings out in you, or even that simple emotion of pure, unrestrained happiness that being around someone gives you. It’s just chemistry. Your body, mind and soul just like the way your vibrations interact with someone else’s vibrations, until you feel like the two of you are vibrating in the same plane, locked together in a comforting state of dynamic equilibrium (if you couldn’t already tell, chemistry is my thing).

I have loved deeply and had my heart broken. That love was perhaps one of the most real feelings I have felt in my life, and it is something that I will carry with me forever. I am grateful for everything I learned from it. But the point is, that love was just based on a misplaced fantasy. And I called it love because, yes, it was a highly magnetic attraction that just consumed me and never left me for one second since I laid eyes on this guy.

For a long time, I thought that was my one epic love. I mean, it will always be my one epic love. But, it doesn’t end there. In fact, now that I think about it, falling in love does not necessarily have to be the way I fell for this guy. I think I fall in love every day with someone I meet. Simply because they lift me up and give me the hope, energy and smiles to get me through the rest of my day. And that love, so light and blissful, is perhaps the best form of love that my healing heart can handle right now.

I know that a lot of this sounds like what a person “in love” might say. But bear with me. I think that friends can change your world in ways that “love” can’t, because although friendship may not be “love,” it is love. While navigating romantic relationships may be a hot mess of complications, drama, and possibly unrealistic expectations, friendship is more often than not (at least if you choose your friends wisely) the exact opposite. It’s as smooth and easy as spreading peanut butter on a piece of toast – you can keep layering it up and still not feel like it’s too hard to handle. And once you feel at peace with yourself and your life, you stop focusing on what the world around you calls “love” and start to open your eyes to how alive your friendships make you feel. Or at least, that’s the way I feel.

I am just writing this in an attempt to make my thoughts loud and clear and cohesive. I am in love. With not one, but all of my good friends. Because they make me who I am; because when we are together it’s electric; but most of all, because our vibes are like the explosions that lead to new discoveries and potential miracles. So thank you, my wonderful friends (and the not-quite-friends-but-still-inspirational people I get to meet from time to time), for I am nothing without you.