h2>Dating : Born Broken
It was complicated.
She was more than just a sad girl.
More than just a mad girl.
More than just a bad girl.
I think I wanted her to be my girl but –
“Y- You’re pregnant? Don’t lie to me, babe!”
The guy standing next to us at the bus stop was loud, despite the rain. Though she didn’t move, a tremor unearthed something beneath her neutrally flat expression. Something that drew my eyes to the pharmaceutical bag in her hand. Again.
“Babe! Babe, you can’t just tell me something like that on the phone!” The guy slapped a hand to his forehead, hard enough to redden the skin. “I’m waiting for the bus.”
His happiness was a sun that would burn anyone standing too close. The woman between us closed her eyes against the shine. Maybe praying for patience. Or relief.
“Screw it, I’m not waiting for the bus.” The guy lifted his slim brown briefcase over his head, stepping into the downpour with the enthusiasm of a maniac. “Do you need me to get any — Nah, I’m coming straight home, okay? I’m coming right now. Love you, babe.”
He made a kissing noise and hung up, hesitating for several seconds before darting into a flower shop. The woman exhaled silently, rubbing the ear that had been closest to him against her shoulder. Slowly. Discreetly. As if she lacked the motivation and the energy needed to move her hands.
“Are you okay?” I shuffled towards her.
She blinked, forcing her gaze up from the ground like someone picking up weights. “… Sorry?”
“You — Are you okay?” I pointed past her. “He was quite loud, wasn’t he?”
“Oh — It’s okay. That won’t give me a migraine or anything.”
“You get migraines?” Again, she didn’t follow my eyes. Even when they drifted down to count the number of boxes visible through the plastic. Painkillers. Different brands.
She smiled as though all two hundred and six bones in her body had decided to ache in unison. “Do you?”
“Sometimes.” She looked at the orange letters above, showing the bus timetable, and I wanted to grab her arm. “Really bad ones. But — but they always go. In the end.”
She didn’t answer at once. The chill in the air clung to her hair, like diamanté decorations on a bridal bun. It burned at the base of my stomach less prettily.
“They do, don’t they?” she murmured. I wanted to snatch the bag from her hand instead.
“Medicine doesn’t always work. When they’re triggered by — by other things.” The bus was coming in ten minutes. Was that how long I had? Just ten minutes? “Have you tried finding out what your triggers are?”
“Are you a doctor?” She finally turned back to me. Humour rattled around in her expression like coins in an upended swear jar.
“Do you need a doctor?”
“No.” She raised the plastic bag to eye level. Her stare landed like a roundhouse kick to the face. “As you can see, I’ve already been to the chemist.”
Bold. Unapologetic. A challenge. Was that why I was so desperate?
“Self-diagnosis isn’t always accurate.” I let go of the bus ticket in my pocket, gesturing towards the parade of shops. “Or the best idea. Want to grab a drink?”
“So you are a doctor?” Her gaze flitted to my chest. The absence of my ID hung like a noose around my neck.
“Would you drink coffee with a doctor?” I threw a smile out of the back door of my mind. I needed more than ten minutes.
“I always thought doctors didn’t have have time to waste.” She shrugged as if I’d started to make excuses.
“I don’t think this would be a waste of time.” Were those orange bus lights moving in the distance? I held an arm out to her, knowing she wouldn’t take it. “Shall we?”
She seemed to sigh somewhere out of sight. “The next one’s going to be here in half an hour. I don’t want to miss it.”
She tied a knot in the plastic bag, adjusting her grip on it, and walked past me into the nearest cafe without stopping to confirm its menu or name.
She was more than just a mad girl.
“I’m –” She froze my mouth with a single movement. A long distance press of her finger against my lips.
“It doesn’t matter.” She continued in a slightly less harsh tone. “Not now. Not to me.”
“Then can –”
“You don’t need to know my name either.”
“What if I want to?” We were interrupted by a waitress.
“Ready to order?” She smiled sweetly, pressing a pen to her small notepad.
“I’ll have a caramel latte. What about you?” The end of my question snagged on the absence of her name like wool caught on a fishing hook.
“An espresso. Thanks.” The name sounded foreign as she spoke it.
“You like coffee?” I asked as the waitress bounced away cheerily with our order.
“No.” She leant back in her seat with the same empty defiance. A skeleton dressed in teenage fashion.
“They probably serve tea here too, you know?” I started to stand. “Or hot chocolate. Do you want me to –?”
“– Don’t.” She nodded down at my chair, tapping the table top impatiently until I sat down again.
“Why would you order something you don’t like?”
“I think you know why.”
The rain struck the window beside us like mini bullet. The conversations in the warm café around us softened their impact.
“I don’t know why exactly,” I said slowly.
“You never will, doctor.” Her gaze slid to the bus stop, half visible beyond a pattern of trickling droplets.
“Do you think they’ll make you feel better?” I waited for her attention, re-directing it with a nod at the bag sitting on the seat beside her like a loyal friend.
“They won’t make me feel worse,” she replied. Black nail polish tinted the inner curve of her nails. Smudges remained on her cuticles.
“How do you know that?”
“No one knows that.” She turned her hands, flattening her wrists against the table top. “Ever.”
“Doesn’t that mean the opposite could also be true?” I smiled as the waitress returned, placing our drinks in front of us. She smiled back and told us to enjoy them before leaving.
“I suppose it could.” The young woman slid her hands further away from the steaming mug between them. “So what?”
“Don’t you want to feel better?” I tried to identify the texture of each word before I let them leave my mouth.
“Of course. But not everyone can.” She watched my fingers as they curled around the welcome heat of my own mug. As I inhaled the bitter-sweetness rising from its interior.
“You think you can’t get better?”
“Not any more.”
“Why?” She wasn’t wearing any make up. Or, if she was, she had gone with the natural look. One of her hands rolled off the edge of the table. The white bag rustled. “Why don’t you think that any more?”
“Why do you care if I get better or not? Because you’re a doctor?”
“Because not all broken things need to be thrown away.”
She smiled. Suddenly. Terribly. Lights flicking on in a derelict mansion.
“It’s not your job to ‘fix’ me, doctor.” She somehow made finger quotes without moving her hands. “Especially if you’re off duty.”
“I’m not trying to fix you. I just want to help you fix yourself.”
“Then you’ve already got one up on my parents.” She should have laughed. I was glad when she didn’t. “You look surprised. Did you think all this was about some guy?”
I pushed aside the ecstatic voice of the man on the phone and the way her entire being had flinched, focusing instead on her hand as it captured the handle of her mug.
“Most emotional and relationship deficiencies stem from issues with our parents.” I blew steam away from my latte. Warm moisture gathered along the edge of my finger. “No one can perfect the art of parenthood. But some can definitely do better.”
“Can they?” Her eyebrows twitched upwards.
“You don’t think they can?” Was that why she also thought she couldn’t get better?
“Do you have any children, doctor?” She waited until I shook my head. “Do you work with children?”
“Not very often,” But I didn’t need to. I had seen children crying behind the faces of adults for years.
“Sounds like neither of us are qualified to judge them then.” Her leg had begun to rock under the table. She didn’t seem to realise it.
“Is that what you were taught? We can’t point out our parents’ mistakes unless we become parents ourselves?”
“Doesn’t that make sense?” She dipped her head, drawing the strong scent of her espresso deeply into her lungs.
“Does it make sense to you?” I pretended to look at the menu for dessert.
“You’re not answering the question,” she pointed out without making eye contact.
“Does that make you angry?”
“No.” She drank, even though she winced as the hot ceramic met her skin. When she put the mug down, triumph outshone the water in her brown eyes and the painful red tinge to her mouth.
“You don’t need to be a parent to have the right to judge your own,” I told the tears in her eyes and the struggling curve of her smile. “You only need to be a child. Their child.”
“Hm.” She glanced at the clock behind the counter. “The bus’ll be here in fifteen minutes. You having dessert?”
I swallowed the warning in her words and suddenly I wasn’t hungry. I now knew why she wasn’t hungry either.
“Sure. Can I get you anything?”
“Don’t bother.” She exhaled amiably. “Thanks.”
She was more than just a bad girl.
“Can I ask how old you are?” I had ordered the smallest slice of cake. Soft sponge. White icing with rainbow sprinkles. “I’m thirty two.”
“Twenty six.” Her espresso mug was half empty.
“That’s young,” I breathed, finishing the last of my latte.
“Thirty two isn’t exactly old either.” Her knees had shifted beneath the table, pointing towards the open side of our booth.
“You’re absolutely right. Even if it feels like it is.”
She grunted as if she regretted the bitterness of the coffee remains on her tongue. As if the cosy embrace of the cafe was making her nauseous. I pushed my untouched cake towards her but she waved the invitation away.
“Are you going to tell me I should be patient?” She slid her espresso aside, glancing towards the bus stop again.
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” I only had ten minutes left. Again. “Twenty six years. That’s only a measurement of the time you’ve spent here. Not a calculation of what you’ve experienced in that time.”
“You kind of remind me of this teacher, back in high school.” She half huffed, half laughed. “He was about fifty though.”
“Thanks.” I collected each arrow, dusting off the insults they carried, wiping the poisonous implications from their barbed heads. One of the Three Little Pigs might have been able to build a house out of them but I wasn’t sure I had that sort of skill. “Was he good at it?”
“At teaching? Yeah.” She was sitting with one leg crossed over the other. Had she noticed how much it had been moving under the table earlier?
“Did you like his classes?”
“I failed them all.” A skeletal smile.
“But did you enjoy them though?” I started eating the slice of cake, shrugging at the wariness in her eyes. “Not everyone excels in the subjects they enjoy.”
“What … do you mean?” One foot was visible, clad in a sensible dark trainer with loose laces. It started to jiggle once more.
“It’s not always about the results. Lots of people would rather enjoy the learning process and benefit from the lessons they never meant to learn.”
“People like you?” Her hands slipped off the table and into her lap. “Successful people?”
“Maybe,” I admitted. “Though I believe the most successful people enjoy both their destination and the steps they took to get there.”
“Sounds a little fictional to me.” The plastic bag crackled softly, presumably in her grasp.
Time was running out. The cake lost its taste.
“It sounds like happiness to me.” I swallowed the chewy lumps, trying not to choke on them.
“Same difference really.” She tilted her head, eyelids lowered as if she were listening to the rain. Or a call I couldn’t hear.
“I’m sorry you’re not happy.” I finished the cake without getting any of it stuck in my throat. My eyes watered anyway.
“Are you happy?” Her eyes closed completely for a moment. As though she expected me to lie to her and didn’t want to witness it personally.
“Most of the time.” The urge to snatch the bag of painkillers suffocated me. “Not all the time.”
“That’s good.” Drops of tension rolled down from her forehead, from the corners of her eyes and mouth, falling off her chin and out of sight.
“Not now.” I hadn’t meant to say the words out loud but it was too late.
“I see.” Her eyes opened. Twin paths to an abyss. “I’m sorry you’re not happy, doctor.”
“That’s not your fault –” My heart quivered indignantly.
“– I should go now. I don’t want to miss the bus.” She stood up, dragging the white bag across the seat and into her arms. Cradling it like a soft toy for a moment.
“I’ve already paid.” I stood up as she turned towards the counter. “You don’t have to pay me back. It’s my treat.”
I wanted to ask her to pay me back. I wanted to ask her out for another drink.
“Oh. Thanks.” She headed for the exit, clutching the bag to her chest like a little girl. She walked out into the rain and the evening that accompanied it with the fortitude of a front-line soldier.
I couldn’t bring myself to salute her courage.
I think I wanted her to be my girl but –
“Wait!” The bus was coming, the orange numbers and letters across its head glowing like evil eyes.
Her ticket was already in her hand. She faced me beneath the shelter of the bus stop.
“It’s time to say goodbye now.” Her fingers tightened in the plastic as she unknotted the bag.
“It doesn’t have to be.” I cleared my throat and tasted salt.
“It didn’t have to be,” she reminded me gently. “I’m sorry you wasted your time, doctor.”
“It wasn’t a waste of time.” The bus swallowed the distance, creeping up on her like a demonic hound.
“Really? Even though you couldn’t help me fix myself?” Her voice was clear through the rainfall.
“I’m sorry.” I reached out. My hand was no where near her.
“It’s not your fault. Life isn’t for everyone.” She slipped her hand through the handles, letting the bag stay at her side as though it was her child.
The bus pulled up at the stop. My calves stiffened.
“Some of us are just born broken. Didn’t you know that, doctor?”
“I’m not a doctor,” I blurted out as she acknowledged the arrival of the bus with a sideways glance. “Not yet.”
“You will be.” She moved towards the bus as its doors hissed open.
Fortunately a small queue I hadn’t noticed before had formed. I still had seconds left … didn’t I?
“Don’t. Don’t go.” I still didn’t know her name.
“I wish you all the best, doctor. Keep succeeding.”
“I’ll do better knowing that you’re — that you’re okay.” It was a cheap shot. We both knew it.
She paused before stepping into the bus. “What’s your name, doctor?”
“Tell me yours first.” I clutched the air by her elbow.
“I won’t.” She inclined her head empathetically.
“Why?” Her face blurred. And I didn’t have her name.
“Because it still doesn’t matter. I won’t let it matter to you.” The person in front of her finished paying for their ticket.
“Please wait a sec –” My finger scraped her sleeve and she entered the vehicle.
She showed the driver her ticket. Turned to look for a seat.
“You getting on?” asked the driver.
My suit was cold and wet against my skin. My throat swollen around the words I couldn’t say. I wanted to take him up on the offer but she shook her head and left me paralysed on the pavement as the doors closed.
Frantic, I shuffled sideways, squinting through the glass. Meeting pairs of puzzled eyes over and over again until I thought my chest would burst.
She was at the back of the bus, looking down at me with the bag of painkillers nestled in her lap. The queen of a faraway land, frozen on her throne.
Words hadn’t worked.
So I pleaded with her in silence, using as many facial muscles as I could, shaking my head. I placed my hand against the cold glass and she finally reacted, tracing words onto my palm through the window separating us. I couldn’t decipher them until she cupped a hand around her mouth and breathed out against the glass.
Giving life to her final words.
Holding my stare for as long as possible as the bus pulled away from the stop.
Nodding at me right before it turned, taking her from my sight forever.
I stepped back, crumpling onto the cramped bench beneath the shelter of the bus stop.
Pressed my fists against my eyes.
Used the blackness to burn those foggy words into my memory. Even as condensation blocked out the face of the woman who had written them.
I feel a bit better, doctor.
Tears made a mess of my face. Pain crawled out of my throat in ugly sobs. I wanted her to be my girl but …
It was too complicated.