You could sit next to someone and feel the need to strike a conversation. Like in a plane. Or a bus. Or on a bench, waiting to see a gastroenterologist. Some human beings like to fill that space of silence with small talk. They want to ask; “This gava is really sticking it to us with the economy, aren’t they?” Or “Have you ever wondered if birds dream?” Something inane that isn’t meant to go anywhere or serve anything or change nothing. Tinytalk. My first impulse in such scenarios is never to start small talk mostly because I can’t sustain it – at some point I will surely be distracted, or get bored or really wonder if birds dream. I only break this no-small talk rule if the other person is wearing a really freaky hat. You can’t wear a freaky hat and not expect strangers to talk to you. Otherwise, I’m happy to sit there in silence.
Because silence is beautiful.
Silence is a flower with droplets of dew on it.
In any case, I think people say more in silence than with words. Take my late mom, for instance who had the unique talent of berating you for days! A sustained barrage of words. You did one wrong thing, just one thing and she would start talking and it would go and on and on. It didn’t have to be something major, it could be something like talking to the known errant boys in the estate. These were usually older boys in high school who would gather in a corner most evenings, whistling at passing girls and secretly smoking cigarettes or weed. Boys who went to the disco. (Horror!)
These particular boys came from broken families and in her head they were recruiting boys like me into this ring of hooliganism. In the 80s there was great stigma on being a single parent where I grew up. Even worse if you were a single parent who wore high heels and mini-skirts, and -God forbid, lipstick! A simple thing like lipstick apparently said so much about your character. But we admired the boys from those families – they had “freedom”, they lived in homes without rules. They were bought for whatever they wanted. All the moms in the neighborhood thought they were a bad influence even though we thought they were cool. You wanted these boys to know you and approve of you but on the other hand if my mom saw you talking to them the punishment would range from anything from hanging from a rope till death to a scalding lecture lasting days. And she would really go at it, telling you how you will not amount to much in life. She’d say you would end up crazy from smoking weed or destitute or in prison or just a general failure in life. She would talk for hours, days even, about this.
But then there were days she would surprise you. She would come and ask, “What were you doing talking to those boys?” Then I’d say, “Nothing, I was just saying hello.” Then she’d not say a word. She’d continue pinching – what do you call kunde in English? She’d just ignore me standing there, waiting for her to start the tirade but it would not come. Her silence would later fill the dinner table. The next morning when I leave for school there would be bus fare on the table, her in her bedroom preparing for work, not a word. That evening, she would be quiet, just talking to my siblings and barely to me. It was like cancer, this silence. It ate into me. I’d be so riddled with guilt. I’d feel like I failed her. Hopeless. I’d want to die. It was an effective emotional manipulation, in hindsight, textbook. At the start of day two of this treatment, I’d go to her with my hat in my hand and apologize. She – in a very resigned tone – would say, “it’s okay. I have tried. You can do whatever makes you happy… choose the life you want.”
So in that silence, she had managed to say so much. Which basically was, “you have broken my heart, deeply disappointed me. I don’t even know how you are my son. I give up. Si you think you are a man because your voice is breaking? Do whatever makes you happy. I’ve washed my hands of this affair. May the good Lord be with you in this new journey of independence. You can move in with those boys and smoke and drink and go to the disco till you are 50, if you like. I have other obedient kids to raise. I’m busy.”
The power of silence.
There is nobody who understands silence better than my partner in life. We will sit next to each other for hours and not say a word to each other, or feel the need to populate the void of silence with words. I will be at my desk, writing (or thinking about writing) while they would just be sitting there, just being them; stoic in their silence, comfortable in who they have chosen to be. I never wonder what they are thinking and they never ask me what I’m thinking. They aren’t my muse, no, I wouldn’t say that, but they bring beauty into my space. When people see them they invariably think I’m responsible or sensitive.
And they aren’t needy. When I leave my desk and go on and do other things (like a bathroom break), they will not feel abandoned or ignored or unappreciated or say that I’m emotionally unavailable. Once in a while we will sit out in the sun, basking, saying nothing, just soaking in the rays and the breeze, each with their own thoughts. Me; most likely thinking about what’s for lunch, maybe chapos. Them; probably wondering how their lives would have been if they had been taller. Because they are, well, dwarfish. To be honest, they weren’t my first choice. I wanted a Bonsai but the universe gave me a Ponytail palm. And the universe knows best. So.
It’s our six-month anniversary. It’s the first plant I ever owned. I think that deserves a gong. Nobody thought I’d keep a plant for this long. Everybody thought it would die, some even insensitively voiced this prediction. But they don’t know what we have. They don’t know the spirit that we share. They don’t know how deep the roots of this relationship goes.
But here we are; six months later. A few brownish leaves, yes, but what’s a relationship without problems?