Something Cold and Warm

May 12, 2013 in bestservedsoup, One-shots by BestServedSoup

This was a shot written in commemoration of the 1527th TaeNy page.

 

The street ahead was cold.

So very cold.

I trudged ahead, pulling my two feet through the snow. My two friends from high school, Jessica and Sunny, lead me on. They laughed and chatted lightheartedly while I tightened the wool scarf around the lower half of my face.

It was a very gloomy day.

One of them turned to me grinning, and I managed a smile in return. “So, what will you be doing this Christmas Eve today, Fany?” Jessica asked.

Sunny grinned, and delivered a jab at Jessica’s shoulder. “No doubt the same as usual. I don’t know why you ask her that question, every single year.”

Hearing the statement, I chuckled half-heartedly. My mind was still distracted, so I could only think up a short and direct reply. “Yes,” I told them. “The same as usual.”

“See?”

“Don’t be so mean,” Jessica said, and rubbed the spot where Sunny’s knuckle had hit. “You’ll never know if she’ll have something different the next year.”

“It’s her family’s tradition,” Sunny explained. “Don’t you think you’re expecting too much, Sica?”

“But-”

It was cold. I hugged the coat I wore and rubbed my hands together, movements rigid as the two girls fell back into an endless series of the who, what and where. The street we walked along stretched far and long, our houses located at the very end of it. It was a stretch that we would have to endure. I looked apathetically into the distance, wondering if there would be hot chocolate waiting for me at home.

Then it came nagging at my mind again, the thought of something in the past that I couldn’t quite throw off. I watched the clouds above, dark and sullen. They were the same clouds as last year’s Christmas Eve. I was even on the same street.

When I had first seen her, what had I thought? Was it shock, curiosity, or simple sympathy?

I do not know. The memory’s all a blur to me now, numbed by the constant reminder of how cold it had been that evening. The only emotion that I remember feeling was fear. I remember being scared.

I was alone today. The street that had been my usual route home was packing with snow much thicker than what I was used to but I kicked my boots through irregardless. I had to get home. It was Christmas Eve, and I grinned at the thought of the hot chocolate that would be waiting for me at home.

Ignoring the chilling wind brushing my cheeks, I began to break into a jog. What better hurdle was there to surmount than the freezing snow on a solemn Christmas Eve?

I was happy and excited. Placing foot after foot through the thick flurry of ice, I felt my body race as though it were soaring past the drifting snowflakes. I was alone, but I felt exhilarated anyway.

Step after step, breath after breath. Eventually I stopped and began to gasp for air. The cold pricked at my sweaty skin, but I didn’t mind. I leaned myself against the stone wall at the side of the street, trying to catch my breath.

And then I saw her.

A girl I’d never seen before, with short, brown hair, who wore a simple coat. An eloquently black scarf covered her face, of which warm mist slowly rose from. She sat quietly on one side of the street, while I stood exhausted on the other. From what there was to make of her face, only her two eyes stared out at me. I looked back at them and graced her with an awkward smile.

“Hello,” I greeted.

Silence.

The girl raised her arm in response, of which I noticed was much shorter than her sleeve. “Hi.” She waved, her broad mitten wiggling in the air.

“What are you doing out here?” I asked.

“Helping this friend out,” she answered, her voice muffled behind the scarf.

I looked around, but I wasn’t able to see anyone. “A friend?”

She motioned her hand, beckoning me to come closer. I pulled myself up and then crossed the narrow road. The girl remained sitting, but showed me a lump that had formed under her coat.

“Is it an animal?” I asked. She nodded and turned her attention towards it. My eyes followed her hand as it gently stroked the protrusion on her coat, and I grew curious as to what she had hidden underneath.

“A puppy,” she said, answering before I had the chance to ask.

“Oh,” I replied. “Did you find it out here in the cold?”

She nodded again, and then carefully opened the flap of her coat for me to see. I saw the puppy, its fur an innocent white like the snow that surrounded us. Even as it lay perched safely in the girl’s hold, its body quivered uncontrollably.

“Poor thing.” I squatted down at the her feet and carefully inspected the puppy in her hands. As I watched it struggle, the severity of the cold around me became even more apparent than before. Even a dimwit could tell that the little animal was dying.

“What about you?” The girl asked. “What are you doing here?”

“I was heading home,” I answered.

“It’s Christmas Eve today, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Then don’t you have somewhere else to be right now?”

The girl looked towards me with quiet eyes. The long street we both sat it was like an empty field, freezing tundra amongst the suspended flakes. A place drained of all its brilliance. A world where there wasn’t another living thing in sight. Amidst all the dissonance, the puppy was like a single flower bud struggling to blossom in a dreadful winter. If it failed to bloom, could I say that spring would never arrive?

“If you don’t mind me asking,” I began. “What is your name?”

“The puppy’s name is Romeo.”

“That’s not what I meant-” I then realised that she had heard me perfectly fine. Her eyes were on the puppy, her hands taking special care of its warm fur. I grimaced for being too compulsive. “You really care about it, don’t you?”

The girl’s eyes gazed into mine with a perplexed expression and for the first time, I noticed the heavy amount of ice forming around her flickering eyes. She smiled. It was then I realised that she, like the puppy, was suffering from the cold. “Kim Taeyeon,” she answered.

“I’m Stephanie,” I told her. “Stephanie Hwang. But you can call me Tiffany.”

I put my gloved hand on the trembling puppy. Its heart beat rapidly in my palm, reminding me of some of those old locomotives that would spurt and churn whenever they were nearly run dry. Its fur was cold, but the flesh still exuded a brilliant warmth. Like a light that was slowly burning out.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that some people don’t care about first impressions. Sometimes there are just honest people who want to be themselves, despite of all things.

I could take a leaf or two from that.

“Was it you who named the puppy Romeo?” I asked, putting an end to the silence that had been for the past few minutes.

She nodded. “After I found him.”

“Is there a reason why?”

Taeyeon turned to me. Her eyes narrowed, coaxed by a tiny smile. “In the story, Romeo was quite a passionate and brave person, wasn’t he? Always moving forward without giving up.” She looked down at the puppy she held in her arms, which made a low whine as she patted its tiny head. Though there was no doubt that it was asleep, the shivering it made was unmistakable. “That’s why I named this little fellow Romeo. Because he’s not giving up, no matter what.”

“You’ve read about Romeo and Juliet?”

“I watched it once. It was the ballet stage play at the Seoul Arts Centre.”

“What did you think of it?”

Taeyeon chuckled. There was a fuzzy ambience in the air, as though something heavy was just lifted. Her eyes sparkled, and I had to wonder what that tinge of gratefulness meant. “It was the best play I’d ever seen.”

“I see,” I said. “You watch many plays?”

“Only this one.”

Had Taeyeon been interested in the performing arts? Honestly, I truly regret not asking her that question when I had the chance.

I have always wondered, what was it in particular that she enjoyed?

Was it dance? Was it song? Perhaps she was a great singer. In any case, I don’t think I’ll ever know now.

I like to dance, and I like to sing. If things had been different, perhaps we could have become performers together.

“Where did you find him?” I asked and gestured towards Romeo.

“Where you found me, half buried in the snow.”

“Were you there with him for long?”

“Only just.” Taeyeon’s lowered her head. “It must have been tough for Romeo, don’t you think? All this time, being stuck in this cold weather. All alone without a place to go to.”

“All alone,” I muttered and carefully weighed on Taeyeon’s words. As she walked alongside me I glanced at her baggy clothes, from the ragged brown coat to the dulling blue in her winter pants. “Nowhere to go.”

After a brief silence, I let out an elongated sigh, trying to let off some of the tension that had slowly been building up in me. Vapour came swelling up to my cheeks, and yet for the short moment that passed, I could not find any comfort in its warmth.

Everyone has something they want. A car, a doll, or even something as trivial as a brand new pair of socks. The number of belongings and experiences we get pile up, but we can never seem to reach a peak in satisfaction.

What is poverty as opposed to being rich? I had wanted hot chocolate that day. Taeyeon may have wanted something for herself too, but she chose to help Romeo out instead.

We humans eat, drink, breathe and live the same. In the end, we’re all the same creatures. Take away all the wants, and it eventually boils down to how much good we’ve done, how much sins we’ve commited. At the end of the tunnel, death will embrace us with open arms, and they will be the only things that ever mattered.

“The weather’s getting colder,” I said.

Wind howled in my ears, sweeping by in strong whistles. I gritted my teeth against the oncoming waves of cold and kept my pace to the best of my ability. From the corner of my eye, I saw as Taeyeon trailed behind. I stopped and waited for her. Then I watched as each step of hers appeared slower than the last.

“Can you still walk?”

She nodded.

“Do you want to rest?”

Her lips curled. They formed into a plain, honest smile. “No need, thanks.”

Had I felt anything, seeing Taeyeon that way? Perhaps it was fear. The fear of a lonely death, in an empty and vast snowfield. I was scared.

“Here, have this.” I passed to Taeyeon a piece of croissant bread I had bought from a shop earlier on. It was meant to be something to go with my hot chocolate but for the long time that passed by, the thought of comfort at home had not occurred to me at all.

She took it with her free hand and then sampled a bite. She then began to eat, diving into it without hesitation. The puppy lay huddled in her grasp as she did so. “Thank you.”

“Were you hungry?”

“Yes.”

“Then you can have all of it.”

We continued through the foot-deep and gaining snow, set on our way to overcome the long uphill climb.

“My house is just ahead,” I said, pointing a good hundred metres away. “See? The end of the street is right there.”

I took Taeyeon’s hand in mine and held on to it firmly. She wasn’t faring too well with the cold. I looked into her pale face, feeling almost a sense of futility as I observed how blue her fair skin had become.

“We can make it,” I said.

“Yes,” came her reply, her voice husky and dry. She took a step forward, but as she did her body suddenly gave in and collapsed.

“Taeyeon?!” I caught her in my arms, feeling her cold form as it descended into my lightweight coat.

At that moment a myriad of thoughts began to invade my mind. My senses became overwhelmed by a surge of immense panic and for the brief time that she lay against me, her entire body lifeless like a doll, I wasn’t sure what to do.

Then I heard her breathe. I felt relief waft over me, a refreshing sense of warmth as adrenaline began to to course through my veins. With a loud groan I lifted Taeyeon, slinging her arm over my shoulder. She still gripped onto Romeo strongly, even in her crumpled state.

“Are you awake?” I asked promptly.

“Yes,” she replied, the tone of her voice irregular and soft.

“Just hold on,” I said as I began to pull her body across the snow. “There’s a park ahead. We can rest there.”

The park wasn’t very far away. It only took around a minute for me to bring her there. All across the dirt I dragged her weakened body until we stopped at a nearby see-saw. I allowed her to sit on it, then dropped to the ground next to her, sighing as I did.

“We’ll get there,” I reassured her. “Don’t worry about my parents. They’ll be happy to have you around.”

Silence. The only sound that came was her soft, effeminate breathing, complemented by the whirling gusts of wind around us.

“You can have a long hot shower there. And while you’re at it, I’ll make sure to have some hot chocolate made for you.”

The cold was getting to me too. As I inhaled and exhaled, each breath of air stung like a pack of ice to the cheek. I shuddered as the snow’s iciness crept into my skin. I could only imagine what Taeyeon was feeling.

“Just a little bit more and you’ll be fine. Don’t give up.”

Little droplets of snow hung against the dark clouds, falling down in measly amounts. They swung from side to side like feathers.

It was cold.

I shut my eyes and breathed in the frigid air.

So very cold.

“Hey, Tiffany.”

Taeyeon’s voice stumbled in, in its own way shattering the calm ambience.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Do you think you could take care of Romeo?” she asked as a request. “I can’t keep him, and he hasn’t anybody else to care for him. Could you?”

Taeyeon’s hand found itself into mine and grasped with as much strength as her body allowed. I turned to face her, and saw her exhaling almost vehemently.

“Sure,” I said. “Sure.”

“Thanks,.” Despite her eyes gleaming with gladness and joy, I also found a patch of agony residing in them. “Also…”

“Yes, Taeyeon?”

A tear escaped the corner of her eye. I would never properly know why she had cried on that dismal day. It would only ever be something that I could look back to and guess at best. The general idea would be there, but I would never get a definite answer.

“Will you please be my friend?”

I could only smile in return. It was the only thing I could do to fill the hole of regret forming inside me.

“Don’t talk like that, silly. You already are my friend.”

She closed her eyes, and her head turned to face the vast sky above. Clouds were still grey. Snow was still descending.

“Thank you.”

“Hey Tiffany, why the glum look?”

Jessica peered at me, her expression denoting concern. Sunny turned to me as well. They stopped in their tracks and in turn, I stopped too.

“Yeah, you’re not your usual cheery self today. You’re usually the noisiest out of all of us. Did something happen?”

I raised both my arms, gesturing for them to settle down. “I’m fine, guys. Can’t a girl have some time to herself once in a while?”

Jessica and Sunny looked towards each other, their faces somewhat hesitant.

“Really, don’t worry about it. I just felt like taking in the atmosphere for today.” I began to laugh. I tried my best, but I didn’t think it convinced them of anything.

“If you say so,” Sunny replied.

We continued on our way. I found the spot where I had met Taeyeon for the first time. Had it really been a year since then?

“Hey Fany, do you think I could hang out at your place today?” Jessica chimed in. “It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to play with Romeo.”

“Yeah, I haven’t seen that dog for a long time,” Sunny added. “I’ll bet he’s all grown up by now.”

“A bit,” I answered and found myself chuckling. “Sure Sica. I’ll get some hot chocolate ready for you too in the meantime. We have it every year.”

Sunny pumped her fists into the air. “That sounds awesome! Mind if I tag along too?”

“You know the answer to that, Sunny.”

Laughter filled the air, permeating the dreary environment with what was once again a slimmer of life. That slimmer of life reminded me of last year, when I had singlehandedly carried two precious things back home. Both flickered with what was but a slimmer of life.

That day would always be in a crevice in my heart, in some form or manner. I would always remember the girl named Taeyeon I had met one day, who had brown, short hair, and who wore a simple coat; a puppy named Romeo tucked safely away underneath.