After a long stay abroad, I found myself coming back home. Since my earliest recollections, I had been fortunate enough to be born to parents that travelled somewhat on missions for the government. As with most things, pros and cons abound. I was too young to have noticed that I was almost born in Jakarta, Indonesia, if it was not for the fact that my mother flew home to have me when she was seven months pregnant. Sometimes I think that I could have been Indonesian.
The issue of who we are is, of course in my humble opinion, very much of a gamble. Science tells us, that females are born with a finite amount of eggs. Assuming their fertility, odds of a pregnancy are dependent on sexual encounters. Females have to find or select a suitable male to engage in reproduction, chances of this are historically high, discounting factors, such as, female to male ratio, social, cultural and historical disposition of the female population towards men, sexual preference of the male population, etc. Again assuming his fertility, the miracle of conception begins.
At my return home, after much deliberation, a college was chosen with the assistance of many members of my family. I had completed two years of undergraduate at a very prestigious college in the capital city where my parents have been stationed for the past 4 years. As I had grown up, mostly abroad, my knowledge of the local customs was a bit rusty. I was leaving behind a city that had provide me with great friendships, academic and athletic achievements, as well as, a greater understanding of its culture, and some street savvy.
After setting up my few belongings in the half of the room that I had been assigned to occupy for the next two years, I could not stop myself in comparing my old with my new college with a bit of nostalgia. The similarities were many, the manicured lawns, hedges and trees, the high gothic red stone architecture, even to the size of the student body. I shared my observations with Will, my cousin who was already attending this college. He had volunteered to show me around and help me get my bearings. He pointed out; that the college I had previously attended would most likely be very different from this college here at home. Also, that I may be in for a real social rude awakening, since this was the capital of the empire, and not some college in a hinterland province.
He further explained that the college body was not very kind to the students that had traveled to other lands. He further emphasized that most students were born and raised in the capital, and were expected to become upstanding citizens of the republic. They were being groomed to carry on the tradition of the wealthiest families in the land. Will said that I would most likely be seen firstly as a curious oddity, someone that could be used as court jester by some of the most influential and wealthy of the student body. He cautioned me, that if I played my cards well, I could make use of this brief window of opportunity, before the novelty period wore off, to carve a secure niche for myself, and not fall into oblivion.
I had some experience in this matter, since I had been in this situation before in my life, traveling to other lands and encountering the same kind of tribal culture. Having had the exposure to these challenges at various times in my development, and I had learned, with some success, how to achieve my goals. Although, I may find myself at a bit of disadvantage, since these were the major leagues. These people had been perfecting the art of social status for millennia.
That evening Will showed me the town. College students and townspeople coexisted in a fragile détente. Many an incident in the past had sparked the old rivalry between classes. The town belonged to the townspeople, the college to the students. The students mainly had been the culprits in grievous challenges to the townspeople, understandably given their hubris of youthfulness. This universal phenomenon pits together the powerful, albeit immature and few, against the many and powerless. You do not have to wait long to see sparks fly.
We visited a myriad of liquor purveyors, having fun and meeting Will’s friends that had arrived for the school year. They all seemed to be of upstanding character, I noticed that Will’s friends were humble and true. I would very much like to join a group such as his. Some of his friends echoed his warning about the haves. I was also introduced to some of Will’s female friends. They belonged to the same tribe, nice, studious, some even could be considered bohemian. I was intrigued with meeting the more challenging elements of the social ladder.
By the end of the evening, Will and some of his friends, that in the spirit of being once again together had one too many drinks. I purposely had refrained from excess to make sure I would be clear minded to observe their actions and learn the local customs. Will needed my help to return to the dormitory, he could barely walk. I brought him back to my room and laid him down on the sofa to sleep his alcoholic stupor. The following morning, while I was trying to return Will to the land of the living, the first of my housemates arrived. He was a tall and slender man with an air of distinction. After the customary introductions, he mentioned that he had already met Will, and that he was well known to the student body.
His name was Richard, he proceeded to place his things in the room where I had been assigned, making him my roommate. Charles and George arrived together completing the occupants of the apartment. They started sharing their experiences while their absence from college. They spoke of the traditional bonfire that was to take place that evening in the heart of the college that evening. The bonfire was a traditional welcome event each year before the beginning of classes. As I was unpacking and folding my belongings, I heard female voices that permeated the apartment, and soon enough my housemates accompanied by six girls came into our room. I felt like the new kid on the block, the girls, had curiously come to see the new arrival. They all came in and Richard introduced them to me. I was on the side of my bed, next to the window of the room; the girls came closer for a better inspection. They all were talking about that evening’s event.
As I folded some shirts, and replying to more questions than I would have liked to, I felt something unsuspected. Two arms were hugging me from behind, feeling the torso of someone pressed against my back. It felt like a warm and friendly hug, from someone that knew me. Instinctively, I turned my head backwards to my right, only to see a shoulder. I turned to the left, to discover the face of one of the girls that had entered the room.
Our cheeks were touching, as she was as tall as I. She was smiling and looking at my reaction. This was so unexpected that for a moment, I did not react. Pondering my situation, I thought, would this be a prank? Is it something they take turns doing to the unsuspecting newcomer as a test or some sort of discomforting initiation?
I looked at the expression in the faces of the others in the room for clues. I thought that if they were all in on the joke, I could possibly see it in their faces. Actually, their expressions were of surprise, such as probably mine. This observation excluded the prank potential. This was most likely something spontaneous. I had not recognized a single face, specially, the girls faces.
I thought, that my long absence might have rendered my ability to recognize faces null. Possibly, the facial changes of some people had escaped any possibility for recognition. Her grip had not abated, and in an instant, I felt as if we were breathing in rhythm.
I looked again at her face. I could only see her profile; I tried to get a better look by removing my face from hers. She did not cooperate, this reminded of the situation when someone covers your eyes with their hands and asks you to tell them who they are. Her soft and warm skin was a pleasant welcome on mine. I could tell that she wore make up, I noticed a lip liner, they were thin but with a smile and upward curvature without actually smiling. Her bright hazel eyes had an expression of gentle approval.
When I recovered my senses, I noticed that her face seemed almost familiar. I could not remember when, where or how I had seen that face before. During my sensorial absence, which for me lasted and eternity, nothing of importance had transpired, everything and everyone was static as if time had only passed for the two of us.
I began feeling embarrassed by my inability to recollect her, I was proud of being able to do so. It appeared that that she got the best of me, and that no waiting or wrangling would be able to postpone the inevitable effort to save face. I thought that she might release me soon, this did not occur. I quickly composed in my mind what I would say to her.
Grabbing both her clasping hand and using my firm grip uncoupled from her. Holding her wrists in each of my hands after switching hands we stood face to face. Both of us observing each other’s features, as if to confirm our perceptions and not to make an awful error.
My first reaction was to follow my instinct to inquire of her if we had met before. I said, have we met before? She looked at me with surprise, released me from her grip, walked around my bed and sat down on Richard’s bed facing me.
Her expression had changed, it was a bit somber. Noticing this I thought that her reaction to my words might be misconstrued as a rejection, in my defense. I explained that I could not remember meeting her, but that her face seemed so familiar, that I would not want to later find out that I had dated her sister. This caused a momentary silence in the room, which was followed by a great chuckle from all. She began laughing and got quickly up, grabbing the hand of one of the other girls in the room, stormed out giggling.
She had the upper hand; I was puzzled as to her identity. Before resorting to my new friends, I decided to keep this secret embarrassment to myself for the time being. I did not want to start asking for information, before I exhausted all my resources. I could discreetly ask Richard what, if any was our connection. I began trying to match my impressions of her with past memories. Her pleasant face did not yield any clues; many years had passed since my early childhood when I could have possibly met her. She was not a child any more. Recalling as many of the girls faces during that era, frustrated me more, since her face wasn’t matching any of my memories.
The thought of not having met her, and that this was bad joke, started gaining traction with me. Maybe this was again an initiation prank, and since I was the new boy, it was my turn. If it was such thing, it seemed well rehearsed, and I would probably not find help from Richard, since he was most likely in on the joke. I had to go along and try to figure this out on my own, time was of the essence, given that I was most likely to encounter her again that evening at the bonfire.
Play along; was my decision, but how? I could pretend to recall her, and by choosing well my words, extract bits of information that could help me better paint the story of our relationship, or confirm that I had never met her. I thought long and hard as to how to do this. I found some questions that in their nature would reveal if we had shared experiences in our youth. I would openly accept that I did not recall her well, and that her name escaped me.
By recalling with her some of the possible events in which we could have crossed paths, I could confirm if she had been present, assisting me in establishing her identity. I remembered many occasions that a large group of kid would get together to go to the beach where particular events happened, that if she had attended, she most definitely have to remember. If she did not remember them, she was either absent or was fooling me. I could try to change some essential details to see if she would fall for my changes of the facts. This I had learned by watching spy movies, and apparently was a trusted technique to find out if spies had either experienced the events, or merely learned them from others.
I figured that I would casually share these memories and expect her to validate the facts as I remembered them. Also, I enjoyed this kind of brain game, and was excited to play along.