The Grand Surprise
The email will arrive any second now. And he’ll know.
I’ve been keeping it from him for so long. I didn’t want him to know until that day itself. But Mike said he’d email everyone and let them know the details of the show. And now, he’ll finally know — my grand surprise!
Where is she? There, a few people behind in the queue. I didn’t know so many people traveled in the morning. So many people even woke up this early! The flight is sure going to be full. Should I wait for her? — Nah, I’ll meet her at the seat, we’ll be together all the way. Last few hours of us together like this — ah, an email. Who’d be sending me an email so early in the morning?
He’s looking at his phone. I have to get to him, I want to be beside him and see his face, his expression as he learns the truth. I want to yell “Surprise!” and see his reaction.
Mike has sent the line up for the show. I’m going second. That’s good, get it over with quick so I can pay attention to the others. The third one is a chick with her name. I look behind and see her looking at me. I smile.
This name, her name has been following me around all my life. My ex-girlfriend had that name, and now, her too. Wait till I tell her who’s going after me!
Ah, is this my seat? Yup.
“Did you get an email?” I burst out as I reach him. He smiled at me. He knows. Why doesn’t he say it? Say something!
Wait. How does she know about the email?
That name. It wasn’t a new girl with the same name. It’s her.
“You…you’re doing it too.”
She smiles in her self-satisfied way as she takes the seat next to mine. She nods, eyes twinkling.
“You know, I’ve been wanting to tell you since ages. You don’t know how hard it was for me. Everyday we would be talking about your story, and in my mind I was going, I want to tell you about mine too! I even chewed my sister’s brain telling her I want to tell you.”
Breathe. Finally, I get to tell him everything.
Why does he always have to be so calm and composed? Can’t he emote a little? But no — he’s always in control. Let me know, please, are you happy? Pleased? Surprised?
She’s — she’s going to be performing as well. And she goes after me. Oh!
“So, what’s your story about?” Keep asking her questions. About her. About her story. Stay interested. Don’t let her glimpse the pit of doom slowly growing inside you.
“Is it the same one you were working on last night?”
“Yes.” She smiles, like a cat, sly and silent.
“Can I read it? No, better, you read it to me. What’s it about?”
“My brother’s death.”
Crap. She’s told me how it happened. I’ve been in awe of her ever since she did. How can my story ever compare to that?
“Oh. How long have you been working on this?”
“Since that day you and I met Mike at Starbucks. I emailed him the same day.”
I remember that day. That’s the day I thought I could do this. Get up on stage and tell my story, my own story of change, how I came to be me, the way I am now. That day I thought I could do this, it’d be easy.
“Who all know about this except Mike and you?”
Am I the only fool?
“Everyone does. I told them all at the dinner party. I told them not to tell you. Remember Mike said something about a surprise? Well, I am the surprise.”
I’ll show him the up and down on email I’ve had with Mike. So many drafts. So many, I’d almost gone mad. And not being able to tell him was worse.
“See, up and down. Up and down. We’re on the fourth or fifth draft right now.”
“Your story is called Catdog?” he asks.
How did he know? I never told him.
“You read it na, last night?”
“Nah. Last night I glimpsed it. I thought it was called catalogue. I just read it now, in your emails.”
Oh. “You had no idea about this right? You are surprised?”
“I had no clue, seriously,” he says.
“You know, in my head, I didn’t picture it this way. I wanted you to come that night and then Mike would call my name and I’d tell my story and you’d be sitting there going ‘oh my god — what just happened!’ But Mike told me he sends a mail to all the participants a week before the show and he had to let you know that I’ll be in there. He messaged me last night saying the email will come today. I told him to send it in the morning, that way at least while we’re in the flight you won’t read it. But it came before we could fly, so now you know.”
He knows. He finally knows.
“Actually, I’m a little glad. I can share this with you now. Also, I have one more surprise for you!”
She’s smiling at me that way. I need to smile back. But how? She has such a brilliant name for her story. It captures the essence of it. It’s self-explanatory. Catdog. It’s perfect.
I’m sure she gave the name, unlike mine. We couldn’t name my story for weeks, and the name I settled for was given by Mike, not me.
“What’s the other thing?” Ask questions. Stay interested.
Am I so lost in my own world that I don’t even notice what other people are up to? I’m supposedly a writer, I’m supposed to be observant, but I had no clue about this. Not even with someone so close to me.
Finally, I get to tell him.
“So, some of the stories, the best ones are recorded in their podcasts and mine was one of them,” I let the last words out in a semi-scream.
“I had seen pictures of the podcast thing on Facebook.”
“Yes. I told Mike not to upload my picture there, otherwise, you’d see it. So, he didn’t, but he sent me my picture via email.” Wait, let me show him. “You know those people were so kind, and that lady was so sweet. She told me that my voice was apt for the microphone and maybe I should look into it as a career.”
He was looking away as he said, “You have a good voice.”
“Rubbish. Here see. I met you that same day, in the evening. It was so difficult not telling you. I wanted to, but I couldn’t.”
What a fool I am to think that my story is any good. All the best stories get recorded. I didn’t get any invite.
I remember Mike saying the first and the last stories are very important. They set the tone of the show. And I’m somewhere in the middle — just like a filler.
“You know, it’s all because of you I’m doing this?”
I look at her. “Me? What did I do?”
“You always inspire me to do things. Be better than myself. I’ve never met anyone like you, no one ever inspired me this way.”
Smile, damn you, smile.
Am I my own enemy? Pushing people to do things, help them rise up while I push myself down? She knows how to handle herself before an audience, she even has a voice made for it.
Me? I remember my sister saying: ‘He can write decently, but he can’t speak well.’
“When we land, I’m going to read my story out loud to you.”
I nod. I have nothing to say. Why am I so jealous? She’s my girlfriend, I should be proud, happy at the fact that we’re doing this together.
But everyone knew that she was performing too. People, our friends, they said they are coming to see me. But not just me. They are coming to see us. It was going to be my day. Mine.
This cafe has some cozy spots, but that doesn’t take the edge off. I have to read him my story, but what if he doesn’t like it? I’m so stupid to be doing this. He is the storyteller, not me. Why did I even decide to do it?
“Can you get me a glass of water?”
“Stop stalling and read.”
“No, my throat is all dry” — Cough — “Please?”
He never could resist this look.
He’s so damn sweet. Look at him walk, so damn hot too. How did I ever get so lucky?
“Now,” he says giving me the glass. “Start.”
“Yes.” I take a sip, and start, “there are only two things you need to know…”
Confident start. So unlike mine. Her voice is really meant for this.
Words. Look at her paint pictures with them, and those metaphors — how does she manage that? I can see it happening. Show, don’t tell. She’s nailed it. My story doesn’t do this. It can’t. I can’t show my mental landscape. Her brother, the emotion involved, I feel them too. Damn it! Am I crying? I can feel her loss. How is she doing this?
“The journey is the reward and not the destination,” she concludes, and I give her a little applause. She deserves it.
I can never be this good. Never.
I hope he liked it. I hope he liked it.
“That was damn fucking good!”
“Really?” Yay! He liked it.
“It’s a beautiful story. And you narrate it so well.”
Look away. He makes me feel so shy sometimes. He and his words.
“But there are a few pointers I can give you.”
“Okay.” I’m listening.
“You know that scene when you brother gives you that scar? That seems a little out of place.”
“But that explains the emotion he and I felt for each other. That day brought us closer.”
“I’m not denying that. But the scene is like an island in your story. With no links at the end. You need to call it somewhere, somehow. Use the scar you obtained to say something like — When he died the scar tingled as if he was saying a goodbye only to you — or something, you know. It’s a powerful moment you have, but you aren’t using it.”
Woah. How does he see these things? “You know. Yeah. I’ve been thinking there was something missing. This is it!”
“Even one line that calls it, links to it is fine. Otherwise, that entire scene is like dead-weight. And if you’re trying to show your relationship, the earlier parts do it way too well.”
Shit. Now that he puts it like that, it makes sense.
“And the ending…it’s good…but I was hoping for more punch. It sounds very preachy right now.”
“Yeah. That was all Mike. He wrote that end. I don’t really like it.”
“Yeah, Mike does that a lot. He did so in my story too, but I rewrote his lines. They felt unnatural to say.”
He just gets it. He gets everything without me needing to say anything. My arms act on their own accord and envelope him. I love this boy so much! He’s so good. Some days I feel I don’t deserve him at all.
I can’t get over her story. It was so good. I wish I could write like that. And then go narrate it. Even without my stupid corrections, it stands out on its own. No wonder it was selected for the podcast. And my observations are nothing but an echo of Mike’s — of what he did to my story and how his process worked. I am just channeling his mind calling that scene dead-weight.
That night is hers. I know. Not mine. People, friends — our friends — are all coming to see her. Of course, her. Who’d want to listen to my voice? My story? I’m a reformed addict with a new drug. Who can relate to that? Her story of loss is so human. Anyone can relate. But I can’t tell her how jealous I am. I’ll help her, I’ll encourage her, push her to be the best. That’s the right thing to do.
If I tell her how I feel about this, she’ll step down. She’ll let me have my night, help me make it mine. But I won’t do that. I can’t.
(God, she’s so warm.)
What have I done to deserve a love as great as hers?
Akshay G. is a writer by day and an editor for The Coffeelicious by night. He has a taste for honesty, wine, and well-crafted lies. He is currently practicing the art of live storytelling.