I called Namdrul as soon as I reached my dorm. "I am free now. Are you?" I asked. "Yes, I will be in the library in ten minutes, wait in front of the entrance", he said as he gasped for air. "Are you okay?" I questioned. "Yeah..." he answered and ended the call. This guy did not seem to know the etiquette of ending a call.
However, this was completely made up by how absolutely perfect he looked as he stood at the exit in his black hoodie and dark blue jeans. He seemed to be distracted as he stared at the sky. The sky had dimmed and there was a slight nip in the air. I walked up to him but he didn't notice me. I cleared my throat. He lowered his head and looked at me. "I hope I am not late", I said. He shook his head. "I am early", he said.
"So what are we doing today?" I asked. "I thought I would leave it up to you since you don't like the ideas I pick", he answered. I blushed. "I am sorry", I said. There was a rare smile on his face. "I was just teasing you. We should both like the topic that we choose so it's only fair that we both get a say." He walked towards the door and turned back towards me. "Let's go and find out what our future holds." He cocked his head towards the door.
The library was deserted as it was the weekend. We sat at the table near the glass windows. He pulled out a notebook. "I assume you know what the topics are?" I nodded and pulled out my notebook too. I slid him my book. "I highlighted the ones I like", I said. He read through it and scrunched his nose couple of times. It made me nervous. We had been competitors for so long that it felt strange to work on a project together. I wondered why we had never talked to each other in first year. I had seen him on the first day. It was difficult to miss him.
He sat in the front when everyone was scrambling to sit at the back. This alone caught everyone's attention at orientation. While everyone was trying to make friends, he pulled out his laptop and started typing on it. It wasn't like others didn't try talking to him. His curt responses and stoic expression were enough to cut them off.
"He is such a dickhead", Kinley had said. I had just been glad that I hadn't tried talking to him. It was still difficult to believe that I was his partner. "I like this one, let's do this", he said sliding the book back to me. I couldn't focus as he leaned forward. I felt like a preteen having a crush for the first time. "You okay? You have turned all red", he said. I felt red. I felt like I was the very definition for the word red as heat surged through my veins. "I am fine... I just think I am catching the flu", I lied. He checked his watch. "Do you want to go for a cup of coffee? Maybe we can just get the project started off over coffee", he said. Even though I had just come back from a cup of coffee, I didn't refuse. I nodded.
"So bears really get cavities?" I asked. He turned to look at me, an amused expression on his face. "Yes, they do, Pelgyi." I laughed. "It's just hard to believe that these large clumsy bears get cavities - it's almost cute", I said. He grinned. "I guess it is. I wonder what bears would think if they knew adjectives like cute were being used to describe them", he said. I couldn't help laughing again. Namdrul had a weird sense of humour. Where was the guy who had cut off everyone's attempt to befriend him at orientation? "Have you heard of the memory bottler?" he asked suddenly.
He watched me as I gripped my coffee cup. The phrase sounded so familiar yet I couldn't remember hearing it. "Would it be weird if I say I feel like I know it but I don't really know it - like deja vu?" He placed his cup on the table. "No - because that's exactly how I feel."
"What is a memory bottler?"
"Not what - who", he corrected. "A memory bottler is someone stores memories for you - memories you want to forget or memories you want to save." I laughed thinking it was a joke. But he didn't laugh.
"Wait, are you serious?" He nodded. "I haven't met him... or her... or it, whatever it is or maybe I have. I have heard about the bottler. Apparently...he..well, let's go with he appears in front of you when you really need him. If you meet him, you won't have any recollection of him. The only record about the bottler is from someone who claimed that his memory was returned."
I kept waiting for him to say that it was just a joke. He just continued. "I have always been interested in the bottler..." He looked sad as he said it. "Do you have a memory you want to forget?" I couldn't help asking. He grimaced. "This coffee has turned cold. Do you want another one?" I looked at my half finished cup of coffee and shook my head. "I don't mind cold coffee", I said. He shrugged and stood up to get another cup.
I watched as his expression turned cool again and he asked for another cup in a monotone. He returned and there was no mention of the memory bottler again.
That didn't mean I stopped thinking about it. As he walked me back up to the dorm, I was tempted to ask him but I didn't know where to start. "Namdrul... about the memory bottler...could you..." "I think there are so many people in this world who don't realize what they have", he cut in. I nodded like I understood. "It's often better to let things take its own course." I looked up at the night sky. It was a clear night and there were stars sprinkled all over. I looked at him. He was also looking up at the sky. A few fireflies glowed around him. A light breeze tousled his air. Under the moonlight, he looked like a character out of a novel. He turned towards me slowly. There was an unspoken static moment as he just stared at me. "The world is full of beauty", he said in a low voice. "Would you say I am beautiful?" He faced me and I had to look up at him. His eyes met mine as he said, "I wouldn't just say you are beautiful. I would believe it to my very core if I was allowed to. Am I allowed to?"
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