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The chore of initiating falls upon him who decided he wanted to understand. For him, to understand is a dangerous but necessary step in preventing something which, if not properly addressed, would herald greater confusion, would cause the advent of chaos. He risked it to avoid that sort of impending disaster.

Because there is always room for a little imbalance and uncertainty, there is always a tendency for things to not fall into their right places, especially those things which are better left alone, untouched, like damaged spaces of the skin hidden. She has a lot of things to hide—things to keep and think just for herself, and for nothing and nobody else. A room of one’s own, as Virginia Woolf would say, she liked to think, a place nobody can ever intrude.

He cannot understand why it’s so hard for him to keep still when there’s a bit of uncertainty. There are things in the world that never asked for any definition anyway, like faith, trust, and love. He cannot understand why he cannot grasp the thought, why he cannot be settled by the idea that there are a lot of times when both the known and unknown things exist together, without chaos or confusion, and without need for explanation.

“But I’ll text you if I can’t make it,” she hurriedly added before walking away. She will not show up—or at least, she will try not to. But she knows she will see him tomorrow anyway at work so what the hell, she should just as well go and meet him tonight. The plan: they’ll have dinner. But she will not talk. With resolute steps, she started thinking about things, on what is about to happen, on resolving to keep her mouth shut later that night.

He was waiting for her after he got out of the office that evening, at the same spot where they used to wait for each other when they were still in college, where they usually meet before going out together as friends, sometimes with other friends, but always together. Lighting up a stick of cigarette, a signboard across the hallway spelling out Japanese words catches his eye and he wonders why during all those years in college, looking at the sign as he waited for her, he never thought about them, never bothered to know what they meant, never even tried. He just waited then. For her.

She never thought it was a problem, really, that kind of uncertainty. Only those who do not feel secure are the ones who want to get a sure hold of things, sometimes even the future. Because of a prophecy, Oedipus’ father, a king, tried to kill him when Oedipus was still an infant to secure his own life. The king ended up getting killed by his apparently-still-alive son many years later. In fiction and real life, we can never be so sure with things, but people almost always seem to want to. Macbeth discovered that too late—not even the help of the Weird Sisters, those who can see the future, could save him. Remaining uncertain is always an option, and it is not always a bad thing. Losing grip on one’s fate and other things does not always result in death; sometimes, the tragedy is in trying to control, in trying to understand.

“Are you free after work? Let’s have dinner. Same place,” he told her during a brief encounter at the office that morning. She hesitated for a moment, but then reluctantly agreed, smiling, a tinge of anxiety creeping in her eyes. He didn’t notice.

She walks slowly towards that familiar hallway a few minutes before seven. She recognizes him from afar—he is smoking, sitting at the familiar spot, just like when they were still in college, back when they would spend late nights just walking around the campus, or jogging, or whiling away thesis time, having fun with the uncertainty of it all. Back then they were unsure of what would happen—would they graduate on time? Would they get decent jobs? Would they stay like that, forever? They never knew the answers, but—she contemplates—yes. We were undeniably happy back then. At least, that’s what she remembers.

戦雲 (Cloud of War) is part of 修羅場 2013 (Scene of Carnage 2013) project by Gio Basco. December 2013

Most of the time, the act of confrontation is an attempt to get a grip of the unsure, less an act of approaching something to affirm what is already there and known. It is a response to the urge to pin down those which we cannot, or haven’t, overcome with understanding—with knowledge so limited by personal lexicon of ideas, notions, thoughts, beliefs. It is a need that has plagued us and all our stories and studies from long, long ago.

To confront is to make a choice, to pick a form of attempt or approach. One can always choose otherwise. One can always choose to escape. It is in escaping where one challenges the notion of confrontations, of the painful act of knowing. Running away from the battlefield is not far from fighting in it. Fight or flight. Even psychology says the choice between fighting and escaping is a natural thing, as natural as eating, drinking, breathing, having sex. It must be a biological truth. Perhaps running away is not an act of cowardice. What if this is the kind of truth stories of great wars and bloodshed of the past failed to tell us?

In the battlefield, one can say that a form of great defeat for a determined warrior is when the enemy suddenly disappears without any reason. Left with lingering thoughts about a fight that can never be brought back, a battle never fought in the first place, the ghosts of what must have been would forever disturb and haunt the one who prepared too fiercely to either win or die.

History tells us wars cost many things, collateral damage, mostly. An actual battle involves resulting carnage and destruction, but one must remember that there is also a price to pay for an unfought war.

He will not see her right away; engrossed with the neon sign glowing in front of where he sits he’d momentarily forget why he was there in the first place. He would wish he could just forget, erase his doubts, and let things be. Let whatever it is between him and her follow its desired course, just like how he eased himself months ago while thesis hours were eaten by those moments together. But he cannot stand still. Not with all those memories confronting him, asking him what now? He will light another stick with trembling fingers, thinking about that kind of pain in trying not to mind things that mattered, like his thesis, like graduating on time and landing a decent job. It’s not easy to stand on unstable ground, but he had to endure it when he was younger. It was necessary. But things are different now. He’s older. He can afford to risk. He will take up the chore of confronting, because there seems to be nothing to lose. …or so it seems to him.

He will think about what they should have for dinner, glancing at his watch. They could try out that Japanese restaurant or something similar somewhere else, for a change. A little change wouldn’t hurt, he thought.

To escape a confrontation is to escape the dirty work—subduing uncertainty, giving titles, enforcing names and meanings, asking what now? What am I to you? He would look at his watch for the last time, counting. She’ll be about twenty minutes late but she will linger at the spot where she stood a little longer.

He would regret not buying an extra pack before going there as he taps the last stick out of the box. She would quickly turn around and walk away upon seeing him about to glance towards her direction, catching a glimpse of the unlit cigarette in his hand. She would take her phone out. Without looking she would type with trembling fingers.

He will pull out another stick. She will search her bag for her phone.

She will regret not dropping by that tea store near her old boarding house to buy that kind of milk tea she likes while thinking of those literature and psych lessons from her last semester. Then, she will suddenly remember: she hasn’t brought him to that place before.

戦 雲

Cloud of War  

A pamphlet short story (meant to be folded several times).