For The Moment

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“You’re eating like a pig,” said Martin as he watched Joseph devour his lunch. It was five minutes before his next class and they weren’t even in campus. While it was understandable why Joseph ate like a starving man, Martin felt justified in his decision to not help him when he inevitably chokes.


“Don’t care,” Joseph mumbled through a mouthful of food, accidentally spitting bits of rice all over his friend’s notes. “Th’orry.”


Martin shot him a warning look and said, “If you’re really sorry, you’d stop throwing up all over my notes.” Joseph took his bowl of soup and slurped it down, which meant ‘not my fault’ in Insensitive.


In his rush to defend himself, Joseph had failed to notice that a bit of rice stuck itself to his cheek. It was distracting, not to mention disgusting, and so Martin plucked the offensive grain off his friend’s cheek and (without a second thought to his previous lecture on hygiene) popped it into his mouth.


Joseph stopped moving and blinked. Martin blinked back at him.


“What about being a pig,” muttered Joseph, too baffled to make his statement into a joke. He was rubbing the spot where the rice had been. It was growing darker than his skin. The rest of his face was following suit: it bloomed from the tip of his nose to the bottom of his earlobes, and a faint redness peaked from under his shirt collar.


“Instinct,” Martin quietly mumbled in reply. Blood was rising to his face as well. What he did really was instinctual- when they were kids, he used to clean up after Joseph. It was a habit he learned from his own mother as a toddler, and it wasn’t as if his friend minded his fussy behavior.


Nothing about it was weird. Nothing about it is weird, Martin thought, breaking his eye contact with Joseph as he returned to his notes. Nothing about it is strange.


Joseph cleared his throat and excused himself, leaving Martin to stare at his notes.


For the rest of the day, Martin focused on his schoolwork. He wasn’t the most studious person on earth, but he found studying to be an avenue he can use to escape everything else in life. Joseph, for an instance, was a huge part of everything else.


When he arrived at his apartment later, he found his friend in their couch with his girlfriend. Martin ducked into his bedroom without a word. It wasn’t new for him to walk in to those kinds of things, not when his best friend was the kind of kid who had girlfriends in kindergarten. Usually, he’d greet them, even ask if they wanted something before retreating to the quietness of his room. Yet, there was something that pulled him to his room that afternoon. The sala suddenly felt noxious, repellent.


It took him a few minutes to realize that he’d slumped against his bedroom door. He wiped his nose on his sleeve and made a move to his desk, but a knock made him turn back.


“We’re going out,” said Joseph. “Don’t expect me ‘til tomorrow.”


“Tomorrow’s a school day,” whispered Martin as he knocked the door in response. There were a few muted movements beyond his door before Joseph and his girl left. Martin listened to the front door’s lock turn and click, and found that he could move again.


His desk was groaning under the weight of his readings. The light from his desk lamp made the words on the paper look like a single, imperfect block. The picture frame containing his and Joseph’s graduation picture was nearly falling off because of his books.


Martin took his phone out of his pocket and set its alarm at a dubious hour before going to bed.


It was five in the morning when his eyes decided to take a break from reading. Martin stood up from his desk, stretched, and walked quietly to the bathroom. It was a sign of how tired he was when he didn’t notice that someone was already using it. He only noticed the other person because the shower was beside the toilet.


“Thought you were going to stay over at her house.” Martin rubbed his eyes. The smell of Joseph’s shampoo was waking him up more efficiently than the liter of coffee he practically inhaled throughout the night (it was peppermint, the same brand he’s used since forever).


Through the curtains, Martin can feel Joseph shrug. Martin pulled his boxers up and flushed the toilet before walking to the sink. “You almost finished in there?” he asked, suddenly feeling sticky. The curtains slightly parted, allowing him to glimpse at Joseph through the sink’s mirror.


The faucet gurgled and spouted water onto Martin’s hands. He and his roommate had long since broken eye contact. The soap he used to wash with already rinsed away- he only rubbed his hands now because of a purpose still unknown to him. He looked up to the mirror and saw his tired face. Red veins popped in the whites of his eyeballs. It reminded him that he better things to do than linger in an occupied bathroom, to wallow in the steam of a shower’s aftermath.


He only moved when Joseph pressed his shoulder into his, moving him so that he can use the sink.


Even then Martin found it difficult to leave the bathroom. His hands were balled into fists on top of the counter beside the sink and his eyes were fixed on them. Beside him, Joseph brushed his teeth. He didn’t need to look to know how his friend moved his brush. Three strokes around his teeth- front, left, right, inside-, four on either cheek- the brush bruising the soft flesh-, five inside the teeth- against the roof, deep in the throat.


Joseph spat toothpaste into the sink, rinsed, and left the water running before leaving.


Two hours later, Martin found himself eating half-cooked rice and leftovers beside Joseph. He was still wet from his shower. When he didn’t emerge from the bathroom an hour after Joseph left him there, his roommate took pity on him and helped him out. He was wrapped in a towel and deposited on the couch, feeling strange as various food smells wafted his way, mixing with the peppermint that covered his skin.


Joseph played with his food. He arranged his rice and meat into a ship-like shape. Martin didn’t mind this- this waiting and playing. They could wait as long as they want, for all he cares.


“So.” Joseph put his spoon down and leaned back against the sofa. “Yesterday.”


He didn’t to say anything else. Martin understood what he wanted to ask perfectly. What happened? Do I need to move out?


“Nothing. Read a book, passed some papers, stayed up and drank a lot of coffee. I’ll buy more on the way out.” Martin stood from the sofa and moved to clear the table. He had class in an hour and he wanted to return to a clean table (if he was still allowed to call this place his) in the afternoon.


He collected the plates and moved to the kitchen. The apartment filled with sounds of him washing up. Joseph was still in his seat. Martin can feel him staring at his back, waiting for him to come back, to talk it out.


“Martin.” There’s movement behind, and he knows Joseph is right there. He knows Joseph is waiting for him to turn around. To talk, or whatever it is he wanted; all Martin knew is that he didn’t want any part of it. He can feel this tension between them reach a climax- Joseph pressed him against the counter; soap and water seeped into his shirt as Joseph waited for him to start. Joseph’s mouth is pressed against his hair.


He mouths words against Martin’s hair. Martin can’t hear what his friend is saying, but it feels both like liberation and condemnation. It’s a revelation and a simple statement: what they have (had) is (was) the greatest mystery of their life. Martin waits for more, knows that whatever happens now will only follow his grand tradition of waiting on Joseph.


The last syllable Joseph spoke against his head was punctuated with a slight pressure. It was a dash, a quick cut-off; a quiet, temporary goodbye.


Martin stumbled backwards as Joseph released him. He needed a change of clothes; his shirt and shorts were stained. Bracing himself against the sink, he noticed that he hasn’t finished scraping the rice out of their plates. Somewhere outside the hollow ringing of his ears, he can hear a door open and close.


He tapped his fingers against the cold metal of the sink, counted to ten, and started cleaning up again.

Created: Apr 26, 2012

Tags: short-fiction

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