I was glad to finally see my little sister after several months of being away for work overseas. I only get a few weeks of stay before being called back by the agency for another year or so. She cleared her schedule for me, on our first weekend together. From the station, we got some supplies for my stay en route to her place. I wanted to just hole up and loaf, I told her. At least that was the plan. When you get to a certain age, you would prefer peace and quiet over anything else. The lesser the interaction the better. Carrying grocery bags, I followed her to her apartment on the third floor where we had dinner and a few drinks to catch up. There she shared about her romantic escapades, or what was left of them, and confessed that she feels squeamish about staying around for long. When I asked, she said that it was because of the “lack of color,” whatever that meant, and seriously considered moving into the city or at least somewhere near to the land of the living. “Even my landlord looks utterly the same as my drywall.” she declared. I thought it was weird of her to say that, but true enough, when we chanced upon this old guy heading down for more drinks, I saw what she meant by it. I will tell you more about it, but the feeling that I got looking at him was rather strange. I could not help but stare at him as we walked by. It was as if something was missing in his expression. Something lacking that I was compelled to search for it. His face was like an unfinished canvas. The artist who was working on it just left and did not come back, that kind of feeling.
That same evening, I went out for a walk around the neighborhood. Although I wanted to turn in early, I just could not shake off that feeling from earlier. Besides, I figured that it would be the best time for me to get acquainted with the place. I mean, I’m always at the open sea, and walking on land is considered a luxury for my kind. Late nights mean less human contact. It was sort of a compromise, so I took it.
I eventually landed on this hole-in-the-wall sort of pub. It was situated just a few corners from my sister’s place but I doubt if she frequented these parts. You could say that my sister is on the dapper side. While the pub has a Manila sort of nightclub vibe, which gives out a sleazy impression. I would have wanted to have her around with me since I get really awkward around people quick. Anyway, my night apparently was just getting started, but mind you, I am an early riser. I like getting up before the sun does but I also need my late nights too. Call it a balancing act. But I get less sleep to compensate for it, living in both worlds; night and day. For me, mornings are for the clearing of the head, sanitizing the mind, while late nights are for refilling the tank.
So, there I was sitting at the corner stool, drinking my stout, watching the golden bottles shimmer under their display illumination. I suddenly felt like a giant mackerel lured in for the bait. A beautiful woman suddenly appeared behind me and asked for a light. Of course, I responded accordingly to the request, albeit mechanically, just in time before it got weird being how I am around people. The woman unconsciously showcased her jawline when she tilted her head away from the flame, finger-combing her hair to the other side. This has also revealed how tiny her head was underneath all that mane. For a moment there she caught me staring at her. I thought I scared her off. While it was true that I was fascinated by her looks, I also envied how particularly proportioned her head was with her frame. I always want a tiny head myself. I remember as a kid, friends always teased me for my huge head. I never heard the end of it. This was one of the reasons why I stayed away from home whenever I could, like when I went to university and eventually got a job from really far away. With enough burn on her cigarette, she stepped back and said thanks as she walked off. What a cool cat, I thought. Thinking that was the end of it, after a few more drinks, about half an hour later, the woman reappeared only this time she was with two others younger than her. This time, I saw them approaching me as they walked through the shoal of fishes who were lured in this place like me. “I’m sorry to bother you again, but can I borrow some light?” I always thought it was weird how people phrase that — “Borrowing light.” Anyway, even with much anticipation, I was still caught off-guard. And again, I mechanically responded to the request doing precisely as I did the first time. And as if it was a rehearsed choreography, she did exactly as she did then. It was Deja Vu. She tilted her head, accidentally showcased her jawline, weirded out by my staring before stepping back.
And just like that, she was gone. She got swallowed in the open sea of the crowd. Her two friends remained, however. To my surprise, they introduced themselves and ordered drinks for three. I rarely get the chance to tell you truthfully, I thought it was some sort of a sham. But it was not. I did not notice it at first, but the two girls were in fact twins. One of the twins told me that I looked rather familiar but I was quick to dismiss that notion, since I was not from around, and explained that I was just visiting someone. “Were you with some girl earlier down at some apartment on St. Mary street? Yeah, I think that was you alright.” The other twin hopped in excitement as if it was a discovery of the century. “Yes, yes, you were with your girlfriend heading upstairs.” I knew I didn’t see them in the building, but I confirmed that it was me and that it was my sister that was with me. They gave me a dubious look and turned to each other. “Right, your sister. we get it.” Then there was a friendly heckling that took place. While that was going on, I could not help but realize something about the twins. Something strangely familiar.
“You guys mentioned that you saw me at the apartment building where I was with my sister, right?” There was a pause before they affirmed it.
“Then you must be living there as well, are you not?”
That was when they told me that the landlord is their father. And during that same instance, I was reminded of that weird feeling when I met their old man that afternoon. As if something cold was poured all over me. The twins had that same look or should I say impression. A blank sort of mesh on their faces. Do not get me wrong, they both had full features, they were young, strikingly beautiful, but looking at them just gives you that sort of feeling that something was out of place. Like a desolate land or a barren plain. And the funny thing was when I turned to my drink to give it some thought, on my peripheral, they both appeared normal to me. Or should I say better, fuller? I do not know if I am making sense, but that is about the only way I know how to fully explain what I had seen or had not seen… The more I looked away they sort of appeared normal. And when I turned back to look directly at them, certain features or if I may say, certain body parts on their appearance were missing. As in gone, and they change each time as if the blank patches have a life of their own. I thought my eyesight was messing with me or probably the alcohol, but they were about the only ones I saw like that in the room. Now, it was at that point when I could no longer evade the awkwardness anymore.
“Oh-oh, I think we know what’s going on here.” one of the twins started.
“Do you think we should tell him?” sounding worried, the other depended for an answer.
At this point, I thought I was going to faint. Either because of what my mind could not comprehend or because of my behavior, of me being rude to my new friends.
The more talkative twin chased after my gaze and reassured me that I was not losing my mind. Then soon confessed that they have this rare condition that they too could not explain.
“We don’t even know what it is called.”
I wanted to give myself a pinch but I did not want to be more inappropriate. Clearly, they were bothered about it.
“Half of the town has it. But of course, we could not just go telling everyone about it. It is not a medical condition since the ‘onlookers’ are the ones basically experiencing the inadequacies. Does that make sense?”
“Yes.” was the only thing I said since I did not know what else to add.
“And we could not go out without anyone ‘normal’ tagging along. As you can tell, it is quite hard to comprehend.”
“And I assume the lady who was with you earlier was your chaperone?”
“Yes, she’s our guardian. She was just making sure you are okay.”
I did not know what to make of everything I learned that evening, I think the twins felt really awful too, in fact, they were really apologetic about the entire thing. I told them I was the one being stupid and less empathetic, and that I should be the one apologizing. I know I’m an awkward type of guy, but I knew how to break the ice. So, to take back the night, we ordered some more drinks until we could no longer handle our liquor and went back to the apartment. We were smashed.
The next thing I remember was the morning after when I woke up in the twins’ bed with nothing on. They both shared a bed. The twins were nowhere to be found but they left a note which they both signed thanking me for last night and hoping that I could stay around longer. I picked up my clothes and washed my face and when I opened the front door, the beautiful woman from the night before was right there leaning against the wall with an unlit cigarette on her lips. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. The woman did not say anything and just stood there with her eyes piercingly fixed at me.
“Oh, it’s you. Do you need some light?” I searched for my lighter, patting everywhere but could not find it. Then she took something out of her left-hand jacket and lit the cigarette. I thought it was mine, but I let it go and just walked past her. Up to now, I’m still not sure what that was about. But I think that was her implied way of warning me. She was, after all, the twins’ guardian.