Ben wipes off his mouth after he munches his last bite of quesadillas and clears his throat softly, “I guess you heard me clearly, you just didn’t know what to answer.”
“What do you mean?”
“About destiny. Do you believe in it?”
“Well…” and then I pause.
“Do you?” He sounds demanding.
“I do.” It doesn’t take seconds for Ben to answer that.
“And why is that?”
“When I was fifteen years old my Dad had a heart attack.”
“Oh my god–”
“Yeah, he had this habit to read newspaper at the terrace after he dropped me off to school. My mom would serve him a cup of coffee and then went back inside and started cooking. It’s always like that for as long as I remembered. But that day, my mom didn’t start cooking after she served my dad his coffee, she called her cousin. It was too early I guess to call people, but she did it anyway.”
“Early? How early?”
“Well, My dad just dropped me off… so I guess around seven, seven-thirty?”
“After my mom called her cousin, she supposed to go to kitchen to cook, right? But she didn’t. She went out to the terrace to ask my Dad something. She had never done this before. Ever. Do you know what happened?”
“Your dad got a heart attack?”
“Yes. How weird is that?”
“It’s coincidence, Ben. Not a destiny.”
“It is a destiny. You know why?”
“Because what my Mom was about to say to my Dad was that she wanted a divorce.”
“She didn’t love him anymore.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Don’t be. My Dad was such an ass,” he chuckles.
“Yeah, he treated my mom like she was his property. He was a control freak and a bully.”
“So what happened then?”
“They never got divorced.”
“See? Now you also want my Mom to divorce him, don’t you?” He smiles.
“It’s not that. I just… I never like a guy who thinks he is superior to woman. I’m not a feminist or anything but that’s just not cool. Isn’t marriage about teamwork? Your dad, sitting there, and then your mom brings him coffee? Every single day? Doesn’t it sound like middle age?”
“You can say that because you live in Paris, Ellie. You’re independent and free. My mom wasn’t. She didn’t get divorce because she too was taking advantages from him. He had been the only bread winner as long as I live.”
“So it’s about money?”
“No it’s not. It’s about habit. My mom had never worked her entire life. She was born to be a housewife.”
“That’s because your dad made her a housewife. I don’t think someone who was born to be a housewife would dare to ask for a divorce, Ben. She would have been enjoying her life as a housewife then.”
“Well, she did enjoy eventually, after my Dad died.”
“Oh… wow, sorry, Ben. I didn’t mean…”
“That’s okay, Ellie.”
“He didn’t survive the heart attack?”
“He did. My mom took care of him for the next two years and then he got better and he was back to office but then he died three years ago. Another heart attack.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“That’s fine. You would be happy to know that my mom has gained her freedom ever since.”
“Ben… That sounds sad.”
“No, really. It’s not. You will understand if you see the bigger picture and if you see my mom.”
I smile, “if I see your mom?”
“No, no, no, I didn’t mean it like that. It was just metaphorically—“
“Ben. I get it. Relax.” I laugh softly.
“Well, I must’ve sounded panic but I wasn’t. Just to be clear. You know… Because it’s weird… To ask you to see my mom, like to meet her. Well I didn’t—“
“You’re doing it again.” I stopped him before he embarrassed himself more.
“Yeah… Sorry about that.”
“Do you live with your mom?”
“No actually. I’m almost twenty nine years old, Ellie. What do you think?” He asks sarcastically.
“I just thought since you live in Indonesia, living with parents is okay. Singaporeans do that all the time… even until they turn thirty-something.”
“Yeah, maybe because unmarried person isn’t allowed to buy subsidized house in Singapore and non-subsidized apartments are just way too expensive. See they end up stuck with their parents until they get married. Most of them turned to be spoiled brats.”
“And you’re not one because… you’re rich enough to buy non-subsidized apartment?”
I laugh, “Of course not. I moved out.”
“I rented a room by myself.”
“And leave your family? Isn’t that useless, since you live in the same city? I mean, paying the rent every month is useless, right?”
“Well, that’s the best for me anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing. I just think that’s the best thing. Like you, why did you move out from your mom?”
“Because I’m capable to buy my own house and I want to live independently.”
“Well, I’m not capable for the first one but I want the second one. Got it?”
“Make sense. You’re willing to pay the price for independence.”
“I see. Then why did you move to Paris?”
“I told you. I was looking for inspirations.”
Ben squints, “what kind of inspirations?”
“Wait, Ben. I heard a little birdie wants to send you a message. What? Oh okay. Ben, little birdie said we had this conversation earlier.”
“Ha. Ha. Funny.” Ben shows his unamused face.
“I like Paris, so I came here and I don’t want to leave.”
“You like it so you decided to move here, just like that? So… you’re like a daughter of deceased millionaire or something… Intriguing…”
I burst out laughing. “Well, we can agree on that.”
“You have a dimple.” Ben touches my left cheek. “I like to see them when you laugh. And your eyebrows that always look like you’re angry,” he moves his fingers on my eyebrow. “And the sound of your laugh… is so contagious.” He stares deep into my eyes.
“You’re talking like you’ve known me forever.”
“Well I feel like I’ve known you forever.”
And then we’re silenced. I let him touch my eyes, my forehead and then his fingers gently stroke my hair. It feels good.
“You haven’t answered my question.” He takes back his hand.
“About destiny. Do you believe it?”
“Hmm… I guess I do.”
“And why is that?”
“I might not have a moment that made me believe it like you had with your dad but I do believe it. I just do. I believe that every moment in our lives is destiny. coming to Paris was a destiny. Meeting you was a destiny. Every moment has its own role in my life.”
“You’re right. Of all the cities you could visit with your deceased millionaire money, you chose Paris, and I happened to be in it.” Then we laugh.
“Sometimes I think I’m crazy, “I say in hesitation.
“Because you blew off your London trip and went off to eat Taquitos with a suspected serial killer?”
“Yes. This is a little crazy, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, but I’m glad you blew off that trip.”
“So you can murder me?”
Ben bursts into laughter.
“Especially after you know I have a deceased millionaire father.”
“Jackpot!” He continues laughing.
“But I like it when I do crazy things. I feel alive.”
“I’ve wasted too many years being sane; I think it’s time for me to be a little crazy. To really live my life. No regrets. I feel happy now, right now, this moment. I don’t know what would happen tomorrow or next month, I just want to be happy now. I know I deserve to be happy even though this is probably the most selfish thing I’ve done.”
Ben stares at me in silence.
“I sound like a lunatic, don’t I?”
“Nah! Not even close to lunatic. Remember we have Van Gogh as comparison.”
That brings a smile on my face. “You always have the words to make me laugh.”
“Always? It seems like you’ve known me forever.”
“Well, I do feel like have known you forever.”
“Good, that certifies that I’m not the only emo-hippies here.”
We have a good laugh and then Ben pays for our lunch. “No, no, no! Let me pay mine,” I insist.
“Hey, this is the least I can do by making you extremely starving.”
“Thank you,” I say nicely. “Tonight’s dinner is on me then.”
“Good. It means you’re gonna stay with me until dinner.” He grins happily at me.
Ben opens the door for me when we exit the restaurant and ask, “so, where are we going now?”
I grab his hand and say excitedly, “We’re going to visit your lunatic uncle Vincent.”
Ben looks at me in disbelief, “Van Gogh?”