The Final Chapter: Pen Lane, Writers’ Block

A strange sense of relieved achievement washed over me as I poured myself a glass of red wine, knowing my laborious day had come to a good end. I switched on the television, deciding to watch a movie, as I snuggled into the bed with my wine. I still kept my laptop open on the nightstand in case I remembered the missing details.

Sipping and refilling my glass happily watching Avatar showing chronicles of alien life on the television, I snoozed on and off, typing down my ideas every now and then, feeling good. My exhaustion caused the wine to have double its effect on me and it was pleasing. There were bees buzzing in my head. Relaxed and thankful for a good evening, I finally dozed off sitting, caring not for the television that was still on. Tomorrow would be a new day; I was grateful I’d be able to attend the convention without any worries or hurries.

—————

I woke up to alarms blaring in my ear. Stunned and utterly hungover, I dragged myself to the edge of the bed and swung my feet over. The place where they hit the rug was…damp. A wave of dread descended on my being, trying to deny any drunk idiocy out of existence. My eyes slowly moved with trepidation to the spot where my feet rested on the rug; I saw the wine bottle toppled over on it by the nightstand. As my heart raced in denial, my eyes travelled up to the nightstand where I’d kept my laptop…

…and there was wine all over the keyboard.

Sweating and breathing short now, it seemed to me that time stopped in that moment, and I was sucked into an endless loop of regret.

My stomach gurgled again.

*****************

I sat on my chair at the convention with the mental state of a panicked dinosaur running from an angry cat. My laptop was shot, and it took with it not only my breakthrough in the writing scene, but also the presentation I was supposed to deliver here today. My purling stomach reminded me that the laptop wasn’t my only problem. My hungover head reminded me that my stomach wasn’t the only problem. My mind reminded me it probably wasn’t a good idea pairing wine with diarrhea.

I popped an Alka-Seltzer in my water-bottle and gulped it down, fidgeting with my phone, trying to create a makeshift presentation – it would just have to do. I swear to Shakespeare my neighbors were judging me.

I prayed to the cosmos to let me get through the presentation.

———-

Returning to the hotel, I crashed in my bed, utterly exhausted. The presentation had been alright, but it had failed to lift my spirits. I decided I’d give up for the time being. Just rest some. There were still 6 hours yet for my flight, so I decided to take a nap before packing. Packing could wait. So could my idea. Everything could wait. I decided to recover from the last 24 hours prior to diving headlong into another mammoth task.

***************************

EPILOGUE

I returned home last night. It was a majorly crazy trip and I have to admit, I almost lost it. As soon as I set foot in my house I went straight for the bed and dropped dead like a sack of potatoes. I slept the most relieved sleep of my life and woke up with the sun.

I realized something as I saw the sun rising; what if I just gave it a little time? What if I slowed down and let my mind get its gears in place? Would I fare any better? Deciding to give it a shot, I made myself a steaming cup of chamomile tea and a warm bubble bath. I let myself get soaked in the indulgence and unwind. I then prepared a healthy salad for breakfast and ate quietly looking at the birds outside my window. You know what? It worked. It all started to come back to me. Instead of letting panic take over, I controlled my urge to hurry and went through deliberate motions of setting up my writing desk before starting to jot it down.

Here I am now, smiling with the sun shining brightly on my pearly whites, looking happily at my journal that now contains important material for my next bestseller.

It is as they say: haste makes waste!

Part 5/6: Pen Lane, Writers’ Block

Muttering curses under my breath, I hailed a taxi and left the airport behind. Not only was I exhausted from fighting with the unfortunate coincidences, I was also woozy from the diarrhea. My silent lamentation over the lost details soon turned into a whirlwind of expletives directed at my own brain for being a weak memorizer; my chauffeur must certainly have been puzzled. Would I ever remember those details again?! I stuffed my face with a bao bun I bought off a store in an attempt to swallow the waterfall gushing out of my eyes.

As my mind-fog cleared, my brain announced it was ready to take the reigns back. I was doubtful but tired so I just followed along. My laptop had been resting peacefully in my checked-in luggage all this time…and I would have access to it in half an hour when I reached my hotel. Notebooks, pens, chargers, laptops, toilet papers – you name it; my woes would soon end.

—————-

Beaming ear-to-ear with a pair of swollen eyes, I was now happily typing away at my laptop. It was difficult to remember all the information I’d jotted down on 5 lengths of the toilet paper but I got close enough. This would serve me just fine. At the chime of 7 ‘o’ clock, I heard the room service bell ring.

“Your wine, madame,” a muffled voice came travelling in through the closed door.

“Please come in,” I responded. “You may put it down on the nightstand; thank you!”

Since I’d be able to carry my book forward with this little idea, I thought it’d be nice to celebrate finally recording it.

Little did I know…

Part 4/6: Pen Lane, Writers’ Block

The 2-hour flight was well-spent after my stressful ordeal with loose bowels and crappy luck – I was able to jot my idea down. It was now securely resting in the inner pocket of my jacket. I noticed it gave my gait a happy bounce as I disembarked from the flight – which turned out to be a very bad idea. Something moved downwards in my abdomen; something that felt like a bowling ball with considerable momentum, ominously and imminently threatening to break the levee in mere moments.

Oh, my bleachwhite pots.

Sweating bullets, I made a darting arrow towards the restrooms. My desperate calls for excuse announced my urgency as I dashed into the empty restroom.

Sweet release.

My heart was still racing as I breathed sighs of relief. Calming down, I let myself smile at the events I’d gone through today. All’s well that ends well. Chuckling, I realized I was done and reached for the toilet paper…and my eyes widened. There was none. The stand was empty – not so much as a white scrap hung anywhere inside the uselessly bare stall.

My treacherous mind victoriously went on to remind me, given the day I’d had, that there was some length of toilet paper stashed away in the inner pocket of my jacket.

Luck is a funny thing; even more so when it’s broken. Now that I was stuck to the toilet seat, having realized I couldn’t use the toilet paper I had, it dawned on me that the restroom was eerily quiet – crushing any hopes of borrowing some from the stall next door.

With tears of self-damnation in my eyes I bit the bullet and cleaned myself with my priceless idea.

I would find out later that this restroom was temporarily closed for service which, in my haste, I’d failed to notice. Luck.

Part 3/6: Pen Lane, Writers’ Block

Zipping past sheep-white clouds strapped to a seat in a metal tube, I had practically nothing better to do than search for a pen in my bag. Doing exactly that, I managed to surprise myself at the sundry collection I had amassed in there – and most of it was useless in times like these. Mints, a bunch of keys, a 2-inch plushie, flower seeds, CC cream, a pair of earrings I didn’t know I owned, hairpins and ties, a pair of socks, even! My luck that day didn’t allow me to locate a pen in there, though.

Defeated, I stole a stiff look at the toddler seated beside me out of the corner of my eye. I wouldn’t suppose you’d have a pen by any chance, would you? I thought. Haah. Time to call for help. I extended my arm and pushed the call button on the aircraft ceiling. Within moments, a flight attendant materialized in the aisle.

“Good afternoon, miss. How may I help you?

“Ahh – I uh, may I borrow your pen for a bit, please?” as I spoke, my stomach rebelled with a godzillian gurgle, tossing our conversation into an air of sheepish awkwardness. I smiled apologetically.

“Of- of course, miss,” with a flair of extensive training and habituality, the attendant produced a pen from one of her suit pockets and handed it to me. I received it with head bowed and both palms open in utter reverence and humility towards it, afraid my unluck would rub off on the thing.

I proceeded then to extract my pocket mirror from the bag so I’d have a stiff surface for my flimsy toilet paper. All set, I exhaled a whale-load of stress through my pout and finally started jotting down my precious idea, ignoring my obstreperous stomach and its antics.

Part 2/6: Pen Lane, Writers’ Block

In the restroom waiting area, I was squatting on the floor over my handbag looking for my phone. It wasn’t hard ignoring all the stares directed at me when I finally found it. My phone refused to look alive. Almost hoping my glare would electrify it back into existence, my futile effort fidgeting with its buttons only coaxed from it a slight vibration of the dying second. Alright, I thought to myself, breathing out. Charger. I went back to the rabbit hole that my handbag was, this time searching for my charger.

The human brain has strange work-habits. Mine, for example, had a knack for being scattered whenever I was pressed for time and still had tasks to finish. Having left home half an hour later than I should have to comfortably catch my flight, I found myself with loose bowels upon arriving to the airport. Now, having relieved myself partially as I squatted searching for my charger, my brain kindly reminded me I had checked it in with my luggage in the mindless haste.

Holy mother of turds.

My priceless idea kept slipping away like the time I didn’t have on my hands with the last call to my flight being announced. I breathed out again. Paper and pen. Now looking for a scrap of paper, the depth of my handbag warped and looped itself into a pretzel, unrelentingly resisting to produce any kind of writeable surface. Desperate, I grabbed a length of toilet paper from the stands and made a run for the boarding gate.

Seated, I finally breathed a sigh of relief. I could now finally get to jotting down my precious little thought bubble. I opened my handbag, sucked my breath in and started to search for a pen in the dark depths of it, unperturbed by the wailing 3-year old in the seat adjacent to mine.

All this while, my stomach kept gurgling.

Part 1/6: Pen Lane, Writers’ Block

Eureka!

…was the only thought swirling in my mind.

For weeks now I had struggled with the most frustratingly stubborn writers’ block of my life; and just as my passive, dry brain had finished building a wall to ram itself into, it had hit a eureka moment instead. I looked around. I was in a toilet stall with my pants down, obviously taking care of important business. Hurriedly, I frantically fished for my pocket in the crumpled crevasses of my jeans wherein I fully expected to find my phone, wherefrom, thence, I could proceed to record my freshly conjured, ground-breaking, trailblazing idea.

As my body kept unloading, I kept fishing – only to realize my phone wasn’t to be found in the crumpled crevasses of my clothing. Taking a deep breath in, I closed my eyes in intense concentration, trying with every ounce of the remaining neurons I had to etch my ingenious designs in the sulci of my brain…and released a very loud, splashing turd instead. As if on cue, my concentration was broken by an ear-splitting knock on the stall door.

“You’re holding up a queue, lady!”

I broke out in cold sweat, physically feeling my brainchild crumbling to bits. This cannot be allowed to happen, I thought. If I lose this tail, I’ll be going around in circles again – and for who knows how long? I put on a brave face and decide to leave my important business unfinished in order to finish another important business more important than the current one. I cleaned up and dashed out of the stall, leaving a very confused queue of ladies behind who began to have second thoughts on entering the stall after me.

The Final Chapter: As Seasons Change

The udon and pork okonomiyaki sat on their table, unnoticed and cold. Their eyes seemed to have found an empty spot beside their food and devoted all attention to it. Minutes ticked away on the wall clock behind Tohru. His mind had gone blank; he debated with his wisdom to refrain from asking Aki the questions buzzing in his mind. Did they matter anymore? Here was a woman who had affected all 5 of his senses profoundly, only to unimaginably jam them all up…yet all he wanted was for her to not look like him right now.

“Aki,” he looked at her. She met his gaze. “It’s okay,” all of Tohru’s emotions stayed somehow leashed in by the flimsy force of his raised eyebrows.

Fresh moisture dotted Aki’s eyes and reddened her nose. Tears remained tightly reigned-in with her clenched jaws as she was resolute not to lose anymore of them. Sniffling, she cleared her throat and spoke with a slash of desperate smile, “Right. Let’s eat now, the food is all cold…!”

Digging in, both of them surprised themselves eating heartily, being able to enjoy soggy noodles and cold meat. The mood lightened up a bit; they began to smile and chuckle more with each mouthful.

“See? Food’s not that bad even when cold. You just have to know how to enjoy it,” remarked Tohru, with a mouthful of pork and lettuce.

With a sombre happiness, Aki thought of Roy. “You’re right…” she said, gazing away into the blue sky dotted with bleach white clouds. Turning to look at Tohru with sparkles in her eyes, she continued, “Thank you.”

With an expression of sorrowful understanding, Tohru blinked his eyes and pursed his lips for a moment at Aki. The weather was warm and summer would set in soon…and he had known all along that cherry blossoms faded quickly.

———————–

EPILOGUE

In the autumn of that year, as Aki stood by her taxi in front of her apartment, Tohru loaded up her luggage. She was going back to her homeland – to Roy.

They had continued to meet occasionally after savouring cold food in the restaurant that fateful day. Aki had resolved to fix things with Roy; Tohru had decided to focus more on his studies. Now as he was set to see her off, a pang of loneliness bit at him – a feeling Aki had long left behind. She looked like a butterfly. Smiling ear to ear, he gave her a warm hug and wrapped his muffler around her neck when he let go. “You take care, okay?”

“You too. Live well!” smiling wide, she was in the taxi, waving and speeding away.

Tohru never knew Aki was married.

Aki never found out Tohru still went to the park every single day.

Part 5/6: As Seasons Change

Cherry blossoms bloomed full into the ending April, washing Kyoto in an unmatched blushed pink. Aki’s beige business suit complemented the late spring colours as she sat waiting on the iron bench in the park. Ducks waddled in the water pleasurably quacking away but Aki’s eyes stayed laid on the path before her as she waited for Tohru. A heady fragrance of jasmines wafted in and teased her nose, vying for her attention, and failed. Her gaze was focused on a silhouette in the distance that was jogging towards her. A familiar silhouette. Tohru had arrived.

Aki stood up impatiently as Tohru approached. A wash of relief, surprise, happiness and anxiety covered his expressions upon seeing her. She faced him square. Tohru stopped barely a foot away from her for a few moments, gazing fixatedly into her eyes. His hand reached for her hair and began to remove stray sakura petals from it. “How long have you been waiting for me?” asked he, with a splash of concern. The question broke Aki’s heart.

—————–

The day rode on nonchalantly as Aki and Tohru sat in a cozy restaurant. “I’m sorry I ghosted you, Tohru,” Aki wouldn’t look at him. His hand reached for hers and held it gently. “Is everything okay?”

She bit her lip and looked at the cotton clouds drifting in the sky. Bringing her gaze slowly back to their hands, “I’m sorry,” she said, drawing her hand away from his, “But we must stop here.” She looked straight into his eyes and took the shot point-blank.

Tohru remained speechless for a long time, forgetting to breathe.

Looking at each other through moist eyes and strained smiles, in that moment, both of them knew spring had ended.

Part 4/6: As Seasons Change

Time flowed like sand, weeks passed. Every single morning, Tohru found himself lurking around the park bench.

Aki never showed up.

He would sit on the bench and regret each moment of it. He would regret seeing her and wanting to see her more. He would regret not asking for her number. His favourite spot in the park was transforming into a world of dread for him; but he still went there, every morning, without fail.

———————–

“How have you been…?” Roy’s raspy voice made the phone connection sound glitchy.

“…I’ve…been okay,” Aki replied, her voice trailing off. Meeting Tohru had strained her relationship with her husband even further and made it challenging for her to speak with him. They had grown apathetically distant through the years; Aki missed the spark she’d felt for Roy. He’d just drifted apart effortlessly. When she’d met Tohru, sparks had flown again.

“You know…I’ve been thinking, Aki – ”

“Don’t, Roy…let’s not do this over the phone.” Aki could hear Roy’s heart breaking. She couldn’t help noticing that he was trying to make amends, make their marriage work. She wasn’t ready yet. She’d found what she was missing in her life and it just wasn’t with Roy. Tohru’s affectionate gaze plastered itself in Aki’s mind, making her feel guilty of seeing his face while on call with her husband. She excused herself and hung up.

8 months had gone by in Kyoto. Aki hadn’t once thought of reconciling with Roy – yet here he was, calling her 4 times a week, concerned and hopeful. Then there was Tohru, whose stubborn, kind, doting face refused to leave Aki’s head.

Falling to the floor on her knees, she buried her face in her palms and sobbed out of loneliness, aloneness and guilt.

Part 3/6: As Seasons Change

The aroma of freshly ground coffee beans wafted heedlessly around their table as Aki and Tohru sat babbling and laughing merrily. Their jabber seemed unending; words flowed effortlessly and tore down walls like sunlight stealing through a dense tree canopy. Early peonies peeked in through the window by their table in curiosity, joined by the wisterias hanging down from the lintels. The waitress came and refilled their cups for the third time before they decided to order omurice and profiteroles for breakfast…and even the food couldn’t pause their prattle.

At the chime of high noon, Aki finally managed to check the time and gasped. “Oh, my! But we just came here!”

Tohru let out a hearty chuckle, “I know.” Gently, his expression changed, like a sheer curtain with a swirl of sombre affection being pulled over his face. He held Aki’s gaze for one long, ticking moment and she held his. “Will I see you again…?” Tohru asked, not looking away.

Nobody was smiling anymore.

Aki wrestled her eyes away from his and looked down at her empty coffee cup. Her answer came a few restless breaths later.

“If the park bench wishes us to meet, we will,” she looked at his kind face again before gathering her things, paid her tab and left.

Tohru sat alone once again.

In his 3 years of university life, he hadn’t met anyone who had affected him this deeply; Aki seemed to have done it by doing nothing at all. Sun or moon, all he wanted was to talk to her. He wanted to hear her laughter that fell like the sakuras she had sat beneath.

“Damn,” he muttered, “I’m done for.”