“We are now at the age when we have to decide whether we should settle down to be an ordinary person or we should continue being special.” – Tamypu
I don’t know any other person who could possibly say that without appearing pretentious. Pu is special, the kind of special that makes you want to crack her brain open with a fine axe to see what is really going on inside her head.
I knew of Pu even before meeting her. She was famous. It was rumored in the publishing world that a book sold twice as much if she drew its cover. My Instagram feed was full of her cute, bubbly color paints. Teenage girls share her drawings on their Facebook to express the angst they wouldn’t know how to express otherwise. I fell in love. How could you not fall in love with something so deceptively simple yet so inexplicably bewitching?
When I first met her, I thought it was a hoax. I had imagined her with long hair, layered dress, cheeks glowing and nails of a cream color. But no. Standing in front of me was a tall, skinny boyish looking girl. Her hair was short. Her steps were brisk. She was wearing an army jacket, palladium boots and calling to me in a coarse voice the equivalent of “Dude, wanna grab some food?” in Vietnamese.
We got along surprisingly well. It was a love-hate relationship. People loved her and hated me. She graduated the top of her class, had hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook, worked with high profile brands from all over the world. I was a wild child, almost didn’t finish high school. My dream was to drop out of college to travel with the hippies in South America.
Yet we got along. She laughed hysterically at all the hate mails I got and I insisted that the love people lavished on her was misplaced. We called each other out for doing something stupid. “If you die doing this your parents will have to lie about the cause of your death because it’s so dumb.” We spent a weekend together on the mountains, I unsuccessfully taught her to swear in French and she fell asleep on me on a bus, neck bent, mouth open, saliva struggling to find a way down her chin. It was romantic.
Then I moved to the US. We talked sporadically. She met a boy. She fell in love. They were getting very serious. It didn’t work out. One thing led to another, she found herself in the UK. That was all I knew. We hadn’t talked for more than half an hour in the entire two years that we were apart. We outgrew each other, some might say. But a few weeks earlier, as I was traveling England on a whim, I decided to send Pu a message.
“I’m in the UK.”
“Come visit me in Brighton,” she wrote back. “Take coach because it’s cheaper.”
Her nonchalance worried me. Why didn’t she ask what I was doing in the UK? Why didn’t she ask anything about me? It was assumed that she’d pick me up from the station and I’d be crashing her couch. It had been two years. Would we still get along? But I took the coach down the coastal town nonetheless. Later, Pu told me that when the bus was late, she thought I had changed my mind.
We still got along. I’m no longer the wild child–I’m going to school now, no more doing crazy shit. Pu is no longer the brazen boy. Her failed relationships calmed her down. Being suddenly uprooted taught her the rough side of life. Her drawings got more depth. She came to the UK with only the clothes she had on her body–all her belongings stayed with her estranged ex. She had no friends, no family, could barely speak English. The admission committee at University of Brighton loved her drawings so much they had admitted her even though she only scored 5.0 on the IELTS. She struggled. She fought. She learned. After 9 months being by herself in a foreign land, she finally found a balance between being her natural childish self and the mature adult that life had made her become. We would be talking about stupid things like we always did and she would drop one piece of wisdom or another:
“Never settle for someone who doesn’t deserve you. Never.”
“Dude, I just wanted to know if you’re hungry.”
On the day I left, Pu saw me off at the bus station. The bus was again late for an hour.
“The hell, man. It was hard picking you up, now it’s hard getting rid of you,” Pu complained. I told her she didn’t have to wait at the station with me, but she hung around.
“Is there any last thing you want to tell me?” I asked as I boarded my bus. For all I know, we might not see each other again for a few years.
“Yeah. You ugly af,” she laughed. I looked out of the bus window and saw her standing there, staring at me as I rode into the sunset. My phone vibrated. A message from Pu. “Take care,” she said. No, Pu, you take care. Keep on being special, because the world is a less special place without you in it.