Between the hours of two and four, there is a soft spot in time where everything pauses, and I’m finally able to live in the present. I feel the stillness of the field faint on my bones, leaving its evanescent mark. And I let the calmness of the witching hour settle within me while I watch moths coordinate their dance against the light of the dying lamppost, all busy under the dark, looming sky.
The forest is humming and the people unaware. The quiet breathing of resting diurnal creatures come together in harmony with the intent-filled movement of nocturnal ones, who are hunting, gathering, searching, just as I am. I hear the soft garbling of frogs in the distance as well as the swaying of trees, as though in a trance. A serene tune orchestrated for a night like this; a night like any other.
I wonder, when one thinks of how the universe sings— do they picture humans to be part of the choir?
I used to, but I feel more and more disconnected from that part of me each day.
I’ve been here for almost 2 years now; the longest I’ve ever dreamt. I am fully aware, fully present, and still I know this is only temporary. I’ll wake, and then I’ll dream again. I’ll be slammed head-first into mediaeval kingdoms and extraterrestrial colonies and in each and every one of my dreams, the black-haired girl will be there. Sometimes she takes other forms, provided they’re living beings, but forever she is doe-eyed, button-nosed and beautiful. Always beautiful.
I know she’s here right now. My senses jolt me, sending prickles to the back of my spine. I hear the scutter of feline feet and I’m absolutely sure. Her stealth is nothing compared to the hours I’ve spent watching her from across gardens, over brick fences, and reflections in the summer lake. I’ve spent every morning under ripening suns listening to her eager chirps when she goes from door to door, pleading for leftovers. Every sound of hers is as easy to recognise as my own voice.
My instincts guide me to the footsteps. At this point, it’s a reflex. I am an animal now, after all— slave to my impulses.
I look for her every day. Like breathing, I’m not always conscious of it.
How can I not? When everything else becomes so much more vivid in her presence. I feel as if I’ve retained my humanity, deep with all its conflicting emotions. I start to see bright colours again; The asters bloom purple, not grey. The grasslands are no longer blotches of monochrome, but instead they begin to bleed pure, unadulterated life.
She is my constant— grounding me so I do not forget my original timeline. But that hardly matters. I was made to orbit around her, not vice versa, so let it be through the tangled threads of time. Let me continue this long dream.
The screams in my head go unanswered.
There is a pit in my stomach. I know I’ll wake soon. The years I had here were blissful, and I had gotten too comfortable in its routine. I feel it in my erratic pulse, each beat sending a warning signal to my brain. My instincts are never wrong. I’ve been through this too many times for them to falter now. It’s almost time for goodbyes.
The woodlands are thick and at this time, the scenery tends to fold together into a blur. The night mist obstructs my view and the trees cast shadows that resemble portals, able to swallow me whole. But eventually I see her, and she sees me.
For a moment I swear her eyes light up. She saunters over, her ink-black tail oscillating with the grace of a runway model.
“Where have you been?” she asks.
I imagine myself doing what’s as close as possible to a smile a cat can do. She was looking for me.
“That’s my line.”
“Ah,” she explains, pacing in slow circles around me. With each step, the crackle of leaves and twigs echo into the night. “I went to see Poki. Something’s been bothering me, so I wanted to see what he had to say.”
I try to maintain eye contact, following the centripetal rhythm she has set. “That pig knows nothing. What did you even talk to him about?”
“It’s not that serious… It’s just that the family who grows corn left last week. And before that it was the family with the blue house, and before that it was… Well, you know. Things are changing. We’re getting left behind.”
She’s right. I felt it months ago. Families were moving away to the city. The neighbourhood grew increasingly deserted as years went by. There was a kind-hearted indigenous elder who treated us creatures with the delicateness of handling a newborn baby; she was undeniably connected to the land in a way I could never fully understand. I never expected her to leave it, but in the end she wished to be with her son, and I completely understand that desire. I know loneliness all too well, and I also know that there is no one above it.
“Is that so bad?” I can’t help but question. We had a home here together, regardless of who leaves and who stays.
“Yes! Don’t you think so? Soon there will be no one but us. No more home-cooked meals. No more head rubs and cosying up on different households’ sofas every winter night,” She pauses. “Who will take care of us?”
My Jia. Always needing affection. Does she realise how much I could give?
“Isn’t that obvious? I’ll take care of us.”
But the truth is wanting to pick out the stars, peeling them layer by layer to make cosmic soup. The truth is swallowing knives and expecting a clean mess of innards all arranged and neat.
When I wake, I’ll be too far gone in time to take care of the you I see now. The feline you. All I can do is trust myself to do it for me. For I will never know the fate of the two cats in the North American woodlands.
The land remembers what we say. I know that now. And in time, wherever I am, whoever I am, I hope it watches us without a word. So I can meet and fall in love with her in oblivious joy all over again.
She doesn’t say a word, but I see it on her face. My words are on her mind, and I believe she’s listening. I believe she trusts me.
We interlock our tails. For a brief moment, we share our warmth with each other. The arsis of night is cold, but not cold enough.
The pain is excruciating once I realise I’m awake. Gone is the life I’ve built for the last 2 years, and it doesn’t ever get easier. It takes me a full day cocooned inside of my duvet choking, sobbing to find the strength to persevere. My sheets are damp, full of tears and the room is freezing cold. My veins feel like ice. I miss spring. I want to go home.
I force myself to reach out my hand onto my bedside table, desperately grabbing at things in hopes of finding my phone. No matter how long it’s been for me, only a night has passed for my physical body. I need to check the time. I have responsibilities now; there are deadlines, exams, and classes I’ve forgotten. A whole identity I’ve left behind.
The years I’ve spent building a relationship with Jia come to nothing in this reality, where we’re mere strangers. I don’t even know her current name. In the past and future, she’s gone by dozens of other names— Imka, Edith, Joohyun, Dean, many others and of course, my Jia: the first version of her I fell in love with sometime in the 1950s of San Francisco.
I see her from time to time on campus. After class, she studies in the library around the same time I do. So I’m here, almost brain dead, trying my hardest to solve this chemistry paper. She’s here too, peacefully fast asleep on her textbooks. I keep stealing glances even though I shouldn’t. I look like a stalker. I am a stalker. I came here on purpose in hopes of seeing her.
But I’m terrified of approaching her like this, forced to say something as meagre as “Hello, what’s your name?” while knowing I’d die for her, and that I probably did die for her in past lives I’ve never encountered before.
I’ve had a whole lifetime with her, and she doesn’t know any of it. It feels wrong. Jia is constantly changing right in front of my eyes, whereas I still remain the same no matter what.
I’m stuck in this endless loop of dream immortality, fated to experience everything; disaster, heartbreak, joy, love. And then I experience it all again until my death— my inconceivable death. It stands centuries ahead of me. And because of that, in the wake, we can never be on the same wavelength.
A few months have gone by without any lucid dreams. I’m too afraid to sleep. There’s no telling when I’ll go for my “trips” or when I’ll return. Nothing is certain, except that sleeping will always have the possibility of sending me somewhere. And after begging every God out there to let me stay in my little countryside life only to have it abruptly taken away from me, for a while I attempt to starve myself of the horror that is rest.
These nights, I’ve been downing Monster drinks to keep my caffeine levels at a constant high. I study during productive nights and on others, I write in my journal all the things I’ve experienced, scribbling detail after detail until the midnight hues outside the window melt into orange. Without realising it, I’ve finished two entire notebooks now.
I started this to get over her. I started this to forget her, but what if it has the opposite effect? Maybe there’s no end to the obsession I have. Maybe the dreams will never end. We are irrevocably tied in a way beyond ourselves.
Through the lens of the past, present and future, I’ll be watching our transient lives like grains of sand in the palm of my cupped hands.
I was made to orbit her.
I remember now.
I give in.
In one dream, the strangest one yet, we were so far back in time that none of the animals were recognisable. In fact, nothing was.
An extra lesson or two in geography might’ve helped me map out which exact prehistoric era this was. For all I know, it could’ve been as early as the Cambrian era, the very beginning.
We were soft-bodied creatures roaming the infant world, hunting along seabeds with the sole purpose of surviving. We stuck together without logical reason, Jia and I. In the absence of words, the two of us fought off ancient predators of the ocean depths in our slug-like forms. In a way, I got to answer the question “Would you still love me if I was a worm?” quite literally.
But this vessel couldn’t hold me for long. I started losing my language. My inner-voice dwindled as hours passed, and I was truly. truly losing the last traces of civilisation within me. It was time for me to go.
In a different life, we were simply barista and customer. I worked full-time as a lawyer in modern day Singapore. It must have been the life following right after my current one. During lunch breaks, I would always take the lift down to the mall interconnected with my office building and I’d grab coffee with my officemates. I ordered for us so I could have the chance to make small talk with Jia when there wasn’t a queue.
We talked about meaningless things, like the weather and how work was going. She was interested in how a real courtroom looked compared to the movies, and whether I met any psychopathic killers in my line of work. It made me so grateful to have this job, solely because it acted as fuel for our conversations. Although the imposter “me” of this world didn’t quite remember any of these details or how to actually be a lawyer, a few months on the job was more than enough fodder to give a few stories. This exchange of words went on for a month, before I woke up again.
Despite my pliant heart, I went into the next dream without a struggle. And I’m so glad I did, because I got to see my Jia again. I didn’t even think it was possible to go back to the 50s. It changed everything I thought I knew about my dreams.
The blanks were a bit difficult to fill in, but to put it simply: Her parents kicked her out, disapproving of our unorthodox relationship. I wouldn’t let them leave her at the mercy of the streets, so I asked her to move in with me. And when I came back again, we got to live our days in heaven. Our 9-5 part time jobs didn’t matter, as long as we came home to each other. On special nights, I came home with groceries and cooked simple dinners for us; chilli con carne, fried rice, carbonara pasta. Sometimes she’d peer over me and wrap her arms around my waist, resting her chin on my shoulder.
“You smell like onions.” she told me once.
“Move away then, silly.”
“No, I like it… I like anything if it’s you,”
My heart skipped a beat.
“I could just eat you,” she joked.
I could eat you too, I wanted to say. To keep you permanently with me, just as you are now.
I miss being able to touch her soft round cheeks, and her slight curls resting on the nape of her neck. She kept trying to tie it up hoping it’d stay put, but it never did. I found it all so endearing.
At the moment, I’m trying to make peace with being strangers, but in everything she does I see my lover. Her subtle habits like picking at her fingernails, folding the corner of books instead of using bookmarks, and the capability to sleep anywhere despite the noise, they all tug at me from a distant place. I’m overwhelmed with guilt.
What I need is to distract myself, without fighting the dreams. This seems more plausible. The least I can do is avoid the library as much as I can. We’re in different courses, so there’s no other place we share besides it. Not here, anyways.
After class, I walk straight to the dorms. The route I take is usually devoid of students at night, but at this time, peak hour, the others are rushing off to the train station, desperate to get home. I find myself carried by the sea of people, strong gusts of wind roaring like war in my ears. The change of pace allows me to switch off my brain and empty my mind.
I fill my hours at the residence with studying; going through assignment after assignment, worksheet after worksheet. I do this until my mouth goes numb and my legs slack. Until the whirring of the fan is no longer distinguishable, and then I pass out, ready for a do-over in the morning.
My first final comes in the blink of an eye. The questions are predictable, abiding by the same generic pattern as seen in the past papers I’ve done. It isn’t too difficult after all that. How funny, I think. It’s not just us predestined to occur again and again throughout the Earth’s lifespan. Intentionally or not, everything was subjected to this cycle.
I place my pen down as the final few seconds end. The invigilators drive us out of the hall, and there is a flurry of movement. Goodbyes are quickly expressed amongst my friends and I, and I hurriedly run off to the walkway. I feel as though I’m swimming. There is still so much to do. So much to think about, and I—
A hand grabs me.
“It’s you,” the person exclaims, holding me still. It’s Jia. Jia is talking to me.
She realises how surprised I am and lets go. For a brief moment, she seems to be at a loss for words.
“I wanted to tell you… I— I was going to tell you if I ever mustered up the courage for it, but then you stopped showing up. And I thought I lost my chance.”
What is she talking about? How does she know who I am? My mind races, but all I can do is gaze at her, eyes stained with tears and beads of sweat on her forehead. I realise that she ran to catch up with me.
She continues, her voice airy and hesitant, “I keep having dreams about you… It sounds insane, I know. I know that. I’m not trying to freak you out or anything, but I can’t risk the possibility of never seeing you again.”
I hadn’t stopped to consider that maybe… I wasn’t alone in this. We shared the same plight; the same fears and worries. I was selfish to think otherwise.
“I—“ I try to find the words, but just like her, I’m at a loss.
Was it curiosity? Or did she fall as hard as I did, body all bruised? Did we ever meet in our dreams? Did I ever kiss her? I want to know it all. I want to know…
I grab her hands, urgency overcoming all reason.
“What’s your name?”
“Yasmine,” she replies, a shade of almond rose spreading across her face. “My name is Yasmine.”
Written By: Zara