Tristan, the man who woke me up

Tristan, the man who woke me up

This tale of unexpected love by Leanne Ng, 14, of King George V School, was runner-up in the short story competition sponsored by the SCMP and RTHK.

The first time I saw Tristan was on one inconspicuous day of November in 2006. It was just beginning to change from autumn to winter and the air was chilly. He was standing on the side of the street in a blue puffy jacket and dark worn jeans. His shoulder-length hair whipped over his face, blurring his features. But his voice was loud and clear as he yelled over the bustling passers-by and the loud honks of vehicles moving slowly in the thick traffic, a rather high, attention-commanding, very noticeable voice: "Hot coffee! Get your hot coffee, quick, fresh and on-the-go!"

I wasn't particularly thirsty, but I was tired, and I had a long day of work ahead of me. So I slowed and bought a cup of coffee. He handed it to me in a styrofoam cup, steaming hot. I sipped it, the milk-heavy liquid coating my throat with warmth and sweetness.

I'd bought the coffee to wake me up, but he was the one who really woke me up instead.

I'd never met anyone like Tristan. He was poor. Let me just get that out of the way. He lived in Hong Kong, like me, but he didn't have a high-profile job. He was a street peddler, selling coffee in the winter and lemonade in the summer.

He didn't own a luxurious apartment in a complex in Kowloon Tong or a four-storey Sai Kung house - he had a dingy flat in a poor neighbourhood, a one-bedroom fix with a bathroom shared with a neighbour. He wasn't financially successful or highly educated or famous. But he was interesting. He knew how to make people smile. He was charismatic and cheerful and so alive, and in the midst of all the hurried people of Hong Kong, he knew how to slow it all down with his vibrancy. And when I asked him how he could always have that jovial smile on his face, the smile widened and he told me, "Ben, you're not really rich until you have something money can't buy".

I remember walking off down the street when he yelled after me, "By the way, call me".

I froze, turned around and stared at him, my heart racing. The guy had the nerve to wink. But I had more to think about than that. How had he known? How had he known I was that kind of person, felt that kind of attraction?

I looked at him and shook my head, feeling slightly stupid that I was standing 10 feet away and looked like I was shaking my head at nothing.

He did, too, but he didn't seem to care. "Why not?" he mouthed, and I huffed an impatient breath and shouted, "I don't have your number".

The sidewalk was so full of noise my voice was almost lost in the crowd. But he heard. He smiled. He laughed.

"You'll find it," he yelled back. Then he turned away to greet a customer.

I stood there for a second before realising that he wouldn't look at me again and continued walking. Halfway to work I stopped, thinking about what he had said. I looked at the half-full cup of coffee still in my hand, lifted it to my lips and drained it. Then I turned it over.

In a thick black marker, it said "TRISTAN GLEN. TAKE A RISK" and then a number on the bottom.

I shook my head. I'd had one 10-second-long conversation with him, and already knew he was the craziest guy I'd ever met. And I was the exact opposite of crazy - I was sensible, practical and predictable. But I called him.

I called him. And it went from there.

I remember how he looked when we leaned in for our first kiss and I saw his face up close, really up close. His eyes were brown and flecked with light. The arch of his eyebrows made him look permanently cheerful - or maybe he just was.

There was a light dusting of stubble under his jaw, unlike me - my job required a clean-shaven face. He had a slightly pointed chin and a nose that was a little too long, his cheeks tanned with the memory of autumn. A face to remember.

I remember when we went to the mall the first time we were together, really together, and he took my hand. Holding his hand was so new, so exciting, but somehow so immediately comfortable. I remember when we strolled through the shopping mall with our hands clasped, garnering dirty looks from passers-by who had no understanding as to how two men could possibly feel that way about each other. I cared at first, but then Tristan taught me that it didn't matter.

When he met my parents, they were shocked. They'd known I was going to bring someone home, and I'd told them it was my "significant other", but they hadn't expected another man. When we walked into the kitchen, hands held, my mother dropped the plate she'd been holding and my father ran to the bathroom to throw up.

I haven't seen them since.

When Tristan and I moved in together, I didn't know what to expect. I was nervous about everything at first, about doing something so new, so disgusting to everyone I knew.

This relationship with Tristan was something I'd been raised to believe was wrong. But Tristan made it so easy. So easy for me to wake up beside him and run my fingers along the stubble on his jaw. So easy to go out together and not care what people thought. So easy to let go of all the expectations I was used to and lose myself in what I absolutely, utterly, spectacularly knew was right for me.

We weren't always perfect. Tristan's clothes always stayed annoyingly piled up at the bottom of our closet, and the issue of not having my parents' approval was a frequent source of conflict between us. The way he whistled all the time when I was trying to work annoyed me no end and he was constantly on my case about leaving the air conditioning on for the whole day when I left for work. But despite all these differences, it never crossed our minds to leave each other. It was our own impossibility. For others, the unthinkable thing was our relationship in the first place, but for us, ending the relationship was the unthinkable. Because there will never be a person who is completely perfect, but there will always be that one person who is perfect for you.

And so today on the 16th of June, 2013, it's our turn to prove to everyone who was so against us that we are and will be happy whether or not we have their approval.

He looks so handsome standing at the front of the room as I approach, his red tie glowing against his black-and-white suit. His smile matches mine. Beside him stands another man - Tristan's closest friend and our minister.

The happiness inside of me grows as he performs the short, simple ceremony and Tristan slides the ring onto my finger. It's engraved on the inside: Tristan Glen and Ben Carroway, 2013; a celebration of our love.

We're married. He takes my hand, smiling. The original newness of the feeling of his hand in mine has worn off, but the excitement still sparkles in me, reminding me of the first time.

I glance down to the back of the room at the rows of seats facing us. Out of the corner of my eye I think I glimpse my mother and father, sitting at the back of the room. My father is applauding, smiling proudly while my mother dabs at her eyes with a tissue. I don't want to look away from my new husband, but at the same time I can't take my eyes off those two figures, sitting in seats that are otherwise empty of people.

As I watch, their image slowly flickers and fades away, like the last scene at the end of a movie.

The ceremony is finished. Tristan and I head outside together. As we walk towards the door we pass by the seats I envisioned my parents sitting on, giving us their approval. I stare at them with a hollow feeling in my heart. The seats are empty. My imagination was just too full.

We walk out of the building side by side, his hand in mine. The long grass underneath our feet waves gently in the breeze. It's a picturesque scene in front of us. The entire city is laid out below us as we stand atop the mountain.

We walk together and turn the corner at the right of the building. In front of me, grey, rectangular stones are set into the ground in neat rows. Each is about the size of a shoebox and bears an inscription - a different name and date on each one.

Walking towards the graveyard, my steps are slow, weighted. We approach two of the gravestones near the middle. The soft wind feels cool against my face, but inside I'm burning hot. I turn my head towards Tristan, and he kisses me gently on the cheek, briefly making me smile.

We reach the two graves and stand in front of them. Their inscriptions stand out to me in a way that none of the others do. I bend down and touch the letters of one with my fingertips. It reads ROSALYN JESSE CARROWAY, NÉE LOVELACE, 1934-2013. The second proclaims: JACK RICHARD CARROWAY, 1930-2013.

I kneel in front of my parents' graves, reach into my suit pocket, produce a bunch of yellow flowers and arrange them on the grey stone. Tristan kneels beside me. He's silent, waiting for me to speak.

I take a deep breath. "Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad." My voice quivers. "It's me, Ben. Your son. Can you hear me?"

I stop as a wave of tears threatens to flood my eyes, and Tristan tightens his grip on my hand. "I just thought I'd come and see you. Let you know I'm doing okay. Just in case you still care. I know you do."

I lean my head on Tristan's shoulder and he gently puts an arm around me. "But that's not the only reason I came here. I came here … because of this man. Because I love him." My voice is soft. "You've seen him once before. Mom, Dad, I'd like you to meet my new husband, Tristan."

Tristan smiles warmly as if the two of them were actually standing in front of him.

"It's nice to meet you, Mr and Mrs Carroway," he says softly. "We didn't exactly get off to the best start when you saw me before. And I know this may be too late. But I want you to know that I love your son very much. And I wish I had known you. Because you two created a wonderful human being, and I am in awe of you for bringing Ben into this world. For giving me the person I love."

He stops and I smile at him. Then I turn back to the gravestones and say everything else I've wanted to say since I received that phone call telling me my parents were dead. "I know we didn't have the best relationship, Mom and Dad, but I wanted to say … that I loved you, even when you didn't want to love me."

I trail my fingers along one of the gravestones. "I love you," I repeat, tears finally spilling from my eyes. "Did you know that I love you?"

We kneel there in silence, almost expecting a response. But there's nothing.

The only sound I hear is the wind gently whistling as it rushes through the long grass and over the two gravestones, lifting the small flowers laid there and scattering them across the graveyard as if to bring peace to all the other resting people.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Tristan, the man who woke me up


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