The Art Festival Origin Story

Short Story & Art by Nysha

“Muna, the movers called, they said they’ll be there in 30 minutes. Did you check if the place was cleared?” Liz asked as I entered the car.

“Yep, just this box left,” I responded, placing it on my lap and putting on my seatbelt. “And look what I found,” I say shaking a piece of creased paper in front of her as she started the engine.

“What is it?” Liz asked, reversing out of the parking lot.

“The note you gave me when we met.”

“What note?”

“This is the note that set our origin story into motion and you don’t remember it? Why, Liz, do I not mean anything to you?” I exclaim, feigning grief by dramatically clutching my chest.  
“Very funny, but I can’t exactly multitask right now, with both our lives in my hands and all,” she replies, filtering into the highway.

I read the note to her.

“Oh my god,” she was all she could come up with before laughing hysterically. “I cannot believe I would ever write something so cheesy!”

I laughed and as I watched the cars speed past us, I recalled all the years that went by before this moment.
We met at an art festival. The museum had a ton of activities and events that week and I had called up my mother to tag along with me, since our favourite filmmaker was screening his latest film there. The film was great—but a little too short for us so we started wandering around the different exhibits till somehow, we split up and I found myself in an art installation that had a corner to watch its conception. Apparently, people had found the documentation boring, leaving the long wooden bench empty just for me. As the loop began, more visitors came in, their shadows blocking the images. Among them was a girl, who looked dishevelled with her messy bun, emerging from the cluster and taking the other end of the bench. We smiled at each other from opposite ends before turning back to the film.
But the girl, who I would eventually know as Liz, was not engrossed in the film. In the corner of my eye, she was writing something and kept staring back at me. I was compelled to stare back and when I finally did she grinned shyly before looking back at the film. Months after a few dates, when we were stargazing at a park, I would tell her how my heart skipped beats when she smiled back.

This was how the note ended up with me:

As another group of people found the art installation, they started to block the screen, covering the subtitles I was relying on to understand the images. I had to lean out a little but Liz had slid to my side before stopping suddenly. She stared intently at the now rolling credits, fiddling with the page of her notebook. I looked at her, weighing the awkwardness of this situation, and the thought that she looked beautiful under the dim light crossed my mind. Then, in one swooping motion, she ripped out the page, shoved it under my hand next to her and ran out of the exhibit. I remember the warmth rushing in my cheeks when I read it.

I looked at the note she gave me those years ago. Her lovely handwriting of loopy t’s and k’s that look like Rs.

“I like your smile, I hope we’ll meet again.”

I turned it over, her old number still decipherable under the creases of the paper.

“I remember now,” I heard Liz say as I watched us turn into the main street. “You didn’t call me for years!”

“It was just a few weeks!”

“Well. It felt like years to me.”

I remembered the countless days where I would punch in the numbers but pause at the dial button. And when I finally did press call, I remembered the fear of my parents eventually finding out. And the gnawing dread whenever we shared ice cream or held hands on the street or the time she had to kiss my tears away when I told her loved her.

“I wonder why I was so scared all those years ago,” I thought aloud.

Liz laughed a little before staring into the distant traffic before us. Her eyes started to glisten and when she turned to me she replied in almost a whisper, “Because you didn’t know if you could be this happy.”

And she reached out for my hand as we made a turn into the street of our new apartment.