‘I meant your writing,’ she grinned.
I frowned, ‘That’s not a superpower.’
‘If you think my photography is, then writing definitely is,’ she said, ‘Alec told me that your words makes him believe in a better world.’
I felt my cheeks flush, ‘Alec says a lot of things. Most of them are exaggerated.’
‘But he doesn’t lie,’ she rested her chin on her knees. Her sock grazed my arm.
I rested my cheek against the soft suede of the couch cushion, ‘No one is completely happy with their life. Content, sure, and we all have moments when our lives feel perfect. But then everything else happens, and you need an escape from reality sometimes. That’s why people are addicts. Alcohol, drugs, sex; it all distorts actuality. Fiction and poetry and music all do the same. That’s why most artists are insane,’ I glanced up at her, realizing I had gone into a complete trance. These were the words I wrote on paper, not the ones I spoke aloud, especially not to someone I had met only a few hours ago.
But she gazed at me in complete silence.
I looked away, ‘You’re staring at me as if my skin is turning violet.’
‘My favourite colour,’ she said.
I realized that I was holding my breath. If I didn’t inhale some fresh air, I might have actually turned a shade of purple. Her olive-green eyes seemed to be burning through my skull; right through the skin and straight to the bone.
‘Is that why you write then?’ she asked, ‘To help people escape reality?’
I stared down at my pale, chubby fingers, ‘I would like to agree to such a noble statement, but I’m often quite selfish. I write so that I can escape. So that even if no one ever reads what I write, I, at least, had the venture of living the hundreds of different lives I create on paper.’
My eyes met hers again. My body felt funny. I told myself that the mixture of tequila and a copious amount of chocolate weren’t good for the stomach.
‘Jesus!’ I laughed, ‘This is what happens when my brain is allowed to consciously function after 2 am: I start blabbering without thinking.’
‘If that was you babbling,’ Hannah said, ‘then I will never be able to speak proper sentences in front of you ever again.’
I remember thinking that, even if she remained silent for the rest of her life, she could never stop talking through her photography. Of course, I didn’t say that. I hardly ever said anything I was actually thinking back then. As time went on, it became easier with Hannah. I told her only later that it was another reason why I wrote. Growing up, I had to think and act in a certain way, because there were some things you were just not allowed to have an opinion on.
‘What would the neighbours say if you went protesting women’s rights with all the lesbians?’ my mother once told me when I asked if I could join the ‘Women’s Movement Club’ for a weekend. She warned me not to even think of bringing it up with my father because it would only upset him. I tried to ignore everything that was wrong with that sentence and asked how she thought the women felt whose free healthcare had just been revoked in order to ‘save’ the government some money?
She stared at me, clutching the laundry basket so tightly, I thought her delicate fingers would snap off, ‘That is none of our business, Olive.’
She walked away. That was my family, trapped in their suburban bubble of well-being. They lived comfortably, so that meant that the rest of the world did too. I wanted to scream at my mother that of course, it was our business! We were women. The sole fact that we had vaginas made it our business; the fact that we were human made it our business. Instead of saying any of that, I took a deep, shaky breath instead. My parents believed that everyone had their little cube in the world. You were born in your cube and it was when people stepped out of their allocated safe-zone that the whole system fell apart.
‘Look at Donald Trump,’ my father always said.
Although I couldn’t argue with that, I pointed out that revolutionaries like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr, Malala Yousafzai and so many others made a very public declaration of stepping out of their cube and they had changed the world. It was at that point that my father shushed me because he couldn’t hear the weather report, and he had plans to play golf the next day.
When I was younger, I wrote about how I would have liked the world to be, and then I grew up and it dawned on me that no one was interested. I remember how utterly disappointed I was that I could not change the world. I couldn’t even change my parents’ minds. And then I wrote because I knew I wouldn’t survive otherwise.
But sitting on that couch that first night with Hannah, I never dreamed of any of it. Back then, I thought I had to start revolutions and protests to make any sort of mark. It never occurred to me that I could help another human being, a complete stranger with a single phrase I had formulated. Despite the very fact that that was what had saved me.