Meet Galesong, a boy who collected postage stamps. Genuine postage stamps, from almost every country ever existed in the world. He began to collect when he was 10, old enough to keep something for himself. He ripped off stamps from his grandmother’s credit card bills. He would ask his uncle for some stamps right from Mecca, on a pilgrimage season. He would sneak into his father’s desk–which had never been really used due to the fact that his father was never really a working lawyer–for some old letters.
After his father had found what kind of mess Galesong had made in every drawers and boxes in the attic, his father drove him on a wet February morning to a place where his son could find everything he had been looking for: none other than to the postage stamp museum.
Luckily, there were bunch of stamps for sale. The money his father gave him was all spent, in just a blink, to a serial of Soekarno’s stamps, floral edition stamps from Nicaragua, and some other stamps from central America and eastern Europe. They opened some name of countries Galesong had never heard before, like Yugoslavia, Guyana, and Belarus.
Buying them all was not a real “collector effort”, Galesong knew it very well. But what could he say? Those bore him happiness as they went home. Another day, mother took Galesong to a bookstore near his school to find a perfect stamp album, because there was no way he would contain all his collections in just a shoebox.
Thereafter, it was that beige album that kept him company. He would show it to his classmates, which was good because one of his friend also collected stamps, so they exchanged pieces since then. Galesong would send letters to pen pals around the globe, asking them if they had a Penny Black, something Galesong was, at the moment, really obsessed of. For those who didn’t know, Penny Black was the world’s first postage stamp ever used in public postal system, issued in Britain on May 1, 1840.
Mid September, a couple years later, it was time for a bit of renovation at Galesong’s bedroom. The wall was repainted, the closets were moved out for a while, the bed was flipped over and covered in newspapers. It was less than a year before he should move out to the dorm, as he would continue to the junior high school. And so his sister was going to take over his room. Everything had been changed. But as he knew, the beige stamp album he used to bring along was stored at the top of the cupboard.
Or so he thought, as he started to shift his mind aside due to exam preparation and tryout tests. That one morning, under the heavy rain, when the smell of freshly-cut grass and sharp scent of wall paint mixed up in the whole house, the album was not there.
And there it was, Galesong had just lost his only thing. His mom tried to convince him that the album might have been just slipped somewhere, on a gap of a drawer, for instance. Another guess, and this was thought of after Galesong had checked the back of all drawers and found nothing, was that there was a big chance it was stolen. No one knew who did it. And no one knew why.
That night, Galesong sobbed silently on his own. Ashamed of himself, tears fell down uninvited, gently soaking the couch where he laid underneath the blanket. The sobbing was not merely because he had just lost something valuable, but more to the fact that the stamp collecting was something he had worked wholeheartedly from absolutely nothing. He got that overwhelming flashback to the day he started it off by having a 2001-issued local stamp, picture of jasmine flowers edition from his grandmother’s cable television bill. He remembered keeping the album so tight, back when he had to take bedrest out of a chickenpox. He remembered tucking it into the backpack every morning just before he went to school. He would bring it inside the closet, whenever he had nightmares, those kind of dreams that made it seemed like the whole room turned into a creepy space of haunted spirits.
Eventually though, he could put himself together. Just before he fell asleep, he promised himself that for the rest of his life, he would know nothing about possessing anything anymore. Therefore, no more pain of losing would pass him through.
Nine years went by, that first afternoon of July, on a train that was taking Galesong back from campus, he kissed a guy he loved. Jayabaya was once just a random guy who happened to be a fling. The story of how they met was not so important. Only that after the kissing, he went home with not only some heavy tort law books, but also an unexpected butterfly on his stomach.
Couple months later, Jayabaya asked Galesong to go out for a dinner. And Galesong said yes. That evening, they ended up sitting on the very corner of a fine brasserie downtown. A waitress came handed them fortune cookies, one for each. Jayabaya opened his and read, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Galesong guessed it was randomly taken from the Bible. “People just quoting things because it sounds good. It’s cherry-picking, not to mention that it takes the context away, you know?”
But Jayabaya just starred straight at Galesong, asking him to opened his. And by the first crack, as he could peeked through, instead of a piece of paper with vague prophecy, it was a ring.
The next thing happened was that Jayabaya moved from his seat and got down on one knee. He said, “Gale, I may be stupid for not giving a shit as to what the law has to say. But I know that, so save your judgment.” He took the ring out from the cracked fortune cookies. “But I do not wish to be that stupid to miss the opportunity of seeing you smile for the rest of my life, like what you did that first morning when we woke up in confuse at somebody’s room. Gili, after that new year, tormented party, you remember? It was the first morning we let each other meet the real me and you. So, if you want…”
Jayabaya gently held Galesong’s left hand.
“It is not a seal, it is not a vow, it’s just… I love you, and I want you to know that I would love to be meant for you. And I hope you too.”
Galesong starred at the ring, then at Jayabaya, and then back at the ring in which he tucked back inside Jayabaya’s palm. “I am so sorry, Jay. I can’t.” Then the rest was a history that would never take place.
It was the night Jayabaya wished would have another ending to live with. Alone, he miserably drove himself back home. He went upstairs to the small flat he rented, then found Galesong curling up on his bed.
“I duplicated your keys, remember?”
“I’ve been looking for you. I thought you…”
“You’re a jerk,” Jayabaya jumped onto his bed. “What happened to us?”
“I’m not a good escapee, am I?”
“Made me easier, at last.”
“No, Gale, look. I shouldn’t have proposed you like that… and not that I don’t realize it’s a bit awkward but I’d happy if we could still talk through what happened tonight… I guess. I’m sorry.”
“I’m the one who should’ve said sorry.”
“You did,” Jayabaya murmured. “In front of everyone at the brasserie, right before you left me alone. Remember?”
“I hate this. What can I do to pay you off?”
“Okay, so who is he, and does he do you better than me?”
“No. You what.”
“Okay, shouldn’t be cuddling you right now.”
“No. I mean there is no one. It’s just me. And I just can’t be committed to anybody, now and then. I’ve learned, Jay, I’ve learned, that it would hurt so bad when we lost something we love.”
Jayabaya stayed silent for a while. Then he said, “so you’re saying you are better be with nobody than be hurt?”
“I said I love you, that’s why I couldn’t picture myself losing you. And the only thing that could possibly lead to losing you is if I owned you. And how can I own you? By having to commit with you. Now it sounds ridiculous—”
Jayabaya put his finger on Galesong’s lips, just before he gently pressed his lips against it. “I understand. And I am sorry.”
“Please don’t ask me to sleep on the couch.”
“Don’t be more ridiculous. Stay here,” Jayabaya took off his flannel shirt and pulled blanket over them. “We’ll get through this.”
“I love you too, Jay.”
“Tomorrow we’re gonna sell and make them some iPhones. What do you think?”
Jayabaya dimmed the gas light, now everything looked more tender and less scary, very much unlike the kind of life they were both living. Galesong asked if he could just sleep by facing the window, like he always did when he had too much thoughts. Jayabaya said yes. He cuddled Galesong from the back and slipped his fingers beneath Galesong’s shirt, to that soft skin and some abdominal hair. That trail, something he always liked to trace, but not tonight.
Tonight, Jayabaya just wanted to be there for Galesong. Probably rings were just not everyone’s cup of tea. Not theirs. Soon, everything’s gonna be back to normal. He laid a kiss on Galesong’s shoulder, said he was sorry. Galesong replied the same.
As Galesong was holding Jayabaya’s bare hand, he remembered what a book had said to something like this. It said, happiness was waking up in the middle of the night for no reason, shifting under the blankets and feeling the heat of the person next to you. You turned around and saw him in their most peaceful, innocent and vulnerable state. He breathed as though the weight of the world laid on anyone’s shoulder but his own. You smiled, kissed their face in the most gentle manner so as not to wake them. You turned back around and involuntarily a grin formed on your own face. You felt an arm wrap around your waist, and you knew it didn’t get any better than this.
At that moment, Galesong knew he would always secretly want to own the person whose arm kept him at its best. He guessed, after all, a lover was not postage stamps. He thought, he wouldn’t slip this one somewhere, would he?
The morning came without hesitation. Jayabaya was barely awaken when he turned aside and saw Galesong beside the bed, kneeling before him. “Remember when you asked me last night, if I was better be with nobody than be hurt? Well, I couldn’t help not to think about it, and the answer is no. If hurt is the ultimate consequence of being with you, then losing you before it all even begins would be way worse than that. So, Jayabaya, I do.” He gently guided Jayabaya’s hand to put the ring in his finger. Now would you please wake up and show me where the other ring is?”
(Jakarta, 4 Januari 2014)