Flames and Storms
Edited by Faustas Norvaisa
And then there were you, just standing there
It was around five in the afternoon. I just finished my lunch and decided to visit a temple maybe ten minutes from my flat in the Sanmin District, in Kaohsiung City, after seeing it highlighted on different websites.
The Sunfong Temple was built three hundred years ago, and it’s the largest dedicated place of worship for Neza, a protector deity. A mischievous and disobedient child, who killed two of the Dragon King’s messengers, one of them being his son. As a punishment, his father was commanded to sacrifice himself, but Neza chose to kill himself instead to save his father and his village. Only to become eternal enemies with his own father, who could never forgive him, even in the afterlife.
For me, the motivation was less spiritual. I just wanted to take pictures. Its splendid architecture, the carefully sculpted columns, the solemn gate carved out of stone, and the hundreds–or maybe a thousand– of red lanterns decorating its skies called to me.
On my way I walked past an unusually busy road, with tens of scooters piling up on one another, waiting for the traffic light to turn green. Behind an army of white vans lining up on the side of the street, with vendors, like ants before the rain, busily lifting off the goods from the cars and organising them. I decided to take a closer look. Although it was pretty early, as the market officially opened at six, one could already see the colourful textiles carefully laid out on the tables and hoarded ornate and rusty trinkets all over them. The smell of different pastries, sweet potato balls and dried delicacies calling from Paradise, while stinky tofu doing the opposite.
It was already crowded. But as someone who just arrived in Taiwan, I felt the call of an adventure. As I was going deeper and deeper into the market, I stopped and started scouting the area around me, looking through the people, trying to find something worthy of further exploration. And then there were you, just standing behind cradles of fruits, green, yellow, and red. With a white van’s door still open, waiting for you to diligently put all the goods in their right place. I approached your stand carefully, and picked up a box of blackberries. Or at least what I thought it to be. Their petite stature and weird fragrance made me question their authenticity. Yet in that moment, a nostalgic flood swept me back to my grandma’s garden, where as a child, I indulged in the delight of sweet and ripe raspberries, with plenty of juice in them. My interest in the fruit was only a pretence though, I was there for something else. Your hair like a cascading waterfall of black silk. It was as if manual labour had never dared to disrupt it. Your dedication to self-care was undeniable, visible in the exquisite contours of your body that peeked through the folds of your attire. Your fair skin, a flawless canvas that seemed to glow with a delicate radiance, enhanced by a touch of makeup on the lips. And your eyes. They were a cerulean expanse of wonder, shimmering with an otherworldly brilliance. I still find myself questioning if such magnificence could ever be real, for they looked almost artificial. You clearly were captivating. So much so that I had a smirk after thinking about my last night in Vienna - joking to my friends about finding a wife in Taiwan amid sweet beer delirium. Oh, the love it can bring! Such an empowering emotion. After all, to be desired is perhaps the closest anybody can get to feel immortal in this life. And also the most courageous, as loving something that can be touched by death is, no doubt, one of the bravest deeds.
So, I said “hi”, smiled, and held up the box to inquire about it. For which you approached with firm steps, with a touch of grace, and smiled back. Only then I saw it. The absolute lack of dental hygiene, with yellow and black teeth waving back at me. The realization shattered all my previous emotions and thoughts in an instant. I will not be immortal roaming the lands when everyone else is nothing but dust and forgotten memories. Nor a hero who saves others from despair and disdain after glorious battles. You took it all away. Like thunder, you struck down on my hopes.
I chose to buy the raspberries in the end, which they sold with a tiny container of sweet and thick condensed milk. I continued my walk towards the temple, with small, sour, and weirdly dry raspberries in my hand. Hoping that maybe Neza can protect me from further disappointments. Yet I was smiling, for being able to experience such a storm of emotions in a mere moment. I looked back one more time, and then there were you. Embodying love, immortality, heroism and a grave disappointment, all that could have been and all that actually was. What a day it was.