You seethed behind me in math class, rolling your eyes at the teacher’s praises of your test score. Your thin lips were stained purple, nose and ears a glittery landscape, and your shoulder-grazing curls matched your lips. Even your skin colour was rebellious: olive toned, a mixture of white and brown. I felt like stale bread with my straight ponytail, thick glasses, and homogeneous brown skin as I glowered at my B.

You stalked the hallways tall and proud, spine straight as a chair’s back. You’d skip class and cluster with the potheads at the back of the school, sucking on a joint with a honed look of boredom. I folded into corners and steered clear of you.

Ten years later, I was stirring sugar into my morning coffee at a downtown café when I caught your majestic frame stretched over a seat. Your curls and lips were now a normal shade of brown but dark pencil still ringed your eyes, and your aura was still larger than life. As I approached, you glanced up from your phone and warmth softened your angular face.

We melded together like sticky toffee; the opposing forces that kept us apart in our teens magnetized us to each other now. You’d left your banking job to become a musician. It enthralled me, the idea of a straight path zigzagging. Me, engaged to be married next year, who worked at a desk boxed in by carpeted walls, slowly decaying like a plant starving of water.

We met every weekend. I hungrily consumed the sordid details of your hook-ups over waffles and coffee martinis. At Salvation Army, you rummaged through rows of monochrome clothes and extracted a wide-leg purple pair of jeans for me. I wore it just to see you clap your hands in glee.

In a club together with our mutual friends, we snapped a selfie, our faces smooshed together. You captioned it, “My ride or die. I’ll be there for you, whenever you need me.”

That night, you slept over on the couch of my tiny bachelor apartment and in the morning, we stood on the balcony watching the sun rise. I asked you, why haven’t you stuck with anyone yet?

I’m waiting to feel butterflies, you said.

They don’t exist, I said, caressing the constellation of diamonds on my left ring finger.

I might have missed the light fading from your eyes as I sipped my cappuccino.

You graduated from music school to a stretching field of rejections. Dark patches streaked your under-eyes and your cheeks hollowed into skeletons. It was at that speakeasy on Queen West, the one with the flashing red lights where bartenders make any drink you want, that I noticed the white flecks dotting your nose. Your words a sped-up tape recorder. Muscle and fat fallen off your body, a giant sequoia withered into a weeping willow.

The peppy brunches became rehashes of dates gone wrong, failed interviews, dead-ends. Your calls came fewer and fewer in between.

One Thursday in a Thai restaurant, you returned from the washroom.

Where have you been? I asked. You’re fading on me.

I have depression and anxiety, you said, swirling pad thai around your fork.

Oh, I said, that’s too bad. So, what happened with that guy?

I thought everyone has depression and anxiety; it’s trendy these days. Surely you were above such pedestrian maladies.

The next day I texted you; you didn’t text back. A few days went by, then a few weeks, then a few months. What happened? Is everything okay?

Silence. Ghosted.

It’s been years but you still appear in my dreams, face open and vibrant, a golden crown perched atop your curls. You apologize for your disappearance, laughs bubbling up in between the words. I hook my arm through your elbow and say, I’m sorry too.

The city throbs with the absence of you, a firework faded into a void. All I have left is close calls: moments when I thought I saw you but didn’t, and moments when you were there but I didn’t see you.


Nisha Shirali is a writer, environmental policy analyst and mother of two young children based in Toronto, Ontario. Her work has appeared in Brilliant Flash Fiction and Potato Soup Journal. She can be found at