The bowl sat on the shelf. Waiting. Watching. Sitting quietly as Syed and Christian went about their daily lives. It didn't move. It didn't make a sound. But somehow, as they searched for their keys, as they put the groceries away, as they prepared the dinner or flopped on the sofa, it made its presence felt. A still, silent reminder that soon things would have to be talked about. Soon, its secrets would be revealed. But for now, it just sat. Sat and waited.
Christian had to admit it. Things were going better. The process of writing down what he was angry about had been both surprisingly simple and agonisingly difficult. The three things that were bothering him came disconcertingly easily - clearly things weren't buried as deeply as he'd thought. The hard bit had been committing them to paper, knowing that they would eventually have to be revealed and discussed, and worrying what the consequences might be. But after wrestling with the pros and cons, he'd remembered one of Syed's pet names for him - Mr One Hundred Percent. It was all or nothing - there was no point doing this at all if he wasn't going to be completely honest. He looked up at Syed, his thick, dark curls obscuring a forehead furrowed in concentration. Nothing wasn't an option - he'd give everything, and more, to spend his life with Syed. The pen he was holding formed the words on the paper. He took a final glance at each before carefully folding them up and dropping them into the bowl. No going back now.
And since then, although he felt a strange kind of constant low-level concern about the words lying in wait in the corner of the room, Christian was surprised to discover that a lot of the anger he felt had already dissipated. It was as if the things that had been bothering him were no longer in his head, but extracted and parked in the bowl. Instead of a dark presence, carried with him wherever he went, growling and snarling and undermining every happy thought, his resentment towards Syed had been transferred onto three small pieces of paper and left in a corner of the flat. Not gone, but not his constant companion either.
Syed had also noticed the change. They were much more relaxed with each other, much less careful. Syed's morning grumpiness had reappeared, Christian had stayed out late one night and come back annoyingly tipsy. Normal life was creeping back in, sex had become loving and playful once again, and the dark clouds that had been dogging them had begun to lift.
Syed found himself mulling over the words he'd written. The process of transforming the nebulous cloud of emotions he was feeling into concrete language had helped him clarify and bring into focus exactly what was bothering him. He'd spent weeks trying to push away the negative thoughts, trying to deny them or ignore them, but now he found himself dwelling on them, analysing them, interrogating them, attempting to determine what Christian would have to say or do in order for him to be able relegate them to ashes.
The presence of the small bowl, resting patiently on the shelf, was never completely forgotten. Both found their eyes subconsciously drawn to it - while the kettle boiled, when the other went to the toilet, after buzzing someone into the flat. It lay and waited, protecting its secrets until the appointed time.
And finally the day arrived. As Syed kissed Christian goodbye that morning, he couldn't help saying, 'Don't forget...', and then cursed himself inwardly for bringing it up.
'I won't.' replied Christian a little too sharply, prickled that Syed felt the need to remind him. 'See you later.' And with that, they parted for the day.
Dinner that evening was a tense affair. Both were on edge and neither had much of an appetite. They made small talk while pushing food about on their plates and stealing surreptitious glances at the time. The minutes crept relentlessly onwards towards the agreed hour of 8pm.
At 7.45pm they did the washing up, Christian washing, Syed drying, in an edgy silence occasionally broken by 'can you pass me that' or 'cheers' or 'you missed a bit'.
By 7.55pm everything was cleaned and put away. With nothing else to distract them, they turned to face each other. An awkward pause. Christian broke deadlock by reaching out his hand towards Syed.
'Shall we do this then?'
Syed accepted the hand and squeezed hard, suddenly desperate for warmth and reassurance.
'I guess so.'
Syed was faltering and Christian sensed his hesitation.
'Come 'ere.' he murmured, and gave the hand a gentle tug, pulling Syed into his arms. Christian felt him melt into the embrace and they rocked gently together.
'I love you.' Syed whispered into Christian's ear.
'I love you too.' Christian whispered back.
They pulled apart just far enough to press their lips together, eyes closed, finding sanctuary in the familiarity and tenderness.
'Right, come on you.' Christian coaxed, taking the lead and guiding Syed by the hand to the sofa, reaching over to pick up the bowl, then sitting down and placing the bowl on the cushion between them.
'Do you want to pick?' he asked.
'Yeah, OK.' Syed looked anxiously at the bowl as if it was a land mine about to be triggered. 'No, you do it.'
'Yep. You pick one, I'll open it.'
'OK, here goes.'
And, deliberately blocking out the significance of what he was doing, Christian reached decisively into the bowl and closed his fingers round the first piece of paper they touched. He held it out towards Syed.
Syed looked at it with trepidation. One small piece of paper - did the words written on it really have the power to make or break their relationship? Would the discussion that followed bring them closer or force them further apart? He ran through the three he'd written - which one did he hope it would be? All his rehearsed explanations suddenly seemed to slip out of reach. What if Christian didn't understand? What if all it did was hurt him? Or perhaps it was one of Christian's. In an effort to prepare himself Syed started to imagine all the worst things Christian could have written about him. He started to wonder why Christian was with him at all. Was it too late to throw all the papers away and forget the whole stupid idea? Was it all just too late?
He was startled out of his reverie.
'Sorry. I just...'
'I know.' Christian took his hand again. 'Do you want me to do it?'
'No. It's OK. I can do it.'
Syed took a deep breath and unfolded the slip.