“What are you talking about? Izzy’s not my
girlfriend,” a human clad in a red blouse said, as she set her tray down on one
of the cafeteria’s long tables. With an irritated grunt, she tossed her head, flipping
stray strands of blonde hair back across her shoulder. She picked up her cup
and downed her espresso almost in one gulp.
Next to her, the researcher named Izzy frowned
in concern. “Careful, babe, you know you get the jitters if you drink that too
“Thanks, babe, I know. I’ll remember next
It had been just another ordinary day on
the Starship Passenger. The engines were whirring, people were touring the ship,
and the few shops that operated and catered to the crew and passengers were
open and ready to serve. In the tiled cafeteria space, decorated by green
potted plants, five individuals were sitting together.
Serena, the blonde woman from before, was
an accommodation officer on the Passenger. It was also her off-day today. This
meant she was very determined to get what she wanted, in the manner of people
who spend most of their hours getting things that other people want, for other
She wanted to convince the kindly, hulking
figure sitting opposite to her, that she and her friend Izzy were in fact not
girlfriends, but friend girls. Or whatever the term would be. She knew E4 would
just curve his very wide and symmetrical lips into a smile, nod and accept anything
she told him about Earth culture. Not because he was gullible, but because he
was overly polite.
Off to the side, Tim the intern ran his
hands through his messy black hair, his elbows resting weightily on the table.
His eyes were blown wide open. “You literally just called each other ‘babe’.”
Serena shrugged her shoulders. She was
indeed accustomed to calling Izzy ‘babe’ on most occurrences. This was not Tim’s
business. “Live and let live, Timmy-boy.”
“But – but!” Tim said. “My reality is being
broken here! I swear I’ve just thought you two were together since I signed
onto this ship two months ago.”
“That’s very interesting,” Izzy, whose
topic of research was anthropology, said. “Did you know that reality can
sometimes be thought of as a social construct?”
Tim groaned. “Please, Serena is breaking my
brain already. Don’t shatter it even more.”
E4 coughed politely. It was a gesture he
had learned from the humans of planet Earth. “I am very sorry. I did not mean
to cause any upset. Human social categories are simply fascinating to me. It
was very interesting to acquire a pronoun that would signify something analogous
to the social category I inhabit on my home planet. So, I have simply been
curious to find out more.”
“That’s very lovely, E4.” Izzy touched her
hand to the tip of the white shell on his forehead, as though adjusting it
slightly, in a friendly and soothing gesture unique to his species. “You’re not
in any trouble. I could send you some links to papers on the meanings of words
like ‘girlfriend’ if you would like? I’m not personally an expert on the word.”
The fifth individual in their group, who
had adopted the name ‘Jeremiah’, scoffed. “Hard to believe. Coming from someone
who brought us all out here to see ‘Space Lesbians 2 – The Power of Love’ in
As a general rule, Jeremiah looked down at everyone
else from his elevated eyeballs, attached to his head by the means of two
stalks. He liked to think of himself as an expert on human culture, despite
having been born on a rogue planet, light years away from the Milky Way galaxy,
where the evolution of life had taken a very different turn. On his thorax, he
wore a graphic T-shirt instead of the shell that most members of his species
chose to don.
He pointed with one tentacle towards the
retro LED display above the drinks stall at the cafeteria, which was displaying
the words: ‘Space Lesbians 2 – The Power of Love : Screening at 2 pm’.
Serena groaned, dropping her piece of toast
back onto the plate. “You don’t have to be an expert to see a movie,
Before Jeremiah could continue, Tim pointed
at something on Serena’s face. “Guys, guys – look!”
Serena was wearing a pair of moon-shaped
earrings, which had not been there a couple of days ago. Tim then pointed at
Izzy’s ears. Surely enough, there were a pair of matching sun-shaped earrings
in the same white colour.
“Wow,” Jeremiah said. “You two are
definitely in the Thames.”
“You mean in the Nile?” Serena said, as she
polished off her sandwich.
“Denial,” Izzy muttered. She observed a
crumb at the edge of the table. “Right, right, that’s the joke . . . “
“Thank you for explaining the joke to me,”
E4 said in a bright and cheery voice. He reciprocated the adjusting gesture Izzy
had done for him, except because Izzy lacked a forehead shell, he simply had to
settle for adjusting her ponytail. Izzy looked nonplussed at first, but remembered
herself and shot E4 an awkward smile.
Izzy cast another furtive glance at Serena.
To her, the human woman was showing all the signs of nonchalance. Her lips were
in their resting frown. Her eyes were trained on the table. Working what was
essentially customer service had made her exceptionally good at hiding her
emotions, Izzy lamented.
Though perhaps the truth was it made her
emotions exceptionally good at hiding from her.
Serena looked at her, and then looked away,
and then suddenly started coughing. Without thinking, Izzy reached out and
patted her on the back. The truth was that Izzy very much wanted to be
girlfriends with Serena. But she had no idea if Serena wanted the same.
Right now, she was methodically wrapping a
breadstick in tissue, which Izzy suspected she would keep in her purse and
forget about until it was all mashed up.
Izzy knew she would have to be careful to
continue diverting E4, Tim and Jeremiah’s questions. But she regretted that
this made it difficult for her to catch glimpses of what Serena’s true feelings
were on the subject. Ah, the things one did for love.
The group had gone quiet, each picking at
their own plates, when Serena began ransacking her own purse for something.
“Babe,” Izzy said, her hand hovering over
the purse. “You put the breadstick in the other compartment –“
“I know, that’s not what I’m looking for.”
Eventually, Serena’s expression flashed
with a victorious grin and she pulled out a USB.
“I got the document for our residential
agreement in here. I didn’t want to send it over online since you said the
network here wasn’t very secure.”
“Residential agreement?” E4 tilted his
By this time, Tim was resting his chin on
his arms, defeatedly sipping the diluted ice water from his soda through a
straw. “Oh, so you’re moving in together.”
“Isn’t co-habitation a part of being girlfriends?”
Jeremiah said smugly.
That was the question on Izzy’s mind
exactly. She reached out and plucked the USB from Serena’s fingers like it was
a delicate flower. She was the only one who knew that Serena still used this
old-fashioned technology for files she really didn’t want to move through the
Internet or the Cloud. Tim had never seen a USB before in his young life and
was squinting at the device in her fingers. E4 and Jeremiah of course dealt
with technologies far beyond and sometimes even imperceptible to human senses.
“You don’t mind moving in soon, do you?”
Serena asked, adjusting the collar of her blouse. She leaned in to hear Izzy’s
answer above the background noise of the cafeteria. She was blatantly ignoring
Jeremiah’s comment. Izzy found her impudence very dashing.
“Not at all,” Izzy said breathlessly. “I’d
Serena cupped her hand around Izzy’s ear.
She whispered her next words softly enough that the others couldn’t hear. “I
can’t say it. You know I can’t say it.”
“I know, babe.” Izzy held her other hand under
The time was 2pm. Serena stood up abruptly.
“Shall we go watch Space Lesbians 2?”
Nods of assent went around the table.
Jeremiah and Tim began to discuss the first film’s cliff-hanger ending, by all
appearances having forgotten the girlfriend conversation. Of course, Jeremiah
was secretly keeping a tentacle out of his shirt to eavesdrop on any new
developments and one of his eyes remained turned backwards towards the couple.
Serena was dusting crumbs off of her skirt,
while Izzy slipped her white coat back on from where she had been leaving it
hanging from the back of the chair. E4 had begun gliding away from the table.
As they all headed towards the cinema,
Serena and Izzy in the lead since they were the ones who had the tickets, E4
mused about how he still had very little clue what a ‘girlfriend’ was.
Nonetheless, he was happy that his human
friends had started to adopt the Earthling couple’s ritual of interlacing their
fingers while holding hands.