“I’m fine!” he said to me with a loud emphasis on the last word, similar to the firm and resounding effect that a gavel has in the courtroom on a day humid with suspense and unknown things. I headed for the basement through the mall escalator and felt the artificial wind on my face.
As I approached the nerd mecca, I watched some people as I walked. There’s this lady who was fumbling through her shoulder bag. A man who draped his arms around his wife, presumably. There was a bunch of guys who were in the comic bookstore, still on a San Diego Comic Con high. There are kids on the arcade playing those really fun dance games that can suffice as moderate cardio activity. There was this creepy sales guy who seem to successfully wave the brochure about the latest city high-rise in my face despite my most desperate attempts to avoid it. It’s a weekday but there were still so many people on this mall. I wonder if they are all fine, too.
And I felt the instinct of counting, determined in finding a 3-column ledger at a nearby ubiquitous bookstore to make some records from receipts. I wanted it to have just the right type of paper that will sit well with my gel ink pen. I took deep breaths, sucking in my gut while my eyes perused the shelves of school supplies. Today, walking past the shelves felt like being in an endless maze of merchandise but it was not. I joined the swarm of people swimming in the bookstore, all of our heads wading with our own thought bubbles and purchases. I wonder if the bookstore people were fine.
Fine is a special word. It’s what people say when they are wearing a smile on their faces and have souls dancing indicated by that magical twinkle in their eyes. It’s what people say when, disenchanted with the world, they look forlorn into the distance with no more expectation of good things or turning of fortune’s tides. It’s what people say when they do not want people poking around into the vicissitudes of their thoughts or their sorry or sordid business or state of life affairs.
People say them with different tones, in different colors, and under different contexts, and as such, it is one word yet it means so many things.
When he said he was fine, I immediately knew that he was not. And the way he said it meant that he will not be fine for a while.
I tried to be okay with that. I felt something sink in my stomach and I knew that it was not the fried chicken we ate for lunch, yummy as it was. It was something so much heavier than that. Probably, it’s the fact that I cannot put back the genuine fine status on the one person who I wanted to be the most fine of all the happy and fine people in this planet.
I wrote I’m fine on the back of the ledger as a reminder. Even if he is lying about being fine for his sake and for my sake, I think I am really fine with that. Really, I am. I have to.
And I realize that there is one more kind of “I’m fine.” It’s the kind that fights for its survival and thrives when it’s done with a team.
I’m getting there, and so will he. We’ll be fine. We’ll meet each other there.