"I have a love that is not mine, that fills my hands, dirty my days and loves them deeply and leaves its luminous mark on the walls, on the petals, on the thorns, on the footsteps throughout the house.
I have a love that is not mine and I can't find where to keep it, I don't know whether to hide it or display it, alert the world, shout it out just in case someone is looking for it.
I have a love that is not mine but begins to be comfortable among my books, returns at night to my arms.
I have a visiting love. I have your name on my lips."
Tengo un amor que no es mío, Edel Juárez.
His eyes are looking at the room full of people who shout names and words of encouragement but he does not really see anything. Applause fills the auditorium; his arms are full of flowers that he doesn't know very well who placed there. There is a band on his chest announcing him as the previous year Moon who is none other than the most handsome boy from the previous generation who has had to hand over his title to a freshman.
His name is Phupha Viriyanon and despite everything he could never feel up to that title or the expectations that all his classmates placed on him. And it is that in more than fifty years there had not been a Moon in the faculty of arts. That title seems to always be destined for the boys of the engineering faculty or those of medicine. For this reason, his title had been historic and everyone regrets that everything has come to an end.
And although Phupha knows that he did his best and that he participated in all the events in which his presence was requested, something inside him keeps telling him that without a doubt he has been the most mediocre Moon in the history of the university. Yes, he went to all the parties. Yes, he smiled at all the girls and was envied by the boys. And yet there is something in him that says it wasn't enough, that it never will be. There is a voice in his head, a voice that sounds very much like his father's, telling him that this is his punishment for leaving that village in the mountains where he should never have left. His father said that he had been arrogant in thinking himself valuable enough to break the tradition of being a forest guardian like all the men in his family. His father said that his mother had died because of him just half a year after he had announced that he had been accepted to a prestigious university in the capital.
And a boy who carries that guilt in his heart is someone who will never have the right to be happy even though everyone admires him. A boy like him can never feel that he deserves that recognition, even if it is a vain recognition that is based on his appearance rather than on his talent for painting. But now that he's put the band on that freshman from political science, he knows things will get better. He will finally have to stop pretending that he can always smile when the only real thing for him are those terrible sleepless nights where he usually paints until the morning dawns. At last he can be the anonymous entity he always wanted to be, a dream shattered by the unanimous vote of his classmates who chose him as the most handsome boy of the generation, of course.
And even though he can't see it, he really is handsome. His athletic body, the result of long walks through the mountains of Pha Pun Dao, his hometown, stands out from all the others. His dark brown eyes shine almost as brightly as the lights in the auditorium and the tired smile on his lips is enough to warm any heart. He is an attractive boy by all accounts. A boy who was born in a town where everyone says, if you count a thousand stars any wish of your heart will come true. Yes, he knows a lot about stars even though he doesn't have many of them and instead, he understands better about scars that don't heal, that refuse to let him alone.
The new deafening applause from the crowd snaps him out of his abstraction. Beside him, Torfun, his best friend and the Star of the past generation smiles warmly at him. Phupha smiles back at her and wonders, not for the first time, if he too will one day stop feeling guilty for not being able to reciprocate the feelings of that girl who has saved him from loneliness more than once. Even when she studies education, the two have become close thanks to all the events they have had to share as she is the most beautiful girl on campus. In fact, everyone assumes that the two of them are the most envied couple in the university and the two of them have not wanted to deny them. Although Phupha has told Torfun a thousand times that they should say something so that she doesn't lose the opportunity to find a boyfriend, she tells him that it's fine like this: no boy dares to bother her if they continue to believe that she is the lucky partner of the most attractive boy in the faculty of fine arts.
"Are you going to the party that Nam organized for both of us?" asks Torfun whispering the words in his ear, which of course, raises the chatting of the other students and makes thousands of flashes crash on their skins.
Phupha scrunches his nose at the thought of the crazy parties his friend Nam, a second-year medical student who seems to have adopted him and Torfun, usually throws at the beginning of the semester, and the thought of having to put up with more noise makes him feel on the verge of fainting.
"I don't think so, I have to check some articles for my class tomorrow," says Phupha feeling relieved that he doesn't have to lie because it's true. “The anatomical drawing teacher is really strict and we agree that realistic drawing is not my forte. Perhaps if I understand the theory, the practice will not be a disaster.”
“Come on, Phu, even I'm not late with my homework,” says Torfun laughing at him and yes, by the faces of her classmates, Phupha knows that the next day nothing will be talked about other than those shared laughs and whispers in middle of the ceremony.
"I need some peace of mind, Torfun," he says honestly, and looking into his eyes, she knows that her friend is being totally honest, as honest as when he responded to her confession of love by telling her that he wasn't the kind of guy who could love a girl, not in the way she expected.
"Okay," she says, still smiling at him. “And if you want to leave before someone drags you to the festivities, I would leave right now if I were you. Run, if anyone asks, I'll tell them you had an important call to take.”
Phupha smiles gratefully and kisses the girl's cheek gently before placing the flowers he was given on the ground. Phupha hurries out of the auditorium before anyone notices that he's late coming back. His steps take him to the central library of the university. The young man feels that as he walks away from the auditorium an enormous weight is lifted from his shoulders, he feels light, even somewhat joyous. It's over, it's finally over.
A smile spreads across his lips and then he begins to whistle one of those songs he used to play on his flute, the one he hasn't played in months. He does it without realizing it, he feels too good to think that lost music is one of the things that hurts inside him. He reaches the library and runs to the small drawer where he keeps his books and slings a black backpack over his shoulder. He really has to make progress in his reading; he has to remain the top student in his class even in those subjects where everything is difficult. He wants to show that he is more than just a pretty face. He wants to show that he has talent. He wants to show that he is enough, at least in the field of art, what he does has to be enough.
The truth is, he doesn't know where he's going. The hot afternoon of Bangkok invites young people like him to lose themselves in the noise and hubbub of parties where refreshing alcoholic beverages abound but that is not his style. He is simply looking for a quiet place where he can get lost, a place where there is no one who knows him, a place that reminds him of the tranquility of his mountains.
Phupha's heart aches in his chest at the thought but he quickly pushes it away. No, at least for today he doesn't want to feel sad because he is free, finally free. Now he can think about being himself and he doesn't care that everyone will be disappointed in him when they discover that deep down he's nothing more than a boring old being living in the body of a college boy. Torfun and Nam have always known what kind of person he is, and if they don't hate him for being this sullen and terribly disciplined boy who has a hard time socializing and talking about himself, the truth is that the others don't matter that much.
Suddenly his eyes collide with the sign of a small cafeteria that looks deserted. At first glance there is nothing that catches your attention in that place, it is a cafe like any other with yellow walls, plants and colored armchairs that look comfortable and soft, but the name of the establishment makes him smile.
"A tale of a thousand stars," he whispers, feeling in the name of that place comforting warmth that invites him to enter.
And that decides everything. Phupha thinks he has found his new favorite place because there really are no people there, not even taciturn students like him. Phupha grabs the handle of the wooden door and hears the familiar sound of a bell as he crosses the threshold.
Days later Phupha will think that that sound was undoubtedly a sign from the universe, something like an angel's harp that welcomes you to a lost paradise, a paradise hidden from the eyes of others. Yes, it may seem crazy that an abandoned and ordinary coffee shop has made him think something like that, but there, behind the bar, there is a bright, almost heavenly smile welcoming him.
The owner of that smile is wearing a navy blue apron over a white t-shirt. Phupha freezes in the middle of the room and knows what an idiot he's doing staring at him like that but he just can't look away. That smile makes him stupid. That smile is like a glimpse into a new world. That smile is, at least at that moment, all for him.
"Welcome," the boy says, and there's something in his sweet, lively voice that makes Phupha think the boy meant the word.
"I... uhm, is the service still available?" Phupha asks because he knows that asking that stupid question will guarantee him to be able to look at that guy for a couple more seconds without looking like a complete psycho.
"Of course, we close at midnight," he says, still smiling. “You can sit wherever you want and I'll take your order in a second. Today's recommendation is the fruit tart, don't forget to try it.”
And the boy smiles at him again. And hundred neurons are dying in his brain and a thousand butterflies fluttering in his stomach, that's what's going on inside him.
Phupha nods but doesn't say anything else even if he wanted to. He doesn't even know where that terrible desire to not take his eyes off that smile comes from. How is it possible that in such a cruel world there is someone who smiles like that? How is it possible that a boy like that exists? Clumsily, Phupha chooses one of the tables by the window, the one that leads directly to the bar where the other young man is arranging small plates of cake oblivious to Phupha's curious gaze, oblivious to the terrible revolution within the young painter's heart.
He is really handsome, Phupha thinks and his cheeks blush and he can't help it but that's the truth. The boy from the cafeteria is too handsome with that delicate face, those soft round cheeks and the smile, yes, that smile that makes Phupha want to start painting him, at least drawing him. Phupha has always been moved by the beauty of the world, the absolute beauty of nature or landscapes for example, but never the beauty of a person. But it is that boy in front of him is a work of art in himself. That smile of his has the beauty of the seas or open skies full of stars, the kind of skies not seen from Bangkok.
And even though he knows it's silly, even though he knows maybe he's gone crazy, Phupha hurries to get a blank sheet of paper out of his binder and a piece of charcoal out of his art case. No, he has never been good at realistic drawing but his teachers never tire of repeating that it is not enough to have talent, you have to put it into practice. And yes, maybe he is still drunk with freedom or maybe it is the aroma of coffee that surrounds him but the boy decides that he will let himself go because there is no artist who can release a blow of inspiration when it arrives, there is no artist who can escape the muses.
And something in the warm smile of this stranger who is his only company in the cafeteria makes him think that he has met a muse face to face. His muse, yes, he doesn't know his name but he knows that from now on he will be called "the boy who hides a thousand stars in his lips".
Phupha smiles with that name and continues drawing without knowing, or perhaps suspecting that this is only the first of many days in which he will come to that cafe to look for all the stars that no longer burn in his heart in the smile of that stranger.