Stranger than Fiction
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Little Red Flame

The little red flame beckons you, like a promising rose doomed to wilt, alluring in its symbology and the tacky veneer of potential.

The little red flame brightens, and you’re reminded of a moth. Quickly you swat the thought away, and grinning in anticipation, tap the app to life.

You look once over your shoulder, twice, then three times. You start to relax.

Swipe swipe swipe.

All left. “Ugh, this is why I never play,” you think.

Swipe swipe swipe. Swipe swipe. Tap, swipe swipe. X.

You sigh. You look over your shoulder again. No one can see you swiping in the crowded café. You go on.

Then mid-swipe, you stop dead in your thumb tracks. A non-offensive specimen beams back at you. You hold your breath and tap his profile open.

A picture in a suit (yes, he has a job!)

A photo from a holiday (yes, he has a credit card!)

A picture with his mother (yes, he’s probably not going to murder you!)

After painstaking consideration and a very careful study of every piece of evidence available to you (common interests: Rihanna and Suits!), you come to the conclusion that you’d make beautiful babies. It’s decided: you swipe right.

And you wait.

Nothing.

Hmm, he must have not come across your profile yet. No need to panic. Of course he’d swipe you right. Did he not see the coy bikini shot? The strategic cleavage?!

You keep playing.

An inexplicable picture of a lone car. Swipe left.

A somewhat frightening picture of a grinning almost-teen with a tiger. You’d rather date the tiger.

Your ex-boyfriend. OMG NO. You wonder if he spotted you too. “Good call on the cleavage,” you think.

A picture of a shirtless man, cigar in one hand, bottle of Grey Goose in the other. “Nice Ray-bans,” you muse. “I wonder if they’re on sale.”

An average-looking twenty-something. Eighty-six mutual friends. Absolutely not.

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A few intense minutes in, and you manage to begrudgingly offer up some right swipes. A few dancing match announcements precede a round two stalk of said match’s profile.

Not bad. You wait for him to make the first move. Always.

You close the app. A watched pot never boils.

You peruse Instagram, tagging your squad in irreverent and overly familiar memes about not making enough money / wanting to lose more weight / being impatient for the weekend to arrive / your religious devotion to coffee.

Oooh! A notification!

You tap back over to the little red flame and voila – a new message! Hurriedly you tap it open.

“Hello!”

You begin to analyse. (It’s far too early to take a screenshot. Plus, you lied about being in a meeting to play uninterrupted. Can’t text them now.)

No emoji – he’s an adult!

“Hello”, not “hi”, or “hey” – another sign of maturity?

Hmm, he didn’t use your name – red flag?!

In the next 2 minutes and 43 seconds, your mind goes places. You wonder if his mother is a nightmare. You wonder if he lives on his own. You wonder if his brother is slightly hotter than he is, and also single, which would be a great tragedy. You wonder if he has awful taste in music. You wonder if he loves sushi just as much as you do – any less would be a disaster.

Mostly though, you wonder about who you want to be today.

You’re on virgin ground, with zero friends in common, non-existent expectations beyond what might be considered the obvious, and the eject “Unmatch” button a tap away – you can be anyone you want for the next few minutes or so.

Maybe you’re a flight attendant, just back from Tokyo and jet-setting to Sao Paolo in the morning. Maybe you’re a banker, closing deals from morning to night, and sometimes in your sleep. Maybe you’re an art dealer, the kind where even your clients don’t ask about the price of a piece, but instead discreetly hand over a black Amex card to confirm the sale. Maybe you’re a Pilates instructor, far more grounded than a yoga teacher you think. Maybe you’re on a stopover from Bali, where you live, meditate and run a small flower business. Maybe you’re a teacher – wait, will he think you want children?

You pause a second longer than you should, wondering how a quick swipe swipe swipe has you rethinking your life choices.

The little red flame isn’t meant to bring this up – at the worst, it could conjure up a pregnancy scare, but nothing as horrifying as an existential crisis.

You’re interrupted by an obnoxious phone call. It’s your client, and the proposal you owe her is late.

Reality hits you like a sack of hot bricks.

You leave a few bills on the table, and empty your wallet of coins for a tip, and scurry out. In the stark daylight, you long for a walk in Tokyo, yearn for an hour in an art gallery, dream of a beach in Bali.

A man never figures in your thoughts.

Your phone vibrates abruptly. You and the original of the species are a match. You have three other messages waiting for you.

Without a second thought, you hold the app down, waiting for your icons to wiggle on the screen, each more deathly afraid than its neighbour of getting the axe.

Unfortunately, one doesn’t make it.

It’s time to put out the little red flame.

Serene Touma is chief storyteller and founder of A-Coterie. She is passionate about fiction, both reading and creating it, but also loves to draw inspiration from the world around her.

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