Daylight faded away as more and more clouds inhabited the sky above. Rain was about to come, but for now the humid air touched her skin like a warm blanket. Someone entered the small garden, bringing back memories of long damp evenings.
‘Hey’, they said simultaneously. They smiled at each other, friendly, and she watched him sit down on the empty chair
‘It’s been a long day, isn’t it?’ he asked, his blue eyes pointed curiously at her.
‘Yes’, she admitted and her narrowed eyes a bit. ‘Tiring as well.’
‘You have been thinking again, haven’t you?’ His hands fumbled with a cord of his sweater, avoiding her gaze.
‘Yes, I have’, she answered and lowered her voice. ‘But not enough, I guess, ’cause I still don’t know what to do.’
He produced a faint little smile, and his eyes twinkled with compassion. ‘Do not doubt yourself. But I like to hear what you’ve been thinking about.’
She nodded slowly and looked at the old, solid trees and the small waves in the pond. ‘It’s difficult – to talk about.’
‘I know’, he said gently. ‘Just give it a try. I will understand.’
Now it was her turn to give him a solacing smile. ‘I know you will.’ A ray of sunlight played on his hair. She pinned her eys on that very spot and started talking: ‘I always thought life would be easy because I’m smart.’
He barely shook his head, but she noticed: ‘Well, sorry, but that’s just how I see it!’
‘O, please, don’t be offended’, he reacted and leaned with his cheek against his fist. ‘You are smart, you really are, and… O, just continue’, and he closed his eyes to catch every word.
‘Sorry’, she whispered. ‘Guess I still feel a bit uneasy about this.’
‘It would be weird if you didn’t.’
While watching the dance of some leaves, she continued: ‘Being smart enough to oversee problems a lot of people face. I thought observing would help me to avoid those problems, just waiting a little longer and see what happens, and then using this information to improve me, my life, my everything. The anthropologist in me. But…’
He shook his head again. ‘Weren’t you attracted a lot of times?’ His eyes were open now, she had to answer.
‘Yes, of course, multiple times, but nearly always unanswered. Don’t think I wasn’t interested. I just was too – introvert, I think.’
‘Hm.’ He tapped with his foot on the floor. ‘Forgetting the past years, you are only focussing on the present, right?’
She opened her mouth for a deep breath, bit her lip and sighed. ‘Yeah, as I told you, it is difficult to talk about. Hard to put – in the right words.’
‘I know, and how badly you may screw up this, I will understand.’
‘I know’, and she smiled again, her eyes reflecting her thinking mind.
His face expressed his brain working hard to help her. ‘You don’t like to be called a possession, right?’
‘Uhm, no, but I think no one does. The thing is, I don’t know whether it is unique or universal. In my case.’
‘That’s one of the things you have been thinking about, haven’t you?’
‘Yes, I think that is one of the man issues I’m bothered with. As to speak, I’m bothering myself with.’
‘It could be personal.’
‘Well, I think it is applied to just this bond.’
‘You feel lucky it is not an official thing, don’t you?’
‘Yes, I do’, and she allowed herself to look him in the eye, those blue, sky-coloured gates to a source of knowledge: pure, natural wisdom she needed. ‘But it never will be an official thing, considering the situation.’
He said nothing. His fingertips shortly touched those of the other hands, then he changed his position and leaned forward.
‘When you tell other people, how do you feel?’
That was a tough one. She took a deep breath, played with her hair, bit her lip again. ‘I avoid people telling it. And when they ask, I can’t lie so I tell them the truth. But it just does not feel right. And that worries me. A lot. Because it should not feel wrong, to tell people, it should be nice, and… Well, I should feel comfortable.’
‘But you don’t.’
‘No, I don’t.’
‘Saying you belong to someone, but you…’ They said it simultaneously, again, and both could not hide their laughs. She became aware of the little white dots in his eyes, and she ended her laugh with a soft smile. He responded with a shook of his head and placed his hands on the elbow-rest.
‘You miss the feeling, don’t you?’ he asked, and tried to hold on to her gaze.
‘Not exactly’, and she looked him in the eye. ‘I wonder why it is missing. But I think the answer is pretty easy.’
‘Then why all this trouble, thinking it over and over again?!’
She sat quietly for a few minutes, thinking again, of his question. Finally she said: ‘In my early teens, I always thought I would find truth love at once, and preferably as soon as possible. But I did not include school, holidays, work, friends and changing feelings in the story. I was naive, as all children are, that once you think you are certain, you always will be.’
‘But it’s different, you’ve found out.’
‘Even more complicated than I ever could imagine.’
His face became neutrally, as always as he was thinking to provide her with a good advice, or maybe even a solution. A light breeze stroked her face and her bouncing heart calmed down a bit.
‘Do you know what strikes me the most?’ she suddenly interrupted his thinking.
He looked at her, waiting for her to continue.
‘It feels like I’m striving for the way my little darlings live their live. In spite of all their misery. And you know what: that story is not even close to perfect. It is just…’ She searched for the right words.
‘Pure’, he helped. ‘Pure and untainted.’
‘Yeah, and I may not have a “mission” like them, I yet seem to prefer a long-lasting, dangerous and difficult friendship – because darlings are so stubborn, you know’, and she gave him a meaningful smile, ‘a friendship that, even after all those years, feels a bit new, exciting, but most important: safe, right and – like home. Do you understand?’
‘Yes, I do, girl, I do’, and his eyes were full of empathy. ‘It is a difficult longing, not impossible, but…’
‘Far from impossible, you first get to know each other and then it naturally grows, and-‘
‘No, let me finish’, she imperatively said and he sank back in his chair, surprised by her sudden fierceness. ‘I think, the longer you develop friendship, the longer the love will last. It’s crucial, though…’
‘Love at first sight is not possible’, he completed her sentence.
‘No, I won’t say that. But I…’
‘You don’t think it will work for you?’ he asked.
‘No, well, no, it should work for me, I try to say: in this situation…’
‘It was probably better to develop friendship first…’ he interfered.
‘Perhaps, but in case it did work without that, it is just and example of love at first sight.’
He shook his head, smiling. It was no denial he showed, he just felt a bit compelled by her efforts to free herself from a burden. A burden she could not lose as easy as a piece of clothing, but a burden she definitely would lose, because it made her unhappy dealing with it.
‘Back were we started’, she said irritated. She sighed and jumped off hear seat.
‘So, and the real problem is…?’ he asked provokingly.
‘I don’t know’, she cried jerkily and ignored his questioning eyes. ‘That’s what I’m trying to figure out!’
‘Was there love?’ he said quietly, forcing her to calm down.
‘I suppose’, she said, shrugging. ‘From time to time I felt really happy, but the feeling always went away – there were different reasons… But sometimes I felt – uncomfortable… More and more uneasy.’ She folded her arms, waiting for his response.
‘And you still don’t know whether it’s unique or universal?’ he asked gently, almost whispering. His eyes wandered to hook up with hers, but she kept looking at the pebbles near the pond.
‘There’s not enough experience to rely on’, she answered quickly and closed her eyes. ‘But I know what I feel, and do not feel.’
‘Was there someone else?’
Another tough question. She started shaking her head, opened her eyes again and found herself caught in his encouraging gaze.
‘Not exactly’, she said, feeling uncomfortable. ‘Not physically, mentally, perhaps… Letting my mind slip, thinking of – fantasies, you know, just mind tripping with all kinds of people, and guys…’
‘You were shocked, weren’t you?’, and she could hear the slight sound of amusement in his voice. ‘And feeling guilty?’
‘Yes’, and she sat down on the low wall besides the acacia bush. ‘Feeling so confused, as if I betrayed the world… I-‘ She produced a little smile. ‘I wasn’t even aware, at first, that my subjects of interest contained a lot of things, except for…’
‘I see’, he said, fumbling his ear. ‘And what about the start? Did you feel alright from the beginning?’
Her eyes met his again, and he read the sense of fuzz: this moment she felt she had to admit to a very important question. A question that could finish her tiring mind-journey…’
‘I’m not sure’, she tried, but felt his eyes see right through her, burning in her inner self.
‘Well, no’, she confessed. ‘No, I did not always feel right. There were times I was scared, frightened, to let him in, but he just kept knocking the door, if you know what I mean. So I-‘ She hesitated, bit her lip, already feeling upset. ‘I started telling things I did not want to tell, in the end provided him with lies to feed his curiosity, his, his… I felt like explaining everything about my complicated life, and he always wanted more and he seemed to understand. But the farther I went, pleasing him, doing things, writing things, the more it felt I had to say things twice, please him, write to him alone… He pushed a lot, and when I finally said no he began sulking like a child.’
Her eyes widened, and she tried to control her breathing. A tear shimmered in the corner of her eye.
‘Don’t cry’, he said softly.
She recovered herself, swallowed. ‘I was trying to say’, she said in a tight voice, ‘I did not feel alright from the beginning.’
He slowly shook his head and sighed. They sat quietly for several minutes.
A small bird twittered in one of the old trees. ‘It is not like you have to proof anything’, he said, braking the silence.
She nodded in agreement, her head down. He left his chair and said: ‘Just make an appointment and await your own reaction, but I think you already made your decision…’
She smiled shortly, avoiding his puzzling eyes. ‘Indifference, that’s the words I’ve been looking for. That’s how I feel, indifferent.’
‘Hm’, he responded. ‘I think it fits.’
She looked up, smiling. ‘Thank you for your help.’
‘You’re welcome, anytime.’
He turned around, walked to the gate tot the garden and when he turned again to say bye, she caught a glimpse of his prudent face, now smiling at her, with his bright blue eyes.
‘Bye’, and she kept waving although he was out of sight.
Next day in the garden. The sun hid behind thick white clouds, the wind was colder than yesterday, but still pleasant.
‘I did it’, she burst. ‘I did it and I feel better now.’
He did not even have time to sit down, she started talking the moment he entered the garden.
He smiled. ‘How did it go?’
‘Better than I thought. No crying. No yelling. No harsh words.’
Her eyes sparkled. She smiled happily. ‘I feel relieved. Free.’ Her hands danced in the air, together with her words, as she always did when she was excited.
‘Good for you’, he responded and folded his arms. He could not deny he felt happy now she was happy. She had made the right decision, definitely.
‘Come, let’s stroll around’, and she jumped off her seat, making crazy movements on music that only played in her head.
He laughed. ‘There will be rain, later in the afternoon.’
‘I don’t care’, and looked at him smiling. ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen? I’ll catch a cold, right? But it is summer, the rain is not like the rain in November… And besides, I’ve been cautious enough the past few days. I can be reckless again, enjoying every minute of my life without feeling held back by that guy…’
‘I can see you’re acting recklessly’, he said, eyebrows together. ‘You have to watch your words.’
She shook her head, disapprovingly. ‘As I said, I don’t care, it’s not like I am hurting him on purpose.’
‘You never could’, he responded with a faint smile.
‘Let’s go then!’. She grasped his hand and pulled him out of the garden, onto the dusty streets, hopefully never returning to this place again.
Love will not always linger longest
With those who hold it in too clenched a fist.
— Alice Duer Miller
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