Strangers whose bodies brush against each other for a split of a second, never to touch again.
But he catches my eye, and I want to touch him more than once. I want to know things about him. I want us to be a little bit more than strangers; not a lot, because then he’ll upset me one night and I’ll leave in the morning, determined not to look back ever again. I want us to be just enough so I can bask in his warmth and nod at his plans, feeling happy for a while; happy I’ve met someone interesting and wonderful at last.
I know that all of this doesn’t matter much, for I won’t be here forever. It’ll be like a summer love, except it’s February, like a holiday romance that will wear off by the end of the month.
But winning people over is the only challenging thing left, in a world where you can easily get anything else.
I take a look at myself and don’t like what I see – I’m sitting at my corner table looking all grumpy, hiding behind a thick book and avoiding all eye contact. My mind starts to wander from here to there and all that fuss is making me nervous inside – it reminds me of all the fun there is to have out there, fun that no matter where I’ll choose to wake up tomorrow, I won’t have. I take a deep breath and stretch my arms and legs, coughing to regain my voice. I haven’t spoken to anyone in so long. Someone at the bar is staring at me, but it’s not him. I know, because I stare back with confidence and their eyes move to the floor. You must have thought I am shy – but before I try to prove you wrong, I’ll just tell you how the story goes.
So here I am, at a bar I’ve never been at before, bored out of my mind but willing to try my luck for the millionth time with the most handsome stranger in the room.
I stand up and people from all across the room look at me in silence. Once again, life made easy for me. So easy it gets boring. If only things played harder to get. Not to my surprise, I catch him too, with his head turned over his shoulder. But it’s only a couple of seconds until he orders a drink and gets ready to go back to his table.
I’m determined not to miss this chance to prove myself that I am, indeed, cursed with the ability to get everything I want; everything but myself. But my spontaneity makes a not-so-wise move, and I end up touching his arm the moment I find myself near the bar. He is visibly amused. His eyes are sincere and confused; he didn’t expect me to go to him, and is waiting for me to say something. Instead, what I do is I take a seat and wait for my turn to be served; that and nothing more.
I could tell he was staring, but not that we would break into a quiet, patronising laughter shortly after.
Could have put my hand in the fire that he is a bit more… subtle.
Is this your idea of breaking the ice? he asks me.
I turn around to him and discover that his face has turned red with laughter.
Do you like me? I surprise myself asking him.
He doesn’t know what to do; to laugh or to take me seriously and thus run out the door; “Not another crazy one”, he must be thinking.
- I don’t know yet, he smiles.
- Too bad. I thought that when a man sees the woman of his dreams, it takes him seconds to recognize her from the crowd. Like love ar first sight, only it’s not love yet.
He looks at me, amused, for a few seconds. I’m sure I must be looking deadly serious, but what he doesn’t know is that I’m not; I’m only sad.
As he tries to get closer to me, the barman asks me if I want a drink.
- Just a strong coffee, I say and give him some coins.
As he leaves, the handsome stranger gets close to me and looks like he’s on the verge of saying something utterly important for the rest of my life. Instead, he cracks up in another unexpected laughter and says quietly:
- You know, I’m pretty sure the woman of my dreams as I picture her would be a bit more… subtle.
I can’t tell if he’s being patronising or not, but at this point I congratulate myself on choosing him out of all the men in here.
- Don’t you believe in such things? I joke. Maybe I’m coming on strong so I don’t miss the chance of getting what I really want from you, and live a life of What Ifs.
- You’re joking, he verdicts. I know you are, you must be.
- Because you’re pretty; too pretty to be mad.
- Oh, I say, smiling. But wouldn’t that be the beauty of it?
- What, of madness?
- Yes. Madness is supposed to look pretty to get to you.
He doesn’t look convinced.
I’m just happy to pass the time playing yet another role.
- I can tell you what’s beautiful about madness, but it has nothing to do with you.
- Alright then, I say and get off my chair. Come over to my table and tell me, I say and grab the coffee the barman just brought me.
Soon, he’s sat on my table sipping coffee, and I get to take another quick look at him. Tall, dark, handsome. Too bad this won’t last either.
We laugh over the table, we touch each other’s hands now and then, by mistake, and my heart feels lighter, quieter, easier to bear.
- Tell me about the beauty of madness, I dare him. Tell me everything you know.
He smiles and looks like he is choosing his words carefully before he starts.
- Madness is magical, and that’s not you, he says. Everything you think you know about it, you can forget about. You know nothing, for nothing you are is magical and therefore maddening.
- Well that’s harsh, I say and, somehow, I feel deeply hurt.
- Let’s not be dramatic. But magic is close to sacred.
According to him, magic is things put in motion, is the world moving at the speed of light leaving nothing to the eye but a blur of colours and sounds that make you dizzy and happy. Magic happens when there is nothing else going on – it’s either everything, or nothing. You can’t have magic at your right and your workplace and favourite shop and fish market at the left.
- Tell me something, I say. The woman of your dreams… of your wildest dreams, I mean… is she magical?
- It would help a lot, he laughs.
I notice how he makes circles with the spoon in his coffee as he speaks.
- But you know there is no such a thing.
- Oh, there is, he smiles and I suddenly feel small, unimportant.
- Alright, I’m listening.
- I can imagine her, he says and his face turns into a large grin. But she should probably be out of this world to be like that. You know what else is magic, apart from people? Life, when you live it out loud and don’t stop for a second to look around. Life, when you don’t analyse or try to perfect it. That’s how she should be. Like a tornado…
- Would she care about you, then?
- That matters the less. I wouldn’t want her to stop and lick my wounds. You don’t trip tornadoes. What matters is if I could keep up with her.
- I think I’ve had enough of you, I suddenly decide and get up.
- Where’re you going?! he shouts. What did I do wrong?
- Oh, nothing, I say and, for a moment, I’m tempted to stay, but know that it wouldn’t make any difference.
I slam the pub’s door and head back home, wanting nothing else but to sleep the rest of today.
It seems that I’ve entered the winter of my heart, when the power of my body goes off and the rain comes down for days, and days diffuse into months. Every morning I hope for better days, and every day I hope for new mornings. Somehow, life repeats itself to the point of exhaustion. Breaking the cycle would be the new, and it’s the new I can’t reach and grab and make it mine, because it’s far from my shores and I don’t know how to expand; trying on new clothes and colours doesn’t make me bigger and bolder, it only paints over the choices of yesterday.
The conversation with him only served to remind me of the thrill of freedom, the one and only thing that, it’s said, can be bigger than loneliness. We’ve all experienced it for short moments, like brief flashes of light; but they all ended before they really begun to change us into better people. We remember them as the happiest moments of our lives, the realest things that have ever happened to us. So powerful, yet so small they nearly don’t touch us at all. This must be what he meant – that little by little at a time doesn’t always do the trick. Sometimes, we must wake up with the confidence that we are a whole new breed – the almighty ones.
But I don’t know what that feels like, and no one is able to tell me what the shortcut to freedom is; the freedom to flip coins and end up holding the good side in the palm of your hand. How do I do that? That is what I really want to ask the people like him, that look pure and intangible at the same time. I want to know the secret to genuine happiness from somebody who looks like they’re living it, but these people guard it with the price of their lives and only talk what is nonsense to me.
I wanted to know what crazy beautiful is to a man like the one at the bar, and all I got was “it’s not you”.
This was a excerpt of a short story, Alegoria, written by Anca Dunavete, which will appear in our upcoming compilation of short stories, Strangers.
If you wish to be the first who finds out what happens next, you can pre-order the book here. If you simply want to help us publish the book, you can donate at the same link.