As I take a sip of hot jasmine tea used to soothe my nerves and my sore throat, I let my thoughts drift by to all the innocent events of the evening.
"That's Vuk???" I asked in disbelief, gazing at the boy who'd just walked by us throwing a silly comment in my direction, brushed past me surrounded by three girl and three other guys.
Sinem nodded. I couldn't believe my ears.
"Oh my god…" I began, thinking of my arch-nemesis, who was still in love with him after three years. "Laura was always going on about how tall and hot he was now and how he'd changed and…"
My voice trailed off into the darkness but around me, ten heads turned to listen to my conversation in French with my old friend. Marina had turned me down so I'd grabbed the phone and called her instantly. Now we walked through town, hand in hand, she in a skirt and I in trousers as always. I'd been in a skirt this morning, the first I'd worn in five years except for the New Year's eve. I'd almost left the house in it, but chickened out at the last minute, blaming the rain.
"I told you it was him!" My pretty friend said. She was gorgeous and did modeling. We'd spent the last half hour trying to persuade each other we were beautiful. I am still sure she was merely fishing for compliments as guys drooled at the sight of her and she turned down more guys than I'd ever seen. For my part, I was merely trying to see if one day someone would be honest with me. I can't shape an opinion of my own looks but it still seems important to me. I'd like to know if the eye contact I make with the few hot guys I see comes from their liking me or am I just so persistent to find their gaze that they look at me eventually.
The 'gorgeous' Vuk (Serbian for 'wolf' but in this case a 16 year-old guy) had left me speechless. I remembered him from since he was in eighth grade and I in sixth. Like the time he spat on the top of my head after I'd threatened to throw his cell phone into the toilet for being an annoying dick. But Laura, she'd always kept on going about how beautiful and wonderful he was. Andrea had said she'd seen him. They'd called him hot…I called him pitiful. Especially since I'd actually grown taller than him and that he dressed like Tommy from GTA Vice City.
It was raining a lot. You know those little drops that fall thickly upon the black stone slabs of the city center. Everything was wet but no one seemed to feel the rain. We were all comfortably dressed and even those who wore skirts and t-shirts knew that they would soon enter their warm homes and those thoughts kept the cold away. But I knew she felt the rain.
She felt it fall on the hard concrete earth. She sat there as always, ironically in front of the British council and next to the Skechers shop. Christina Aguilera looked down at her somewhat arrogantly. On her face were carved at least eighty years of the suffering of life. Every time I walk by she is here, dressed in black, her eyes cold and lifeless as the floor she sits upon. It isn't like with the elves, that you could say that in her eyes you see wisdom and all age. In her eyes you see nothing at all. If there ever was a shine in them it has faded and now the grey silver hair that falls sparsely upon her face mourns for the time it was shiny and brown. Or perhaps it was once blonde or red. I could never tell, for in her eyes there is no color and in her body I believe in blood is no longer red. Maybe that is why she is wrapped in black like a nun. There was a time when I believed she sold the flowers she held in her hand, but I was proved wrong. I cannot help but wonder what she feels, and even so I bow my eyes to the earth because I know that I can wonder all I wish, it will never help her. She blinks once in a while, but never looks away from the spot she stares at. Is this a tomb she looks at, and is this why she brings flowers? Does she mourn a loved on hidden underneath the ground, so many feet treading upon his or her body ruthlessly?
"Do you know why there are so little people outside?" My friend asked, breaking my chain of thoughts.
I shrugged, but knew the answer. "Because they are all in discos?"
"Are you suggesting we should go to discos too then?" I asked, wondering what she would answer, but still thinking of the woman we'd passed.
"Well…I know you don't like them." She said slowly. "I was gonna go to the 'Can Can' to see the rapper guy I told you about, you know the one…"
I nodded, smiling. I had no idea who she was talking about, though I carefully listened to her about every single one of her crushes. They were all craving to go out with her, but despite the fact she liked them all she always ditched them at the end. Commitment phobic…I think. I have the same symptoms anyway.
"Oh no…" She moaned. "Let's turn around! Quick!"
I looked at what she was pointing out and saw the raving madman that often circled this street, speaking of many things, though no one ever understood what he was saying. He had a captain's hat and a dislodged jaw. I wondered how he'd gotten here, if he had no family, no one to take care of him. What did he eat? Where did he sleep? He's survived for already two years, to my knowledge, merely terrifying people but no one's ever sought to chase him away. Somehow I am grateful people have at least that much respect for him. I remember my parents' friend…I don't know his name anymore…who used to drink so much that even I as a child could notice something was severely wrong with him. I know my mother told me his body had been found in the docks after he'd been missing for days. Missing where? Who'd missed him? When we moved my parents lost contact with him and, I know them, probably never got around to looking for him again. All I remember is his red, drunken face, from one time he'd come around to see my father. I know he told me fish didn't stink, it had it's own smell just like everything else.
"Ok, ok, we're gone." I reassured her. "Oh he's hot…" I said instantly as a guy walked past me.
"But you know," my friend carried on. "That's one of the nice madmen. If you go by the St.Sava park…" She shuddered. I laughed, though it was sad.
I rocked my hips to the rhythm of 'Toxic' flowing out of the Hi-Fi Center music shop at the corner.
"Ouch for two ice-creams in the pouring rain." I said, rubbing my sore throat. But I forgot my throat instantly as I saw Nikola passed me by. I mumbled a quick 'Hi' and refrained from punching him in the face upon seeing him looking from my face to my heels, observing the clothes I wore in a disapproving manner.
"That's Nikola." I told Sinem.
"Oh no kidding!" She said sarcastically, I'd forgotten she too knew him.
"And his father." I added dumbly but the two were already gone.
The shop windows simply seemed to spin around us as we walked on, watching out for hot guys like a pair of predators in the jungle. They were very few and sadly, some even had friends at their arms, girl-friends we both judged ugly most of the time.
"Who loved that loved not at first sight?" I told myself silently but Sinem heard.
She laughed. "Intolerable Cruelty." She said simply and I smiled. She knew the quote from a George Clooney film; I knew it from a Shakespeare play. I guessed it amounted to the same foolishness.
I looked around and I was aware that for me, everything transformed into something different. It was as if those clothes I saw were alive and dancing, as if that lost bird and stray cat were talking animatedly, as if all these people were flying at the sky had replaced the earth or vice-versa. The lights flashing all around reminded me of stars and the footsteps of the sea. Suddenly I felt a part of something so much bigger than myself that it was terrifying. Sinem was talking animatedly and I listened, catching every word she said but unable to reply.
"Hey look!" I interrupted all of a sudden, pointing at a shop window. "These are the sandals I bought! Oh, and this is the dress!"
She gazed at the shoes and the dress. "Nice! But that's pink not lilac!" She said laughingly. "I'll come to your school on Monday to check if you'll actually wear those…"
I laughed, I'd bought a dress and had sworn to her I'd wear it to school. It would (will?) be the first dress I'd worn in about five years.
"Oh we've passed the Urban Jungle shop…I can't show you my new trainers." I said sadly but suddenly I felt as if I'd just been through an extremely cold shower.
I had 400 Euros at my feet, more than that madman we'd passed could dream of, and surely more the lady in black sitting on the ground had. That dress was not as expensive but still, for a bit of linen to cover up my body, I could feed both those two people for a month. I felt bitter inside, but despite my 'self-aware' attitude I knew that I would soon forget this and that, even if I didn't, I'd never do anything to change my behavior or help those two people. In my heart I believed these things could not be fixed sadly. Communism had beautiful, wonderful ideas, but it would never ever work. These people were doomed to stay poor and I, while such things existed, was bound to spend huge amounts of money on K-Swiss limited-edition shoes and designer dresses. Soon I'd grow up and forget all this…start making my own money and completely accept the fact that I could spend my money on ephemeral, foolish, things while these people craved for only a little comfort.
We were about to cross the road but we were in such deep conversation I hardly noticed the lights turned to green again. As we talked, a bearded young hippie man passed us by and I turned and saw his eyes for an instant, but as he passed he gave me a playful punch on the arm and walked on. I saw him smile at my friend but I remained paralyzed. What the hell was that? I did not turn around to look at him but wondered what on earth was going on with people who act as if they knew you. Perhaps I do know him but cannot remember him…a sad thought. It's happened before though, but then, I remembered afterwards.
"What the hell was that?" Asked Sinem. "Do you know the man?"
"I have no idea who he was." I replied dreamily, still puzzled.
"Well perhaps you knew the girl who was with him?" She asked again, more puzzled than I.
"I didn't even see her face." I said, laughing.
We kept on walking but I still couldn't figure out what had happened. I laughed at myself because I kept on replaying in my head the moment I'd turned around and had just seen the man's face for a flash, then he'd passed me by and gave me a playful punch on the arm.
The 'London Casino' flashed its lights' at passers by tempting people into its lair, begging them to spend their money there…it seemed as a utopia of wealth. Yes…the wealth the people would lose there went to the casino, making it bigger, more luxurious, and more appealing… I figured someone should put up a sign saying 'Your money makes this casino so appealing.' But then…I'm just an ignorant thirteen year-old.
"Oh you know he doesn't drink water anymore?" My friend asked rhetorically.
"Wha..?" I asked incredulously. "How do you know that?" I knew who she spoke of, a man who sat at the corner next to the entrance into god knows what. Some dark spooky building stood next to the huge shopping mall, and in the entrance, huddled up in a corner, always sat a man.
She didn't answer my question, but then, I wasn't sure whether I'd uttered it out loud or not. I glanced over at the man whose face I'd never seen. I did not know who he was or what the hell he did there. He sat at a table selling something. I think. Over his head was a yellow sign that read 'Petition'.
I shrugged. "Well…"
But she cut me off. "How can you not be interested about such things happening in your country?!" She exclaimed. She was Turkish and sometimes I could not understand her reflections. "This man is going to die and you don't even know why!"
I looked at her, somewhat in disbelief. "We all die Sinem, it doesn't matter." I said. "What can I do?"
I wondered how this man affected her so much whereas she never noticed the old woman sitting next to the Skechers store whilst I did but didn't care about this man. Still, I remember how I used to want to right every wrong on earth until everything seemed so hopeless for me I actually got to the point where I just don't want to care.
Instead I looked down at the road. On the edge, just next to the sidewalk, a thin course of water streamed down into the canalization. The cars rushed past, and I knew everything should seem noisy: the rain, the cars, the footsteps of hundreds of people walking and chatting. But I heard none of that, not really, at least it wasn't disturbing. But I suppose those underground must hear it all. Every drop of rain ever spin of a tire ever footstep every syllable uttered by every person that ever walked this street. The dead…I was reminded of a poem of Baudelaire our French teacher had made us analyze for a test. I liked it a lot and not just because I got a brilliant grade on that one…Quand Octobre souffle…la servante au grand Coeur dont vous étiez jalouse… The dead must hear everything that goes on up here. Every little footstep, everything. I suppose that these things are their only companions in the cold, damp, dark earth. I never want to go down there, I shudder. I've chosen when I was only six to be cremated upon my death. My mother on the other hand has already said that she'd haunt us all if ever we chose to burn her. She has a phobia of being forgotten…I somehow scorn that. 'Immortality! Take it! It's yours!' Achilles (Brad Pitt) says in Troy…he won't be forgotten as soon as all of us, and he didn't even exist. My mother has a silly idea that if she is entombed somewhere people will remember her. I will remember her, and perhaps my grand-children will. But I am sad to say that that's it…If I am burned at least I will not have to rot in the terrible earth for decades and decades. I will be rid of this ugly vessel that carries my soul.
Slowly, Sinem walks up to her house while I walk on to mine. I walk slowly, as if captured in my own bubble that I don't want to burst. I take on glance at the book-store on my left. I see one face that seems so familiar to me I'd swear I know the man. It's Rabelais, on the cover of Gargantua and Pantagruel. It's funny how I remember these things but I can't remember the faces of people I've actually met. I'm not sure of the story of Gargantua and Pantagruel but I know that it makes fun of much about anything in the fifteenth century…I wonder how people will study the twenty-first century. We've done more damage to the earth in the past thirty years than ever before in history…sad.
I slowly approach the door to my building, taking one glance at the coffee shop before it. The waiters in red look back at me but I've never been in there. How bizarre is it that so many people exist around me but I'll just never know them. We are all so insignificant that it saddens me. I walk up the steps, there are some people further up but I don't see them and don't care to. I walk into the flat and though we have guests and the house is full, only the dog seems to acknowledge my presence. I say 'Hello' and retire to my room and little Šapa follows me docilely.
My throat hurts too much and I'm completely soaked but still I turn on the computer to write down all the foolishness I've thought of this evening. If you read this well then…I don't know what to tell you. It's a pile of bullshit right? *shrug* I reckoned I'd write it so I can look back a few years from now and remember how I used to think.