To Catch a Butterfly
When you catch a butterfly, you know you have only a brief moment to admire its beauty. It rests on the palm of your hand, confused, wondering how it got there. Taking in the surroundings. It would be heartless to use that confusion to cage the innocent beauty. I know I didn't have the heart to do it. What is the point in chasing butterflies, then? they ask. My answer would be that moment, however brief it may be. It's the moment of unequaled beauty. You take as much as you get, which, however short that time is, is always better than dying without the experience.
At last, a moment to relax. It was just me, the strange city and 15 minutes of free time before having to hurry to the meeting. I hadn't been given a single break since my arrival here. Our company was working on a major deal, and I had been granted the key role in the negotiations. So I had packed my belongings and traveled across the Atlantic to convince these English gentlemen that this deal here, this was the shit.
It was all important work, and had it been successfully completed, would have earned me a promotion. But my feelings right now were those of exhaustion and frustration, which was why I had set my alarm 15 minutes early; to have a moment to myself, a moment of peace and contemplation. This wasn't going to be a sure deal, after all. Not a foolproof chance for that promotion I had been after for quite a while now, sucking up to the big guns so that I one day I could be there, getting my own ass kissed by those of lower position.
This was what I aimed for in life.
These 15 minutes I had decided to spend in a park near the hotel I stayed at. It wasn't one of the biggest parks in town, but big enough to have a nice pond with its ducks and their small ones. By the amount of children passing by, carrying backpacks, I figured there was also a school nearby.
Passing the pond, I noticed that I had pretty much walked through the whole park already, so I opted to sit down for a while instead of continuing my walk towards the city streets. There were benches scattered all around the little lake. I chose one of the unoccupied ones and sat down.
I don't know whether it took minutes or seconds, nevertheless I didn't spend much time on thinking of the deal. Soon my senses registered something that forced me to turn my head.
She had sat down a few benches away from me. If I had to pick one word to describe her, it would be beautiful, but that word lacks so much what she doesn't. There is neither a single word to capture her essence, nor could all the words in my vocabulary ever suffice to paint a perfect picture of what I saw right then.
For your sake, though, I have to try.
She was small, petite. She looked fragile, but that, I think, was due to her facial expression rather than her size. It was an expression of worry – no, not worry, melancholy – and it made her seem older than she probably was. Her vividly golden hair fell down on the shoulders of the white trench coat and managed to reach the shoulder blades, curling ever so slightly at the ends. Her skin was quite pale, and I thought I saw freckles decorating her delicate features, but I might have imagined that, added the detail to the memory later on.
Her eyes were focused on a little boy feeding the ducks by the water. A contemplative smile played on her lips, but it didn't quite manage to erase the sadness reflected in her eyes. I was dying to find out the reason for that. Somehow it didn't fit in the picture. People like her were supposed to be happy.
I noticed she was shivering from the coolness of the fall air. I fought the urge to go and wrap my arms around her tiny figure. Instead, I would walk past her and maybe come up with a reason to talk to her.
With a brief glance at my wristwatch, I realized I was already running late. I got up and bent over to grab my briefcase. At that moment, my cellphone decided to jump out of my jacket pocket. Exasperated, I picked it off the ground and turned around, ready to face the challenge of my life.
Had it all been a hallucination? How could she have picked that exact moment to leave, my fleeting moment of distraction? All I knew was that she was nowhere to be seen anymore.
And I was at least 15 minutes late from my meeting.
Instant relief washed over me as soon as I walked out of the building, mainly because the meeting was now over. It had not been a great success. They wanted to continue tomorrow, which meant I hadn't been nearly as convincing as I was paid to be, and now they wanted to reconsider whether this investment was worth their time or not. There was nothing I could do right then, though, so I decided to clear the matter off my mind for a little while.
Still, the feeling of anxiety kept me company all the way back to the hotel. I needed to prepare a new presentation, something that would blow their minds and make them forget about my absent-mindedness today.
I couldn't help it. The picture of her kept haunting me.
I was almost at the door of the hotel already when I saw her again. The golden hair was enough to instantly catch my attention even though she was almost a block ahead of me, on the other side of the road filled with taxi cabs and occasional double-deckers. The distance grew as my feet were frozen to the spot.
Then I did something reckless that almost cost me my life. Abandoning common sense and everything else that was located between my ears, I stormed across the street, ignoring the heavy traffic. I heard a choir of car horns honking at me, and felt a soft push against my left thigh as someone had managed to hit the brakes just in time to spare my life. I didn't even bother to turn around and face the probably very shocked driver. Somehow I made it to the other side of the road and sprinted after her. This might have very well been my last chance to talk to her. I was, after all, in a big city, and to spot her twice during the same day was already a miracle.
I saw her take a left turn – following her wasn't easy, I must say, she got easily lost in the crowd because of her shortness – and tried to run faster, continuously bumping into people. As I finally reached the corner, she was getting on a bus. Again, I was on the wrong side of the street, and the bus drove past me as I watched, out of breath, as she mounted the stairs and picked a seat in the front of the top deck. I thought I saw her look at me bemusedly, but I must have imagined. I looked like any guy who had tried to catch a bus and failed.
Why wouldn't she stay still for a moment?
Next morning I woke up to my ringtone. My head still pressed against the soft, white hotel pillow, I fumbled for the source of the sound and closed my fingers around the cellphone. The number was unknown to me, but I took the call, wondering why anyone would be phoning me this early.
The voice on the other end politely inquired how long it would take me to come down, and reminded that the meter had been running for seven minutes already. It didn't take more than a quick glance at the clock on the nightstand and I was up, changing into the first formal wear I could get my hands on.
Luckily I had my presentation ready and stored on a flash drive. I grabbed it and left the room. There was no time to wait for the elevator, so I skipped the stairs down in threes. Had it not been a mistake this fatal, I might have laughed at my harebrainedness. To order a taxi, and forget to set the alarm? Well, it was my luck I had at least done the first one, otherwise I would still be asleep in my bed, dreaming of...
I pushed the thought aside as I got into the black cab. The driver took me to my destination incredibly fast, and I was happy to pay him for all the time he had stood waiting, and a little bit extra, too. It might have been more than just a little bit – I didn't have time to count the bills I handed over to him.
I was fixing my tie as I entered the hallway, a bit more relaxed at this point. The curious stare I earned from the receptionist didn't bother me much. I was just in time, and today it was all going to work out.
It was the elevator mirror that brought me back to earth.
My dark hair was a mess, pointing at a dozen different directions, my jaw shaded for not shaving in the morning, and there was a pair of heavy bags under my brown eyes. It was as if I hadn't had a minute of sleep last night.
Horrified, I got out of the elevator, desperately trying to tame my unruly hair. Soon, having given up on that effort, I walked into the conference room and searched for my seat under the evaluating eyes of twenty carefully groomed businessmen.
I had to get a grip. I wasn't here to obsess about this mysterious woman. And as I thought about it, there was actually nothing mysterious about her. She merely happened to be the most beautiful woman I knew would ever walk the planet. But my lack of information concerning her didn't make her any more mysterious than any other stranger.
Despite my perfectly sensible reasoning, after changing into something more casual, my feet carried me outside to that very same park where I had seen her the first time. The odds of running into her again were certainly not in my favor, but something inside me told me to go. It was like I had been possessed by some kind of a force that I had no control over.
She wasn't in the park. I walked around the neighborhood, to increase my chances of accidentally bumping into her.
No such luck.
Without her presence, the city was suddenly so empty. I was blind to the floods of people who passed me by – tourists, businessmen, mothers with prams, flocks of teenagers, children in school uniforms – all I noticed was her absence. Everything else was simply a setting for a play, the play she starred.
I returned to the park. There was no sight of her. Sitting down on an empty bench, I felt bored. The whole trip, including the chance for the promotion, had suddenly lost its meaning. I had discovered something way more fascinating, and then lost it. That left me with nothing.
Despair was beginning to get the best of me, when a force inside me, probably the very same force which had guided me back to the park, told me to turn my head. I didn't resist.
A sheepish grin lit my face as I spotted her on the street right outside the park. I was immediately ready to jump to my feet, but she entered the park, making her way towards the pond. I opted to wait and let her walk past me.
There was something so different about her this time, and I couldn't quite locate it. She was clad in that same white trench coat, the hem not quite reaching her knees. In her arms she was holding a large, brown cardboard box. Despite its size, she carried it with great ease, so whatever was inside wasn't heavy.
My curiosity merely grew as she sat down on the bench before me, now closer to me than ever, and lifted the lid of the box. As she peeked inside, I suddenly recognized the difference in her overall appearance. The before so dominant atmosphere of melancholy around her was gone. Her smile reached all the way up to her eyes.
As a response, an enchanted smile spread across my own face. All of a sudden, she raised her eyes and looked straight at me. Momentarily bewildered, she dropped her smile, but in a matter of seconds the smile I gave her was returned. I wished I could've spent forever staring into those sky blue eyes, but somehow feeling too weak under her inspection, I lowered my gaze. The mysterious power in her turned me into a shy schoolboy who had a crush on his teacher.
I didn't dare to look up until I heard the sound of soft footsteps coming closer. Her almost translucent eyes watched me as she approached. Right before she passed me, she uttered a word so simple, yet so beautiful when it escaped her lips.
It was merely a polite greeting, after which her eyes focused on what she was carrying. The lid was down again and I would never know what the box contained.
The sound of her voice rang in my ears as I watched the distance between us grow, foot by foot. It was like a song I would never forget – not a happy tune or a high-pitched aria, but neither a sad requiem. It was a song about a life that had truly been lived. It was about painful memories and the good times, and how there still was good in the world if you truly searched for it. She had undoubtedly searched. All I could do was to hope she had found it.
My vocal cords were paralyzed, but I could have still grabbed her arm before she would once again vanish into thin air. Somehow I couldn't bring myself to that. I had no right to capture her like that.
I let out a muted cry while watching her walk away.
The picture of her in my mind, before so vivid, was gradually getting worn out as I kept watching the reruns of her passing by, saying hello. It became difficult to discern her features. The sound of her voice was becoming distorted and impersonal, as I lost the special nuance which made hers.
I changed the slide and settled for observing from the distance as she smiled down at the cardboard box. She was so beautiful – obviously on the outside, but on the inside, as well.
I was perfectly aware of the lack of logic in me at that moment – how could I, with such certainty, say that she had a heart of gold, when all I had ever heard her say was 'hello'?
Nevertheless, I knew it was so. Besides, it wasn't all sixth sense. Her face actually revealed a lot, almost as much as it kept hidden. I saw so many secrets, weighing down her fragile body. Deep down I knew my worry was misplaced. Her small size didn't equal weakness. She was anything but weak. Counting the lines on her soft skin – in the corners of her eyes and mouth as she smiled – I could imagine the laughter and the despair that had left their marks and helped her grow stronger.
I also knew she was alone. Not once had she walked hand in hand with anyone, neither with a friend; and despite her daily trips to the park, she didn't even bring a dog to keep her company.
This gave me an odd sense of pleasure – I wouldn't have to compete with anyone, or try to steal her from anyone – quickly followed by a bang of guilt. Of course I didn't wish for anyone to be alone, which made the desire of getting to know her even more intense. I wanted to learn everything there was to know about her in real life, not just in my dreams, which, at that exact moment, were crushed to pieces by the piercing sound that was my ringtone. I had left it on 'outdoor' mode, and the maximum volume shattered more than just my dreams. Reaching for the phone, I realized I must have spent hours simply laying on the couch, staring into nothingness.
They needed more time. They had to hold a private meeting tomorrow. They needed to consider.
I was astounded to hear that they would waste time on considering my offer. A teenager could have been better presented than I had been in the past two meetings.
I returned to my relaxed position on the sofa. I was way past caring about the deal. I would be glad to give them a couple of days, a week, even. What I needed was more time with her, more than I would ever be granted.
It felt a little weird, going out for a walk that late, but as tomorrow was off for me, I convinced myself that the idea was good. Besides, it wasn't even midnight yet. However, I must admit that being alone in an unfamiliar city, way past bedtime, didn't evoke a great sense of security in me.
In spite of all this, I made my way to the park. The gates were wide open, which I found slightly unusual – in New York, the park gates were always closed for the night. I wasn't really expecting her to be out alone at this hour, but there was a glint of desperate hope amid my disbelief.
I didn't find her at my usual spot by the pond. I continued my walk to the northern corner of the park. It was very dark, and I was actually glad there was no movement to be seen – I would beat one man in a fair fight any day, but it was incredibly dumb to shuffle aimlessly around a city park at nighttime.
The narrow gravel path led me to a playground surrounded by a low hedgerow. The first thing that was distinctive in the dark was a massive climber. I stood next to it and gazed into the heights, wondering how parents dared to let their children climb so high.
A distant screech scared me to death. Somehow I managed to gather the courage to go round the climber to see the source of the sound. Behind a couple of trees that stood in the middle of the playground, I saw a set of swings and a white figure, rocking slowly back and forth.
Even though my adult brain knew there was no such thing as ghosts, I planned on turning around and running as fast as I could. This was straight from a horror movie. I was about to obey my basic instincts, but for some reason I stopped and looked again, squinted in the darkness.
It wasn't a ghost. It was her.
The relief soon transformed into overwhelming joy, ecstasy, even.
Her feet on the ground, she leaned back in the swing, and then freed it, letting it repeat its slow movement until it finally came to a standstill. She was about to restart the motion, but my approaching footsteps apparently startled her. She didn't even seem to breathe anymore, and I was afraid she might storm off. I attempted to keep a normal, steady pace – slow enough, without sounding like a wild animal stalking its prey.
The fear was still visible on her face as I sat down on the swing next to her. I wondered which emotions my own face betrayed. I was sure she could even hear my heartbeat, which had now doubled in speed – I had never seen her up this close.
Fascinated, I watched as her expression changed from fear to a mixture of all those emotions that usually were experienced one after another: curiosity, recognition, acceptance, even a glimmer of joy, even though she wasn't smiling.
"I'm sorry," I said, finally breaking the silence. If she thought it a weird opening line, she sure didn't even blink to show her confusion. "To scare you like that, I mean."
She let out a quiet chuckle. I failed to interpret it. Why didn't she smile? She turned to look at the ground under her feet, and her hair fell from her shoulders, creating a curtain between us. The gesture frustrated me. I gathered all the courage left in me to reach out and tuck the golden strands of hair behind her ear. The revealed profile was like a skillfully chiseled sculpture.
She kept her eyes lowered as she spoke.
"Isn't it peculiar," she asked, "that all the children are gone?"
I saw the melancholy had returned, its intensity breaking my heart. I didn't understand the connection between her sadness and the fact that children were asleep in their beds at night. I shrugged. The rustle my parka made as I moved sounded inappropriate in the silence.
As she looked up, I realized that the twinkle in her eyes wasn't one of joy – they were tears that she fought to keep inside. I opened my mouth, searching for words. She curved her lips into a smile and reached out with her delicate fingers to gently touch my hand. Then she got up and walked under the opposite set of swings and out of the play area. I watched as she moved further away until she was a dim, white dot somewhere under the majestic oak trees.
In the morning, I woke up with my left hand numb and the right hand dangling over the edge of the sofa, the fingers brushing the carpeted floor. My achy back made getting up a challenge. Once again, I had been reminded that sleeping on a couch was not for me.
What bugged me the most, though, was the haziness of my memories of last night. I had to squeeze my eyes shut to recollect details – at first it was all a blur of emotions, the only distinctive one the desire to see her again. How come I hadn't questioned her words? I had understood nothing.
I glanced at the clock which said 6:17 AM. Grunting in discomfort, I made up my mind to rise and shine, anyway. Still a tad confused about why I had chosen to lie down on the couch after my late walk, I went into my morning duties.
I had no special plans for this day. On business trips I usually spent my free time sightseeing and familiarizing myself with the local pub culture. Now I had only one mission in mind – to find her and demand an explanation for her cryptic words.
Deep inside I knew I would never hold the power of demanding anything from her. She would explain if she wanted to. What meant the most to me was to meet up with her again.
I had no intention of crisscrossing the town again to no avail. As I went outside, the first thing to do was to ask the doorman if he had seen the woman. He told me he saw dozens of good-looking blondes pass the hotel on a daily basis. Refusing to give up so easily, I described every little detail, every notion I had made regarding her appearance. He couldn't help me. Frustrated, I thanked him, anyway, and turned around, working on a plan B in my head. That was when I heard a high-pitched female voice behind me, asking me to wait. I turned to face the speaker and saw a fashionably dressed girl probably in her high school years. There was a great deal of curiosity in her friendly smile.
"Hi, I'm sorry for eavesdropping, but I think I might know who you're looking for," she explained in a thick Cockney accent. "She was my teacher in primary school. I've got her address."
She stopped there, suddenly suspicious.
"But why do you want to know, anyways?"
I opened my mouth, about to give her an answer. As I realized I didn't have one, I closed my mouth, apparently seeming so helpless that the girl chuckled lightly and gave me the address, anyway. I was already running off to God knows where, when she shouted after me and gave me a few directions.
As the clock struck seven, the roads started to get congested again. I took on my old hobby of extreme street crossings, ignoring the impatient looks I earned as the drivers had to stop to allow my jaywalking.
With the help of the directions, I found my way to Cambridge Gardens. I looked at the piece of paper the girl had given me, then back at the street sign. It was the right place, even though nothing seemed to scream her presence here. It was a less crowded street with rows of quaint houses, not much different from all the other neighborhoods in this town.
I stared at the name the girl had written above the address. It was her name, I could tell. I gained some confidence and made my way to her door. It was one of the first ones, a blue door with a golden number 1 on it. I rang the top buzzer, trying to control my excitement.
I was about to turn around and leave, nervousness taking control over my determination, when finally the lock clicked open, and I had no other choice but to climb the stairs all the way up to the top floor. She hadn't come to open the flat door, probably mistaking me for the mailman. I took a moment to catch my breath. Then I knocked.
When I saw her in the doorframe, my heartbeat accelerated. She seemed confused, but smiled politely while waiting for me to speak.
I opened my mouth, but no words came out. What was I going to say? My heartbeat drummed in my ears, creating further distraction. To be honest, I had expected her to speak first and ask me to come inside. Then she would offer me an explanation for last night while I listened, enchanted by the sound of her voice, drowning into her sky blue eyes which now carried a much happier expression.
Instead, she looked at me, the perplexity now dominating her expression.
"Um, I'm sorry – we met yesterday," I reminded her. For some reason, she seemed to have forgotten about it. My intuition served me well: her frown deepened, until finally she appeared to recognize me. The smile returning to her lips was still a bit hesitant.
"In the park?"
I nodded, relieved.
"Yes, that's right. I do remember you."
She fell silent again, waiting for my next line. Didn't she already grasp my curiosity? Did she speak to all strangers like that, expecting them to ignore her words? Whatever it was, she seemed to notice my anxiety, understanding it or not, and moved aside from the doorframe.
"Would you like to come inside for a while?"
"Yes, please. If it's no trouble."
I was thankful for earning more time to think. She inspected me from head to toe as I stepped in. I gave her a tentative smile and tried to read her inscrutable eyes, to no avail. My curiosity was a thick matter in the air, causing me difficulties in breathing properly. Thinking about the mystery of her words, I had almost managed to ignore the fact that I was with her in her apartment. She was standing right beside me.
"Take a seat," she pointed towards the living room. "Would you like something to drink?"
I shook my head and sat down on the sofa. A tiny kitten emerged out of nowhere and purred in my feet. She took a seat in an armchair opposite me and observed the cat with an almost maternal look in her eyes. The sun shone in from the window behind her, forcing me to look down for a minute before getting used to its brightness.
"Is there something I can help you with? I see something's bothering you."
I turned my eyes back at her. She looked at me calmly, waiting for my answer. I seemed to be missing something.
"Yeah, about yesterday..." I understood I had to ask straight out. "What did you mean by that?"
"All of that, the things you said."
Her brow furrowed pensively.
"I think I said 'hello'?"
"No, no, I mean last night."
This time the silence dragged on, she made no effort to break it. There was a small, puzzled smile playing on her lips and her head was slightly tilted, which I would've found extremely cute if I hadn't felt so exasperated. Apparently she had no clue what I was talking about.
And then the realization hit me.
It was just that I had never seen a dream so realistic before.
I laughed and buried my face into my hands.
"What?" she asked, laughter in her own voice, as well. I looked up to meet her bright eyes. All I could do at the moment was to smile at my own stupidity. Should I tell her the truth, no matter how idiotic it made me seem, or come up with an excuse and leave? The last word didn't sound good to me at all.
"I'm terribly sorry, I must've been mistaken. It was dark out... I was almost positive it was you. I apologize."
The laughter in her eyes died, replaced by silent acceptance. Her smile turned into the polite mode. She nodded her head.
"That's fine. It happens."
"Yeah. I'm really sorry for the intrusion."
"No harm done."
She kept on smiling, and I returned it, waiting for her to give me a reason to stay for a bit longer. Nothing was said, though, and the silence was becoming uncomfortable. Finally I got up to leave, but I didn't quite make it to the door when her voice stopped me.
"What did she say?"
I turned around, momentarily perplexed. She interpreted my confusion with great ease, and I envied her for that. Why was I unable to read her at all?
"The woman in the park. What did she say to make you want to track her down?"
"Oh, it was nothing," I dismissed the subject. It all seemed so dumb now.
"Must have been something, if it brought you all the way here."
"Well... it was dark, and we were in the playground. She asked if I found it weird that the children were gone."
I felt stupid explaining that, now that I knew it had only been a dream. But her appearance changed dramatically when she heard it. She crossed her arms over her chest, as if to protect herself, and lowered her eyes. The air of melancholy filled the room.
"I..." she started in a quivering voice. "I think you should go."
I was alarmed, unsure whether I should obey or not. Her reaction puzzled me – it had, after all, been a dream. What she had said in the dream had no connection to real life, had it?
"Are you alright?"
"Just go, please."
I wished I still had a chance to ask her out, but that ship had obviously sailed. Such a proposal would seem rather inappropriate with her nearly in tears. However, I couldn't possibly leave it at that.
"Will I ever see you again?"
Sudden bafflement took over her grief, as if that was the last thing she had expected me to say.
"Why would you?"
"I don't know. I want to."
She frowned in surprise.
"Alright..." A pause. "Um..." Another pause. I was quite taken aback that she even seemed to consider my offer. The whole situation was surreal.
Time dragged on. I didn't understand why the decision appeared to be so hard for her. It was either yes or no, and if, after all those minutes, it turned out to be a no, my disappointment would crush me.
"Where would you want to see me, exactly?"
I took that as an affirmative, and mentally thanked her for sparing me from crushing.
"How about we meet in the park? The same spot? Then we could go grab a coffee or something."
She took a moment to think about my offer, and then made her own.
"You're clearly not from here, correct? I know a place that I'd like to show you."
"Sure, why not."
I now had a date with her. It worked like ecstasy on me. Leaving her house, escorted by her smile which had made a comeback towards the end of the conversation, I felt more alive than ever.
Next afternoon, I arrived in the park fifteen minutes early and waited for her for 45 minutes.
"Hi," she greeted without an apology. Not that there was any need for one. She wasn't late, because the world was hers. I was merely a pawn in the game. I had a supporting role in the movie that was my life right now.
"Hey. Where are we going?"
"We have to take the tube," she said, not quite answering my question. That was another thing I didn't really mind. To be honest, I didn't give a rat's ass about our destination. I had arrived in mine. She was right beside me, her golden hair within my reach, if only I had been able to gather enough courage to touch it.
An hour later, which had included the tube ride with several changes and a walk up a steep hill, I was now taking in a comprehensive view of the city's docklands, and farther away towards the horizon, the tallest buildings of the downtown area.
After a few minutes of silent admiration, I turned to look at her. Her eyes appeared to be gazing somewhere far beyond the horizon.
"I didn't know you could see the whole city like this."
"Apparently you're not here to see the town, then," she guessed.
"It's a business trip."
"So you'll be leaving soon. For New York?"
That was unexpected.
"How did you know that?"
"That's quite a distinctive accent you've got there. I know these things, I teach... used to teach English."
Her face grew morose as she said that. I didn't want to upset her, so all the questions remained inside my head.
The silence between us prolonged. I fixed my eyes on the horizon, too, in a desperate endeavor to see what she saw. Minutes passed, and my heart raced from her proximity. We were standing, her shoulder brushing my arm, barely reaching above the elbow. Every once in a while, as often as I dared, I stole quick glances at her, admiring her faintly highlighted hair, the profile which was exactly as it had appeared in my overly vivid dream, and her clear, sky blue eyes, which held an immense amount of that all too familiar melancholy. I also noticed that the freckles I had thought I'd imagined before were really there, spreading onto her nose and cheekbones.
"There's more to the world than just this, you know."
She lost me on the first words she spoke. Exactly as mysterious as in the dream.
"Huh?" was all I could manage. Was she talking about dating? Love? For I felt like I loved her already, in spite of my common sense arguing otherwise.
"This town, I mean. People who come here love it. They shuffle down there and see the sights, thinking they're experiencing something. People who were born here, like me, stay, convinced it's the best place for them."
"You don't sound too convinced."
"I've gained perspective," she said, her voice audibly bitter.
"I see," I said, swallowing the rest of my reply. And what kind of perspective are were talking about here?
Finally she turned to look straight at me, studying, evaluating. I could see her eyes narrowing, but not nearly enough to come across as hostile.
"You seem like a decent guy," she said eventually. "Maybe we should go get that coffee you suggested."
"Now that you're assured I won't poison your latte?"
She let out a sound that was almost like a chuckle. I smiled.
We spent a good half hour chatting, talking about our lives. Somehow she managed to reveal nothing, whereas I managed to give away everything except the tremendous affection I felt for her. And I guess that, too, was quite easily readable all over my face.
Then I had an urgent need to use the facilities, and during those two minutes I spent inside the men's room, she had managed to slip through my fingers.
All the way back to downtown, I kept thinking about the empty table I had returned to and the things said before my visit to the restroom. I could think of nothing that might have possibly hurt her feelings. I had never been as discreet as on that particular date.
Just as I reached the hotel, they called me. They apologized for having kept me waiting for so long, and had decided to proceed with the negotiations. They were ready to start discussing the price. Tomorrow at 6 o'clock.
I was past being amazed about the amount of 'second chances' I was getting from them. I was merely glad and relieved, and made a mental note to truly do my best in the next meeting.
In the morning, I paid visit to the park. Even though I was far from surprised to find her there, a sensation of happiness and relief filled me when I spotted her sitting by the pond, as contemplative as ever.
"Hey," I said and waited until she looked up. "You just vanished into thin air yesterday. What happened?"
She turned her eyes back at the ducklings swimming a circle by the shore. A harsh look had replaced the usual sadness on her face.
"I'm leaving, you know."
"Why does that matter?"
"I don't know. It matters to me. It just does."
I felt like a little kid begging for something I could never get.
"Finland," she said.
Now it was my turn to frown.
"What's in Finland?"
"It's not about what there is, it's about what there isn't."
"Oh." Again, I was afraid to dig any deeper. "Are you coming back?"
"Impossible to tell. Not for a long time, I guess."
Then I said something I wasn't intending to say – I hadn't even been aware of thinking about it.
"I'm coming with you."
She gave me a sharp look that told me to stop joking. But even though I was completely taken by surprise by my own words, I knew I meant them. I had, after all, already made a mental confession that I loved her.
When my expression remained grave, hers changed from annoyed to unbelieving. Eventually she broke the silence and sighed.
"No, you aren't. You have everything in New York. I'm not ruining your life, too."
"Are you saying yours is ruined?"
She didn't answer, and her facade was impenetrable.
"Fine. But you'll let me consider it, though, won't you? You're not leaving tomorrow, are you?"
Another sigh, this one signaling surrender. I sat down next to her and let my hand rest gently on her shoulder. After a while, she shifted so that it fell off, and I didn't attempt to reposition it.
I managed to make it to the meeting in time, twice as polished as my business partners. My performance was top-of-the-line and, as unbelievable as it sounds, I managed to close the deal. And the company I presented would gain the biggest profit. I was quite satisfied.
Next day, my boss called me. He congratulated me, gave a speech about my skillfulness and offered me a promotion. The discussion followed the exact lines I had imagined in my head so many times before.
Until I said I wanted to quit. That complicated things a bit.
After listening to a series of shocked inquiries and finally hanging up, I soon found myself standing at her doorstep.
I rang the buzzer and waited. The world was a big blur. There was no reality for me anymore. From now on, I would be living a dream with the most beautiful woman on Earth. Wherever she went, I would follow.
I rang again, still hopeful.
I think I had been repeating the act for at least fifteen minutes when the door finally opened. An older lady exited the building, and I took the chance to slip in after she passed me.
"Excuse me, young man," her voice caught me. "Who are you visiting?"
"I'm sorry, but she moved out, just last night. Maybe you should try telephoning her."
I stared at her bluntly and managed to choke out a thank-you. My voice sounded hollow to my own ears. I watched as the lady descended the stairs. I saw everything in slow motion, and it took forever for her to reach the gate and walk out of my view.
My hands closed around a crinkled piece of paper in my pocket. I straightened it and read it, over and over again.
1 Cambridge Gardens
W10 6JE London
There was no phone number.
Sometimes you get lost from the path you were on. The flying beauty sweeps past and captures your attention. You follow, unaware of its destination, still making it yours, too. Nothing else matters.
I love her, I know I will miss her so that it hurts more than a thousand stabs in the heart, but I also know I will never regret any of this.