I am usually a fanfiction writer, but here I attempted a piece of pure fiction. Because that is what it is: pure fiction.
Why did it have to rain? I carefully use the slippery steps that bring me upwards, but into the dark. I leave the daylight-illuminated train station behind and begin to walk through the downtown with fast steps. A few more lights would do wonders in this city. I feel the first raindrops on my shoulders. I worry about my bag. It is made of plastic, but I like the imprint and fear it to take damage.
I walk slalom around people standing in my way, talking, shopping, speaking in languages I do not understand. I am learning the wrong languages, I think like so many times before when I finally reach my destination: the adult education centre. Like usual, I am too early and a course mate from my former Spanish course is there to greet me. We exchange some pleasantries, he gives me life advice. We switch between Russian, Spanish, and German. Then it is time to go to our classes, Russian for me, Spanish for him.
Why am I doing this to myself?, I wonder when I greet my fellow course mates. Why do other people have a social life and I visit language class after language class? The teacher asks us to open our book and read the homework. I had quickly scribbled some notes two hours before. It worked for Romance languages, but Russian is tough. It swallows you and spits your brain out in front of you.
I am happy when the class is over. I had made it, I learnt a few new things, and my course mates think I am a natural talent. They don't see my doubts. I hasten to the train station again; if I miss my train I have to wait for an hour. Sitting in the bright lights of the vehicle, I take out my phone and remember that I have friends. Three of them have texted me. The first complains about her boyfriend, I tell her for the hundredth time to split up with that idiot. The second one sends me a graphic image that I reply to with the see-no-evil-monkey. The last message makes me stop my routine though. "Call me," Jenna has written. I worry. She does not have a boyfriend, she does not have exams right now, is she in trouble?
I sigh, and the train begins to move. It is late and the connection gets bad in between certain stations. I put my phone away and search my bag for my mp3-player. When listening to music – the appropriate music for the moment – I can escape the real world and pretend that my sorrows are the fictional story.
The next morning, I wake up on time, hit the gym, eat a small bite, and on the way to university I remember Jenna. When I leave the tube, I still have a few minutes to walk and I know she will not have left to work yet. So I call her up.
"How is my favourite hermite today?" she answers her phone.
I roll my eyes. "I actually go out a lot."
"Language classes don't count."
"I go to the gym."
"Annika… you even became more of an introvert the more people you met. You started your own Star Trek Pen and Paper group at 24!"
"Online Pen and Paper group. You don't even physically meet."
"We do physically meet about three times a year," I remind her. I enter the university campus. "Get to the point."
"The point is that you told me a week ago that you were looking for a side job. But that you don't have much time."
"How many nights do you spend at the adult education centre?"
"When do you leave?"
"Did you see an advert of a night club? I won't be stripping, I am too ugly!"
"Chill, Annika. I have a friend who has a friend, and this friend's wife recently died. He is still having a hard time and he feels lonely… only lonely! He is not looking for sex or anything like that. He just wants someone to be with him in the evening."
"So… what am I supposed to do, play games or read him a book?"
"Not even that. He just needs the presence of someone. He doesn't really have hobbies in town because he travels a lot. And he is kind of an introvert – like you."
"That's like trying to set up two gay people just because they are gay!"
"It's not and I have never done that. Maybe in your case I should have. Or you wouldn't still be a virgin soon becoming a wizard."
"Can we change the topic, please?" I was arriving at my office and I really did not feel like discussing the non-existence of my sex life in public.
"Let's meet today. After work," Jenna suggests.
I cringe internally. I hate meeting up people. You need to dress for going under people, you have to go into the cold, you often have to take public transport – which in itself I like, but not the going to –, and you have to meet up in a café or something like that which requires social conduct like interacting with a waitress and drinking a beverage within a quick amount of time while engaging in conversation.
"I'll come to the Chinese takeaway at the central station," Jenna offers, realising my train of thoughts. "It's on your way home and you can order both our meals in Chinese."
"Okay," I give up. "And then you'll tell me about that job… is it like an escort service?"
"Great. See you in the afternoon. I text you half an hour before I finish." I hang up the call. I had thought about becoming an escort before, but I am too socially awkward and too scared and too ugly and… I enter my small office and greet Max whom I share this little space with.
The day goes by as slow as any other day that I spend at work. I do research, I do translations, I occasionally translate recipes for my friends. I had imagined a PhD in Linguistics to be more… I don't know. I didn't have much expectations before I had started.
By the end of the day I text Jenna and see her waiting for me at the Chinese takeaway. We hug and I order. "我想要二碗牛面。"
We take a seat. Jenna is a year older than me and pretty. She has blonde hair that she often dies. In contrast to me, she got a job after her Bachelor's degree and has been earning real money for years now. She has been having many boyfriends, most of them described by my mum as something that literally translates to "grip into the toilet". You can guess the metaphorical sense.
"His name is Walter. He is the friend of a friend. He was a politician, but he has retired. Occasionally, he travels to hold seminars or briefings. Last year, his wife died. Now, he feels very lonely and he just wants someone to be with him. Like not physically touching or anything. Just that someone is in the room."
I nod. "During my highest depression phase, I needed someone in the room to make me concentrate on studying. Even if the other person did something else, I could better focus with someone there."
"Exactly. When I heard of this, I thought it would be perfect for you. Walter is willing to pay expenses, like the bus and your time."
"That still feels like an escort."
"He has the same doubts. It was my friend who had suggested such an arrangement. But Walter does not want an escort or anything like that. Just someone who does his own work while being in his living room. And I thought of you. What do you do in the evenings?"
"I study languages, I read books, I write fanfiction, I text people."
"And you can perfectly do that there. He also likes reading. And I think he does calligraphy or something like this."
I sigh, nearly choke on my noodles, but nod. "Where does he live?"
She gives me the address and says that she will arrange a first meeting. On my way home I still don't know why I agreed to this. It does make me feel a bit like an escort, but on the other hand, as long as no one knows about this, I don't really care. It just feels weird. I know that when the day comes, I will be super nervous. I always get nervous when human beings and social contact is involved. Even when it is a doctor's visit or a phone call where you don't even see the other person. Maybe especially because of that.
The day has arrived, and I do indeed feel very nervous. What kind of a guy is it? Jenna has assured me that he is super nice, well-read and treats women equally. He would also not belittle young women which is something that I hate. His house is a bit off-road, but with the train to the central station and the bus I can reach it in under two hours.
My hands get sweaty and I can't concentrate on the book that I am trying to read. I get off the bus station and walk ten minutes to his house. The street has spare lightning, and the entrance to his property is a gate in between high hedges. I think that in case he wants to rape me, no one would here me. I brush these thoughts aside. Maybe I would finally lose my virginity then. I brush this thought aside even harder. Maybe I should start meditating on a regular basis again.
I ring the bell and wait. A few seconds later, Walter opens the door. He is a man in his late 60s, he is tall, maybe 1.85, I am bad at guessing. He looks strict but smiles at me. He has a full beard with mostly grey hair, but some resisting brown hair remains. His grey head hair is combed neatly back, it is a bit longer but does not touch his shoulders yet and he has a high forehead.
"Hi, I am Annika," I introduce myself. We shake hands.
"I am Walter," he says and lets me in.
I take off my shoes and he takes my coat.
"So…", he says and leads me into the living room. It is spacious and there are two comfortable sofas and two armchairs in the middle. I see the newspaper spread over the glass table, next to a travelogue book in which an entrance ticket is used as a bookmark.
"Sit," he invites me.
I smile and place my bag on the floor in front of the couch where I take a seat.
"Do you want something to drink?"
I shake my head.
He takes a seat in front of me other the other couch.
I look around. The kitchen is behind me, open-spaced, no walls, to the right behind me is a dining table. Everywhere there are bookshelves, but books also lie on tables, as well as notes and post-its. To my left, there are two doors.
"This is strange for both of us," Walter tries to break the ice. "You know, my wife and I had been married for 49 years. We would have made it to 50 last year. But she had a car accident, and now, I feel very alone. Over the course of the day, I often met friends, but most of them have moved away. I travel a lot. I was a politician, and I still hold talks. But in the evening, I return to my house and I just feel alone. As if no one would care whether I live or die here… but I guess you don't want to hear my self pity. You are still young."
I hate this phrase, but I smile. "I am young, but that does not mean I do not understand. I am sorry for your loss, and I know how it is to be alone. Sometimes, just having someone around helps… I… I have experienced this. It is not a best conversation for the first meeting, but I had a very long and very deep depressive phase. And during that, I realised a very many things that are essential. And human contact, as much as I hate going out, is necessary."
"Depressions help you learn…"
"Indeed. I still hate myself at times for becoming depressed… it is a long story. But I have learnt a lot during that time, about humans, about contacts, about necessities, about the idiots in our world, about attentiveness and letting go, and I also met a lot of people who I would have never met otherwise. And I am sure that you now also do things you would not have done with your wife."
He gave me a warm smile. "Last month, I travelled to India. She said she would have never gone there, and she wouldn't have liked me to go there alone. But now I did. And I met a lot of young and old people there, and I wrote a travel report for the local newspaper. I gain new experiences, even though the circumstances that have led me there are very sad."
We look at each other for a while, and shortly before I begin to feel to uncomfortable, he says, "well, anyway. I feel very alone. Jenna said you don't go out much either."
"Well, I have come here," I try a gently laugh.
He replies with a chuckle. "Yes… well… you brought a book or something?"
I nod and open my bag. "I study languages in my free time. I am currently focusing on Russian, Chinese, and loosely on Portuguese and Japanese. I brought some study material." I take out my vocabulary notebook. Maybe I feel more motivated to study vocabulary when someone is present.
He nods and grabs the travelogue book on the table.
The first few minutes that we read in silence are awkward. But then I begin to settle, and my pulse becomes more normal. I hear his breath and occasionally his snuffling. I actually manage to focus on my vocabulary. After half an hour or so, I lost my sense for time, I put my legs up to sit cross-legged on the couch. Finally, I feel comfortable.
Around 11 pm, my alarm goes off. We give each other uncomfortable smiles.
"So… Jenna told me you also use WeChat?" Walter asks.
I nod. "I prefer the payment over WeChat," I explain. That way my parents, who sometimes have a look at my German bank account, will not notice. Besides, WeChat makes things a lot easier.
We connect our devices by shaking the phone. Chinese inventions are very interesting and foreign to us, but very easy and handy, once you ignore your data being collected and yourself being transparent to the Chinese government. He transfers 10 € to me, like agreed. I collect my coat and shoes; we say goodbye and that he will text me.
I leave and hurry to catch the bus. As typical for me, I arrive to early and have to wait in the cold. Sitting in the warm vehicle, I feel like a prostitute. What have I just done? There was nothing condemnable about the venture, but still, it feels abstract.
The whole journey home I cannot think a single straight thought. My mind jumps from one thought to another, leaves them all half-finished. I feel weird. Having arrived at home, I take my evening medication and go to bed. Even there, I feel very strange and cannot sleep.
I must have somehow dozen off because I am awoken by my alarm clock. I moan but turn it off and get up. It feels like yesterday was just a dream. But then I look at my phone and see an unread message on WeChat. It is Walter thanking me for yesterday and asking how I feel. Now I do feel like a prostitute. I have done nothing shameful. There are all sorts of weird services. In other countries, they have people being paid to cuddle you or to hold your bed warm. And I just spend time with Walter and am there in case he wants to talk. And I can even study languages. It's a win-win situation.
While I prepare breakfast, I think about what to write back. I then settle on a non-invasive, formal answer that I liked the evening and actually managed to study some vocabulary. We set another date for tomorrow night.
The day itself went over quite fast. After work, I went to my Japanese class at the adult education centre and at home I go to bed early. I still feel weird thinking of Walter, but I am sort of looking forward to the next day. I still feel uneasy stepping into the bus that brings me to his house. I arrive at eight o'clock and we set the same procedure as last night. We have a bit of small talk. Then he starts correcting a paper that a former colleague and friend has sent him and I begin to do exercises in Russian grammar. If you want to torture yourself, learn Russian.
Around 9 o'clock he makes a tea for both of us.
"What kind of tea do you prefer?"
"Do you have green tea?" I ask. Of course, tea. Walter had told me that he had grown up in the UK and lived in a variety of countries during his childhood and early manhood. He had settled in one place once he had known his wife and they had travelled together, but never longer than three weeks. He somehow missed living in a foreign place for a few months, but he realises he was getting too old.
He smiles at me and prepares some green tea.
"No. Milk in tea is disgusting."
"You didn't live in the UK long enough," he says and serves me my tea just as my favourite tailor, plain and simple.
He has a point though. I lived in Scotland and England, and without any stereotypes, discovered that Britons were dumb. Let's not go into detail right now.
The tea keeps me warm but there is something else that makes me feel warm. Anyhow, I focus on my work again.
After a while, we begin talking. Walter has studied some languages on his travels as well and even surprises me with a few sentences in heavily accented Mandarin. I laugh in something that has felt ages. True laughter is seldom. I often have to fake it to fit in.
At around half ten I leave again, receiving again my payment via WeChat. At ten minutes after 12 I am home. As I have to be at university only at 9, I am not bothered by that. At the central station, I buy a cup of hot chocolate that I drink in the train. I see my reflection in the glass, and for a moment I feel as if I have my life under control.
On the 15-minute-walk from the train station to my flat I realise that I am not too tired yet. I put on the music I choose to listen to when wanting to get horny and listen to the headphones while walking home.
Having arrived at my flat, I feel like I have to keep the promise to my body. Slowly, I begin to undress in front of the mirror. I still don't like what I see, but as soon as I crawl into my bed and turn off the lights, I don't care. My trustworthy companion, a purple vibrator, lies to my side, ready for when I need it. I imagine a situation at first with random people. Then I begin to think of me as one of these people. I modify their aspects and when I reach the climax, I realise that the other person in my imagination looks like Walter. Do I find him sexy? My breath halts and I come.
Please write me a review. I am used to writing fanfiction where people know the setting and the characters. Here, I am developing something new, therefore I would like some feedback.