It was late November. Or April. Or August. I guess it could have been Christmas, but most cafés would have been closed – and where else would I have run into him? I’d say it was New Year’s Eve, but that would create too much pressure for one day. What is the best time to meet someone who then proceeds to change your life repeatedly? Is it January? Is it March? Is it a lazy summer day that doesn’t promise much otherwise? I don’t know, so I’ll just go with February. It was February, then.
If it was February, then there were still blankets of snow on the sidewalks, which always makes for a nice detail in a story like this. People walked hurriedly, with coffee and phones and shopping bags in their hands. I need you to know that, despite this is my story, I was never alone in it. Not until very late anyway, when it was all reduced to what I wanted from life. I know, you don’t get many happy endings like that, do you? There were people all around me the whole time, reminding me that whatever I was going through, they were probably going through it too.
At least this is always true, no matter the month and day: at any given point in time, there are people going through the exact same things next to us. Even if they won’t tell. Even if we’ll never tell.
I don’t meet him yet. I’d skip to that part, but I don’t want to press fast forward just yet. I like playing with the light, the trees, the background. Still contouring features of your dreams is more exciting than explaining them, and surely less frightening than living them.
You might be wondering why I’m making things up. It’s because I’m not trying to give you all the facts. I’m not even trying to tell you the truth. This is my story and all that matters is that it has my fingertips all over it, like a black and white drawing a child is colouring in a sunny living room. At the end, does it even matter what it was supposed to be at the beginning? The adults will love it anyway. I’ll spare you the real, for you have enough of it yourself.
For now, it’s February, it’s Friday morning and it’s snowing. It’s morning, because I like taking my time, and it’s only snowing for the sake of it.
I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, crawled my way to the mirror – and the mirror went all, you know, ‘Oh, it’s you again…’ Maybe it wasn’t the mirror. Maybe it was my inner voice, but I can’t be sure.
My hair is light, short and messy on most days, but not today. Today, remember, everything feels wrong, so my hair gets to be long, wavy and in a lovely dark chocolate colour. Well, everything feels wrong, so I must get at least a few things right, don’t I? The rest is all off.
I would tell you about my huge flat, the circular staircase and the large windows running from one end to the other, about luxury, good looking breakfasts and beautiful pieces of furniture, but I can’t. My mind is cold and empty, like a ghost town. Yes, today I woke up feeling unhappy. Hence my house is a small, crowded and cold little flat in the suburbs of a city that makes one feel insignificant. We all feel anonymous when we go on holidays in foreign countries, but I feel anonymous at home. People here don’t know me, and I know no one. I hide my face in the tall collar of my winter coat and hope to remain unnoticed.
See, I would change this for the joy of writing a better story. I’d be loud and have lots to say and lots to show, and I’d never get to the point and you wouldn’t care, because you all like loud. But if there’s one thing that you can be sure it stays unchanged all throughout this it’s who I am deep inside. I won’t hide that, because there’s nothing else I could show. If there was, I probably would.
You might wonder why I’m still a stranger in a city I think up, why I haven’t made an effort for men like the one I’m about to meet to know me by now. The truth is that I am a stranger by choice.
Because I can stop being one at any given time.
And because life is just as boring when you are Little Miss Sunshine as it is when you are Mister Nobody. I know, because I’ve been here, and I’ve been there.
Matter of fact, I’ve been everywhere. (And the most important lesson that I’ve learnt is that there is no such thing as the point of no return. But that, of course, only applies to me.)
I was born with a blessing that has, in time, turned into some kind of lovely curse. Every single moment of my life, I can choose where I want to be.
That’s right. I get to pick my life for the day. It’s like owning a wonderful catalogue, an encyclopedia, if you want, flipping through its pages and deciding for a destination, a look, a life. Most days, I don’t pick anything new. I’m just like you. Because honestly, after a while you learn that the world isn’t as vast as you thought it was, and wherever you are, you are still you. You can run away from everything that surrounds you, but you can never run away from who you are so, eventually, everything will turn out the same way as before. They say you are the creator of your own life. I’m creating mine all over again, and again, and again, but it keeps leading to… ah well, enough of the sad stuff.
Now you see why the month, the area and the hairstyle I chose in the beginning seemed so irrelevant. Because when living like me, you understand that they are. It’s painful to watch how I can change anything in my life, except who I am and how I respond to things.
I think the Devil must have taken my soul in exchange, though I would gladly make the trade back. This wasn’t my choice. I want nothing, nothing but the ability to change myself for the better. And that is hard to do when you can always run away.
So here’s to setting the scene again: it’s 10am and I’m getting ready in a dark, crowded little flat that’s not on my liking, but it’s not supposed to be either. Not in February, not on Fridays. I brush my long, dark hair and have some milk and cereal before I run out the door, walk with busy people and end up in a smoky bar. Once I’m inside, I spot a table next to the window and hurry to throw my bag on the chair. There. This is my mole hole for the day.
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’d upset me one night and I’d leave in the morning, determined not to look back, and I probably wouldn’t; or the other way round. I want us to be just enough so that I can bask in his warmth and nod at his plans feeling happy for a while, happy I’ve met someone interesting and wonderful that can distract me from the bore I have become to myself.
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, because it’s the one thing I have no control over.
I take a look at myself and don’t like what I see. I’m sitting at my corner table, 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. It reminds me of all the fun there is to have out there, fun that no matter where I choose to wake up I don’t have, because I’m looking for meaning in things that are only meant to last one day. 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 stare back with confidence and two drops of disappointment, 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.
I stand up and people from all across the room look at me in silence. Ah, if only things played harder to get in life. I catch him too, with his head turned over his shoulder. But it’s only a couple of seconds before he orders a drink and gets ready to go back to his table.
My spontaneity seems to make a move without consulting my mind, and I end up touching his arm the moment I get to the bar. He is visibly amused. His eyes are sincere and confused and I know he is waiting for me to say something. Instead, what I do is take a seat and wait for my turn to be served.
That, and nothing more.
I could tell he was staring, but not that he would break into a quiet, patronising laughter shortly after.
“Is this your idea of breaking the ice?” he asks me when he stops.
I turn around to discover that his face has turned red with laughter.
Well, that’s a first.
“Do you like me?” I go next.
I don’t have much to lose, you see. He doesn’t know what to do, to laugh or to take me seriously – and 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 recognise her from the crowd. Like love at first sight, only it’s not love yet.”
I’m sure I must be looking deadly serious, but what he doesn’t know is that I’m not. I’m only sad, and trying to amuse myself. At best, he gives all the right answers and I discover I like this one. At worst, I’ve had an interesting day. As he tries to come closer to me, the barman asks me if I want a drink.
“Just a strong coffee,” I say and take some coins out of my pocket.
When he leaves, the handsome stranger looks like he’s on the verge of saying something utterly important. Instead, he cracks up in another unexpected laughter.
“You know, I’m pretty sure the woman of my dreams as I picture her would be a bit more… subtle.”
“Oh, really? Those are the ones you like?”
“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, but curious he does for sure.
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, hot steaming coffee cup in hand. “Come over to my table and tell me.”
Soon, he is sat at my table and I get to take another good look at him. I like everything I see. Too bad this one won’t last either.
We laugh over the table, we touch each other’s hands now and then, 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’s choosing his words carefully.
“Madness is magical, and that’s not you,” he finally says.
“Well that’s harsh,” I say and, somehow, feel deeply hurt.
“Let’s not be dramatic. But magic is close to sacred. You’re just a pretty girl in a bar. Aim high, but lower those expectations,” he laughs.
According to him, magic is things set in motion, the world moving at the speed of light, leaving nothing to the eye but a mixture of colours and sounds that make you dizzy and happy and a little hungry for more. 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 dreaded workplace next to the smelly 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 thing.”
“Oh, there is,” he smiles, and I suddenly feel a little smaller.
“Alright, I’m listening.”
“I can imagine her,” he says, grinning. “It’s not hard. You know what else is magical, apart from the people who love their worlds to bits? Life, when you live it out loud, when you don’t analyse or try to perfect it. That’s how she should be, like life, but real like, you know? Like a tornado.”
“Real life is also a calm sea,” I mumble. “Would she care about you, then?”
“That matters 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. Every day we’d still be running next to each other is ma–”
“I think I’ve had enough of you,” I suddenly decide and get up.
“Where are you going?!” he shouts.
For a moment I am tempted to stay, but know that it wouldn’t make any difference.
I slam the door behind me and head back home, wanting nothing else but to sleep through the rest of today.
As I lay in bed, I think of how every morning I hope for better days, and every day I hope for more mornings, but 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 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, and having more means only more of the same.
The conversation I had with the handsome stranger only served to remind me of the thrill of freedom, the one and only thing he seems to think could be bigger than loneliness. We’ve all experienced it for short moments, like brief flashes of light. But they’ve all ended before they really started to change us into better people. We remember them as the happiest moments of our lives, the most real things that have ever happened to us. So powerful yet so small they nearly don’t touch us at all. Yes, 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 one. And, since it’s incredibly hard to believe in ourselves like that, someone who can show us how it’s done is our dream person. Only, he forgets, we are never theirs if that’s the case.
I don’t know how to love my world to bits. All I know is how to change it, and I can’t stop. No one seems able to tell me what the shortcut to freedom is, and 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 from somebody who looks like they’ve freed their minds or are about to or have kind of figured out the way to. Ah, 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 who caught my eye at the bar, and all I ultimately got was ‘It’s not you.’
Raindrops still linger on my open windows. I lean out and take in the night air, feeling as if the whole world has gone to sleep; only that it hasn’t. The world is waiting for me, and I’m taking five more minutes before I brush my hair and go show up. Five more minutes to enjoy the silence and watch the cars driving on the wet streets, because the truth is that I haven’t changed one bit.
It’s mid-July now, my hair is the lightest shade of blonde and my skin is flawless. I’m having excitement, embarrassment even, a whole new city and a large group of friends. I’ve switched back to popularity when summer bloomed, but I’m still floating through days that feel the same. Wanting everything, because I am one step away from wanting nothing. It’s still winter in here.
Eventually, I take one last deep breath and hope the night goes well. I’ll try not to spend my time wondering at the atmosphere of the place and what I am doing there.
My friend’s party seems to have attracted all sorts of people, from a hot mess like myself to classy men like him. She introduces us, jokes about how we both looked like we could use some company, and leaves us. He smiles and agrees with her. I smile back and try not to.
We end up on the porch, getting drunk on every kind of alcohol served inside, where we only go to get more drinks. I quickly feel very drawn to him. He reminds me of myself, in the future I had planned years ago, where I was going to be like him – smooth and successful, without having to cheat every morning.
“I want to be someone’s portion of magic,” I surprise myself telling him.
You caught me. I cannot forget that conversation. I’m thinking about it a lot more than I should, in fact. He seems to understand something and walks me to the garden swing.
“Where did this come from?” he asks me, minutes later.
“I don’t know,” I shrug. “I think I spend too much time daydreaming. I wish I could show it to someone else, because it’s pretty damn beautiful.”
I want to trust this man. I wish I was his portion of magic.
“I wish I could live the life of my dreams,” I whisper, almost to myself. “Be the girl of my dreams. Then I’d be magic for everyone.”
He looks like he is really listening.
I like what I see, I say to myself, but before the feeling settles he drops the bomb.
“But that’s not what magic means.”
How wonderful. I have run into another know-it-all.
“Are you going to give me your own definition, and tell me that’s what it really is?”
“No, no. It’s not a definition. I just want to make you take a different approach.”
“I’m all eyes and ears,” I say and want to leave, when he grabs my hand and pulls me back.
“Look around,” he says, and puts an arm around me. “Look at all this madness.”
My blood turns a little cold when he says madness.
“Look at how the city lights blend into each other. Listen to the hum, the voices, the noises. Doesn’t it look maddeningly beautiful from here? But as soon as you run to it and want to be a part of it, it all falls into a million little pieces, each with its own individuality and family and dreams, and it’s nothing more than drops of glasses that reflect bits of what it seemed.”
I like the feeling of being in his arms, but something tells me that this is more than a bedtime story with an unhappy ending.
“Do you want to turn yourself into the girl of your dreams? Do you know exactly who you have to be to deserve that title? Do you have a plan for every step you need to take?”
I just sit there in silence, unable to breathe, speak or look him in the eyes. It all turned out so much deeper than planned, so much more against me.
“Because you’re doing it all wrong then. There is no magic in perfection. As soon as you get close to beauty, it turns hideous. As soon as you want to be part of crazy, the crazy vibes stop flowing. Life has an energy of its own, that’s why it figures itself out. Magic is looking, not touching. Enjoying, not possessing. Being, not trying to be. As soon as you tear in halves the list of magic traits you must have in order to be someone’s magic, you will become it. You’ll be wild, and free and ever-changing, and beautiful to watch flowing through life.”
I know that he is a good man. I don’t know how I know that, but I do, and yet my heart beats in every inch of my skin.
“Who are you?” I finally ask in a thin, shaky voice.
“What does it matter? Are you trying to fit all the pieces together again?”
He makes me look at him, and all I see is the face of a stranger with the confident smile of someone who knows all my secrets.
“Have we met before?” I whisper.
“Yes,” he says, “to your first question. You are doing it, once again, cheap pub or sophisticated dinner party.”
It’s funny, because he looked nothing like the man I met months ago. I found him just as attractive, but in a very different way. He didn’t remind me of anybody at first. How do you even find two people similarly attractive?
My head is spinning round and round as I take the long walk home, and still end up in bed earlier than I promised myself. I have nightmares all night, nightmares where faces blend together, then fall to pieces as drops of glasses that reflect bits of what they seemed.
The next day I decide not to change the scenery yet. I’m used to doing so whenever things go wrong, but last night wasn’t wrong. It was only different. I found a spark of the unknown in a world where I thought I was the only thing I cared about that I couldn’t explain.
Last night I met a man who spoke like someone I met seasons ago but looked nothing alike. The thought of finding another person going through the same as me gives me the chills, but it can’t be. I spend half an hour in the mirror, just to pass the time. Eventually, I take a long hard look at myself. It’s time I snap out of it the old school way, since magic turned out to be my weak point.
There’s a café round the corner from my house where I end up going for coffee and the nice, healthy breakfast. I find a seat at one of the tables outside covered in flower pots, menus and newspapers.
My hair is all tied up and I’m dressed in a long, flowery dress. Next to me, there is a man in a red shirt, with a large brown dog and the biggest cup of coffee I’ve seen. The time comes when our eyes try to recognise each other, but don’t. Thankfully, I have never met him before. I breathe easy and feel happy that I didn’t choose to be anywhere else this morning. But life has a funny way of turning tables, or pushing them close together.
“Hey,” he says.
I look at him, curious to see what comes after the pick-up line. But nothing does, and that makes me feel easy.
“Hey, stranger,” I say, “How’s the coffee here?”
“Almost as good as the view,” he responds.
He invites me over to his table and I accept. My mind is still running around in circles from last night, looking for answers. I could use some conversation.
I go inside to order something for myself and, when I come back, I change my seat for one at his table.
“How’s the coffee, then?” he asks me.
“Good, good. I needed this.”
“Had a rough night, huh?”
“I guess you can say that. I met someone.”
“Oh. Well you sure move on fast if you’re already having breakfast alone.”
“No, I don’t mean that,” I laugh. “He was acting really strange. It made me feel uncomfortable. I had to leave the party. That’s where my rough night ended,” I laugh.
“I see. A party person then.”
“I try. Last night, I failed.”
“Was it that bad?”
“I don’t know. He reminded me of someone I met a while ago. Does it ever happen to you? I feel like I’m talking too much about myself.”
“You know, meet a woman that reminds you of an ex, let’s say.”
“Ah. Sometimes. But the man from your past wasn’t your boyfriend, was he?”
“No, he wasn’t. How did you know that?”
He doesn’t say anything, just makes circles with the spoon in his coffee. All of a sudden, I’m having a déjà vu.
“That’s funny… That reminds me of someone, too.”
“That would be every coffee drinker in the world,” he smiles. “Don’t worry, you don’t know me. Not yet, anyway. You never really got there. You know the story… You try to get the girl, but she leaves before you have the chance to tell her why you picked her out of everybody else. Or, well, she picked you. So you can’t say you know each other. Right?”
This is impossible.
I must be losing my mind.
“Tell me about last night. What did he do wrong, that you left without him?”
“The same as you,” I mumble, confused. “He tried to mess with my mind.”
“And what did you expect? Some nice guy to play it safe with?” he grins.
“No, just someone…”
I don’t know how to say this. It might be that the cliché becomes true all of a sudden. I’m a woman who doesn’t know what she wants. But he seems to know better.
“Someone who lets you be the magical one in the relationship?”
“Well, that’s kind of hard to find. We all want to play that part. You have to be a magical girl on your own, before your turn comes, if it does.”
“And how do I become one?”
“Are you asking me this again?”
“What the hell?”
The dog suddenly starts barking at me.
“I am who you think I am,” he says, trying to quiet him down. “What, are you not going to leave now? You already did twice,” he laughs and finishes his coffee.
“Listen, I can’t keep seeing you again, and again, and again.”
“Ah, but you’re talking to me. Again, and again, and again. You’re always talking to me. If I’m here it’s only because you want me to be.”
Someone stops me on my way to nowhere and asks me what the time is. I tell them it’s midday and they start lecturing me on how I shouldn’t walk down the street all grumpy, because every day is a miracle. Coincidence or not, the word miracle makes me hit the ground running.
But you see, I know there is nowhere to go for someone like me. I may have the world at my fingertips, but starting all over again would be just as pointless as last time. When variety becomes a habit, newness loses meaning. And it was all in vain. I have no control whatsoever over who I really am, regardless of who I try to be.
I curl up on a bench and sit still, watching people going places, lovers holding hands, children running around, dogs catching branches, Frisbees or whatever they catch these days. Sometimes, the best hiding place is the spotlight.
What am I doing? Running around in a haze, aimlessly and carelessly, screaming how much I want, I want, I want. What do I want, they wonder. It’s simple. I want the same as them.
I just want myself. That is my definition of magic at this point – the power to change myself into whom I should have been by now.
They tell you that you’re going to die some day. What they don’t tell you is that you might die unhappy, unfulfilled. They keep you alive and working and buying by dangling the promise of a better you in front of not-so-great you. So you try to change. You try on new things, you try to be new things, you try things. And at night, who goes to sleep? You, the same you that you’ve always been, the same you that you won’t know how to be in the morning, because they told you that it’s not such a great you. So why don’t you try–
A funny-looking man sits on the other side of the bench, with a backpack next to him and a notebook on his lap. He starts scribbling away and I can’t stop watching his hand move.
“What are you doing?” I ask him.
He doesn’t seem surprised.
“What are you writing?”
“Oh. That thing.”
He nods at me and carries on.
“Who are you?”
“I am what we all are. I am what you should be, too.”
“And what is that?”
“But I am not an artist.”
“Oh, I know you’re not. But you want to be one.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“With everything, you mean. Who you want to be influences everything. More so than who you are, because who you are you try to hide at least. Who you want to be is impossible to control.”
I am curious. I am also tired.
I am willing to go along.
“Haven’t you noticed how life is circular? You go places only to end up being dragged back to the same old one. It’s the things that you want that drag you around.”
Before you wonder why this conversation is even taking place, know that I’ve reached my breaking point. That said, I give up on walking away from people who are trying to tell me something. After all, I was the one who felt offended when a stranger told me that I am not mad. Let it be, then.
“Why is this happening? Why can’t I find magic?”
“Who said you can’t?”
“I can’t find it in myself. How can I find so much of it that I can put it into stories and be a real writer?”
“Oh… but you will never find it by running away from yourself every day.”
“I am not running away from myself, I am running away from people and places in my attempt to find myself.”
“And what do you end up having? More people and places on your list, and less and less chances to find yourself.”
“I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong. For as long as it’s not in me, where else am I supposed to find it but in the world around me?”
“But of course it’s in you. You just don’t see it. But you see it in other people, and that makes you jealous and bitter. Then you have to run away. That’s not where magic is, in the charming strangers that you meet. They could say the same about you then, couldn’t they?”
“But I’m trying to be better every time, don’t you see?”
“I’ll be honest with you – I don’t, and you’re not. You’re always changing where you are, not who you are. You are not ever-changing. You always go to the same places, you talk to the same kind of people. There is a pattern that you follow and that I could trace with my eyes closed. There is nothing truly new in your choices. And you say you want magic? Magic is not going to happen this way.”
“Then how is it going to happen?”
“It is going to happen when you sit down, take a deep breath, maybe smoke a cigarette if you like, or have a nice meal; alone. When you look around and see beautiful people and you let them be beautiful without trying to pull the wisdom out of them with pliers.”
“Tell me something. Why is everyone the same person? Why are you the same man I’ve met before so many times?”
“Don’t you understand? We are all mirrors reflecting you. The interesting man at the bar, being picked up with a clever line and dragged into a conversation. The classy man at the party, talking about things with meaning with an attractive someone. The hippie guy at the café on the corner, finally daring to make a move towards someone they fancy. Your ordinary guy, happily making magic in a park, living your writing dream. We are not a miracle of nature. We are the you that you do not dare to be.
You are drawn to people who possess the qualities and lives you wish you had. No wonder they are all alike. Do you want to end that stupid curse and become the girl you want to be? Then stop talking to us. Stop changing places. Stop doing the same things every day, even if you do them here or somewhere else. Become one with your reflection and you will stop seeing it in every window. You will never have to change your hair colour again, unless, of course, you really want to. You cling to us to give you a drop of magic, but we are not who you think we are.
I am you, the you that you suppress deep inside and go searching for all over the world. There, you found yourself, in different shapes and sizes. We are all one, because you don’t want to be yourself.”
I don’t believe this.
“Is this a bad dream?”
“It is indeed. The only difference is that only you can choose when and if you’re going to wake up from it.”
I stare at him in silence, and he gets back to his writing. I notice how he doesn’t initiate a conversation – he just answers my questions.
“You can call me that, he says, although you’ve met me at least four times so far. I’m not exactly a stranger anymore.”
“If I ask you to be the one leaving, will you?” the words come out of my mouth slowly, tediously.
“I might, but you’ll meet me again at the exit of this park.”
“What will you look like then?”
“Whatever might catch your eye at that point of your existence, I guess. I can’t be sure yet.”
“That point of my existence would be a few minutes from now,” I laugh. “Do want to share a cigarette with me?”
“I don’t smoke,” he says.
“But I do.”
“Oh, only until you become your favourite self. You won’t want to kill that.”
“Fine, I’ll have one.”
I inhale the smoke and wait for his answer, but remember that he is only there because so am I, or whatever he claims.
“So tell me,” I say, “how can you not know what I’ll be looking for in five minutes? Do I not want the same things all the time?”
“I don’t know, do you?”
“So you think I want to look like an undercover detective who comes to the park and writes novels, right?”
“On some days I am sure you do. More or less. I am pretty sure you don’t want to be a man,” he laughs, “but I had to get your attention somehow.”
“Okay, what else?”
“Why don’t you tell me that?”
I guess two can play this game.
“Well, you got one thing right, I do want to be a writer. But I don’t want to be a writer yet.”
“I don’t know, I guess I could try, but I feel so drained that I think I’d be a terrible writer. I hardly believe in magic, that must be why I want to find it so badly.”
“How about you create it? Have you thought of that?”
“I can’t even recreate myself; you said it.”
“Oh, no. Don’t recreate anything, please. That’s like taking expired food and trying to make a cake.”
“It’s all an allegory. Things are not what they seem to be, but what you want them to be. It’s up to you to give them the meaning that suits you. I can only tell you what you need to learn.”
“And what is that?”
He turns to me, finally.
“Until you assume your new identity, that’s crawling to get out of your skin and drip onto every bit of reality you get in contact with, you will see it in everyone and hate it every time. In fact, it will be all you ever see – like now.”
“You wanted the shortcut to being beautiful, I’m giving it to you. You wanted to know how that works – this is how it works. You shed your old plums and turn into a masterpiece. You believe in your new identity, and you become it. But you have to believe.
You wanted bits of insights from strangers, I’m giving you them. You must, suddenly and strangely even, become the people you turn to for help. You are drawn to them because they hold little pieces of who you are. But in this case, they are not different people. They are all reflections of who you are on the inside.
But hurry up, because becoming yourself shouldn’t be your only purpose in life. In fact, all of this is less about becoming and more about understanding the price of freedom.”
“I look really zoned out, don’t I?”
“Need I tell you this? You’re walking among mirrors and you still don’t wake up. So tell me, if you were a writer, what would you create first?”
“Well… I don’t know, myself I guess. I think I’d have long hair and a rocking body, but I’m not so keen on physical features, because I’ve been getting new ones all my life. I’d be loud and strong though, and very, very brave.”
He sighs and goes on writing his stuff.
“Wait, what are you doing? I thought you wanted to hear what I want.”
“I do, but you’re fantasising right now. Maybe you could save that for your writings and stop selling me lies. Can I rephrase this? Stop lying to yourself.”
“How am I lying?”
To my surprise, I now find out that his eyes look just like mine.
“You were a stranger by choice, remember? Then you stopped being a stranger and became successful; then you went to a party, hid on the porch to talk to yourself, didn’t like what you heard and left before midnight. You don’t want to be that girl you’re describing; otherwise you would have been her already, when given the chance. Now tell me, who do you really want to be?”
“I think I just want to be me,” I admit, staring at the ground. “But maybe a more refined version of me. One that goes out alone, smiles in mirrors, is honest about herself. One that can build a home on shaky grounds and not run anymore. I want to remember to appreciate someone’s inherent goodness, their younger selves, the ways they love without questioning them always. I want to feel free, just like you said. I’m sure the right words would come to me then, because I’d have stopped forcing out the wrong ones. Oh, and speaking of that, definitely a writer. I think I’ve lived enough lives for a while; I want to sit down with them and let them out on paper. I could probably write something good, if I could write at all. Maybe once I learn how to guard my time more fiercely, you know? How to be more intentional with it. Are you still listening? What do you think?”
He seems to be paying me no attention.
“Hello?” I shout.
“I’m sorry, what’s wrong?” he asks, turning to me, looking terribly confused. “Have we met?”
“What do you think?” I ask, gnashing my teeth.
“I’m not sure, I’m terribly sorry. Let’s go through this one more time, maybe I’ll remember. I’m Martin. I’m a writer. Who are you?”
“Zoe… I am a writer as well.”
His face brightens up, as if I gave the right answer in classroom and saved everyone.
Or I’ve just felt proud of myself for the first time, and think that the universe is proud of me too. I’m not sure.
“What do you write?”
“Just fantasy,” I answer, my voice shaking a little.
“Oh, that’s so… fantastic!” he laughs, and I get that warm feeling again.
I feel a little lost, and a little brave, and very much curious to see what comes next.