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. When is the best time to meet someone who will then change your life repeatedly? Is it January? Is it March? Is it a lazy summer day that does not promise much else? I don’t know, so I’ll just go with February. It was February, then.
If it was February, there were still blankets of snow on the sidewalks, which always makes for a nice detail in a story like this. People were walking hurriedly, with coffee, phones, and shopping bags in their hands. You need to know that although this is my story, I was never alone. At least not until very late anyway, when everything came down to what I wanted out of life. I know, you don’t get many happy endings like that, do you?
All the while, there were people around me reminding me that whatever I’m going through, they were probably going through it too. At least that’s always true, no matter what month it is, what day it is, and so on: at any given moment, there are people going through the exact same thing we’re going through. 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 yet. I like to play with the light, the trees, the background. It’s more exciting to draw the outlines of his dreams than to explain them, and certainly less scary than living them.
You may wonder 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 fingerprints all over it, like a black-and-white drawing a child colours in a sunny living room. Does it even matter in the end what it was supposed to be in the beginning? The adults will love it anyway. I’ll spare you the real, you have enough of that yourself.
For now it’s February, it’s Friday morning, and it’s snowing. It’s morning because I like to take my time, and it’s snowing just 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, 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 most days, but not today. Today, remember, everything feels wrong, so my hair gets to be long, wavy, and a beautiful dark chocolate colour. Well, everything feels wrong, so I must get at least a few things right, right?
I could tell you about my huge flat, about the round staircase and the big windows stretching from one end to the other, about luxury, good-looking breakfasts and beautiful furniture, but I can’t. My mind is cold and empty, like a ghost town. Yes, today I woke up feeling unhappy. That’s why my house is a small, crowded and cold flat in a suburb of a city where you 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 don’t know anyone. I hide my face in the collar of my winter coat and hope to go 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 you can be sure will remain unchanged, it’s who I am deep inside. I am not going to hide that, because there’s nothing I can show. If there was, I probably would.
You may wonder why I am still a stranger in a city I made up, why I haven’t made an effort to get to know men like the one I’m about to meet. The truth is that I am a stranger by choice. Because I can stop being one at any time. And because life is just as boring when you are Little Miss Sunshine as it is when you are Mister Nobody. I know this because I have been here and I have been there.
In fact, I have been everywhere. (And the most important lesson I have learnt is that there is no such thing as the point of no return. But, of course, that only applies to me.) I was born with a blessing that, over time, has turned into a kind of beautiful curse. At every single moment of my life, I can choose where I want to be.
That’s right. I get to choose my life for the day. It’s as if I own a wonderful catalogue, an encyclopaedia if you will, flip through the pages and decide on a destination, a look, a life. Most days I do not choose anything new. I am just like you. Because honestly, after a while you learn that the world is not as big as you thought, 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, and that’s why in the end everything will go back to the way it was before. They say you are the creator of your own life. I create my life over and over and over again, but it always leads back to… oh well, enough of the sad stuff.
Now you see why the month, the neighbourhood, and the hairstyle I chose in the beginning seemed so irrelevant. Because when you live the way I do, you understand that they are. It’s painful to watch how I can change everything in my life except who I am and how I react to things.
I think the devil must have taken my soul in exchange, though I’d gladly return it if he asked. This wasn’t my choice. I want nothing, nothing but the ability to change for the better. And that’s hard to achieve when you can always run away.
So again, to set the mood: it’s 10 am and I’m getting ready in a dark, crowded little flat that I don’t like, but I’m not supposed to. Not in February, not on Fridays. I brush my long, dark hair and have some milk and cereal before running out the door, walking between busy people, and ending up in a bar. Inside, I spot a table by the window and hurriedly 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 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 more than strangers. Not much, 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 around. I want us to be just enough that I can bask in his warmth and nod at his plans, feeling happy for a while because I’ve met someone interesting and wonderful and can distract myself from the boredom I’ve become for myself.
I know that none of this matters much because I won’t be here forever. It’ll be like a summer love, except it’ll be February. Like a holiday romance that dies down at the end of the month. But winning people over is the only challenge I have left, because it’s the one thing I have no control over.
I take a look at myself and I don’t like what I see. I sit at my corner table, hiding behind a thick book and avoiding all eye contact. My mind wanders from here to there, and all this excitement makes me nervous. It reminds me of all the fun you can have out there, fun that no matter where I wake up, I don’t have because I’m looking for meaning in things not meant to last.
I take a deep breath, stretch my arms and legs, and cough to regain my voice. I have not talked to anyone in so long. Someone at the bar stares at me, but it’s not him. I stare back with confidence and two drops of disappointment, and their gaze wanders to the floor. You must have thought I was shy, but before I try to convince you otherwise, I’ll just tell you how the story goes.
I stand up, and a few people around the room notice me. I catch him turning his head over his shoulder, too. But it only takes a few seconds for him to order a drink and get ready to go back to his table.
My spontaneity seems to get the better of me, and I touch his arm as soon as I get to the bar. He is visibly amused. His eyes are serious and confused, and I know he’s waiting for me to say something. Instead, I sit down and wait my turn. That, and nothing more.
I could tell he was staring at me, but not that he’d burst into a low, condescending laugh shortly thereafter.
‘Is this your idea of breaking the ice?’ he asks me when he stops.
I turn around and see 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 know. He doesn’t know what to do, laugh, or 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 when a man sees the woman of his dreams, it only takes him seconds to recognise her from the crowd. Like love at first sight, only it’s not love yet.’
I’m sure I’m looking dead serious, but what he doesn’t know is that I’m not. I’m just sad and trying to have a good time. At best, he gives the right answers and I discover I like them. Worst case, I’ve had an interesting day. As he tries to come closer to me, the bartender asks me if I want a drink.
‘Just a strong coffee,’ I say and pull a few coins out of my pocket.
As he leaves, the handsome stranger looks as if he’s about to say something extremely important. Instead, he breaks into another unexpected laughter.
‘You know, I’m pretty sure that the woman of my dreams, as I imagine her, would be a bit… more subtle.’
‘Oh, really? Those are the ones you like?’
‘You’re kidding,’ he decides. ‘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 he’s definitely curious.
I’m just happy to pass the time playing yet another role.
‘I can tell you what the beauty of madness is, but it’s nothing to do with you.’
‘All right,’ I say, getting up from my chair, a hot, steaming coffee cup in my hand. ‘Come over to my table and tell me.’
Soon he sits at my table, and I can take another good look at him. I like everything I see. Too bad this one won’t last either.
We laugh across the table, touching each other’s hands now and then, and my heart feels lighter, calmer, easier to bear.
‘Tell me about the beauty of madness. Tell me everything you know.’
He smiles and looks as if he’s choosing his words carefully.
‘Madness is magic, and it’s not you,’ he finally says.
‘Well, that’s harsh.’
‘Let’s not get dramatic. But magic is almost sacred. You’re just a pretty girl in a bar. Aim high, but lower those expectations,’ he laughs.
According to him, magic is when things start moving, when the world moves at the speed of light and the eye is left with nothing but a mixture of colours and sounds that leaves you dizzy and happy and a little hungry for more. Magic happens when nothing else happens—either everything or nothing. You can’t have magic on the right and the dreaded workplace next to the smelly fish market on the left.
‘Tell me something,’ I say. ‘The woman of your dreams… of your wildest dreams, I mean… is she magical?’
‘That would help a lot,’ he laughs.
I notice him making circles with the spoon in his coffee as he speaks.
‘But you know there’s no such thing.’
‘Oh yes there is,’ he smiles, and I suddenly feel a little smaller.
‘All right, I’m listening.’
‘I can picture her,’ he says, grinning. ‘That’s not hard. You know what else is magical, besides people who love their world to pieces? Life, when you live it out loud, when you don’t analyse it or try to perfect it. That’s how she should be, like life, but real, you know? Like a tornado.’
‘Real life is also a calm sea,’ I say. ‘Would she care about you, then?’
‘That’s less important. I wouldn’t want her to stop and lick my wounds. You don’t trip tornadoes. What matters is whether I can keep up with her. Any day we were still running side by side would be…’
‘I think I’ve had enough of you,’ I suddenly decide and stand up.
‘Where are you going?!’
For a moment I’m tempted to stay, but I know it wouldn’t make any difference.
I close the door behind me and head home, wanting nothing more than to sleep the rest of the day away.
As I lie in bed, I think about how every morning I hope for better days, and every day I hope for more tomorrows, but somehow life repeats itself to the point of exhaustion. Breaking the cycle would be the new thing, and it’s the new thing that I can’t reach out and grab to make it mine because it’s far from my shores and I don’t know how to expand. Trying on new clothes and colours doesn’t make me bigger and bolder, it only paints over yesterday’s choices, and having more only means more of the same.
The conversation I had with the handsome stranger only served to remind me of the thrill of freedom, the only thing he seems to think could be greater than loneliness. We’ve all experienced it for short moments, like brief flashes of light. But they all ended before they began to make us better people. We remember them as the happiest moments of our lives, the most real things that ever happened to us. So powerful, yet so small, they almost don’t touch us at all. Yes, that must be what he meant—that taking small steps isn’t always enough. Sometimes we need to wake up with the confidence that we’re a whole new breed. The Almighty, even. And since it’s incredibly hard to believe in ourselves like that, someone who can show us how is our dream person. Only, he forgets, that we are never theirs when that is the case.
I don’t know how to love my world to bits. I only know how to change it, and I can’t stop. No one seems to be able to tell me what the shortcut to freedom is, and that’s what I really want to ask people like him, who look pure and intangible at the same time. I want to know the secret from someone who looks like they have freed their minds or are about to. Ah, but these people guard it with the price of their lives and only talk about nonsense.
I wanted to know what crazy beautiful is to a man like the one who caught my eye at the bar, and all I got was, It’s not you.
Raindrops still linger on my open windows. I lean out and breathe in the night air, feeling that 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 brushing my hair and heading out. Five more minutes to enjoy the silence and watch the cars driving on the wet roads, because the truth is that I haven’t changed a bit.
It’s mid-July now, my hair is the lightest shade of blonde and my skin is flawless. I have excitement, a whole new city and a large group of friends. I’ve switched back to popularity when summer came, 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.
Finally, I take one last deep breath and hope the night goes well. I’ll try not to spend my time wondering about the atmosphere of the place and what I’m doing there.
My friend’s party seems to have attracted all kinds of people, from a hot mess like me to elegant men like him. She introduces us, jokes that we both looked like we could use some company, and leaves. 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 find myself drawn to him very quickly. He reminds me of myself, of the future I had planned years ago where I wanted to be like him—smooth and successful without having to cheat every morning.
‘I want to be someone’s portion of magic,’ I say to him, to my surprise.
You caught me. I can not forget this conversation. I think about it a lot more than I should, to be honest. He seems to understand something and walks with me to the garden swing.
‘Where did that 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. ‘To be the girl of my dreams. Then I would be magic for everyone.’
He looks like he’s really listening.
I like what I see, I say to myself, but before the feeling sinks in, he drops the bomb.
‘But that’s not what magic means.’
How wonderful. I have met another know-it-all.
‘You want to give me your own definition and tell me that’s what it really is?’
‘No, no. It’s not a definition. I am just trying to get you to take a different approach.’
‘I am all eyes and ears,’ I say, and am about to leave when he grabs my hand and pulls me back.
‘Look around,’ he says, putting an arm around me. ‘Look at all this madness.’
My blood turns a little cold when he says the word.
‘Look at how the city lights blend into each other. Listen to the hum, the voices, the sounds. Doesn’t it look maddeningly beautiful from here? But as soon as you walk there and want to be a part of it, it all breaks down into a million little pieces, each with their own individuality and family and dreams, and it’s nothing more than pieces of glass reflecting bits of what it all seemed to be.’
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 into the girl of your dreams? Do you know exactly who you need to be to earn 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 eye. It’s all so much deeper than I 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 the 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. Once you tear in half the list of magical qualities you must have to be someone’s magic, you become it. You’ll be wild and free and constantly changing, and beautiful to watch flowing through life.’
I know he’s a good person. I do not know how I know that, but I do, and yet my heart is pounding 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 put all the pieces back 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 again, cheap pub or sophisticated dinner party.’
It’s funny, because he looked very different from the man I had met months ago. I found him just as attractive, but in a completely different way. At first, he did not remind me of anyone. How can you even find two people similarly attractive?
My head spins in circles as I make the long walk home and still get to bed earlier than I promised myself I would. I have nightmares all night, nightmares in which faces blend together, then disintegrate into pieces of glass reflecting bits of what it all seemed to be.
The next day I decide not to change the scenery yet. I’m used to doing that when something goes wrong, but last night wasn’t wrong. It was just different.
Last night I met a man who spoke like someone I’d met in the past, but who looked nothing like him. The thought of finding another person going through the same thing as me makes me shudder, but it can’t be. I spend half an hour in front of the mirror just to pass the time. Finally, I take a long, hard look at myself. It’s time I snap out of it the old-fashioned way, since magic turned out to be my weak spot.
There’s a café around the corner from my house where I grab a coffee and have a nice, healthy breakfast. I sit down at one of the tables outside, which are covered with pots of flowers, menus and newspapers.
My hair is up and I’m wearing a long, flowered dress. Next to me sits a man in a red shirt, with a big brown dog and the biggest cup of coffee I’ve ever seen. There comes a moment when our eyes try to recognise each other, but fail. Fortunately, I’ve never met him before. I breathe a sigh of relief and am glad I didn’t want to be anywhere else that morning. But life has a strange way of turning the tables, or pushing them close together.
‘Hey,’ he says.
I look at him, eager to see what comes after the pick-up line. But nothing comes, and that reassures me.
‘Hey, stranger. How’s the coffee here?’
‘Almost as good as the view,’ he replies.
I laugh. He invites me to his table and I accept. My thoughts are still going in circles as I search for answers. I could use a conversation. I go inside to order something, and when I return, 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?’
‘You could say that. I met someone.’
‘Oh. You’re moving fast, though, if you’re already eating breakfast alone.’
‘No, that’s not what I mean,’ I laugh. ‘He was acting really weird. That made me feel uncomfortable. I had to leave the party. That was the end of my rough night,’ I laugh.
‘Aha. A party animal, then.’
‘I try. Last night I failed.’
‘Was it that bad?’
‘I don’t know. It reminded me of someone I met a while back. Does that happen to you sometimes? I feel like I talk about myself too much.’
‘You know, meeting a woman who reminds you of an ex, say.’
‘Ah. Sometimes. But the man from your past wasn’t your boyfriend, was he?’
‘No, he wasn’t. How do you know?’
He says nothing, but runs his spoon around in his coffee. Suddenly 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 everyone 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 was trying to mess with my mind.’
‘And what did you expect?’ he grins.
I don’t know how to answer. It could be that the cliché is suddenly coming true. I’m a woman who doesn’t know what she wants. But that’s not really what I’m worried about now.
‘What the hell?’
The dog suddenly barks at me.
‘I am who you think I am,’ he says, trying to calm the dog down. ‘What, you’re not going to leave now, are you? You’ve already done that twice, might as well stay this time,’ 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 about not walking down the road grumpily because every day is a miracle. Coincidence or not, the word miracle makes me hit the ground running.
But you see, I know that for someone like me, there’s no way out. I may have the whole world at my fingertips, but starting all over again would be just as pointless as the last time. When change becomes a habit, the new loses its meaning. And it was all for nothing. I have no control whatsoever over who I really am, no matter who I try to be.
I sit down on a bench and sit quietly 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 actually doing? I run around 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 thing they want.
I just want myself. That’s my definition of magic at this point—the power to transform myself into the person I should have been all along.
They tell you that one day you’ll die. What they don’t tell you is that you may die unhappy and unfulfilled. They keep you alive, 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, etc. And at night, who goes to sleep? You, the same you that you’ve always been, the same you that you don’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, and I can’t stop watching his hand movements.
‘What are you doing?’ I ask him.
He doesn’t seem surprised.
‘What are you writing?’
‘Oh. That thing.’
He nods at me and continues.
‘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’s that got to do with it?’
‘With everything, you mean. Who you want to be affects everything. More so than who you are, because who you are you try to hide at least. Who you want to be, you can not control.’
I am curious. I am also tired.
I am willing to go along.
‘Haven’t you noticed that life is circular? You go to different places only to end up being pulled back to the same old ones. It’s the things you want that drag you around.’
Before you wonder why this conversation is even taking place, know that I have reached my breaking point. That is, I am giving up running from people who want to tell me something. After all, I was the one who felt insulted when a stranger told me I was not crazy. Let it be, then.
‘Why is this happening? Why can not I find magic?’
‘Who says you can not?’
‘I can not 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’ll never find it if you run away from yourself every day.’
‘I am not running away from myself, I am running away from people and places to find myself.’
‘And what do you end up with? More people and places on your list and less and less chance to find yourself.’
‘I don’t understand what I am doing wrong. As long as it’s not in me, where else am I going 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 envious and bitter. Then you have to run away. The magic is not in the charming strangers you meet. Then they could say the same thing about you, right?’
‘But I try 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’s a pattern you follow that I could trace with my eyes closed. There’s nothing really 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’s going to happen when you sit down, take a deep breath, maybe drink a coffee 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 get the wisdom out of them with a pair of pliers.’
‘Tell me something. Why is everyone the same person? Why are you the same man I have met before so many times?’
‘Don’t you understand? We are all mirrors reflecting you. The interesting man at the bar, picked up with a clever line and dragged into a conversation. The elegant man at the party who talks to an attractive person about the important things in life. The hippie guy in the café on the corner who finally dares to take a move towards someone he likes. Your ordinary guy, happily making magic in the park and living your writing dream. We are not a miracle of nature. We are the you that you do not dare to be.
You are attracted to people who have the qualities and lives you wish you had. No wonder they are all the same. Do you want to end this 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’ll stop seeing it in every window. You’ll 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 repress deep inside you and search for everywhere in the world. There, you found yourself, in different shapes and sizes. We are all one, because you do not want to be yourself.’
I don’t believe this.
‘Is this a bad dream?’
‘Indeed it is. The only difference is that only you can decide when and if you’re going to wake up from it.’
I stare at him in silence, and he goes back to writing. I notice that he doesn’t start a conversation, but only answers my questions.
‘You can call me that,’ he says, ‘even though you’ve met me at least four times. I’m not really a stranger anymore.’
‘If I ask you to be the one to leave, will you do it?’ the words come out of my mouth slowly.
‘Maybe, but you’ll meet me again at the exit of this park.’
‘What will you look like then?’
‘Whatever catches your eye at that point of your existence, I guess. I can’t say for sure yet.’
‘That point of my existence would be in a few minutes,’ I laugh. ‘You want to share a cigarette?’
‘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 breathe in the smoke and wait for his answer, but remember that he’s only there because so am I, or whatever he claims.
‘So tell me,’ I say, ‘how can you not know what I’m going to be looking for in five minutes? Don’t I always want the same things?’
‘I don’t know, do you?’
‘So you think I want to look like an undercover investigator who comes to the park and writes novels, right?’
‘On some days I am sure you do. More or less. I’m pretty sure you don’t want to be a man,’ he laughs, ‘but I kind of had to get your attention.’
‘Ok, 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.’
‘Oh, thank you.’
‘It’s all just 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?’
Finally, he turns to me.
‘Until you embrace your new identity, which crawls out of your skin and drips onto every bit of reality you come in contact with, you will see it in everyone and hate it every time. In fact, it will be all you will ever see—like now.’
‘You wanted the shortcut to being beautiful, I’m giving it to you. You wanted to know how it works, here’s how it works. You put down your old self and transform yourself into a masterpiece. You believe in your new identity, and you become it. But you have to believe in it!
You wanted insight 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 contain a little piece of who you are. But in this case, they are not other people. They are all a reflection of who you are inside.
But hurry, because becoming yourself should not be your only goal in life. In fact, all of this is less about becoming and more about understanding the price of freedom.’
‘I really look out of it, do not 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. But I’d be loud and strong and very, very brave.’
He sighs and continues writing his stuff.
‘Wait, what are you doing? I thought you wanted to hear what I wanted.’
‘I do, but you’re fantasising right now. Maybe you could save that for your writings and stop selling me lies. Let me put it another way. Stop lying to yourself.’
‘How am I lying?’
To my surprise, I notice that his eyes look exactly 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 the girl you’re describing, or you already would be. 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 sophisticated version of me. One who goes out alone, smiles in mirrors, and is honest with herself. One who can build a house on shaky ground and stop running away. I want to remember to appreciate someone’s innate goodness, their younger self, the way they love without always questioning it. 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 the wrong ones. Oh, and while we’re at it, I’m definitely a writer. I think I’ve lived enough lives for a while; I want to sit down with them and put them on paper. I could probably write something good, if I could write at all. Maybe once I learn how to be more protective of my time, you know? How to be more intentional with it. Are you still listening? What do you think?’
He doesn’t seem to be paying any attention to me.
‘Hello?’ I call out.
‘I’m sorry, what’s wrong?’ he asks, turning to me and looking terribly confused. ‘Do we know each other?’
‘What do you think?’
‘I’m not sure, I’m terribly sorry. Let’s go over it again, maybe it’ll come back to me. My name is Martin. I’m a writer. And who are you?’
‘Zoe… I’m a writer, too.’
His face lights up as if I’d given the right answer in the classroom and saved everyone.
Or maybe I’m just proud of myself for the first time and think 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 my heart warms again.
I feel a little lost and a little brave, and very much curious to see what comes next.