He is sitting a few meters away from me, at the very entrance. For a brief moment, I thought it was you, which would be at least unusual, given that I am in a club where they dance, the kind in which you would not have set foot dead.
He stops, greets me and boldly asks me if I have a cigarette. I extend him the pack. Do I want to go out with him to smoke? I get up, maybe he has something to tell me about you. I get out with him and let him light my cigarette.
His eyes have the same rare color yours do, a steely blue grey, but his are wet and kind. I ask him if he likes it in Bucharest. He likes student life. Unlike you, he would not go home, he feels free here.
When I first met your brother, he was but a kid. I had come visiting to your parents for the first time. Your father questioned me as if I were at an interrogatory and snorted when I told him that yes, my folks do have debts at some banks. Both you and Andrew inherited his perfectly straight nose, with pointy nostrils, as if someone sculpted it. Your mother shuddered when I asked her something and looked at your father before answering. I was relieved when Andrew suggested we go to the orchard. You minded your business, cracking some green walnuts and I was left alone with him:
– I know he does not really show what he feels, but I can see he is much happier since he met you, he told me.
I suspected you were being spontaneous and taught him to tell me that, in order to flatter me. Knowing you a little better, it probably came from him alone, you even took me with you to choose my own surprise presents. Actually, the only spontaneous thing you did during our 5-year relationship was to cut a fence for me. We were at a picnic, on a hill, next to someone’s yard which was overflowing with weeds, because you only felt at ease when you were out in nature. Away from any toilet, I could not find any bushes, when you remembered you had just bought a paid of pliers. There was not a soul in sight and I insisted we went back to civilization. You thought it was frisky and adventurous to cut a whole in the fence for me, even though I did not want to raise my skirt in that person’s yard. You told me this story for weeks in a row. I listened to you as if I heard it for the first time. When you spoke with passion, you had this gift to light up a whole room.
Andrew is asking me a lot of personal questions. I am aware that my answers will reach you, whether you want it or not, so I am trying to only say trivialities. He moves his eyes around a lot, left to right, and he is hard to follow. I used to avoid your metallic look for a different reason: the way you looked at me, without blinking, made me feel like a schoolgirl who did not do her homework.
With eyes wide open, you would watch me, waiting for me to do something that would provoke you. Like that night, on my birthday, when you did not want to come, but you came, and you did not want to dance, then you said I could dance, then I saw your face while I was dancing – your eyes were bulging in anger and not just your eyebrows, but your whole face was frowning. My hair stood on end. I could not help but stop. A few minutes later, we were standing outside, in the hallway, and you were screaming at me for flirting with the neighbor when I asked him for a pack of playing cards, even though you were not present when that happened. I knew you were actually upset that I had danced with someone else on Lady in red. People, except for your father, made you go crazy, and that is why I had to isolate myself, too. But I need others to not go crazy. The fact that you thought I was superficial because you and an ivory tower were not enough did not change this.
Andrei is scrutinizing my face. His cheeks are pink and chubby, yours were creole and hollow, with honey sports from late-onset chickenpox. I smile at him and ask him if he met someone here. He shyly starts talking about a few conquests. It has been so long since I do not even know if you have someone. I will not ask him, obviously, and he does not make any allusion to your possible girlfriend. We have been here painfully long, without him even pronouncing your name.
The day we broke up, you were rushing me to leave for the early train, because your father was expecting you. You had just spoken with him on the phone, which meant that you were even meaner to me than usual. I was not ready with my chores, so you offered to sweep, so that we could leave faster, but you were only sweeping at my feet.
– Please do not sweep me, I want to get married even if daddy does not let you marry me, I said.*
You did not speak to me anymore until we got to the train, where you sat down in a different cart and were texting me saying that I’m stupid. I walked through the train, with luggage, looking for you. You were flirting with a stranger. When you came in the hallway between carts, I was already seeing white. I do not remember when I slapped you or when you strangled me hard enough to leave a mark. When I got out of the train, you were standing outside the car with your father, waiting for me. You did not speak but he called me reckless for slapping you. In his opinion, I provoked you and God knows what you could have done to me. He asked me why I reacted like that, did I really believe that I was going to end up with you? I was just a distraction. You were grinding your teeth together behind him.
I don’t remember why I went out to smoke with your brother, but it is surely not worth it. I excuse myself to leave. Andrew gets up from the wall that he was leaning on and a thread of hair falls on his forehead. He takes a long look at me and it seems to me I can see pity in his eyes. I offer him another cigarette. He does not refuse me. I realize I am only fostering a vice you started, because both me and your brother started smoking because you urged us.
I go back in. I tell my friends who the mysterious boy was. They are trying to put in perspective for me all the wonderful things I did since I stopped using all my energy on you. They are right. I am doing well without you. And I’ll be even better after a few glasses of white wine.
* In Romanian culture, there is a superstition that if someone sweeps your feet, you will remain single and not get married anymore.
^ The picture is from Mihaela Nitulescu’s portfolio, see more on her facebook.