Holla at everyone who’s reading this today! I wrote another story for you to read&enjoy, and since today is Finnish Christmas – Merry Christmas! Or happy holidays, or jolly whatever you’re celebrating.
In the cacophony of animated chatter and the boom of an unrelated song, his words were lost in the air. I leaned in closer to shout: ‘What?!’
‘I said you’re singing it wrong. That part doesn’t come until the second verse’, he shouted back. In my mind I sat facing the presence of another man, one that my darting eyes would always try and pick out of the shapes of strangers; but he had found me first. The shyness of his smile clashed with the quiet confidence of his demeanour, but it illuminated his somber face with a boyish softness and made him very pleasant to look at.
‘That’s how it goes’, I insisted. ‘I should know. It was like my favourite song when I was 17.’
‘Yeah, well it’s my favourite song now.’
When the sound died down and the crowd moved to go, we two still lingered in the harsh, sudden light that now illuminated the beer spilled on the floor and the cracks on the walls. The desolation of the place fascinated me. While you talked slowly, I let my eyes rest on the tasteful junk and worn out antiques that lined the walls and occupied every space in the bar. You agreed; it was a nice spot.
We walked through the city aimlessly, easily, letting way under our feet curl out into a tentative map of the steps I’d traced by myself earlier that day. The medieval houses and cobblestoned streets fell into place as the set of this feature film where the two of us would fall in complicated love. Love? I was never that much in over my head. But when he spoke, I felt he spoke to me in earnest, and to me it was more than I could hope. And when I shivered, he gallantly offered his sweater to cover my shoulders. With my back towards the wild sea, we kissed the first time, then he made me laugh out loud with a joke he made.
Forgetting a conversation we had been through previously, I studied his face in the streetlights and said: ‘Hey, has anyone ever told you that you look a lot like…?’
‘Yes, everybody has.’ He looked exasperated. ‘And no I don’t.’
I laughed because all of it was a part of the same joke, but the fact I had fallen into the same trap than everyone else made me feel uncomfortably ordinary.
In the North the light comes out early, and with the dawn of the new day also came my appetite and I realised I hadn’t eaten in hours, much less slept all night. When I left to return to my hostel, he took my hand in his. It was an oddly sweet gesture and I wondered… I wondered.
‘I’ll see you at the bar tonight, yeah?’
‘Yeah, I’ll be around.’ He took back the sweatshirt that I handed to him. ‘It’s open mic night so I’m definitely coming but I don’t think I can stay late.’
I caught a few hours of blurry sleep and a hasty breakfast before heading out again to an outdoor festival. Originally it had been my whole reason of coming here, but it had now been rudely pushed to the sidelights to make space on the main stage for the boy with the pleasant face. Nevertheless, I immersed myself in the music. In the front row I sang along to songs I’d known for years, every line now more meaningful than I had ever imagined in the solitude of my room. If I turned, I could see tens of thousands of spectators swelling like a great wave, each one of them gripped by the music until it took them over, head and heart, until they melted into a mass of ecstasy and euphoria, a mutual magic that swept over the crowd and made me feel light footed and invulnerable. The fireworks exploded – literally, there were colourful sparks going off on top of the stage and the crowd went wild, and I remember lifting my face up into the sky split into an ecstatic grin. I felt everything – on top of it all pure, unadulterated happiness as I had never experienced in my life. In that moment, his face flashed into my mind.
I rushed through the city to meet him and burst int the bar. It was quiet tonight, perhaps too early for a party lot to crowd the counter yet with their unapologetic requests of cheap beer and tequila. He was there; our eyes met. They were in the middle of the song that we had been playfully quarrelling over the night before. Trying to act nonchalant, I went to order a beer, but I felt his eyes on me as he sang the chorus: ‘Oh, it’s what you do to me…’
He left early, as he said he would, but not without saying goodbye. We talked for months, on and off. He was dating, then he wasn’t. I was doing my thing. But in those wee hours of the night, even separated by distance and months that were slowly growing between us, he’d message me to talk. And talk we did.
And when I said I was coming back, my heart leapt when he immediately messaged me back: ‘When are you here? I’ll take you out.’
When I returned, the city had remained the same. It was almost as if time had stood still at that day when we met with the few clouds stuck on the same slow meander through the sky and the identical stream of tourists flowing in and out of the same shops that had stood there the year before. But this time there was an undertow – an unspoken rush – a pull to someone who was occupying the space of a stranger. Every passer-by bore a resemblance to him until I spun around to see that it was just another bland face in the sea of people. As the evening drew nearer, I grew nervous. I kept glancing at my phone for a word from him. When it finally came, I reached for it like a drowning woman, but his voice was toneless, almost indifferent.
If I were to look back on it now, I’d say we were betrayed by our own magic. My bleary mind had build us up into a pair of strong protagonists, him the object of my affection and me his damsel in distress, but when we met over stale pints of local beer I saw that the set had faded and the grand stone facades of the city had turned into cheap paper. In an anticlimatic twist of events I saw him as he was there, sitting quietly on a high stool and avoiding my eyes. He was more real than I remembered. Even with all our long conversations we had talked a lot but said very little, and I realised that I didn’t know anything about him.
Maybe he saw the same in me because after an hour he left without bothering to make up an excuse. He just said it was nice to meet me again. I stood there in my paper town, slightly tipsy and confused – by the twist of his behaviour? By the lack of sparks between us? -and I couldn’t help but feel that in a city where time had stood still, I had been promptly thrown back to the place where I had stood the year prior, feeling the same mixture of confused sadness and the panic-inducing spark of loneliness.
We had argued before he had left. It was all my fault – he had said he’d have to leave early, so he did, but I was going to be gone the next day and a part of me was expecting… What? The lack of my own resolution did not stop me from asking him to stay. We argued in a rushed, futile manner without any real venom; my weapon was my frustration, his was his serious face, devoid of that shy spark of a smile now. It made me feel like I was looking into the eyes of a mask of the sweet, talkative man I’d met the night before. I realised I was taunting him, but it was only to chase him out of his costume that he seemed to be wearing; it was the costume of nonchalance that he had so easily slipped into while I was expecting to meet the boy who had made me laugh over the rooftops just twenty hours ago.
Suddenly he kissed me.
I pulled away. ‘Why did you do that for?’ I probably sounded more angry than I meant to. ‘You said you don’t want anything to do with me, and then you kiss me.’
‘I kissed you because you wanted to be kissed,’ he said curtly and left me there.
For a moment I stood still. I went back to my beer which I’d long forgotten about with a feeling in the pit of my stomach like something was missing, like something wasn’t enough here. I stood there too long before I chased him out onto the street, but he was long gone.
You might want to blame me for an idealist and you would probably be right, but as I saw the end of our movie fade into black and rewind right back to the year before, I made up my mind and ran after him. It was just like they do in the movies. The streets were empty except for him, and as I sprinted after him, I called out his name.
He turned. He looked at me. His eyes had that same empty look, as if he was seeing something mildly interesting that however could not move him at all.
‘It was nice to see you again,’ I said for the lack of better words.
He turned away and without saying a word continued on into the night. I watched him disappear and knew it was the last time.
Now I could rationalise it, say that I was infatuated with the idea of him, of the two of us intertwined together in the early morning, laughing at some joke that no one else could understand. He was not a real person I needed as a friend but a mirror that threw the reflection of my loneliness right back at me. When I got back to my hostel I cried until I was numb, and then it started to get better.
It is the danger of travelling: we go to new places to find new people to meet, but often we end up coming face to face with ourselves.
But that first night we walked back to my hostel hand in hand, eyes bleary from lack of sleep and a timid spark growing in my chest. As I pulled his hoodie over my head and handed it back to him, he said: ‘Listen, I’ll have to give you my email address. I meant what I said earlier; I would like to read one of your stories.’
Well, here’s one for you.
As always – thanks for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed the story, I know I enjoyed writing it, and I hope to be able to write even more of those next year. Let me know in the comments if you’d like to read more of them, and if you do, in the meantime go check out other stories that I’ve already published!