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Times were changing. I knew this much. Home had turned into an empty word. It was blurry, up in the air, floating, taunting me as its palpability slipped through my fingers. Although, now that I thought about it, home wasn’t a thing that had ever stuck. It was a term I had given my primary residence, as I felt it was the normal thing to do, and everyone around me seemed to be content with the idea, so it seemed fitting to follow suit, but the truth was I hated it. I was fried, and some of it was my own doing, as I so willingly sprinted through what my “guidance” councelors referred to as “the gateway”, but mostly I blamed the pseudo intellectuals for sucking me dry all those years. I wasn’t sure who I was anymore. I used to have hobbies, ambitions even. I used to be so passionate that it would consume me and I used to daydream about the day I’d move to New York City and live a life of my own. I used to be what they’d call “driven” and with a “bright future”, but with each passing year everyone seemed to care less and less about what it was that I wanted or what I thought or what I needed.
I tried being sober, I really did, and the funny thing was that in those four months my family grew more and more convinced that I was insane. I felt insane, so I guess that goes to show just how far south it all had gone, but having seen no positive results, I started up again, and I still remember how the very same day my father told me how he likes this “new me” and that I should be this happy and cheerful all the time. That was the first time in a long time that we had exchanged words.
I wish I was happy.
I remember standing there in disbelief, not knowing what to say. I just laughed and walked it off, but the truth was that my own family hadn’t the slightest idea who I was.
They’re lucky I’m not an addict, even if I wanted to be I’d be a lousy one, since I’m not that cunning, but I’m sure if I was they wouldn’t even notice. They went ahead and threw the term around anyway though because they were adults and adults knew best.
The only thing I looked forward to was going to work. I hated school, and even though I was at the top of my class, I never understood mathematics and that drove my father up a wall, but then again so did everything. My father and I rarely spoke, and when we did it was amidst one of his episodes. As a child, the words I love you never left his lips, but I guess that was an emphatic expression and he wasn’t too familiar with things of that nature. So, towards the end I spent less and less time at home, and when the day came that he shut the door on me and told me to get the fuck out of his house I did so, gladly.
The next day I took a plane and now here I was, having travelled halfway across the world, and come to the haunting realization that no matter how far I go, or where I run to, there was no outrunning myself. I hardly slept, I hardly ate, but as long as I could drink and smoke I figured I was doing alright. But now, as I walked down the cobbled streets, each stone glazed over with fresh morning dew, the clacking of the trolley through the street, my forehead already sticky from the summer heat, for the first time in a year's time slowed down. My life had been somewhat of an emotional treadmill, and not the kind that leaves you looking forward to the next run, more or less the kind where you miss a step and fall face first on the belt. But like I said things were changing.
I looked around at the concrete buildings, which stood stout but proud. In each of them were small shops, markets, boutiques, bookstores, and they occupied their space humbly. Here all were welcome. These were dens for the common person, where currency and status had no place. It felt like home, and it probably was in some alternate universe. I very well could have been born here and avoided those years of misplacement, but who knows maybe this place would have gifted me its own demons.
My pace quickened as I approached my destination. I was meeting an old friend for coffee, or something of the sort, and I was running late per usual. I stared around, a tad disoriented, looking right and left for the place when a head popped out from a crevice between the buildings. There she was, the Ira I knew and loved, with jet black hair, bangs and all, her bulbous nose situated in the center of her round face. She smiled, that big ol smile of hers, and ran to greet me.
“Finally! Jesus what took you so long? Did you get lost?”
“No more than usual,” I said.
“I see the cynicism is still strong.” She laughed
“But of course.”
Turning, she grabbed my hand, “C’mon I’ve got some people I want you to meet.”
We headed into the crevice, greeted immediately by billowing heaps of smoke. I stood in a snaking alley about 10 meters in length and 2 by width. Looking up, you could just barely catch a glimpse of the sky peeking through the stacked apartments. Laundry lines ran between the buildings and undergarments of various colors were participating in their weekend ritual, lightly swaying with the breeze. The air was thick and from each table rose several swirling clouds of smoke. The people, all chimneys by profession, turned in unison. They individually introduced themselves, offering me a seat though there were none, and presented their packs of cigarettes as offering gifts. I refused politely and leaned against a wooden pillar.
“You don’t smoke?” asked a boy.
“Cigarettes? No, they make me sick.”
“You like beer?”
“Of course.” I laughed
“Hey! Get the girl a beer!” he yelled.
Ira ran inside the cafe, her leather boots scraping the concrete, and scurried out promptly with a sweaty bottle in hand.
“For m’lady,” she said, handing me the drink.
It was 10 am and yesterday I started at 9 so I figured why the hell not. I lingered for as long as I could, quenched my thirst a few times over, and made attempts to participate in the lack of conversation. The game was on, and apart from the cards on the table, each person was hypnotized by the screen. Occasionally they would excite a triumphant Goooool and then clap, cheer, clap some more, and mechanically return to dealing their hands.
After so much time in the fumigator, I headed towards the cafe, the place itself that hosted the alley, in search of fairer air. It was quaint, fragile, yet tender, with small wooden beams running upwards. There was a bar to the left that fit strictly a single person behind the counter. Well maybe two, but the stumpy gentlemen who tended to it most certainly could barely fit solo. A duet would’ve surely sent the shelf of liquor crashing down. On the walls hung posters of old films and novels, and not those used and abused cliche ones, but the kinds that revolutionized. Modest asymmetrical mirrors were speckled between each tribute and short lamps lined the room. The space had its own energy, a stark contrast to the passageway that ran outside. I made my way to take one final glance at the sky, whose sun was setting, casting shadows upon the figures in the alley. It was like their rightful characters were coming to life, and I felt the true magic of this space revealing itself.
I walked on over to the bar, managed to scrape a few coins from the bottom of my bag, and plopped them down on the countertop. The man behind the counter rose, his bald head revealing itself first, with bottle in hand.
“Your money's no good here. You may have anything you want, as long as you promise to sit with me at that there table each night you are here,” he said pointing across the room.
“Who said I was coming back?” I said.
He chuckled and waddled over to our table. I took a seat across from him and for the next several hours, mutually nursing eachothers drunkenness, we only got up to restock our booze and take the occasional leak.
I remembered details of my childhood that I had long buried away and told him stories of my family. “My father comes from a long line of communists, reptilians all of them. They were driven by a hunger for power, wealth, and status, and accommodating for themselves by any means necessary. It’s interesting how one can grow up amongst such people, recognize the abuse, yet continue to perpetuate it onto their lineage.”
He thought for a minute, assessing me up and down, “Well maybe there are things you don’t know of him. Maybe only time will tell why he raised you the way he did. After all, you seem to have turned out alright.”
“I guess, but that’s more my mother’s doing. She grew up poor, a daughter to athletes, and in this country they are not rewarded or treated fairly for their contributions. It was amidst their poverty that she learned familial values and moral direction. I know a person like my father, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, can’t possibly relate to the hardships of others. I certainly don’t see him show any sympathy at least, only mockery and degradation towards those he deems lesser.”
“And what constitutes lesser?”
I stirred in my seat, taking another sip. “Most anything that signifies ignorance. He has yet to value the privilege he had, as a male and a member of the upper class, to have been able to absorb all the intellects the world had to offer him. His family could afford to let him soak up knowledge, while the rest of his peers’ families were struggling to put food on the table.”
“Indeed, the luxury of knowledge only presented itself to me in my adult years, after I bought the cafe and settled in,” he said.
“Yes. You see as a child I valued his intelligence. I aspired to it, but he never did the same for me. I always let him down. He was so angry with my developing intellect, already expecting a full grown adult, that he ignored me until I turned of valuable age. He’s not a man that wastes time on empty conversation. ”
“You are anything but empty conversation. So far you’ve mentioned Tolstoy, Edith Piaf, Miles even. Age is but a number when it comes to you.”
“Oh I’m sure it is mister.” I laughed.
He gave me a light smack on the cheek and smiled at me. “You know you carry yourself like the devil. From the moment I saw you I could feel your little horns peeking out from those soft blonde waves, but as soon as I sat with you, listened to you speak, I realized you’re quite the opposite. You glow, and although its fading the light’s still there and your embers warm everything you touch. You dance like the devil, but hum like an angel. To be with you must be something like touching God. I wond—” He stopped to think, his fingers lingering atop the brim of his glass. “They talk you know? I see the way they look at you and at us. They wonder what a man my age is doing sitting with a delicate thing such as yourself.”
“Well, you for one have more thought and imagination in your pinky finger than they will ever come across in their entire lives. Let them wonder. It may just be the most exciting thing they’ve witnessed. We gotta give them something to talk about after all, I mean they’re primitive creatures, simple in their thoughts and habits, they linger amongst people like us to produce even an ounce of intriguing conversation.”
He tilted his head back and laughed, releasing an uproarious tenor, and his pale blue eyes shone in the dim light.
My father’s eyes were blue.
I leaned in closer and whispered, “I suppose they’re waiting for your happy ending. To them intimacy only exists in its physical form. What they don’t know is just how many forms it can take and how conversation in of itself can be more intimate than sex.”
“That it is my friend. That it is,” he said with a raised glass.
Our glasses clinked and we continued on our conversation. The hours, which seemed like seconds, kept rolling over and eventually we greeted the dawn.
“It’s been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you,” I said.
“And you as well. Can I count on you to return?”
He kissed my hand and waved me goodbye. I stumbled out into the alley, making my way towards the street. Drunken dialogue and laughter echoed throughout, and turning to say my final goodbye I saw him, in all his glory, smiling from cheek to cheek.
“Run Lola Ruuuuuun!” he yelled, teasing me.
And so I did.