Здраствуйте. Давно не заходил сюда, так как начал писать на английском.
Three or four days passed since I last saw Sophie.
After we had left the school, I went with her to the station, waited for her tram to come and kissed her one more time before she left. Only when I was walking back home, I realized I had forgotten to ask for her number or any social media account. A part of me, however, knew that we would find a way to meet again. It just had to happen naturally. There was no need to hurry anything or make a big deal out of all that had happened. Those were the words I was telling myself. In fact, those there the words I always tell myself in about any situation. There is never any need to rush. Besides, after such events, a part of me became tired, dry, disgusted by any contact with the outer world. I could not give an explanation to this feeling, except that it was a natural mood swing of mine that simply required time to fade. I came home, got my clothes off, and fell into a dreamless sleep — the one that brings peace the most.
One of the following mornings I was woken up by the shout of my name. Many people use alarm clocks, others wake up naturally — I had my father. Not that he was angry or anything, but, as he saw it - if he woke up, everyone else in the house had to wake up too. This was the rule ever since I was a child.
Like a soldier, alarmed by a siren, I quickly dressed, made my bed, and went downstairs. The mornings in the house were always like a gamble. Some of them were calm, others were disturbed by my father’s bad mood. I have learned that during such mornings it was better to keep a distance from him and wait until he left. To my great disappointment, I have never managed to learn to predict how the morning was going to be. Only looking at his face or inspecting his body language conveyed the scale of danger. Maybe it was the middle-age crisis, that was taking what it owned, or maybe he was being consumed by something. I could not know. We have never been close. Not that he did not spend time at home, or did not have dinner with us or did not spend time with me when I was a child — on the contrary — he did all of that. The flow of time formed a gap between the two of us, one that I have only started to notice when I was at this age and it was most likely too late to become friends — if it is possible for father and son to be friends of course, or if there is supposed to be this chasm of misunderstanding. We have never talked about this and I was not sure if he has ever noticed the separation and personal differences between him and his son.
That morning he seemed to be calm, but it didn’t mean he could not be pissed off, so I started telling him the plans for the day. It was common, that the more I told him about my daily activity, or gave him any good news regarding my future, no matter what news, he stayed satisfied. Probably this is what paternal love means.
‘I have my part-time job interview today.’ I said.
‘At that book-store?’ He asked me without lifting his eyes from the fried eggs on his plate.
‘Right, at that book-store.’ This has not been my dream job. Nobody dreams of being a book-seller, but this was a way of making money for me — the one I would enjoy, at least. Two months ago, when I had told my parents about my decision of taking a free year, they told me I had to find a job no matter what. All their proposals of working at their friends’ companies repelled me and when I finally found the vacancy in the book store, they were oddly satisfied — to my great surprise. Any type of work would bring money and choosing what I liked did not bring much disagreement.
‘Where have you been last night?’ My father asked when I was about to leave the table. His interest in my activities has never sunk since I became an adult. At first, this bothered me somehow — them wanting to know everything I did — but soon I understood that it was still hard for them to forget me as their child and it was nothing but another form of parental concern.
‘Out,’ and after some careful thinking, I added, ‘with a friend of mine.’
‘A girl?’ He looked at me for the first time. My parents were interested in my relationships with the opposite sex almost as much as in my future.
I have always hated to talk with them, especially my father, about things like this. There has to be a border between the intimate life of sons and fathers, I thought. Was this one of the reasons why we were not close? ‘Yes, it was a girl,’ but before he could ask for her name and her general background, as he always tended to do, I said, ‘I have to go now, or I’ll be late. I can’t promise I will come in time for dinner today, but there is no certain plan, so you can cook for me too. Goodbye now.’
I had an hour or so before the meeting, but I still left the house earlier. I lived on Murifeldweg and the book store was on Muristrasse — not far at all — so there was no need to hurry. About half a kilometer from my home, there was a cemetery and a hill next to it. A long time ago, someone came up with the idea of making the path to the top of the hill in a spiral, covered by tall bushes. On the top, a wooden bench, under an oak tree, was also surrounded by bushes, so no one from below could see what was happening there and, at the same time, those who were on the top had a three hundred sixty-degree view. You could see Bern, right below you, and the Alps in the opposite direction. A heavenly place, indeed. It was so much to my liking because few people came there. Maybe they were repulsed by the cemetery nearby or simply got tired of climbing. So, in time, this hill became the place where I came to think, to spend some time alone with myself and stay assured that nobody would bother me. This also used to be the place where I was hiding to smoke when younger.
A light summer wind ran through my hair, shaking the branches above. The air was still cool and a bit damp from the night and being hidden from the sun’s rays under the tree’s shadow gave an even bigger illusion of seclusion. Remote sounds of human activity barely reached here. It was necessary for me to be left behind the world for some time, to be present in it, and yet not. In this oasis, this piece of land in the vast ocean, I was the only one to exist and to matter. Here my thoughts had the most meaning and impact on me. So I thought.
I thought about the white skin I had touched some nights before, the taste of warm lips, still lingering on my tongue. In front of my eyes, again and again, rose the image of her blue, icy gaze — its depth and secrets. I asked myself what was I feeling. Sometimes it happens that a person ostracizes himself from society’s drama and general liveliness so much, that it becomes hard for them to understand in the terms they have always been taught. I needed to give a name, an explanation to what was inside me, using the notions showed to me by my parents, teachers, and so on, but I was hardly able to. For a reason, I shall not tell (and even if I wanted to I wouldn’t be able to), I had shut myself from emphasizing with the world around me, about a year and a half ago, or so. When it had finally dawned on me that there was no point in separating from people that genuinely loved and cared for me, I found out that I was incapable of understanding. Since that realization, I have been slowly teaching myself, reintegrating by watching and listening. And what had happened between me and Sophie was equal to reading a text in a language I have been learning for a month — so incomprehensible it all appeared. Nevertheless, I longed to experience it once more, and then again. It was not because of the sex only, although sex was a huge advantage, but that I truly desired to see through her. And this scared me a bit. I could feel my face redden and my whole body warm up just at the thought of Sophie.
I needed a cigarette. Smoking did not exactly calm me down. It had this power of numbing my thoughts and I could concentrate on the present easier. Even so, looking at the watch on my wrist only brought anxiety and I felt a jolt of adrenaline inside my chest. This happened every time before an exam or a meeting like the one I was about to have. Objectively speaking, this interview was supposed to be a simple talk without any special grandeur about it, but simply knowing that I was going to speak to someone new made me nervous. What I hated most of all about appointments was this “checking the time” when you count down every hour, every minute. It seems like this waiting interferes with everything you want to do and you simply do not have any chance of doing it. I could be patient, but waiting surely destroyed me.
When the time came for me to leave, I felt as if exiting a world fated for me only. This feeling came every time and every time I wanted to stay. I was merely leaving my comfort zone and my own fear of doing so disgusted me. I often told myself I had to be stronger, as many people undoubtedly do, but sometimes I could not control myself and what I felt. Truth to be told, there has never been enough motivation in anything to drive me to accomplish something. Never in my life have I wanted a prize to the degree of being ready to fight for it. I could accept things that were given to me, but I did not treasure them, leaving them behind, in the past. I could work and often, starting something new, I was extremely excited and felt utterly dedicated to what I did, but soon enough this faded too. I was losing interest and energy in most of the things I did or learned.
What made me feel less anxious about it was that I could see this about myself now and I had the knowledge that I had to fight this trait of mine. An interior war was going to break out and the first battle was the new job I was starting. I had to give my all, to do my best no matter what, so that I could prove to myself that I was worthy of — something. Maybe this was the path of proving to my parents that they did not waste money and time on me or the way of finding or building my true self. Maybe this way I was playing my role in the huge cosmic plan. I have always been afraid of being one of those people who have gotten lost and in the end, did not manage to accomplish anything worthy of being praised; I was afraid of becoming someone who could not even be proud of himself.
On my way to the book store I thought about Sophie again and about what she could mean to me in the future. The bonding we had had the previous night hit me with its uniqueness. A person I have known for such a short time lurked into my head and this had a meaning. It had to have one. Hot droplets of sweat appeared on my forehead — one of the reasons why I hated summer. The warm, unbearable days would always give space to chilly nights. I imagined the sun go down over the horizon, the stars emerging on the darkening sky and then the feeling of night’s freedom infusing every object, every being, that was awake. If some god was indeed responsible for the creation of night, then it must have been for the freedom, the suffocating unknowingness and the strong desire to discover, to pour light and to possess. The nights must have been created for the things we could not do during the day. And my thoughts raced back to Sophie again and to that unforgettable night and I wanted it to happen again. But this was not the time to think about it, for I was approaching the book-store. I tried to calm myself, but it was of no help. When I opened the wooden door, my heart must have been racing at its fullest, but the moment I breathed in the old, unshakable, yet pleasant air, any nervousness or anxiety left me.
The books-store itself did not look spacious from the outside, but it appeared to have two more rooms, that were not visible until you entered. One of the rooms had a glass door, that lead to a garden with low, wooden tables, cushions around them, and a funny-looking miniature bar, where people could pour drinks for themselves. This must have been placed here for those who enjoyed spending time in a private, untouched by the street’s dynamism, place. A set of metallic stairs moved in a spiral to the second floor. This place had the potential of becoming one of those worlds where I was at peace with myself — like the top of the hill near the cemetery. Thousands of books, of all shapes, colors, and ages were carefully arranged on the shelves. Their precise positioning and the care they were given astonished and charmed me.
A young, hoarse voice, coming from behind, plucked me out of my idle examination. ‘If you were to ask me to choose you a book, I’d say you are a fantasy reader. Something like “The name of the Wind” or “Eragon” must suit you.’ Turning, I saw a young man, with dark-yellow hair — the one that resembles ripe wheat in color — and a goat beard, that had some white hairs in it nonetheless. His eyes were of intense green and his skin tanned. He looked like a boy who worked on the beaches of Italy or Greece during the summer. His smiling, boyish face told, or was meant to tell, about his friendly nature. He started to look through the bookshelves right away, mumbling titles under his nose, with the face of the one who knew where everything laid.
‘Oh, I’m sorry. You must have mistaken me for a customer,’ I said following him into the other room. He stopped and looked at me slightly confused, then his face brightened with a smile once again.
‘You are the new guy. It wasn’t necessary to come before time. On time was enough,’ he shook my hand, grinning wider, and I was able to see a small tattoo on his lower arm in the form of a crab, ‘my name’s Darius. Come, I’ll show how everything is here.’ We went back to the entrance. The light was coming in from the large windows on both sides of the wooden door, playing with dust particles in the air. I wondered how have I not noticed them when I entered. Darius showed me where the cash-machine was and how it worked. Starting from the entrance, he introduced me to every area of the book-store and explained how the genres were arranged. Following him, the chain and the order of how everything was placed stunned me a little. The books were placed so logically, it appeared only natural, yet simply walking through the rooms, I would not notice this precise and truly shrewd thinking. At first, I wanted to meet the one who did this and tried to find the right moment to put the question, but soon came to be thankful to Darius that he barely let me put a word in, for he was the one who ran the book-store, all by himself. He surely did not boast about it and made no allusions to it, but seeing how proudly he spoke about the place, how carefully he touched the books, and hearing all his thorough explanations soon made me see it. I tried to hide my amazement a bit, not too much to seem rude, but enough to not seem childish. He was only a couple years older than me, despite the white hairs in his beard. He must have been twenty-two or twenty-three at most, yet he looked so mature and independent. The passion which came through his words and gestures and his gleaming eyes told me how far I was from being at least a small part of him. I remembered the words my parents often told me: “Stick to the right people.” Darius was one of those people.
‘When would you like to start?’ I snapped out of my thinking and tried to concentrate on his question. His eyes bore in them true kindness and willingness to help, or at least something similar to that.
‘I could start now,’ I said, ‘but frankly I thought you were going to ask me more questions about books or my previous experience, like at an interview.’ Right away I regretted what I had said. His youthful look and manner made me forget he was my possible future employer. He only laughed, to my surprise.
‘Don’t worry about that, I’m sure you’ll prove yourself. Besides, even if I look young, I can see through people and let me tell you this — you look like a good person. That’s why I don’t mind hiring you. I hope I’m not wrong or am I?’ He was speaking with the smile one makes telling a joke. Actually that was the expression he had almost all the time since I had met him.
‘I wouldn’t be able to tell if I’m a good person or not.’ I said.
‘I give you my word — you are.’ He smiled again and I could see the sunlight in his green, squinting eyes. I wanted to object to what he had said but had absolutely no valid arguments. Arguing with him would have the purpose of proving that I was bad, but as I had said before, I could not tell how I was. I only knew that being good or bad was relative and relatively speaking, I was both good and bad.
‘By the way,’ he said, ‘was I right with my assumption?’ He meant the book’ s choice.
‘I prefer Dostoyevsky, Fitzgerald and Anne Rice,’, I smiled, ‘although I don’t dislike fantasy.’
He gave me the apron-like uniform I was supposed to wear. This looked so cliché I wanted to laugh at first, but later I found out that caring heavy boxes could be quite a messy work, so the uniform came in handy. The first few days I was coming at work at noon and worked until seven, usually arranging the books or caring boxes from the back. The work was not so difficult, but coming home and lying in bed made me realize how physical work can actually extenuate the body. What I liked about working with Darius, was that I was working not for him but with him. He never ordered, but asked me to do something, as if I was merely helping him around. Maybe this lax attitude of his towards me and his youth made me assimilate so easily into Darius’s world. Every evening, when there were no customers, he would invite me to the garden in the back, give me a beer, and have various conversations with me.
Working with Darius showed me that his perfectionist and devoting approach extended to everything he possessed. His garden was just another place where he put his effort in. He created it for himself and like the book-store, through his desire, the garden became a part of the world he built by himself. This was a part of his belief, according to which life is not just the mere functioning of an organism, but the imprint people leave. Darius’s imprint was the tiny universe he created for himself and through his life he wanted to expand it, perfecting everything he could. He had told about his past and how he had become the owner of what he had. He came from a strict family from Latin America, which brought him up with the belief that every person has their destiny in the world and that at the age of eighteen, the path by which they follow their destiny begins. Of course, when he became an adult, his parents did not throw him out of the house. They gave him some money and then let him go. He knew that coming back meant letting them down and proving them that they failed as parents. He respected and loved them, so he did all he could. Luckily, his parents had acquaintances in Bern, who let him stay there and study. He took courses in management and economy but did not study until the end. His philosophy was that he took what he needed and moved on — wasting time without investing in something was useless to him. With the knowledge he had and with the money, he managed to increase by taking multiple jobs, he opened his book-store at the age of twenty-one. When we met, he was two months from being twenty-four. Needless to say, that soon Darius became a kind of an idol, an image I had to aspire too, but spending all that time with him never allowed me to see through him completely, to understand him.
One evening, I was sitting on the cushions, seeping on a cold beer and inhaling the smell of the flowers from around me. I was reliving hours from a life I have never had, yet they were not alien to me in their loveliness and tender seclusion from worries. The time was still in the book-store. Darius was counting the money and scribbling the data in a journal. His growing shadow was the only thing that reminded of the falling evening. Soon, he sat next to me in a cushion with a deep, relaxed sigh. His sight was fixed on the flowers in front of him, but he did not see them. He often was like this, during evenings, when he had nothing to do. Sometimes I thought this must have been the statue of the man lost in thought — his face had no expression and looked young as ever.
‘You like it here, don’t you?’ He finally asked, as if wanting to assure himself of this.
‘Of course. I’m really thankful you let me work for you, Darius.’ He nodded approvingly and fell silent again. It was the nod you make when checking if everything is fine if everyone is satisfied. This was the reason I liked Darius so much — he cared for his “kingdom” and wanted it to be perfect not only for him but others too.
I did not really know what to talk about with him. Darius was young enough for us to be friends and he was not strict, nor unfriendly, but he still was my boss. That’s why, I thought I had to choose my words carefully, to find a proper topic, so that not to bore him. Maybe I put too much thought into such things and this was the reason why it was hard for me to make friends. But again, he was my boss and saying something inappropriate seemed dangerous, so I chose to stay silent instead. I have never minded silence anyway and even enjoyed it, but staying silent next to someone often feels strange. Like those times, when you go on the first date with the girl you like and feel too embarrassed to speak and not to speak as well and all you can think about is how miserable you must look in front of her for not having courage or imagination for a simple discussion.
He laughed suddenly, and even if I did not know the cause, I felt relieved. ‘I remembered the first time I came here,’ he said, smiling, ‘the cities, the culture, and even the people were different from back home. They say people are similar, we all have the same rights and must be equal, but it’s not like that.’ This was starting to be one of those monologues he would often have when I was next to him. Even if all I had to do was listen and sometimes nod, I somehow relished the way he spoke and how he could motivate with mere words. ‘I couldn’t believe my eyes at the beginning. How to explain this ... people here ride bicycles to work, walk their dogs in parks that are built solely for this purpose, swim in the Aare when it’s hot, or eat fondue in winter. This is a calm, peaceful life everyone is used to live here. It’s the comfort they enjoy from birth and take it as something natural. There were no such things from where I come from. There was no war and I was lucky enough to be born in a relatively rich family. But that was the thing about that place — you could either be rich, or poor. No in-between. The political system was so corrupt, that if one was rich, most likely they have done plenty of illegal stuff to achieve it. If you wanted for your family to live in a house, for them to have the comfort you thought they deserved, you had to do a lot of things that could bring you to jail for years. To put it simple, most of the rich were cunning, tough people who had a shady background and the poor were those who have never had the chance or the intelligence to cross the law correctly. My family was once having dinner with friends. I was about your age back then, or a bit younger. The idea of sending me to Switzerland had not so long taken shape in my parents’ heads. They described how beautiful this country is and how free it is in its choices, like a paradise on earth. And I remember the eyes, the brightness, and marvel in them, when my mom was saying “...it is possible to simply work there and have a good life, without breaking the law. All that’s needed is to study and choose what you want to do.” Of course, it’s not as simple as she described it, but not as complex and deadly as what they have gone through. The system worked against my parents, it worked against everyone, and people had to fight for their survival.’ Darius gulped from his beer and then swiped his mouth with the back of his hand. ‘It must be hard to picture for you what I felt when I came. Don’t worry,’ he said smiling, ‘I don’t despise you for just being born here, nor do I hate anyone else. I understand that no one is equal. Right from the moment, they’re born. Even from before that. What I know, is that the place I come from makes me stronger. The things my parents went through, and the words my mother said, make me stronger.’ His eyes squinted in a mischievous smile, ‘whereas those who are born in luxury and richness don’t have my strength. Again, I don’t despise rich people. On the contrary, I want to be like them — rich. I don’t want to return back home without being able to change my parents’ life. My dream is to prove to that place that it is possible to be born there and yet not get stuck in that hell — that people can escape the cells the systems built for them. I’ve got to work for that. This is what drives me. The hatred, the loathe towards that hole, and the desire to stay as far away from it, keeps me going, fuels me to fight for my place under the sun here, where the sun truly shines. That is, my friend, what you have to fight for too,’ he looked at me like an old man, telling a story, ‘and know, that from just being born in your family, you are ahead of many others that long for what you are already so close to.’
As always, I absorbed every word he told me but hardly said anything else. My response, no matter how wordless and dry it was, was satisfactory to him. We sat in silence for some time — he certainly was giving me the time to process what he had said. Luckily for me, I have mastered the ability to listen to what people have to say to me — especially the ones who were older — and to give thought to their ideas, messages. Usually, it was my parents or other, older, relatives, but witnessing such monologues from people like Darius, whose stories were so apart from the world I grew up in — was precious to me. Every story that was told to me, became some sort of stone of what my personality, or its structure, was built. Darius’ words became a whole pillar for me and were probably the first step of understanding what I wanted.