We sit down together, scraping our chairs over the decking and looking below to the granite river glittering like a malnourished catwalk model. You brush a lock of hair over one ear but I know this isn’t flirtation. The wind is kicking around us and your eyes struggle to focus on mine as they are whipped by strands. Mother Nature is mischief today.
Last night I spent in the Old City, where my faded young ghost still bounces on his heels over well worn paths, my feet disappearing slowly as the roads are resurfaced and the original level consumed. I walk through boarded up doors and create chills between courting couples sitting on benches who squeeze together for warmth. I leech from the energy, looking for the faint echoes. I drift past iconic places but the long rope of time is fraying badly. I know these places are meaningful, and I can remember events that surround them, but I cannot remember my thoughts and feelings at the time. I remember blind kisses in a dark alleyway, but I cannot remember what these kisses felt like in my mind. So I assume a memory that is pleasant. I remember sitting on benches reading all the important things I felt I needed to read at nineteen, but I can’t remember what each page felt like.
I tell you this at length; how it occurred to me that part of the nature of nostalgia is not knowing where is home anymore. You sip your coffee, your head angled in such a way that your right eye has stepped confidently forward whilst your left retreats behind the bridge of your nose. Everyone is looking for a foundation, a ground zero that they can pivot their life around. Even those who claim to have the wanderlust, who claim no patch of earth as theirs, are actually searching – not for adventure but for stability. It’s why we fall in love, and why we crave it and why we fear it. My foundation was once the Old Town and it was destroyed. The Old City has been reoccupied by new faces, and to walk around now carries the air of the intruder. And yet, because it remains tangible, I go through fits of wanting to try and reconnect. Even though, from now on, I know I will always be the stranger in the room, the guy at the party that no one can remember inviting.
So we sit in the sunshine, and I have deliberately turned my back to the past – to the train station that will take me home – and I am looking upstream at the future and a platinum, alien sun. All today my heart has been lifted by music – from street performers, ice cream vans, cafe bars and fashion stores. Even the crap old man with the shuffle and the balloon animals singing Sinatra made me smile.
I decide to tell you about a young woman I’d seen at this very table a few days ago. She’d been reading intently but the rhythmic swing of her leg indicated anxiety. I know she hadn’t seen me but perhaps she could listen to my thoughts, which even as I looked down at my blank sheet of notepaper, every line formed into a perfectly shaped calf, languidly dangling a ballet pump from her pointed toes. I wanted to know what her favourite line in her favourite film is, what jokes make her politely laugh and what can make her bray loudly with shoulder shaking tremors. To kiss her hidden freckles and creases would be a privilege I could never adequately reciprocate – a priceless and infinite debt. I wondered who she thought of before she closes her eyes and how fortunate he or she is.
I didn’t add that I wondered the same thing about you, albeit for different reasons.
I’ve cleaned up today but I was a mess that other day; probably frighteningly dishevelled. I trembled with the previous night’s wine and a lack of sleep. I smelled worn, covered in a thin sticky film of memory and pollution. I desperately needed to shit the alcohol out of my system. My shirt was covered in holes.
I look down at my empty cup and I can feel a new tremble in my fingers, a caffeine vibration. I’m suddenly aware of my heart which thumps against my chest so hard I can see it through my shirt. You say to me patiently; that I’m always searching for answers but I haven’t even worked out what the questions are yet. That finding the answer is both pointless and impossible unless I’m clear in what I want to find out. You flick your gaze from me to a point over my shoulder as the sounds of raised voices fills the air. On the river below us, a small group of preachers in an inflatable dinghy is chasing down a tourist cruiser, yelling tales of damnation and salvation at the confused passengers.