by Josh T. Alto
The reappearing of a misterious woman - whether we are responsible for the life of others
|The carnival was over. In the early-autumn spitting rain, on the wet asphalt, there were two crows fighting for a piece of bread, which looked like the empty end of a hotdog. There was litter all over the place, on the pathways and on the lawn as well. Food rests, shredded paper, cigarette stubs and plastic waste of all kinds, scattered like the wrecks of an airplane crash.
There were not many people on the streets; it was rather early, about half past six or so, the city square looked totally deserted after the crowd the evening before.
Only a few hours earlier, at around eleven in the evening, the yearly fairground attractions had their highlights with live music, street dance and fireworks but now there were only a few workers there trying to disassemble the different attractions one after the other before the rain really began to fall. Some of them were dismantling a big tent while others were just finishing the ‘Magic castle’ putting the modules on a truck one by one to transport them to the next location in a nearby village. On the lawn there were deep prints of the dodgem, now half filled with water.
I was pacing the empty streets as usual, like every morning since I left my wife. I usually get up before the sun rises, get dressed and start roaming the streets, I like watching as the first rays of the sun paint the trees, the houses, even the air. If you knew my wife you would agree that I could not possibly have done it before, I mean before my divorce; my wife, jealous as she was, always thought that I had someone else and taking a walk at such an unusual time of the day would have backed up her suspicion.
She tried to track my whole life; she never thought I had ideas she could not control, a life I had not shared with her. And that other life was not about having a lover with whom I probably met once or twice a week, it was more about freedom, a possibility to do whatever I wanted without anyone asking me why. Like an unusual morning saunter for example.
She thought her enemies were other women but her fiercest enemy was me, my thoughts. Other women can possess my body for a short period of time but once my thoughts find a shelter from her, they will escape and betray her whenever they like. It took me years to come upon the idea and some more years to make my decision. It has changed my life totally; it had given me perspectives I had never dreamt of before, just like chasing the rising sun through deserted streets.
If I am early enough I walk as far as the river bank and watch the reflections of the emerging sun all over the water. I then often close my eyes and can hear, as if from behind an invisible wall, someone calling me. Her voice sounds familiar and she calls me a name which no one called me for a couple of years and she says it in my mother tongue, which I hardly ever use here, far away from my home country, far away from my home continent. Can anyone possibly know me here? I can only see some other men in jogging trousers, gazing at the waves but there is no one I know.
There are also days when I cannot expect anything like that, just like the day after the festivities; no sign of the sun, not even a faint brightness on the dirty grey sky. As I watched the workers dismantling a mini roller coaster suddenly I saw her, a woman I guessed I knew from somewhere but never had the courage to walk over to her and present myself.
I saw her a few times lately, at the local grocery, at the post office or at the strand; my seeing her was always unexpected so I did not even have an action plan, which I could follow to get to know her, I could not even get her near enough to really see her face.
That morning I saw her from a distance and as far as I could see she wanted to walk through the square but there was still some rests of the ‘Magic castle’, which she could not pass by. She wanted to open a door with no doorknobs on it, and she was stuck in the middle of the square.
I saw my chance, that would give me a pretext to address her, and wanted to walk over to her but I was stopped by a glass or more probably a plastic wall that was possibly left there after the evening. A could not really see the wall in that poor light but as I started to palpate it I found it was rather solid without any opening on it, so I started running along the wall to find a door before she left. I thought moving continuously in one direction I would find an opening and finally I could but when I reached it I saw the woman already walking away. Unfortunately the wall or whatever it was, as a result of my long run, stood again between us and I could not but watch as she disappeared in one of the narrow streets.
I cannot remember now how I got home that morning, probably I walked back following the plastic wall with my hands to the place where I glimpsed her and walked on like a sleepwalker. Who was she? Where have I known her before? I was almost sure I knew her but I could not remember any real situation in my whole life when we could have been at the same place at the same time.
I certainly felt angry because I missed her after having her so near, I could almost touch her, but I was relieved at the same time that I did not have to confront her and let her in into my private sphere. I was often thinking about it those days, when I let someone close enough to me to touch each other she becomes probably part of my life inevitably; she gets too near to me to feel me comfortable. Anyway, that time I thought I had escaped this hazard but soon I found out that my fate had other plans for me.
For some days it kept me thinking, the whole situation, how could she get through the wall where I could not, why could not we get near to each other, whether there is a fate that organizes everything for us. Some weeks have passed and I turned back to my ordinary life, which means I was not anymore waiting at the city square hoping that she reappears but I still looked at each woman more carefully in case she walked the same streets as me, but I could not find her.
The story could be finished here when we were not brought together again just like in a fairy tale, or more symbolically, like dead fallen leaves on the ground driven by our own destiny. It was Christmas time, crowds of people everywhere, running from one shop to the other, trying to find the perfect present or at least something, which wouldn’t land in the waste after Christmas Eve.
I was in one of the shopping centers when I suddenly caught sight of her. She stood on the same floor as me but on the opposite side of the gallery, just walking out of a jewelry shop. First I hesitated but somehow I persuaded myself that this would be my last chance, either I take it or leave it, so I started running through the crowd to the place where I last saw her.
I was almost there, I could even see her sleeve disappear behind a corner when I met a plastic wall, very similar to the one I remembered from the city square. I tried to find an opening but without any success and I almost gave up when I saw people walking through the wall, just like it did not exist at all. Then I really had to consider whether I was normal or there was something with my nerves that should be treated sooner or later. When I accepted that the wall did not exist for everyone, it was only one step further to assume that it did not exist at all, and if it existed only for me then I am different than other people, so I must be crazy.
As I stood there I saw her again or presumably someone resembling her and I wanted to pass by the wall by climbing down the balustrades, but lost my balance and probably would have fallen down if something had not happened.
A silhouette of a face approached slowly as if in a slow motion picture, the face of a woman, and behind her face another one, my much younger face was looking at me from a time I had almost forgotten. It was her, the woman I had been chasing for months, she reached her hand out to keep me back from falling and finally I could touch it, there were no walls there between us, I guess they never existed. It was her hand, and for my biggest surprise she was real, her hair, her clothes, even her scent.
And then I recognized her; she was Veronica, my best friend and my first love from secondary school. We were never together but we never really departed either. We were friends in a way only teenagers can be; they still believe that men and women can remain friends forever. I realized only years later that I was in love with her and she probably was in love with me too. We never talked about love there was something more between us, we thought we were inseparable, two sides of a coin, two halves that fit perfectly.
We promised each other to have a life and children together; we even swore that we would never part whatever happened with us. ‘Forever’ she said ‘For always’ I used to say holding each others hands while sitting at our favorite place at the riverbank watching the waves. I was sure we would stick to it but I had forgotten her easily after I started my studies at the university in another city more than fifty miles away.
At the beginning I kept contact with her but after a few months she just could not fit in my totally changed life anymore. But despite that, ten years later at our first class reunion I was very much surprised when she announced that she had been married for a while and she even had children. As she explained, she wanted desperately a family and children and she knew she would never get it with me.
I was even invited to the wedding ceremony but that time I did not really care about it so I did not attend the wedding did not even answer to the invitation. After our class reunion I closed that part of my life, shut the door and threw away the key. I was sorry for myself and even years later, it never occurred to me to find out more about her, what she was doing, whether she was happy, I thought she deserved whatever happened to her, she was the one who let me down but certainly it was only an excuse to feed my self-respect.
As I saw her standing there, holding my hand, memories of our happy years came back to me; I could almost hear her laughing. But there her face was serious and looked directly into my eyes. I certainly wanted to talk with her, I wanted to cry out ‘Do not fade away’ but she suddenly disappeared in the crowd as if she never existed, after a while I was not even sure I was in danger and there was really someone who saved my life.
Some weeks had passed and I really wanted to forget her, my last adventure, climbing on the balustrades, made me feel totally sick, I thought I was obsessed with her and all that I needed was a week or two somewhere at the seaside on an island, where I get hopefully to know someone and could forget her forever.
I already booked my vacation and picked up my tickets from the travel agent when walking home after work one day I saw her on the other side of the street. She was kind of teasing me, she waved as she saw me, just like an old friend; there she was indeed, and as soon as I saw her I started running, tried to cross the street, to catch her before she dissolved in the crowd again.
It was rush hours, the streets were packed with cars and I saw her walking slowly in the opposite direction, leaving me there behind. Then the traffic stopped instantaneously for a moment followed by the furious sounding of the car horns. As I instinctively ran through that traffic jam keeping her within sight, I suddenly saw a bus rushing into my direction as if it could not slow down, I was sure I could not possibly leave the lane before it runs me over.
Picture by picture, frame by frame, I saw myself being crushed by the approaching bus when I suddenly felt someone grabbing me from behind and with a superhuman power raised me just before the bus hit me. I did not have to turn around, I was sure it was her; I could feel her perfume again, her long hair, waving near my face in the intensifying wind. But I missed her again, somehow I let her slip away in the gathering crowd, even if I had met her several times in the last few months I could not even talk one sole word with her.
After that incident I really became curious, what happened to her after getting married, whether she had left her husband that would explain why she had so much time to spy on my daily routine, to watch over me and reappear in my life in the most unexpected moments to cause only trouble and discomfort in my head. I also wanted to thank her for having saved my life but it was obvious, I would have never got into danger if she had not reappeared in my life.
But first I took my two weeks’ well-deserved vacation that I needed badly. It was marvelous, the sea and the palm trees on the beach, I got to know interesting people and even met someone I was ready to go into a more serious liaison with when time proves it, we decided to meet in a few weeks and check our feelings again. So my getting home was rather relaxed, I had almost forgotten the troubles my old girlfriend caused in the last few months, I saw everything through pink glasses, I felt almost happy.
After arriving home first I picked up my post in the hall and started sorting them into a private and official pile when I discovered a rather thick envelope with a sender that resembled the name on the invitation card which my old girlfriend had sent me more than twenty years ago. I found it a funny name even having seen it on the invitation card but printed on that thick envelope it made me really curious.
As I opened it I found a manuscript of a novel with the title ‘A Place Called Forever’ and a few lines from Veronica’s elder son. He wrote his mother had committed suicide three months ago and she asked him to post her handwritten novel to me as a memento. He also wrote that his mother had never been happy and that she had been waiting for me all her life.
It did not even occur to me why it came so late; I found it amazing that a parcel like that could find me at all at the other end of the world. Although I had found her reappearing in my life rather annoying it was a burden I could hardly bear. That someone had committed suicide only because she could not live with me that made me almost cry. Only if I had known it!
But what would I have done in that case, probably nothing. The whole story became really weird after I started counting the months and checked the days of our seeing each other with my calendar. I double-checked it so there was no doubt, Veronica must have been already dead when she reappeared in my life but how could it be possible?
The novel was about us, about our infinite love, our unconditional devotion for each other and my letdown; she just could not manage it. She promised herself to bring up her two sons but she did not want to live a minute longer as she thought necessary. Who abandoned whom? Was it she or was it me? I felt I could never really overcome this delusion; could I live with this burden at all?
After a few weeks I accepted the unchangeable, I put her novel into my safe, I did not want anyone knew about my dishonor, my betrayal, for how else could I see this situation? I disappointed someone, the one who meant everything to me, at least at an early period of my life, who counted on me and I did not have any excuses.
But I knew I must live with it, life went on and as a happy turn in my story I did meet that woman later, whom I got to know during my vacation and finally we got married as well but I still keep watching at the other side of the streets, especially at rush hours whether I see her walking by and I am sure I would start running again to catch her and I am also sure she would not save my life any more, she is just waiting for the moment to meet me again, to be with me finally at the place of our dreams, so that no one ever could part us anymore.
(Word count 3077)