by Velvet Grey
This is the story of V, who learns to escape from her pain.
|Firstly, I'd like to to thank you for taking your time to read this. I would appreciate any feedback and suggestions regarding both the content and style. I apologize for my English, as it is not my first, not even the second language, so shall you find any grammar mistakes or awkward phrases, please let me know. I have not made up my mind about the name of the key character, so I named her just V (very Kafka, I know). But these are just details, as I expect this work to turn out into a novel centred on V and Aida. This is a rather ambitious goal for the first writing attempt, but I just feel that's the way it should be. |
On The Way To Eternity
V was sitting deeply thoughtful, with all of her being focused on the person just a few tables away. The silent music heard in the background was occasionally interrupted by sudden bursts of laughter and snatches of conversations. Waiters scurried up and down a spacious dining hall, carrying crispy ducks and steaks. V was distant from what was happening around, all she could see were three women taking their seats at the table by the window. As she recognized one of them, immense gentleness filled her lungs that it turned barely possible to breathe.
Until that day, V hadn’t seen Aida for nearly two years, let alone those few glimpses from a distance she scrounged. Now this accidental encounter in a café let V. to enjoy the sight of her without being compromised. Aida was there, in all her beauty, not having changed a bit since their last meeting. She carelessly chatted with her friends, unusually relaxed and joyful. The sound of Aida's laugh reaching V’s ear had the Jericho trumpets effect, making the walls within collapse one by one. As time passed, all V could do was trying to absorb as much of Aida's voice as possible, to make the time still, so that she could recreate this perfect moment in her memory for the years to come.
After what felt like a minute, Aida was gone, and V painfully desired to prolong the feeling of closeness to her, fighting the urge to follow her with all heart. Her whole face was burning as in feaver, every little thought in her head was hectic. V hesitated for a second and approached the table Aida just left, noticing an empty glass on it. The marks of her pale pink lipstick could still be clearly seen at the edge of the glass, though its contour was blurred by remaining water-drops. A piece of lemon was mercilessly squeezed and left on the table. V also felt like that unfortunate piece of lemon sometimes. She noticed how the eyes of oblivious passers-by were looking past the table, as if aloof that the glass had just been marked by Aida’s lips. V. couldn’t help feeling that she was stealing something from those foolishly indifferent strangers, who were so carelessly missing the chance to capture her lingering presence in that glass, to hold it and pretend she was still there.
V carefully touched the glass with a tip of her finger, and felt a slight shiver running down her spine. No, she couldn’t be wrong. God knows how many times she had to sort everything out in her head to understand the nature of her love to Aida, to understand why she had to stay. It wasn’t self-depreciation that was boosting V’s feelings, she didn’t see Aida as an all-forgiving and convenient constant to which she could resort for comfort once something in her life went wrong, when she felt menial and useless. Nor could she bring herself to think that she wouldn’t find anyone else to love her.
The truth is that Aida was the one who made her feel alive. All the pieces of V's life would fit from smelling her light scent of freshness around. This woman smelt somehow differently, every time she could not help but compare her to spring, which would wake every inch of her body from a long winter sleep. This scent of her made V as light as seeing the clear and heady sky on the first warm day of the season, when her feet turn so weightless that barely touch the ground, making V feel as if she was about to dissolve in the air with the next breeze. Aida’s presence implied that everything was going to be alright, as if she just stretched her arm and grabbed the very essence of V’s soul barehanded, calming and soothing its cracks. Only then V felt that she actually lived.
She knew no one else would understand what loving Aida meant to her. V would not either, had she been one of those happy people in long-term relationships, who seemingly managed to get over break-ups so easily, while she was here, masochistically fighting the sense of loneliness day after day.
She reckoned that perhaps unrequited love is a personal form of insanity, when a person wholeheartedly believes someone to be his perfect match, yet everyone around would assure him otherwise. The assurance, which is no less absurd than if someone tried to convince V she actually had three legs, with her being the only failing to see it. But V. knew she had two legs, that is why she preferred to keep the feelings to herself. If she is meant to get over, then she had to do it alone.
V carefully brushed the glass with her lips, absently thinking that this is the closest to a kiss she would ever get. She watched as goosebumps appeared on her skin one by one and smiled. If those distant glimpses she managed to steal, if the glass in her hand was all she could get from Aida, then let it be it. She was sure she was right. V threw last longing look at the table and left.
Although autumn came early that year, November was relatively warm. It was still 7AM, and Berliners were absorbed by their morning routines. Some of them, with coffee cups in their hands, were rushing to work, the others having heated conversations or hurriedly mumbling something to their phones. The only exception was tourists, whom you could recognize from curious looks on their faces and lazy strolls down the street, so alien to an early morning in megapolis.
V noticed a tall figure in a black unbuttoned coat and loose scarf separating from the crowd. He entered the bakery she was in and approached her table.
“Joseph,” V smiled.
“It’s been a while.”
Joseph was one of those people with whom she felt completely comfortable sitting in silence. Not because they had nothing to tell each other, but because they had too much.
28 year old Joseph made an impression of a typical successful and confident careerist, who was used to getting anything or anyone easily. Middle class background contributed to his gracious mannerism and extravagant look. His sparkling warm brown eyes and never fading smirk signaled him being a fatal heart-breaker.
V had an actual chance to experience the power of his charm when they first met. It happened five years ago in this same bakery, during one of her first lonesome trips to Berlin. It was also November, only much colder than this, and the streets of the city were all covered with snow. The bakery was crowded, as the door could not handle the flows of people breaking in to get warm. V was buying a muffin and a coffee, when she felt a slight pat on her shoulder. She turned around and that was the first time her eyes met Joseph’s.
“You better take a jelly doughnut”.
“Because it will make you feel a true Berliner.”
Having captured a confused look on V’s face, he smiled.
“Don’t tell me you haven’t heard the story about John Kennedy and the doughnut.”
“Actually, no, I haven’t.”
“When the USSR built the Berlin Wall, JFK came here to express solidarity with the West Berliners. He finalized the speech with the phrase “Ich bin ein Berliner”, or “I am a Berliner”. No one told the poor guy he shouldn’t use “ein”, because he was basically saying, “I am a jelly doughnut”.
V could not help it. It was not every day that strangers made her laugh so badly. The two of them spent the rest of the evening eating jelly doughnuts and talking. Then, they went to a bar and got dead drunk, hardly making it to Joseph’s house. The two of them finished another bottle, incoherently telling each other their life stories, followed by drunk giggles.
When the alcohol and uncontrollable laughter finally started to fade, Joseph pressed her against the wall and kissed. This was not unexpected, and V had mentally prepared herself for this outcome, yet there was something in Joseph that hinted he was not worth her disgust, that he was better than all this. She fiercely pushed him back and slapped. V watched the red mark on Joseph’s cheek spread as he froze for a moment in awe. Something in his eyes flicked. For a second, V could swear that he was about to start crying. Moments later, he actually did.
The rest of the night seemed like a dream. Joseph spent long hours in the dark, crying in her lap, while V was running her fingers through his hair, stroking and comforting. Joseph was crying for his life. He cried for his mother, who died in a car crash when he was 7, and for how lonely he felt. He cried for his father, who abused him as a child and then ridiculed him, when he tried to complain. He cried for all those years he lost captured in fear of his father, and for all the time it took him to recover and build the wall to protect the remains of himself from people. Finally, he cried for V, who was careless enough to break the thin ice of self-confidence by rejecting him and thus making him that lost and scared child again.
Neither the next morning, nor ever again they had spoken about what happened that night. V would suspect that he was too drunk to remember anything, but Joseph did not ask why they woke on the floor, and the fact he never tried to make any other advances assured her that he did. V had never seen any piece of skin showing up from his armor again.
Joseph’s behaviour with her also changed. His exposed bravado remained, and V sometimes felt sorry for those girls and women, who would fall victim to his intelligence and wit. However, both of them grew to respect and truly care for each other. V and Joseph both had this innate charisma, which helped them talk people into anything, thus most of the time they were surrounded by people. Ironically enough, most of the time that they were left on their own, Joseph and V remained in comfortable silence. They no longer needed words to cover their fear of loneliness from each other. And now, after almost half a year, V was happy to see his face again.
“I thought you deleted my number,” he teased. There was a slight shadow of hurt behind his smirk.
“I had some stuff to deal with,” she replied.
There was no way V could explain her frequent disappearances the way Joseph would understand them. Perhaps surprisingly, V never told Joseph about Aida. She could not clearly explain, why. He asked her once if she was seeing someone, but V only shook her head. To his credit, Joseph never touched the subject again.
She realized that now that she knew so much about him, there was no reason to hide it. V was sure Joseph would not judge or question her sanity. Still, V reckoned that she would not find the words to express the depth of her love to Aida. V feared that her eyes would not be eloquent enough to convince him what a bliss is knowing of Aida's existence alone, and that her name runs so deeply within her veins that there is more of Aida than of her own blood. Oh, how V wished that she could put to words why she wanted Aida to live forever, and how fiercely desired to preserve that sheer innocence of hers for the years to come, so that the others would be struck by her resonating light, sanctified and purified by it, just like she once was.
V thought it impossible to express how kind Aida was, with what gentleness she held the hand of a child who was lost during his first day at school, or how humble she had always been at accepting compliments. V wanted to explain Joseph how Aida’s smile was disarming, shocking, and inspiring, and that it made V feel like she could do anything for happiness of this woman. How, without a single doubt, V would dance naked for ten pesos in the Mexico streets or build a skyscraper in the midst of an ocean, how she would construct a jet to shoot anyone who dares to cross Aida’s path, or learn to do world’s greatest latte and sew a perfect tablecloth for Aida’s dream home; and how she would hold Aida’s hand until their bodies turn into space dust, waiting for the next Big Bang to reunite them. Absolutely anything in the world would be put on the altar of Aida’s happiness.
If V would fail to explain this primordial connection between her and that woman, how can she expect Joseph to believe it was her karma to find Aida, that she kept finding this woman in every single of the previous lives that she had? V could live with distrust of others, but seeing it in Joseph's face would be impossible to forgive. The burden of this love was already hard enough to bitter it with his disbelief.
Sometimes V suffered so much from the distance between her and Aida that she could barely move. Every time V’s sorrow grew unbearable, she would travel the world to meet people. Just like Edward Gein, the infamous serial killer, would stitch the pieces of human skin, V was sewing the pieces of people’s lives together. Some of the people she met hid the fragments of their mourning souls like Joseph, the others would share it with anyone who cared enough to listen. Gathering the pieces one by one, she would sew them together in her mind and create the Perfect Pain.
This kind of pain that V found in people, in books, films or paintings made her feel calmer at the face of her own struggle. She traced the Perfect Pain throughout history and space, and realized that all the stories of grief, real and fictional, ended up as a part of it, flowing there like rivers flow to the sea. V felt that her own sorrow would fall within the Perfect Pain one day, and that her sufferings made a part of a bigger plan of the universe. Whenever she discovered the pain in others, her own misery diminished at the face of this overwhelming interconnectedness.
After each of brief encounters with the Perfect Pain, V let her soul burn in tears until her body could hold it no more, ultimately collapsing into eventual nothingness, letting emathy and compassion take over. And only then, with the ashes of her soul still warm, a new hope would rise out of it like a phoenix. The hope for some better luck in the next life. Only then V could find her temporary peace.
Finding peace was the main reason of her visits to Berlin. When she was with Joseph, she could feel the flow of the Perfect Pain going through them, no matter what they were doing.
V only weakly objected when Joseph and Mark, his best friend, took her out to a night club. She had always hated these crowded places full of noise, drugs and the crawling smell of alcohol, but the attention Joseph received in clubs contributed significantly to his fragile ego, and V gave in.
Mark was a few years younger than Joseph, his open mind and easy going nature along with the sense of humour made V enjoy his company almost as much as Joseph’s. The three of them shared some great memories together, yet V and Mark never became friends. It was the Perfect Pain that drew her and Joseph so close, while Mark was simple and plain, not to say boring, in both his attitudes and experiences. He was reliable and loyal, yet he did not posses the ability to read between the lines. He would often show up with a story or joke whenever he found Joseph and V sitting together, breaking the comfortable silence between them and forcing the two to exchange conspiratorial looks. Nevertheless, V could hardly imagine the better company to spend the night with.
“I promise, you will love Bagheera”, Mark said as they were heading to the place. “They’ve just opened, but they already built a reputation.”
Bagheera was located in the heart of Berlin, only a few miles away from the Museum Island. Perhaps the only thing that distinguished the club from other places of this kind was incredible amount of people queueing at the entrance. After more than a hour, when they finaly squeezed into a tight hall leading to the dancefloors, V was immediately deafened by piercing sound of electronic music playing out from huge speakers located everywhere around the place. She instantly wished she’d rather told Joseph and Mark go to hell than succumbed to pressure to follow them there. Every time V promised herself that time was her last, yet she ended up in clubs with Mark and Joseph as a matter of routine.
Clubs made V feel like a spectator in a theatre. Even from a distance, she loved watching Joseph flirting with women, as she could see how cocky he got from all the attention he was receiving, and at those moments he actually looked happy. Perhaps that was the reason V would let Joseph talk her into coming so easily, she realized it was important for him knowing she was there.
“I hate it when people see me as a narcissistic macho,” he told V one night.
“Why don’t you just make yourself involved into serious relationship then?”
He only smirked.
“If I fall in love with every each of them with all my heart, how can I stick to just one?”
V knew it was just a part of the truth. It was vital for Joseph to feel loved and valued, yet his childhood ghosts haunted him on every occassion, and overwhelming fear of rejection would never let anyone to break through to his heart. Joseph’s trust issues must have been hard to accept for any woman, let alone himself.
Mark, Joseph and V developed some kind of their own club rite. After the first round of shots, they would go to the dancefloor, where V would squirm uncomfortably for a song or two, and then leave them to get another drink, never getting back to the floor again. She then spent the rest of the night at the bar table, checking the phone and waiting for Joseph and Mark to have enough of the place.
From the bar table, V would kill time observing people and trying to see the Perfect Pain behind their polished facades. Sometimes she had to engage into awkward conversations and come up with diplomatic answers to pathetic pick up lines, the inevitable downside of hanging out in places like Bagheera. Luckily, most of the people approached her in German, and she could shoo them away with sheer “nicht sprechen Deutsch”.
On rare occasions, some of the people attracted V’s attention, nonetheless because they were as disinterested in the place as she was. It was easy to spot them. Some were buying God knows how many drinks at the bar, the others were crying in toilets or getting wasted on the dancefloor, causing wonder if that was how the dance of Saint Vitus looked like. Those people seemed broken, and V wanted to hear their confessions, to find out what they were hiding behind those masks of socially acceptable madness.
V had always felt that strangers never hesitated to open up to her, even when she did not ask them to.
“There is something in you,” a middle-aged French clerk once told her, “what makes me feel that you couldn’t hurt anyone, because you know what real hurt is.”
There were all sorts of them, entrepreneurs and priests, writers and gamblers, students and prostitutes, all those people who suffered from their cheating wives, drug addictions, family pressure, ultimate loneliness, abundance or – almost never – lack of money. Despite their differences, what all those people had in common was their Perfect Pain. V knew that this was not the right place for them to heal, neither that she should be the one hearing these people out, but V could not resist.
It was not that she was enjoying their pain, quite the contrary, V let the pain of those people sweep across her and melt in the heart. Overwhelming empathy she had for those strangers lend the comfort, which they could not, or they thought they could not, find anywhere else. For some she would use a few comforting cliches or sophisticated quotes, the others needed a dance or another cigarette, while a few of them wanted to sit in silence with V and share a drink.
There once was an elder man who kept staring at her from the other side of the bar table for a good part of the evening, making her feel rather awkward at some point. When the man was finally leaving, he came close to V and put the black and white picture of a young and very attractive dark haired woman in front of her. The eyes of the woman were also touched by Perfect Pain. There was a fading scribble at the lower right corner of the photograph that read “Auschwitz, 1943”. Only then she noticed that the woman was holding her prisoner number.
“This is my mother, we used to live in this house before the war. You look just like her.”
When he left, she sat for a moment in silence and embarrasment, unable to take the shame of being an intruder into this man’s life, an intruder, carrying the inherited stigma of Nazism the humanity would never be able to wash. V told Joseph this story and they never came close to that night club again. His grandfather was one of the first to suffer from the Nazi repressions when he resisted being recruited to the army.