Many of our days are so much alike that they fade to forgetfulness without leaving a trace in our memory. It’s almost as if we’ve never lived them. But then there are some rare days that we never forget, happy accidents of fate which inspire us and upon which we will always look back with nostalgia. Tuesday evening was one such day for me.
Picture it: darkness slowly descending upon the bustling city, creeping among the buildings and the lazy cars stuck in traffic, heading toward a vast lamplit park, which unfolds around a lake quacking with ducks… Old and knowing lamplights, the mute and faithful witnesses of countless couples who at one time or another had passed under their gaze, marching along broad alleys, before russet trees which, gently shaken by the October wind, are shedding their russet foliage… Dying leafs cracking under the boots of a blue-eyed nurse and a short and frail boy walking side by side on shadowy alleys, talking.
It all began the day before. As I promised in my last post, last Monday I revisited the little clinic in my town, to be pricked by the blue-eyed nurse again. It was the first time I would see her after she had read the story I had written about her. I was nervous, so much so that I hesitated for a few minutes outside the entrance, my head full of doubts and apprehensions. Then I took a deep breath and stepped inside.
As always, she was at her reception desk. This time, however, her wavy dark hair was loose, freed from the tyranny of her hairpin, overflowing over her shoulders. She smiled when she saw me, a playful smile, but then she turned her attention to her computer.
‘I brought it,’ she said, referring to the umbrella I had lent her a few rainy days ago.
Part of her wanted to be done with me as soon as possible, I could feel it. But I could also feel that another part of her enjoyed to see her charm and beauty reflected in someone’s gestures and attention, even if this someone was an awkward boy.
After a matter-of-fact conversation, she pricked me again. During the pricking she remained somewhat serious, making a few references to the story and smiling. I impressed her a bit by telling her the exact date of her birth, which I had managed to find out through the providential Web. Once the blood had been taken, I pretended I was sick and lingered in the chair, a bit to her annoyance. We talked some more, she standing with her arms crossed, smiling. She seemed both worried and amused.
‘You are cute but,’ she said, and I began to feel unwell for real.
I had heard that before a few times, you know, and it did not bode well.
‘Any chance I’ll get your phone number?’ I asked.
‘Nope,’ she said, leaving the room.
Alas! I went after her, nearing the exit, nearing loneliness and desolation, nearing lymphoma and cancer and the painful suffering of unrequited love.
‘Why not?’ I asked, stopping in the corridor.
‘I can’t explain here,’ she said, her arms still crossed.
We stood there for a few seconds in silence. Another nurse glanced at us from a nearby room.
Then the blue-eyed nurse hurried toward the waiting room. I made a step toward the exit but then I changed my mind and went after her. She sat at the reception desk and picked up her white smartphone and began fingering it.
‘I’ll just give a phone call and then I’ll go home,’ I mumbled.
I pulled out of my pocket an old phone that I have and dialed the number I had learned by heart the previous evening, a number whose discovery had sent me into an ecstasy of happiness.
The blue-eyed nurse’s phone began ringing.
You should have seen her face.
A day and a dozen or so SMSs later, and I found myself waiting nervously at the entrance to the aforementioned park, carrying in a pocket two milk chocolates with 20% hazelnuts (her favorites), and in another a box of Belgian Pralines, beautifully wrapped in red and tied with a golden ribbon.
Great fears and apprehensions wandered at their will through my mind as I stared over the street at the bus station. She had arranged the meeting, and I was not sure how warm she would be outside the clinic. And then I noticed her in the crowd. She traversed unhurriedly the zebra crossing, removed her earphones, and there she was before me, the most beautiful girl I had ever been alone with on a crowded street.
And then our walk began. She did most of the talking. She spoke about her life, about her past, about her beliefs. Among other things, I found out she was living with two girls in a rented apartment, paying most of her salary on the rent, and that she goes to church often.
For someone like me, who has lived in isolation for so long and who has always been socially inept, it was wondrous to be in her presence, to smell her mysterious perfume (I still haven’t found out what it was), to see her hair tremble ever so slightly as she walked, to hear her laugh at her own jokes, and above all, to hear her growl playfully whenever she did not approve of something. I pinched myself, yet the waking dream did not go away. Isn’t life beautiful, I wondered?
We wandered through the park for about three hours. Whenever I hurried the pace, she slowed me down, saying there was no hurry. That she was enjoying the walk as much as I did was what I most enjoyed about our walk. I knew then I was in love with her. Yet not even in the darkest of alleys, where we were utterly alone, did I dare kiss or hug her. I don’t have the right to force myself upon her, especially now that I am ill. She finds me interesting, but she isn’t drawn to me the way I am to her.
I’d lie if I said I did not dream of being with her. But in my dream the protagonist is not me but someone else. I mean I have stopped starring in my own dreams a long time ago. I have developed a veritable loathing of my body, of this human costume that I am forced to carry with me every day, this weak, sick, faulty, shapeless mass of flesh and bone. The gestures of intimacy remind me too much of my body and its deficiencies.
‘There are ways to love a woman without holding her hand or kissing her,’ I said.
Can’t there be love between persons of the opposite sex without the holding of hands, without kissing, without the need to remove clothes? A (reasonably) undemanding and sincere relationship which is never consumed, which is more than friendship but not a sexual relationship, and that doesn’t impinge on each other’s freedom? The love of the artist for his muse? Of the moth for the burning flame, around which he circles mesmerized, yet not daring to touch it lest he should burn?
It’s all up to her. She doesn’t have to say yes. She only does not have to say no. In this way, she can inspire the unfortunate boy-moth to carry on his giddy flight, to continue his woeful existence…