collecting cities; with him

Twenty-sixth birthday by the Lake Ossiach.

Prague, Czech Republic

I first saw that particular look on his face the night I met him. Prague, late February, it was still cold. It rained that night and the wet streets absorbed all the light. Colorful paintings on the sidewalk, crumpled cigarettes, the breath of fresh air. We danced together in a crowded club, that was our first contact. No talking, to introductions. Essentially, I had no idea who he was except that he made me feel alright. He made me more than alright.

The next day, I woke up with a craving for Venezuelan arepas. His influence, definitely. A couple of blocks from my flat, there’s a place run by a middle-aged lady with a lifetime of stories around the world. It’s where I go when I crave colorful food and colorful people. I’d never been to South America and it’s something I need to fix sooner rather than later. Unsure whether I should text him first, I sent him a picture of my lunch. Because of you, the caption read. It had the impact that I wanted. He came over later with a bottle of white wine in his coat pocket and an expression on his face that was clear. I was something of a sin he wouldn’t mind repeating again and again. I could tell he’d never met anyone like this before. But I hadn’t either.

He was reluctant to leave the next day. I could feel he didn’t want to go home. That morning was coated in sadness, drowned by overnight rain. Because his home is five-hundred kilometers away from mine. Because we weren’t supposed to meet in the first place but there was no going back now. I pushed him out of the door, not really wanting to say goodbye, I simply said to him: Don’t think too much. I’ll meet you halfway somewhere. I didn’t kiss him goodbye; for some reason, I thought that it’d be easier that way. I closed the door behind him with heavy limbs.

Maribor, Slovenia

Our first halfway ended up being the second biggest city in Slovenia. Population: 95K; area: 41 km2. What that means is that you walk around the city three times in an hour without running into too many people. But this tiny city is where our story is. Where the beginnings are and I am saying this without knowing where we are going from here. It could be somewhere; it could be nowhere. Mostly, nowhere. Maribor is where we met and there was no other place in the world we’d rather be. For all that it’s worth.

Our similarities and differences came to the surface quickly. There is a balance between us. In our ages, in our contrasting characters, in our mixed-cultures backgrounds, in our bilingual and polyglot tendencies. In my double espresso to his caffe latte; in my whiskey neat to his prosecco; in my words to his silence; in my waking up with the sun to his breakfasts half past noon. It’s hard to say where we’ll go from there. We can be easily forgotten; swallowed by the future of the unknown. Like deleting a phone number. I waited for him by the river that splits the tiny town into two. Dusk settled around me as I ordered a glass of wine and lit a cigarette. It was still cold and I pulled my winter coat closer. He appeared in the darkness; tall, gracious, with a soft smile. Both dressed as if attending a business meeting. We kept up with the formal behavior for about two seconds.

His quiet nature made me slow down. He said very little but the way he moved reveals more than he’s aware. I am able to appreciate the fact that he walked into my life without any obligations and it is the same way he will also leave. He offered his arm as we explored Maribor, and I felt like a lady. Our conversation of dinner tricked me into thinking I am sitting with someone ten years older than he actually is.

Our time together is marked with impeccable taste in wine and food, love for late breakfasts, walking around unknown cities, and leaving traces of our own stories across European cities. Our goodbyes are inconsistent and but always equally unpleasant. The time until next time always left undetermined.

Villach, Austria

Siddharta. I found a dog-eared copy of the book in his garage; Italian version. It must be his father’s.
“This is my favorite book!” I turned to him with excitement. He was taking out my suitcase from the back of his car; I’d come to stay with him for a weekend by the lakes and mountains. It’s been over a month since I last said goodbye to him but we didn’t feel the weight of that time. He said nothing and only smiled. There was that look again. I flipped through the pages and immediately recognized my favorite passages. Even in Italian, I knew the words. He gently took the book away from me and placed it back. Otherwise, we’d stand there all afternoon. He looked amused. As we walked upstairs, I felt his palm at the small of my back, directing me towards the door of his apartment. He was impatient and calm at the same time and it was rubbing off on me. My hair was frizzy; charged from my polyester jumper. I kept trying to smooth it out. He kept looking at me. He kept smiling. But I wanted him to say something. I wanted him to say it.

The thing is — he didn’t have to say anything at all. It was all apparent from his behavior. From the expression on his face when he watched me in silence. Sometimes, I felt like I did all the talking and when I mentioned this, he said: but listening to you gives so much. I don’t mind. On the morning of my twenty-sixth birthday, I woke up early. Earlier than nature all around us. Pushed out of bed by the sun and blue skies reflected in the lake, I opened the sliding door to the balcony and fresh air hit me in my face. It felt like coming back to life. I was instantly awake, fully aware of every single thing around me. A wave of gratitude washed over me. In that moment of silent solitude, I felt everything was right in the world. I returned to his room and saw his hand stretched out where my body was just minutes before. The missing weight in bed woke him up. I climbed back under covers and slid into his hug. Happy birthday, he said quietly. I felt his breath at the top of my head.

Tarvisio, Italy

He took me to my favorite places: an espresso bar, a gelato shop, a bookstore. I wanted experiences with him, not things. Beautiful sunny warm day. Driving around in his car in the passenger seat, I felt like we could do this forever. Explore the world, discover ourselves. Mostly in silence, sometimes in laughter. Just co-existing. Let’s go to Italy, he said casually. So we went. A small town, a half-hour drive away. He took me for an excellent plate of fruti di mare, a glass of wine, tiramisu. Everything that I love. After eating, we take a short walk. Leaning on his car, he held up a lighter for me, quickly catching a loose strand of my hair to prevent it from burning. Then he lit his own cigarette that was hanging from his lip. Loose and in the corner of his mouth, that simple act alone made it look as though he’s been smoking for decades. This is the image of him that I remember months later.

The day after my twenty-sixth birthday, he drove me to the train station, and as we said goodbye (it was quick and awkward and terrible in a way), I could sense that I wouldn’t be seeing him again anytime soon. For whatever reason, it felt alright. We were meant to be meet but perhaps, nothing more than that. We accept the love we think we deserve.

croatia, collected