by Tjeerd Posthuma
It must be the fifth or sixth day in a row that it’s been so bloody warm. And they said it would finally rain on the third or fourth day. I will believe anything. I always listen carefully, so it can never be my fault. But at the end of the day the ground will still be dry, the air will vibrate above the asphalt, and my skin will still feel raw from the dry cotton scratching over my open pores. My skin, not theirs. Fucking Paris, everything stings. But I’ll keep trying, it’s never my fault. I collect my saliva and pop in my good teeth. I wedge them in firmly, so they don’t shift. When they do I always have to bob for them like a cat trying to spew out a hairball, my cheeks making the smacking sound of two people kissing passionately. The sound of entanglement. They’ll throw you out of the subway for that.
“Ladies and gentlemen my name is Nadia, excuse me for disturbing you with another sad story for the millionth time, but due to my circumstances…” No one looks at me. They fan themselves with a newspaper or a hat. They’ll stop as soon as I get off.
I KNOW. I’M BURNING UP AS WELL IN THIS FUCKING CRAMMED SUBWAY, PACKED TOGETHER LIKE SARDINES, I WANT SPACE TOO, BUT I AM HERE NOW, GIVE ME MONEY, JUST GIVE ME SOME MONEY SO I CAN LEAVE. Of course, I don’t actually say that.
I walk down the carriage holding out my paper coffee cup. I say thank you. Their eyes don’t leave their phones’ screens, or they pretend to read their homework or to be on a call. Maybe it is not that people don’t want to look at me; they just know that when our eyes do finally meet, we will both see that I don’t belong here.
There I go again. I’m singing a Prince song to myself in my head.
Fuck them. I can also disappear into my own world.
Dig if you will the picture, of you and I engaged in a kiss. The sweat of your body covers me, can you darling, can you picture this.
“You shouldn’t buy into their sad stories, you know”, shrieks one of the sweaty passengers. “There are food banks, there are places where they can turn to, they don’t have to beg. But hey, the least they can do is stay clean. Don’t fall for it.”
Is it weird that I’d rather buy my food than let myself be humiliated by some pitiful potato soup? The food bank is no KFC, you have nothing to choose from. God, it smells so bad there. Sweaty cheese, unwashed hair, raw onions belched up with puffs and sighs and lips flapping on a bashfully relaxed exhaled breath. Potato soup doesn’t make for such great burping.
But you, dear passengers, will be allowed out in a minute, and you will choose what you have for dinner. You’ll mutter under your breath that I’ll spend all my money on alcohol anyway. Doesn’t sound that bad to me, though, a nice glass of wine. Sitting in the park with a cheap bottle of red - if I don’t get chased away. Right, Nadia, just keep that in mind. Maybe Guy has had better luck, with his soft eyes.
I’m waiting for the doors to close before I hop on the subway, making sure there are no cops in the carriage. The doors close and … “Mesdames et Messieurs,” I hear behind me. Putain. Putain. Putain. Putain. Putain. Merde. Some other fucking homeless beggar. Yeah sure, you were the headmaster of a primary school once. Oh, you’ve come back a destitute man after volunteering in Mozambique? Great. And then your wife who just died also happened to leave you three children to take care of. Just your luck. I’m sure you also need to see a dentist. I really need to see the dentist. And my knees squeak more and more each day when I stretch them. My eyes are dry when I wake up. My skin blisters. But sure, you’ve lost everything when you went to help the poor in Mozambique; let’s see what people are willing to pay for that.
Putain. Putain. Putain. Putain. Merde. Assholes. Can’t you see and hear that it’s all a lie? He’s already got close to twenty euros. Sure, I would tuck that away too. Quick, before people realize you could almost go to KFC three times and they stop giving you money. Seriously, if this is what the world has come to, then I’m out.
“Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Nadia. I used to work at a primary school, but after volunteering in Mozambique”,
Touch if you will my stomach. Feel how it trembles inside. You’ve got all the butterflies tied up. Don’t make me chase you, even doves have pride.
“Every donation helps - merci -, even the - merci - smallest coins will help me - merci beaucoup monsieur - a bit further.” People get stingy when they need a holiday. That must be it.
Guy said to meet at the bed of violets in the park. Pansies. So here I am, sitting by the violets. Guy will be here any moment and we’ll count our money and go to the night shop. We’ll buy canned spaghetti bolognese and ask if they want to open the cans for us. No wait, Guy will have a pocket knife. Yes, then Guy will have to open them with his strong hands and stern frown. And he’ll give me the first can. I’ll wait, holding the lukewarm aluminum in both hands, until he’s opened his and we’ll eat cold spaghetti. Nice and cold. Then I’ll conjure up a bottle of wine. “Surprise”, I’ll say. I had a good day, so, surprise. And I’ll even have a bottle of vodka for after. But I’ll keep that a secret for now. We hide from the night surveillance in the shrubbery behind the flowerbeds. When they close the park we’ll lay our bodies down gently on the flowers. And I’ll say: “perfume is made of violets, did you know?” And we’ll feel the soft petals on our finger tips. And Guy will kiss my blistering skin with his soft lips. That’s when I’ll tell him I also have a bottle of vodka.
Oh great, it’s raining. Guy and I were just strewn out at my regular spot, down the hill, under a tree. But now it’s raining. The water is flowing towards us. Is there a garbage bag somewhere? Guy had said we should sleep at the top of the hill, but I said: “no, Guy, we can’t, we’ll be sent away there. I know my neighborhood. They’ve got cameras up there.” But if he wakes up now, he’ll look at me with those eyes, like: I told you so, we should’ve gone up the hill. I’ll just lie in front of him to form a dam with my back and legs. He won’t wake up that way, so no know-it-all looks from him.
Ouch, no sudden movements. You always regret the cheap vodka. I really shouldn’t do that anymore. No more cheap vodka from now on. Maybe I should puke first, before I lie down. Otherwise the vomit will flow towards Guy. He’s moving. Lie down quickly. Careful.
Everything is flowing towards me.
I wish I was a pigeon; life would have been so much easier.
This text was written in connection with a residence project of the Flemish-Dutch House deBuren in collaboration with the Biermans-Lapôtre Foundation.
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