The blond girl waving her pony tail is smiling behind the counter of the small coffee shop at the underground exit, making her cheekbones shine under the heavy layer of bronze blush and her white teeth sparkle under the yellow, artificial light. Her customer is a regular and so their encounter is warm and pleasant.
“It must be so nice to be smiled at like that as you’re getting your coffee in the morning”, I tell him and he smiles in approval, holding my hand tightly and leading me up the stairs and into the morning light.
There was another earthquake last night. A strong one. This time it caught me in a completely different situation than last time. Travel plans already made, cards laid face up on the table, bare heart and warm arms. Another jump into the unknown. Another leap of faith. Come what may. Thy will be done.
Leaving the blond girl behind, we’re walking right through the old city, with its street sweepers all busy and cold, cigarette buds bearing marks of lipstick and kisses and alcohol and promises, lies and stories over what all of us are going through – the pursuit of happiness.
My right eye is upset and keeps shedding tears, all swollen and red, itchy and bad. The eye that insisted on becoming blue last month. The eye I hit against the asphalt. The eye that has got tired of seeing too much. The eye that wants to sleep. I keep encouraging it to show me the truth no matter what.
And still, a part of me, like those street sweepers cleaning the narrow streets in the old city the morning after each party, is desperately trying to clear the area of all the information that may cause pain. I am not afraid of the truth. I know it too well. I am afraid of the impossibility to keep up an illusion long enough to give me the impression I can still be loved.
PS Sorry for the drama. Getting back to happiness mode in 3… 2… 1…
I must confess I wasn’t actually looking forward to watching the documentary about Nick Cave’s latest album. I hadn’t even listened to the album, to be perfectly honest. I knew it was much about the pain of losing his fifteen year old son last year. I knew he’d fallen off a cliff in Brighton. Didn’t know it was LSD. In November, right after I’d been in Brighton after my birthday.
Got on the train from London and I’m feeling so excited taking in the damp landscape as the train is cutting through fields and small towns in a more quiet and rural England. I can’t wait to get to the sea. A Romanian couple are talking loudly a few seats away and I’m feeling so self-sufficient in my quiet bubble, reading, writing and taking pictures.
In Brighton a friend is waiting for me. I met him in Bucharest in a pub one night a few years ago. We had a friend in common and later found out we were born in the same area – the Jiu Valley, Hunedoara, each from his small mining town. I met him once there, on a winter holiday. We went up on some hills together and licked a sweet, clear liquid off some naked tree branches.
He meets me at the Brighton station and then takes me on a walk along narrow streets lined with pubs and shops and I get my green leather bound diary from an antique book shop and my Rumi poetry book from this big fancy book shop. I can still remember the moment I found it and my fingertips touching it for the first time. Such great desire for this book. A lover seeking a lover. A few months later my friend writes telling me he’s found a nice, old, copy of Rumi’s and wants me to have it. I tell him I’ll wait for it till we meet again, so he can give it to me in person.
We make confessions and have a pleasant time as he’s taking me to the sea. Even before I step on the pebble beach and feel her smell, like a woman’s smell when she hasn’t showered for a day, my eyes are flooded and I look away for fear I might look stupid. But the sight of the sea does that to me every time. I suppose I should live next to her for a while to find my cure. Or just let her make me cry like this every time. As if I were meeting an old lover I could never fall out of love with.
“I have a surprise for you”, he tells me and walks me to what I recognize to be the Royal Pavilion, where a friend of his from the gay community lets us in before the huge crowd queuing at the entrance. You know, everybody knows everybody in the gay community. (Or rather everybody has known everybody. At least once.) Therefore, it’s like a big family, people help each other. So we have this wonderful, quiet and private tour and I am impressed and grateful. Her majesty feels she’s getting what she deserves.
“Do you know Nick Cave lives here?” I ask my friend, but I can’t remember his answer a year later. I’m thinking about Nick Cave as we’re having lunch in this Thai restaurant and then a beer in a queer pub and can’t help admiring the view. I wonder if I could actually recognize him if I saw him in the street. I’m thinking probably not.
Having left my friend in Brighton, after one more pint in a pub on the corner opposite the station, I am smiling alone in my blue seat on the last train back to London. “I love you”, I text my gay friend, but the text won’t go through and I’m left looking at the reflection of the luminous phone screen in the black wagon window. My body would like to lie down in the arms of someone loving and just let go. Still, I must be alert and awake and make my way back to my kindergarten friend’s house in London.
As I’m walking on my own to the cinema in Bucharest tonight, I pass by this loud tipsy couple speaking English. She’s way younger than him and Romanian, while he seems to be an American. Both are tall and lean and their movements seem a little bit disorganized and careless, zigzagging across the sidewalk and dodging various obstacles.
“Yeah, you know, because nobody’s perfect. Not even me”, she says and speeds up a few steps in front of him.
“Really? You’re not perfect?” he asks sounding genuinely surprised.
And I smile and walk on, checking out the Christmas lights on their first night. I was supposed to meet someone tonight and it got postponed. A long awaited encounter. So my stomach is still not very tense and I still don’t feel like I have anything to lose. It’s just a projection at this point. I’m a silent passenger walking among these people, under these lights, along these streets, in this cold. Nobody’s partner. Perhaps somebody’s dream. Still not met. I am anonymous. I can very well disappear. Only I feel so balanced and confident. There’s nothing that can shake me right now, as I am walking to the cinema.
“Most of us don’t wanna change, really. I mean why should we? What we do want is sort of modifications of the original model. We keep being ourselves, just hopefully better versions of ourselves. But what happens when an event occurs that is so catastrophic that we just change? We change from the known person to the unknown person. So that when you look at yourself in the mirror you recognize the person that you were, but the person inside the skin is a different person.” Kick Cave begins in his serious voice, perhaps a bit coarser and fainter than I used to know it. He’s sitting at the piano and the camera is moving around him and the strong contrast, black and white image infused with high pitched violin sounds quickly hypnotizes me and I lose track of who I was when I came to this place.
“Ah, Brighton! I was there. Right there. Brighton peer. Last year in November, after my birthday.” I lean and whisper in my friend’s ear and she looks surprised when she turns smiling to me.
And that sensation of being torn and shred to pieces comes back. Or the memory of it, rather. You know, when you feel you’ve freed yourself to the point of becoming nothing more than a piece of rag being blown by the wind and drifting aimlessly, unable to grab hold of anything stable.
“Somebody’s gotta sing the pain.” Nick says and I finally get it. Somebody’s gotta be here to represent the pain, the darkness, the hardship. Someone’s gotta validate these experiences and honor this part of life so that the darker side can have a voice and therefore can make room for us to perceive the lighter side, too and make the difference between the two. In a world of duality, light cannot exist without darkness. Nor can pleasure without pain. Or happiness without unhappiness. So we need these special representatives that offer creative media for the dark side to come to the surface and feel justice is being done. The same way we need representatives for the bright side. And ways to express both. I just think the darker positions sometimes are harder to fill in. At the same time, I also feel there’s a great danger it might actually be quite on the contrary.
“I shall never love again.” my friend in Istanbul confesses to me after his girlfriend left him. Again.
“Yes, you will, habibi. This is what you told me the day I first met you. And that was when I knew I would love you. You will love again. And it will be wonderful.” I tell him without any shadow of a doubt. “Do you wanna know how I know that? It’s because I have been there. Broken to pieces. Trembling and suffocating, crying and shouting with pain and crawling like a worm. And I will never stop loving. No matter what happens to me. My heart will always stay open. Always. Because it’s wonderful.”
“We decided we would be happy as a form of protest. We decided to be happy and our happiness would be an act of revenge, of defiance. And we would be kind. To ourselves and to the other people.” Nick Cave explains towards the end of his documentary.
And I remember that so did I. So why am I so afraid then? I need to keep reminding myself of the simple things, things I’ve been certain about and that fear makes me forget. My stomach seems to insist on coming down with gastritis. Simply because it finds it so romantic. I am not afraid of travelling alone to remote and hostile places. What if I run? I’m so good at running! I can just disappear. Before things get out of hand. Before I lose myself, before I become too vulnerable. Having nothing leaves nothing to lose. And all the possible freedom. I don’t actually need anyone, do I? No one to complete me. I am whole. Shams confirmed. Yet, I remember my decision. And I’ve decided to be happy. And to be kind. To the others and to myself. Not as a form of protest. But as a way of living. Inshallah.