LIFE IS A SONG | STORIES | VERHALEN
I’m sitting on a Belgian train, and we have a long way to go. Sitting opposite me is an Australian lady who is eating cookies non-stop. On my left a Roma woman with an enormous bosom, her hair as dirty as mine. She has a kitten with her, a few weeks old and covered in fleas. The little cat roams through the coupé, meowing loudly. My hand, with 7 stitches in it, is hidden under a large bandage (all will be well – little accident). I’m holding my book. A woman in a beautiful dress has been singing for hours in the coupé next door. Some company are we!
Upon arriving home, I see that someone has left something behind in our narrow strip of green in front of the house. A little sculpture in white clay, resembling an entangled couple. The style is similar to a little sculpture someone gave me years ago, which has been standing on the piano ever since. But the legs and arms of this little one lying outside have been broken off, they are scattered underneath the rose bushes. I live close to a rehab clinic, maybe there is a connection there. Emotional adieus are common here. For a few days I just left the thing, but now it’s lying on my kitchen table. It is drying, the legs and arms entangled once again. I’ll place it back in the strip of green. One doesn’t stay in a clinic forever.
One long second, that’s how long I see her. But her image stays hanging before my eyes for a long time afterwards. She is a portrait, a living portrait in a frame behind glass. On her left a blue curtain, covering a fraction of the big window. An old armchair is turned to the light and she sits there with a book. She reads. A simple beige bra is all she is wearing. Paintings cover the walls, the room is filled with artist utensils: an easel, brushes, cloth. At least, that’s what I think I saw, maybe I am making it up. The second didn’t last long.
I hear her coming from afar, her voice is shrill, scratched and full of dents. Parents with kids fill the street, it’s school time. Everyone can hear the words she throws into her phone, but they don’t exist for her at the moment. Her despair hangs from her shoulders while her feet keep walking. Big steps. Her little son, with the blue backpack neatly on his back, tries to keep up. She doesn’t look back to see if he succeeds, and the little boy crosses the road without looking, his eyes only on his mom. A cyclist stops for him, thankfully. She is now almost shouting: I don’t believe that you will ever love, if you keep on doing things like this!
It smells of cigarettes, the white shop stuffed with hoover bags. The fumes are dripping from the ceiling. A chubby man with a shiny head appears from behind a door at the back. Dried sweat has left a drawing on the shoulders of his dark blue cotton jumper. A salty jumper. His fleshy fingers smile when they finger through a folder with all sorts of papers. He finds what I’m looking for.
It’s only been open for a day, the ice skate rink that is way too small and still makes everybody smile. Tourists shuffle over and around the ice with telephones in hand. Diehards desperately seek out some clear spots to challenge their old skates. Brave kids tumble and bounce along with white bums, parents following suit. And everybody is laughing, even (or maybe even more so) when someone falls over. Some boys form snowballs from the shaved ice that covers the rink like a blanket, and throw them to the people that are making selfies on the bridge over the ice. Even that only elicits laughs. One boy whizzes over the ice in a bright red training jacket, pared with ice hockey skates in the same colour. He bounces around like a ball in a pinball machine. Most of time he manages to dodge his human obstacles, but when a collision seems unavoidable, he grabs it quickly in a firm hug and starts a pirouette. He turns and turns in an intimate embrace with this stranger until both have found their balance. Then he mumbles ‘sorry’, and whizzes off.
In the illuminated room just across the road, I see a woman sitting on a bed. She eats. Nuts, crisps. Everything is spread out on the duvet, and she holds each nut as if it were a pill. She picks and chooses them carefully. She is not drinking, therefore she is eating. The rehab is just across from my house, I can look straight in. Apparently she doesn’t like drawn curtains. And then all of a sudden she wipes everything off the bed in a wild, impatient manner and switches of the small fluorescent bed side lamp. I eat another cookie, hidden behind my laptop. She never drew the curtains.