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.