Late Afternoon (A Strange One), A Lifetime After We Left The Big Fields
Theo made us lunch, spaghetti bolognese and red wine. I think Leo had never had expensive wine before, or maybe he had. The truth is, there are many things I don’t know about Leo. I need to start trying a bit harder if we’re going to fall in love in less than four months, so I decided, I better start asking:
"So, Leo, how do you like it here so far? The Outside?"
"It’s not much of a place anymore, is it? I mean, it’s just what’s left of what used to be places. Am I right?"
"Actually, no, not at all. It’s still a place. It’s just different."
"I guess you’re right. In any case, I’ve got to admit, it’s a bit disappointing. I can understand why people travel so much these days. It’d be hard to stay in just one place. There isn’t anywhere that seems capable of... retaining enough."
"Enough for what?"
"Enough for... living a good life, I guess. I know how that sounds, but don’t get me wrong. Just enough for keeping people satisfied, day to day. Who knows what would be enough for that."
"What do you want to do today?" I asked, to try to make things at least feel like they were real and feasible, and held at least the potential of being fulfilling. "Do you want to find somewhere else to spend the night? It could be fun. I normally look for a different place to sleep every night when I’m travelling. It’s fun to meet new people. Also, if we stay in one place too long it might start feeling a bit… you know, too personal. We don't want that, trust me."
Why was I talking like that? "Trust me", trying to sound like I had a lot of experience. I felt just as lost as Leo probably did. Maybe even more. Maybe even a lot more. Who knows how Leo felt.
"Yeah. I don't know. I was thinking of just going for a walk. We need to talk to as many people as we can.”
"Right, yeah. So you still want to tell people about The Bomb", I stated matter-of-factly, "Good stuff”.
"Good stuff"? What was I trying to do? I’m not responsible for him. Why did I keep talking as if I were his guide through some sort of experience? I don’t know this place any better than he does. The Outside. What is the Outside?
We hadn’t really unpacked any of our stuff yet. We put the ragged smelly clothes we’d been wearing the day before in plastic bags, got some wrinkly, but clean stuff from our backpacks, got dressed, and went downstairs with all our bags. Theo was sitting on his habitual chair, drinking tea.
"Hey, Theo. We’re leaving now. Thank you and Viola so much for being so kind to us. We had a really good time staying here", I said, already moving towards the door.
"Where is Viola?", Leo asked. "Don't ask", I thought. "Why not?", the other voice in my head asked. "Because there’s probably a good answer, and we’re going to have to wait for her", the other voice in my head replied. "What’s wrong with waiting to say goodbye to her?", the other voice in my head asked, "She was so nice to you and Leo". "Shut up", the other voice in my head said. "You think you are here to help Leo and guide him, he’s doing way better than you already and that’s because he is actually alert and willing and actually tries to interact with the people and things around him", the other voice in my head said.
"Viola went shopping, do you want to wait to say goodbye to her?"
"Actually, we’re really sorry, sir, but we’re in a bit of a hurry. We have a train to catch in just a few minutes", Leo said, and smiled at me.
"Oh, that’s too bad. She told me she had a really good chat with you two last night". Theo started to get up, but let out a loud moan that, as I read it, was intended to convey "I’m too old and tired to walk you to the door, I’m pretty sure you’re smart enough to find the way yourselves".
"Oh, you don't need to get up", I said, "Thank you very much for having us over. Send my regards to Viola, tell her she made the best lobster I’ve ever had in my life. Tell her, ok? I hope we’ll see you again some time."
Leo and I hurried to the door. As I shut it behind us, I looked at him in awe. He smiled again, and squeezed my hand tight. Ok, then. So, love it is. I think we can manage that.
I put my other arm around his neck and he kissed the top of my head. Love it is.
Now it’s about four in the afternoon, the sun is just starting to set. In less than an hour the streetlights will come on. Leo’s looking forward to that. He keeps checking his watch and looking up. “How dark does it have to be?”, he asked me, as if it having to be dark were just a bureaucracy to the gratuitous and leisurely spectacle of the turning on of streetlights.
“Just a little darker. I don’t know why they’re taking so long today.” I tried to join in his enthusiasm.
“Who turns them on? Can we see them? Not today, I think it’s too late for that today, but maybe tomorrow, if we plan it? Do you know where we can see them?”
“I don’t know. So, what do you want to do today?", I just asked him now, yet one more time. "I mean, we have to start looking for a place to spend the night soon. We might have time to go somewhere nice for dinner. Would you like that?"
“We can start getting leaflets ready and talking to people tomorrow. What do you think? We’ll get it all planned tonight, so tomorrow we’ll have a plan ready. How does that sound?”
Leo sighed. He just sighed, just now. I am sitting on the pavement, writing this, waiting for the streetlights to come on. I feel like I’m at the start of something, of a new phase in my life. Of course, the worst-case scenario is that I’m at the end of something. In any case, I’m definitely not in the middle of anything. It’s a good feeling. I can reflect on the past, and I can plan things for the future. Cool. It just feels right like this. But an in-between moment can’t last forever.
“Do you have any money to go to dinner?”, Leo asked. “That is how they get dinner in the Outside”, he must be thinking, or maybe he’s just asking a reasonable question.
“No, I don’t have any money at all, but I think we can sort something out. A lot of people don’t have any money these days.”
“What are we going to do then?”
“Their dishes. Ask politely. I don’t know. Do you have a suggestion?”
“No, not really. I was just wondering. You’re probably more used to it than I am.”
I snorted. “Yeah, probably”.
It’s quite dark now, the kind of dark-blue sky that makes you feel like you’re in an aquarium. The lights should come on any minute.
“Hey, Leo. I think they’re coming on really soon. Come here, let’s watch it. Come lie here with me.”
Yeah, I can make this the beginning of something good. Looking at him from here, his silhouette growing clearer as the night grows darker, I know this is one of those moments that are a step in the leading up to something, I can move towards a destination from here. If you have to call it love, call it love. I do love the way he looks when he hasn’t shaved his beard in a few days.