At the same time I

Nadia Rungger
 
At the same time I
I'm blowing my nose. There is nothing more unpleasant than meeting a person you once knew well, but haven't seen for a long time. I put the handkerchief back in my pocket. It's a bad feeling. For a while now I have been waiting in front of Café Frida, awaiting and looking around. The chairs on the terrace are piled up, the tables set aside; it is hardly raining anymore. It drips from the folded umbrellas. The fabric is a dark red; I can imagine that it is lighter when it is dry. The extras on this Wednesday pass me by: mothers and prams, grannies with purple felt caps, people with dogs and people without dogs, some cyclists. I tap a wet autumn leaf with my feet and push it between the cobblestones. While I am still wondering whether I will recognize the person at all or whether they will recognize me, I notice a familiar figure on the opposite side of the street. How long has she been looking at me? She is still too far away to greet me out aloud, so I wave and when she waves back, I think all this waving has to look pretty stupid.
We sit down at table number five. I order a coffee. She wants a hot chocolate and we decide to split a pie.
I think about how to start a conversation after five years. “Five years is a long time,” I say then.
She suggests that we could tell each other what we have been doing.
“I have a lot of work to do at school right now. But this weekend was nice; I went hiking with Elisabeth,” she says. Elisabeth? “She's really funny,” she says. The waitress brings the drinks. I stir the coffee with my spoon. She tears the paper bag and pours the sugar into her cup.
“What else is going on?” I ask.
“At home,” she starts. “At home,” I think. What was that again? I shake my head.
“No?” she hesitantly asks.
“No,” I say, “I mean, what did you say?”
“At home,” she starts again, this time holding my gaze so that my thoughts cannot wander. And I try to follow the stories of a broken vacuum cleaner and a cat birth, but things are blurring. She has friends I don't talk to anymore. She knows things that I don't know anymore and she doesn't know things that I know. She lives in a place I have not been to in a long time. She has other thoughts. She does not like coffee. She drinks hot chocolate and her whole reality tastes different than mine.
“And you,” she asks. “How have you been?”
I tell. About undressing and studying and living. I tell about a vegetable strudel with sweet puff pastry, about studying, about sunny afternoons in the city park with a guitar, and she listens and nods in the right places, but I do not know how much of what I am saying she can really grasp.
“You've grown up,” she says.
“And you,” I reply, “have stayed young.”
She laughs while my face freezes. “That's what distinguishes the younger me.”

Sitting there with that plaid scarf around my neck and that light blue sweater. I do not have that scarf anymore, and I wonder what happened to those earrings. And what happened to me? I do not see the connection between us. I think it lies between us, but I do not see anything, just a smooth table and apple pie crumbs on an empty plate. With a fork I push the crumbs back and forth to connect two slightly removed crumbs with a line. But how does it work? Lines are also only made up of dots. The fork slips out of my hand. “I'm going to the bathroom.”
There it is before me: my familiar reflection. I wash my hands in warm water with relief and at the same time I am afraid. Afraid that I have forgotten too much of myself. That I have forgotten myself. I lose so many things every day: pens, hair, the thread, motivation. Earrings. I do not always notice immediately if something is missing. I lose memories all the time and I do not even notice it. And then a day like today, and I cannot find the connection. I dry my hands on my jeans and go back to table number five.

“How's the hot chocolate?” I ask.
“It's good,” she says and slides me the cup. “Would you like a taste?”
The hot chocolate is now lukewarm, but that is enough. I look at my younger self, my questioning gaze becomes a time-delayed mirror. Something is still there. Sometimes there is a smell, a sound, and I remember. Hot chocolate and I am fifteen again, sitting here like I used to in high school. We do not need to see the connection between us. We are.
“That Elisabeth,” I finally ask. “Who is that again?”
She begins to tell, this time we laugh together. And bit by bit I find moments again that I have never really looked for.

“We should meet more often,” she says to me as she leaves. “We could invite the others, too.”
I close my eyes and imagine us all sitting around a big table. Me 1, me 2, me 3, me 4, 5, 8, 12. And all so different and so simultaneous. And then I open my eyes again. There I sit, at table number 5, drinking the last sip of coffee, then hot chocolate, and eating the remaining crumbs with my fingers.
I pay at the counter and go outside. I probably would not have done that at fifteen. Outside a cool wind is blowing; soon it will be November. The extras are still there, probably they are not the same, but who can say. The cyclists now ride with their lights on; they flash red when they pass me. I pull the zipper of my jacket all the way up and wish I had taken a scarf with me. “You've grown up,” she had said to me.
“No,” I think, “you.”

Translation by Shan Wardell
 
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