It was evening, one of those evenings that hold a kind of promise, a sense of expectation...dresses become tighter, suits more elegant. Everyone struggles to convey a sense of allure, even if fear and loneliness have taken a strong grip on the soul… People had gathered at the vernissage, the usual talk, the wine, the hors d'oeuvres. The same predictable couples, married for the predictable number of years, running a marathon without prizes. Everyone had become a connoisseur all of a sudden, everyone does at openings of art exhibits.
And I was there, trying to understand, drinking little, no point in going on with the family tradition of socialites drinking themselves to death, just wouldn't do in these circumstances. I guess I looked every inch as bored as I was, sober and collected.
It was then when I saw him. He was looking at someone behind me, someone that was not me, or so I thought at first. He had piercing eyes, but then, all men have those eyes when they set them on their prey, never mind if the prey has shifted roles without them knowing. This one didn't know for sure. His eyes, of an undefined colour, mirrored my own soul till there was nothing in it I failed to recognize as mine. Worst of all, I felt I had found my kind and trembled.
Such moments are not moments of happiness, they are the threshold to some initiation, some part of the journey where you stop and are held captive for a while, till you can run free again.
When the waiter offered me some wine I took the glass eagerly, anything not to look at that stranger with the mocking smile. Was he really smiling? Did he feel the same? I was surely mistaken, too many people, too much of everything, you don't meet your kind looking at oils at an art exhibit. He was not even my type, if ever that had existed, he was my kind, we belonged to the same kind of beings.
Betrayed by conventional loves, sick of domesticity, eager to lose ourselves in games of oblivion to shut the world out...I felt I had found him at last, when I was already tired of looking. I took a brief minute to ask myself if it was worth it. I was too tired perhaps. There was nothing this stranger could tell me to make me believe in anything again. And then, looking at his eyes, I realized with infinite relief he would not ask anything and neither would I, for that matter.
There would't be any fake breakfasts, no pseudo-romantic dinners, no candlelight to hide anything. No need to hide anything from those with whom you are set on pushing yourself to the limit, those you might not see again.
I could see people laughing, buzzing around the proud artist, and felt like laughing too, but for slightly different reasons. How long would it take for this crowd to forget him? And yet he believed his work would make him immortal, they would remember him...little did he seem to know the crowd would have also gathered eagerly to see his oils burning brightly and he with them...
I looked at the stranger again, this time I didn't have to do anything else. I followed him to an old flat, the kind that makes you think of old money lost somewhere, old maiden aunts with hidden love stories and pale handsome boys that danced the night away... Still, I had but little time to muse over this, the hours that followed left no time for the outside world to mean anything.
Lost in games of power and surrender, unable to distinguish pleasure from pain any longer, welcoming both as a reprieve, I became one with someone whose name I didn't even know. I would find the meaning to my own in his bed, amidst hours that would prove bitter in daylight. Still, their memory would stay with me, no wound can forget the knife that carved it, no welt the whip that left it on the skin, no wrist the cuff...
For a brief moment, I came to love that stranger who asked for nothing and yet took everything. He became no one and everyone, I'd met him in a crowd and would lose him in a flat with flaking paint on its old walls. What is gained in public should be lost in privacy, it is less pathetic that way.
It was then the phone rang, yes, he was arriving soon, no, he hadn't forgotten their anniversary, how could he, he always remembered, yes, of course, he had missed her and the children, he loved them.
I smiled inwardly, he certainly wouldn't miss me, he wouldn't pursue me either. I tried to imagine the woman at the other end of the line. Young, pretty. Worn out after producing the expected children to perpetuate the family name and the species? Or just happy, content in this man's love and care?
I gathered my clothes hurriedly, the urge to leave was unbearable, I`d always had some kind of contempt for those who run in packs. I'd looked for some lone wolf and had found some devoted husband and father, picking up strangers in art exhibits.
My sense of degradation was complete at that moment. And yet, I felt some mixed pity for him and blissfully, none for myself. I had no one to report to, the encounter of the night could have been commonplace or outstanding, it could have ended in death or some kind of reprieve, I found it hard to care over either of them. I had no one who would worry, either about the well being of my body or the use of it involved in a relationship.
My solitude was, as usual, my shield from all, I hid out of habit, not out of shame, not out of any social convenience. My kind of aloneness was not for everyone, not everyone could bear the pain of casual encounters and never-to-be-loves. Not being able to become someone in the lives of others I'd chosen evanescence as my trademark.
And others, like this man I'd thought my kind and wasn't, had been infinitely cleverer, they had somehow built a life for themselves, they had given that life a chance. Never mind if the chance rested at times on deceit and betrayal, to them it was still a chance. The whole world was built on chances like that.
Without a word, I got dressed. When I was heading for the door he asked me politely (as if this had ever been necessary!), “What is your name?”
With a firm voice and a quavering heart I managed to say, "No one".