Essays

Five years ago today

Five years ago today, I crossed the yard flooded with dirty snow carrying a person-sized suitcase that missed a wheel. As you can imagine, it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t fun to go up a few flights of stairs, wheel-less luggage in hand (I wasn’t strong then, not even a little bit), either. I would have learned the Finnish word for lift, hissi, written on the little doors on the right on every floor, just a couple days later. Later that day, I locked myself out of my newly-rented apartment which overlooked a little garden sparkling in snow like it was frosting. My friendly Dutch neighbor welcomed me then, a big guy with a knowing smile, and handed me beers as we waited for the housing service to provide me with a new set of keys. You were there as well, sitting on a chair too small for you (you were tall). You were wearing a blue t-shirt and a skinny light-blue scarf which you later told me was a man scarf. I wasn’t sure scarves had genders, but I shut up about it.

The first night on the town was also five years ago today, if I recall correctly. We all went to a random bar and spoke nothingness. Studies, jobs, plans. As I said, nothingness. I went out to smoke a cigarette and you came as well, wearing only your blue t-shirt and blue man scarf. I asked you, aren’t you fucking freezing? You said, actually, yes. Five years ago tomorrow we would be friends already. Five years ago and a few days, I was out on the balcony smoking a cigarette in the middle of the night. I couldn’t sleep; life abroad for the first time was too exciting. I was looking at the snow outside, falling, stopping, building new landscapes in the dark. There really wasn’t much else to look at. Some snow fell on my head and I looked up to see it was you, on your balcony. Sorry, you said. Later I would learn you did it on purpose, so that I would look up and see you. Why don’t we smoke on the same balcony?, I said. You said, actually, it makes way more sense.

It might sound as if cigarettes united us, and I can’t deny it. They united us like terrible things loaded with possibilities. Chances to ask for lighters, drags, smoking together, the whole lot. Chances to puff white clouds of smoke side by side in the middle of the night, in silence, while everybody else was fast asleep and we were awake, so awake, jolted awake by the palpable thrill that was being far far away, surrounded by snow, surrounded by strangers and foreign beers and man scarves, and cold air like knives on our cheeks. In those moments, we were so invincible. The moment when we were most invincible, I think, was when we walked on a frozen lake all the way to the little wooded island in the middle of it. I was so afraid the ice would crack and I would fall into the cold-ass water and drown. I almost wished we went back. But then we reached the little island and walked up the hill, and sat there looking at — you guessed it — more snow, but also ice, and stars. The city glowed in the background. It was beautiful. We probably smoked side by side in silence. Should we go back now?, you said after a while. And I said, not yet.

 

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