Zoe was standing in front of the full size mirror in the hall downstairs, putting on lipstick while thinking of the list she had written down the other morning.
Soft, coloured light was coming through the stain-glass front door and from the alcove above the entrance, enough light, so that she could distinguish among many subtle shades of her complexion, eyes, and hair and clothes – the visible parts constituting Zoe. Tiny specks of dust were swirling around her in a sort of a halo. The list! It was the list of things that should make her content, if not happy, with her new life in Brussels. Nevertheless, the words in blue ink that she wrote on an innocent white paper were burning a hole in her mind. The words left the paper and jumped into her head where they were hopping and bouncing ever since. A few innocent bullet-pointed English sentences telling a part of the whole truth, went like these: “I have:
- A good and supportive boyfriend
- Free time to be filled with whatever I feel like, whatever the Universe wants me to offer to the World
- No financial stress
- Good health and good looks. Fullstop.”
In her mental brackets, the words were developing into disturbing thoughts: The need to put an existence of a supportive boyfriend in first place showed Zoe was much less independent than she would think? And ashamed of it? The free time was something that her friends in the U.S.A. could only dream of – with their long office or teaching hours, weekends were barely long enough to catch up on housework, grooming and a bit of social life. What her friends didn´t know was: how difficult it can get to fill the handfuls of time with a worthwhile activity. How bad one feels after a day one didn´t manage to spend gracefully. And – what does the Universe want her, Zoe, to do? To draw, paint, teach or bear children? Does the Universe care for anything she might offer, anyway? No financial stress was an illusion – if their relationship didn´t work out well, she would need to act swiftly and join the troops of white collars. Wouldn´t it be the best thing, anyway? The end of leisure, hesitation, blues, isolation…
Lipstick successfully on, Zoe forced herself to stop the mind brackets evolving endlessly and concentrated on the now and here: Eleven twenty at the latest, she had to leave the house in order to walk to the Central Station in time. Mary-Ann´s train from Paris was arriving at 12.05. Zoe would walk there, and they could take a bus or a taxi on the way back, depending on how big Mary-Ann´s suitcase would be. It was Zoe´s friend’s first visit to see her in Brussels.
Outside a fine September mid-morning was on, the weather could stay dry and sunny for the few days with her visitor, hoped Zoe. Mary-Ann´s was coming to see her, though she had her own reason, too. Married recently to Greg, being both teachers, they were thinking of coming to spend a few years in Europe before deciding to set up a family. Greg was seeing a couple of friends in Paris about the prospects, and Mary-Ann decided to pay a visit to Zoe.
Zoe put on a light blue jacket and white sneakers, picked up her purse, checked that her mobile and wallet was in, and stood in front of the mirror again: the lipstick was quite a vibrant shade of red, contrasting with the pale blue eyes and the jacket of a similar color. Maybe a too striking contrast… She decided to keep it on, took a ring of keys from an earthenware plate, looked at her wristwatch again, realized she was early, stepped out of the house and locked the door behind her. The street was better than the inside of the house.
She walked down Chaussée de Wavre, quite empty at this time of the day, crossed the Place Jourdan with its much more passers-by, towards the glorious European Parliament square screaming its messages from posters and banners all around. She didn´t pay much attention to them and continued to the Art Loi and towards the Parc Royal. It was quite a walk, but Zoe had the habit of walking as much as possible. It was a good form of exercise, a good way to let the time pass, a good chance to get acquainted with the town. She had a good half an hour to get to the Central Station. A bit of blush in her cheeks would mean a nice welcome face to Mary-Ann. Immediately, Zoe thought she was not a good promotion of a thrill called “expat experience”. We mirror each other, what will Mary-Ann see in her? Zoe was eager to receive her first guest, a bit nervous, as well, but that was a normal stage fever. Especially, after this first lonely summer in this funky town.
She arrived ten minutes before noon, entered the station from the square, oblivious to the beggars with their dogs, to the strangers with their luggage and their invisible mental brackets… Her mood was unconsciously lifted by a more pleasant mixture of smells than the urine and bitumen outside: here it was coffee and bagels, iron and a confusion of passengers´ perfumes. Zoe smiled under her nose: it´s enough to walk, to see people, to stay active, and the depression can never put its claw on her… She stood in front of the board announcing the arrivals. The train should arrive on time, Mary-Ann had texted her earlier that all was going according to the plans, but… A fraction of a second before she actually read the board, Zoe knew she had come to the wrong place. A single thought took all her mind space: She has screwed it up! Zoe felt hot and cold and slowly accepting the reality: Yes, it was her mistake. The train would never appear on the board, the train from Paris would come – in less than fifteen minutes – to the Gare du Midi. She would be late to meet her first visitor. A moment later Zoe calmed herself: Not such a big deal, enough to text Mary-Ann and tell her to wait for her in the other station – outside the Thalys Train area. She might be a few minutes late; Tant pis! A favorite exclamation of her French teacher. She took out the phone: ashamed, still a bit confused. She knew it was Midi Station, how could she stupidly walk all the way here? She had so few things to see to, and couldn´t do them properly. Was she losing her… mind? Fingers cold, she started looking in her phone for Mary-Ann´s recently used number and she heard her friend´s Hello? in a couple of seconds: “Welcome to the town – almost, Mary-Ann. Please, wait there where you arrive. The station is rather big. And I am almost there, too.”