Alex was my high school sweetheart. We met in kindergarten but it was only on my 16th birthday that he kissed me for the first time. That first magic moment gave birth to four years of a passionate and beautiful love. He was my king and I was his queen. We were an inspiration to all. Until that tragic afternoon… I knew that graduation could be a turning point for teenage couples but I blindly thought that our love would be stronger. I believed that we could overcome anything. We were going separate ways yes, but we still lived in the same town. Brussels was and always had been OUR town. We might not be sharing the same classrooms anymore but we could still be together in these streets we had wandered so often together.
Or so I thought…
Alex started as a freshman in Solvay the autumn that followed our June graduation. He wanted to make money and be respected he said. His bad boys ways were still very much a part of him but they now gave him more of a business shark aura than a James Dean one. We still went out partying and drinking in the evening but hanging out with the old gang was not like before. Jen had gone to London to become a chef. Oli was less available than before because he was working during the day and studying to become some kind of IT wizard at night. Last but not least, my sweet Debbie now commuted to Antwerp every day, which made her less available to join us given the fact that she usually got up when we were going to bed. We still went to our local hangout, “The Two Doves” bar, near the Place Sainte Catherine but our golden days were gone. Alex had become more and more distant to a point where he one day told me, on a grey Autumn afternoon, that he was ending it. It felt like I had fallen out of a 50-floor building…I just couldn’t believe it.
- “You don’t understand Alicia, you have no purpose in life” he had thrown this to my face after another one of our fights about me blaming him for being less available than before.
- I swallowed back my tears and answered : “Well you are my purpose Alex. Always have been, always will be…”
- “So what? You are waiting for me to impregnate you and will be waiting for me by the door every night with a warm meal on the table” he snorted.
- “Well I’m doing this office course in the Spring, I’m sure I’ll be able to get some kind of temping job after that…”
- “I don’t know Al…I thought you wanted more from life than that.”
- “More from life than you? How could that be possible” I asked in wonder.
- He had taken a deep breath, looking disappointed, and had said these last words very dryly: “I’m sorry Al, we’re over.”
He finished the glass of beer we had been sharing together and got up and left, leaving me sitting there alone at our favourite table. He didn’t even turn around as he saluted Colin, the bartender, on his way out.
The few weeks that followed where a total blur. I remember staying in bed for hours in the morning, barely emerging from my room at the beginning of the afternoon when my mother would bark at me from downstairs that if I was not going to help around the house then I might as well get a job until my course started in the Spring. She didn’t understand. No one did. My heart was broken but worst of all, my whole future was destroyed. How could I live without my Alex? I missed him so much. I tried calling him, writing him text messages but he didn’t answer. I’d wait for him in front of his building door but he was nowhere to be seen – it seemed he had disappeared for the surface of the planet. Desperate, I would make myself pretty and would wait for him every evening, sitting at our favourite table in “The Two Doves”. But he never showed up. Colin the bartender started giving me free drinks, probably out of pity for me. He sometimes stayed next to me, looking over my shoulder as if waiting for me to turn around and invite him to sit, or at least speak to him. I guess he wanted to help but I ignored him. I needed to concentrate on my pain and on Elvis Presley who was singing in my earphones. Elvis was our singer; his songs had been the soundtrack of our love story. Listening to his warm voice gave me the hope that things would go back to normal eventually and that Alex would come to his senses and come back to me. As sure as Elvis’ songs were here for ever, so was our love. One song in particular was set on repeat on my phone and I listened to it until every tear in my eyes had silently rolled onto my cheeks. Then I would get up and go home …reluctantly.
Shortly before New Year, I noticed three words spray-painted on the wall opposite the bar’s front door. A colourful graffiti marking the title of that very same Elvis song, the one that I was listening to on repeat. It couldn’t be a coincidence. It was our song, the one that was playing when we first kissed: “Devil in Disguise“. At once my heart started beating faster. It was Alex, giving me a sign. It could only be. I looked around, thinking he’d appear out of thin air, that I was saved…but he was nowhere to be seen. I walked back on my tracks and barged into the bar. At this late hour it was almost empty except for a few regulars sitting at the bar. Behind the counter, Colin studied me quietly. I dismissed his tentative for making eye contact and rushed back outside. That graffiti was like pure sunshine in my heart. I took a picture of it with my phone and went home almost skipping along the way, a wide smile across my face. I would come back to it first think tomorrow morning. That night was the best sleep I got in weeks…
- “You’re up early,” my mother said cheerfully the next morning.
I ate my cereals and nodded eagerly. A few minutes later I was out of the front door and on my way to “The Two Doves”. At this time of the day, the bar was of course closed but I wasn’t there for it. I went straight to the graffiti that, in the broad daylight, looked even more beautiful than the night before. I slipped my fingers over the coloured letters and noticed that a small word had been written below it. It said “Zinneke”. My heart skipped a beat as I understood it immediately. Pulling my phone out of my bag, I started walking and messaged Alex at the same time – three short words: “on my way”.
As I reached the corner where the statue of the dog best known as the “Zinneke” was placed, another “Devil in Disguise” graffiti was placed on the wall behind it. I approached it and found what I was hoping for. “Golden Lion” it said in small letters underneath it. I ran to the Place St Géry and found it again, this time spray-painted next to the entrance porch of the old post office. This time “Lucky Luke” was written beneath. It was a reference to the carton mural; I knew where it was. Wild with joy, I started running towards it, leaving my pain and sorrow behind me as I went. When I got there “Devil in Disguise” was waiting for me this time on the wall of the boarded up and dilapidated house to the right of the Lucky Luke mural. Below it, two words and an arrow pointing towards the old broken door “come in”.
I pushed it and got inside. All of a sudden, I felt someone push me brutally against the wall and the door was closed shut. I muttered “Alex what…” but already a hand was on my mouth, pinning me to the humid brickwork.
In the dim-lighted entrance hall I was shocked to see the face of Colin the bartender come out of the shadows. His mouth twisted in a sick grin as he whispered: “finally managed to get your attention did I?”
Outside, people were going on with their day, unaware of what was going on behind these walls. By lunchtime, Colin had made sure to erase all graffitis from the walls. The only thing that remained was my text message on Alex’s phone. If I had only known what I was on my way to.