No longer afraid of what? Well, read.
Linda stepped out of the front door, turned, and almost bumped into a man. “Sorry,” she murmured headphones on, not ready for a conversation. The man was moving his lips; he obviously was saying something, so she switched off the music and paid him attention.
“I know you!”
“You are the woman who comes out of the shower and walks around the apartment naked without curtains closed.”
They were in a narrow street of the Brussels neighbourhood Elsene. Behind the windows of three and four storey houses the lives of different people were going on. Linda liked to keep the windows naked to be able to have the contact with the surroundings. The two watching series again… A party of students preparing a dinner together… A man in boxer shorts on the phone splurged in a comfortable chair… Some scenes repeating themselves, many scenes repeating themselves. Even though, each moment is a new moment.
“Yes, and so?”
“You do not mind the whole Tulip Street see you naked?”
“The street has no sight, to start with. Then, I am on the third floor, so the show is mostly for pigeons, and they do not mind. At least, they never told me.”
“Well, apart from pigeons, inhabitants of 4 or 5 buildings on the 2nd 3rd and 4th floor are also involuntary spectators,” he said.
“They can choose not to look, obviously, or look and do whatever it inspires them to. And excuse me now, I must go.” Linda was heading to the Elsene ponds for her weekend run. In the morning, the smell of water and wet leaves was stronger than the habitual town smells of concrete, fuel, and iron.
“You are free to go. And to do whatever,” the neighbour granted her the freedom that she did not need to acquire from him. “Just, you do not have exactly the body to expose to the views,” he murmured. He did not mean to be mean; he did not understand the remark that had left his lips. However, it was out. Some devil had whispered it into his ear. Too late to take it back.
“Ah, bon? “You know what; I cannot be bothered less about what you think of my body. Or my soul. Or my…” She could not come to another layer to name.
“Yes, you are right, completely right. The comment slipped out against my will. Not me talking, a devil took charge. My name is Paul, by the way. May I offer you a drink?”
“A drink?” She was staring into his face.
“Not right now, some evening. I have already seen your naked body, so I will listen to your soul speaking.”
“We will see. But do not worry, apology accepted.” She switched the music on and hit the pavement for the run.
Coming back from the park and entering her street, Linda again thought of the morning encounter with the unknown man. She had left before he could concretize his offer of a date. The weekend went on without any follow-up. On Monday, she found a paper slip in her mailbox: Place F. Coq, Tuesday, 7 pm by the fountain. If it happens to be bad time for you, call me. Paul. 0485413472.
She was the only European living in the house, he must have guessed it was her by the name written on the box. But why? He saw her naked through the window and at the distance of about 10 meters and did not like her. Was it visible and obvious at such a distance? Tuesday is out of question that was her guitar class; she would not swap that for anything; not for an impolite, though quite honest stranger. How old would he be? Forty and something?
She did call him, and they finally agreed on Friday, 6 pm. It happened to be the first Friday of May. Cold and luminous, they sat on the terrace of a café keeping their coats on. They agreed on red wine and after a few minutes’ consultation with the waiter, Paul ordered a bottle of burgundy. At the first glass Linda asked:
“How can you judge a female body at the distance of several meters and several windows between?”
“Linda, I did not mean to be judgemental. The remark slipped out of my lips, and I do not know where it came from. You surely have pretty breasts, my observation.”
Linda was looking at his chin moving over the collar of a woollen jacket. He was right. The tits were the masterpiece of a plastic surgeon who virtually put her body together. A pair of tits more beautiful than that nature had originally granted her.
“What? You got ashen pale; did I say something wrong again?” Paul asked.
“No, no,” Linda assured him. “Only – for the past many years I have only discussed my body issues with women.” Wine was warming her stomach, and the wind suddenly calmed down leaving the evening balmy spring like. Okay, I perhaps can tell you. My therapist keeps suggesting that I once tell my story to a man.”
“The story from ten years ago. When I once played cards with the Universe. The game in which I was supposed to be the leader. In reality, I was submitting to the will of a stranger. I felt so much in power. It was an autumn night in my hometown. I was ready for an adventure. The last thing I remember is the glitter of his watch in the streetlight when he lifted his hand. I woke up in a hospital several weeks later.”
“He caused you injuries? Wanted to kill you?”
Linda shrugged her shoulders. “There is a long report that I have never read. The car or the man have never been found. The doctors have put my body together, virtually. The therapist pokes around in my mind every month. I am healed, and not. I am tired, so I run a lot. I do not sleep with men, as a rule.”
“Sorry,” Paul murmured.
“I got a job here five years ago and left my hometown. Never went back since. “
“I am glad you are telling me, that you are finally opening, but…”
“What but?” Linda interrupted him abruptly.
“Do not worry, Paul. I am not counting on you to be the one who saves me. The prince and eventually the king.”
“Oh, I am glad, because I would not know how to,” he was obviously relieved, and still nervous, subconsciously capturing the uneasiness in the air, the too-much-ness. After all, a first date with an unknown should be as light as a feather, bringing out the best and tradable of each persona.
“You know, my natural hair colour is golden-blond. The shade that sparks day and night, the shade that attracts. The biggest illusion men and women fall into. Now – “she took a dark brown lock between her fingers – “Never again. The first year after the accident I used to shave my head completely. It was a ritual, I did it in the shower once a week.”
“Oh, boy,” Paul emptied his glass in two galps and filled it up again.
“I lost the fear of death completely. And I feel as much alive as never before. I can stand at the edge of a cliff in a harsh wind and laugh to the thin air. No bully, no aggressor ever gets me shaking. They do not even try, feeling there is no use. What about you, Paul? What do you do in life?”
“Well, I am the program manager in a jazz club. The jazz club down the street, have you never been there?”
“Oh, yes, I have. Never seen you there.”
Paul´s hand around the wine glass was shaking a little. “Do you think the man who did it to you is still alive?”
“Perhaps. Most probably. You know what? I do not feel to be a victim, even though it must sound strange. It was me who led him on that night. I dared, he followed. Life is not black and white, there is a lot of redness in it. And blondness.” Linda finished the last drop from her glass. The sun was still up over the square.
“One more bottle? A dinner?” Paul asked. They both knew the answer was no. They both played the masked game of social encounters, only tonight the masks were not holding on so well, peeling and cracking. Linda knew it, and for Paul, this has been a completely new experience.
The waiter took the money and the empty bottle from the table. The chairs squeaked when they stood up and wished each other good night on a pale evening of Brussels spring.
If you want to know what had happened to Linda, ask for the story part I.