Patrick and I were sitting in the kitchen. I was smoking. When I finished we switched spots so he could get closer to the window since he wanted to smoke now. His hair was beginning to fall forward over his broad forehead and he looked serious as he sat in the window in his black blazer and navy shirt. We were talking about ayurvedic diets and about the people we had met at the party, which was dwindling down to just a few people, a small get together on an early spring Sunday night. I didn’t have work the next day, obviously, but I could still feel the languid Sunday feeling set in. Pierra had left and it was getting close to closing time. I said, “Sometimes I just get so sad, meeting people like Aurora and Fungi and knowing we could never see them again. It’s like the cherry blossoms or that tree (the tree had been budding in the sunlight under the church steeple and it was incredibly beautiful, but I seemed to be the only one who saw its aura) it’s all so transient…But at least I have the memory. That’s like the second layer of happiness, the memory, and it fades into a sweet sadness…”
He smiled and repeated, “Sweet sadness.” I knew our conversation was over. I stood for the bathroom; it was time to leave.
I met Fungi the other night at the poetry slam. After she made room for us and read some of her poems, she asked me in German if I liked her work, then in English when I told her I didn’t speak German. She rap battles, travels to Marseille and New York and London. She told Pierra and me her life story, about how her Vietnamese family came here after the war to make money but when the Wall fell the Germans told all the foreigners to go home except the skills her family learned were worthless in their third-world country. They stayed selling illegal cigarettes in the street to finally save up enough money to buy a shop so they can work inside and now Fungi lives here happily and reads at poetry slams. Her poem was about farts and people seemed to like it; I didn’t understand any of it, but Fungi told me it wasn’t supposed to be funny; farts are serious, and I agreed.
When she invited us to her house on Sunday I told her with all sincerity she would see me there, and she looked at me penetratingly to see if I were going to come. Later, when we were sitting in a circle on her bedroom floor I told her I hate people who say they’re going to do something and don’t do it and she agreed. “They’re lying to themselves,” she said and I thought the truth in this, and how my friend said he’s going to start a magazine, but I’m pretty sure he won’t because he’s always saying he’s going to do ambitious things that sound great and he never does any of them, and is lying to himself because maybe he doesn’t really know himself.
I felt special when I arrived because not only was Fungi exuberant about seeing Pierra and me, but we got to talking in the kitchen after she offered us couscous with potatoes and peppers and a delicious yogurt sauce and olives, the pit of one I cracked, never done that before… And I was hungry, had been this close to ordering a shawarma on the way but feeling reserved because we were traveling in a group of five and I didn’t want everyone to have to wait for me to get a shawarma– I’m working on my selfishness. Fungi lives in an apartment building with high ceilings and three bedrooms, and an old bathroom with a weird window above the toilet recessed about eight feet deep. When she first moved in about six months ago she had to interview, then all her roommates moved out and now she’s the apartment O.G.
She’s the weirdest person I’ve met in a while; everything she said was entirely new. She told me about a dream she had the other night in which a 300 kilogram woman tied her to a bed and approached her with a church bell shaped clitoris, big enough to box, or fry and feed a starving family of six, and then how she had been forced to love this woman. Then we talked about how her left tit is beginning to sag but her right is still good; you can tell the sagginess by placing a pencil underneath the breast and seeing if it stays–if it does, it’s a sagger, and if it doesn’t it’s good. Hers are racing to the ground, to make her insectlike, by giving her two more appendages.
I brought my second plate of couscous into the bedroom where everyone was sitting. All this rich newness was only getting better– an Italian girl in orange glasses used English in ways I had never heard before, so that when describing the humidity in her Venetian home she said when she wakes up in the morning the windows are crying. And when Pierra spilled some couscous she called it a couscous shower.
I met a robotics programmer, a 23 year old PhD candidate, who handed me a book of photos by Nan Goldin. At one point a silence passed, a long silence, perhaps thirty seconds, during which we all made eye contact and had nothing to say. I turned to Pierra and quietly noted that there were no alcohol or drugs. Fungi refused the beer I brought because she doesn’t drink and her friends I suppose thought it was still too early. I was still high from my espresso.
Then Fungi came in and I saw her photography portfolio which had a picture of a female butcher with a large cyst on her chin, some well-assembled still lifes and landscape photos. She asked me something, Patrick said I have Santa eyes, I told everyone I’m 23 to gasps and laughter and then I attributed it to the beard, which is getting long. We laughed, people stood to leave, the buzzer signaled new guests.
Patrick brought up Schopenhauer and we started talking about happiness and dancing through life and pretty soon it was just me and Patrick and Aurora, the Italian girl, who said that happiness stays in simple things. Then we brought out the guitar and she sang Neutral Milk Hotel and Grizzly Bear and Florence and the Machine, and Patrick sang the Magnetic Fields and strummed while he told us the story of Mississippi John Hurt, how Steven Grossman from the Library of Congress found him pumping gas in Mississippi and brought him to the Newport Folk Festival, and then he sang us “Let the Mermaids Flirt With Me.” I poorly sang “T for Texas,” and couldn’t remember the lyrics to the other songs I used to know but Aurora was really good, so good that when she needed a capo I held my bracelet taut over the guitar neck for her. It was beautiful that we didn’t know each other a few days ago and had just happened to come into each other’s lives and were now playing music together as the afternoon grew into evening and we didn’t want or care for anyone else at the party because we had each other and the music. I looked out through the window and grew happy and became conscious of being happy, which Schopenhauer would say was just a feeling of negative pain, but which I believe was real and felt as deeply by me as it was by Aurora and Patrick, even though they mayn’t have been conscious of it.
It was five o’clock and my body was craving alcohol after how I’d been treating it over the weekend. So when I came out of the bathroom, about to get a beer, I was not expecting Fungi to ask concernedly if I had pooped. I hadn’t but I thanked her for her concern. She picked up a shoe from the pile on the floor, her ex-boyfriend’s, size 16. It was like a souvenir from loving a 2.10 meter tall man. We went back into the bedroom. My attention was dragged away from the guitar in part because Patrick was beginning to look a little glossily into Aurora’s eyes, and she had said she was leaving soon, and a ponytailed man was asking Pierra on my left about who would win the presidential election. I had to interrupt.
He was drinking a beer and I offered him a Berliner Kindl, which was the best they had at the spati (Berliner for bodega). He said at least it was a beer. I asked him why all the Berlin beers are so bad. The water. There are only two little rivers nearby, and he’s a water engineer and a PhD candidate, so he knows. Fungi’s boyfriend, who I didn’t meet, was pulling paper cards from underneath balls without them rolling off the table. He tried with an upside down Coke bottle but the bottle somersaulted. I went back into the kitchen after Aurora left and Patrick joined. We were hungry, and ate some couscous and cake. He’s a vegetarian and always brings food with him because you never know. He was uneasy about eating his hardboiled egg but I assured him the cigarette smoke would overpower it.
I told him I’d been thinking about discipline and going into the woods and maybe even becoming a vegetarian, even though when he suggested I try not eating meat for a month I shuddered and thought about all the delicious lamb I’d miss in India. “I think I’ll wait until I’m back in a stable living environment,” I said. Then Pierra came in and said she was leaving and didn’t expect us to join her. Cute kid, Pierra, nineteen years old, yet the way she makes eye contact shows she’s wise beyond her years.
So it was just me and Patrick. He’d really grown on me since my first impression of him, when he told me he’s applying to master’s programs for “visual anthropology,” or documentaries, and I had thought him somewhat pretentious in his nice brown scarf, black blazer and navy shirt with black and white turned up houndstooth cuffs while lamenting how he found H&M’s clothing to be exactly what he wanted, which meant it would also be seen on people who didn’t know how to dress. And it occurred to me that I’m leaving for Poland the next day and Patrick’s leaving early in the morning and we wouldn’t hang out together in Berlin again, and that our time spent talking till four in the morning the night before and the night before that when we made a nice little spinach, eggplant pepper and rice dinner and our afternoon with Aurora playing guitar, all of Fungi’s party even– it was all over, and had been so short, so fleeting, which is also what had made it so good, and knowing this, that I’d probably never see Aurora or Fungi or even Patrick again, unless fate brought us together, and now I only have the memories of our time together in Berlin, and how good it had been– this knowledge flooded me with a deep sweet sadness.
It was a great pleasure meeting you, Daniel.
Take care on your journey!
(the robotics guy – who is actually 24, not 23)
It was great meeting you too! Thanks. Call me when you’re in New York!