The house was going to be demolished. I had been there barely four months. Karl had suggested that I move there. He knew I was desperate to find somewhere to live. He said that a friend of his, Steve, was looking after a kind of boarding house only about half an hour’s walk from the town square where we all hung out. The house was almost hidden by tall pine trees at the end of a cul-de-sac. It was old and run down. The walls were cracked with paint peeling off, like the scars and wrinkles on an old, weathered face. It revealed more of its character when you entered it and went from room to room. The kitchen was my favorite; a bit decrepit, yet fully functional with an old gas oven and four stoves and with several shelves and a big pantry. For the last two months Caroline and I had spent many hours listening to music here in the kitchen. She brought her famous Hungarian coffee percolator from home that guaranteed to keep us awake.
Steve’s short visit to Mexico turned into a much longer stay. Vihasht, a Sri Lankan medical student, was the only boarder left in the house and he was getting ready to shift. He said that Steve had abandoned the house instead of being there collecting the rent and looking after it.
“I can’t just move there,” I said to Karl.
“Why not. It should be all right. I know Steve. I’ll explain to him when he gets back from Mexico. Steve and I go back a long way. Don’t worry,” Karl assured me.
“Okay. Thanks Karl. I owe you one.”
“Don’t mention it pal. Steve should be back soon. I’m sure you two will get along. You have a lot in common,” he winked and gave me the thumbs up. I had no idea what common ground he was thinking of.
I couldn’t believe my luck when I first visited the house. It was on a lovely street. It was huge. Sitting in its small garden many ideas to improve the house entered my head. Only after I moved there the owner revealed his plan for the house that I so tastefully renovated and decorated in my mind.
The first thing I did after moving out of Caroline’s small flat was to invite her over for dinner. I had to return some of the hospitality that Caroline in her tiny apartment showed me. The first half of the evening we both raved about the house and how big it was and imagined all the parties that I was going to have there. I didn’t want to be the party pooper but I had to tell her about the fate of the house too. Caroline stared at me through her round glasses.
“What’re you going to do?” she asked, looking more concerned than me.
“I don’t know. I didn’t think the place was going to be bulldozed when I moved in.
She pulled out a neatly rolled up cigarette from her grandmother’s engraved, silver cigarette box and lit it up and gave it to me.
There was a long pause in our conversation. I wanted to talk about her. I just couldn’t leave without telling her what I thought of her.
“When I saw you first I never would have guessed you were so mischievous,” I said.
“You look like someone who is vey studios, with your round glasses and quick, smart remarks,” I said.
“My appearance fools a lot of people I never got into trouble with my teachers at school. They never thought it was me who smoked in the schoolyard or wagged school. Mind you I always got top marks. But I also liked my smokes and beer and occasional unauthorized absence,” she said.
I laughed. “ Caroline! You were as bad as me, minus the top marks. My few good marks nosedived when I discovered girls,” I said.
“How did you score with that one?”
“Never consistent. Every girl was like a different subject – some as hard to understand as algebra.”
“They seem to like you over here. Some say you are from England, others South Africa or Spain?” she said.
“How come you never asked me that?”
I don’t really care much about people’s backgrounds. We don’t choose our friends because of their race or religion,” she answered.
“ I don’t think we even choose our friends. We just find ourselves hanging out with them,” I said.
“Maybe,” she said.
“Where did you learn your English?” she asked.
“Where was school?”
“Mum and dad travelled to Tehran during their hippy days. They went everywhere,” she said.
“When your mum and dad were holidaying in the Middle East, my mum and dad were driving through Europe in their Kombi,” I said.
We worked out it was the summer of the same year that our parents set out on their first overseas adventure, zigzagging through Europe and Asia.
“Where are they now?” she asked.
“Divorced, remarried and living in different towns as far away from each other as possible,” I said.
“Gosh, that’s the same as my parents,” Caroline remarked.
“Did you want to stay over here or go home?” I asked.
“I’ll stay over,” she answered.
“I put on some music to help us sleep better, any request?” I asked.
“Mellow jazz,” she said.
As we have done many times before I tried to hide the album cover from her so I could quiz her.
“Any idea what this track is – quick you have five seconds?” I started counting.
“Au Lait,” she answered.
“You hardly miss,” I told her.
I lit a cigarette and grabbed us a few pillows.
The mornings Caroline and I walked home we usually arrived no earlier than 3am and passed out around 6am. I stared at her face when she was asleep. She looked so complete, so whole when she had her eyes shut. When her eyelids moved rapidly I wondered what she was dreaming about.
“Are you sleep?” I asked her.
“Go on,” she answered.
“It’s been a great summer?” I said.
“Yes it has.”
I wished the summer never ended. Those warm, silky nights when we walked home and past and future momentarily drowned under the heavy scents of lilacs and roses.
“Did I ever tell you that you snore?” I teased her.
“Did I ever tell you that you sleepwalk? she told me.
“What do I do when I sleepwalk?” I asked her.
“You role a cigarette and smoke it,” she answered.
“I must be sleepwalking all the time,” I said.
“Just about,” she said.
The unbroken silence carried us on its back. I woke up before her and made some coffee and went and sat in the garden. The tall pine trees stood still. My body half covered in the cool shade; the rest under the harsh sun. I heard some classical music on someone’s radio in the distance somewhere. I wondered if music would have the same effect if I were the only person left alive on earth. It was a spooky idea. Terrified me. Caroline walked in the garden with a cigarette and coffee.
“When do you have to leave?” she asked.
“What are you going to do?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“I’ll find you a place,” she said.
“How?” I asked.
“I know people. I’ll make a few phone calls. Can’t be that hard, she said.
“We’re friends, right,” she said.
It even crossed my mind that maybe when our parents were hippies traveling the globe they had crossed paths. And one night after drinking and getting stoned they had fallen into each other’s bed. I asked Caroline about her dark eyebrows, but she takes after her grandfather.
“I need to run. My boyfriend is coming over soon,” Caroline said.
“Who’s he? How come I’ve never seen him,” I said.
“He doesn’t hang out with my friends,” she said.
“Wise guy,” I answered.
“He’s Dutch. Lives across the border in Amsterdam. He’s just moved in with me. Otherwise you could have moved back till you found somewhere to go. I’ll come over with Mark tomorrow. I may even have a new address for you,” she smiled and left the house.
It was Friday still no sign of Steve. Caroline and Mark dropped in.
“We’re waiting to hear from a few contacts. But you can move back in with me. Mark will stay with his parents’. I’m sure it won’t take long before you get your own place,” Caroline said.
“Thanks for the offer but I’ve decided to stay with a friend in Hamburg for a while,” I said.
“You got a friend there?” she asked.
“Yes. Can you look after my records and stereo? I replied.
“Yes, sure. But you’re coming back soon, aren’t you?” she said.
“I don’t know. I’ll see what Hamburg is like. I might stay there for a while,” I answered.
They helped put my records and stereo in the back of Mark’s car and gave me a lift to the railway station. Hamburg was a big city. If Caroline knew that I didn’t have somebody to stay with she wouldn’t have let me go.
On the platform I whispered into her ears, “I like him,”
“Yes, he’s nice,” she said.
“Okay that’s enough. If you too don’t stop whispering into each other’s ears I’ll be the one catching the train,” Mark said with a childlike expression on his face.
“Sie nicht so eifersuechtig. Cian und ich sind anders. Es ist nicht so wie du denkst. Er weiss es, er will uns nur aergern,” Caroline replied.
The train passed the small lake where Caroline and I swam during the summer. And the small hot spring resort by the river where we took mud baths, thinking our bodies would be cleansed of all the toxins we were pumping into them.
I rolled myself a cigarette. Did we speak the last few sentences in Persian? I was trusting my hazy mind less and less. Caroline knew only one word, berim. It helped us coordinate our departure from any unwanted or boring situation.
The half empty train purposefully sped past farmlands and villages. I was in no hurry to get anywhere.