17.39. I’ve known him for exactly three days, 17 hours and 34 minutes. I try to calculate the exact amount of hours this would mount up to but fail. Hours always sound more impressive. As long as they go beyond the number 48. He’s standing in front of me, frying up an improvised risotto using whatever leftovers are available. It doesn’t amount to much, but it’s either that or a large pack of M&M’s. I casually pop a yellow, chocolate coated peanut, offering him one too. He shrugs, says he doesn’t like them.
“So why did you buy them?” I ask.
He leaves it at that. My imagination is running wild and after a pregnant pause I can’t hold back.
“So who did?”
“A girl I met some time ago.” “They’ve been there for ages” he adds.
I wish I never brought up the subject. My head is filled with questions. He asks me to open a bottle of wine, and I’m relieved to be provided with such simple, yet effective distraction. I pour a glass, watching it condense in the heat. A drop of water forms and runs slowly down the stem of the glass to be united with its base and eventually the table. I pour a second glass, this time for myself, and place it on an already existing wine stain. The glass fits the red circle perfectly on an otherwise smudged, stained and burnt dining room table. It’s some cheap wood. Not the solid oak we have at home.
He picks up the glass and propose a toast.
“To lovers” I am quick to counter. He waits for a moment and smiles.
His voice is deep, dark, with an undetermined accent. Eastern Europe, maybe Balkan. He doesn’t want to say. It’s another part of the illusion that goes by the name of Milan. Like the football team. I haven’t met any of his friends, although he gets frequent calls (always in English). All his books are in English too, ranging from Paolo Coelho, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Arturo Pérez-Reverte and Umberto Eco to John Connolly and Jeffery Deaver. They say you can tell the person by his choice of reading. If so we must be soulmates….
The apartment is spartan. A couch and two armchairs made out of bamboo, a TV on a small glass table, a dining room table, doubling as an iron board (hence a number of burn marks), three functional chairs, one broken one and a rocking chair. All in the same cheap bamboo material. Someone either had very little money, or very poor taste. Probably both. Which is in fact neither…
The bedroom is even less furnished. A queen-size mattress, slightly alleviated on some sort of frame. Similar design to an IKEA bed I seem to recall. A computer table hosting a an old desktop PC, and a standing lamp. The mattress is clad with a single sheet, roughly draped over three quarters of the surface.
There are two big fans, one in the living room and another in the bedroom. A third, smaller one stands unplugged at the entrance. I presume it to be broken.
Milan announces that the risotto is ready. He places my plate on the table.
“Can I sit here?” I not so much ask but presume it to be a wish instantly granted. The rocking chair keeps my nerves at bay as I continuously puff on a Dunhill Menthol. He offers me the plate and I kill the cigarette, stomping it out on a makeshift ashtray.
Food is delicious. I add it to a growing list of positive attributes of my new-found lover, and against an equally diminishing one of my fiance at home. I quickly dispel any thoughts of him. It will ruin a beautiful moment. Like in a film. And as ‘All I Want’, by Air comes on the speakers, the scene is complete.
“I want you.” I say.
“But you are getting married.”
“Fuck the wedding, fuck marriage. I want you.” I say this almost pleadingly, as to make a poignant statement of no return.
He turns away, cleaning up a dishevelled kitchen table. Haphazardly shovelling empty cigarette packs and a stack of bills that are way past their due date. I look at the new composition, for a moment an improvised still-life, before he puts down a steaming plate of risotto and drench it with HP sauce. It appears to be making a blunt statement of what may become my future. Or not. I weigh my options whilst fiddling with my fork, pushing around grains of rice and crumbles of minced meat, until they’ve been rearranged into a circle. Hunger becomes a secondary concern. Tomorrow I’m suppose to be on a plane home. A mental note to self I must send off that post card to John…