I’m holding on with uncertain hands.
Uncoiled from the arms of home, I look to the 20,000km ahead and allow an enigma to carry me onto the plane.
This move to Berlin feels like so many other lofty decisions I’ve made before. And even as I strap myself into the seat of the A380 airbus – even as we shoot up into the sky – I’m still not entirely sure…
I don’t have much cash, nor a job. And I don’t sprechen sie Deutsch. But I do have an imagination and an inclination for hope.
I’m to meet a man when I land.
We met three months ago. He’s a musician from home living in Berlin. Not for much longer though. I once saw him play the piano in a smoky local pub and his everything flawed me. He had dark features and enviable talent. I was certain he saw me through the smoggy light. I planned to ask him if he’d seen me too…
We first connected as many dreamers do. I messaged him; he messaged me back. A few small exchanges and vague plans to meet in Berlin soon morphed into something a little more. And more. Our digital love letters became a shared journal of our innermost worlds. This space, the words of two unknown lovers, was our solace – a quiet place for our worries and doubts, for our fears of the tangible lives that didn’t ever enter our realm.
We spoke on the phone once before I flew over. We arranged to meet. And I trembled. My friends, my family – they all urged me not to invent a story, yet I knew he would become one for me.
They told me, “what are you doing entangling yourself with a musician? You do realise his music will be the beginning and the end of his love for you.” He warned me of this too. That we would meet at the centre of our cross, before continuing in opposite directions.
But I don’t take well to being told, and this is my story, so it’ll go how I write it.
Berlin welcomes me with a homely embrace. Her air breathes restfully. The delicate autumn sun brushes the buildings that line the river bank where I sit.
Jet-lagged and hazy, I ease into my new home. All the foreign and familiar sensations of this place swirl around me in a tender dance.
I’m happy in this moment sitting at the precipice of possibility – at the intersection of what has been and what might yet become.
I hold it tight, as tightly as I can before it leaves me, as these moments inexorably do. And then it’s gone, and I’m left to wonder why we wait.
Why do we wait, and plan and give away our days, our months, our years for something so ephemeral? Even though we know, too well, that just like a train, she’s only passing through.
If this love story were an equation, my input versus output would never be worth the investment. Still, I’d splurge it all, all over again to feel how I do in these minutes before we meet.
We’d agreed to rendezvous on the grand cathedral steps. I get there early to see the entrance blocked by building works. I can’t reach it. Instead, I see him for the first time through two “Achtung!” signs telling me to “Steer Clear! Steer Clear!”
Just try me.
He emerges a little dishevelled with his dark brown mop and weary eyes.
What comes next is my Hollywood pitch. We pull out a map and pick a spontaneous route through Northern Italy. Lake Como, Verona, Venice, Milan. All are draped in superlative landscapes and sumptuous food. We fumble in Italian. We kiss. We have conversations that matter – the ones that challenge and reveal more than either expects. There’s a heavenly chemistry; there’s red wine.
I watch him from the amphitheatre steps meandering in the arena below. I spot him from across the Basilica studying the decorative walls. I lose him in the Duomo gardens. Then I lose my breath. I can’t bare for him to be gone. Soon he will be gone.
My entire life I’ve longed to be a part of this, of us, of our little story. It’s not possible.
I’m too overwhelmed by disappointment in myself, in the hopelessness that floods my thoughts and drowns our final moments together.
We argue. He reminds me that our dalliance was destined to be short and sweet, just like me. I try to be okay with that. I try to be like him, but we are not at all alike. It’s no use when he tells me he’s pleased to be here with me. I cannot believe him.
Before we part ways at Milan station, I ask him if he saw me through the smoggy light that night. He didn’t.
Am I brave? Yes. Am I a fool? Absolutely.
I’m a beautiful brave fool who risked a great deal for a story.
And though he doesn’t love me, how comforting it is to know that no matter far I’ve travelled from myself, however far I’ve gambled all that I am, even in spite of myself, despite all that has been, there I will always be.
And how lovely that it can never be any other way.
My train is pulling back into Berlin now. I’m back on the precipice. But this time, I’m holding tighter; I’m holding onto me.
If you would like to listen to this poem performed as part of an exquisite podcast for the restless heads and racing hearts, Night Light, visit:
Oh Nat, how breathtaking. I remember when this was going on. You certainly have a wistful way with words. Love it. x