It was almost just like home, but also not at all. The houses all had the same latte color, like a long thread of identical sandcastles shining in the sun. And I always found the right door without looking at the shiny house number sign. This was a year ago, but if I came back to that exact place today, I would still be able to make it to that door without checking the sign. I was a bit of a loner back then. I mean, I always was before that and in many ways I still am, but I had an urge to dig deep into that loneliness at that time. As if it was a shadow of a person, or the opposite of one, that had been tapping my shoulder for years and I finally picked up the courage to turn around and say “yes, how can I help you?”. Something like that. I would go for walks a lot and buy things I wasn’t sure what was until I got home and opened them or tasted them, which lead me to find a dark cider-like drink that tasted like magic and made me feel a bit magical too.
This was the summer when I, for two reasons, realized how much language can matter, and how important the lack of language can actually be, too. First of all, I would never have bought that dark cider if I had known what it was. I would have thought something like “I don’t know if I like that” and walked on with my little shopping basket and bought something boring that I had already tasted a million times before. Secondly, I never would have experienced such a connection with another person that I had with him.
We met one night when I was sitting on a bench, enjoying the silence and my own company mixed with a lovely view and some fresh air. The centre of the city was down there in the valley in front of me, looking like a bathtub filled with water and floating, sparkling candles. He sat down next to me, this man, and said something. I figured it was a question since he didn’t look away after I’d smiled at him for a while, so I shook my head horizontally while lifting my shoulders and eyebrows. He looked at my mouth as if he was waiting for something in his mother tongue to come out of it, I could tell, but I didn’t speak it. The few words I knew were words I couldn’t fit into this situation without making him even more confused. He put his hand in a bag he had on his lap and searched around for something, but the hand came back up empty. He lay his hands flat on the pockets of his pants and leaned back to pull something out of the right one. It was a lighter. He said something again, grabbed a packet of cigarettes from his bag and lit one as I mentally took “fresh air” off the list of things I was trying to achieve. I looked away and sensed that he was looking straight at me, so I looked back at him, but he managed to look away as soon as I did. And then he smiled. One of those smiles that just happen and you don’t really want them to because they reveal too much softness, but at the same time hiding them looks too awkward. This smile made me think of him as a warm person, though also a stranger. A warm stranger.
He kept sitting next to me for a long time that night and I didn’t get up either. Looking back on it it could probably have been dangerous if he was, but I didn’t feel like that was the case. The air smelled like honey and the planes above our heads took turns to drown out the crickets. When I got goosebumps, he put his jacket over my shoulders. It was basil green and soft on the inside and it smelled like a mixture of cigarettes and Sauvage by Dior. A woody kind of smell. It was both good and bad. He drove me home that night, which could also have been dangerous if he was. The entire drive consisted of left or right gestures and me pointing to my house when we were there. I didn’t realize that I was still wearing his jacket until I threw it on my couch. He came back four days later to pick it up, which in my opinion was three days too late, because don’t people need their jackets? Maybe he had plenty more at home. For all I knew, he could have been a rich businessman who was just out to enjoy the silence that night. I couldn’t tell if his car was an expensive one or not, and what did it matter when I didn’t know if it was his anyway. When he knocked on my door and I opened it to see him, I held up my index finger and let him wait there while I got his jacket. He smiled when I handed it to him and I said “thanks for letting me borrow your jacket” and he said something I didn’t understand. And then we just stood there for a really long time and it almost felt like he was inviting himself to come into my home by not leaving. And under other circumstances I would have just closed the door, you know. In this case I just chose to stretch my arm in the direction of my living room as an invitation, and he took it.
He put his jacket exactly where I put it four nights before that. I poured him a glass of my favourite, dark cider and he looked just like I did the first time I tasted it; a little skeptical at first, then positively surprised. He started talking and talking and I rested my face in the palm of my hand and looked at him. The way he used his hands when talking, pointing at things that weren’t there. Lifting and lowering his shoulders. Looking around the room in between sentences. Sometimes I would throw in a few sentences myself, like “I’m starting to feel a little drunk” or “the sunset looks really beautiful tonight” and he let me finish my sentences every time. Like he knew what I was saying, but if he did he would have said something back that I understood, I’m sure. He picked up a cigarette, held it up next to his head and looked at me with lifted eyebrows. I pointed to the balcony. He looked at it, then back at me and smiled, grabbed his jacket and walked out there. I followed him with my glass in one hand and his in the other to hand it to him.
My head was spinning a little bit and the fresh air felt like a cold hug. As we stood next to each other I started talking to him because he had gotten very quiet, all of a sudden. “It’s weird that I don’t understand anything you say”, I said. “Like literally, not a word… You could be saying the most horrible things and I wouldn’t even know, I would still look at you and think about how pretty you are, isn’t that hysterical?” I laughed. He laughed too. I think that’s when I started feeling something for him that I couldn’t explain, because I knew his laugh was an automatic response to mine. He wasn’t laughing at anything funny, he just mirrored me. I guess I would have done the same, but it was still sweet. The black dot in his left eye was sweet, too.
He came back a lot that summer and we spent all of our nights together at my place and I ended up feeling connected to him in a way that I had never felt with anyone else. Maybe it was because he was the only person I really got involved with that summer, but I’d like to think it was something more than that. It was as if the lack of spoken language made a lot of room for other ways of communicating, so I think I knew each and every one of his facial expressions by heart. Where his skin wrinkled softly when he smiled. I never found out what he did for a living and if he was rich or not. Sometimes he would bring food or flowers, but he never got me any expensive gifts. Or gifts at all. I really enjoyed that part of not feeling like I had to give something back that I couldn’t. We just liked being together and sometimes when I talked to him I ended up telling him things I had never told anyone before because I had always been afraid of being left or judged if I had. And telling him these things made me feel so much closer to him even though I knew he didn’t understand them — and if he had, I never would have said them.
Sometimes he would connect his phone to my loudspeakers and put on a playlist full of music I had never heard before, but one of the songs became my favourite. I would scroll through his phone to find it ten times in a night and by the end of August I was singing along to it with him and he couldn’t stop laughing because I was probably pronouncing everything horribly wrong, but I was feeling the song in my soul and I was feeling a little silly too, so I couldn’t help it. I never found it hard to figure out what he wanted, because there were no words of his that I could overanalyse as I always did with every other guy. I just looked at him and at his body language and he looked at mine too. It was different from being at a bar back home and not being able to hear what the other person was saying and then suddenly having to push them away when they were trying to kiss you out of nowhere. This was more careful and about making sure that the other person was also headed in the same direction. Baby steps towards each other to make sure they were also trying to get closer to you. Now we both knew that it had to end when I was leaving, which I managed to communicate to him on the first night using translating tools and going through a lot of misunderstandings. We both knew that whatever we had was something that didn’t have to last, but it was very pure and it taught me that there are other ways to speak than with words. And that these other ways of communicating are also very important in our relationships to other people.