It was hopeless. He needed to stop every time he heard a bandoneon being played. He was hopeless but so was she. She held a charm over dogs. Every time she passed by a dog, it would inevitably follow her wherever she went and she would have to resort to improvised evasion tactics to get rid of it. They both happened to be hopelessly rambling in a pedestrian passageway in front of the train station when the sky suddenly released all its pent up emotions on the innocent passersby.
She’d been stranded there while fleeing a dog that had appeared out of nowhere when she was exiting the shopping center beside the train station. People had stood by with no sign of commiseration, thinking that she was trying to abandon a dog in a public place. For some strange reason that dog didn’t know how to take the stairs or it just didn’t bother to follow her into that passageway. She’d planned on simply going out from the other exit, but she saw the deluge starting and she didn’t have an umbrella. She thought of going back to the shopping center, as everyone else without an umbrella was doing, but the thought of that shaggy dog sniffing her intimate parts deterred her.
He’d just gone out from work and was going home when an odd thing happened. He heard at first but couldn’t believe his ears. He’d never seen a bandoneon in Poland before, except for the few tango soirees he’d been to. But in the street, being used to play pop songs, never. He stopped in front of that irreverent man stretching and compressing the bellows of the instrument to play trivial songs that echoed through the whole passageway. However bad the performer’s taste in music was, his taste in instruments was exquisite. That bandoneon bellowed as if possessed by a irredeemable nostalgia for his native Germany. He was drawn towards the place where the sound was coming from and when he got there he couldn’t take his eyes off the man’s fingers. The spatter outside became louder and louder, but he didn’t have ears for it, only for the harrowing noise coming out of that German torture machine. But the agony ended and the instrument at last gave its last breath. He suddenly found himself alone in a passageway. He looked around and saw the waterfall at the staircase. Then he walked around and saw a woman standing near the other exist. Her beauty reminded him of her ex-girlfriend, though she was completely different. He came back to the musician and started talking to him:
-Can I ask you something? It’s about a girl.
-Shoot. I’m all ears.
-I can’t help being in love with her. She burrows through my soul with her incisive observations. It’s so pernicious, with deliberate malice, but still, so truth, so real. I feel I haven’t lived before and I can’t go on living without her.
-The truth, you say. But what’s that but opinion? And what’s life but survival? How many times have I lost my heart and how many others I’ve recovered it? Happiness is warmth, not fire; it’s company, not inquisition. You’ve crossed the line of decorum from which there’s no turning back. You’ve become siblings now, too close, too intimate to allow for any romance. It’s a common mistake to think that intimacy is romantic. It’s not; it smothers romance. Once you’ve known too much about each other, and there are no secrets left, there’s just familiarity, no more attraction. There is a limit to communion and once you’ve trespassed on someone else’s intimacy, the communion breaks. It’s just as atoms: They attract each other but they can never become one; their fusion can only create a sudden explosion followed by the annihilation of the two separate entities. They will never be a whole in themselves anymore and will wander as free radicals, trying to pair themselves up. They don’t need challenge but acquiescence. They don’t need stimulation but understanding.
-I didn’t know you were a nuclear physicist- He said, joking, but he immediately went back to where he’d seen the woman. She was still there. This time she was looking in his direction and she acknowledged his presence with a glance followed by the customary aversion of her eyes. Her eyes fell on a grafitti on the wall; it said: “Lech, kurwa,” in green fluorescent color. She thought of the shamelessness and courage of the people who grafitti walls with such messages, which was equivalent to the attitude of this man who kept staring at her, breaking the convention of public behavior. Her eyes fleeted past his once more and they there were still, fixed on hers. The worst part was that he just stared at her, as if giving her a cue to say or do something. But nothing came to her mind. Were she less shy and ruder, she would’ve said something like: “What are you looking at?” or she would’ve just waltzed away. But she felt he needed something from her; after all, he was just a man stranded in a passageway with her. Maybe he had somewhere to be right now. Maybe he needed a phone to let his wife know he’d be late for dinner. But for the love of Christ, she couldn’t muster up the courage to offer her help. What if he was just staring, finding amusement in her face while the rain stopped. He didn’t look concerned or in a hurry. He was rather contemplative. By now she realized, to her horror, that she was staring at him too. Their eyes had been locked for a while now, but she’d been so lost in thoughts that she hadn’t realized it. She averted her eyes violently, to violently. Now she felt childish, hysterical, just like the Latin-american soap operas she used to watch when she was a young girl. The heroine would tease the male protagonist with her playful glances and then run avert him coyly. She’d grown out of those flirtatious fantasies and she’d chosen a real, honest approach to her encounters with the opposite sex. She’d already stared at him, so there was no reason to keep playing the role of the shy girl any longer. She raised her eyes towards him again, and she felt the blood rush up to her face this time.
He made a few steps forward. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you,” he said at last, as if he’d been playing a chicken game with her, which she had just lost. She felt even more embarrassed now, just as if she’d farted and he’d said: “Don’t worry, it doesn’t smell that bad.” She felt played and stupid and this gave her the courage to say: “What the hell are you looking at me for? Do you see a joke gratified on my face?” but she immediately regretted her own rudeness, but specially the lack of poignancy in her words. She wasn’t good at sarcasm, and now she was positively scared that he would burst out laughing, making a complete fool of her. She felt tears swelling up in her eyes, ready to precipitate as soon as he delivered his coup de grace. Whatever mordant remark from him would have done the trick, since she’d admittedly made a real bad move. “I’m sorry,” he repeated, “for my tardy behavior. I meant to come up to you and say Hi, I’m Łukasz. But all along I’ve had to drag this overwhelmingly heavy fear grabbing at my feet.”
Her tears were reabsorbed by her conjunctiva since they were no longer necessary to achieve relief. “I’m Lena,” she said. “I’m sorry for being uncordial.”
“Lena,” he said. “do you have any plans for when the rain stops?”
“I was just heading home for a shower and some film,” she said.
“Well, if you’re not in a hurry, we could get to know each other, fall in love, have some children and then maybe, when I gain more confidence, I can invite myself to watch that film with you.”
“I’m not in a hurry,” she said. And they stood there, hopelessly, in the passageway, while the rain poured down outside.