From the author: A brief moment of drunken love between two lost souls, with the world around them spinning unaware.
WhenI was in my twenties, I lived in a small studio apartment. I had no money to afford a real apartment. The studio was possibly less than five square meters. It was inside an old building in Parma, in the north of Italy. The building was in the middle of the Arab neighbourhood.
People would tell me, Don’t live there, it’s dangerous; as people fear everything that’s different, because what’s different pushes you to reconsider your truth, and no one wants to really know the truth.
The studio was built illegally out of plaster walls, in a small space which probably was a balcony on the stairs of the building. It only had one window, which wasn’t enough to light up the entire place properly but was handy enough to be closed shut, allowing me to develop my first black and white photographs, all in one room.
The entire house was a darkroom. There, I developed my soul.
The bathroom door was actually one and the same as the shower door – potentially, I had the chance of releasing myself and taking a shower at the same time. There were small, steep stairs to a mezzanine so close to the ceiling that I couldn’t stand straight – this was where I had the bed. I attached my favourite photographs to the dark, wooden beams built centuries earlier, and would look at them before sleeping and see them first thing after I opened my eyes, sometimes to the chant of the muezzin.
Because I was single and heartbroken, I was often drunk, and when you’re drunk and in your twenties you’re always looking for intercourse with the fairer sex. Sex is something you cannot avoid in life. Sex is something you might love, crave, loathe, despise, fear; but you cannot have simple feelings about sex. It’s something that crawls in your insides, always, and it’s only up to you to decide if you like and embrace that crawling, or if you want to get rid of it.
Sex is the eternal machine that set fire to the stars.
That city, Parma, and the whole region, always had a black aftertaste to them. Breathing felt like sucking from a rotten tit, stale milk that poisoned my soul. I couldn’t write anything back then. I couldn’t afford to open my heart to anyone. I was broken. So I would wander, at night, from pub to club and pub again, until it was morning and I would come back home with a glass of wine in my hand, walking in the streets at dawn, while people around me would go to work. I always dressed in black. I wonder what they were thinking of this dark-dressed, dark-haired, wine-filled walking dead.
I painted my hair black and wore black makeup under my eyes, to turn their gaze from my darkened heart.
I remember one of the nights, which could sum up all of the nights. I was in a club. I had a vodka tonic in my hand and more in my stomach. I always hated club music, but this one was good. It was some forgettable indie rock band, good enough to fill the air, yet not so good as to be remembered. The club was full of people dancing and sweating and hiding in dark corners. I went to the bathroom. There was a huge queue for the girl’s room, and strangely enough, a queue for the men’s room as well. I decided to use the accessible toilet. And I wasn’t the only one with that idea. I opened the door and there, in that piss-scented toilet, I saw her.
She wore her black skirt down with her white panties and was trying to balance herself – badly – on the toilet bowl, which already bore the marks and scars of a full night of humanity passing by. I couldn’t see her face, covered by her long dark hair, but could see everything else there was to see. She didn’t realise I was there, not immediately, not until she was almost falling down – toilet bowls are slippery – and as she was falling down, I let go of my drink and held her from falling. She didn’t say a word, and I didn’t say a word.
She reassessed her balance, helping herself with my body next to her. I held her hand while she finished her business, looking myself straight in the eyes with her wide, caramel coloured ones.
All I knew in that moment was beauty.
When the last drop fell from her body, we started laughing, because that is what we do when we share the same experience with someone. When we connect. Because after all you can love sex, despise sex, loathe sex, crave sex, but sex is nothing on its own, sex is just about connecting, just about feeling each other’s soul, just for a moment there, to know you’re not alone.
So we were laughing and she was already half-naked, and it became too easy to kiss each other, too easy to touch ourselves in that red painted bathroom which, for a moment, held a picture of us in the dim light, the reflection in the mirror, of two people loving each other. I wondered if everyone was like me, if everyone wanted an orgasm just to not think about death for a brief moment.
It was quick and dirty and tender and beautiful. She let out a moan, then two, then had to put her own hand on her mouth because people were outside the door and this moment was a secret which couldn’t be broken by a scream.
She finished and smiled, and moved her lips on myself. I came in her mouth. We exchanged another brief kiss, a smile, and she hinted without talking, I’ll go out first, wait five minutes, and you can go. The door closed on her beautiful legs.
I walked on the smashed glass which contained my drink towards the mirror. The reflection in there was now bare from the love it contained before. I lit up a cigarette and saw the violet smoke going up. When it was over, I hoped to find that girl outside again.
And I did. There she was, holding the arm of one of my acquaintances. He introduced me to her, his girlfriend, and me and her both said our names in murmurs, with the music covering our voices, which we only knew by moans – and we didn’t try to talk over the music because we were protecting a secret which couldn’t be broken by a scream.
So we never knew our names.
I left the club shortly after, and walked home with no glass of wine in my hand, and no heart in my chest.
I left Parma not much after this. I never woke up to the scream of a muezzin again.
This story originally appeared in Flash Fiction Online.