Passing by the park, I heard him call his second dog twice, but she didn’t hear, so I told him it’s probably the wind – down the hill, where the dog was sniffing the grass, you can’t hear much. He smiled, thanked and asked if I was Dutch (‘cause, apparently, I sound Dutch, especially to older, British natives: he wasn’t the first one to assume so). He praised my language skills and complained about his inexistent ones: he was so unlike his wife, who speaks excellent French. The way he talked about their trip to Paris was telling me more than he would probably be comfortable sharing with a complete stranger. The spark in his eye, the pride in his voice, the smile that spread all over his face – they, French people, they took her for a native and only he, always so terrible with languages, gave her away with his thick, British accent! When I left him and his two golden dogs behind on the dump grass under the slowly darkening skies, I thought I want to grow old just like him. I want to be that content about going out with my dogs and chatting about my partner to pleasantly looking passers-by. I want my eyes to spark so bright and my voice to be so calm. So unlike it is now.
He needed a pen to sign his food and seeing that I was writing, asked me what it is. Long time ago he also wrote a diary. Hasn’t everyone tried it at some point in their lives? This year he got a sketch book, sort of like journal, where he was supposed to sketch something every single day for the whole year round. He got really into it. But then his grandma fell terminally ill (he didn’t even say, but I figured she didn’t pull it through this time) and he stopped. Both sketching and travelling. When he came back to the latter, he was not sure about the former – it seemed like it wouldn’t make much sense now, when half of the book is empty. He knew he couldn’t and wouldn’t sketch backwards. But eventually he did come back to it, slowly, carefully, almost bashfully sketching something new day by day. The empty pages remained there, sitting silently, remembering that time. He asked me then if I heard about this bold theory that words are the only real power that people can obtain in this world. That words can truly enchant. Curse, compel, charm. Of course I did. Whoever came up with that idea first was not the only one – I’m pretty sure this belief crystalizes in every writer’s mind. For him, it became the only magic he could believe in. The magic of words.
With an hour to kill, I came back to the hostel to make myself a cup of tea, as it was cold outside and my nose was starting to run. He was sitting next to the electric kettle, on the very uncomfortable, wooden bar-stool, using the only available and working socket to charge his broken iPhone. He apologized for taking so much room and complained about the shitty charger that won’t work in his room. Five minutes later we were talking about toxic relationships and people who can’t be helped until they decide to help themselves. I was about to explain to him my then-new theory about two kinds of people (active and passive), but he managed to mention it first. I didn’t know his name but it felt as if we were closest friends, effortlessly reading each other minds. My tea was long finished and the meeting I was about to attend started ten minutes ago, but I still didn’t feel like wrapping up that conversation. I was more tempted to make myself another cup of tea, draw another uncomfortable wooden stool closer and sit next to him. I probably would have, if he hadn’t gone to see his best friend’s new-born daughter.
It seems rather odd that I know intimate details about some nameless people, while I have never learnt anything similar about half of the people with whose names I’ve been well familiar for years.