Repetitions and Suggestions
No text from Sawney. It made me wonder whether he was avoiding me or simply busy. It was likely the latter, even though my mind wanders around the former. It couldn’t be it, could it? I hadn’t wronged anyone, not even Sawney, who I was sure had forgiven me for saying something insensitive. In fact, he even viewed me positively. I refuse to see him as a fake. I refuse to acknowledge he is fake.
No email from Sawney. One email from Schmidt labelled: ‘Penny’s at it again’, with some flirtatious message in the body. I picked the chocolate up and walked upstairs, trying to find something to interest me, meaning not Utterson. I opened a book Schmidt had given me as a gift: ‘Der Vorleser’ by Bernhard Schlink. This was the first book I’d ever read outside Germany—still a German book, though still significant.
I threw the book across the room.
It was surprisingly light, and it made me feel like an adult. Then I remember: not far from here I could sneak into Hasselbachplatz for a cup of coffee or two, depending on Gabriel’s recommendations. The one Gabriel had made for me, according to her, was ‘nothing like real coffee’. I opened the GPS to find it. I thought about what Gabriel would say if she knew I’d walked into the nightlife.
It’s dangerous, but not that dangerous, she’ll say.
I’ll reply, it’s a stereotype.
People know better.
There will always be cruel people.
You said that because you’re cruel.
No. I’m saying from the ‘them’, not the ‘I’. I said that because people are cruel.
You’re not wrong.
I’ll put my dead face on—which is my neutral face, though I’ll make sure it stays dead—but she’ll then say, you look pale. Did you sleep last night?
I’ll lie to her that no, I didn’t sleep last night. But she’s better on the dead-face game, and she’ll crush me in it. I’ll imagine what else I could’ve lied, what truths I could’ve said, and I’ll say it and fail. Gabriel will emote again and say the right thing. But instead of sincerity, I’ll see the face of an actor. I’ll see an actor playing the dumb ingénue, then the femme fatale. That’s when I’ll start to feel uneasy. She’ll tell me not to leave yet, but I’ll walk away and choose my own coffee, only to find it too strong for a beginner and start to puke. She’ll walk up to me again, place a hand on my arm, and ask me if I’m sure I was myself.
And I won’t answer her, but to myself that yes, Sawney had confirmed it when I first met him. I was sitting in the library when Sawney approached me and asked for the next seat. He was well-groomed, with hair gel swept on the side and a royal blue vest over his white shirt. We shook hands. ‘Sawney Deis. Scotland,’ he said with radiant ability. That time I didn’t know what a Scottish accent was, so I was surprised when I later learnt that he was faking an American accent. It mattered little, however. The way he moved, spoke, dressed, and gestured was oddly familiar, like I should’ve known who he was; and had I spent more time with him I might remember him strutting down the street like a celebrity.
We talked about everything to get to know each other, like how the Scots and the Germans were equally bizarre and why. Afterward he treated me at Denny’s. The restaurant was packed, and I felt dizzy, so we retreated back to our dorms and met each other again at nine. He ordered a Bourbon chicken skillet; I ordered salad and toast. Sawney’s eyes perked up and made the toast double. ‘Make it extra crispy,’ he said, before asking me, ‘Coffee?’ I settled for lemonade. He pointed out my bravery because I rejected his offer; the others would’ve accepted it regardless of their preference. ‘It’s not easy to drink coffee, y’know,’ said Sawney. ‘When you order coffee, you gotta know how you like it. It takes trial and error before you know the exact proportions. But it’s worth the investment. That way you can go all in, all the time.’
The toast came first.
‘It’s weird. No matter how many times they toast the bread, it’s never crispy enough.’
I asked him when he discovered this preference. ‘At home,’ he said. ‘Luce likes it light, though. We toast both of ours first, take Luce’s out, then toast mine again until it’s ready. He calls my toast “burnt”.’
He laughed at his own joke. I pretended to laugh too. He told me that without my smile I looked like an oligarch, before asking me if I was Russian. I told him I was German. He said, ‘Apologies, I assumed without asking you.’
‘I assume a lot, too.’
‘To assume is to make an ass out of “u” and “me”.’ He downed the coffee in seconds and called the waiter for a refill. ‘“The Chalk Man” by C.J. Tudor. Good book. I recommend it.’
After a while, he looked at my face and asked, ‘You don’t read a lot of English, do you?’
‘Poor thing. Welcome to America: a place full of facts and bull.’
I nodded. He asked, ‘You understand?’
I said yes. Nothing is believable at first glance.
‘And a nod’s as good as a wink to a blind horse.’
I didn’t understand what he meant. But I took it as an insult, as he intended to, and told him to forget my stupidity. ‘Don’t worry. I tell people about people all the time, but incorrectly. I tell errors.’
‘But that doesn’t mean you’re incorrect. It just means you’re not correct.’
‘It’s like saying you’re not wrong, you’re just not right. It doesn’t mean you’re a dickhead, it means you’re Head Dick.’
This time I genuinely smiled. It was one till midnight: we exchanged numbers before calling it quits. Over text we played a game of ‘How Long Can We Make This Conversation’. Next week we met at Old Town square. We talked about the food and how he missed them despite it being nothing to the food from other countries. I listened, allowing him to dominate the conversation while extending anything I found intriguing. We wandered from street to street, letting our physical senses guide our conversations. At some point we evaluated each other; he said, ‘You’re smart. You keep it simple.’
Simple-minded, I thought to myself. Then I remembered the quote from The Chalk Man.
The last place we went was a Joseph Auren. At first Sawney suggested I try various models on, until I started doing the same in reverse. ‘You look like yourself,’ he said. I was wearing trousers a little too tight. When I asked him how he knew who I was, he slapped my butt and said, ‘It’s a tight fit.’
Later, I learnt I hadn’t been expressing myself clearly enough.