The dark has always, surprisingly, revealed more than light. In the dark we are naked in front of ourselves, because no one can see all the scars on our skin. When a new morning rises, we dress again in our painted faces again that we have made. He was thinking about that as he counted the stains on the wall next to his bed. Behind his back, there she was, breathing. She was sleeping. Her body slowly went up and down, as her red hair fell over her shoulder. The young man sighed and turned to hug the young woman. He hoped that in the morning, they might have some coffee together and that he would find out her name. And that he would give her his name. He looked through the window and realized that dawn approached. Still, he felt like he could sleep a bit more. When he woke up again, it was late morning, nearly noon. The young woman was not in the bed. Instead of her, the pillow was left with a piece of paper with her handwriting on it. It was a short note in which she explained that she had to go to work. There was no phone number. But, there was a line about a coffee shop in the centre of the city, with noon as the time of meeting under the name of the coffee shop. He smiled, but then he saw that he was already late for the meeting. He quickly put his clothes on and stormed out of his apartment.
Luckily, it did not take him long to reach the coffee shop. He hoped that she would still be there. When he entered, he felt the inviting warmth. The aromas of perfume, coffee and cigarettes were mixing in the air. He went to the bar, to check if she was there, when she showed up at the small kitchen. She was wearing a uniform, as the rest of the waiters and waitresses. It was then when he noticed how young and lively she was. The night before, under dim light of the club and the influence of alcohol, he could not fully process all of her qualities. He waved to her, and she saw him.
“I’m just about to finish my shift,” she said and stood in front of him.
“Alright,” he replied.
“Sit over there, at that table next to the wall. I’ll join you in a minute. Do you want something?” she asked.
“Coffee would be nice, with just a bit of milk,” he nodded and she disappeared into the kitchen. When she came back, her uniform was replaced with a green, wool sweater and jeans. Her hair was up, and she was carrying two cups, with steam rising from each. She put the one with tea in it in front of herself, and gave the one with coffee to him.
“Here,” she said and sat across the table from him. She pulled a cigarette from the pack that had already been on the table. She lit the cigarette and looked at him.
“Thank you,” he said. She let the smoke rest in her mouth for a second and then blew it out to the side.
“Don’t mention it. Did you just wake up?” she asked.
“Yes, I did. I’m sorry. I would have been here earlier,” he replied. He did not like that she smoked. He was trying to remember if she had been smoking the night before, when they met at the night club. She probably had been. Yet, the fact that he did not like her habit had no impact on her. She took a small sip of her tea.
“It’s alright. If I didn’t have to leave for work, I would have stayed,” she said. He looked down, and then back at her.
“Yes… I’m sorry, don’t get me the wrong way, but I have to ask you something…” he hesitated.
“Don’t be embarrassed. I can’t remember your name either. Nor I can remember if you said it last night,” she said, chuckling. He was relieved. It seemed as if they had a chance to have a fresh start and make it right this time. She was honest and he was happy about it. He drank his coffee.
“What are you planning to do in the next couple of hours? Your shift is over,” he said. The young woman raised her eyebrows and tilted her head. He pulled back in his seat. Was he too direct? Perhaps he should have taken it slowly at first, to ask about her favourite colour or something.
“What is that supposed to mean?” she asked. That was the chance he needed.
“It’s a simple question. I would like to get to know you better, but I don’t even know what’s your favourite colour,” he tried to be subtle. She laughed and took some more of her tea.
“I don’t have a favourite colour. I used to like red,” she replied and looked at him significantly.
“Used to? So you don’t like it anymore? Why?” he asked with true curiosity.
“Red reminded me of passion, of fire. Then, one time, when I was younger, I ate too much beet root and started throwing it up so hard that I thought my heart would stop. And so ever since that happened, red reminded me of beet root and made me nauseous every time I would see that colour,” she explained. It was an answer he did not expect. That is why he, completely astonished, burst out laughing loudly. A few people at the tables next to theirs turned around to look at him and then went back to their drinks.
“It’s so bizarre. But, it makes sense, I guess,” he said. He thought about the colours and what each of them meant for him. Yellow was lemon and light. Green was cabbage and meadows. Blue was sky and salt on his skin. It made sense for him.
“So, there, now you know something about me,” she said. He nodded. They were both thinking in the same direction at this point. It was obvious that what happened between them the night before was just a result of alcohol and expected judgements in those sorts of situations. But, that spark had burned out. The good side of it was that the sex was out of the way. Any kind of tension was completely deflated at that moment. Now, maybe, they could become friends, or close acquaintances at least.
“And I’m glad about it,” he said and smiled.
“But, to go back to your original question, I didn’t make any plans for after the work,” she said.
“Good, I don’t have anything to do today, either,” he replied.
“We could watch a movie, then. Do you want to go to the cinema?” she asked. It was clear to her that he withdrew a little bit, so she was the one who had to suggest their next move.
“Of course, that would be great. Do you have any particular film in mind?” he replied.
“No, I don’t. Let’s just go on a cinema adventure and watch whatever is showing now,” she said.
“You’re a real rebel, aren’t you?” he said.
“I live fast, and I watch random movies. If that’s too dangerous of a lifestyle for you, save yourself while you still have time,” she replied and smiled.
“I’ll take my chances,” he said and pulled out his wallet.
“This one’s on me. You’ll just have to wait, I need to get my jacket,” she said and went behind the bar. He got up and stood next to the door to wait for her. She got her jacket and before she joined him, she gently kissed a waitress on the cheek, who giggled and then pushed her away.
Drinking her orange juice, a woman watched as the laughing boy and the girl with the red hair left the coffee shop. The woman just came back from her work at the supermarket, but before she went home, she wanted to take a breath. When she finished her juice, she walked into the street, carrying bags full of vegetables and meat. By now, her husband must have returned home, to the apartment. She hoped that he picked up their children from the kindergarten. If he forgot it again, then another argument between them would ensue. It also meant that she would go to pick them up again. She was approaching her building. With every step, her burden multiplied. She entered the elevator and reached her floor. As she came before the door, she heard the voices coming from the inside. Her family was home. She went in, and threw the bags onto the cupboard in the lobby. She was taking off her boots, the cuts from the bags eventually faded away from her palms. The wife walked into the living room and found her husband placing the plates onto the shelves above the sink and the children playing on the carpet. She sighed. Suddenly, the little boy squealed. Both she and the husband immediately turned to see what happened.
“She hits me,” the son said. The mother leaned over both the son and daughter with a serious face.
“Stop it, now,” the mother said.
“But, she…” the son uttered, pointing at his sister.
“I don’t care,” the mother said quickly and angrily.
“Do it one more time, and you’re grounded,” the father said to the daughter. The little girl emptily stared at him for several seconds, and then went back to putting small, rubber dinosaurs one next to another.
The wife brought the bags from the lobby. The husband put the frozen meat to thaw in a plate, and the wife started taking out the vegetables out of the other bag and put them in the fridge. The children shouted again. The father made one long step and hit them on their heads, first the daughter, then the son.
“It’s not me,” the daughter protested.
“Didn’t I tell you that I don’t care? Go to your room!” the mother joined in and screamed.
“I don’t want room!” the son shouted and tears filled his eyes.
“Stop it, stop it now,” the mother hissed at them. Although the children kicked and struggled, the father took them off the ground and dragged them into the room. He pushed them both onto their beds.
“I don’t want to hear a word from you before dinner,” the father said and slammed the door. The children were quiet.
“How was your work today?” the wife asked. She did not care. It was a while since she stopped caring. Though, she could not tell when it happened exactly.
“As usual, I so want to quit it,” the husband replied. He knew she was not interested.
“I know the feeling, my shift wasn’t anything special, either,” the wife replied. She had been working in the supermarket for four years. He worked as a clerk in the post office. Their salaries combined were one average salary. That was according to what the state was counting as the average. Both of them wanted better. But, what they had somehow pushed them through each month, so from that perspective, it was good enough.
“But, you know what? There might be a raise,” the husband smiled with satisfaction. It would be his first raise since he started working at the post office.
“There was something on the news about that. All employed in public services will get a raise,” the wife replied. She was not absolutely sure that it was true. It would be great, but she learned to shut down her hopes and wait until something really happened. He, on the other hand, was certain of it. She cut a few carrots into little cubes and put them in a pot filled with warm water. Then, she realized that it was strangely quiet in the apartment. There was not even a sound coming from the streets. There was no noise in the hallway outside of the apartment. It was such a rare moment of silence. It was a moment when there were no responsibilities, marriage, or worries.
But, this moment did not last for long. The children were crying. The husband and wife ran to the room. It turned out that the daughter wanted to get off the bed and stepped down badly, injuring her ankle a little bit. And as soon as the sister started crying, so did the brother as well.
“What is wrong with you two?” the father shouted.
“How can you be that stupid? How can you be that stupid and careless?” the mother screamed. The daughter confusedly shrugged her shoulders and sobbed. Neither she, nor her brother knew what they were allowed to do, or how they were supposed to act. The sister looked at the brother. There was fear and anticipation on his face. Numerous nights, the sister spent listening to her brother whimper in his sleep, unconsciously. Sometimes the boy was annoying and he was behaving badly, but he certainly did not deserve so much pain. Simply, the children could not understand why their parents did not like them more times than they liked them. The parents were holding them in their arms, and laughed with them. Still the humiliation from all the hits and wicked words was stronger than happiness. Maybe, after becoming adults, the children might think that their childhood was how it should be. They might even treat their own children the same way. But, at the moment, the sister and brother could not understand.
“Come now, the dinner will be ready soon,” the father said and the family went into the living room.
“Tomorrow, your mother is coming, so she’ll look after them,” the wife said. The children turned towards her.
“Grandma comes?” the boy asked.
“Yes, grandma is coming,” the father said.
“If you’re good, she’ll bring you something nice,” the mother replied.
“I completely forgot about that,” the man said. She was his mother, and surely he was glad that she was coming, but the last few days were intense for him, especially considering a possible raise, so he could not put up with her on top of everything else. Besides, he knew that his mother and his wife did not get along that well. They never fought, but it was stressful for the two of them to look at each other. Whenever the three of them were in the room, he would somehow end up in the middle, between the two of them. And through various forms of manipulation his mother and his wife were trying to win him over. He did not know why they were doing that. He did not see himself as a reward for anything. That is why he decided to avoid any possible trouble. His sudden plan was to take his wife to a dinner, maybe to take her to a small hotel when his mother comes. Better yet, he was going to call his father to show up, too, so that the grandparents could take care of the grandchildren. His wife and he would then have a chance to leave everything behind, at least for one night. They would celebrate his raise, the one he had not got yet.
“What are you smiling at?” the wife asked, noticing his lips stretching to both sides.
“I don’t remember the last time we were alone together. Do you?” the man replied.
“What do you have in mind?” the woman said.
“I’ll tell you, I need to make a call,” the man said. He went to take his phone from his jacket, when he heard smashing of the glass and the boy and girl screaming again.
The children must have done something, and then the parents were going to shout at them. Every night, the Latin teacher was listening to their fights and arguments. And every morning when they took their children to kindergarten, they would wake her up the same way. How could they not get tired of it by now? If she had known who her neighbours were going to be when she was moving in the apartment next to theirs, she would have searched for another place to live. There were times when they were unbearable, but other times the teacher thought how sad it all was. She did not know why they were fighting, she just wanted them to stop. She had enough of her own problems. She did not need theirs, too. Besides, she heard too many fights, and every next one made her sick. She simply did not see the point of all of that.
She just came back from her last class of the autumn term. She taught Latin in a high school. The job itself was not hard, and the salary was good, but she was still desperate for a break. Especially now, when the whole city was immersed into holiday spirit and decorations. As she waited for the water to get ready in the heater, she remembered that she did not have any coffee left. The teacher went down, to the shop next to her building. There was no snow and it was cold outside. It was early evening, but it was already dark. Razors of winter were pressed against her cheeks, as she struggled to keep herself warm in her coat. The shop was not near enough. A girl with red hair was walking out of the shop in a hurry, and accidentally pushed the teacher who had just showed up at the door. Where was everyone running to these days? The teacher shook her head in disappointment and went in to buy coffee.
When she returned to her apartment, her mind was set on getting under the shower. Surrounded by steam, she washed away the chills and put some old clothes on. The teacher opened the window, but she could barely see anything. The fog hid everything. The buildings were silhouettes, and cars were nothing but approaching and distancing yellow and red lights. The windows of other apartments were blurs. She saw the street and the road below. However, she could not see where it ended. The fog was too thick and anything could jump out if, but she would not properly react to it.
Her hair was still wet on the back of her head when she went to bed. Darkness was spilled in the room. She was trying to fall asleep. Someone was driving a very loud car outside. She was on a holiday, starting with the next morning. Someone dropped something on the floor in the apartment above. She was planning to eat properly and regularly and sleep more. Someone was using the elevator. She would enjoy all the benefits of a decently accomplished life. The holidays were just around the corner with all the celebrations and excitement. But, for some reason, she did not find them delightful. Surely, she would exchange gifts and phone calls of best wishes, laughing and having a great time with her friends and family. Yet, she always felt like there was a shadow cast over it, she could never be fully happy. The holidays were the hardest times.
That was her annoying habit of analyzing and thinking too much when she was the most tired. Another car speeded through the street. She sighed and turned on her side. Then, she turned back on her back. The thoughts were rushing all at once and she could not handle them. She knew that she would fall asleep at one point, but that moment was not coming fast enough. She wondered how many days she would spend like that. Inhaling, getting up, digesting food, exhaling, working at a job that is good only because there is nothing else, having sex, and going back to bed. The sequence was to be repeated multiple times during her lifespan. It was certainly an enriching experience, but it could not go on forever. It had to break, it had to end some day. She wanted to know when and how, but that is not the way it worked.
The teacher heard two people arriving back to their apartment and talking. Although they tried to be as quiet as possible, their voices echoed in the hallway over the sound of the key turning in the lock. She identified them as the two students, roommates, who lived in the apartment closest to the elevator. It was Friday. They were probably coming back from a night out.
She looked through the window. The fog had lifted and she could see the bleaching of the night and it turning into dawn. She spent the whole night awake again. The first day of her holiday, she would begin tired. There would be time to fix it. The next day, or the day after that. Then she fell asleep.