„What will you remember?“
There he is again, my oldest friend, the ever-present discordant voice inside my head. I know I’m only talking to myself, having been sucked into that daydream chamber of my brain once more, into the last place where he still exists. I let the shutters of my mind fall down around us, cancel out all external stimuli.
When you know someone as well as I thought I knew The Poet, you can pretend to be them with staggering precision. After all, what had I been doing during those five years, if not dissecting his every mannerism, or the way his words softly followed one another, his speech a silken scarf wrapping itself around your eyes.
Don’t look, he’d say. Leave your science and your logic aside. Feel.
You need to remember what it feels like.
He’s always there, at the final stop of my every journey, in the closing sentence, the last syllable of each travelogue. Him and that damned question.
„What will you remember?“
„The first time I met you. You ranted on and on about everything you’d seen. When I asked where you’d go if you knew it was your last destination, you fell into one of your brooding silences, and then out of the blue, you just said Marrakesh.“
„Oh, yes. Marrakesh. It made me think of the Sun setting down a crowded street where brightly colored curtains and fabrics float lazily on a summer breeze. I heard pointed slippers in silver and gold in your tone, spicy foods and elongated brass teapots – the clink-clink sound they make when they meet those tiny cups. Old vendors selling unimaginable delicacies to mischievous children. That was the Marrakesh I imagined for you.“
„A dreamer’s version.“
„It would appear so. Then I asked you why, why that particular place, why it was so important. You said..“
„Because it’s different.“
He knows this conversation by heart, because I do. I’ve assembled then disassembled it a billion times since he disappeared.
„Yes. I tried to be cheeky, challenged you that, well, everywhere is different. You never replied, now you can’t anymore. What a joke.“
„Maybe the silence was the reply.“
„I would like to have heard you say it, all the same. I would like to have known for sure.“
„You never know for sure. Isn’t that what you said – years later, about this life of ours, always in different countries or cities, always on the run, and yet, always finding ways back to each other? Even when it was least likely. We never knew for sure, never knew what to do, but we did do it, in the end.“
I’m not sure that I agree, even if it’s my own conjecture. The lines between The Poet and me often get blurred in these conversations I steal from real life, I can’t tell whether certain thoughts are my own wishful thinking, or a mere reflection of what I suppose a person like him would’ve come to.
„What? What’s this abstract thing you think we did?“
„We fell in love, silly, to know. And we did it with one another, not to be sure.“
The Poet chuckles. I chuckle. When the laughter subsides, he has another question for me.
„What’s your biggest fear?“
I used to know this answer with supernatural certainty for a chronically indecisive person. Now? It’s basically the same content, in reverse. I turn to the left – he always used to stand on my left – and say to the ghoul in my head,
„That you’re still alive.“
His spectral laugh chills my spine.
„You wouldn’t want me to be alive?“
We had a similar conversation years ago, half-sleeping-half-drunk on a bench in Berlin around 4 a.m.
He’d asked me what I was most afraid of. For reasons unknown to me, I told him the truth.
„I’m afraid you’ll die and no one will remember to tell me about it. Like, one day, your letters will stop and your phone won’t work and I’ll never know what happened. I’ll write to you all the same, I’ll make inquiries – have you seen so and so, he goes by the nickname of Poet – send messages out into the world, without knowing you’re no longer part of it. And I’ll get angry with you in time, and curse you, and think you’re a jerk, and all of the good stuff we’ve done will turn sour, until all I feel when you come to mind is bitterness. And you’ll be dead and won’t be able to do anything about it.“
The Poet took my hand in his and squeezed tightly.
That’s all he had to say, and as usual, he was right. When the time came, I did. I do.
„Ask me again,“ I tell him now. „I’ve changed my mind.“
„Alright. What’s your biggest fear?“
„I don’t have one. I’m fearless. The worst thing I thought could happen already did.“
The last I heard from The Poet was a short note on a card sent from India. He was making new friends, he said. Goa was the party of a lifetime, he wrote, and evidenced his statement with three fat exclamation marks. There was no return address or phone number he could supply for me to get in touch, but as soon as he landed back in Europe – we’d meet.
Two months passed. I waited for him to check in, fingering the postcard anxiously every day. I convinced myself I’d matured since our previous rendezvous, and that this time around, I would tell him how I really felt. We’d have another adventure together, see a different place – maybe even one as different as Marrakesh. That was my plan. I’d decided.
The calls started coming in a month later.
„Have you heard from The Poet? He was supposed to come over a week ago, but he never showed.“
„Oi lassie, where’s that rambler of yours? He’s not returning any of my texts.“
„I’m getting worried about The Poet, no one knows where he is and we had plans for the winter.“
We made guesses, speculated, hoped against all hope. His friends weaved intricate theories about his possible whereabouts. It turned out that I was wrong to think no one would contact me. By the end of the fourth month of his disappearance, nearly everyone did. All of them seemed to resent me for not having information to share.
To this day, I remain oblivious as to how I survived the year that came after. Or the one that followed. Or the next one.
I stayed in my hometown. I didn’t go traveling for what seemed like an eternity. Then one day, I remembered Marrakesh. It was easy to go from there. Buy a ticket, book a room. Bring an empty notebook and a pen.
On the first page, in capitals, I wrote –
WHAT WILL YOU REMEMBER?
Staring at the blank paper on the flight back home, I first heard his voice again.
„Don’t force it, the words will come of their own accord. You’ll know what to write when the time comes.“
And I did.
Slowly lowering my pen, testing the weight of the dreams in the ink, I started writing:
The Sun sets down a crowded street in Marrakesh, where brightly colored curtains and fabrics float lazily on a summer breeze. Pointed slippers in silver and gold hang from the shelves, spicy foods rise through the air, elongated brass teapots clink-clink when they meet the tiny cups. Old vendors sell unimaginable delicacies to mischievous children. This is Marrakesh…