I was supposed to meet her under the huge train timetable inside the freezing cold train station. It was so cold and dark that despite the evening commute time, there were few people willing to linger around the station. None of the usual crowd.
This was middle of January – hardly a romantic or even plain pleasant time of the year, especially in a European city. The yodel of the wind tossing blizzards into the huge, poorly insulated windows of the station would be Christmas-like three weeks before, but now it was unsettling, especially for someone absolutely unsure of what would happen in the following few hours.
…“I swear, I will do something to myself!!”, was the last thing I heard when the door slammed behind me on that night a long time ago…
I was nervous. Would I recognize her? It has been ten years. I haven’t even heard her voice since then – this rendezvous has been arranged entirely by email. I knew about things, both terrible and happy, that happened to her during this time, mostly through common friends and a rare occasional exchange of letters and emails, but our lives had absolutely nothing in common except history. Her husband and a child were waiting for her in their no doubt cozy and clean apartment in Kiev, and I – well, I was due back to work in Krakow early next morning and back at my dusty room in San Francisco in a couple of months. Yet despite the fact that we live thousands of miles away from each other now, somehow fate has ruled that we both would be in this frigid train station in Warsaw on this very day. But what would I say to her…
“Privet!” – I heard behind my back. I turned around.
I must have stared too long, because the next thing I heard was the familiar jokingly impatient “Well?” The kisses on cheeks were exchanged with the obligatory “mwah”.
First thing I thought after regaining composure was, ‘She has not changed at all.’
As the evening drew to an end, we found ourselves at a tiny, almost empty bar at the Stare Miasto. The snowstorm was still raging outside, but inside the small basement bar it was warm and cozy. A few glasses of mulled wine after the dinner certainly helped.
She had her coat and thick mohair sweater off, remaining in a button-down blouse. I thought she hadn’t changed, but in reality she did: she lost some weight and grew her hair longer, keeping it straight and highlighted.
I listened to her talk about her little daughter, how she is already seven and is often misbehaving at school, but overall gets good grades and likes to play tennis. She talked about her exciting job, which she only had for two years but was feeling optimistic about its growth and travel potential. We talked about our old common friends, how neither of us has been good at keeping in touch with them, although she still calls two or three of her girlfriends from university. She told me how much she liked Kiev, and was skeptical about the joys of living in America. We talked about regional politics – thankfully, I keep up and was able to maintain a meaningful discussion about it. She talked a little about her husband, although she quickly realized my supposedly well-disguised lack of interest. We talked just about every subject in the four hours spent together. We have not talked at all about one thing, however. We have not talked at all about us.… It was a beautiful sunny day. We stood next to each other for the class picture, holding hands in the back row, smiling at the camera first, and at each other the next moment…
She was sitting opposite from me, with nothing but a tiny wooden bar table separating us. She was holding the wine glass in her hand, her eyes glowing in the warmth of the fireplace beside us. A slow wave of realization of how much I have changed compared to her was overflowing me. She has always craved having a family and stability. She now had both. Me, I have traveled the world and experienced a lot. I could barely relate to or care to remember anything that had happened even five years ago, yet she seemed to remember every detail about her child, her career, her husband.…”You too?” I wanted to scream in joy, but instead tears were flowing from my eyes as I was holding her body. She nodded, then sobbed, squeezing me ever harder…
I waited for a moment of silence and asked her: “Are you happy?”
I anticipated a quick and emphatic answer, but she took her time. She looked into her wine glass, them into my eyes. She smiled, as she held her gaze. “Yes. I am”, she said.
A sudden wave of realization of how much she has changed compared to me was overflowing me like a bucket of water.
It was getting late and the bar was closing. I paid for our drinks and we walked outside, into the blistering January cold.