Winternachten, January 18, 2020, The Hague, By: Jasper Albinus
Dear woman on the 65 bus,
You get on at Amstel station. You have done yourself up nicely, but the wind caused some of your jet black curls to escape, leaving them hanging over your face. You clutch your bus pass with your long thin fingers, trembling, your back bent over, but your skin still immune to the effects of old age. You look at me, albeit briefly. Only a glimpse of two dark-brown eyes, but that is more than enough. I shudder; I see you too. In that moment I hear a voice in my head. Boy you sit up straight! Comb your hair! Have you been eating enough? Something is released within me, nodding meekly and sitting up straight, as you sit diagonally across from me.
The bus speeds along past Molukkenstraat, Eerste Atjehstraat, Javaplein along Borneolaan going under through Piet Heintunnel towards the River IJ and you do not flinch, simply looking at the open water as if it contains secrets hidden within it. With every glance you give me I try to dig them up. Are you on your way home? Do you have a place to call home and what does it look like? What does it taste like? How does it smell as soon as you get home? How many people are snuggled up on your sofa? Does it still exist? I muse on the idea that the places you call home perhaps take no physical form, but rather are intertwined like memories.
Oh how this leaks through into everyday items. In the penetrating odours that are absorbed by the wallpaper. In the names of the streets the bus drives past, in the faces of your grandchildren. Perhaps that is also the reasons why you look at me. Because I remind you of a face that reminds you of a place you remember from choices that have been made since then, which make you remember how it all started. A reflection of everything we symbolically call history.
Perhaps that is also the reason why you immediately look away as our gazes meet for a little too long. How sometimes it feels too big. How sometimes it all descends on you at once: your old school, the stream next to your parents’ home, the gentle voice of a woman, gunshots in the background, the boat from which you saw your home disappear, a new house, the gentle voice of a new born baby, gunshots in your dreams, new places to call home.
Perhaps I am imagining this shared history, I am simply a stranger to you and there are no grandchildren at all. Yet when I want to get up and get off, the corners of your mouth curl a little. A warm feeling races through my body. I want to thrust my fist into the air, but there are many ways that resistance can make itself known. Perhaps this is ours. A sign that we haven’t simply forgot. I get off at Azartplein. You look at me once again, and for a moment I feel I am home.
© Jasper Albinus
[Translated from Dutch by Scott Emblen-Jarrett]