A solitary man

There is a restlessness, a certain melange that I feel as I sit, almost at midnight, alone in an apartment far away from my country. I am careful to refer to the country of my birth what it is. I don’t call it home because there is no home, not yet. There is a very slight breeze that is caressing the leaves on the trees across the street. A lone streetlight shines like a beacon, reminding me of the darkness that surrounds it. I stand at the balcony more often than I used to. I am trying to reduce my smoking, because there is a perceptible difficulty in my breathing.

My apartment is not silent, of course. Charles Aznavour’s “Hier Encore” plays softly, permeating through my mostly dark apartment. I cannot stand brightness, I find a certain soothing balm in the poorly lit apartment that I live in.

Why am I here?

I am a continent away from my own country. I am thousands of kilometers from the only people I can call friends, there is an old lover back there.


I am running.

All my life seems to be summarized in that one sentence. I am running, always have. There is so much confusion in this world, so much chaos in life that there is no reconciliation. As I looked at the smoke rising from my cigarette, I wondered what was the point to trying to quit smoking? What was the benefit? I am a cripple anyways. My spinal injuries make pain a hum to every moment of my life. I am running from my country, I am running from my family, I am running from everything and everyone. I stand at the balcony of my apartment, watching people walk by, I find that I know nothing about them.

I turned to the topmost floor of  a building opposite mine, I sometimes see  the silhouette of a girl, her slender frame is nothing more than a vague shadow from where I stand. I stand at my balcony, wondering if she can see me, and if she can, what does she see? I know nothing of her, and she knows nothing of me. That is no epiphany, there is no divine truth to be found in knowing that the somnolent figure, leaning against the wall in his apartment, is a foreigner who is running, and running away from everything.

People often speak of their old lovers with a certain fondness. There is only one old lover that I have and I don’t miss her, even if I think of her everyday. Unwitting thoughts of her come to me when I least expect them, I remember her voice, some thing she said, some thing she felt, some where I met her, and yet there is no bitterness, no hatred, no fondness, no love. I had only one lover in the past, but  I did have muses, and now, they are nothing more than bitter words on paper that no eyes but mine have read.

I don’t miss Marija, because she is like a spark that lasted less than a second, and there is nothing that I can remember her by, except for a book I can’t bring myself to read, even if I resolve every night to. A whisper in my mind says “Adara”, and yet, every time I hear that whisper, from a forgotten corner, I find it even more difficult to recall her features. Her face in my mind, looks as if it is being viewed through a mist. I can’t remember her eyes, but with some effort I can see her as a shadow on the periphery in my vision. I am not a hopeless romantic, and I never will be. I can see my cane laid on my sofa, and I find that I am relying on it far too often. There is a heaviness in my left leg, the ravaged nerves scream in protest sometimes and there is nothing to dull them. There is nothing to stop the angry orchestra off inflamed nerves and tired muscles, as they  scream in staccatos that find no ear to listen.

I am often told that there is so much beauty in the world. I am told that I am lucky, to sit here, in a city in Eastern Europe, studying something that I enjoy.  The truth is often more bitter than that. The truth is that I am running. I am running from everything that could be called mine, my country, my family, my friends, my school, my memories, and reluctantly, my life. I find that my life is here, secluded in an apartment that I chose as my sanctuary.

Paper soldiers

The brokenhearted optimist (paper Soldier 2)

She left


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The brokenhearted optimist (paper Soldier 2)

Paper soldiers

All in all, there is a lot to say. I have begun to notice things I couldn’t for the last month. I turned twenty officially a few days ago and today, I went to a Tango class. Why did I go? I hope to answer that question through introspection and through my exhilarating exhaustion. All of my colleagues from the University have left to go back home. I am now the only foreigner left in this city, and there is no sense of loneliness, there is a comforting solitude to my walks through the city. I find that there is much to notice now, like the children who play outside on the knoll near my apartment, or in the number of pretty women walking around in floral print dresses (for whom I have an admitted weakness), and in the thoughts of Adara that catch me off-guard.

I walked down the street from my apartment and I saw a group of people signing up for a Tango class. i stood for a moment looking at the posters and then a very tall, slim, brunette stepped out of the building and walked to me.

“Come now, sign on the dotted line”, there is a pleasant crispness in her accented English, “You’re from the University, yes?” I nodded in agreement and then, with a smile I signed on the dotted line. She led me through the crowd into a studio on the first floor. There was a large hall and on the wall-sized mirrors, I saw my reflection. At this point, my hair is almost shoulder length, my body is slim, and there is a cheer in my eyes that I can’t explain. There is a word, Iskra, which means spark in Russian, and I found myself thinking about this word. Was there an Iskra in my eyes? I couldn’t say.

Behind me, the crowd from the street filed in, everyone was cheerful, particularly the woman who led me in. She was dressed in a white floral dress with red flowers. She was taller than me by an inch or so, but that could be attributed to her heels (I am not a very tall man, I’m five feet seven inches tall).  She introduced herself as Yvette Matrosova, and she smiled when she said it. I did too. Thinking back, in my exhaustion and in the company of one of my Holborn cigarettes, I can’t help but laugh. How many women have I fallen for in my twenty years on this planet? Here I am, a foreigner, a lone one at that, and within moments of meeting this woman, I have this attraction to her. I can see the Iskra in her. I can see the sparks in her being, in her eyes, and I could write odes to her beauty, her voice, the way her hair fell gently on her shoulders, but I wouldn’t know where to start.

She asked us all to form pairs and chose me to be hers. The music began and we danced. Her face was inches from mine, her right hand was on my shoulder, and her other hand held mine. When she moved, she was fluid, as if she was nothing more than a feather in a breeze. There was a softness in her pleasant grip on my right hand. She grasped my hand tenderly and she constantly searched my face. What was she looking for? She and I danced for what seemed like an eternity when she announced a break. By this time, I was sweating, my legs felt like jelly and I felt as if my heart was going to explode. I was exhausted, and I stepped out into the afternoon sunshine to smoke a Camel. I stood outside for a moment when I heard footsteps. I turned around to see Yvette beaming at me. She drowned the sunshine with her eyes. As my fingers glide over the keyboard, I can see her eyes close to mine, the hazel specks that looked so fine and detailed, as if she had been made by a pair of hands which carefully, with artistic labour, painted every detail in her eyes.

Of the dance, there is not much to say, we had our lessons in movement and exercise.

“What is your name?”, she asked me. I offered her a cigarette and she lit it.

“Ativ Schuberg”, I replied. I told her where I was from.

“Do you like this city?”, she asked again, although on a quieter note.

“I do.”


I was at a loss for words. Where do I begin? Do I begin where I left home, disgusted by my life back in the land where I was born? Do I stick to the poetry of being a foreigner in a city where no one could have guessed I would be heading? Do I tell her how I loved the winding streets, the sunshine, the silence that comforted me in the dark hours of night? I said nothing. I looked up to her and saw her smile again.

“You know, you do look like him”, she said, “Like the Paper Soldier”.

“Do I?”, I asked. How did she know of the Paper Soldier?

“You aren’t the only one who can find people by talking, you know”, on her lips was a smile. She pulled on the cigarette and let out a smooth cloud of smoke from her nose. just above the left corner of her lips, there was a mole. It was small, almost smudged by her bright red lipstick, and when I looked into her eyes, I saw the hazel specks again.

“I knew you would come down this way, your make your way to the park bench near the library where you just sit and dream”, she said, ‘Your eyes look so far away.”

So, she was following me. I grinned.

She had something so disarming about her, was it her smile? I know that poets are lovers, and they have described at length the beauty of their lovers. They have written odes to the mysteries of women, of their women, to be precise. Poets and artists, they sat and wrote and painted what their hearts ached for. I am neither poet nor artist, but I know that there was an allure to this woman whose floral print dress hung with such perfection around her shoulders, and whose voice sounded so musical that I could have listened to her forever.

“How do you know about the Paper Soldier?” I asked her, this questioned burned my mind for a blinding moment.

“I am his daughter”



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