Im letzten Semester an der University of Westminster erhielt ich die Aufgabe, eine Kurzgeschichte zu schreiben. Natürlich auf Englisch. Aber wie ich euch so kenne, ist das für die meisten kein Hindernis. Ich wünsche euch viel Spass bei der Lektüre!

6.6 on Richter scale

At first, within the blink of an eye, you have that sensation that something isn’t right. You lose balance and think: What’s wrong with me? You get hold of a wall, or a table, or whatever thing is close. But that thing, no, in fact everything starts to roll, as if you were on a boat. All the while you are astonished that it is so incredibly quiet, as though somebody had shut you up in a sound-proof room. The rolling develops a pattern, and that’s when you realise that it’s an earthquake, that nothing is wrong with you, but that the world around you changes from solid to liquid. Foundations turn out to be sand, and everything built so carefully becomes lopsided, or tumbles down altogether.

Fabio was queuing in the Whoa! Coffee Shop near Waterloo Station. He hoped this wouldn’t take too long, since he wanted to try out the projector before the lecture started. He liked to be prepared. Still five people in front of him. He looked at his watch. He’d better be going. When Fabio turned to leave the queue, somebody bumped into him and let out a cry. He felt something wet and warm on his chest. 

He looked at his watch. He’d better be going.

‘I’m sorry, I didn’t expect you to… Oh blimey… I spilled coffee on you!’
Fabio was left speechless. He looked down to the big brown stains on his beige jacket and his white shirt. He couldn’t believe this was happening to him just before his guest lecture.
‘Sir, I am terribly sorry. I will come up for the dry cleaner’s, of course, and I can get you a free coffee… Sir, are you alright?’

Fabio was still gazing at the stains, imagining himself with that shirt in front of a hundred people. When he felt a touch at his arm, he looked up. The culprit seemed devastated. Finally, Fabio found his voice.
‘Thank you, I appreciate that. It’s just… I am supposed to give a lecture in less than an hour.’
‘Oh. Oh my. Well, maybe… Listen. I live two minutes away, I can lend you a shirt and jacket of mine? I think we are almost the same size. Just let me tell everyone that I’m away for a few minutes. Please,’ the guy insisted when he noticed that Fabio wasn’t convinced, ‘I’ll have you dressed nicely within five minutes, I promise!’

Fabio looked at him again and then nodded slowly.

Fabio looked at him again and then nodded slowly. There was something very sincere about him, he really seemed to care. And what other option did he have? Even if he found a clothing store around there, it certainly wouldn’t open before ten, and the lecture started at nine. Besides, this guy had the most intriguing eyes, Fabio found himself thinking. He saw the relief on the guy’s face when he accepted. 
‘I’ll be right back,’ the guy said to Fabio, and, before he disappeared into the back room, he asked a colleague: ‘Would you please make a coffee for this gentleman? It’s on me.’

Two minutes later, with a cappuccino in his hand, Fabio followed the guy down the street. Great coffee without the drama, it said on the paper cup. I don’t think I agree, Fabio thought. Way too much drama on my shirt. Whereas the coffee could do with more drama, it’s too weak. 
‘It’s just over there, see that corner shop with the blue sign? By the way, my name is Javed.’
‘I’m Fabio, nice to meet you,’ said Fabio. ‘I appreciate your help.’
‘It’s the least I can do,’ Javed answered. ‘Nice to meet you, too, Fabio. I wish the circumstances were less… embarrassing. You know, I am just helping out at the Whoa! today because… Well, here we are. Just come in… up the stairs… this is the bathroom. Here, take this towel, and there’s soap over there. I’ll get the clothes for you.’

Five minutes later, Fabio was wearing a fresh white shirt and a light brown jacket.

Five minutes later, Fabio was wearing a fresh white shirt and a light brown jacket. It was a little wide for him, as Javed’s body was quite well-built, but it fit quite nicely nonetheless.
‘Thanks mate. It’s great. Ten minutes ago, I thought this was going to be an awful day!’
‘No need to thank me, since I caused the disaster in the first place. Look, here’s my mobile number, call me when your lecture is finished. Meanwhile, I’ll get your things cleaned and have them ready for you to pick up here. By the way, you look good in that!’ He winked. ‘Now get going! And I have to get back to the coffeeshop. Talk to you later!’

Fabio took the little paper note with the number and hurried off. Despite everything, the lecture went very well. It was midday before he knew it. 

He shouldn’t care, really.

When he was having lunch at the canteen, his thoughts kept going back to the morning. He found it quite extraordinary what Javed had done for him, it was really more than you could ask for. Plus, those eyes… they were mesmerising. But this somehow puzzled Fabio. Beautiful people were usually very self-aware about their good looks and, more often than not, Fabio found talking to them annoying as they got easily distracted, fiddling with their appearance. Javed, however, seemed different. Probably straight… he didn’t bother, Fabio thought and immediately found himself silly. He shouldn’t care, really. He had a wonderful boyfriend, and he and Robin were going to get married in a year. They were about to move into that gorgeous house, and Fabio had finally settled into the career he had been working towards for such a long time. He was to have all he ever wished for.

He called Javed to tell him that he was going to finish around three o’clock. Javed didn’t answer, and Fabio was a little disappointed. He left a message. 

Javed didn’t answer, and Fabio was a little disappointed.

Javed texted back in the middle of his second lecture: ‘Just call when at the door and I’ll come down. Jacket and shirt ready.’ A winky face was added. Fabio smiled. 

When he returned to Javed’s place, it felt oddly familiar. Although he found the flat a bit dark, it was tidy and cosy and there was a smell he couldn’t quite assign to anything except that it reminded him of his mother’s kitchen. He found it weird to think that they had only met this morning. For when they talked, he felt he had known Javed for ages, though he hardly knew anything about him. They had tea in the kitchen and chatted away about organic food and travel stories like old friends. 

‘I’m hungry,’ Javed said and opened the fridge, ‘what about you, Fabio?’
‘Oh, I’m Italian. I can always eat,’ Fabio replied humorously. Javed laughed at that. 
‘Well, so can I. My parents are Pakistani.’
‘But you grew up here? You sound English,’ Fabio stated.
‘Yeah, in Croydon. You grew up in Italy?’ Javed asked.
‘Yes. In Bologna. I came here to study and fell in love with the city’s diversity and its open-mindedness. I felt so at ease here that I stayed. London gives me perspectives and opportunities I wouldn’t have back home.’
‘Yeah, London is definitely one of a kind.’

‘Yeah, London is definitely one of a kind.’

Javed took out some cheese, olives and bread, and some kind of vegetable pastry that Fabio didn’t recognise. Something Pakistani maybe. 

‘I once had an Italian flatmate’, Javed continued as he handed Fabio a plate and cutlery. ‘At the time I ate a lot of junk food. It quite annoyed him, and he kept saying: “Ma tu devi mangiare cose proprie, amore, real food!” Like he was my mum, you know? I found it rather amusing that he would get so upset about it. But in the end, I have to thank him. He made me appreciate the value of good healthy food.’

Fabio blinked, paralysed. The way Javed had said amore struck a chord in him. He was sure Javed hadn’t directed it to him, he only copied what he must have heard many times; but there had seemed to be just the right amount of affection and intimacy in it. Fabio looked Javed in the eyes.

And that’s what Fabio did.

‘Help yourself,’ Javed said a bit insecure, confused about Fabio’s reaction. And that’s what Fabio did. He got up, walked over to Javed, never losing eye contact, and slowly raised his hand to touch Javed’s neck and cheek. Though he seemed caught by surprise, Javed didn’t draw away. Fabio pulled him closer. And kissed him. 

What on earth was I thinking? Fabio asked himself later. The truth was, he hadn’t been thinking at all. It had just happened, as if someone else had taken over and made him do it. Fabio was surprised about himself, for he was usually too timid to invade someone’s personal space.

That moment of regaining balance, wondering what is going on and why it is so quiet. And then the earth shakes.

Fabio was completely disarmed. He lost all his self-control.

There was a slight delay, but when Javed responded, he drowned them both in a torrent of emotions. They got all tangled up during a slow and sensual kiss that left Fabio with a dizziness never experienced before. Javed kept a firm grip on him, though never forceful, and it was this combination that made Fabio go crazy. He felt so wanted. Before he knew it, he was lifted up by Javed and carried to the bedroom. There, Javed threw him on the bed with an easiness that amazed him. Then Javed was all over him again. Fabio was completely disarmed. He lost all his self-control. 

When things finally quieted down, they cuddled up together and Javed started to doze away. Fabio was overflowing with bliss and desperately wanted to stay, but it was almost half past six. How time had flown! He freed himself gently from the embrace.
‘Where are you going?’ Javed murmured and, when Fabio didn’t answer straight away, held him back and opened his eyes with a hint of panic. ‘You will come back, won’t you?’ 
Fabio was deeply touched.
‘I will. Not tonight, though. But soon.’ Fabio sealed it with a kiss that seemed to have the proportion of the vow he had given to Robin for their engagement. Fabio had the impression that Javed was about to say something. But he just looked at him, gave him a smile and let go of his hand.

Wow, Fabio thought as he was waiting for the 168 bus.

Wow, Fabio thought as he was waiting for the 168 bus, still love-crazed. It was dark already, and an earthy autumn wind swirled around the fallen leaves. But inside Fabio, it was all spring. He just had the most mind-blowing love-making experience of his life. Out of the blue. Not only had it been extremely sensual, but also very, very affectionate. His heart still pounding, his cheeks hot, Fabio felt like he had swallowed a piece of sun, beaming from inside out, wearing a sparkling aura. Was this showing? Come on, Fabio, get a grip! Calm down! How to meet Robin now? 

His bus got caught up in traffic, and for once, Fabio was glad about it. He needed time to think before he got home. He had always been a truthful and loyal person, and so had Robin, and they both enjoyed that bond of trust that formed the base of their relationship. And now Fabio had broken it, and he wasn’t going to tell Robin. How could he tell him such a thing? This had not been a faux pas at an alcohol-fuelled party. Fabio had walked right into it. The blame was fully on him.

Fabio’s phone rang. Robin, of course.

Fabio’s phone rang. Robin, of course.
‘Hey love,’ Fabio answered as usual and suddenly felt somehow guilty saying those words.
‘Hey. Are you on your way home?’ Robin replied.
‘Yes, I am. Sorry, I should have called-‘
‘No worries. I’m going out with Martha and Céline, I hope you don’t mind?’
‘Of course not. I feel a bit… feverish anyway.’
‘Oh no! Want me to stay home and take care of you?’

Jesus, no! Not today! Just the thought made Fabio break out in a sweat.
‘There’s no need, really. I think I’ll go straight to bed.’
‘You sure?’
‘Yeah, positive.’
‘Alright,’ Robin said. ‘There’s some soup left if you want. I have to go now.’
‘Oh, that’s just the right thing. Say hi to the girls.’
‘I will. See you later, dear.’

This was Pandora’s box. Too good to let go, and full of troubles.

Fabio took a deep breath. He had just bought himself some time to get a grip and pull himself together. Fabio bought some Aspirin and bananas, for, well, evidence. He sighed. When he opened the flat door, soup smell filled the air. Robin had already left; Fabio was relieved. He sat down and rest his head in his hands. This was Pandora’s box. Too good to let go, and full of troubles. Having an affair meant being secretive, telling lies. He wasn’t sure if he could keep that up. Robin wasn’t easy to fool. 

From solid to liquid. 

What about Javed? Fabio had no clue if he had a partner. Javed probably had noticed the ring on his finger, whereas Fabio hadn’t made out anything that pointed to a partner. Nor did Javed seem to fear that someone might come home while they were at it… when Javed had made him forget everything he ever knew. 

Fabio usually found it hard to give up control. Which is why he disliked drugs or too much alcohol. On the other hand, he was fascinated by how people were able to let themselves go when they danced. Fabio was often too self-aware of his movements to enjoy himself, it always took him quite a while to loosen up. Still, Javed had dismantled his fences just like that. And what bewildered Fabio most was that he himself had allowed that to happen. But it had felt incredibly good. Addictively good. 

But it had felt incredibly good. Addictively good.

Fabio closed his eyes, reliving the sensation of Javed’s smooth skin. Javed’s lips on his body. It made him shiver with pleasure. And that moment when he had pinned Javed down, to get a moment to catch his breath and look at those spectacular eyes of his. Javed had let him do it, but he had done so with a twinkle, humorously holding back his impatience. Which then had turned into a soft moan when Fabio had spread sweet kisses on his face, the corner of his eyes, the eyebrows. Especially when his lips had slowly followed down the hairline to his ear and neck, he had felt Javed melting away, and this filled him with joy and affection. 

Why had everything with Javed just felt so natural and so damn right? Not that things with Robin felt wrong, no, not at all. But he and Robin had come a long way, they had grown together, learning about each other’s likes and dislikes, respecting – and, in some cases, even loving – the other’s flaws. And now, boom!,there was Javed. A soulmate who also instinctively knew how to hold and touch him… making Fabio surrender instantly and beg: Do with me whatever you please! I’m all yours! 

‘I can’t wait to be in your hands again,’ Fabio texted Javed.
‘Neither can I,’ was his answer, followed by three red hearts, two kissing lips and a winky face.

And that was the last thing Fabio saw from Javed.

And that was the last thing Fabio saw from Javed. For when he tried to call him on Friday afternoon, after two overly busy days in which he found it hard to concentrate – it was all Javed on his mind –, the number was deactivated. Whatsapp didn’t list him anymore. Fabio was confused. He walked past Javed’s place and rang the doorbell. No one answered. He tried the second doorbell; again, no answer. He went to the Whoa! and learnt that Javed had only helped out on Wednesday morning because he had lost a bet with the owner. They had met at a pub a week earlier. 

‘I don’t know his full name,’ the café owner said, ‘I just have this phone number.’
Fabio checked the number. It was the same. 
‘Sorry, mate,’ the owner said when he saw Fabio’s disappointment. ‘But he told me that he works in communication and that he was to start a new job somewhere in the Middle East.’
This was London, too, Fabio thought. It never stops surprising you.

This was London, too, Fabio thought. It never stops surprising you.

On Monday, Fabio tried to inquire about the property owner and came as far as the landlady who rented it out on Airbnb. Javed had booked for two weeks. If she could contact him? Fabio asked. She tried, but then she said the account in the name of Anil J. wasn’t active anymore. He had left the flat in perfect order, though. On Friday morning. 

Fabio was crestfallen. I must have missed him by a few hours only. Why didn’t he say something? And… Anil J.? J. for Javed? Fabio searched Google and all kind of Social Media, trying different combinations of the names and whatever little he knew about Javed. But without a surname, it was hopeless. And who knew if Javed or Anil were his true names? A Jordanian colleague at work once told him that people with Arabic names often went by various names in their everyday life. 

Fabio was irritated, too.

Fabio was irritated, too. How could Javed just leave him like that? Fabio was sure that Javed had enjoyed their encounter just as much as he had, his responses had been full of affection. There had been so much more than just desire and sex. And he felt that what he had glimpsed in Javed’s eyes for an instant, that fear of not seeing him again, had been true. But, apparently, Javed must have changed his mind. This made Fabio incredibly angry and sad at the same time. He cried. He was frustrated and wallowing in self-pity. 

When Robin asked why he was so edgy lately, Fabio answered that they had this bullying case in their department that demanded all their time and energy. It wasn’t entirely untrue, only that his team wasn’t actually involved. Robin sensed that Fabio didn’t want to discuss it and respected that. Fabio wasn’t sure if he believed it, but Robin gave him freedom and occasionally tried to take his mind off it by taking him out to a show or a film. It was then when Fabio realised this that he was very grateful for having Robin in his life, even if he hadn’t Javed’s abilities to drive him to that utter state of physical excitement. It still gave him a sting to the heart when he thought about what he and Javed could have had together.

Javed had the addictive power of a dangerous, ruinous drug.

But maybe it was better this way. Javed had the addictive power of a dangerous, ruinous drug. Fabio would eventually have burnt his wings like Ikarus, flying too close to the sun. Maybe Javed had figured this out at once, Fabio thought. Even so, he could have told me at least. To hell with Javed! Although Fabio still admired and treasured the memory of their passionate afternoon, he decided to leave it there. 

Then you pick up the pieces and rebuild your world, now knowing that even rocks do not last forever and that you’d better cherish the good things in your life every day. 

Fabio’s phone rang. ‘Hey love,’ Fabio said.

Fabio’s phone rang.
‘Hey love,’ Fabio said.
‘Hey dear. Where are you?’ asked Robin.
‘Coming home, amore. I’m on my way home.’

A short story by Paola Scaburri. Semester assignment for the module ‘Writing London’ at the University of Westminster. December 2018.

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Farbe versus Beton

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