All original work © 2009 - 2017 Alexey Provolotsky

20 June 2013


My first girlfriend, first ever, was Emily Laine. And when I say girlfriend, I mean something real, tangible. I mean flesh and blood, not just a sweet, soft-voiced schoolgirl who allows you to do her homework or come to her flat occasionally to walk and feed the cute, grotesquely moronic dog. The dubious luck, the privilege of it. No, with Emily it was well past that stage. Emily didn’t like dogs and she was a girl I really dated. Which means her father would let me help him with the car, her mother would talk to my mother, and I would actually feel free to keep Emily at my place for a night or two. What really mattered, though, was that half the time our fingers would be mysteriously intertwined, I could kiss her in a way that was a lot more dignified than occasional snogging, and I strongly believed that when we were walking through the streets, the dense fragrance of her hair did not just belong to the passing wind. No, I monopolized that smell. I knew it belonged to me.

Besides, there was a question of marriage. An abstract, as yet unidentified notion that at certain moments was hovering above our heads like a fateful dream. We had those moments, and God knows they didn’t scare me too much. Though I was only sixteen, just like Emily. 

You could wonder, of course: surely not the Emily Laine? And oh well, I’m afraid it is.

It was never a suicide bridge, though now that I was hysterically scrolling down the latest news, I thought it was as good a place as any other. Its formidable, gruesome metal structure and its sufficiently low railings that overlooked the city’s narrow river didn’t so much welcome an occasional jump as allowed for it to happen. So if you decided to do it, there was no reason why it couldn’t be this bridge. You only had to make an effort, not such a labourious one as to change your mind. Every city has it, they say, its suicide spot. It would lure the broken hearted, the bankrupt and the disillusioned by the sheer graveness of its past. However, this bridge had no such history, which was why Emily’s suicide was all over the Internet and newspapers the very next morning. It almost came off as a sort of rebellion, and it set the precedent. She screamed, too. One of those sticky details I would learn later. Emily screamed.

When Eric called during lunch, he thought I already knew. I didn’t, though, which meant that he broke it to me unwittingly, by just telling me in that superfluous, maladroit way of his that despite anything she was a good girl, and it must have been goddamned drugs and promiscuous sex, and I shouldn’t be feeling too bad about myself or even about her, and that he walked his dog there only the other day, and he would probably never have the heart to do that again… I told him to calm down and do it slower. “What. You don’t know yet?!”

Not anymore, Eric, not anymore. I actually did now.

Because if there existed something that connected me with Eric, it was Emily. He was the unlikely former classmate Emily could not shake off (even later; I guess he somehow amused her or else she had that psychological need to be humbled), and I met him through her, at one of those unnecessary birthday parties where you are bored to the extent where you run into a blurry, dimly lit face and find that you both share a passionate love for Gothic architecture. Going to that particular party was Emily’s idea, and Eric was that face, though I do not really remember what it was that we discussed. Could be a contemporary TV series and could be Amy Winehouse. In any case, whether it was pre or post breakup, my relationship with Eric was somehow tied around Emily. How is she and who is she blowing now. Because when the morning light drifted in, and I was no longer feeling too hung over, it turned out that I disliked the blasted TV series, and he never really cared for either Amy’s tabloid tantrums or her music half as much as I did. Still, he was a good guy, he was that bittersweet link I craved for but didn’t really need. We talked occasionally, and even met for a coffee and a short walk along the river once in a while. My mind left no room for mistake: if Eric decided to call me at lunch time and started saying something about drugs and a girl I was supposed to know, I didn’t have to think twice.

Broke it to me… That makes little sense. It presupposes an emotional shock, it gives away too much. And apparently Eric thought it still meant a great deal to me, my upcoming marriage or not, more than a random tragic death of a young girl would, so he ended up sighing and yeah'ing into the phone a lot. As I did too, helplessly trying to figure out how I actually felt about it.

When I switched off the phone and got back to the table, I smiled and, never a big shot socially, tried to plunge myself into the ongoing lunch conversation. Slight stomachache, distant anxiety. Did I care? I certainly did, though it took me about an hour to realise that Emily Laine was dead and that, yes, this is what I was calling her now. Not Emily. Suddenly I started using this inexplicable second name I had never really cared for. The realization would have made me wince, but the ‘Laine’ bit made her death impersonal, and it was what those brief, sobering Internet reports were going for. This was my disgraceful bandwagon, so cruel and so abominable. I knew I would be taking my pills tonight, my first in over a year.

Also, I was thinking about what Eric said to me at the end of the conversation that was like a dream the other way around: it lasted full fifteen minutes, but we never even said anything. Eric was helping with the funeral, and he mentioned Emily’s family. Apparently they had fond memories of me, after all those months, years, boyfriends and rehab stints, and wanted me to come and say some words. I figured this was probably Eric, because who would think about former boyfriends’ eulogies when your daughter dies? “But you knew her so well”. Yes, that’s what he said. “You knew her so well”.

Later that day Eric called again and told me about the funeral and the wake. He asked me to come to Emily’s family house two days later, and even though I mentioned Kate, I knew I would be coming. Then Eric brought up the question of the Laines’ address, but there really was no need.

And my God did she ever become famous, in a flash. You wouldn’t think that a suicide in a city, however public, loud (she screamed), sudden and dramatic, could provoke such insane reactions. Still, it looked as though Emily timed it so perfectly: it was eight-thirty, and the nearby streets were crowded. The bridge itself was full of people like Eric and myself, strolling, talking on the phone, walking their dogs. So that the whole thing, which had to last no more than five brief seconds, could not go unnoticed. There was a loud splash, said one 12-year old girl who at that time was crossing the bridge with her friends, and then she was gone. Simple. In a snap. I had to wonder what that girl would be thinking about it ten years from now.

So it was no wonder that the local Internet sites I kept frantically checking every half an hour, fell for it. There was a story. Hell, there were stories. Love affairs, drug addictions, sex life: this begged for so much more than bottom-of-the-page one liners. You could live in there, something I had almost succeeded in doing. The journalists, however, went straight for Emily’s drug problems: it was so simple and it explained so much. Quite accurate, too. In a matter of hours they unveiled the sort of details not even Eric could know. They were equally fascinating and horrifying, those details, and they managed to make a ghost, a shadow figure out of me. Though I did of course realise that it wouldn’t take long before they start digging up another part of Emily Laine’s life. One that could perhaps lead to me.

Strangely, I was not scared of trying to imagine how it happened: primarily because I couldn’t do that. The fact that she screamed stuck with me, but then Christ, I barely remembered her face. I had long stopped seeing her in cinemas, in groceries, in city parks, new ones or those we used to frequent. What I could easily imagine, though, was her favourite yellow skirt (which she had long thrown away, of course) and the muddy river she jumped into. And when the two things finally collided, in a heart-splitting bang, I felt disgusted. We bought that skirt together, just for the hell of it, because it was a ridiculous bargain and because we wanted to have a laugh; what we didn’t know was that we would both fall in love with it. She would wear that skirt all the time and I would constantly pester her when she didn’t. Even if her reasons for that (Emily was good with reasons) were only too obvious.

Yellow skirt. I thought I would begin my eulogy with it. In my mind it made for a good start.

Kate knew. She knew about the suicide (how couldn’t she?) and she knew about Emily. The only thing she didn’t know, though, was that the Emily I had been telling her about days after our first date, was indeed the Emily Laine who took her own life yesterday evening. She didn’t yet know that I would be going to the funeral, she didn’t know about the wake or the short speech I was supposed to deliver. Kate took it calmly, though, and didn’t make a scene out of it. At dinner she didn’t ask any questions, didn’t attack my silence with a carving knife. She even said I had to go, which settled it.

The next day was the day of autopsy and more reports on the ‘unfortunate’, ‘poor’, ‘wretched’ Emily Laine. Police reports, medical reports and, towards the evening, the first batch of dirty linen. The details of her love life. There were moments during the day when I wanted to get up from my desk, come to my boss and tell him I needed a break. A two day break from work, from the Internet, from the whole thing. Why? Because Emily was my first girlfriend, you ignorant hack, and I was presently of no use anyway, listless, numb and reduced to playing solitaire ad nauseum, or sometimes just staring at the flickering of shuffling cards after yet another victorious game. The solitaire took up all my thoughts, and the only thing that got me out of it was the cheerful buzzing of Kate’s text messages, a long conversation with Eric about the funeral arrangements and the easy but inevitable truth that it all indeed came down to drugs. Emily was addicted to coke, which was what I’d known for years. My source being no other than Eric himself.

Eric, who had only known one girlfriend all his life, was of course not the right person to ask, but I did it anyway. There was no one else to ask. “Eric, do you think I should have gotten in touch? Do you think I could have, you know, done something? Because the parting… it was not rude or anything…” Eric predictably said I shouldn’t even be thinking about it, that there was nothing three rehabs could do, so what could I possibly offer?.. Which was not a clever thing to say, but this was nonetheless exactly what I wanted to hear.

And then, later, when I was already home, I started getting calls from unknown numbers. The most recent articles invited those who had been close with Emily Laine to get across (anonymity guaranteed), so I switched off my phone and, resolved not to answer, watched that silent but insistent offensive. Kate didn’t even try to reason with me, even though she did suggest that those callers could well be Emily’s parents or all those intrigued sympathizers from the past who knew we’d been close. Me and Emily Laine.

Of course I had regrets. Hysterical, ridiculous ones. Which makes sense, I guess, because everything you do to a girl after a breakup seems ridiculous. But now all those calls I should have made, all those messages I should have sent and all those letters I should have written were dappling in front of me like drunk jugglers. Coming back at me, with vengeance. It wasn’t the worst breakup as far as breakups went, and it took weeks and even months for the bitterness to sink in. When it did, though, it was too little whisky diluted with way too much water. I didn’t feel anything and neither, I believed, did she. It was a perfectly routine argument in an overfilled evening café. The voices, the clattering, the shuffling waiters sucked us in and numbed the effect of what we said or thought we said. I pushed too hard, she ran out and that was that. At first I was confident we’d make up, but the days of silence just dragged on and on. We never did make up, and in the end it felt like a giant ocean wave that in the evening washes away the abandoned sand castles every last kid on the beach has grown tired of. But perhaps that was the design flaw in the whole affair: when you don’t see it, you don’t feel it.

Looking around, watching my soporific colleagues quietly munch their office time, I wondered whether my light blue shirt would be suitable for tonight. Wondering about matters like that was strangely satisfying, because for some reason there were hardly any details connected with Emily that I could think of: no funny episodes, no memorable incidents. I remembered nothing. Not even a cheeky sex scene at the back of the cinema, which did actually happen once during a Polanski film we both had really wanted to see and then abandoned halfway through. Sex in the cinema… So wasn’t the naïve, innocent and happily married Eric wrong about it? Was I not to blame for what was to come? For all that hell and all those hoards of boyfriends that wouldn’t even bother to come to the funeral?..

I wanted just one tiny memory to hang on to, but all I got instead was a massive brick wall I kept bumping into like an old blind dog. It was as if I left all those episodes and stories for the newspapers and was myself no more than a ghost that had played no part in Emily’s life. A wasted by-product of an unrequited crush. Still, it was so much easier for the journalists: they were outside looking in. While me… I mean – was I ever outside?..

And in the midst of it I was only too happy to hear Eric’s voice again. Calling me about every last detail; however tragic it seemed, we tried to make it as business-like as possible. Emily’s parents, the people who would be attending, another boyfriend gone missing and, somewhat unexpectedly, the funeral dress. “How is it important?” I asked. Surely that was none of our business. I was of course tempted to suggest the yellow skirt – because could you find something more relevant than a short yellow skirt for Emily Laine’s funeral? – but really, why ask me. Why not leave it to her parents or even to Eric?.. Then those magic words again: “But you knew her so well”. Oh damn you all, I wanted to scream, just God damn you all. Who made it up about me knowing her?.. It angered me. Because, however impossible, I probably did.  

What I didn’t do was look for Emily’s pictures. I had plenty of them embalmed in rough stacks inside my desk, but was it really a good idea to walk under mesmerising snowy slopes or wake the prettiest kittens? It took Kate to convince me it was a good idea to find a few rare ones and bring them with me. At first I said I wouldn’t do that, but seconds later I was on my hands and knees scattering them on the floor. There was time to do that. Besides, I was scared the open casket (Eric had mentioned the casket would be open) could freak me out for the obvious reason of me not remembering what Emily had looked like. And now Emily Laine was there again, in gaudy colours and in stylish black and white. In a doorway with her head slightly on one side, in her bed sleeping and on a garden bench seductively bending one knee. She looked so beautiful I almost felt a throat lump dissolve and melt in my eyes. Beautiful, even Kate had to admit as much. Beautiful: now I will be freaked out.

Kate: what was in it for her? What was that humiliating decency all about? Where was the jealousy she had tickled me with before? Where had it all gone? But then of course: she was also burying Emily Laine. Not the way I did, but in her own special way. Not in the ground, though perhaps in the long run somewhere so much deeper than I could even imagine.

There was a general feeling of restlessness. I had been to occasions like that before, but this one would of course be different. So many things were there to remind me, not least the incoming calls from local newspapers (I had no doubts anymore) that were now cheapening themselves into text messages that I deleted without reading. They were getting fewer now, so perhaps they had already gotten all they wanted out of it. Perhaps they had lost interest.

I would take the bus. I would leave the car at home and take the ordinary city bus. This didn’t seem natural to Kate, and I couldn’t blame her. My perspective was this: I was going to the Laines' house, the one I had visited so often in those days via the same bus and the same route. It was the road whose every millimeter was forever linked in my memory with a particular idea or a Winehouse single playing in my Walkman. It was an easy decision: same road, same bus number; and, if I had a chance, the very seat I used to prefer back then. It was sentimental, I knew, but was it really all that unnatural?..

“Do you know what you are going to say?” she asked, the door open and me standing outside. “No, but I’ll think of something on my way", I said. "I took pen and paper. Also, Kate, do you think the brown shirt will do? I really didn’t want it to be a black one…”

And then Kate saw something that I didn’t: the blackness of the sky. She told me it would rain tonight. Quite heavily.

The bus stop was surreally empty for that time of day, which, coupled with the bleak, pre-stormy weather  and the approaching bus, made for a trite Stephen King setting. Once inside, I went straight for one of the back seats that Emily and I had loved so much. I knew I was probably doing myself a lot of harm by consciously reliving past experiences, but then there’s nothing like sweetness of painful nostalgia. I went for it head-on, and I found my place. Which meant sitting opposite a 15-year old boy doing multitasking over his iPad. He was typing something, and for some reason I tried to convince myself it was a short story. The boy was engrossed in whatever it was that he was doing, and he didn't even look up.

The rain started almost immediately. It lavishly spewed all over the bus windows and promised an even longer thirty minutes that lay ahead. Thirty minutes, no concessions. I didn’t expect that in those ridiculously brief five years buses had become speedier and roads slicker. I thought of that new modern classical album Kate had told me about, but the battery of my phone was running dangerously low. I didn’t want to risk it and ended up envying the boy with his bright, perpetually glowing iPad.

I placed the paper on my briefcase and wrote ‘yellow skirt’ in a slow and meticulous manner of someone who knew it would take him long to follow that up. I tried to think about the eulogy, but every time I thought I was on to something my mind would be hijacked by some person or object in the immediate vicinity. The annoyed, omnipresent cackling of rain or an old woman noisily entering the bus with a purple umbrella that wouldn’t fold. It didn’t even help taking out a couple of my favourite Emily’s pictures and struggling with another woeful effort to make something up or at the very least remember. All I knew was that the river was muddy and she screamed. All I saw was the purple intensity of the erected umbrella that was left on the floor as it was, cumbersome and naked.

Ah. Umbrella, I thought. This rang a bell, though I didn’t yet know what it was about. Umbrella. It knocked on something and stirred a few things. An old summer evening, just a couple of months after we’d met. Emily’s umbrella flying away from us, smoothly jerked along a windy city street and two quixotic figures desperately trying to catch up. The way I saw it now, those two idiots never had a chance. They should have dropped the whole thing and found some place to hide from the storm. But the trouble was, we were far away from home, Emily loved that umbrella and I had recently lost mine.

We were sitting in an open air café after outliving another empty midsummer day when the wind gushed through the narrow street and knocked off a few napkins, forks, ashtrays and menu cards. Emily chuckled ironically, totally disregarding the fact that it was the sort of wind that unequivocally told you it meant business. It meant trouble. The solid, menacing surface of the sky didn’t look too friendly either, so I suggested going inside. After all, there were few customers and we were still waiting for our order. Emily said her playful 'no', as she normally did when I sounded particularly serious or agitated. It made me too weak to argue. I guess I loved her for that.

So we stayed and even had the cheek to wave off the insistent, welcoming gestures of the waiters carrying their trays inside. “Okay, I said. As long as the beer doesn’t fly off”. Which it hadn’t so far. And then I could suddenly see that Emily was actually strongly alarmed about that whole weather thing and was in fact waiting for me to repeat what I had suggested two minutes earlier. I knew she wouldn’t bring it up herself: Emily couldn’t lose. While me I wouldn’t give in either and was determined to humour her adorable whim whatever it cost. Seconds later a most extraordinary thing happened: another gust of wind rushed in, and this time it hinged Emily’s umbrella off her straw chair, threw it a few steps away and then snapped it open. Against all laws of physics, human comprehension or common decency. As if there was another gust of wind, this one coming from the opposite direction of the street. I knew the clasp of Emily’s umbrella didn’t work, but this was still quite incredible. So incredible in fact that neither Emily nor I managed to predict what was going to happen in a few moments – so as to try and do something about it. And of course: the very next second my glass was rudely dragged off the table, the unoccupied straw chairs shot away into the distance and Emily’s Virginia Woolf-esque hairstyle got disfigured beyond recognition. As for her umbrella, it was kicked back and forth, around and then, quite inevitably, up.

Needless to say, we no longer saw any point in going inside, having dinner or even leaving any money for the ordered food or ruined drinks. I didn’t even need to see Emily’s face to know that all we had to do at that instant was jump out of our seats and, to the sound and ominous tickling of the first heavy raindrops, run for the umbrella. Which was already going faster than my pounding, excited, loving heart.

Emily's umbrella was a black, humourless thing, and by the look of it you could not imagine that it belonged to a girl. And – no, Emily’s umbrella was not a mindless tax paid to the world’s most grating subculture. (She never belonged to any.) A whim, maybe, but of a most noble and naïve kind. It was part of that dying sentimentality complex that Emily seemed to have. She inherited (her word) the umbrella from her grandfather who had died three years ago. They used to be close, which was yet another point on a long list of things that made Emily special. The best girls are special in a way they can never comprehend, and it’s quite a tragedy when some of them happen to do that. In any case, Emily had loved her grandfather like only a little child could, and the past relationship would again and again lead to various stories and anecdotes I was genuinely fond of. In a word, that umbrella was special, and Emily felt a natural instinct to hang on to it. At schools, at restaurants, at clubs and hip parties. It never looked silly. It actually made her look cool, and I suspected she knew that.

Emily’s umbrella. I had to wonder where it was now, a thought that got me distracted from my reminiscences and threw me back into the now well-packed bus, the sleeping old woman with her open umbrella that was presently a matter of quiet irritation for other passengers, and the boy with an iPad who was still tapping away as if entombed by an epiphany or a desperate attempt to revive a missed deadline. And the rain, of course, the sort of aggressive, salivating beast that made me shiver from invisible drops and wish that the bus would never stop. Where was I going anyway?..

The purple patch still glimmered through the jittery paling of legs, arms and briefcases, and I slipped back into the memory as if into a possessive nightmare. 

Emily clutched her tiny handbag and I pressed the edges of the already slippery table, but it’s not like our effort was needed: the wind swept us away, the café a throat and the two of us a booming chuckle it could no longer suppress. So that seconds later, hungry, wild, silly and quite powerless in the pouring rain, we found ourselves in pursuit of Emily’s umbrella. But we didn’t mind, because in a strangely adult and mature way we accepted that happiness was not a moment. That it was happening, all the time, regardless of circumstances. So whatever sort of figures we cut for an eye of a man observing us from his warm confinement on the sixth floor, we were electrified, we were the lightning bolts that were somehow missing from the thunderstorm. My stomach did feel a little small, but that was not the result of our missed dinner or nagging ulcerous spasms which I started having at that time: I was a chivalrous fool, and I had to get that umbrella for Emily.

Even if it was only a game, and we were no more than kids having fun.

The rain was so strong that I felt I was physically getting heavier from drenched clothes and soaked skin. We were in the water except that we could breathe. We were swimming except that we were running. And on our way constantly shouting something loud but indiscriminate, something muffled out by the rain and occasional thunder, looking at our feet bogged down by frothy, overflowing pavements and only rarely raising our heads to see the black umbrella carried away from us by the wind that was somehow resisting the rather direct and disciplined downpour. I could also try and snatch a furtive glance back at Emily’s yellow skirt which – hang on! – was not at all yellow that day. I think, yes, I think it was purple. And it was a dress.

Also, I could swear (and later she admitted I was right) that Emily was laughing all the time. Roaring away like a mad pirate closing in on the poor, unarmed prey. Only I was not too sure that we were closing in on anything. Last time I checked, the umbrella was about to turn left. If anything, our prey looked more and more like our cranky, gullible and totally uncontrollable guide.

At some point I stopped hearing Emily’s slovenly footsteps behind my back and turned around. That’s right, Emily was too far away, and I thought it was somehow wrong to increase that gap – even if it meant getting closer to the umbrella. So I stopped and waited for her, my face contorted as if by direct sunlight. When Emily’s approaching silhouette started glistening through the penetrable cellophane of rain that had long turned summery evening light into one wholesome dully grey bleakness, she seemed even more gorgeous than ever. All the more so because of the way her unreligious feet seemed half-swallowed by the rising water. Her waxy hair, pumped down by water, gave her oval face the charismatic, almost Italian blackness that became her so much. In that splitting second before I grabbed her left hand (right one was pressing the handbag to her chest) and we continued our mad pursuit as one limping four-legged entity, there was a crazy thought that wired through my brain like a diving seagull: if only I had a camera to make this one picture. Just one. The camera could go sour from water the very next second, I wouldn’t care, as long as I had the chance to keep that one picture.

“I see it, I see it! It’s just passed the hardware shop!” cried Emily, quite articulately, and this time it was her turn to steer us in the proper direction.

Whenever I caught a glimpse of what was going on around, I noticed the absence of moving cars. There were no people running for hiding places or looking for umbrellas. There was no one to call us daring or daft. We were alone. In the whole city, it seemed, life had turned invisible. As for the rain, it was as willful as ever and, for the time being, had no intention of subsiding. Nor did the thunder which remained strangely unaccompanied and harmless throughout the whole storm. Although thunder is of course never less than intimidating, and we knew it could bring along the lightning out of nowhere, any second from now. As for the water, it was getting ever so closer to our knees, which made it difficult to run or to stumble.

Banks, restaurants, groceries, residential buildings, cinemas, churches, all no more than an abstraction guarding our way and keeping us from stopping, taking a deep breath and thinking about what we were doing. For this was no longer about Emily’s umbrella. God knows what it was about, but just like staying outside in that café was no more than a whim, it was equally ridiculous to keep running, with that freakish abandon, for what increasingly looked like a lost cause. But like I said, we didn’t mind.

We were actually singing at some point, or I think we were.

Oddly, when the sky started to lose its monochrome dullness and the rain began to get slower, and at some point it did, I felt hugely uncomfortable. It actually felt like I was getting undressed in the middle of a crowded street. Plus, when the rain got slower, the wind got heavier. Every inch of our bodies was being skinned by those monstrous fingers; Emily’s purple dress looked like jeans and my jeans were eating away my legs. It all smelled too much like a particularly bad case of midsummer pneumonia that, to get ahead a little, would mercifully never get beyond a few coughs. And as for Emily’s umbrella, unstoppable and jumping around as if guided by a reckless kid with a remote control, was currently nothing more than a small black dot constantly pushing away. We were out of breath and, mindful of the first few cars, slowed down to a heavy jog that in the circumstances resembled a sloppy and not particularly pacey walk. The rain was severe, and the umbrella was no longer within our sight.

We did see it again, though, when the last abrupt rolls of thunder had vanished and the lackadaisical rain started to let people out and into the streets again, but then the wind pulled one final trick we could not beat: it tossed up Emily’s umbrella, threw it above the roof of a supermarket and spat it out into an entirely different part of the city.

“Never mind”, whispered Emily and carefully inspected her black ankle boots that were surely past the stage of recovery. “Never mind”, she said again and this time joyfully kicked the water with her foot, splashing me all over.

Funny: I was so wet I didn’t even feel anything. Besides, we were both exhausted and wanted to go home. Having done its job, the wind eloped together with the umbrella. We didn’t feel clean: we felt cold. Also, there was one thing that I realised when I noticed Emily’s leather handbag that now looked shrunken and shabby: I’d left mine in the café.

The bus was almost empty now. I even panicked for a second: have I missed my stop? The windows were already black, and I had to concentrate to discern the familiar shapes and outlines that finally told me I was still ten minutes away. The old woman was gone, as were all those office-bored, after-work people she had annoyed so much with that purple umbrella of hers. Otherwise, the bus looked new and different, which I wasn’t so sure I liked. Two things were the same though: the boy with the iPad and the rain outside.

Ten minutes, enough time to churn out a couple of hundred words for that damned eulogy of mine. Eulogy: the word sounded too heavy and solemn. Something like a heavy raincoat you want to drag off your shoulders after a long and unpleasant outing. Eulogy: it may turn out to be a lot simpler that. A few words from an old friend, an old boyfriend perhaps. After all, 'eulogy' was nothing more than my own invention; the word had not been so much as whispered by Eric during any of our numerous conversations over the phone. So: the sheet of paper pressed close to my briefcase and the pen still clutched in my sweaty right hand, I crossed out all the previous drivel and began writing. Something that, inevitably perhaps, began with a few words about Emily’s umbrella. A story that had no beginning and no end.

This was the first time the boy sitting opposite me tore his face away from the iPad and looked at his fellow passenger. I didn’t raise my head, but I did feel the incredulity and even some badly patched arrogance. I didn’t want to talk and I certainly didn’t know how to explain to him that there were things you couldn’t type. There was writing an iPad could not manage. But how do you say that? And do you say anything at all?..

There was a loving message from Kate, quickly followed by one from ‘concerned’ and ‘worried’ Eric. A loud but illegible voice announced the stop, but I didn’t need to hear that. I was already half-outside, or at the very least facing the bus door. My stomach was aching a bit, but I knew I would be fine. Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about the rain: Kate had insisted I should take my umbrella with me.