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Naked

I enter the hospital room and there he is, sitting up straight in his bed with his bald head hanging low into his hands. Even though I can’t see his face, his thin long fingers reveal his bones. He doesn’t seem to notice me.

Outside the room on the hallway are my mother and his second current wife, the both of them holding guard. They close the door behind me. I get closer to him and whisper his name. Slowly he raises his head.

The illness had eaten away his temples and cheeks, his eyes were some bulging marbles hanging in caves next to his still prominent but thinned nose. Not much was left of his neck and his mouth revealed his teeth even through his skin.

Yet upon noticing me his eyes light up. He mentions my name and a faint smile appears on his thin lips. He says something about how glad he is that I came to visit. I keep on looking at him knowing it will be the last time.

Here is the man who adopted me as a baby with his then wife, my mother now sitting outside on the hallway, and after they got divorced continued to be a welcoming man. In summer I often would spend my school holiday with him and his second wife and their son. I remember him walking around the house naked, visitors or not. He would be sitting on some rattan chair reading a book and I would be wondering how painful that must feel. More so, I would be reading one of his many comic books. From Robert Crumb for example, prompting me to think of my father as Mister Natural and his infinite meditation sessions, or from Heavy Metal, the science fiction magazine containing my first female fantasy, making me not wanting to join in and walk around the house naked myself. I felt as embarrassed as excited.

This was only a couple of years ago and now here I am, not even 16 years old, looking at Mister Natural in his hospital bed soon to be rolling out his meditation rug for eternity. I know how much he has been in pain the last couple of months and how he must be delirious from the morphine in his body. But that faint smile he just gave was genuine and so is the glimmer in his eyes looking at me. It is as if he is now more naked than ever before and all I can see is his soul, smiling at me forever.

The Man with the Hat

René Magritte - Man in a Bowler Hat (1964)

René Magritte – Man in a Bowler Hat (1964)

Maybe the man with the hat is my real father. Hiding behind his newspaper four seats away in the train. I spoke with him over the phone a couple of weeks ago, but all I had was this tiny photograph of him. His face was pushed half out of the picture frame by me, a two-year old smiling white-haired chubber. His half-face, dressed with a neatly trimmed beard and metal-framed glasses seems absent, as if he knows this will be the last time he sees me. It is over fifteen years later now, and I am on my way to meet him. I am looking at the square picture my mother only recently gave to me, as if it were a secret file released by a collapsed regime revealing personal stuff from the past.

All I did was ask my mother who my father was a couple of months ago when I saw her at the birthday. She wrote his name on a piece of paper together with his phone number. After that she sent the picture by post.

I look at the picture again. It really is tiny. My mother must have taken it, which might explain his absent look as well. It really didn’t work between the two.

Who is he? What does he look like now? He could also be on his way home to meet me coming from my direction. Will he recognise me? Parents should have a natural gift for that.

The man with the hat looks at me. Nervously I look away. It is not him. I can tell, because I don’t feel anything, at least not recognition.

low lightThe empty landscape passes by outside. It is a mild November day and the low sun casts a warm orange-yellow light through the train carriage. A bunch of kids, probably my age, are chatting and laughing, but I don’t hear them.

Upon arrival at the station I merge into the crowd. It is a Saturday and people seem very excited. I get into the tram and manage to get a seat. By now, it has turned dark outside.

Inside the tram I see all faces. This little kid is looking at me, his mum staring outside. Could he tell I am on my way to meet my father? I must look suspicious. No need to worry, I tell myself, soon all will be clear. Weather my father is a wealthy man, an intellectual, an overaged hippy or some bum, it shouldn’t matter. At least I know then and I can move on.

A sudden wind blows in my face when I turn the corner walking into his street. The tall apartment houses on one side of the street are overlooking a canal and an open space on the other side. The rhythmic street lights throw a dark orange light onto the row houses. In one of them my father lives. I look at the piece of paper again my mother gave to me, on which I had added his home address, and checked the number.

Door after door, window after window, the number slowly increases and after about a minute or so I reach the right number. It is not a door facing the street, rather it is a portal with steps upwards towards a little hallway with four doors next to each other. His name is on the right door. I put the piece of paper away and try to imagine what he looks like. I am more nervous than ever before, but manage to suddenly push the doorbell.

At first it stays quiet. I swallow. Then, a gentle ruffle sounds and a hall light goes on. Footsteps reveal a nature not that different than mine. The door opens and the bright light blinds me with me just coming from the dark outside. I can see the silhouette of a person my size and slowly the face of the man from the picture appearing on it. The voice I heard on the telephone asks me if I had a good journey and if I prefer tea or coffee.

Just Like Mine

The sand nestled itself between my little toes. I had never been to the beach with my mother before. Usually when I visited her we would go to the park or just cycle around the city, with me on the little seat at the front of her bike, my eyes navigating our way.

This time however, she took me on a short train trip to the coast on a mid-week day somewhere in May. She smelled kind of funny. A mixture of a rosy perfume and cigarettes, and her skin had something strangely familiar, in its somewhat pale complexion.

Back home it always smelled like fresh bread, as we lived on the second floor above a bakery. But that day when my mother came and collected me, it was the first time I realised that she, despite her constant smoking, smelled actually very nice and not just because of the perfume. For the first time in my life I felt a kinship and more than before I was interested where my mother would take me this time.

She had to choose the train compartment filled with a bluish layer of smoke and lots of grownups. My polite coughs were unnoticed until the dunes appeared from behind the clouds. My mother started talking, something about when I was a baby or something, but my attention took another path towards the windows that had a picture on them, a red circle with a hand holding a bottle.

We walked from the station across some grey, cubical houses towards the beach and I started running towards it, into the sand, leaving my sandals behind. I had been to the beach before, just not here and not with my mother. She slowly took off her flip-flops and walked towards me, into the sand and smiled at me.

I ran towards the sea, cold at first, but warmer on a shimmy. I saw my mother standing just before the shore. I looked back the other way. The sea had a gradient that went from a darkish muddy brown between my feet to a grey blue, ending up in a stark and abrupt dark ending at the horizon, only interrupted by the grey-whitish waves. Above it all, a pale blue sky was watching, with some laughing seagulls flying in formation in front of an impressive army of woolly clouds.

I walked back to my mother, who was now sitting in the sand, smoking a cigarette, looking at me with some frowns above the eyes, but also static, unmoveable, seemingly in deep thought.

She started talking again, but I noticed my wet feet had absorbed all the sand and little balls of wet sand were starting to form on my skin that I could rub off gently with my hands. Now and then my mother would stop talking and I would look at her, with her blue veins slightly visible through her skin and her blond hair, just like mine.

 

©2013 David Enker
Nederlandse vertaling (2017)