Stories Born From Songs | Lesedauer ca. 19 Min.


Luca Tamara Yaa Amponsah 23.12.2022

It is a mild midday in September. Unlike you, the sun had been out all morning. You decide to search for a quiet place nearby to continue reading the book you had not touched in weeks. It takes you way too long to get dressed.

It is a mild midday in September. Unlike you, the sun had been out all morning. You decide to search for a quiet place nearby to continue reading the book you had not touched in weeks. It takes you way too long to get dressed. You realize this is not a day on which your clothes can make up for your lingering dissatisfaction, and still you decide to wear the high waist jeans you recently bought. Your idea about what it should look like on you does not match reality, which is why you also opt for your favorite oversize coat. Even though it will not allow you to vanish, it will at least conceal that your jeans are too tight. By switching off your Bluetooth speaker, you cut off Angie Stone in the middle of her crooning. You hurry out of your flat determined to win the race against the thought of changing your clothes again.

Outside, you order a black coffee that is actually dark brown. Somehow, it reminds you of a guy who recently came to the café you still work at. He had ordered a black coffee declaring, “I want my coffee like I am, black and strong!”, and laughed. You try not to blame him for your general incapacity to separate the color black from its political meanings.

A single-use cup of steaming coffee in your hand, you swear to Mother Earth that next time, you will spend less energy on getting dressed and more on things that matter, like taking along a reusable cup. You walk further down the street, past people who either hold hands, look into their phones or at their reflections in the large windows of cafés and stores they pass. They do not seem to be embarrassed by the fact that their glance at themselves blatantly reveals either their narcissism, their insecurity, or both.

You choose a bench in the sun. It is coated in smooth, dark green varnish. Someone must have flared the bench in the middle where the green coat had turned black, its melting away frozen in time. Somehow, the bench looks broken, split into two halves. The black longish gulf in the middle reminds you of the invisible boundary that you often observe between strangers sitting next to each other in waiting rooms or on the underground. That omnipresent fear of contact strangers face each other with. You think of the place you call home, of the often packed and sweltering public transport, and how you could sometimes not even tell if the sweat running down your arm was yours or from your seat neighbor. On the left side, the letters “S-E-X” written in a crooked, childlike handwriting cover the back of the bench. You could as well have dumped the empty Capri Sonne package on the right side of the bench and sat down, but you choose the left. The personal is political.

The sun has warmed up the surface of the bench. Except for the unmistakable rebellion of your belly against the waistband of your jeans, you feel comfortable. You sit for a while, proud of having kicked yourself in the ass to go out and catch some sun, alone. You express a silent “Thank you” to whoever is expecting it before you check your phone. The lock screen reminds you of your mood by showing the song you had paused seconds before leaving your flat: Angie Stone’s Pissed Off. Apart from that, nothing. The lump in your throat forms faster than the screen goes black. You knew you should have left the phone at home. You swallow hard and bury the device at the bottom of your tote bag, as if this would prevent you from checking it again. You open your book at page 34. After having skimmed over the first sentence four times, you go back to the beginning of the chapter. It doesn’t help. You don’t even remember there was a character called Stella. That Stella must have anticipated your lack of commitment to the story already a few weeks ago and left your mind in time. You admire people like Stella - they have the self-esteem you are lacking.

To your annoyance, you realize that everything you had read so far was gone like a soap bubble that had popped, vanishing into nothingness. You put the book next to you, take a sip of your coffee, roll a cigarette, and light it. Failing to find a seated position in which your belly and trousers would ceasefire, you decide to open the button and zip. You exhale smoke, relieved. Who did you squeeze yourself into these trousers for anyway?

With a newfound sense of peace, you take up your book and start to read from the very beginning. A few pages forward only – Joy had just met Stella in the train – the sudden heavy scent of cigarettes and sandalwood that match neither the description of Joy nor Stella interrupt your lecture.

“Pardon me, do you mind?” a deep voice asks. You had not heard steps approaching. Looking up, you are facing a slender index finger that is pointing to the free space on the bench. The index fingernail is neatly polished in black. You can tell the nail polish had been applied twice and you bet the closest this finger has come to washing dishes is pressing the buttons of a dishwasher.

You cannot help but quickly look around, registering three free benches nearby before you mumble, “Of course, yes of course.” You catch yourself moving a ridiculously tiny bit away from the middle of the bench, as if the dainty woman in front of you was going to need four times the space her legs actually take up. She sits right in the middle of the bench, the fabric of her loose aubergine-coloured trousers covering the burnt spot.

“Hmmmmm,” she sighs.

You think she sat down a little too close, considering she is a stranger. You look at her, smile politely and wait a few seconds for her to say something else. She does not seem to notice. Instead, she opens her handbag, her dreadlocks slightly moving forward, revealing a grey hairline. She takes out two objects, one flat and heavy, its golden color perfectly matching her jewelry, the other a lipstick. Both look expensive. She flips open the flat object that turns out to be a mirror and manages to open the lipstick with the other hand that is free. She lifts her chin, raises her eyebrows, and starts to color her lips, her hands slightly shaking.

You return to your book and continue reading. You try, at least. Something about her makes it hard for you to concentrate. As if her mere presence drowned out Joy’s and Stella’s flirty conversation in the train. Though she looked rather short standing in front of you, she seems taller than you seated. You notice her upright posture and immediately correct yours. When she is done coloring her lips, she takes out an old mobile phone from her handbag. She presses several buttons that each make distinct key tones. Suddenly, she starts to chuckle, the sounds, separate from each other at first, gradually develop into unrestrained laughter. Surprised, you glance at her briefly. How could that woman laugh that loudly?

“Oh please, continue reading.” She says, her words accentuated by chuckles. Having lost the thread of the narration again, you start the page from the beginning, when the woman chokes and coughs heavily. You close your book and awkwardly offer to pat her on the back.

“Sorry…,” you stutter.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” she answers. She is one of the first people you have come across here who do not seem irritated by you saying sorry for something you are not responsible for. When her cough eases, she fumbles for a cigarette from the pocket of her lilac trench coat the same way others would fumble for a cough drop.

“You’re supposed to finish your coffee before it gets cold,” she says, and lights her cigarette.

The subsequent silence between the two of you is heavy. It is a loud kind of silence. The kind that is hard to bear, at least for you. The woman, however, does not seem to bother to fill the air with cigarette smoke rather than words. You take a sip of the coffee you are supposed to finish before it gets cold and observe the swirl inside the cup that your movement has created. The reflection of your face on the surface of your drink is distorted by the rotation. In an incessant loop, it is drawn to the center of the swirl, loosing itself there. The longer you concentrate on the swirl, the more you are absorbed by it. And the more you are absorbed by it, the more your reflection changes. It changes into someone else’s reflection. Someone you know you had met before but could not clearly identify. The eyes looking at you are open and warm; it is almost as if you could retrieve yourself in them. They are blanketed with a slightly worried frown, the kind that tells you someone really cares. And for once, you do not feel stared at. You feel seen.

You had been lingering in the warm embrace of the encounter for what could have been an hour, when a slightly trembling hand is raised to that someone’s reflection’s mouth, followed by a heavy cough. The reflection on the surface of your coffee suddenly disappears, along with the silence you notice you had ceased to feel uneasy about. A confused reflection of yourself stares back at you from the suddenly smooth surface of your now cold drink. You look to the left, being reminded only then of the woman next to you. Not bothering to return your look, she types a message on her phone, composing a dissonant key tone melody that for some reason, you would wish you were able to decode.

This was weird.

As you fail to come up with an excuse for having to leave, you simply say, “I have to go.”

“I know,” the woman answers and smiles to herself while exchanging her phone for a cigarette. Startled by her answer, you get up, hastily pack your things, return a wry smile, nod at her, and walk away.

“My child.”

You do not know why you stop and turn around.

“Don’t take it too seriously. All this.” Her last two words are accompanied by a slow circular movement of the hand with which she is holding her cigarette. It creates several circles of smoke in the air that float towards you. Speechless, you nod again and realize you somehow feel naked. You look down at yourself, your fingers tightening around the handles of your tote bag.

The moment you look up again, the woman is gone.

This short story was written during the workshop Stories Born from Songs facilitated by the author Chimeka Garricks in October 2022.