Esther Murbach, born in the middle of the 20th century, was raised and is living in Basel. She studied languages, history and philosophy in Basel and Berlin. She is a journalist and translator. She has been a freelance author since 2008.
By Esther Murbach
I had done it again. Messed up. Obviously I’m not far enough in my journey to find the happiness I’m looking for. Have a lot to learn, I know. But still, I think I haven’t deserved this! It’s positively unfair! After all, I had my doubts. It was Lisa who insisted.
“You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t do some positive thinking.”
Lisa knows all about positive thinking from a book. Her job as a receptionist with a Property Agent doesn’t do it for her. She aspires to higher goals. The book she has read is called Rising to Your Pink Cloud, or something like it. She quotes from it all the time. She says its wisdom will earn her the title of Little Teacher, as soon as she finishes the spiritual guidance correspondence course she’s following on the side. After that she will read another book and subscribe to another course which will elevate her to the level of Eminent Teacher. And then she might even rise to guru level and found her own Ashram.
If you ask me, that’s a long shot. But it’s better not to say such a thing to Lisa or she might get angry. You don’t want to put off your best friend when she’s the only one you trust. Though, that’s what’s the trouble with me, Lisa says. Not trusting enough. Not believing in myself and my own luck.
“No matter how shitty your past has been, you can let go in a second if you only want to. Then the old crap will all melt away. Just like that. Walk towards the light and never look back!”
I tried. If there’s anything you can’t accuse me of it’s not trying. That’s what got me into the present mess in the first place. Can’t figure out where I went wrong this time. I did all the positive thinking and believing Lisa suggested. This was supposed to be a romantic weekend with the man of my dreams in a posh hotel. And now I’m hanging around in Dublin Airport waiting for a delayed flight.
Though, the hotel wasn’t that posh. Stains on the carpet, the stench of stale cigarette smoke and sweat in a non-smoking room, hardly concealed by air freshener. The beds were clean enough, at least the sheets looked clean. Sheets I was hoping to roll around in with Seamus, with a bottle of Champagne on the side to keep us lubricated. Even when it wasn’t really Champagne, just a Prosecco you can get from Dunnes for about ten Euros. I didn’t care. It was a nice touch to be greeted by a bottle and a red rose in a hotel room. It’s the thought that counts.
Lisa and I had met Seamus a week ago in Killarney where Lisa had suggested we go for a holiday. There we sat on our first night, celebrating my birthday in the bar of the Arbutus Hotel, when Lisa shoved her elbow into my side.
“See that guy over there? He’s staring at you.”
I looked. He was staring indeed. And he wasn’t bad looking either. A bit old for my taste maybe, clearly over forty, when I had just turned twenty-five. Well, nobody is perfect, Lisa used to say, quoting a line from some old Hollywood film. She considers herself an expert on films from the fifties of the last century.
The next thing I know, the guy is sitting by my side. I was already a little tipsy on the pink Prosecco Lisa and I were having. The guy moved fast, coming on to me like an express train. Lovely eyes, lovely dress, lovely figure, lush lips. Sweet-talk to give you diabetes. He assured me that I was the answer to his prayers. Laid it on a bit thick, considering we had only just met. His name was Seamus, and he wanted to spend the next weekend with me, before Lisa and I were flying back home. He would make reservations for a hotel room at Dublin Airport, and I should meet him there. Why didn’t I postopone my flight?
I did ask about his private life. I did try to guess if he was married, divorced, separated, engaged or single. His answer was not exactly straightforward.
“You know how it is. You end up with things you weren’t really asking for. Your life may be ok, but not fulfilled. The happiness is missing. When I look at you, I know where to find it!”
Those were his exact words. I let it go at that, though I still had my doubts. Lisa didn’t. While he was stepping out to the men’s room, she hissed at me.
“This is so typically you! Here you are meeting a guy who is obviously smitten by you, and all you do is negative thinking! How do you want to improve your Karma with that kind of attitude? I can see the love in his eyes when he looks at you! This is a one time chance! On your birthday, of all days. Clearly a sign of destiny. Go for it! I wanna dance at your wedding! I’ll leave you two alone now.”
When Seamus came back, Lisa had gone up to our room. Seamus and I went outside to snog on a park bench. Around midnight he had to go home, he said. He wasn’t too clear about where home was. I decided to have faith in destiny and not to be inquisitive. The romantic moment was too good to be spoilt by petty concerns. And I agreed to postpone my flight, like he wanted me to.
During the following week, he sent a few passionate texts. He certainly knew how to fire a lady’s imagination! When Friday came, Lisa and I had already mapped out my future with Seamus. What kind of wedding we would plan, where we would live, how many kids, should I be a working mother. I decided against the latter. I didn’t like my job as a pediatric nurse anyway, would rather nurse my own babies.
“I’m absolutely confident about this!”, Lisa beamed. “And I’m very proud of you. You’re finally getting somewhere with a guy. No more worrying about wrong choices!”
But now I’m sitting in Dublin Airport on a cold bench, watching an empty runway through streaky glass panels. I’m trying to get rid of the stale taste in my mouth. The slightly sour latte from the food stall doesn’t help. Small hammers throb behind my temples.
One seat away from me a burly guy is settling down. I say settling down, because sitting down won’t describe it. He fusses over various items like two large suitcases, a cabin case, a canvas shopping bag, a sandwich, a piece of cake and a large Coke, arranging them carefully around himself on the floor, on the small side table and the adjoining seats. Then he gets a notebook out of the canvas bag and fusses with that.
The burly guy reminds me vaguely of a character in one of Lisa’s favourite films with the title Cat on a Burning Roof, or something like it. Lisa made we watch a rerun on TV in spite of me not sharing her tastes. The film was quite entertaining, though, and it featured Liz Taylor who was famous for having been married eight times. Always to the wrong guys, it seems, because when she died she was divorced again. No husband by her bedside tearfully holding her hand. When even someone like her who had it all, rich and famous and beautiful, didn’t make it to everlasting love – why should I? Compared to all the trouble she had gone through, my last debacle in the romantic department was not too dramatic. Just kind of embarrassing.
But it does hurt. What’s even worse is my fury with Lisa, and with myself for listening to her. Best friend and Little Teacher my arse! Her judgment stinks!
Or maybe it just wasn’t meant to happen for me this time. Maybe I still have to be punished for some mistake I made in a former life. Lisa has been urging me all along to try reincarnation therapy. Maybe I should do it. Maybe I would at least get an explanation.
There I was in the smelly hotel room at the airport waiting for Seamus to turn up. I felt so positively positive about this! Counting on pledges of everlasting love. Slipping into my new lacey nighty. Brushing my teeth. Repairing my make-up in front of the magnifying mirror in the bathroom. At least the hotel management was sensitive to the female guests’ needs for perfect sight on every pore.
The phone rang. This must be him calling me from the lobby.
“Sorry, dear, Seamus darling can’t make it,” a female voice said. “This is Maire, his wife. He’s in bed with a flu. But even if he wasn’t – he hardly ever makes it to the hotel rooms. I see to that. Sluts like you are after him all the time. Can’t really blame him, he’s just too attractive for his own good. But he always comes back to me. So, why don’t you pick someone else up from the hotel bar? Have a lovely night!”
The phone went dead. So did my ecstatic mood. I had only the Prosecco and the TV to keep me company until next morning. The bubbly was too sweet for my taste and the TV didn’t offer many choices. Like in a haze, I settled for a documentary with the title Embarassed Bodies, or something like it, which was a parade of all kinds of physical deformations. Including close-ups of diseased intimate body parts. Just the right thing to turn off my passion. After having emptied the pink bottle, I fell asleep with the TV still on. In the morning, I skipped breakfast in order not to miss my flight. Unwashed and unfed I hastened to the gate, only to find out that the flight was delayed.
I’m just swallowing the last sip of the sour latte when the burly guy turns up. He looks a little bit like the actor who had played the part of Liz Taylor’s father-in-law in the Cat film. His sandy-coloured beard is longer than the actor’s, and the hair on his head is too. A real mane. I start wondering what his occupation might be, and if observing him would be a worthwhile distraction. Which turns out to be the case.
Burly switches his notebook on fumbling with earphones. Seems he’s going to skype. I have a good view on the screen. An elderly woman appears on it looking pretty unhappy. I watch her pinched face with the lips moving. I can’t hear what she says because the sound goes to Burly’s earphones. But I can’t help overhearing what Burly says. He’s not even keeping his voice down. He speaks with an American accent.
“How is everybody? Did you do what I told you? Do you keep it up? I only have your best interest at heart. You know that, don’t you! Repeat what I told you! You’re mumbling, I can’t hear. Speak up! That’s better. I’m counting on you. Don’t disappoint me! I’ll soon be on my way to the North, will call you again when I get there. See you soon. I love you. Don’t forget. Bye.”
He sounds like a preoccupied father admonishing a child. Friendly but commanding, trusting the child will eventually comply.
On comes another face of another woman, this time a fat one. She looks positively miserable. Burly repeats himself.
“How is everybody? Did you do what I told you?” And so on.
This woman seems to be stubborn. He scolds her several times for not doing some kind of exercises, until she breaks out in tears.
“I hate to be hard on you, have to, though, for your own good. Love you. Don’t forget. Bye.”
When her face disappears from the screen, it doesn’t look any happier.
A third communication fails. Of course, I can’t tell if he’s trying to call another woman. I just assume.
This is really intriguing. It does distract me from my own misery. I start wondering what it’s all about.
Burly’s first call makes me think that he’s a devoted husband checking up on his wife. Maybe she has some kind of a problem and he’s being supportive.
The second call makes me speculate if he’s a Mormon, and if his other wife has an even bigger problem than the first one. But if he was a Mormon, wouldn’t he get someone younger and prettier as a second wife?
I’d love to know to whom he tried to make the third call!
A new thought strikes me. Maybe he’s not a Mormon, just a bigamist. But if he was, would he be careless enough to put on a show like this in public? No. It must be my negative thinking again. No more worst case scenarios, please!
So, what else?
Of course! He’s a shrink checking up on suicidal patients! On the other hand, does a shrink tell his patients that he loves them? I read an article in a magazine that shrinks have to keep their professional distance, and that they’re not supposed to get romantically involved with patients. So much for the shrink theory.
Then it hits me! He’s a proper guru helping his disciples! Not an unexperienced beginner like Lisa. The two women he was talking to must be messed up cases from his Ashram. Male or female disciples, it certainly doesn’t really matter to him. Burly must be an important spiritual leader on tour. Probably he’s flying around the world giving lectures, at the same time trying to keep in touch with the needy and disoriented who depend on him back home. He’s fully committed to uplifting lost souls and getting them back on track, even from the airport. Admirable!
They’re finally calling our flight. The delayed airplane is slowly rolling towards the gate. The waiting crowd gets up from the the benches pushing towards the exit, boarding passes and passports clutched in impatient hands. Burly is busy gathering his belongings, leaving coffee cup and food wrappers on the seat. He sets off, bags in tow. I take care to stay right behind him. When the queue comes to a temporary standstill, I tap him on the shoulder to ask for his number.