Walking. It’s what she did for most of her free time. Down the sidewalk, down the street, up the stairs, around the corner, or on the grass. Observing. It’s another thing she did with her free time. She called herself a people-watcher, but that term carried a strange connotation that she didn’t like. She preferred the term observer, but that didn’t sound right either. She was a person, and this person liked to look at other people. She didn’t talk much, only when spoken to. She never smiled. She never frowned. She just– sat. And watched. And waited for something. Something she didn’t know was coming. A coffee, black, in her hand. She couldn’t drink it while walking, though. It was too hot. A café, one with outdoor seating, became her destination.
She found it, of course, for Amsterdam had no short supply of cafés. She took a seat with a sigh and slouched in the chair. She had bad posture. She’d been told that her entire life. People walked busily down the sidewalk in front of her, yet she just sat. Watching. People-watching. Nowhere to be and everything to see. Sometimes her eyes would jump from person to person, catching glimpses of the little things about them that made up their personality in her mind. A man’s blue cardigan buttoned up except for the bottom button. The world was colder than he thought when he left wherever he came from. That’s why he buttoned his cardigan so haphazardly. A woman with dirty, white shoes. She knew she needed more shoes, but she had broken those in and didn’t want to replace them.
Her concentration was broken by a waiter with dreamy eyes. “Can I get you anything, miss?” he asked, smiling the fake kind of smile that all employees smile. She’d seen it a thousand times before.
“No, thank you,” she replied, nodding her head and slightly curving her lips into something that she may have thought of as a smile, she couldn’t be too sure. He walked away, back into the café.
Amsterdam. A busy city, but not so busy that the people you see are unnoticeable. It’s why she preferred Amsterdam over London. London had way too many people to observe. You would find yourself overstimulated if you sat at an outdoor café in London. People just become objects in cities like that. In Amsterdam, however, there was a perfect amount of people so that the streets weren’t crowded. A person here, a person there. However, not a person everywhere. She liked that.
A woman pushing a stroller walked by, the sound of a laughing baby filled the air. A happy sound. The woman was making silly little faces at the baby, and the baby, a perfect audience, was enjoying it greatly. A loving mother, she thought. Wonder where the father is? He ran off, she answered herself. He took majority of the money from their joint bank account and fled to Paris. No, not Paris. Rome, Italy. Yes, Rome. That’s where he went. He fornicated with a younger, less kind woman. They had to leave, too. The father hated what his life had become. He didn’t want to be a father. And now he wasn’t.
An elderly couple, arms intertwined. The man had a wooden cane and a jolly belly. They held each other as they walked ever so slowly down the sidewalk. She appreciated how slow they walked. People often walk too fast, but these two were absorbing every bit of the atmosphere around them. Based on his eyes, he had served in the military. He had killed someone before. And not a day went by that he didn’t think of that. She, on the other hand, was a baker. Her hands were gentle as they held onto his arm. You needed gentle hands to be a baker. Yes, a baker and a soldier. They were happy with one another. She brought him much comfort. He needed her. She grounded him.
The waiter came back. “Need anything?”
“No, thank you,” she replied.
“What’s your name?” he asked. She looked at him. She had never been asked to reveal her name by a waiter. Waiters and waitresses don’t do that.
“Why do you ask?” she said.
“Judith,” she answered. “And you?”
“Finn,” he said.
“Lovely to meet you, I suppose,” she said. It was weird that he was talking to her, but she wasn’t necessarily opposed to it, either.
“Well, Judith, my shift ends in an hour. Would you like to go for a walk?”
She thought for a moment. A walk? What is he doing? What is his goal here? She had nothing going on, of course, so she could walk with him. Where would they go? Maybe they didn’t have to go anywhere. Maybe they would go back to his place or her place. What would they do then? What if he was the one that she was supposed to marry? Her mother always said that person would be the least likely person to expect. Was this him? Stop it, she told herself. She was overthinking. She had a nasty tendency to do that. “Yes,” she said. “I would love to.”
He went back inside and she didn’t see him for a while. More people came down the sidewalk. Two teenage boys, each with a school uniform on. They were laughing together. She noticed their shirts untucked and their sleeves rolled up. They thought they owned the world. They thought they knew everything. They also probably thought they were the funniest people on this earth. They were not, though. She was. She chuckled to herself. The one on the left had no mother. His father took great pride in him, though. Well, she supposed he did. The father would take pride in him as long as he did what the father wished. The boy had problems with that, though. His father wanted him to be a doctor, but he wanted to be a pilot. The boy on the right was spoiled. He had both of his parents. They treated him like a king and gave him whatever he wanted. Naturally the two boys were perfect matches. One with everything he wanted and the other with nothing he wanted. They filled each other’s gaps.
Her coffee had gone cold by now. She desperately wanted another one. But she wouldn’t get one because she was about to walk with Finn. She hated drinking coffee while walking. It always burned her tongue and her lips. She didn’t want a burnt tongue and lips especially if she was going to kiss him. Was she going to kiss him? She didn’t know. Why was she thinking of kissing him? She didn’t know. She tried to focus on what she did know. He was her waiter, and she was going on a walk with him. Was it a date? Who knows? Not her.
The hour ticked by slowly, but it did tick by. He came out and she could finally see what he was wearing underneath his apron: a white buttoned up shirt tucked into dark brown corduroys. He looked spiffy. His face was slightly unshaven, which she found attractive. Boys who shaved always had those red marks on their neck with the bumps. She didn’t like that. He approached her table, and she got up. He held his arm out and she clasped it with her hands. They were like that old couple, except they didn’t need each other. Not yet at least.
They walked together down the sidewalk. Eventually their legs synced up and their feet touched the ground at the same time. He wasn’t looking where he was going but was staring down at her. She was a bit shorter than him, but not much. She was guiding them down the street, dodging holes and bumps in the sidewalk. She didn’t say anything, but she could feel him looking at her. What was he looking at? Maybe her hair. Short, messy, boyish. She had thought she would let it grow out, but she hated the way it would get in her face. What about his hair? Brown, unkempt, also boyish. He didn’t use any product in his hair, she could tell. And she liked that. Product always makes boys’ hair look fake. Plus, you can’t really run your hands through it without them feeling sticky afterwards.
Amsterdam was welcoming to people like them. Lost people. Isolated people. It was a city filled with loners and when two loners met they were lonely together. That’s the way the world is, sometimes, she thought. No one is ever not lonely. The only person they can really hear all the time is themselves. Even when they’re with other people, their mind races. They’re often left alone with themselves. She was like that. He was, too. She could tell. He didn’t even have to say anything.
They walked in silence for a long time. They reached a small park in the inner city. There was a park bench and they sat down at it. A few people walked all around them. Some of them had dogs. She wasn’t a dog person. She preferred cats. But he was a dog person. She could tell that by the way he was looking at them. A boy was throwing a frisbee for his dog to catch. The dog ran and caught it midair then brought it back to the boy. He was wearing a red shirt, stained with wet dirt presumably from where the dog had gone through mud and then jumped up on him.
“Do you live in Amsterdam?” Finn asked her, breaking her trance.
“Yes. I have a small apartment.”
“Do you like it here?”
Their conversation went like that. He would ask a vague question and she would give a vague answer. They weren’t clicking. Not in the way that she wanted them to. She didn’t even know if she was attracted to him. Sometimes she looked at him and she was attracted, but then other times she wasn’t. He hadn’t really given her anything to be attracted to. She wondered why he asked her to walk. He was lonely. She was, too. They stopped talking and sat in silence for a while, watching the people and the dogs around them.
She wished it would start raining. It was cloudy, very cloudy. Rain was coming. She thought he would suggest that they find shelter, but he didn’t. She was glad of that. The rain would wash away the loneliness, she thought. Either it would do that, or it would only clean it off and make it more prevalent. A drop here, a drop there. He didn’t say anything. She didn’t, either.
She was biting the sides of her mouth. It was a habit of hers. He noticed.
“Are you nervous?” he asked.
“Why do you ask?”
“Just wondering. I’m sorry if I make you nervous.”
It was rather bold, she thought, for him to think that he was the reason she was nervous. He was. Still, she didn’t like being called out like that.
The rain was coming now. Steadily dripping from the clouds above. They were getting wet, but neither of them minded. Now she looked at his hair. It got curly when it was wet. He looked down at her and their eyes met. She could see his entire life in his eyes. They were brown, a deep brown. Sad eyes. She wondered what her eyes looked like to him. Simple eyes, maybe. Not a lot behind them. She dismissed herself and looked away. He reached over and gently grasped her chin and pulled her back facing him.
“Do I make you nervous?” he asked.
Her heart was fluttering, skipping beats. She thought she was having a heart attack. The nearest hospital was miles away. The ambulance wouldn’t get here in time to save her. She would die in a park in the inner city of Amsterdam. No. She wasn’t going to die, and she wasn’t going to have a heart attack. Her heart was beating so fast that it almost hurt. Her breathing grew shallow. Her eyes darted between his.
“Judith,” he said. “Can I kiss you?”
He leaned in and their lips locked. His lips were soft, but she could feel his stubble. His hand moved gently to hold her face right along her jawline. Her eyes were open at first, but then she closed them. The rain was coming down now. Here they were, on a park bench, in the rain, locked together in a kiss. The kiss spoke many languages to her. Languages long forgotten. She had never kissed anyone quite like this. She loved it. He pulled back and stared into her eyes. Their foreheads were touching. Both were smiling. She let out a small chuckle. Not at him, but at the circumstances. They had just met and here they were, kissing.
She didn’t mind, though. For he was not a vain man. He was a good man. Her thoughts were racing. Suddenly, her mood changed. He was a good man. Yet she was not good for him. He had a light in his eyes that she knew she would extinguish. She was like a tsunami, squelching any bit of light in her path. He didn’t say anything, and she didn’t either. They stayed silent, staring at one another. Their smiles dropped and they kissed again. She grabbed both sides of his face and pulled him in. The rain was pouring now. Their clothes were sticking to their skin.
It took a kiss. That’s what it took. Now she knew she was attracted to him. And he was attracted to her. Now it wasn’t unreasonable to think about their marriage. Would they be destined to fall in love here on this park bench in Amsterdam? She didn’t like rushing to conclusions. She liked him. She couldn’t, however, shake the feeling of dread. He would love her wholeheartedly, but she couldn’t love herself. He would make up for that, though. He would love all the parts of her that she couldn’t love herself. No, she thought. That’s not good. He shouldn’t have to carry that burden. But what if he wanted to? No. She had a face for him. She had a face for everyone. However, the face for herself was not one that she particularly loved. She didn’t know how to handle it. She didn’t know how to love it. She didn’t even know what it was. Maybe he would be able to help her figure it out. No.
They talked about everything under the sun after their kiss. The kiss broke down the walls between them. It connected them. And that connection would not be undone. As the sun set, the rain didn’t stop. They got up, her arms wrapped in his arms and began walking down the street which they had come. The streetlights glistened in the rain and the sidewalks were empty. Stores were closed, yet still had lights on in the window. She watched their reflection as they walked past stores, dresses in the windows, nick-nacks galore. She saw two people. One slightly taller than the other. Arms locked together. In that store window reflection, she saw them grow old together. Sitting on the porch, grandkids running around in the yard. Their whole life well lived together.
And she liked it. She liked him. And he liked her. They liked each other. As they walked, they could hear music. A piano. A singer. They followed the sound around the corner and came to a bar with the door open. No one was inside save for the bartender, the piano player, and the singer. They walked in. It was warm. A fireplace on the far side of the bar warmed the entire room. They each ordered a drink and sat down at a table, a candle between them.
There they talked the night away, laughing together, crying together, living together. At one point, he got up and extended his hand. He was asking her to dance. And she wanted to. She held his hand, and he led her to the middle of the bar. The piano player and the singer began working their magic. They danced slowly, her head leaning on his chest. He kissed the top of her head. In that moment, they were exactly what the other one needed. Someone to hold. Someone to kiss. For a moment, it seemed as if they were the only people on the planet, locked in an embrace, swaying to some forgotten song.
She knew him. He knew her. They knew each other. They had always known each other.