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Some stories

By Amanda Sleže

Booty call

I looked at him and tried to guess what had happened. He was pale, his hair was drenched with mud and blood was dripping from it. His clothes were ripped apart – his shirt was missing two buttons and his jeans had holes. He didn’t talk. We sat there for more than half an hour but he was still panting. His breath was so loud that just a passing stranger might have mistaken it for the sea in front of us.

When he called me one hour ago I thought it was his usual booty call. We had been doing this for last three months and it was driving me crazy. He would call me once in a while; we would meet, drink one glass of wine and have sex in random places where no one would see us. He never brought me to his home, never rented a hotel room, never asked if we could do it at my place. We never drank wine from glasses, just plastic cups. Beside it all, I always went to meet him. I was addicted to this ritual and to him.

This time everything happened differently. When I came, he was already there, while usually I spent at least fifteen minutes guessing if he would show up. When he saw me he gave me a kiss and asked if we could go to my apartment, which shocked me even more than his looks at that moment. When I refused, he grabbed me by the hand and, not saying a word, dragged me to the beach.  There we spent the remaining half an hour in silence. No touching, no alcoholic smell from his mouth, no words or even looks. A couple of times I tried to ask about this whole situation, but he would not react. I knew he tended to get in fights but mostly he would just kick the guy’s ass and leave feeling all powerful. He used to say that it was his relaxation and if he could he would pay to be able to fight. It never made sense to me but this was even worse. He never ended up like this – frightened and bloody; and he never seemed to need help. This was different and I needed to know what had happened.

When I was going over this scenario in my head for the hundredth time he suddenly moved. I had been following the movement of waves for the last couple of minutes and when I looked back at him, he was already standing next to me in all his glory. He was still panting but his back seemed to be straighter and he had managed to clean some of the blood from his face. I couldn’t help but hope that me being next to him might have been in some way healing.

He looked at me with almost a smile on his face. Unfortunately, my healing power in that moment disappeared. His face suddenly got even paler, eyes sharp and bright, his entire body froze for a second and his lips got back into a thin line. His panting got louder and only then I realized it had actually stopped for a while before. He sat down and kept looking into nothingness above the horizon. He was frightened.

For a brief moment I considered looking behind me to see what he had seen but got scared myself. What if the reason of his fear was actually me? Although, this was the most stupid thought that could cross my mind. The man next to me was a businessman, he had money, contacts and prestige but he was sitting on a dirty beach, at 3 AM, with bloody clothes, as scared as a little boy. I had spent all my evening at home watching lame TV shows and there was nothing potentially scary about me or what I would do. And I didn’t want to know what was behind me. Again I tried to ask what happened, but no reaction. Finally I decided that he would talk when he was ready because there had to be a reason why I was here.

After another twenty minutes of silence and my desperate waiting for him to talk, he moved again. He took out cigarettes – Marlboro Gold, a black lighter and his phone. He carefully placed it all on his lap and stared at it for a moment. It seemed like he was rethinking his every move and even breathing over and over again. At last he grabbed a cigarette and the lighter and cared for a smoke. I noticed how his fingers were scratched and as bloody as his face when we met. His hands were shaking and barely could hold the cigarette between the fingers.

After three cigarettes his phone rang. He picked it up immediately and listened for a while. At the end of the other person’s monologue he nodded, as if the other one could see him and ordered him to contact the lawyer and get a white dress.

What he asked for and how he acted made no sense. I wanted to leave but the thought of my possible healing reaction to him made me stay. Again I tried to ask him the only question that was on my mind, but nothing changed – he still didn’t react. It was as though I wasn’t even there.

When his phone rang for the second time, the conversation and the monologue of the other person was much shorter. At least the conversation ended with no weird requests – he simply nodded again. Another three cigarettes followed, after which he looked at me.

“We will get married. You and me”.

Pardon? After another fight on the street he suddenly was in love with me? And now, a fancy man doesn’t even have to ask a woman to marry him? Where have I lived, that I have missed the time collapsing and going back to the monarchy of a man? Or was I the subject of some bargain between my parents and him? As far as I was concerned, he didn’t even care about me. It was just sex.

“The registry will be in an hour at my place. Tim has got you a dress.”

I couldn’t say a word. I couldn’t even think a word because my thoughts were jumping around my head too fast. I was so mad at this man for who I cared despite everything that I was ready to leave. I didn’t even care for the explanation anymore. All what I cared about was the line which he had crossed. He never cared about how I felt, he never asked what was going on in my life, but now he wants to be a loving husband?

While I was seriously considering the thought of going home and leaving him in his misery there alone, another ten minutes had passed. I tried but I couldn’t leave not having heard an explanation but he wasn’t talking about any of the important questions – why did he just say it and what the hell had happened. In those ten minutes I had calmed down and got ready to hear the explanation, and maybe, but just maybe agree to this, but if he was going to keep it up like this there was no chance of saying yes. My subconscious suddenly wasn’t that hidden anymore and was screaming for the yes word, she had loved this man since they met in the museum reception – now, when imagining the wedding I could finally understand it. My conscious was hiding in the corner and, hopefully, preparing weapons and argumentations against it all. This wasn’t what I expected. This wasn’t what I was ready for, at least that’s what I thought.

When I moved into a little bit more comfortable position to rethink this all over again, he grabbed my hand. His fingers were cold and still dirty, his grip was even a little bit painful. While his hand was shaking, the power with which his grab struck me was more than noticeable. He was not planning to let me go and I even started to feel a little bit romantic.

 “Don’t act like this. You know what I did. You saw it. You were the only one who saw it from your window tonight! Why do you even keep asking? I killed that man. But if we get married, no one can ask you to testify against me.”

Suddenly both the conscious and subconscious were gone. The reality was back with all its little romance. So this man needed me more than ever. I was at my home, saw something that no one should know. I was the only person who he had to trust, he did trust and who could help him. For a weird reason my mind started to put this all together into the wedding vows. The only problem still casting a shadow over this romantic story was the witness story. I was absolutely sure that I didn’t see anything. Right after work I came home and made myself some dinner. Then I spent all evening watching Friends and Gossip Girl. I didn’t look out of the window. I never really did, while my roommate was basically living on her window sill.

“Fine, let’s do it”, I answered and he kissed me.

 

 

By Nae Ononye a Bagoussa

How to be a Student of the Liberal Arts:

When you decide what you would like to study, make sure that you choose something that lacks as much specificity as possible. The study program of your choice needs to cover all of your interests. If you like pottery for instance, try to find a university that offers such courses.  It is important to hold on to your freedom to become whatever you want at any given point in time for as long as possible. When you have been accepted to the study program try to socialize as much as you can, but do it with a system. Engage in groups that focus either on environmental issues, social issues or on art.  Also try to sign up for monthly newsletters from Amnesty International, Greenpeace as well as any LGBT rights organization. Your study program needs to be the leeway for you to later on conduct your PhD thesis with something like the following title:

‘The art of sculpturing as means of mediation between genders during the middle ages.’

During your small-talk you must be able to then say things such as: “The dark middle ages were not as dark as they seemed.”

After your interview with the dean of the university you would like to study at, rejoice about the fact that you have been accepted. After all, you were really nervous and practiced the interview various times with your parents or on your own. But when you are at the university, do not tell the others about how much work you actually put into the interview. Tell them that you have no idea why you were accepted. “I was talking nonsense all the time!” You should say. This is a habit you should uphold for the rest of the course of your study as well. Never let anybody know that you put work into your papers or assignments. Always be relaxed for your brilliance comes naturally and you don’t know why either.

Also do not forget to maintain a friendly relationship with your tutors and study advisors. Write them emails and also invite them for coffee. Pose questions about their personal life and career in order to show your interest in their field of work.

When it comes to literature, make sure to read Foucault. His works on body politics, surveillance society and the Panopticon will be of particular interest for you. When conversing with others mention this book and speak about its accuracy. Use a practical example such as Facebook. Mention that you do not have Facebook because of the reasons specifically stated in Foucault’s ‘Discipline and Punishment’. Advise others to read 1984 by Orwell in order to understand that the first twenty pages you read of his dystopian literature were merely stating the facts. If you happen to have Facebook from before you began your studies, make sure to state that you constantly contemplate on deleting your account because you are tired of Facebook and Google knowing everything about you.  Throw in some remarks about how terrible and ignorant it is that some people post everything about their personal life on this social network. Also, make sure to privatize all of your settings so that nobody can find out anything about you. Make sure your profile picture does not show your face but rather an animal or a quote. If you wish to show your face it has to be either dark, the photo upside down or you can only see half of your face and body. The quote should be from a philosopher. Not any philosopher however, you must choose the only one that people pay attention to, the one that was all about passion and creating your own life. The one who made clear that God is dead. The quote needs to state that you are valuing life as it is and living it to the fullest. Post something like:

“We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

 

If this quote is taken by too many people choose a quote by Nelson Mandela. That always works.

 

 Listen to music that nobody has heard of other than your circle of friends. The musician needs to create art for art’s sake instead of wanting to be successful in the music industry. If you do happen to listen to music that many others listen to as well, make sure people consider them as legends. Bands such as The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Velvet Underground or Ray Charles would be adequate. Once you have found your favorite musician be sure to be an expert on this field. For many like the Beatles but not many know about the tracks they have never published. Found student organizations and take part in flash mobs to support those dying in Arabic countries due to the Arab Spring. Organize concerts for students by students and plays that will most likely end with naked people in order to create awareness for breast cancer.  Don’t forget to visit lectures, movie nights and panel debates dealing with topics about modern slavery, worker rights, LGBT rights or right wing politics. Make notes on your Macbook, or Ipad about these issues as you shake your head in disbelief. If there is room for questions pose this question:

“This is all very theoretical, but what can we as regular citizens and students do now to improve the situation with practical means?”

It is also important for you to choose your friends wisely. Surround yourself with a couple of people from minorities in your friend circle. One gay, one lesbian, one bi-sexual, one black (Asian or Arabic might also do) and somebody coming from a communist country; Argentinians, Cubans or Chileans for these are where revolutions have taken place and you like revolutions. Overthrowing regimes is brave and beautiful. Ché Guevara needs to become one of the most inspiring people you know. All of these friends will serve as a help for you to broaden your horizon and as proof that you are anything but ignorant. Ask about their experiences of discrimination for being what they are. If you approach a black girl for instance, talk about your experience in an African country you visited or volunteered in. “I really love African food and culture!” You will say as she tries to explain that she was born in a European country. Ask her if you can touch her hair. If she lets you, you will observe that it feels like wool and you will proceed to look at her with great admiration. When you are done tell her how much you envy the fact that she does not need to do anything in order to make her hair look the way it does. Talk to her about African corruption and after feeling comfortable then ask about female genital mutilation in order to see whether or not she has any experience with this. Ask her about racism but let her know that you are not a racist at all.

“The white man who painted his face pitch black and contoured his lips with red color is nothing but a part of Dutch culture for ages now. It was never meant to be offensive.”

She will smile and you will feel like you have had a meaningful discussion. Interact in this manner with all the other minorities. Always state their difference in any conversation and let them know that you do not pay attention to that at all.

Give everybody a big hug when you meet them for the first time. They will appreciate it. Talk about your project to build an orphanage in Azerbaijan but also listen with interest about what they might talk about. You might not be able to talk so long for you will see the next person that you saw at a student jam session for five minutes. Proceed to shout in glee because you saw him and give him an even bigger hug. He will appreciate it too. Don’t forget to be creative. Write poems, dance and sing. Your creativity must always contain social or political statements. However, also try to find something specific that others don’t do such as fire spitting or contact dancing.

Also visit as many festivals as possible throughout the summer. If you are not into that try to visit a farm that grows only organic vegetables and live on this farm during your summer vacation so that you can learn how to cultivate your own food. At least here you know where it is coming from. Speaking of food and vegetables, your diet needs to be organic and fair-trade as well. Fair Trade and Organic food need to be included into your personal ideology. Watch documentaries about the food industry in order to engage in conversations about how you are disgusted about where your food comes from. Documentaries such as “Food Inc”, “Supersize Me” or “What’s on your plate” will help you find substantial arguments for the awareness of your diet. Proceed to becoming a vegetarian that eats fish every once in a while. In your whole life as a Liberal Arts Student, you must have tried the vegan lifestyle at least once. Share your experiences with others and let them know that life without cheese was simply not doable. Nevertheless, become obsessed about eating organic fruits and vegetables so that every once in a while, when you are in a supermarket with friends you can say things such as: “I don’t understand why there are so many people that refuse to eat organic. It simply is so much more healthy and worth the money.” After having said that, smile a sorry smile at the mother of five children whose cart inspired you to verbally express these thoughts. Yet be sure to be as relativistic as possible when it comes to any other ideology. Repeatedly state that there can be no one truth and that everything always depends on the context and the culture a certain people might find themselves in.

When it comes to your style or outward appearance there is not much to say, make an effort in looking like you have put no effort at all into your outfit. Buy your vintage clothes from the flea-market or a second hand shop. It would be even better if you find the clothes lying around somewhere by coincidence. Also wear the clothes you brought back from your trip to India, Kenya, or Morocco. People will compliment you for that and you will answer that you simply love the colors.

 Speaking of India, Kenya and Morocco, try to travel as far as possible. You will have found a cheap flight for 20 Euros to one of these places and you will stay in another continent for 8-14 days. You can stay longer if you like but that is not necessary. Tunisia or Morocco will do. Try not to pay for the train but to hitch hike as much as you can in order to make the trip adventurous. You need to be able to bring stories back home of the man who tries to walk from France to Ethiopia.

At one point in time you will proceed to graduate. Here you will have several options. Firstly, you could apply for a postgraduate program as you always wanted to. However, keep it undefined and broad just like your undergraduate studies. Secondly, you can apply for unpaid internships in little NGO’s that focus on anything of your interest. Work with refugees might be something exciting enough to do. Thirdly, you can travel the world. Travel any country you like but don’t stay in the United States for too long. If you do then state that you have only spent some more time there to understand American ignorance and experience the beautiful nature. During your soul searching time you will figure out that you under no circumstances want to work in an office, museum or the like. So you will work in cafés or bars to gain just enough to survive, whilst you solve world problems that cannot be solved within the government.

Yes, following these guidelines will be hard. It is not easy to become a Student of the Liberal Arts. Many are called but not many are chosen. However, if you put enough effort into it, you will reach the point where you are the manifestation of the Liberal Arts student and you will see that it was worth it.

You were made for this.

 

 

 

By Leonhard Lorbas

Cellar

In a dark hallway, a door swung open. Bernhard Fring reminded himself to grease the hinges the next day. Hinges were one of these little things, along with bins, crumbs on the carpet, old newspapers and empty tins in the kitchen that never seem to be taken care of at night.

It was almost eleven and Bernhard had spent the entire day in town. His bag rested next to the door but he failed to fall into some sort of post-day ritual. No television or microwaved food, no drink or last smoke. His days never really ended.

An old face stared back from the mirror above the sink, a toothbrush stuffed in its mouth and leaning forward to confirm its age. The hair on his temple had slowly shifted to an almost white shade over the last decade and his eyes did not seem to wake up any more.

Bernhard, now dressed in a grey pyjama, laid down on the bed, his hands folded on his chest and his eyes open. Had anyone seen him like this, the comparison to the petrified remains of some nameless crusader would have come to mind, calm and defeated.

A moment after closing his eyes, he got up and reached for the pile of clothes he had neatly stacked on a chair next to the bed. It was time.

Outside the apartment, Bernhard stepped on the side walk, dressed in a dark marine blue overcoat, his collar flipped up, not in a reaction to the wind around him, but as a reaction to the wind he remembered.

This city was colder and damper at this time of the year; had there been any trees, they would have not carried any leaves. He had felt it during the day, the dull throbbing ache at the base of his spine which only appeared before a night out. This time he felt that it was going to be a woman, nothing big or unexpected, no accident or such. It felt like someone older.

The night had begun to take its course. Buses and cabs brought people home as he walked on. Traffic ran its course next to him on the street, creating a constant monotone hum from a formless mass. That damn door did need some spray, perhaps just a new wear pad. His feet moved in front of him, dragging him along.

He finally stopped at an apartment complex in Hepburn Heights, 7 blocks away from his place. It had only been a couple of minutes since he left home, but he had stopped thinking about the strange space around him. Sometimes it would take forever to cross a block and sometimes he would walk for miles with a few steps. On this side, time and space were nothing but the memories of concepts, changing according to need. He liked it this way, it made his task easier. Time usually waited for him.

The building was mostly dark, some windows were lit blue by neglected computer screens, others just showed some short flashes from refrigerators being plundered by indecisive owners. In the second floor, an apartment called out to him.

Even in the dark hallway, Bernhard saw the terracotta sign hanging next to the door. Melinda & Peter welcome you! His face remained motionless as he stopped for a second, it was impossible to say if the sign was kitschy or warm.

The inside of the place suggested an older couple. Judging by the pictures in the hallway in their mid- to late fifties, with three older children. Two daughters and one son. Bits of conversation from the living room echoed through the hallway. He remained in front of the photographs for a second, rubbing his lower back with his left hand. The throbbing feeling had now reached its peak.

The living room was deserted. Several plates were set on the table, cold pasta and pesto served as a reminder that this dinner had quickly been abandoned. Old olive oil glistened on the table, illuminated by the faint shadows on television. A car on rails was being pushed by a steam locomotive and an old man was screaming muted curses while a young cowboy drove on.

He had seen enough of these settings to know that he was on time. Further down the hallway, a small congregation had gathered in the bedroom.

An older woman lay in the bed, her eyes closed by exhaustion, her hair spread around her on the pillow. A few strands stuck to her forehead, forming a strange pattern with the irregular spread of the cold sweat beads. Her hand was held by a sobbing young woman,who caressed it with an intimate tenderness. Bernhard leaned against the frame of the door. He was not sure how long this would take her, sometimes it took hours before they were done.

A shiver went through her body, unnoticeable to anyone but him, signalling that she was here with him now.

„Melinda?“ he slowly asked while she opened her eyes. Melinda looked around at her family, not saying a single word. Then at her hand, the alarm clock and her husband.

Her sheets moved silently as she reached out to her family. No one looked up at her.

„Melinda?“ The old woman raised her head and finally noticed him.

„Who the hell are you?“

„My name is Bernhard. Your guide.“

„My guide? My guide to what?“

„It is my task to lead you after this.“

„You mean it happened?“

„Yes Melinda, I believe it has happened. You have passed.“

„This is it then? This cant be it, right?”

Her voice cracked and she hesitated before speaking any further.

„There has to be more. This cant be it.“

„I am sorry if it did not match up to your expectations. It is not meant to be pleasing. But I am just the guide. Would you follow me please?“

„Follow you where?“

„Just come along, we cannot stay here.“

She folded the blanket back and effortlessly slipped out of bed.

„Will it be far? Do I need my coat?“

„You will be fine Melinda. But do come along“

Melinda walked past her family, stopping to look at her daughters and kiss her husband on the head. Peter was still fixed to the bed as was their daughter. Both weeped silently for their mother. Melinda watched them, a hand suspended in mid-air, unsure what to do.

„We should go now“ Bernhard murmured before gently touching her shoulder. Melinda nodded as she followed him out of her own apartment. The family had remained in place since she had woken up.

Bernhard walked in long, patient strides while the woman stepped around him in a childlike manner. She walked a few paces in front of him, turning around and waiting for him from time to time. There was nothing to see or feel here, yet she took in the night as if she had never been out after dark. He wondered how much time she had spent bound to her bed as he watched her walk in front of him.

The streets seemed deserted, populated only by the shadows of food cart vendors, of the home- and restless.

„Is it always this silent? It's driving me crazy.“

„Sometimes it's louder, but this side is generally quite calm.“

The two proceeded walking down the side walk, next to a column of traffic. The cars had all lost their colours and stood static in the street. An entire road filled with empty, grey shells standing static in the grey night scape, silently humming. A sense of motion remained though, akin to a photograph. The cars were moving along, just not now.

At some point they crossed the street over into St. Marks. The lanterns gave away a pale orange light and fewer shadows seemed to roam the area. Imitations of old colonial-style brick houses draped the street they passed. They were probably lovely on the other side, but here they just seemed shabby and fake. His companion had given up walking in front of him and had slowly fallen back. Bernhard turned around to find her a few metres behind him.

„Something is wrong here.” she uttered, “It feels wrong. Where are we going?”

„Everything is all right. I'm here.” he said in a low voice, holding out his hand. She took his hand and gripped it while they went along the concrete pavement to her destination.

Now on the corner of 37 and Willard’s, it seemed as if they were heading towards a row of buildings. A night shop, a Chinese restaurant and a washing salon were perched together on their side of the road. Melinda again hesitated for a second, but his tight grip pulled her further down the road.

Bernhard headed for an alley between the restaurant and the salon, where both of them halted in the mixed light from the lantern and a neon store sign. Her face took on an anguished look in the artificial glow. She looked up and down the alley, then up again. It was a relatively broad alley, a car could have passed through here, had there been no trash containers and stacks of old vegetable boxes.

Bernhard stood in front of her, looking into her eyes with a detached expression. They had arrived and he was almost done for tonight.

A rusty door lead to a basement, unlocked, resting on its hinges with a sign taped to the front „BAMBOO GARDEN STAFF USE ONLY“.

“And now?”

He nodded towards the door. „It's all you from here on.“

„I’m scared of what’s in there.“

„You don’t know what’s in there“

„Exactly, I don't.“

She had unknowingly stepped down on the first step into the staircase, but turned around to look at him. Her initial energy had left all but her eyes, which were wide open. She was breathing short and fast.

„Please don't make me do this. Please.”

„I cant help you with this, Melinda. It is not in my power to keep you here.“

She didn’t reply but kept her eyes on him with the hope that her silence might achieve what her words failed to do. Nothing happened, Bernhard remained in the alley waiting for her to move on. His gaze stayed on her as she turned around.

The door fell shut behind her with a loud bang. The sound echoed through the alley and stayed in his ears for a moment. Bernhard exhaled a long sigh of relief. It had been fine tonight, she had been stronger than most cases. There had been no tears or threats. Eventually they all went through the door. The red light of the restaurant sign gleamed down on him while the wind crept up his coat. He shivered and confusion overcame him. This side was not supposed to affect him. This side was his side. Nevertheless, he felt the wind.

It had gotten colder.

 

 

 

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