Another knock on my window

Originally published on June 6, 2007.

With a nauseating mixture of fear and hope I went to my window and opened the curtains. There was Marek outside waiting for me to answer his knock.

I couldn’t quite read the expression on his face; but he looked tired and older than his actual age of 20, and also maybe as apprehensive as I was, underneath his perpetual mafioso cool.

I let him in. I’d thought a lot about what I would do should Marek come back — in fact, I’d thought of little else — but even so I was surprised at how quickly I decided to let him in. It had been five days, I guess, and no contact. I knew that the colder it got — and that day there had been swirls of snow in the air — the more likely it would be he’d come around. I was not surprised when the knock came, but still I jumped.

He came in and sat on the couch. I sat across from him, trying to eat the sandwich I’d just made. He said nothing. I asked him if he was hungry. No.

Did he want something to drink? No.

He wouldn’t look at me except for the briefest of glances. Kept looking to the side and licking his lips which were severely chapped. His expression kept alternating between complete misery and inscrutable indifference. He was struggling with something but I was not about to help him out.

After about 20 minutes during which I tried to get him interested in PlayStation or watching TV or even just chatting I finally asked him why he was there, in my apartment.

He turned it back on me, fishing: Why? You don’t want me here?

He looked up at me and held my look for several seconds, then looked away. I couldn’t read him at all. I said, no, no, no problem. For now. I wanted to know what he wanted so I asked.

Nic,” he said, shaking his head. Nothing.

We repeated this pattern for the better part of an hour. I couldn’t eat my food. I finally got around to asking him why he’d stolen my phone since he was in no hurry to volunteer the information. He told some story about how Arssi kept bugging him to take it, how he kept saying no, that it would be a big problem for him later (no shit) but that he had finally agreed.

Arssi had told him to wait in the Kavarna and that he’d come back with the money when he’d sold it. Arssi never came back. I made some smart crack about what a very good friend Arssi was but really I didn’t believe the version Marek told anyway. I said, OK, accepting the story for the moment, “Ale proč?

But why?

He either had no answer for that or else could not face up to the real reason.

Another mostly silent 15 minutes passed. I fiddled with my shoes. He asked about Ovi, told me someone had beaten Arssi up in the station. Awwwww. How awful. At one point, he mumbled, “I go.”

I didn’t respond and he sat there quietly, not even fidgeting, for another 10 minutes, at least.

Finally, even he lost patience because he patted his knee and asked me if he could change into clean jeans. I looked at him a couple seconds, bemused, then said, Sure. He just sat there. Then asked if he could change into a clean shirt as well.

That did it for me. I was not going to let him use my flat as his closet and I had given him over an hour to slowly work his way up to being able to deal with what had happened between us. It was obvious he wanted to come back but he just could not bring himself to say it or ask permission. In my view, he should have come crawling and begging. Instead, he admitted to stealing the phone but tried to skirt the blame by claiming it was Arssi’s fault because he would not stop asking Marek to do so.

Instead of getting him a clean shirt I went to our shared wardrobe, pulled out the gym bag he’d arrived with and began impatiently and carelessly stuffing his remaining clothes into it. I then brought it to the sitting room and tossed it next to the sofa where he was sitting.

The look on his face was priceless. He was as close to flabbergasted as a stoic street kid could be. He stared at me with his mouth slightly open. Then I remembered some of his clothes were on the drying rack and went to get them. I came back and threw them on top of the bag. At that gesture, he stopped staring, turned his head away from me as I sat back down on my sofa and began stroking his chin thoughtfully, a tic I’d seen during the first few minutes when we’d first met.

Then he nodded — the smallest nod imaginable — and sat there for awhile, pensive.

He told me — he didn’t ask — he was going to change in the other bedroom. I said nuh-uh and told him to change in my room. He got up and tried to close the curtains. I said, “No, no, no.” I thoroughly mistrusted him now; I didn’t want to leave him unseen for a second.

(Looking back on it, I think he intended to try to make off with Steve‘s computer monitor and oeave through the window as he’d done that night he stole my phone. I saw the calculation in his eyes.)

I felt he was vindictive enough to steal something small — not that I really have much of value now — and I wasn’t about to let him leave with anything else of mine. He was lucky I hadn’t thrown all his clothes out.

Now I was fed up and really wanted him out. Yet he took another 20 minutes to pack and re-pack, dress and undress, all the time stalling, talking to himself and asking me if he looked okay. I can only imagine he expected me to change my mind.

But most of the affection I had for him — not inconsiderable but obviously not infinite — had drained away. He had underestimated me and maybe I had underestimated myself. I don’t know what he expected of me, coming to my flat after so long, and having no real explanation — having done nothing except admit what he’d done — and making no attempt at an apology. I was not so dick-whipped after all.

Finally he was ready, bag in hand. He stood in the doorway to my room and said he was going. I said nothing. He turned around for a last look at the bedroom he’d never see again and his expression had changed. He looked like a lost boy, a boy who had lost his grace.

I saw him out the door but didn’t say goodbye. I watched him go down the hallway and he gave me one backward glance, from underneath his blue Czech Republic cap pulled down over his brow.

I waited until I heard the door to the building open and slam closed.

I waited until he was completely gone.

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