There is an odd gratification in the desire to go back to somebody’s past, not yours, to see how they laughed, lived and loved. The first few conversations leave you high and dry. You sit huddled at a table in front of them, your hands cupping your chin, listening with rapt attention to stories, to the way the details on their face change to match the stories being told, to moments they felt loved and hated, to the way they narrate moments of passion and boredom like they are one and the same.
Now they laugh and you wonder if the smile always was a happy curve like that. Now they sigh and you wonder if it always sounded like a cat meowing its way into your bed spread to curl up next to you. There are pauses that you fill with images of what you think they looked like back then, and the questions you ask imitate this curiosity.
‘When was this’ ‘How old were you’ ‘Where did you live’ as means of establishing a timeline and a younger face inside the timeline; a happier time? You don’t know and neither do they.
You look for signs of tiredness on their face, of having lived those stories, of reliving them now in accurate narrations and descriptions. Thankfully they are lovers of details, just like you are so you don’t have to prod for more. They are generous with their stories and you sit with your arms wide open trying to absorb everything you can.
Some days, you feel wiser because of their stories. Some other days you wish you were a part of their stories and imagine what you would be like at another time, sitting at the same table, the same waiters bringing you stronger ginger tea. You imagine these bits in black and white, they are ardently imagined but seem way more real than surrounding images – of color and traffic, of blue, green and white.
One round of questions and two rounds of brandy later, there is measured laughter. You don’t want to scare them away with all the loudness so you pace down and round back up again. More questions, more clarifications, more stories. Pause. An anecdote now and a funny story later, you are running after them trying to catch up to how they’ve changed. They draw you a canvas and you jump in, they make you a pensieve and you are sucked in.
You walk with them and revisit old shapes of familiar cities, old bookshops that are no longer there and old spaces that are written about in blogs you claim you accidentally found. You stumble upon a word and you try to arrange your life like theirs, you stumble upon a detail now and you aspire to make the same mistakes they made so at the same table tomorrow, you will have a story to tell.
Soon, their voice takes over your mind, walking you through your life. A still image in black and white keeps coming back and you hold onto it strongly. It’s you and them, sitting at the same table, a tablecloth today, and a pot of ginger tea, two cups and more conversation.