MY FRIEND KRISTOF
Kristof was tirelessly talking for more than an hour now. His voice towered over the monotonous prattle of the café which in turn made the neighboring table heed to his story of Tibet. He had come back a couple of weeks ago and since his return he hadn’t seized to laden us with attractive stories, information and piquant details about his month-long journey. I knew Kristof from my college years. He was the same as before; his blissful spirit, his incredibly colourful descriptions of the things that made impressions on him - the buoyant sparks in his eyes. His divorce to Sophie, his eternal love predicaments, which without fail were always dramatic in conclusion, and the difficulties he had with his son, who for some time now was attempting to show the world that he was mature enough. Generally speaking, the fatuous worldly confusion that was thrown at him didn’t apprehend him much. It merely passed him in wander and left no trail behind, whatever its bequest was meant to be.
I might have felt a little envious as I was observing him. Perhaps it was his athletic figure, his chiming undistorted by time laughter, or his vigor to lose without whimpering or dangling toward self-pity. Everyone was listening in élan as Kristof spoke. It was the same as all those years ago in that smoky undersized café located in the Quartier Latin. We met there almost every evening; a group of young girls and boys of similar dreams and interests. Youngsters complete to conquer the world.
Nicola was wiping her tears. "Do you remember Daniel? The days when..."
Kristof’s words were writhing within the convulsions of his voice. His laughter poured as though it was water piercing through a dam wall, covering everything in sight. I wasn’t listening because I had lost a thread in the conversation but proceeded by nodding intensely. I must have had the most ridiculous expression as I remember that, for some reason, I cracked journeying a smile all the way up to my ears. When we were students we were inseparable. Later on we were joined by Mohammed who came from Algeria to study in Paris. He was a friend of mine who I knew from my school days. It was when we lived in Oran and my father was still alive. At that time the world was wonderful. With his arrival our trinity became unbreakable. Apart form all the other places, everybody at university knew us just as well. The girls were crazy about us, or at least we believed it to be so. We were young, confident and content. There is a great chance that our egos may have bordered on impudence and insolence. I’m pretty certain that many of our classmates couldn’t take much of us. At that time, however, we didn’t really give a shit. The world belonged to us and no one could persuade us otherwise.
The one time, Kristof brought Sophie to the café. He introduced her to us as the daughter of a friend of his mother’s. Sophie was an utterly beautiful girl. She attained the sort of beauty that would make one feel the need to kneel before her and stare speechlessly as if she was the Madonna herself. I was sure that up until then I had never seen a more delicate and unreal creation. I was hypnotized for the duration of the evening, saying nothing - a mute. Conversely, Mohammed began to manage wittiness. He spoke without taking many breaths. He looked like the court’s joker and so I felt quite embarrassed for him.
I didn’t sleep well that night and in the morning while I was sipping my coffee I wrote two poems. These were the only poems I have ever written. Her dark blue eyes followed me throughout the day. A mysterious warmth bathed my heart - I was in love.
I could hardly wait for that evening. Everybody except Kristof was at the café. What if he came without her? My stomach turned to knots. As though having read my mind, Mohammed leaned towards me and discretely whispered in my ear.
"So do you think Kristof and Sophie are together?" The thought had never crossed my mind.
"I don’t think so," said I in a discerning tone and asked why he cared as much.
I could almost spot blots appearing on Mohammed’s dark complection.
"I like her a lot!" He stuttered nervously as he swayed his dark fringe to one side. "I couldn’t even sleep last night. I have never experienced anything like this before."
I was stumped. The morning’s poems were scorching through the pockets of my slacks. I couldn’t utter a word. I wouldn’t even admit that I too had not slept that night. I became quiet and watched him dim-wittedly as he sat next to me. Kristof and Sophie arrived but her dark blue eyes did not notice me. She greeted me heartedly and sat beside me. I knew then that I did not exist. Later when I regained my ability to think I realized that she was only interested in Mohammed. I was in tribulation. I felt something that can only be described as jealousy and grew to feel contempt for the world around me.
I couldn’t sleep again but the next morning I felt remarkably better. As time went by, my infelicitous love episode withdrew itself into the cellar of my heart where it joined other oppressed and unrealized feelings and gradually covered itself in dust and cobwebs. The days attained their usual contours and the world would have become almost bearable if only Mohammed could stop talking about Sophie and how happy he was. I was extremely irritable; and I wasn’t the only. I think that he was probably exasperating everyone with his entranced and distant gaze. He wouldn’t speak of anything other than Sophie - he was truly irksome. So Kristof and I slowly began to elude his company and allowed him to be happy. In all honesty, our conversations too seemed to revolve around Mohammed’s grand romance. One morning just as I was brushing my teeth, Mohammed, having leapt over my mother, rushed into the bathroom, closed the door behind him, and sat on the toilet. He was out of breath.
"Sophie is pregnant."
The toothpaste in my mouth was burning but I never thought of spitting it out.
"I’m so happy!" Mohammed smiled demonstrating his perfectly aligned and pallid teeth. He hugged me. Time seized to exist and I felt as though I was weightless. For the first time I felt like I was dying.
That night the three of us sat waiting for Sophie at our café in the Quartier Latin. We were restless because we didn’t know how her breaking the news to her parents would have gone. Mohammed only knew her mother and said that she was a sweet woman. Kristof, however, rapidly broke that illusion by saying that her father was quite stern, that he had bizarre views, and that he was a devoted Gaullist.
He wouldn’t allow his only daughter to get hitched by an Arab from the former colonies. We sat waiting like condemned men. Sophie finally arrived. Her eyes were puffed-up from crying. She wanted to say something but Mohammed placed his hand on her lips, hugged her and walked her to the street.
"There is no hope, they don’t have a chance." Kristof sounded strange. I don’t recall the look I gave him but he almost fumingly hollered at me. "I have nothing against Mohammed but understand me, they are not meant for each other. Uncle Armand is right. Imagine that after their wedding day he forces her to wear a veil. Don’t forget that Allah doesn’t allow them to have abortions - they conceive children until they can." "Nonsense! Mohammed, veils and ten snotty kids! Listen to yourself, it’s like you don’t even know the guy." I had to interrupt him angrily.
"You may be right but you don’t know how things may progress with time. All Arabs have, no matter how domesticated, a black spot in their heads that may at any indefinite moment become active, and that’s that - they become fanatical. When uncle Armand asked me what I thought of Mohammed I told him that he is my friend but that I could never guarantee anything. I think I responded accordingly."
I was flabbergasted. It was one of those moments when the barometer of friendship turns to point ‘bad weather.’
"Why are you looking at me like this? If they really love each other, they’ll find a way." Kristof said this in a murmuring fashion as he fixed his gaze onto the wall above my head.
I wanted to say something horrible so that it would hurt him but I let it go and left. The streets were wet and one could see, almost like the stars, the reflections of the countless street advertisements. Yes, Mohammed was an Algerian, but at the same time he was my best friend. I couldn’t understand how without any warning such prejudices could find themselves in Kristof; he was an intelligent chap. I was sure he loved Mohammed but I was clearly mistaken. An angry taxi flashed-by drenching me from head to toe. I didn’t bother to vocalize any anger that might have been there. The only thing I knew was that somewhere deep down in my soul, something had burned-out forever.
Early next morning Kristof called. He was sheepish and proposed that we should go for breakfast. I think I told him to go to hell. I didn’t want to see anyone, have breakfast or leave my bed.
After around three weeks Mohammed came to visit me at home. I had no idea how things went because, he either didn’t come to university, or we hadn’t crossed paths. In all genuineness I hadn’t attended many classes either. And also, every time I tried to call him he was nowhere to be found. Perhaps I wasn’t too persistent either. Deep down I may have wanted to be all alone.
"I’ve come to say good bye." He was very calm. "Is your mom here?"
I nodded. I couldn’t dare ask him whatsoever; his serious nature frightened me.
"Good then. I leave tomorrow and I didn’t want to go without saying goodbye to her." A long silence followed.
"What do you mean by ‘I leave tomorrow,’ are you going back to Algeria?"
"Yes Daniel, I can’t stay in Paris any longer, Sophie had an abortion. She thinks that we’re not made for each other and that her parents were right all along." Mohammed seemed tranquil but his eyes looked as though they had aged by decades.
"Do you want to ruin your future because of a girl? I’m sorry but that enormously dumb. You haven’t even embarked on this properly and you’re already quitting."
"There are Universities in Algeria you know."
"Yeah but it’s not the same."
"You’re right, in Algeria I won’t be a man of the lower-classes." He forced a smile but his eyes remained empty.
Mohammed really did leave. In Algeria he enrolled again and started working as a journalist for a newspaper in the capital. He never married - always said that he was too preoccupied and that there was never time for other things.
Kristof and I graduated together. He continued to be the soul of the group and I continued to admire him but could never laugh at his jokes like before. I wasn’t angry at him. I had just realized that he was different from me and that there was no way that I could cater for him in my own worldly categories. When he invited me to his wedding with Sophie I wasn’t surprised. It was as though I had anticipated all of this, then and there; that same night he told me of his conversation with Armand. I still think to this day that he had nothing against Mohammed or his Arabic backdrop. It was just that he couldn’t succumb to the fact that Sophie didn’t fall in love with him. I truly hope that was the case.
There were only a few colleagues from the paper left by now. I ordered a Calvados - mine and Mohammed’s favorite drink. I took the latest issue out of my blazer pocket and began to read the introductory story. It was written by Kristof. He could write damn well. Pity, the three of us could really have conquered the world.
© Lucy Moschen