by Walburga Appleseed

We meet again on a train between Lausanne and Geneva. You sit down opposite me and I glance up from my daydreams and we look at each other. I can see that you wish you had chosen another seat just as much as I wish that you had chosen another seat but there we are, and a nano-second later we exclaim: ”Gosh, it’s you!” in really loud voices and I stand up and we kiss three times, peck, peck, peck, on the cheeks as is customary in Switzerland, and then we sit down and take a deep breath and ask at exactly the same time:

”So, how are you?”

And we laugh a little, hehehe, as grownups do when they’re embarrassed, what a funny coincidence, and you tell me a little about your life since we both left school which seems like three hundred years ago (but is more like seventeen). You live in Lausanne with your boyfriend (who is sitting next to you, as if for confirmation that he exists, but completely ignores our conversation by way of earphones stuck deep into his smart shiny ears). You work as a biochemist for some biotechnology company, I forget the name the moment you tell me. Or have you just said you work at the university, I wonder but no, someone like you would not content themselves with a researcher’s salary, you have always been ambitious. 

Two opposing magnetic forces, we feel threatened by each other, have always avoided each other, but were forced into the same classroom for way too many years. Now I sit right opposite you, knees touching and my body is screaming at me to run, or fight, or do something. 

“You haven’t changed a bit,” we both exclaim. 

You are still small, snake-slim with a bob haircut and plain but elegant clothes. Everything about you is neat and tidy, even the black umbrella folded into your black bag. Now you smile again and ask me about what I do, and I say I have three children, and I write, and you ask if you can see pictures of my children but I haven’t any on me since I have an old phone without a camera. I show you my phone to prove that I can’t show you my children’s pictures, and you snigger and I don’t think you think that I have changed much either, and you might be right.

I’m tall and messy and open, we have always despised each other’s strengths, feared each other’s intellect, and played power games around friendship and study. We both look at our watches and we sigh and smile, isn’t the trip to Geneva always longer than one imagines, and we sit there for an eternity and I wish for your absence, for you to be removed from my field with an intensity I hadn’t known for seventeen years. I think of ways of escaping, the toilet, but I have to come back to my place, can’t just move on and sit somewhere else because we are not children anymore, we are grownups now, and grownups sit things out.

Even at school we never really fought openly like we should have, two cats at each other’s throats, fighting it out, no, we always pretended to be civilized, even then. I sit and I tuck my claws under my thighs to stop myself from lashing out and lacerating your pale cheek. Finally, finally, the train arrives and you stand up and button up your coat all the way to the top and clutch your umbrella like a weapon.

We peck cheeks again and say how very lovely it has been to meet again, and such a coincidence, and how we should meet again, some time. You don’t ask for my number and I’m glad, and I don’t ask for your number and I’m sure you are glad too. And as you and your plugged-in boyfriend walk away I feel relieved as a new dawn, and I realize that there are people I will never, ever like, no matter how innocent or kind they really are, and you, most likely, are thinking exactly the same thing.