Tobias crouches, shouts down to the man next to me, asks him to give me a boost up. The man stirrups his hands. I shake my head, take a step back from the wall. Despite the fizzle in the air, the clink of glass bottles, the clank of hammers hacking at concrete, I still expect the fingers, firm against my bicep, pulling me away. The questions posed across a table. The slamming of a cell door. The disappointment on my father’s face. He’ll blame my mother for putting ideas in my head, for sobbing for days after her parents crossed the border – to retirement, to democracy. He’ll lose his job. My mother will open the curtains to a man across the street, stood in the same spot every morning.
I walk backwards several paces, know I am moving against the crowd, feel the annoyance of others in the elbows poking my ribs, spine, chest. I don’t take my eyes off Tobias. He stands up, looks west. I stop to admire him, ignore the crick in my neck, enjoy the evening air on my face. He stumbles. I gasp. The man next to him, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt with a logo I’ve never seen before, puts an arm around him, pulls him in tight. I watch this reunion of strangers who have never had a chance to cross paths, to retrieve each other’s dropped gloves or lost hats on a windy day, to get their dogs’ leads tangled in the park.
The woman next to me taps me on the shoulder. She hands me a bottle of wine. History in the making, she shouts into my ear. Her breath, or perhaps what she’s saying brings the hairs on the back of my neck to attention. She reminds me of my mother at Christmastime – glassy eyed, rosy cheeked. She squeezes my arm and ploughs into the crowd. I watch her as she gets a boost up, as Tobias and the man beside him grab her hands, pull.
All these people in their various states of excitement, intoxication, can’t be wrong, can they? I take a swig of the wine, wince at its acidity, pass it along. Tobias waves at me, indicates the space where I should be standing. Look. Come. I think of my mother, of how I should go and get her from our apartment, but realise she’ll be over there already.
Nina. Nina. Nina. Tobias calls my name; the man next to him calls it too. I smile and step forwards, enjoy the claustrophobia of the crowd as it carries me towards the wall. I tap the shoulder of the man next to me, point upwards. He stirrups his hands. Tobias crouches down, arms out. I put my left foot into the man’s palm, bend my knee and leap upwards with such determination that I nearly send Tobias into the arms of the crowd on the other side. We laugh. People cheer. I wave at the strangers I’ve been waiting my whole life to see. They wave back, beckon us down.
Emma Venables’ short fiction has recently featured in MIR Online, Barren Magazine, The Nottingham Review, Mslexia and The Copperfield Review. Her first novel, The Duties of Women, will be published by Stirling Publishing in 2020. She can be found on Twitter: @EmmaMVenables.