March 8, 2011
Lycia meets Ben at campus. He is traveling and life is easy, Peru in the spring is full of colours. He doesn’t dance the salsa, but makes her laugh. His paleness contrasts her coffee skin and their eyes match.
Six months later he goes back to Belgium to continue his studies, he is smart and numbers flow from his fingers. Computers obey him. His heart is full of love, and he is only 21. Her heart is full of love too, although she is only 19. She wants to study politics.
A few months of text messages and Skype calls later, Lycia smells smoke in the air as Cairo burns while her international internship dissolves through force majeure full of anger and the discontent of an ancient people hitting the future head on. Lycia’s roommate is out in the city as it burns, camera in his hands freezing the moment again and again, while only angles separate him from both bullets and the images that make it into the New York Times. Lycia stays in her apartment. Her company asks her to keep quiet, remain discreet, and her pictures remain unpublished.
Lycia’s family is in a panic – their baby is caught in the kind of life that happens to others. They try to get her a plane ticket, the first one, anywhere, just get out of there baby, be safe. Lycia moves fast, her passport flashes the scanner at Brussels airport as she arrives. To say that Ben is surprised is to say truth, or nothing. She stays with him the first week and then sets out on her own. It takes her two days to find a room, shared with a Janet, or Gemma, also a brunette, also with smiling eyes, also into politics.
Some time later, her new flatmate invites her to a party. She arrives, excitement shining in her eyes. She is unprepared – it’s a masquerade and a German Snow White wearing a red garter dances to Dizzee Rascal in a living room that has seen no war, while Princess Fiona extends a green hand in welcome.
When she meets me, I am wearing black, and my mask is venetian. She tells me her story while I lean against a door post. Lycia is twenty, and she is excited. Life is full of wonders. Ben is sick at home and here she is. She wonders about what I do and if I have a degree. She says that she will publish her pictures of Cairo on Facebook. Maybe. She catches me by surprise, a real traveller moving through life among people who chat for a living. Her smile is alive.
She hopes she will find an internship soon. She hopes Ben will feel better tomorrow. She hopes she can get a drink. She hopes.