First day at the Plasma-Center, Antun and I got on famously: chitchat; news of Zagreb; pork and sarma; the evils of the Ottoman empire. On the same page, right across the board. Oh, fellow countryman, what a delight. Then off he went to his fireballs, and left me a pile of papers with squiggles and footnotes, but no instructions.
He had hired me for what purpose exactly? My Croat tongue alone? The firm clasp of my handshake? My pyrotechnic heart?
I sit in a bunker of filing cabinets on the third floor, five by five by three, on a plastic-swivel, on oatmeal-colored carpet squares. There’s a window in the corner and a piece of Delft sky. I can smell cow and printer-breath from the machines in the hall.
Across from me sits Karla Sliedrecht. Dutch down to her fingernails. Her blood is the blood of the Dutch who ruled the high seas and worked the land with oxen. Blond, bovine, butter thighs – think Vermeer, ladies in petticoats, milk cans and frosty horizons. Even her soul that glimpses past the geraniums in her eyes is Dutch, Dutch, Dutch : you’re not really from here are you?
I am Lui, I volunteered. (Ik ben Lui).
No, l’wee. One syllable. L’WEE LA-BA.
Then in rapid succession she cross-examined: sister, brother, mother, father, hobbies and so forth. But my concentration was shot. I couldn’t get my eyes off the fuzz on her face, a film of hair beyond velvet, down her neck, across her collar bone. My mind raced - raced: I saw creatures scaling mountain fronts, large footprints, long hairs in the snow, I saw –
I think we should move our desks, Lui.
wha - why?
So we don’t stare at each other, she said in Dutch
I’m not staring.
I was, but I was thinking too. I was thinking of bigman - lonely bigman - my subterranean friend. He too is fuzzy. YES! Put two and two together. Karla and bigman, romantic comedies and light drinks under the brickwork. There is order in this chaos Earth. There are pairs that make wholes. Bring all these pairs together, all of them, and this chaos consumes itself - wooooooooshshshshshshshshsh – until there is nothing but a hole -
Help me move the tables.
Yes. Of course. Yes.
And so we slid tables over carpet squares in silence, our eyes inside our heads. Hers in hers; mine in mine.