The night had fallen on the town, the river and the land. Along the curvy narrow road that led through the fields to the city, an old man, slender and fit, was riding a black bicycle. A big doctor bag, all scratched and worn out by years of loyal service, was placed in the back carrier. Under his woollen hat and suit, the man had silver hair and a passionate heart. Nobody escorted the doctor in his journey. Along the dark curvy road, his only guide was the small yellow light on the front of his ride.
Some miles behind the old doctor, his son David was laying on the carpet in the middle of the living room. A vinyl was playing repeatedly the same longing song on his father’s wooden deck. The cover, a portrait of a young man exposed on top of a geometric artwork, lay empty beside David. He was resting his back against the bottom of his father’s favourite armchair, his right leg stretched out, his left one bent to form a triangle with the right. His big eyes, blue and sad like his mother’s, were wide open but he was staring into the void. He was lying there like he used to do when he was a little boy and he and his mother still lived there, right above the doctor’s office.
On Sundays, the practice was officially closed and his father used to sit in that armchair – his bag all equipped placed on the side – and read. In those moments, David used to seat at his father’s feet with a child book on his lap and read as well. From time to time, his father stopped his reading to reach his son’s head and stroke his dark messy hair. David had grown so accustomed to that gentle touch, that even after he and his mother had left his father’s house, he felt the ghost sensation and responded to it, tapping briefly on his own head.
But that night David had no book in his lap, only an old invitation card, all dirty and smudgy, held between index and thumb. One of his city friends would have told him to stop staging that pathetic scene about an older woman he had not seen in years, but none of his cool city friends was there and he kept on thinking about her. And about Nadia.
The two girls had both come to him through the bridge. They were both beautiful and unpredictable. They were both young, in his mind. One had pearls in her smile and honey in her veins, like an ancient goddess of crops and abundance. The other one was a red apple, ready to fall from the tree. He wanted to be under the tree that day, even though he wanted to marry his goddess and fly the world upon a cloud with her. Every time he tried to focus on his lost love, he felt a sting on his cheek and then his thoughts went on the other one and her red lips.
He looked at his satchel bag, abandoned on the carpet a little farther away. It was the only possession he had brought with him from the city. He knew that he would have found all he needed, and all his old belongings, at his father’s house. They had met at the coach stop outside town. He was waiting for David on his old bicycle. They didn’t speak much. They had not spoken much to each other in years. His father had given him the keys to the house and the practice. David had given him his mother’s new address. After few minutes of small talking, he was ready to leave but his father had stopped and embraced him.
“Jee, dad, you are not going to die! – after a moment of doubt – Are you?”
“Do I need to be terminal to embrace my kid?”
“Sorry. It’s just that I am not used to.”
His father let him go.
“Your mother does not hug you, sometimes?”
“Mam? Are you sure to remember her?”
“You don’t remember her very well. Plus… I am thirty-four, now.”
“I think I missed you more that I had thought. Are you sure you want to leave this evening? Why don’t you spend the night at home with me?”
“You are tempting me, David but no. The both of us need to stop joking and fight our ghosts. I must do it in the city and you here, alone.”
“I don’t have any ghost to fight in this town.”
HIs father laughed loudly.
“Yeah, sure kid”
He patted his son on the back and started his bicycle. After his father was out of sight, David could still hear him laughing. He called David “sad kid on the church porch” and wished him good luck from afar, waving a hand. David had groaned and called him Don Quixote and that was all. He had turned to the river and reached the stone bridge. It was there that he had met, Nadia, the girl with the red hood.
How strange, thinking about their meeting made his left cheek all itchy. She had kissed him there, right? He raised his hand and used the old invitation card to scratch his cheek. When he looked at it again, he found a new red stain all over a side of the wedding card.
“What the… her lipstick!”
A red thick smear had soiled the twirly letter “S” on the name “Sandra”.
“Look at that! What have you done, girl? You are a very naughty girl.”
He smelt the card and the smell of the paper, of the grease on his hands, of the tears that had smudged the card, years ago, blended with the brand new scent of the girl’s lipstick. It was a rather chemical scent, something like cheap waxes plus synthetic cherry. He sniffed again.
“There’s something more here”
Indeed, there was something else. It was a ghost note, a subtle shade, a sharp whisper of something he could not identify.
“I don’t want to think about you, naughty girl.”
But he turned over to the right and rested on his stomach. From there he could see the front door. If the girl was sleeping at her granny house, she was not too distant. From there it was a straight line, a nice walk of less than a mile. He was about to rise up, but something interrupted the course of his thoughts. The record had stopped with a clunk and started again. A guy sang with a broken voice and David sang along with him.
“The hand that brought this letter sweeps the pillow clean. So rest you head and dream a treasured dream.”
Then he smiled sadly and rose up to his feet, stopped the record and walked to the stairs. Less than a mile away, along an imaginary straight line, in a house on the other side of a stone bridge, a girl who smelt of cherries stopped to dream about him and fell into a deeper sleep.