I do not like social occasions. I really dislike gatherings, cocktail parties and happy hours. I can tolerate a dinner with friends, but just with no more than a few people. The noise of a lot of people talking, especially if they are loud, bothers me. I can open exceptions, but they would be very scarce.
On one of these rare occasions, I was at a painting vernissage, invited by one of the artists, a friend of long date, who was participating in a show like that for the first time, after much insistence of his friends and acquaintances. He did not think his artwork was mature enough to become public, but everyone insisted that his paintings were very good and he eventually gave in. I had to agree that there was still a long way to go for what he might call "mature", but they were far better than many of the other artworks on display there.
I accepted the invitation to give him the support new artists need and also to break my own preconceived taboos and ideas about going out on a weekday evening. I had already decided that I would stay just long enough to be noticed by my friend and give him some public support, but I knew he would be quite busy with the other guests and would not be upset if I left early. He knew that my presence at such events could already be considered a rarity, so he would not be disappointed if I went home before the end of the event.
I glanced over at the group of people present, pacing back and forth, leisurely, pretending they liked what they were seeing, as if they knew more than they did of modern art. The wine was of good quality, but nothing exceptional. The food was good, but not luxurious or overly sophisticated. The purpose of the catering was not to keep the guests focused on eating, but to create the atmosphere of a certain formality.
I was feeling displaced, as almost always, among strangers. I would rather be at home listening to music, reading, or just playing with the cat. But one has to support a friend every now and then...
Someone bumped into me and some white wine spilt on the sleeve of my coat. A meager apology and a strategic leaving me alone followed my awkward 'it’s all right'. It was, definitely, not all right. I set the glass down on a table and tried to go to the bathroom and quickly wash the wine from my coat so it would not do any more damage it had already done.
On my way back, determined to leave the place immediately, I sought out my artist friend in order to bid him farewell, but he was busy with a group of women who were laughing loudly and not discreetly.
I thought and said that aloud.
For some reason my eyes were drawn towards the staircase that led to the mezzanine, where there were a few other paintings exposed. A man dressed in black was staring at me and seemed to smile. I was not sure if it was for me, but a shiver ran up my spine. He had a glass of red wine in his hand and lifted it, as if toasting with me. I looked back, but there was no one around who he could be looking at in the same direction. When I turned back again, he was gone. I looked around, but I could not find him.
'Strange thing', I thought. 'Why did he look at me like that? This cannot be normal or I must be really drunk.'
I left the place right away.
My annoyance did not last long. On my way home, I no longer thought about that little incident and went back to my normal state. I do not like driving and the traffic makes me tense, so I try not to think too much when I'm in the car.
Back at home, I was happy with my normal solitude and usual my hermit condition. I got rid of my formal clothes and put on my old pajamas, ready to go to bed. I almost forgot that the sleeve of my coat needed to dry right before being hung back in the closet, so as soon as I finished brushing my teeth and got ready for bed, I walked back into the living room and laid it on the back of a chair.
I fell asleep so fast I did not even have time to think about anything else. I did not even notice when the cat climbed onto bed and lay down at my feet...
He lifted the glass of red wine and smiled. I tried to look away, but I could not. There was something in his gaze that I felt intriguing and at the same time frightening. He moved his lips, as if to say something, but I did not hear any sound. What was he trying to tell me? Would it be important? What does he want from me?
Someone passed in front of me and that distraction broke my eye contact. When I looked back, he was not there anymore.
"This has happened before," I said aloud.
- But not this way...
I had a fright. I did not expect anyone to hear me.
The man dressed in black, next to me, offered me a glass of red wine, without saying anything else. I took the glass and brought it to my lips, keeping eye contact with him.
He smiled in a strange way.
I realized that something was wrong and looked at the contents of the goblet, which fell out of my hand, as soon as I realized it was something else...
The dense, red blood in it splashed across the floor and onto my clothes as the crystal broke into millions of pieces against the dark granite of the floor.
I woke up with a shriek, sweating and panting like an animal after a long run.
- Shame! That was just a dream…
I had not thought about how that little incident had left such a strong mark on my subconscious, coming back to life during my sleep...
Going back to my routine, the day after, was enough to keep my mind busy with work and my normal chores, at least until the evening. Sometimes, however, when I was distracted, I had the sensation of seeing those eyes peeking from somewhere, but I concluded that it was just a mere impression... Just a game the mind plays...
When I left the office, I rushed to the metro station. I never used to go to the city center by car, because of the difficulties of finding places and also because of the cost of parking. It was much more practical to use the subway system. It worked very well and, besides being very practical, was also quite efficient and inexpensive.
I went downstairs and walked to the platform, which was already quite busy, at that hour of the afternoon. It's funny to watch the passers-by coming in and out of the vehicles and imagine where they are going to and where they come from, with their stories, their problems, their joys, their desires...
I was looking vaguely at a couple of women who were talking enthusiastically in front of me when the vehicle arrived on the opposite platform. My attention was naturally directed to that side and I kept watching the people moving in and out until the group of carriages left, as quickly as they came. The character dressed in black and staring at me, caused me an obvious discomfort. I was out of action for a few seconds, until I realized he bowed his head and moved his lips as if he were telling me something. I frowned, but did not respond. The subway car stopped in front of me and the focus of my attention was soon diverted. I walked into the vehicle and looked out the window, but I saw no one on the opposite platform. I had not been wrong.
He was there and I was feeling I was being chased.
- What the hell was that? Again…
The girl, standing next, laughed at me, when she noticed I was talking to myself.
- Why do you wear that awful sleeping shirt?
- What the f…? How do you…
The voice on the other end of the telephone line was hoarse, almost provocative, as if the caller wanted only to show that he knew what he was talking about, but did not want to cause an unnecessary commotion.
The lights were off and I could not remember wearing that piece of clothing before coming into the bedroom, ready for bed. The curtains were closed, so I did not immediately understand how anyone would know that I was dressed in that striped shirt of various colors, which I myself admitted was ridiculous, but it was very comfortable to sleep after all.
I did not turn on the lights. I rolled over to the side and searched for some strange light, like the one that reveals a hidden camera, but I did not see any. How that creature knew what was going on inside my room? I sat on the bed without turning the lights on. The cat jumped from the foot of the bed where it was nestled and stared at me walking toward the door, lit by the faint clarity of the phone I held.
- Do not let the kitten run out of water. He must be thirsty.
- What? What kind of joke is this?
The sign that the line disconnecting followed and to my surprise the cat returned to the room, but did not lie down. He made a move as if to leave, as he did when he wanted something, and I followed him into the kitchen. He stopped and looked at me, sitting on the blue carpet, where the bowl of water was, empty, to my utter astonishment.
I filled it up and also a large empty glass of instant coffee that I always kept full of water on the sink, wondering how they had emptied, if nobody but me had access to the apartment. I shook my head, as if dismissing a bad thought and went back to bed, unwilling to think about it or I would not sleep.
Six minutes after lying down, not exactly to my surprise, the phone rang again...
I heard the heavy breathing on the other side of the line. The same hoarse voice spoke, quietly but firmly.
- I hope I have convinced you that we have things to talk about. We should meet tomorrow at lunchtime. Do not miss...
- But where?
- Do not worry about it...