There’s a certain indescribable chill that accompanies trudging home to an empty apartment. The young man felt it in the doorway to his home, on the stairway to the thirteenth floor, in the hallway of the eerily quiet apartment complex. He felt it when the knob jingled at ten past midnight, when he walked in and his steps were quiet, unsure and tired from the dragging day.
He set his satchel down and flexed his shoulders to roll out the knots that’d formed after hours of commuting. It was a day that reeked of coffee and madness, of running wildly from office to office and internship to internship.
He hated it.
A slight sigh escaped his lips and the young man slumped into the couch stationed in the middle of his small studio.
From this high up in the apartment, even the moon’s luminescence couldn’t reach him properly, enclosed by the clouds, the silver moonlight painting the streets below a dream-like white, forever unable to breach through his curtains.
He couldn’t find it in himself to really care. With a restless shift, he knocked over his cup from the coffee table and fell into a dreamless slumber.
The coffee stain had already set in by the time he woke up, but he was running late enough that to spare a second thinking about how to get another spill off his carpet would be too much brainwork. And so he didn’t think. He flopped off the couch and flew out the door with only a single button fastened on his bag, his floral study textbooks all but spilling out in cascading colors of white and black onto the staircase.
It was wet outside. Wet and very, very cold. He shivered before pulling his turtleneck closer to his chin, trembling with every gust of wind that swept by the underground metro entrance. Sometimes on mornings like this, when the rain had just settled and the clouds visibly brewed some more, and the angry people of this city pushed past one another to get to work, the colors around him seemed to blur into strokes of haphazardly applied paint. It was confusing the amount of commotion that seemed to storm outside the walls of his mind.
Sighing, he winced, an irking headache blossoming angry and red with every nonsensical shout and noise that echoed from beside his slow body. The subway carts were loud but this loudness was industrial—from the creaks and groans of the metro to the whistling of the compressed air between different lines, every noise was a precise puzzle piece that made the subway what it was. Here, as he stood by the creaking doors of cart four, surrounded by people pummelling through the tunnels underground together, barely a soul turned their eyes upwards. Those who did had nothing to offer but drained gazes.
He wasn’t condemning them for being preoccupied, nor did he want to strike up a conversation. It was six in the morning and even he himself was far from wanting to initiate contact. But he was fascinated by the coldness—metaphoric, of course, though the winter chill could add a very literal sense to the word—that surrounded him. All he could see were shades of blue despite the subway line being all but colored in reds, and all he could hear was silence, even though the loudest part of his day was in the train.
“Now exiting, Municipio Station.”
The walk to the flower shop he interned at was not a hard walk. Naples was beautiful this time of year and visually there was always something that could occupy his wandering thoughts. To his right, the most beautiful bouquet of flowers sat in the arms of a newly engaged woman (perhaps even more than beauty, wedding proposals were prominent in the wintertime Italian seaside) and to his left a team of children sang in laughter, an aging soccer ball passing between little legs.
The flowers were still on his mind when he strolled by the cafe at which he picked up his mid-day orders. He would’ve passed by too, if it hadn’t been for the woman sitting at the front of the window, hands wrapped softly around a large mug of coffee and a distinct braid trickling down the side of her chest.
He cleared his throat, fixed his collar, ran three fingers through unruly hair, though for what he was careful he did not know.
If he were to be honest, he’d admit that perhaps he was staring a second too long. If he were to be honest, he’d say that it wasn’t her braid, or her eyes, or the fiore brooch on the collar of her coat that caught his attention, but instead her smile.
Because in a place, on a day, hell, in a month where everything seemed to be bleak and all frowns, she had offered a solace.
He coughed (choked, really), diverted his eyes, and walked away.
For three weeks, he purposefully took the same route to the flower shop to test his luck, hoping to see the woman again, and each time he was surprised that it worked. For three weeks they observed one another from afar—by now they were in some tango of distant acquaintances; he would pass by, she would wave, and they would both give a soft sort of smile. Not once did it occur to him to walk inside (seeing as he was usually already running late) and she was never there when he walked in during the afternoon to grab his coffee.
And then on the fourth week, half asleep on the metro and barely keeping himself from falling on the couple sitting in front of him, he turned around only to come face to face with the mysterious woman from the coffee shop. If her shocked expression was anything to go by, she was just as surprised as he was to see him there, gripping tiredly to the rusty handrail.
Just like that, the warmth and softness was almost all gone.
But the lingering blossom of joy that it left in the center of his chest was enough to fuel him for the rest of that evening.
For every day of the following few weeks, he woke up earlier than usual—which was a feat in and of itself, really—in order to make himself presentable for the woman in the coffee shop. He was never a suit-and-tie kind of man but he swapped his usual look for a button down and slacks, telling himself it was just for the sake of changing things up. For the first time in a very long time, he found that perhaps there were exceptions to the constant noise and sharpness of the outside world. For the first time in a long time, he took the time to appreciate how beautifully orange the sunrise looked from his apartment.The sunlight that cut through the horizon was harsh, but it was welcome, like a gentle smile amidst a crowd so detached.
And that’s all he could really ask for; to feel welcome, to feel warmth.
To feel seen.
Twelve weeks down the line of this quiet dance they did, he puffed his chest and walked into the cafe. There were no words exchanged; instead he took the head of a daisy from his apron and offered it to her, an unvoiced question, weeks of thank-yous fluttering on the daisy.
Once again, she surprised him with a simple quirk of her lips, and that was confirmation enough.
The next evening he met her at the same cafe after work, an arrangement of flowers nestled in the crook of his arm that resembled the one he saw on the day they’d met. Despite his fears—maybe he isn’t worth the time, maybe this silent correspondence of theirs meant nothing more than being kind to a stranger—she showed up. And she came with all the energy of the moon above, her skirt whipping around, two cups of coffee in her hands.
They climbed high into the sky, a rooftop abandoned and forgotten. It was beautiful so high up.
The evening was a blur but of the best kind—a mixture of coffee and colors, music and conversation. And if this is what it felt like to finally live, thirty feet in the air, then so be it.