“Sir… Sir… You can’t sleep here.”
Something hard hit me in the shoulder. I opened my eyes. The dream of a vacant bed, giving way to a cop’s blurred face. Her partner stood behind her, suspiciously watching me.
“Sir, I must ask you to leave.”
I blinked and straightened up. The world swayed, inducing an outburst of cold sweat on my forehead. I swallowed.
“Sir, are you alright?”
“Yes… Yes, I’m fine.” I lied, causing the cops to leave me alone on the bench I had slept on. I stared at my dirty hands, the faded tattoos on my arms. Something smelled like a night of drinking. My face ached and a void throbbed in my skull, unsettling like an empty house in the dark. The intersection in front of me, the red facades, the awnings and shops — where was I?
I reached into my pocket, wanting to make a call, but it was empty. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever owned a phone, so I didn’t bother with it any further.
I took a few steps up the street, knees shaking. The stench followed me. On the other side I saw an object that had become rare.
The phone booth was a shell of itself. I picked up the receiver. A dial-tone. Thank God. Unsuccessfully I fumbled in my pockets for coins, so I reached for my wallet. It was missing. What the hell is going on?
“Excuse me,” I turned to a passer-by, but he ignored me and hurried past. The sidewalk seemed to ripple, I had to hold on to the phone booth. Images of a woman smiling flashed in front of my eyes. A home; warm and lit with golden light. This wasn’t my memory, was it? At least I didn’t recognize it. I could only remember the cold. Shivers ran down my back and forced me to my knees. Still holding the receiver, I sank to the pavement.
It felt like I’d been sitting in the dirt for days when a quarter fell in front of me.
“Thanks,” I said to the lady hoarsely, but she rushed on without looking at me.
Now that I could make a call, I didn’t know who to phone. I dialed the first number that came to mind. It rang.
“Hello?” A woman’s voice.
I couldn’t find my words.
“Hello?” she repeated. “Hello? Dagat, is that you? Where are…”
I put the phone back on the cradle. The voice echoed in my brain. The reflection of a face stared from a shop window at me. A dirty, tired face. A face covered with bruises and a beard crusted with dried blood. I raised my eyebrows. The face mirrored me mockingly.
What happened? I walked aimlessly down the street. Who was I? My heartbeat went crazy. Where am I? I couldn’t think. Blood rushing in my ears.
“Where am I?” I asked a man who, instead of answering, hastily crossed the street.
“Where am I?” I yelled after him. “Where am I? Where am I?”
“Calm down, fool!” Someone pushed me from behind. I tripped, stumbled and fell. I landed headfirst in a pile of trash at the entrance to an alley. It was more comfortable to stay down, so I rolled onto my side. I didn’t want to open my eyes, but I opened them anyway. Something sparkled in the dirt in front of me. I picked up the car key and wiped it on my pants. Ford. I had a Ford once. A black one. No, I have a Ford. A black one. Those were my keys! The keys to my car. The car I used to drive through the city. Aimlessly, searching, for so long, but for what? The dopamine rush generated by that memory jolted me up. My eyes darted around. No black Ford anywhere, but a door loomed in the brick wall with magical attraction.
My hand grabbed the handle and pushed it down. Locked. My fists pounded the metal, I shook and tugged at the only familiar door in this strange world.
Finally, I heard the lock turn and an unnaturally red head of hair peeked out.
“What!?” The woman’s angry expression faded instantly. Her eyes suddenly filled with friendliness. “Come in.”
She led me into a bar’s taproom, seated me at the counter and set a glass of water in front of me. The smell of cold smoke and spilled beer felt familiar, almost homely.
From a drawer, she pulled out an aspirin, a wallet, and a cell phone, and placed them on the bar, before beginning to scoop ice into a cloth.
“Man, if I had known that the guy would beat you up this bad, I’d had intervened.”
“The guy who said your wife is just out whoring around? What happened to you? You used to be able to handle yourself.”
“I… I… My wife?” That woman’s image in my brain again, soothing my soul like warm honey.
“You still haven’t found her?” She looked at me with gray worrying eyes. My heart shattered, a sting piercing my brain where the honey subsided, leaving only pain.
“I have been looking. I have been searching. I cannot find her.” I could feel a knot tightening in my chest. Restricting my breathing like a noose. I let my head hang so not reveal the tears collecting in my eyes.
“I better call her.”, said the bartender, handed me the ice and picked up the phone.
I opened the wallet. Contents you would expect: a few bills, the usual cards, and a driver’s license.
‘Dagat Nenegin, 180 cm, 80 kg’, I read on the green card. That was me. My face, my name; I remembered! My wallet, my keys were on the counter at my local bar.
“Gwen,” I called to the bartender, who used my phone to call my wife. “Why do you have my things?”
“Yes, I think it’s better you get him”, she said into the phone and hung up. She turned to me. “Man, I’ve never seen you so fucked up. You were already a mess when you came in last night. Drunk, shaky, worried, looking for your wife. This one guy messed with you. He looked like a match for you, so I just kicked you out into the back alley. You know, I didn’t want you two to tear down the bar.”
“And my things?”
“You tell me. I found them this morning.”
The bar door opened letting the bright day into the dim room. A silhouette stepped out of the beam of light. A familiar one, a warm one — a homely one. I slipped from my stool stumbled to the woman who just entered and took her face into my hands. Tears of relieve filling my eyes as I kissed her. I gasped for air, I could breathe again. I hugged my wife, I could think again. I felt the warmth of her body, I was home again.
“Baby, where were you?” She asked me.
“I was looking for you. I couldn’t find you.” My voice shakily slipping from my throat.
“Aw, Baby, I was up on the hill. I needed space.” Her hand running through my hair, pacifying me.
“You didn’t tell me.”
“I know, Baby. I am sorry.”
“I didn’t do anything.” My voice still a hoarse mutter.
“I know, Baby. I know that now. I am so sorry.”