You have no items in your cart. Want to get some nice things?Go shopping
Soup for fifty in the MKZ, a vegan squat-restaurant half a kilometre from the Vondelpark. It was a recipe I’d tried before – avocado and lime – but the avocadoes I’d just bought from the Albert Cuypmarkt were hard, and the lo-salt I was adding had the effect of making it taste bloody. My reputation as a good soup-maker, earned by cooking up a meatless mulligatawny a few weeks before, was now at stake. I added things frantically, trying to balance out the flavours, but they just wouldn’t gel. Sharon, head chef of sorts, was hastily eating a cream cake (“it’s freegan”) and paying not a shred of notice.
And then there was the girl, of course there was a girl, Laura (pronounced L-OW-ra!) from Spain. She had blonde-brown curls, looser than mine, and eyes like the sky in a summer storm, occasional dark clouds and all.
She grabbed another would-be-escapee avocado and stabbed it with one of our many blunt knives. She eyed my mint-green mixture but said nothing. If this was a test of our friendship, she had passed it.
That morning we had watched the sun come up, sitting on the forbidden roof of my block of student flats, drinking warmish beer. The sky was the blue of a half-sucked Smarty. The ankles of my jeans were wet following an unsuccessful attempt to commandeer an empty houseboat on the Keizergracht, and there were two dark pink crescent thumbnail marks on my right hand from where she’d pulled me back onto the pavement. Then we slept for two hours under our jackets when daylight really struck, and cycled here via the market, where I’d insisted on buying the twenty unripe avocadoes.
One of the perks of working at MKZ was the free booze. Only able to afford beer or, at best, strong sweet port at the supermarket, we were spoiled for choice with the vodka and rum behind the bar. Technically Sharon was meant to keep watch over the stock but, having finally noticed how stressed I was about the now frothy soup, she opted to turn a blind eye to its depletion. We were opening in thirty-five minutes.
Unable to watch customers chew their soup, I went to stand at the back door. It was cool outside and my head slowly began to stop spinning. Laura came to stand by the door too. Elbow to elbow at the fire escape, we watched the sun draining back into the earth. There was a second where we might have kissed but it faded fast.
When it was finally dark and everyone had eaten their seitan curry and started moving from the bar towards the door, Laura made her way back inside and I followed. We got onto our bikes less steadily than we’d dismounted them just hours before, and made our way down towards Trut! another squat, transformed into a grotty but glorious gay club. We danced, although I hated dancing, and for a while forgot about who liked whom or why anyone would put limes in soup or whether we would ever be happier or what life would be like when we left this city and went back to our homes.
An old hippy in a hat came up to me, and said it was the best soup he’d ever eaten. I decided to believe him.
There was a song we listened to a lot in those days. I misinterpreted the lyrics, and thought they went: this is boring me, this is paradise. As I walked along the Keizergracht to a class; or up the Prinsengracht to meet a friend and dangle our legs over the edge, dangerously close to the canal, and drink copious amounts of red wine from one of the small bars; or even through the red light district, that time we had an assignment for the Gender Studies class – at these times, I recognised the city as a paradise I never wanted to be kicked out of.
I thought back to Edinburgh. Edinburgh was a slim, camp man with an air of pretension and a sharp-edged beauty, defying the clouds that threatened to blur his contours. Amsterdam was gentler, feminine, with all her waterways and the narrow buildings standing close together like girls sharing a cigarette on a night out in December.
Yes, Amsterdam was paradise, but I was never bored.
We were smoking a rare joint, stretched out on my rooftop, each with one headphone in, listening to the song on repeat. My little iPod was gathering heat in the early sun.
“Aiiiii,” she screamed. “It’s just so beautiful,” she said, “everything, so beautiful.”
I looked out across the rooftops and below, at the trams like vessels snaking through the city’s veins, and the bicycles with their spinning wheels catching the pale sun. My head was hazy with smoke and light.
“You’re beautiful, too,” I tried, the words nervous in my mouth.
“Becky,” she said. “BeckyBeckyBecky.”
“Let’s change the song!”
She fiddled with the iPod. Another song went on: happier melody, more miserable lyrics.
“What does that cloud look like?” she demanded.
Caught off-guard. Rorschach response. “A hot-air balloon.”
“Whaaaat? You want to fly to the clouds. Aiiii, aiiii, aiiii.”
“Why, what do you think it looks like?”
“A pregnant woman.”
I squinted. Couldn’t see it. Realised she’d succeeded in distracting me. Resigned myself to forever holding my peace. Minutes passed, I was either stoned or sulking.
“Okay, okay. Okay. What do you think is so beautiful about me?”
Shit. “It’s— uhm— your, it’s your, eyes.”
“Oh come on!”
“My eyes.” Flatly stated. “My eyes?”
“Yeah but not just…”
She leant down, hands at her face. Jesus. Had I made her cry? When her head came back up, one of her eyes was no longer sky coloured but a pale, autumn brown. She lifted her index finger, held the contact lens to the light.
“My eyes,” she said. Tiny smile. “Aiiii, Becky, Becky. So sweet, you are.”