The name Marta was stuck in my mind. I don’t know why. My friend’s name is not Marta at all. She was sitting next to me, quietly smoking her cigarette. Her left hand was slightly trembling, as if there was an electric wave coming from her heart and dying out at the end of her fingertips. Her hand would have been hanging almost lifeless, if not for that tremble. Her otherwise crisp green eyes had a veil draped around them. She seemed to be gazing into an image in front of her that, I guess, only her mind’s eye could see. I looked at her with an urge to wrap my arms around her, to comfort the one that could not be comforted, to take the pain that could not be taken away from her. But I did nothing. The name Marta came back to me.
I have known Alice for years now. We met in a flat on Chalk Farm Road, just above the Nando’s where she was a manager. I called seven times and left three messages about the room. There were other rooms, there were rooms all over Camden, but for some reason I wanted to see that one. After I finally got to see the room, and was officially interviewed, I was told I was their choice for a new flatmate. A new room and two new flatmates for me! Alice and Pam. I was excited. Twenty three and moving to Camden. Life was a big fat lady singing jazz just for me.
But that was so many years ago. We were all in our twenties, pretty much doing nothing and everything at the same time. Spending countless nights drinking wine and endlessly debating. Long before I was cheated on and long before I started running away. It was Alice who said she was a fish, swimming down the stream, not resisting, just being carried away by life. You know, she went to school, finished the university, got a job. That kind of thing. Then, apparently, there were fishes swimming up the stream—rebels—but that’s not who I was. I was a bird, and birds, she said, were artists. Spread your wings and fly, she told me. Alice said that flying is what freedom was, and that freedom breeds art. We all had our theories. But that was ages ago, that was before Pam got married, before she bought an ex-council flat in Finsbury, then a few years later moved with Mark to Maiorca, to raise their two kids while he wrote his novel. The only part that worked out was the kids growing up. Mark never finished his novel. He moved back to Ireland instead, after Pam divorced him. Drinking, she said. He was not writing, he was drinking. And it was long before Alice and I, in the space of a year, both left London, too.
And look at us both now, here in Berlin, each in our own life. A fish and a bird. She got herself a full time job, while I was freelancing. She took German lessons three times a week, while I had one here and there, mostly claiming I’d pick some up along the way, from movies, and life, you know. She rented a flat in Prenzlauer Berg that she shared with Phil and I moved to Neukölln with my cat. She met Phil in London, after leaving Nando’s and getting a job at Fuji TV. Phil played in a band she once interviewed and he followed her to Berlin. That was seven years ago. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve sat with her, here in her kitchen, in these seven years. We have such laughs together. For all the creeps I ended up dating. And cries. One for each of Phil’s affairs. A fish and a bird. But, you know, she was the creative one, I always thought. Okay, I was teaching, that’s kinda creative, but she made music. To help Phil, she said, but it was her. And she took painting classes, too. Damn fish, my ass. And what’s more, a fish swimming downstream, she said, didn’t she? Right.
‘They always go back to their girlfriends, their wives…’ Alice muttered. ‘But, why then?’ I asked in a calm manner, as if we were discussing her latest culinary experiment gone wrong. I didn’t recognise my own voice, yet it sounded just like it always did. At least Alice did not seem to mind. Not even a bat of an eyelash, she kept staring ahead of her. But it should not sound this normal, I thought to myself. Or should it? There was only silence. A long, cumbersome silence. There was no bread in her oven, and all the dishes were neatly drying next to her sink. Her kitchen usually looked like an exploded powder keg. It resembled a lab today. Clean. I looked at the small knife. It was the only piece of cutlery drying. It looked sharp. I turned around and saw a fly land on the kitchen sink and start zigzagging around, getting closer to the knife. I followed it with a corner of my eye. Did it smell meat, I wondered?
‘I suppose…’ she started with some chill in her voice. Like a voice from a grave, I thought. But she was here in front of me. She was here with a dead body next door, on a bed of blood. The knife that she stabbed him with was the one already washed and put to dry on the side of the kitchen sink. Alice shrugged her shoulders. ‘Well…’ she whispered, ‘You see, I did not want him to come back.’ She paused. I heard galloping horses inside my heart, my ear drums pounding while waiting for her to continue. ‘I could not stand the thought of having him back, not after this last one.’ The clock on the wall was ticking away seconds, then minutes, hours, days…perhaps even years. We were both going to turn grey and wrinkled unless I said something. I wiped my sweating palms against each other. Still, no words came out of my mouth. I need to say something. My mouth needed water. I must say something. I knew I should, but my tongue was a block of iron in the back of my throat. And there was nothing but silence coming out. Silence that suddenly got shattered as she said: ‘Her name is Marta, you know?’
After deferring to the point of no return her PhD on an obscure Czech philosopher whom she still finds fascinating, Tihana Romanić moved from London to Berlin in 2007 where she plans to live happily ever after. When she is not teaching she cannot be found anywhere because she is either training for a marathon, writing, or taking photographs.