Drops of sweat started to run down my neck as the substitute teacher reiterated the question, “What mistakes have you made in your life?”. Absolutely nothing came, I couldn't think of a single thing. I felt slightly embarrassed and foolish. The other students looked at me with a sceptical look. I was sure some of them thought I was nothing but a pretentious liar and I was certain I had lost my invitation to half the class's birthday bashes.
There was always the time I may have cheated on my math exam by lurking over Nerdy Nelly's exam paper, but I would hardly call that a mistake, particularly because, I, admirably and successfully, got away with it. Apart from that, I had to admit, my life, up until today and for the past 16 years and 3 months, had been pretty dull.
Others had tried to question or even denounce me for hovering my way through life. My mother even liked to call me, her undecided little hummingbird, that was simply waiting for the right flower to explore. “My child is a “perfectionist”, she said. She was, of course, wrong. In fact, I was never the patient type. The truth was, very little upset me and even less thrilled me.
Wednesday's “Life class” always put me in a questionable mood. All these questions that never got answered and all these random discussions she pulled out of her magic hat. No one ever left her class having learned anything they didn't already know before or without a splitting headache. But as everything else, I believed this class must have been taught for a reason. Various after-school activities and chores usually followed. I had given them all a fair trial but, much to my mother's dismay, neither water kung fu nor bubble sculpting agreed with me.
I usually spent Wednesday afternoons, walking down the river, often ending up at the local Cafe, owned by my aunt Clara. On Wednesdays, she was usually off rock crawling, which made it all the more enjoyable for me. She had a nasty habit of questioning the unquestionable. “Why don't you bring your little friends?”, was her official ringtone. At this hour, the place was usually half empty and you could only hear gurgling milk noise, slightly covering the snores of sleepy Tom, the ageing copper. I ordered my usual hazelnut hot chocolate and went to sit at my favourite corner table, fenced off by a small window on the left and an empty wooden bookcase on the right. I sat comfortably and looked through the window at the thick and silvery fog.
It was not love but I will remember her forever. The first time I saw her, I didn't see her. She entered the cafe, sat near the door and probably ordered her usual mint frappuccino. She wasn't from here. Still daydreaming and only halfway through my drink, I cannot recall why, of all people, she decided to charge straight for my table and for my own sanity, I will never attempt to do so. She had a velvety voice and turbulent manners. I knew from the moment I met her, she was someone who would never bother with “life class” and that made her, despite all odds, terribly intriguing.
From then on, we met every Wednesday, behind my aunt's back. She never asked me questions and I never brought up her terrible tastes in refreshment. I never asked where she came from and what she was doing here. It seemed a little tedious compared to the stories she told. They were as engaging as they were improbable. I didn't care. The others' criticism and my mother's fancy expectations didn't linger so much in my mind anymore. She took all the space. I never imagined us walking out in the sunset together, this was never what it was. I felt fantastically at ease in her presence.
Which is why when she asked me to steal my aunt's cash, I didn't so much see it as a felony but more as a courtesy to someone who had asked for so little of me and given me so much. `She was clearly in real difficulties, I didn't give it much thought. I never asked my aunt for anything and even paid for all my drinks but it never occurred to me that others would not have been so generous.
Ironically, even to that, I couldn't commit. Things all went horribly wrong when sleepy Tom, suddenly stopped snoring and caught me with my hand on the teal. Golden Girls had vanished like the heroes of her stories. I was putting my hand away, I shouted but it was no use. Sleepy Tom was well-rested and going strong. My aunt was nowhere around so he dragged me to the police station and locked me up in a sad little cell. He had been waiting for me his whole life, he kept saying. I couldn't understand it, it seemed to me, sleepy Tom had, like me, slumbered his way through life.
Hooked to a chair and facing two bizarrely similar officers, my first instinct was to defend myself. After all, I didn't actually do anything. Having never felt so passionate about anything else in my life, I was fully inexperienced in the whole thing. I tried to explain it to these two but they seemed to have a knack for the obvious. “There was no other kid”, they repeated. They had asked around and concluded I was quite the eccentric type. They decided I was the greedy type too.
Miserably freezing on the floor of my cell, I waited and wondered where did it all really start to go wrong for me. Was it just bad luck or had life finally played a dirty trick on me? I was given no charge but a very persistent record. I resisted telling my mother that I had finally found something worth exploring.
I never saw or heard of Golden Girl again. She had disappeared from my life, leaving nothing but a thin trail of contempt. I could never go back to that foggy afternoon and undo our meeting, the same way I could never go back to that wretched “life class” and correct my answer.
When I entered the poorly lighted interview room, I knew my past would probably cost me that job too. Seated on the cold metal chair, I took out my briefcase and laid out my stitched-up resume. When Golden Girl made a cheeky appearance in the form of a particularly awful cup of coffee, it finally came to me why she simply had to come into my life. I firmly held on to the memories of my actions, my decisions and my doubts. I finally cared. I cared about it all.