There was - and is - plenty to smile at, but here's one of them: Amsterdam, and being carried on a Dutch bicycle by a guy who takes a hand off the handle every now and then to squeeze your hand that is resting on his stomach, as if he doesn't want to wait a second longer to hold your hand in his.
When I'm on the back of his bicycle, I see the city sideways and backwards. It is a strange perspective. I am used to looking ahead, or having the option to do so and occasionally glancing out of the window. On his bicycle, I see only the back of his head when I try to look at what's in front of me, and so I give up and am content to rest my head on his back, an arm around his waist, as he careens the two of us down Amsterdam's carefree roads.
I'm wearing a short tennis skirt - the latest Adidas by Stella McCartney collection, no less (though, to be quite technical about it, this mint green outfit was retired along with the pre-Roland Garros clay season) - which flies up a bit too much for my liking as the wind blows past me. The Dutch weather ensures that I feel a constant chill throughout the 20-minute biking journey. I'm carrying my Nike sports bag and our tennis racquets, and my left leg falls asleep after 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, my butt begins to ache.
He apologises for my discomfort, but that's just the kind of guy that he is. I should tell him, Don't apologise for giving me this: a distinct feeling of release, of letting go, of free falling down a quietly busy road in Amsterdam Zuid; a rare sense of freedom, unfettered, unconstrained, a pure wind against my skin, my cheek against his back. In this moment, I would be forgiven for believing that the earthly weight of my worries has been lifted off my shoulders, and all that matters from here on out is our ability to live life in exactly the manner that it should be lived: no complications, only happiness. Happiness, that is, of the untainted sort, before it was defeated by the acquired cynicism of a disappointed idealist. In this moment, consisting of a few precious minutes, nothing seems to matter except my presence on his bike, my sideways view of the upscale houses of Amsterdam's rich, and the assuringly familiar feel of his body against my arm. And happiness, of course.
He gives me that, and then some. He gives me a hairdryer so that I can feel more comfortable when I stay over at his place on the weekends. He takes me to an expensive club to play tennis for two hours on gorgeous clay courts, and he doesn't even play tennis; consequently, he gives me a fun-filled two hours of laughter and cheeky shots and the occasional kiss. He cooks me dinner that same night after cycling for a total of 40 minutes and playing tennis for 120 minutes, and he puts Roland Garros on his TV.
He gives me space when I need to study, and gives me affection when I'm bored. He has given me more than I could ask for. He says that I bring it out of him. I don't know what it is about me that compels him to be this way with me, but it makes me think that maybe I'm not as difficult, or nasty, or cold, or caustic, as I think that I am. It makes me think, in fact, that maybe there is something about me that is worth loving. It is long forgotten and I had no reason to believe that it still exists, but he sees something in me that he thinks is worth the effort - worth the weight of his heart.
I hope he's right. For my part, I'm backtracking through the years, rewinding the film of my life past Arnaud, past the casual relations I made in London, past the blackness that infected me during the last leg of my relationship with Wei Chuen, past my fatalistic love-worship of NEB...stopping somewhere there, stripping my 20-year-old self of her pretend-cynicism (she had no idea what she was talking about, not with the paltry 'experience' she had under her belt) and realising the full capacity of her heart to love tenderly, deeply, wholly. I am cautiously optimistic...I am optimistic. I am optimistic that I have found, and pushed, a restart button - that I am finally believing once more, and for real this time, in my capacity to love.
Last night, while we were walking away from Plein and towards Grote Markt, I told him, 'I can't believe you're real. You cannot be real!'
I remember lamenting with my girlfriends in Singapore that all the good men were either married or gay. He is neither married nor gay - and sometimes, I cannot believe that he's real. This is not to say that I'm blind to his faults, though I will admit that I struggle to think of more than one; but this is just to say, quite simply, that he is so overwhelmingly amazing that his shortcomings don't matter. I am surprised by the things that he remembers and which he pays attention to; he remembers that I told him, before we even met, that I had beer spilled on me when I was at Barlow on the night before King's Day, and he even noticed that my lips were not of my natural colour thanks to the purplish tint of my lip balm. After he picked me up from The Hague campus of Leiden University where I sat through a lecture on the ICJ and the challenges of human rights law, he suddenly produced, with a sleight of hand, a pack of syrup waffles that he knows I love.
I had wine and a mojito in quick succession last night. At about 11.30, I suddenly felt nauseous and like I was seeing double. I even fell asleep in the toilet. It was pretty mortifying, and he was sufficiently worried to take me home in a cab. He wanted to stay, but couldn't, due to rules set by my landlady (at such times, I really miss living alone). I was going to take a tram back by myself as I didn't want him to take a detour by going to my place, which would have meant that he'd have to get on a later train...and it was already quite late. He insisted on sending me home, and insisted on a taxi.
One of my friends at the Tribunal saw us at the restaurant last night. He told me, 'He's a serious-looking dude! Is he a supermodel or something? I mean, even I noticed it.'
My friend is a 38-year-old Irishman, so the 'even I noticed' part speaks volumes. I'd waxed lyrical previously about how amazing and sweet and what a perfect gentleman he was, so this morning, all I said in reply was, 'Yeah, I think he's hot too.'
Time to study.