As soon as I saw you, I knew we had known each other for ten thousand years. I quickly scribbled down Greek letters, Arabic numerals, and Latin presuppositions, and calculated that we had lived 167 lives together, some of them minutes long, others a lifetime. As I spend time with you more and more flash into my mind in no order - I have begun writing them down in hopes it will tell me more about the 168th life I am in now, to make this the longest and sweetest of them all.
7. Collecting amber on Koenigsberg shores, my bones begged me to get out of that icy water, and my eyes cheated me. You caught me before my head fell under and told me to sleep; when I woke up I was in a warmer place with your hands in my hair. The amber bought us the time and the carriages we’d need to leave that sea behind and find warmer shores.
19. On a local train cutting through rock and rivers, we sat across to each other as strangers and barely said a word. On the layover in Naples I saw you sitting at my favourite spot on the pier and sat next to you, and we spoke about the varieties of exile. You told me you were getting off at Florence; I threw my transfer pass to Bolzano out of the train window that night.
25. Every day at 4 in the afternoon, you would buy four lemons at the fruit stand I ran since my father died. For the first time in that life I suddenly thought of running a fruit stand as a great career choice and wondered how long it would take to build a lemonade stand, and how to ask you if you’d like to run it next to mine.
34. I ran out of the bar at the same time you ran out of the cafe. Even through the rain, we both knew what had happened to the other. I ran across the traffic and down to you in a coat that nearly swallowed me up to tell you my name, but just ended up saying “I want to tell you everything”. You told me I could, and we walked through the rain and the snow to your favourite bookstore.
51. We both ran out of money and decided to work in the alps over the winter as funicular operators. You ran the car opposite to mine and I could only steal your glance for seconds every half-hour. Stuck on that miserable mountain during snowstorms, we planned and planned and decided to jam the cars parallel to one another to hold hands across the drop.
91. Resting under shade from walnut trees, we compared notes from the workshop on caring for small-scale farms; it took only 10 minutes before you fell asleep on my shoulder. I did not want to wake you after the long day, so I spent my time counting birds until the sky turned purple and carried you home, thinking about tomorrow and about the ladders we’d have to build.
118. Labouring under the weight of heavy shadows and gnarled roots, we started our days with black tea, and heard the artillery batteries’ din echo in the valley. A small radio told us where the front was, and every inch it staggered away from us, the weight lifted and we could breathe again. You wondered if anyone would be back to work on the farms that had been left behind.
Jon Babi is happy to see you again.