The Road to Forever
The salty water dripped down the sides of his legs and the material of his swimming trunks clung to his thigh as he emerged from the Mediterranean sea. He drew is fingers across his curly black hair and took hold of the sight in front of him. A dense hot day, the white sand glistening and the many tanners spread over the narrow beach, soaking the sun and the ambience. He squinted his eyes and pinpointed the many goddesses sprawled on their little towels absorbing the sun and letting their color darken to a rich auburn brown. He noticed the men too. Dark of hair and eyes, lean of body, seated in the soft sand, many with a cold glass of something in their hands.
He walked up to his own little towel and carefully sat himself down, trying his best to avoid getting the sand on the towel yet to no avail. After settling, he waved his hand for the waiter and after getting the ‘I see you’ nod he wrapped his fingers around his cold drink and sipped. He was drinking a mojito, and it was packed with fruits which complemented the taste so wonderfully that he closed his eyes in satisfaction. He hadn’t swam for too long but felt the nice tiredness in his limbs that he loved. He would sleep well now under the sun, here on a beach in Barcelona.
He opened his eyes again, placing the drink down and watching the young Catalans dive into the mildly cold sea. A beautiful girl, with long dark curls was squealing with each step she took into the blue water. Finally, a boy came running from behind, grabbed her then tossed her into the water in one swift and noisy move. The girl jumped out immediately flicking her curls around looking for the culprit, who had now swam a good way into the sea. Cursing, she placed her forearms across her exposed breasts and stomped back up the sand.
Teddy laughed to himself, took another long sip of his new mojito that the waiter had brought at some point, before turning over on his tummy and letting the pleasant tiredness wash over him.
It was half past 3 when he woke. The sun at this point was right on top of his head and the pleasant mood of the day was becoming an unbearable heat. He collected his belongings and tip-toed off the beach as quickly as possible, washing his feet at the open showers and cleansing himself of all sand before making his way back to his flat near the Arc de Triumph.
On his way back he stopped by a cute sangria bar to continue the daily inebriation he had gotten used to. The bar’s threshold was draped with a light brown embroidered cloth, and the interior was littered with small cute photos of flowers. There was no uniformity to the furniture and each table had its own bouquet of flowers happily sitting in a glass vase. He settled in a low seat at the corner and considered the varying sangria options. He opted for a fruity sangria since he liked gorging on the fruits after the alcohol had been drank. He lifted his head for the waiter, who took some time before recognizing his silent call. She finally came over and took his order and Teddy was left gawking at her as she strutted behind the counter to mix his drink.
Only a person who looked so perfect could walk the way she did, in those jeans with those boots. When she brought him his drink, Teddy was sure to engage her in small meaningless chatter. His Spanish was non-existent but he knew enough to make her laugh, and when she did, Teddy laughed and she laughed some more, beaming down at him sitting on the low seat in the corner of the cute bar.
The portion of sangria was very generous and he pressed his lips on the mouth of the glass taking long gulps and biting on the grapes floating at the top of the drink. It was only when he placed the glass down that he acknowledged his own thoughts floating at the top of his mind, somewhere in the space above his head.
Teddy was back in Lund University, Sweden sitting in front of two starkly different people, receiving feedback on his master thesis defense he had just completed some 20 minutes beforehand. He didn’t remember the words, just the expressions on the two people’s faces. A southeast Asian woman wearing a consoling and apologetic look, the grey and thinning British man not showing much emotion. He could see how the grey British man had cradled his folders in his left hand over his crossed legs and the woman bent over leaning toward Teddy. He could recall the sense of the words he spoke, “so have I failed? Do I get to do revisions? I know my paper isn’t perfect…” And then it all sharpened.
“Yes, so we aren’t sure what to do with you.” The grey British man said.
“We aren’t questioning the merits of your paper, we just want to know what the other examiners think.” The consoling woman assured.
“But what does that mean? I mean — I know — but when do I find out? What is going to happen exactly?”
“So I am going to consult with the other two examiners and they are going to read over your paper. That will take some time so probably in two days time you will have a more concrete answer about what happens next, since you know everybody is quite busy right now.” The grey British man said.
“So until then I just wait? And you can’t tell me right now if it is a fail or a conditional pass?” Teddy had asked.
“Yes we aren’t sure what the procedure is, but there is nothing to worry about.” The grey British man tried to assure.
Clearly there is something to worry about you fuck! Teddy had thought.
He remembered leaving the room slowly, trying to absorb the impossibly incoherent feelings of relief and dread rolling over into this incomprehensible thing which was the reality of his predicament. How he now had to confront his friends and tell them that he hadn’t passed, that he had to wait. Most hurtful of it all was the embarrassing feeling that he would feel when they would all feel sad for him. They loved him, and he loved them and it hurt more than anything knowing that he might not join them in the grand celebration that should follow this conquest.
Finishing his sangria and placing the tall glass by the vase he thought of his posture and demeanor in the room where he had received his feedback. He had cut the shape of someone who had already been defeated he reflected. He should have backed his work and been as confident as he was during his defense. But instead, that confidence which he started his presentation had all but dwindled by the end of the defense as the examiner, discussant and even his peers asked questions he failed to adequately answer. Defeat hanging over his head, his neck on the brace waiting the inevitable.
The apartment he was staying in was an Airbnb that belonged to a heavy but jovial woman by the name of Andrea. It was a picturesque three-bedroom apartment; in the same vain that Barcelona itself was a living-breathing portrait. Andrea had explained the difficulties of keeping up with rent in the city since costs were increasing. It was plain to see that the city was swamped with cash-ridden tourists eager to break-off a piece of this majestic work of art that was Barcelona and put it on top of a mantle piece back in their respective homes somewhere out west. Teddy could sympathize with the feelings of being subjected that the Catalans must have been experiencing with the constant influx of camera clicking tourists. But he was very much a tourist himself as he sat on the terrace drinking an iced gin and tonic staring down at the walking streets.
He didn’t really consider himself a conventional tourist though. He wasn’t there to break-off pieces and place them on a mantelpiece. He was there to immerse himself. And he was doing some serious immersing as the glass of gin and tonic turned into glasses, and the long day slowly subsided into a fine evening. Wrenching the fridge door open and sobering himself with a few figs he bought from the market in Gracia, Teddy got dressed and headed out onto the walking streets to join the current of the city.
He walked all the way up to Gracia again because he had seen a noodle place earlier that he wanted to try. When he got to the little noodle kiosk it was packed and steamed with all types of people and noodles. Choking through the fog of spices and scents he placed his order and waited a few minutes before he was devouring a huge pack of stir fry chicken and spicy rice noodles. Sweating now, he went outside to catch his breath and grabbed two beers from the near-by mini-mart. Happily fed, he leaned back on a bench in the square outside the noodle place and watched the young Catalans congregate and hangout under the deep blue sky. It wasn’t quite like home, but it felt strangely familiar. The people, the language, food and the setting where all very different — but the spirit of the place reverberated with Teddy.
Waiting for nothing, his mind caught in suspense, a single thread of memory came into view.
Standing at the far corner of the university building back in Lund, he was waiting to hear from Evelina if there was any news regarding his thesis.
Evelina Nilson was one of the three examiners, and she had been in and out of thesis defenses all throughout the day. Teddy had patiently waited since early morning, through late lunch before she finally could attend to him.
‘Hi Evelina. Sorry to disturb you. I am just checking if you know anything on my thesis?’
‘Yes yes. Robert and I briefly talked about it last night. He has gone over it himself you know. Briefly. It looks like maybe some revisions are needed but mmm we still need to all come together as examiners and discuss it.’
‘So its not a fail. But a conditional pass?’
‘I can’t say for sure, but that is the impression I got from our very brief conversation. Robert and I had last night. Maybe a reworking of the packaging.’
‘Ok — so long as its not a fail.’
‘I can’t say for sure.’
The conversation ended as quickly as it began because Teddy didn’t want to take up all of Evelina’s free time before she attended to her next thesis defense that day. But her comments were assuring in the sense that it wasn’t over and that he might be given a chance to salvage the situation. He remembered walking out of the university building feeling a little more at ease,
What did she mean by the “packaging?” That didn’t seem so much of a revision, but more of inserting a few sentences here and there. Cosmetic fix ups.
It was early June, but the sky had worn a grey cloak and the winds rushed furiously round the edges of the buildings, rustling the green trees, throwing dust into Teddy’s face.
Cosmetic fixes were usually to disguise deeper flaws. He tried to read into how she chose to communicate with him — the words she used, the tone, her posture. But it didn’t give him much more to contemplate. Then he tried to remember if she had looked him in the face. And she had. She had turned to face him and they both had stood in the corner of the hallway. Her wise blue eyes had looked into his young brown ones and between them was an ocean of life.
Teddy was now staring into similarly brown eyes of a young Catalan who had come up to him to ask for a lighter, whisking him away from his far away place.
After letting him know he didn’t have one, the young Catalan walked up to the next bench where a number of young attractive girls were happily chatting. Teddy watched as he confidently asked — then perched himself on the floor next to them, drawing out a pack of cards from his backpack and charming the girls with a series of tricks. This guy was some sort of con artist Teddy thought.
The controlled carelessness of his movement. The script he used for conversation. The way he filled the spaces between him and the girls, careful not to overstep but close enough to be intimate. It was a routine, Teddy could see it, and now that he had, he didn’t want to watch the rest of the performance.
Instead, he tossed his beer cans into the trash and left the square to rejoin the current of the city.
The water was a touch cold the next day, and Teddy struggled to submerge himself in the Mediterranean. Finally, following the example of the older couple beside him, he made a small dash then dove headfirst into the sea, rushing back out and shaking the tickling cold off his face. Once warmed, he swam out as far as he could then floated on his back, lifting his feet so they pointed up toward the blazing sun, while his eyes relaxed and his ears absorbed the gentle lapping of the waves. These were small waves, and the current underneath wasn’t too strong.
Along the coast back in Accra, his home, the waves were a different monster. But the beaches there were natural — the one here had been curated and managed to bolster the value of the ‘Barcelona experience.’ Out at sea, time became hard to perceive and Teddy didn’t like the idea of leaving his belongings unwatched for too long. He dabbed his head into the water, then took a deep plunge down before resurfacing then heading back to shore. By the time he got back his muscles were sore so he made himself a sand bed right on the edge of water to rest. Sitting down he observed the old couple that were still enjoying each other in the water. They were holding each other, longed nosed and drooping skin, smiling, and chatting as they gently floated in the clear water. He looked over back up the beach and spotted a mesmerizing beauty. She was wearing an olive two-piece with gold-rimmed buckles. The tone of her skin was golden, her hair long and dark with slight tinge of red, and her eyes — he couldn’t see her eyes because of her dark shades but he imagined them to be endless black-holes. A life sucking experience. No love while in Barcelona and today was pretty much his last day. Barring any exceptional happenings tonight his Barcelona experience wouldn’t be capped with a passionate affair. It didn’t need to be. Between the walks around the city, meeting Gawdi, eating healthy, drinking wealthy, and swimming until he got tired he was more than happy in this moment than he could remember ever being in recent times. Obviously the golden film of memories that rolled from his childhood years were quintessential happiness, so much so it became a longing that he wish he could go back to and live in for the rest of time. But time was relentless in the way it persisted. On and on till all you love is gone and all you want is too far away to be had.
Teddy takes a second before turning over to the sight of a young blonde and bearded man kneeling by his side.
“Oh Ola! You are the waiter who got me my drinks the other day. How are you?
“Its great senior! I am fantastic.”
He smiled broadly and winced as the sun’s rays exercised their sheen on his face.
“Great to see you again.”
“Same here senior, would you like anything to drink? I noticed you didn’t order anything today.”
“Yeah I didn’t want to drink then swim, also I leave tomorrow so wanna be clear headed.”
“Si. You are leaving Barca? Not gonna come back?
“No, I’ve been here for a week but Im gonna visit my friend in the Netherlands, a good friend. I have known him all my life.”
“That sounds great. Where are you coming from?”
“Sweden. I just finished my masters. Done and graduated.”
“Congratulations, I am also here not for too long — from Argentina. You know Buenos Aires — just decided to come here and see what I can do for myself –“
“And you found a job as a waiter?”
“Yes! And it pays well, soon I will be able to do some more traveling around Europe. But I love Barca.”
“I do too.”
“Yes, but what did you do your masters in?”
“Sustainability science, environmental studies”
“Very good man — that’s great — you aren’t Swedish are you?”
“No. I am from Ghana.”
“Oh Ghana! Wow man”
“Yeah. I will be going back soon. To find work. Start something.”
“Well my friend I wish you all the best of luck with that. And I hope that all you want to happen happens for you.”
“Thank you friend! I wish the same for you.”
The waiter straightened himself giving a last farewell nod to Teddy then headed back up the beach to the bar.
Time was unfriendly to Teddy on the day of his flight. He had wanted to go into town to buy himself a small gift in the early morning hours but overslept, so what was meant to be a relaxed final immersion of the city turned into a brisk half marathon. He paced down to the bus station, then down to Catalanya station, rode on the green line, switched to the red, paced out, leaping over the stairs, shifting through the crowds of picture taking Chinese tourists, mothers rolling their babies on strollers, the black skinned hawkers, young attractive olive women — men, and the old men slowly shifting at their own speed — time no more an enemy for them but a welcome companion. After engaging in the necessary consumerism he did the same thing back to his Air bnb, reaching the apartment in a flush and soaked in sweat. Tossed the gifts on the bed, then tossed himself in the shower, tossed himself out, racked up his belongings, then tossed them into his bag, tossed the apartment spare keys on the coffee table — tossing up a small note of appreciation to Andrea — then blasted through the door, out on the blistering streets of Gracia toward the train to the airport.
At the airport, it was no picnic finding his gate. He hastily asked other fliers of were the security check was, then realizing he had gone to the wrong end of the terminal had to double up, completing a 400 meter sprint carrying the weight of his profligacy on his shoulders through a quite different mass of people than what he had rushed through in the city center of Barcelona earlier in the day. Panting, he reached the gate to the sight of a quite heavy and unapologetic woman who rushed him through the gate and finally Teddy was on board his flight, slumped into his seat and not thinking about anything much but the satisfaction of having made it when the odds were stacked against him.
When he woke from his sleep the airplane was cruising over a patchwork of farms spread across a flat plain. From 30000 feet in the air the farming plains could easily be mistaken for a stretched out kilt. And it was — the design of land ownership — the design of man. Nature couldn’t produce something so straight and orderly. Wherever there are straight lines, there is man.
A little disoriented Teddy looked over the seat in front to see the screen with the moving map. They were over France, about an hour away from Eindhoven, his destination.
He didn’t really know what to do with himself so just continued to peer through the plane window at the sprawling landscape below then the white landscape above. The clouds were vivid, bright and well defined, like white statues perched on the crest of the Earth.
Suddenly a thought came to mind.
He had told the waiter on the beach he had passed but maybe the whole story wasn’t as bad as he felt.
He had received the final verdict via email in the early hours of the Thursday morning, 3 days after his defense. He had got up, stretched his sleepy limbs and drank a glass of water before opening his laptop and clicking on the firefox browser. He typed in the first few letters of his name and his email popped up, which he clicked, and there was the email from Evelina, “inbox (1).” He pressed on the message and it read:
We have discussed your thesis among the examiners and another examiner has read it. We have come to the conclusion that we cannot accept it as it is. It will require rewriting rather than revision. So as it stands now, the grade is F (fail).
There are certainly interesting merits in your thesis which you could build on and below you will find some guidance on how to proceed with a new version.
We hope you will take this opportunity to submit a new thesis which will be subject to a new examination.
Best Wishes from the examination committee.
He didn’t feel anything, just the hollow feeling of nothingness. That was it. If he had jumped, the wind would catch him and he would be whisked in whatever direction it wished. That’s exactly how he had felt. Not sad, angry or remorseful. Nothing of a sort. His essence was nothing more than a plastic bag. After some moments he noted down the things he would need to do from then till he left Lund. He was done with this place he had thought. Cold and dark place. Not having a masters wasn’t the end of the world. It wasn’t even the beginning of it. Everything would be the same — just a little more difficult and challenging.
Suddenly charged with a spirit of defiance he made some further notes. He was going to transform this situation into a publicity stunt. Yes. He would make it seem that the school had harshly treated him (which they had to some extent), but instead of it bringing him down he would use it to motivate himself to do what he wanted to do, and that was simply change Ghana for the better. He would package it all in a minute long video and post on Facebook — just like all those countless videos with the countless number of views. Feverishly getting caught in the heat of redefining his life he didn’t realize his phone vibrating on his desk.
Bastien. A good friend of Teddy’s who had been by his side throughout the program, thesis and this uncertain period.
“Hi, good morning. Have you heard anything?”
“Yeah… I failed…”
“…Bro. I am sorry… Do you want me to come over?”
“No, I have some things to do.”
“For sure. Take some time, maybe go for a walk. But did they tell you why you failed and why you can not revise?”
“Said it would require re-writing and not revision.”
“That is crazy. I mean, you have had a supervisor who has guided you through and I as well and Rachel, and not ever once did anyone think your paper was so astray. This is very strange. Have you heard from any of the others who were in a similar situation?”
“I will say you just take it easy and try and find out from the others as soon as you can.”
“Alright bro, talk later.”
Teddy remembered how he had hung his head after the call, as if the words ‘I failed’ had finally made everything real and unavoidable. They were now some 30 minutes away from Eindhoven but there was still wasn’t much to do so he continued to relive these defining moments of his life.
After the phone call he went on a short walk, as Bastien advised, around his apartment in Lund. He was living right on the edge of the city with only a road separating him from Lund’s own sprawling farming plains. The morning sun gently hazed through a grey sheet of clouds, and the wind briskly swept up and down the empty streets. The ever green leaves on the trees swinging to the howl of the wind.
When he got back he undressed and jumped into the bath for a warm shower. Whilst drying himself and brushing his teeth, he got caught staring at his reflection in the mirror.
Dried and dressed Teddy flipped his laptop open to message Michiel and Davide, the other two stragglers, to find out if they had received their verdicts. Davide responded instantly in a rush of angry messages but he hadn’t been failed, he was allowed to revise even though, from what he described, the revisions were gargantuan. Michiel was in a slightly more precarious situation, which he was going to clarify now with the other examiner, but it seemed as if he would be given a chance to revise. So Teddy was left in his room thinking “I am the only one. The one who failed.”
He reopened his email page, rereads Evelina’s message then wrote a reply:
Thank you for your email.
I would like to ask if you will be in the office later today so I can come and talk to you face to face?
She replied instantly saying she could meet at 2pm in the afternoon. Teddy didn’t know what the outcome of this face-to-face interaction would be, or indeed what he wanted out of it, but he just felt he needed to talk with her, to look into those wise blue eyes. After he sent the email his eyes drifted to the notes he had left earlier in the morning and the hollow feeling widened in his gut and his spirit hung loosely in the still air of his room.
No! He wasn’t going to go down without a goddam fight!
The others had been given a chance, he should too, but that couldn’t be the main point of his argument. He needed to convince Evelina that he could make those revisions. Some extra details on the weaknesses of his paper had been attached to the original email. He read through each point then referred to his paper then to the comments Michiel and Davide had made about their own revisions. There was more than enough to suggest he could revise his paper to address what Evelina had highlighted in his feedback. In fact a lot of the points were really to do with the packaging of the paper, what he had set out to do and what he had done. He just needed to scale down what he said he had done to fit exactly what he did. But what if that wasn’t enough? Well the whole thesis process has been riddled with inconsistencies not only with the supervisors, but in the defenses and with the feedback and who got to revise and who didn’t. But if he were the only one who felt that it was inconsistent then it wouldn’t be enough. He needed to know what his classmates thought. If, somehow, all the problems of the thesis program were expressed by others then maybe he could save himself from being the one to slip through the back end.
Teddy always thought himself a smart guy and had sufficiently expressed this point throughout the program, especially with the thesis. That horrible feeling he had felt when he had to first walk out after the defense was creeping up again. Knowing others felt sorry for him, knowing he was the one they were talking about, pitying. That feeling was coming up so strong as he tried to find a way to strengthen his position for his face to face with Evelina. He took a deep breath then wrote a Facebook post on the class’ group page:
I received an email this morning from Evelina informing me that I have failed and would not be given a chance to make revisions. I have emailed Evelina and arranged a meeting at 2pm today. I want to argue that at the very least I should be given a chance to make revisions to my work, seeing that the criticisms they had about my work can be done between now and Wednesday. But the main point will be how inconsistent this overall process has been especially regarding the undecided, and the fact that on Tuesday she told me that it would seem that i would only need to make some revisions to my claim — but the following day i receive an email which says i fail. I feel unfairly treated and don’t think it part of the program’s values for such stark difference in treatment of students be accepted. What I would like from everyone (who reads this) is to have people send me an email to me (or even better come down to institute this afternoon/ but you don’t have to) in support of my argument of how inconsistent this has been and that at the very least I am giving a chance to revise my work. Let me know what you all think.
Much love regardless of the outcome.
He posted and waited.
Thirty minutes had passed and not even a meaningless like. He checked his email as well and nothing. Teddy’s eyes once again drifted to his notes from earlier that morning. He did have a lot to do before leaving Lund. Closing bank accounts, selling bedding, buying an extra suitcase. The more immediate tasks included a call to his parents, to tell them their son had failed his masters and he would be returning home empty handed. Not all journeys ended well, this was just it for Teddy. This would be the big fail — the one that preceded all the good things that came next. The drop out before genius.
He refreshed the Facebook page and the top right hand corner was blazoned with 10 notifications, he refreshed his email and a flurry of messages had poured in, all sending their support, some insisting that they would be there. Teddy hung his head again, but this time he didn’t feel the hollowness but instead a swelling which bludgeoned through his core to the corners of his eyes and his fingers pressed on his face, suppressing the tears that wanted to engulf him.
Teddy was going to go down to Evelina’s office and ask for a revision based on three points; he could do the revisions, others had been given the chance, everyone believed the process to be inconsistent.
He dressed himself up smartly then rode down to her office arriving at ten to two. In front of the office building a gang of seven others were congregated under the now burning summer sun of Lund.
“Guys! I can’t… thank you for coming. I think I have enough of an argument to get a revision at the least.”
“Do you want us to come inside?” It was Bastien who had asked.
“Ha! No! It is just me and her.”
“We can come though!” a few shouted. Magdelin raising her little fists up, her blond hair bouncing. “We can come inside and really shake things up!”
“Ha, I don’t-“
“Yeah! You deserve a chance. Its not fair! This program is supposed to be about being fair and treating everyone equally! This is unbelievable!”
“YEAH” The seven had become a rowdy and ready eleven.
“We wont stop till you have been given a chance! A fair chance!”
“Guys! Guys! GUYS! Its all good. It is me, only me. It is my problem-“
“Your problem is ours! That’s why we are all here and we will-“
“Yes I know. But this part, I need to do it myself.”
It was bright but cloudy day in Eindhoven, when Teddy arrived, with yellow streaks cutting through the dark grey and white of the low hanging clouds. Teddy only had his carry-on to deal with and so made his way pass the baggage claim, passed the huge canvas of the PSV Eindhoven football team and through the exit doors hoping to see his long time friend Ben waiting for him. However, as was the case on many occasions throughout Teddy’s life — Ben was not there. But Teddy had gotten used to this and thought to check his Facebook for any messages. A notification from another long time friend from Ghana, Ginger, who had sent Teddy a message on behalf of Ben whose phone had apparently died, with instructions to take the train to Tilburg central station. Ginger was feisty, learned and quite a witty girl as a student and time had only increased her tenacity. Ginger, Ben and Teddy had all attended the same school in Accra from nursery to graduation and Teddy was pleasantly surprised to learn that Ginger was in Tilburg for a night.
The train to Tilburg was straightforward and Teddy had visited a couple times before so he was no stranger to buying the metro card and finding the right train. While waiting for the train to arrive he breezed through the store and bought a couple cans of Heineken to lubricate his mind and loosen his edges. By the time he returned to the platform the train was poised and ready to go, so he jumped on the empty train and stowed himself in the corner of the compartment.
After a few stops and chugs of his beer Teddy spied a mother and her daughter enter the train at a particularly long stop. They had been accompanied by what Teddy assumed was the little girl’s grandmother. The mother lifted the stroller into the compartment whilst the grandmother waved goodbye to the little blond girl from outside the train window. After realizing the train wasn’t set to leave the grandmother laughed and began making funny faces at the little girl who was pulling excitedly at her mother’s dress to show her what her grandmother was doing.
It was still very bright out when Teddy arrived in Tilburg, and again expecting to see Ben, he was assuredly disappointed not to see him. He couldn’t check his Facebook messenger because he had no service so he simply waited for the big oaf of a friend to arrive. After a quarter of an hour he saw the huge frame of Benjamin Gleeken approach, riding on his bike wearing golden horn-rimmed shades and a wide crooked smile on his face.
Ben and Teddy were basically brothers. Countless sleepovers and extended stays at each others homes whilst growing up in Accra. Nights out with the other best friends, drinking and chatting with girls, and coasting through life happy to have so much good people and good memories for company. They both had been on the heavy side when they were younger but they both had lost most of that baby fat. And from the choked arteries arose a leaner more confident pair of men. When it was time for university, Teddy had gone to the US and Ben to Europe, and since then their time together withered. They weren’t the sort of friends who needed to message each other every day, but when they were together it was like nothing had changed and there was no need to talk about what had happened in the time since.
Teddy hugged his friend and enviously took note of how youth was still reverberating from Ben’s face. Bastard.
“Yo — yo — yo — yo”
“Ayt Ginger is with Malte and the guys back at my place. We’ve all been drinking all day so you have to catch up fool.”
“Was already sipping on some beers on the train- hommy — so you are the fool”
“Good then. It is a Preseco affair.”
“I can already fill my liver squirming.”
The night was a drunken affair and the Preseco situation became an alcohol buffet free-for-all as Ben, Teddy and Ginger and Ben’s Dutch university friends all indulged. Ginger was splendid, Teddy was happy to hear the she was pretty much the same person he knew from back in school. She was quick to pass snide comments and attack Teddy and Ben for how immature they still were — aka fools. But that’s how she was and that’s why they loved her. Drinking then transitioned into smoking, and the hot dense heat of the day dissipated with the weed smoke into the chill night air of Tilburg. Teddy was very comfortable with Ben’s Dutch friends and they were all ecstatic to see Teddy again, reminiscing about the other drug and drunken experiences they had shared on previous occasions. Teddy had been preparing to add some more drug binged memories to the catalogue but everyone was quite tired by midnight and the next day was going to be a long one at the music festival out in Amsterdam. One by one everyone went off to bed and Teddy, Ben and Brain, another of Ben’s Dutch friends, were the only ones left hanging on the old beaten couches in the living area, with the kitchen door open and a mix of smelly feet and weed in the air. Brain and Teddy were talking about nothing in particular when they realized that Ben was asleep, and the two looked at each other and smiled, because it wouldn’t be Ben if he didn’t just randomly pass out at some point.
“You know Ben has been going through some shit? He had some health problems earlier in the year.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well — how do I explain this?” Brain lifted his pale blue eyes to the ceiling for a second. “Ok well he was sick for a while and didn’t go see a doctor or anything, but decided to check on google to see what the symptoms indicated. And it ended up being something he just kept on worrying and being paranoid about which reinforced it. Problems with his heart and having panic attacks… Yeah”
“I didn’t know.”
“Yeh maybe you should ask. It’s been rough. And you know the situation here in this house, we still have Fernando living here and its ridiculous because he doesn’t pay rent and its really pissing off Roro — who has his own shit with his mother and dad. But it is complicated because we don’t want to kick Fernando out, you know because we all love him, but at what point do we start saying that we can’t keep paying for food and everything for him? He is fucking 37. He needs to get his shit together.”
“Man. I didn’t know.”
“Yeah I mean of course. Not really your problem but just letting you know.”
Teddy dismissed himself upstairs to the couch he was supposed to sleep on since the house was packed with visitors. Whilst on the couch he thought of what Brain had said about Ben going through a rough time. He thought of how he could bring it up without sounding — mature — or sounding sorry for him, or concerned. Because he didn’t want Ben to feel like their friendship needed to go there.
Breakfast was quick and lite since the group had to get the train schedule just right to Amsterdam before hopping on the ferry to the little island where the festival was taking place. The other reason why breakfast was lite was to allow for a wholesome day of drinking and drugging. That involved coordinating with the dealer a time and place they could meet at the festival to retrieve the drugs, that is the molly, some weed and some uppers in the form of speed. It also involved an early morning run to the liquor store.
The group consisted mostly of Ben’s housemates and some other friends whom Teddy was acquainted with from the previous visits to Tilburg. Being a university city, Tilburg was wrought with party-going youth and a parade of outfits and alcoholic beverages were on display on the train to Amsterdam.
The group lined themselves in one of the longer compartments of the train, unleashing the bottle of Preseco and passing it along like some sort of hot potato. Ginger excused herself from any drinks, since her visit to Amsterdam was to catch her flight back to the UK, so Teddy and Ben took her share of swigs. The key to this day would be to maintain a good level of drunkenness and not over indulge to dampen any possible drugs taken later on. The molly would need to be taken on an empty stomach to have the desired impact while the others could come in any order after that. Well not the weed, that too would be much better before any food, the group agreed.
The trains were simple enough and they reached Amsterdam lightly inebriated and overly jovial. Ginger bid herself farewell and both Teddy and Ben gave her a big hug before playfully slapping her back, and Ben added a heavier one which knocked her slightly off balance. A few more of Ben’s friends had met up with the group at the station and they all took their time catching up as they waited for the ferry to arrive.
Finally, the huge frame of the ferry was lodged at the port and the group walked onto the platform with many other eager party goers chatting and laughing. The day itself didn’t exactly reflect the mood of the occasion. Dark clouds had loomed over Amsterdam by their time of arrival, but on the ferry to the little festival island, beams of sunlight tore through the thick grey. It was still chilly though, and when the ferry was just about reaching the island a drizzle sprinkled over the youths who hurriedly hopped off and headed to the festival entrance.
Teddy and the rest of the group waited for a few other friends to join and they were all pleased to finally get going when Massimo arrived at last holding some more bottles of Preseco and a smile as wide as the river Po. Teddy and Massimo vibed extremely well and they did some catching up on the walk to the festival entrance.
“Bro, how are you man? You finished with your program — I know you were still writing your thesis or something like that right? Or was it just courses — no — no — you had a thesis.”
“Yeah yeah a thesis-“
“Bro man it is such a pain in the ass to do a thesis. I remember doing mine two years ago before I started teaching, and man o man.” He lifts his hand to pat Teddy on the back. “It is crazy to me that we have this one thing which you must do all by yourself, and research, and write, and schedule — it is such an individual process — completely unrealistic to how things are in real life. You know. In real life you have to plan with people. Your work is with people — and you see that is my problem with academia now man — it is completely lost in itself.”
“Yeah I agree, but for me it is still a rite of passage, because you go in with an idea you develop it yourself until it is a fully born product which can be read and understood and hopefully applied — there is merit in that — also merit in being able to evaluate yourself and criticize — you know?”
“Yes sure,” Massimo always rolled his r’s and Teddy was happy to be walking by him so reciprocated the pat on his back.
“But it went well?”
“In the end, it did — I had to ask for a chance to revise. And I got the chance. And I passed.”
“And now you are here — and we will drink and have a good time as if we were meant to be young forever!”
And just like that, the moments that seemed like a colossal obstacle for Teddy at the time were reduced to some sub-contextual excuse to continue doing what he had always done before the master program — having fun and living life. Surely, there was about 70% of the time that was dedicated to hard work and sacrifice toward making the world a better place — but all that was done to make sure the time having fun could be repeated again and again. But it really was all about that — what was a masters’ education really meant to do for him, he thought? Further his future in academia? — Maybe a PHD where he would have to do the same head first dive into the caverns of the mind in exploration of a water tight theory that had enough exceptions to render it leaky and quite useless and basically inapplicable to any actual life situation. Sure, theories were great lens to see the world and explain events, until they weren’t. But what did it mean when it came down to it, when it was between you as a person getting something done and another person who might not be on the same wave length, trying to do their own thing? It boiled down to communication. Wasn’t that the point — to change the world? How could you do that by whispering from a high tower held up by a world educational system built on the very injustices you wished to eradicate? What makes you the bearer of the eye that sees right and wrong?
Teddy grabbed the bottle from Massimo and opened his throat to allow the Preseco to rush down his body and enter his spirit. Massimo patted him on the back again, and gestured for him to finish the bottle which Teddy did in one swift swallow. By this time they were about entering the festival itself, having waited for a few minutes in line to finish all forms of alcohol available.
Squinty eyed and smiling the group made their way across to where the music was thumping the loudest.
Wild on alcohol and levitated by the spirit of the festival the group bought some food and drink tokens then made their way to the beverage line to fill up on some draft beer. Downed it. Got another round, which was downed just as quickly, leaving everybody smiley eyed and loose.
It took only a few moments before they scattered in different directions, but Teddy kept his bearings by following Massimo, Vivian and Charlene, who he had met just that day. They bopped up to the center stage, but the music was too much deep house and not enough funk to get their vibe even higher. So they wondered off to a couple of stages before settling on a particularly bouncy vibe at the live band stage. A short stout energetic singer was leading a colorful band of players dressed in neon feathered suits. They all moved and swayed like a bird would and huge wings stuck up on top of the stage flapped to the breeze which had strengthened over the day. The crowd was packed all the way to the front of the stage which Massimo insisted on heading toward, but Teddy wasn’t really up for feeling squished and immobile. Luckily, Charlene had got up on a makeshift dance podium, and lent her hand so Teddy could climb over onto the small stage.
“Now we are go-go dancers!” she shouted smiling and pulling a frizzy cloth and wrapping it round Teddy’s neck. “The crowd expects us to please!”
Teddy was full of too much booze to be shy so he and Charlene danced away on the podium lifting some other would-be go-go dancers up to join and make for a frantic atmosphere.
It didn’t feel like long but way too soon for Teddy the short stout women and her band were thanking the crowd and heading off stage. Teddy had grown fond of the attention being on the little stage had brought but Charlene pulled his hand so they would meet up with the others, who she had spotted right on the side of the stage.
They both got down and swiveled their way to small structure they had cramped in.
“Where is Ben?” Teddy asked.
“Bro I think he is over at the other stage.” Massimo replied sweating but still smiling and eager.
“But its ok we are here — so at least we have two solid groups — you know?” ‘Roro said squatting and fishing through his backpack. “And I have this little thing with me hahaha — yoo hoooo — fuck man.”
Charlene had slipped her hand into Teddy’s, and he looked over at her, seeing her now, with her bright brown eyes, slightly tossed dark hair, and pink lips.
“Oooh man I didn’t know you bought the voodoo with you — so nice mang, let me take off my shirt.” Massimo said while stretching out his hands to pull off his damp shirt. Vivian meanwhile grabbed ‘the voodoo’ which was a small dime bag of coke, unzipped it, took a pick with her long nails and snorted up her nose. Teddy looked over at Charlene and she smiled, took the bag and did the same but offered it to Teddy, who obliged. It went straight into the back of his mind, and the numbness spread down to his eyes which squinted even more now, gripping the hand that was holding his even harder. Everyone did a couple of rounds, before heading out of the small structure they were cramped in. Charlene tugged at Teddy’s hand, but he knew already that they should stay behind for a little while.
“What do you like?” Charlene whispered.
“You.” Teddy said smiling like a fool but feeling like an astronaut. He plunged slowly into Charlene, firmly placing his hands on her declivity and tasting the inside of her mouth with his tongue. She pulled away after a long while and haughtily snickered.
“You are mine for today then, yes?” The tinge of Dutch sounded so appealing to Teddy who didn’t say anything but grabbed her again and plunged even further.
The rest of the day was a blur of swapped kisses, dancing and booze. As the evening approached Massimo gave Teddy the heads up that Ben had ditched and gone back home. Confused, Teddy tried calling but his phone was off, so he leaned over to Charlene to tell her he needed to go since Ben had the key to the house. She kissed his cheek one more time and Teddy hurried off, followed closely by Roro who wanted to catch the early train as well.
Teddy and Roro barely made it onto the early evening train back to Tilburg, having to make a short dash onto the platform and into the train. Sweating and tired they threw themselves in a private compartment and spread themselves across the seating allowing the days activities to simmer happily in their imaginations. Roro had gone pretty hard during the day and the smell emanating from him was a cocktail of vices. Teddy didn’t smell too good himself but he didn’t really care and didn’t feel like thinking much at all.
The train picked up some speed after the first stop and it would only be the Haargboden stop that he and Roro would have to switch trains toward Tilburg. Looking out the window Teddy appreciated the landscape of the Netherlands, swishing through organized fields and cut lines of agriculture. The violet sky cast a solemn cloud over the brightly colored fields of tulip and the dotted spots of rain made the fauna twinkle and reflect the lights from the city.
“Hey man don’t sleep we still need to get off in like 15 minutes.”
“Ya — me too — Im dead tired man — I’m gonna sleep my ass off.”
“You know if Ben is home?”
“Ah my phone’s been off since ages.”
“I will message him. But man, what a day huh? Dancing, booze, drugs, girls. I saw you! Haha she is really nice.”
“Yeah she is. She knows what she wants.”
“Yeah my girl couldn’t come, I tried to convince her all week, and she was just like — no this — no that — I think she just wanted me to go and enjoy myself.”
“No class tomorrow?”
“Fuck man, don’t even wanna think about that… but I have to.”
“It’s a bitch man, but I’m tryna see if I can get some small work later this year, cause you know I just need to finish this one course before I am done.”
“Money — money — money.”
“It isn’t even about that. I mean sure it’s a pretty big factor, you need money for anything. And my mom. I mean I don’t know what you know about it, but she has been down — so down. In terms of what she has to look forward to, what she has, she can barely take care her of herself ever since that fucker left her to shit. My mother. She has no motivation, and you know what I think of if she… My mother.. And it becomes so hard to think about being responsible for another person when you haven’t even thought about yourself.”
Teddy saw Roro go from talking to him, to talking to himself. But he listened attentively all the same.
“-And it becomes a real bitch when in the house you are staying and you have this old guy who is just leaching off everything. How can you not want him to get out. I mean I’m fucking tired of taking care of him and the others are way to nice to say it or do anything. But I really hope I can get that work I was talking about — you know working as an intern in an established firm like Yederly is good. From there I can get some good experience, because that is actually way more important than an education. The education is just a way of filtering- its so fucked on so many levels.”
“What about going back home?” Teddy asked.
“That’s what I want to do. And will do. Go home and get a feel of everything, get to know whats going on, and who is behind things.”
“Man my home is here now. My family is here.”
“Yeah I know.”
“I can’t go back, there isn’t even a going back. This is back.”
They sat together silently for a little bit enjoying the rattling sound of the train running over the tracks and distant conversation from the other compartments.
Teddy thought of Roro’s problems and couldn’t really feel the burden of it all, but surely empathized. In the end, they might have different troubles but shared something in common.
“And that is how it will be from now on — wont it Roro?”
Roro who had been daydreaming turned to Teddy to listen.
“Just one thing to another, chasing something in front of you and forgetting which direction you are heading. You know. Even at this point we have it good. It is like we are the threshold of the next thing — the next stage of our lives. When it can’t be said that we are just kids anymore. The decisions we make are ours. I am 27 but don’t really feel like I have done any growing up. Does that come at 35? I don’t know if I want to be 35. Why can’t I just be 20 something for forever. Being 30 is crazy to me, and maybe that’s because being young was so good — why would you want something like that to end? I almost didn’t pass my masters and here you are telling me about your issues and I’m thinking — wow — like that is really insignificant, what your mom is going through compared to my stuff. When there isn’t anyone around you to make life comfortable, when its only you — I don’t know how I would do it, if it was me. My life has been lived on the shoulders of everything my parents have done. I feel so useless. And I think that I am going to try and make it better for the world? — And it sounds like a joke saying it out loud- but being 27 sounds like a joke as well. I am not so sure about how the next stage is going to play out.”
“Nah man, I don’t either. And I think what makes it scary is that it all depends on us to determine that — and when you realize that, then you realize how little control you have…”
Quietly pondering, the train’s rattling begins to steady and the two begin to gather themselves for the short walk home from the train station.
The walk was short and forgettable, and two were ready to dive full on into a nice long sleep. Even the thought of Teddy’s makeshift bed couldn’t deter the deep sleep he was about to embark on.
When they got home Ben and Brain where squashed on the small couch watching a movie. Well Brain was at least and Ben was asleep, a cigarette hanging in the corner of his mouth, and a long thread of drool latching onto the couch.
“Not bad, as you can see Benno is asleep — how was it?”
Roro squeezed his eyes and gestured upstairs whilst Teddy slumped into the long couch. Ben got up on the sound of the thud and looked over at Teddy.
“Ah good. You made it back fool. Now I can enjoy a nice long deserved sleep.”
“Made it without your help!”
“Tsk tsk — its all part of the training.”
“Yes mastah Jedi.”
After half an hour of mindlessly watching TV, Brain got up and bid himself ado. Ben was still awake, smoking his cigarette and playing on his phone with his other hand.
“Hey! What’s this I heard of you being sick?”
“Ah yeah. Hehe. It was nothing in the end.”
“Yeah? You ok?”
“I am ayt fool.”
“Haha ok. Well tomorrow is my last day nig before I head back to Sweden then to Accra.”
“Home sweet home.” Ben sang.
“Cha — how we go do am?”
Teddy looked into his friend’s round brown eyes with worry. He thought that they must’ve looked a lot like his did when Evelina had sat down with him in her office.
“Yes, Teddy so how may I help you?”
“Well thank you for meeting me,” he had said sitting down on a pale looking chair by the side of her desk, up in one of the rooms in the attic of the old university building. He remembered trembling as he pulled out the little piece of paper he had bullet-pointed his argument on. The argument he had spent the day trying to make full proof by backing with counter arguments and as much evidence as possible.
He chuckled nervously “I’m here to ask for another chance. And I know there are flaws in my paper that need to be addressed, but I think that within the next week I can correct those mistakes and make this a pass.”
The worry lines on her forehead eased as she lifted her hands to pull her reading glasses off the bridge of her nose, placing them on the desk. She then turned back to Teddy and he stared back waiting for something to happen.
“Go on! Tell me how you are going to address the issues in your thesis?”
Bastien was crouched in the shade of the big tree in front of the institute chatting with Magdellin about their plans for the summer.
“I think I just want to travel for a little. I feel tired you know? I don’t know. Its feel like a huge weight was on us, and now its released I just want to spring into the air! And fly around like a bird.” Magdellin rose her chin up, her hair fallen onto her back, her hands reaching up.
“For sure I have this same feeling, but I have work beginning in two weeks time. He he he he. That’s why I want to really go crazy when we go to Kullaberg for the weekend. And have fun with everybody, especially Teddy and the other guys who had problems with the thesis. I think they should still come no matter what.” Bastien said defiantly.
“Yeh I just don’t see the worth of not going with everybody and just staying around sulking. We might never see each other again.” She sighed a big long sigh thinking about their memories, and little tears started forming at the corner of her eyes, but with a big smile still across her freckly blond face.
Bastien was just comforting her when the clunky doors of the institute started to open. He stood up instantly and walked into the sunlight again, sun pouring over everything so it seemed to glare. Teddy was shuffling out the door, with a piece of paper in his hand. Bastien and a few others who were still around gathered to see what the verdict of his meeting with Evelina was.
“So?! What is it?” Bastien finally said, Teddy still clutching the paper in his hand, watching them with no particular expression on his face. The silence was beginning to tense up and everybody who had had their suspicions about whether Teddy’s plans would work, felt that doubt burgeoning in their stomachs.
Then Teddy, as he always did, let a wry smile creep on his face before it spread and everybody there felt that happy sensation when he said that he would be given another chance. They embraced, laughed, joked, patted each others backs. Teddy even joked about getting drunk and forgetting to do the revisions. Some people laughed and some others scolded Teddy who seemed to be as happy as he always was.