“I hate this bureaucratic shit.”
The woman in the booth next to me turns her face towards me in reaction. Embarrassed, I turned my body inwards and away from her, wondering how long I’d been talking to myself out loud, all the while thinking I was keeping my frustration between me and the voices in my head. I’d spent so long preparing for this Schengen visa application and appointment, only for the agent to want to turn me back on the tiniest banking technicality. I shuffle through my ‘just in case file’ and pull out more bank statements before returning to my seat, plumping myself down with a big sigh.
For the first time in my life, I am not going to spend the next Christmas with my family. I have been living in Asia away from them for a while now. People in my shoes and culture would usually go home around this time – a chance to be with and see everyone at the same time, especially if you hadn’t seen them all year. But I wanted, for a change, to go celebrate Christmas where I didn’t have to be reminded of the unhealed family wounds that still festered in me. I wanted to be surrounded by opportunities to form new traditions and redefine what this time of the year meant for the little girl in me, and the person I wanted to become. I especially didn’t want another Christmas being faced with the stark reality that neither of my fathers, biological or step, is a part of my life.
And so that’s how I find myself in the German embassy, with the most stone face I can pull, determined to let this lady see and know that I will not be intimidated by any of their pettiness. I look up from my paperwork with another exasperated sigh and in front of me walks this tall, lean brown man. We hold a gaze for a second or two and his casual stride turns into a very confident and sturdy walk as my eyes begin to pull away. The agent calls my name.
15 minutes later, I am walking out of the embassy, impressed with myself that I came prepared and accomplished the day’s mission, but still annoyed at how difficult the process is. I call the elevator and wait impatiently, eager to catch the next bus back home.
“You don’t look like you enjoyed your time in there at all”.
I turn my head to the side and the tall, lean brown man is standing next to me.
“No, I did not.” I reply firmly, not very keen for small talk and conversation.
“I can imagine. I spent all my childhood there and I still haven’t gotten used to my people.” He replies.
I face him again.
I look closely at his face to study his features, and he flashes me a charming smile. Tall, lean and brown is handsome with light, grey strands starting to peek through his neatly cut hair and well-groomed stubble. He has that Obama charm and swag.
“So, what are you doing all the way here in Asia?” I ask.
“I’m a linguistics professor. I’ve been here for almost 8 years now.”
The elevator opens and we enter. In our brief conversation, I determined that Prof., a better and shorter name than tall, lean, and brown, is a single father of two who was also struggling with his passport renewal at the embassy. He makes small talk and corny jokes. At times I wonder if he is flirting with me, but he is subtle and respectful in his demeanour so I can barely tell.
On the ground floor we chat for a few more minutes before I point in the direction of my bus stop, bidding him goodbye.
“Here’s my card. You’re welcome to contact me any time if you need anything. I know how it can be as an ambitious black African person in this country. I’ll be happy to lend an ear.”
I take the card.
“Thanks Prof.” I smile, and make my way.
On my way home I think about how lucky I could have been. It wasn’t so long ago I was manifesting a male mentor, or a close platonic relationship with a man who didn’t want to sleep with me, who didn’t sexualise me or want anything from me but just to get along as two human beings. I also wanted to have a father figure of sorts. I’d been abandoned, (yes, I’ll allow myself to use that exact word) by both my biological and step fathers. Cousins I thought were like my brothers violated me growing up. Close guy friends in high school eventually tried their luck getting into my pants even when they knew details of my attraction to women better than my girl friends. I think, perhaps this is the universe’s way of making it up to me. The thought excites and comforts me.
Two weeks later I message Prof and we go out for dinner. There I learn that he is indeed old enough to be my father, with me being three years older than his eldest. He is a proud and protective parent who exhibits high values; it’s impossible for me to not feel comfortable with him. I tell him all sorts of things about myself, and he asks questions that make me feel important and worth listening to. He laughs at my lame jokes, and I find myself staring at his beautiful smile longer than I should. He is confident and assertive, yet so gentle and effortlessly kind. I tell him about my partner that I am meeting in Germany in a few months if my visa application is successful, and he doesn’t even flinch at the idea of me dating a woman. I am completely comfortable with this man.
Hours of endless conversations later, we walked to the train.
“Well, you’re safe here. I’m gonna head over to my platform to catch my train.”
I swoon internally at the thought of how considerate he is. As he leans in for a hug, I am thinking “what a great man to have as a potential mentor” until he puts his arms around me. Our first hug. He holds me around my waist with his other hand on my back and pulls me close. I am surprised at how….safe he feels. Just as I begin easing into his embrace, he pulls away, and I wonder if I imagined the feeling of intimacy and chemistry in that hug. He doesn’t even flinch. I watch him walk away, and again, I swear, his normal walk turns into a seductive stride across the floor before he does an impressive little jog up the stairs. I turn to face the oncoming train so he doesn’t see me staring. What a beautiful man!
My visa arrives, I plan for my trip and I have a lovely Christmas and wild New Year’s in Germany. I don’t want to come back, saying goodbye to my partner is difficult, but I am really looking forward to reconnecting with my new…friend? Mentor?
We meet for a walk on the beach my first weekend back. He tells me about his holidays with the kids and I can tell he is boasting about how well he can entertain a teenage boy and a young girl in her twenties. He really prides himself in being a great dad. I find myself feeling a little jealous of his kids, but comforted to know that I know of and I am experiencing a man of his calibre.
“I wish I had a daddy like you, Prof.” I tell him. I go into the details of my childhood and the ongoing effort to heal my past rejections, and accept the pains I’ll forever live with.
“I was attracted to girls way before I realised that my fathers were breaking my heart so my sexuality has nothing to do with that. I grew older and started understanding the rejection and how it did affect me. Then when I realised I don’t have romantic feelings for men, I was a bit sad because then it kinda felt like… I’ll never know how it feels like to have a close intimate relationship with a man at all. I didn’t get to have that with my fathers, and I can’t seem to create those close bonds with other men either.
Prof. listens quietly and allows for a comfortable silence before sharing some of his own stories with the dynamics between him and his separated parents. I usually get philosophical, “Aunty Dolly” equivalent responses when I open up about this part of my life, but Prof. responds with reciprocated vulnerability. In every conversation he presents himself not as this older man with more life experience, but just as another human being who may still have similar thoughts and fears. I look at this man with the ocean and sunset behind him and think, I am so comforted by the idea that men like him exist in this world. At some point though, his words become muffled and I find myself just basking in the warmth of his resonant voice. I smile back to feign my attention when he looks and smiles my way, but really, I am just stealing some moments to appreciate his beauty inside and out. It is a fuzzy feeling a man has never evoked in me before.
I go down the rabbit hole trying to figure out if these were just feelings of admiration or attraction, and I get frustrated that he is now going on and on about another one of his interesting linguistic travels, and the stories that languages tell about people and their history, and on and on and on. I am trying to pick up any sense of flirtation or attraction, or anything that suggests that I am not imagining or misinterpreting this specific warmth and tenderness directed at me.
“Prof.” I ask, the moment I get an opportunity to change the subject. “I’m sorry if this makes you uncomfortable but you are so… professional and cordial with me a lot of the time, then I get these other moments where I’m like, is this man trying to communicate some kind of attraction towards me?”
He chuckles and looks away shyly.
“Are you attracted to me Prof.?” I ask, shocked and proud of my straightforwardness.
He turns back to face me and the look in his face spells it all out before he says “Yes, I am. But you’re very young, and I would never do anything to make you feel uncomfortable. You’re a great girl and I enjoy and respect this space.”
Now it’s my turn to look away. I look out to sea and nod my head. I feel a smile curling at the corners of my mouth and I am not sure why.
“I’m attracted to you too.” I say after a while. “But it’s weird because I was already starting to see you as a father figure of sorts.”
Another soft chuckle from him.
“Like I said… I’d never do anything to make you uncomfortable.”
I believe him.
We go on to talk about other things, but this time, our eye contact lingers a little bit longer, and I am looking more intensely into his gorgeous face, pretending to listen while I try to figure out and place the energy he evokes in me. I get bored of psychoanalysing myself and lay the thought to rest, comforted by the fact that we may never revisit this conversation as long as I leave it alone too. He walks me to my train as usual, and our “back-to-platonic-normalcy” progress is undone by the pause before the goodbye hug. As anticipated, the feeling of being in his arms is anything but platonic or fatherly, and the desire to stay there is even more intense than the few times before. This time he does hug me a second longer, and he pulls away as if also pulling himself back to his senses. He is a bit frazzled. This time, the walk isn’t confident and seductive like he knows I’m watching. He looks self-conscious, almost, and deep in thought.
I’m standing on the train because there is no more seating and I’m thinking about Prof., just enjoying how he makes me feel when I am with him. I tell myself that maybe, this attraction to him is normal for someone who hasn’t experienced this combination of ingenuity, gentleness, consciousness and the incredible softness and kindness that he possesses and embodies so well. In conversations we’ve had, he’d spoken so well about being human and acknowledging human inclinations, but choosing which ones to indulge and which to abandon. Maybe that’s what he decided about me considering our age difference especially. I am about to bury all thoughts and ideas that could confuse a potential healthy and platonic mentorship and relationship, then my phone vibrates. I pull it out of my pocket. It’s a message from Prof.
“If you’re not doing anything tonight, please come back into town and join me for dinner at my place. I just remembered the kids are sleeping out tonight.”
I look up, startled.