“You couldn’t have chosen a better day to be here,” he said, looking at me over his shoulder as we made our way through the crowds. People dressed in pink costumes gathered along the streets, in the boats on the canals, in balconies, on rooftops and at the window. Some wore make-up and all kinds of accessories, from shiny magician hats and heart-shaped sunglasses to devil horns and angel wings.
“This is the Prinsengracht.” He vaguely pointed to the water. “The boats will come here.”
I could not believe I was in Amsterdam – with Dragoș. In the years that followed his move to the Netherlands, back to 2005, we had not been in contact much, only seeing each other when he came to Bucharest to visit his family. That, and a few emails or short messenger chats, like when he wrote to tell me he found the CD with music from Fire Club, which I had given to him when he left Romania, and that he was pleasantly surprised. When my boss had told me I would go to the Netherlands for a week, the first thing I did was to send Dragoș a message and tell him about it. My hotel was in The Hague, but I had a day off before returning to Bucharest. That day I came to Amsterdam and, just like he said, it could not have been a better one. It was August 1st, 2009, and it was Gay Pride.
So there we were, on the streets of Amsterdam, on our way to the place where he had planned to meet his friends to see the parade together. It was a hot day and I could feel the jeans stuck to my skin. Being in Amsterdam for the first time was overwhelming. The agitation on the streets, the funny outfits, the prospect of meeting his friends – a bunch of strangers with whom I was supposed to engage in some sort of conversation – all these made me feel nervous. And then, it was him. I had never been totally relaxed in his presence.
We arrived at the meeting point. Most of his friends were colleagues from work, of different nationalities, none of them Romanian. How could someone know so many people? I had always been surprised by how easy it was for him to make friends and socialise, regardless of the person or the context. It must have been a dozen people there, by the canal – his friends.
The parade started. Colourful boats moved along the water, each one playing a different song and carrying a most cheerful crowd of gays and lesbians, dancing on bumping beats and showing their fit bodies. The people along the canals were dancing, too, waving hands and all kind of accessories I would not have thought suitable for public display. But a lot of things were possible in Amsterdam.
We got carried away by the show when we heard a voice at our back.
“Hey,” said the voice. “Hey! Dragoș!”
We turned around. I immediately knew it was his friend from Utrecht, a Romanian guy who had also moved to the Netherlands a few years ago. Dragoș had told me about him earlier when we went for a coffee before the parade.
“Alex… Andra!” Dragoș introduced us to each other, smiling. He tapped Alex on the shoulder, then turned back to the water. I turned back, too.
“I’ll go get some water,” Alex said later. “Shall I get some for you, too?”
He returned with three small bottles, which we had not yet finished when we decided to leave for somewhere quieter. The rest remained at the parade.
We walked a few streets away, on another canal. We sat down on the steps of some random house and smoked a joint Dragoș had just produced. I only took two smokes and was already dizzy, to their amusement.
“How did you find each other here?” I said, trying to get back to my senses.
From Dragoș I knew they had grown up in the same neighbourhood in Bucharest, and that he had already been living in the Netherlands for two years when Alex decided to move there, too.
“I met Dragoș through my brother,” Alex said. “The two of them were classmates.” He paused to take another smoke. “When I moved to the Netherlands, even before that, I lost contact with my former friends, Dragoș included. I was talking to my brother on messenger one evening and that’s when he told me Dragoș was in the Netherlands, too. So I sent him an email.”
“And the rest is history,” Dragoș said.
They laughed, Dragoș playfully pushed his elbow into Alex’s arm. They were sitting next to each other, on the same step, higher than me. From the step where I was sitting, I was smoking a cigarette, back against the wall, half-way turned toward them. In spite of their different builds – Alex more athletic, Dragoș tall and slim – I thought the two of them looked similar. Maybe it was their relaxed air.
“What brought you to the Netherlands?” I asked Alex. I did not feel comfortable looking at him. His dark eyes became even narrower when they fixed you. The translucent skin, the freckles, and the messy hair gave him a playful, boyish look though.
Swimming,” he said. “I was a member of a swimming club, and that’s how I came here.”
That explained the trained shoulders and the well-defined arms, crossed by a network of prominent veins. I thought of the only sports I had ever practised – rollerblading, in high-school, and before that, rope skipping when playing with the kids from the block.
“Just as a hobby. I go to the pool when I can. I work full-time now and have Dutch lessons after work.”
“And he wants to become a DJ,” Dragoș said, smiling.
“We both want that,” Alex said, pushing Dragoș with his elbow, the same way he had been pushed earlier. “Come to one of our parties sometime!”
“Indeed,” Dragoș said, nodding.
“That would be nice.” If only I didn’t have to go back home the following day.
I did not finish my thought when a group of girls on bikes passed us by, talking loudly, laughing, one hand on the handlebar, the other one behind the saddle, trying to balance the cans of beer and soda on the trunk. When they disappeared, it was silence again. I could hear Dragoș and Alex talking. I had no idea what they were talking about, nor was I interested to find out. Their voices and image became one with the background, as if I were distancing myself to get a better view, to convince myself what was happening was real – the doorsteps, the canal with complicated name, the lush trees, the cotton candy clouds, and the two of them – beautiful, nice, full of dreams.
“Let’s grab something to eat,” Dragoș said. “I’m starving.”
We walked for a while, then stopped on a small street somewhere behind Dam Square. They queued for burgers and fries, Dragoș suggested an Asian takeaway for me. For sure they had some vegetarian options there. We returned with the food and, since it was busy everywhere, we sat down right on the street, in front of a closed shop.
We were busy with our food when a guy with braided hair and an uncertain walk stopped by us. I thought he was going to collapse when he bent over Dragoș to say something into his ear. For a few seconds, Dragoș stopped chewing, listened to whatever the stranger was saying, smiled, and nodded. The guy stood up, nodded too, looked at Dragoș, Alex, me, and back at Dragoș again. He then disappeared into the crowd he had come from.
“What was that?” Alex said.
Dragoș kept on smiling and was in no rush to answer. He took a bite from the burger, dipped a chip into mayonnaise, ketchup, and mayonnaise again.
“He wanted to know if the three of us slept together, too,” he said, raising a chip and drawing an invisible circle in the air, with a single move of the hand.
“No way he asked that!” I said, laughing.
“Oh yes, he did.”
“And what did you tell him?” Alex was laughing, too.
“I said yes, obviously. Why ruin his fantasy?” Dragoș laughed and had the last piece of his burger.
I checked the time. I had to go back to The Hague and start packing. My flight back to Bucharest was early morning the following day.
“I’ll have to leave soon,” I said. “Any plans to come to Romania?”
“Not really,” Dragoș said. “I’ve been a few months ago, I don’t think I’ll go until next year.”
I looked at Alex.
Back against the wall, we smoked one more cigarette. I did not want to go to Bucharest either. Unlike them, my life was there though. The two of them did not even look Romanian anymore. Carefree and easy going, to me, they were Amsterdam itself.