I was listening to “Under the Bridge” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the way to Amsterdam. My headphones were rudely yanked right before the last verse.
“It’s too loud.” Said a petite woman around my age with large brown eyes, a dark complexion and a nose ring. I glared at her in disbelief.
“Excuse me? Who are you?” I demanded to know.
“I am an RHCP lover just like you. I hate that song though. I prefer Californication.”
That wasn’t the answer I expected, but also didn’t make up for the whole headphone yanking.
“Under the Bridge is better. And besides, there are nicer ways to make me reduce the volume.”
“I don’t do things “nicely”. The word “nice” has been defined by how society wants you to behave. I was born free and shall act free. Also, I detest Under the Bridge as it brings up painful memories for me.” After this statement she returns back to her book. “The Forty Rules of Love” by Elif Shafik. I read this book last week.
“That’s a nice book.” I blurted out. Why was I continuing the conversation with her?
“You read this?” she asks.
“No. I dreamt it was a nice book.” I remarked sarcastically.
She laughs. “It’s just that…you’re a guy. Haven’t heard of many guys reading this.”
“Isn’t gender-stereotyping also a bane of society? I am born free and will act free.” I retort.
She laughs again.
“My name’s Leo.” I announce.
“Okay.” The girl smiles.
“Is not giving me your name back a part of being born “free”?” I asked
“Something like that.”
“Oh my. How does one extract a name out of someone who’s so free?”
“You do something that makes them remember you perhaps?” I could sense a challenge.
“Okay, I will make this day-trip to Amsterdam one that you’ll never forget.”
I spoke about myself the rest of the way since Freedom (what I named her) didn’t want to reveal much about herself. I told her about my exchange program that was only going to last for two more weeks and how Amsterdam was my most favorite city in the world. I wanted to visit it one more time before going back home to Dubai. My parents are British and dad works with oil magnates in the Middle East. I told her anecdotes about home that made her laugh and we complained about how Rock music was dying. Freedom looked like she was genuinely enjoying herself.
Her laugh made me feel something that I hadn’t in a while. Attraction.
My last relationship went on for four years and got over one year ago. Although I was over my ex I hadn’t been able to fall for anyone else. I wasn’t even really attracted to other girls- until now. There was some intoxicatingly mysterious yet beautiful about the girl in front of me. I forgot all about her rude behavior at the start and was really looking forward to the day.
We got off at the central bus station in Amsterdam.
“Well, what’s our first stop?” Freedom asks
“We only have a day, might as well make the most of it. There are awesome cafes here that sell flavored weed. My personal favorite is mint.”
“I don’t do weed.” She states.
This girl never fails to surprise me. “We’re in Amsterdam you know.”
“I’m sure there are other things to do.”
“Fine, let’s at least see what one of these café’s look like. Cool?”
Our first stop is The Bulldog Coffeeshop. The Bulldog started as a single small café, and has subsequently become a well-known chain all over Europe. It’s not known for its coffee though. The interiors resembled a normal European Café (completely wooden) with a bar upstairs.
“Are you sure no weed?” I asked.
“I don’t mind alcohol but no weed.” She affirms.
I decide to give her company as I doubt she would have fun with only me being high. I needed her to remember me after all. I needed to know more about her.
“Are you going to tell me anything about yourself at all?” I asked as our two absinthe shots arrive.
She took her shot. “Have you heard of the game two truths and a lie?”
“Kind of, yes.”
“Well, I’m going to tell you three stories about myself. You simply have to guess which one is a lie. They At the end of the day if you it right and I enjoy myself, I will tell you my name.
“How many conditions do you have madam? Anyway no problem. Tell me one right away!
“What’s the hurry? Let’s start after one more stop.”
We walk across the breathtaking frozen canals of Amsterdam. Both of us were silent, preferring to take in the views of this gorgeous place. Every pore of this city was seeped in history.
“Are you taking me to the Anne Frank house?” Freedom asks
“Nothing so Cliché.” I say.
We stop in front of a building which says “Sex Museum”
“Seriously?” she asks
“You said you wanted to remember this trip. Well here’s your chance.”
Honestly I had never been in the sex museum myself, as I never got the chance, but I was always curios. These sort of tiny museums are trademark Amsterdam.
“I hope you’re not expecting something by taking me in here.”
“Oh trust me. Boys who want action would never take girls into a sex museum. That’s way too literal for your species.”
She giggles once again and we enter.
I do not want to recount what we saw inside that museum. I do want to reveal Freedom’s hilarious expressions. She was evidently scandalized. Her reactions were super-cute, and I found my liking for her increasing more and more.
“I did not want to know those details about Maryln Monroe” she comments after we exit. “Neither did I need to know about who has the “biggest” private parts in the world.
“But you will always remember this now won’t you?”
“Unfortunately I will. You have attacked my subconscious mind Mr. Leo.”
I almost melt when she says my name. “So, now you have to give me a story.”
“A few years earlier my family and I went to Australia. We trekked at the Blue Mountains since we’re all super fit. I lost my family mid-way and ended up in the middle of nowhere. It started raining. I spent two nights alone in the rain trying to search for help during the day. I didn’t have the emergency button which calls helicopters to pick us up. I didn’t eat for two days either. After the first night I got pneumonia. I thought I was going to die and my life flashed before my eyes. The third morning I was lying on the ground, too weak to move, when a family passed by and saw me. That’s when I was saved and standing before you here today!” she finishes
Is this the truth or a lie? She made it seem so genuine that I really couldn’t tell.
She smiles, “Don’t worry. You don’t have to answer me now.”
Suddenly the whole scene fades away.
“NO” I woke up with a sweat.
“Mr. Wilson, why did you wake up?” Simon, the hypnotist enquired.
“Where is she? Why isn’t she here?” I asked.
“Mr. Wilson. We think she is dead. We need to know how it happened. You must be tired now. We’ll take you into regression again tomorrow.”
“SHE’S NOT DEAD! It’s been a year since I saw her and now you’re saying she’s dead. For some reason I don’t remember much about her, not even her real name. You are saying my subconscious is repressing unwanted memories. But I know one thing. I fell in love with her that day and haven’t forgotten that feeling ever since. The only reason I’m doing this bloody regression is because it’s a government order. You can’t tell me she’s dead.”
“We suspect she is and we need to get to the bottom of it. I’m sorry about your feelings but that can’t be helped at the moment. Let’s continue this tomorrow.”
Simon escorts me out the door as I walk towards my apartment in Dubai.
The next day I return once again to these sessions. I was approached by the government a week ago to look for freedom. Apparently I was the last person she was in contact with. Why are the looking for her? Is she really dead?
Simon calms me down and gets me into a relaxed state. The regression begins.
It’s approaching sunset in Amsterdam. The sky is cloudy and quickly filling up with auburn hues. Freedom and I are chatting at a coffee shop in the Museumplein, next to the “I Amsterdam” sign. This sign is really famous and millions of tourists pass by the letters to take a selfie. Freedom and I were observing them.
“What is life?” She asked
“That’s deep.” I said
“No really. Everything seems so real yet the past was like a dream and the future is yet to be seen. Here I am sipping coffee with you in amazing Amsterdam. Tomorrow I might be in a really bad situation, not knowing how to escape.”
“This is why I don’t get into these philosophical thoughts. At least I’m alive right now, enjoying this moment with a beautiful woman. That’s all I care about right now.” I said, emphasizing on beautiful.
Freedom gives me a flirtatious stare. Then her expression changes.
“The first time I fell in love was in middle school. I was probably twelve or thirteen. His name was Josh. I wanted to confess to him so I wrote a love letter and out it at his desk. Unfortunately, it was discovered by the class bitch. She read it out to everyone and I was teased to the point that I had to change schools. But what hurt me the most wasn’t the teasing. It was the fact that Josh didn’t stand up for me. I have trust issues with boys ever since.”
Oh! Another truth or lie story. Interesting and unexpected.
“I have no idea how to win this challenge. You’re either not lying or a really good actress.”
“I’ve been told I’m none and both. But then again, perhaps “I” am not real.”
Our last stop was (according to me) the most interesting- the Red Light district. Amsterdam is well-known for this district as paying for sex is legal here. I have never paid for sex, but it always intrigues me to see the women who choose to do this for a living. I don’t judge but simply watch and come up with their backstories in my own mind. Maybe they have to pay for college tuition, or they have to support their kids. Maybe they enjoy this profession and there’s nothing wrong with it. Every woman had her owns story to tell.
Thankfully, Freedom wasn’t judgmental either. The red light district is like an alleyway of shops, but instead of mannequins there are actual people on display. Those who are interested can “window shop” and choose who to be with for the night.
“I wonder if these women are happy.” She asked
I didn’t say anything as I felt this statement didn’t warrant an answer. Happiness can’t be defined. A prostitute and a billionaire might be miserable or joyful all at once. It all depends on perspective.
After this we headed into a souvenir shop. Freedom bought me a keychain- a cannabis leaf which says “Amsterdam” on it.
“But we didn’t smoke.” I stated.
“In memory of not smoking in Amsterdam. Something you probably won’t forget.”
“I need to get you something as well.” I said
“Believe me, you’ve given me something precious.”
We walked along the now lit canals towards the bus stop.
“My life is in danger. I hold vital information about a certain terrorist group. I get death threats every day. I was working for an international “AID” organization and saw stuff that I shouldn’t have seen. I was shot in the arm but escaped. The bullet was intended to be for my heart. Today is my last day as a normal human being. After this nothing of me will be left.”
I looked at her in utter disbelief. “What?”
Then she started laughing hysterically. “Is it a truth or a lie?” she asked.
“Oh man. What sort of a story is that? You could seriously be an author with that imagination.”
She doesn’t say anything and we board the bus.
“So, which one was the lie?”
“Clearly the third one was.” I remark.
“My name is Iccha, it means wish in my language. I had an awesome time today.”
“So I was right? Well more awesome times are yet to come Iccha because I’m not letting you go.”
After saying this I felt strangely sleepy.
“The thing I put in your coffee takes 5 hours to actually work. Delayed effect. The actually true story was the third but I told you my name anyway. We won’t ever see each other again but you have no idea how much this day has meant to me. Thanks.”
I felt a slight brush of her lips on mine then I fell off to sleep.
“Leo, wake up” Simon ushered me awake.
“How was the session useful to you in anyway?” I asked
“Not very useful unfortunately. You’re free to go.” He said.
“How do you know she is dead?”
“We have a feeling that the people who are threatening her might have done it. We also wanted to procure the information she had on them. We were hoping to find some clues that she is alive through this session. But didn’t find any. We received information that she was shot a few months ago which has disturbed a lot of aid workers. In any case, thanks for your cooperation.”
I dig into my pockets and take out the Amsterdam keychain. I remember that day as though it was yesterday and time passed by in a flash. I put on Under the Bridge on my phone and listen to it on my way home.
Suddenly, someone yanks my headphones out.
“You’re still listening to this crappy song?”
I turn and see another version of Iccha in front of me. She had cut her hair really short, and wore a deep red lipstick.
“Iccha?” I asked
“Not Iccha, Maya. I’m dead for the world and my identity has changed. But somehow, I can’t remain dead to you. I was keeping an eye on you this entire time.”
“You’re not dead.” I sighed with relief.
“I’m not dead, but not free either. This is why freedom was so precious for me. That was the last day I would have it.”
“So what will happen now?” I asked
“No idea. The past was like a dream and the future is yet to be seen.”
Source of keychain: Souvenir shop next to I Amsterdam sign
This is a work of fiction