When he started teaching me his language, I didn’t even know his name. We never made appointments, we never set hours or targets. It was casual, pleasantly without obligation. I went to the library every day, knowing I would find him there, on the little table behind the racks of books in foreign languages. It was my secret, and only thinking about it made me feel all tense and excited. It was a pleasurable feeling, unlike most things I had felt before. Yet every day there was also the fear that I would arrive in the library and he wouldn’t be there. It was all so new and so strange to me that it felt unreal, like a dream that would fade the moment I thought it through a little better.
‘Read this. Slowly.’ I loved his voice. It was warm and harmonious, yet the foreign accent gave it something… cold. Threatening almost. Every time we spoke I got the feeling I was playing with something very dangerous, and that excited me even more. Not that we spoke very much. Our conversation was mostly him reading out loud and I carefully repeating it as his finger traced the line of text. Still I got to know him, bit by bit. With every syllable I pronounced correctly, every line of text I understood, he granted me little lumps of information, rewards for my persistence. He was a scientist, and I suppose he worked at the university, although he never confirmed that. He told me he loved chaos, because of the order underneath it. I didn’t understand him, said I thought chaos was simply the absence of order. Little did I know… He told me to shut up and continued the lesson, shaking his head over so much ignorance. He had the ability to make me feel dumber than a stone, if he wanted to.
‘Catherine. Read the sentence again.’ His voice was calm, not a trace of tension, even though it was the tenth time I was re-reading it. I was done with it, I wanted to go back to my easy reading and my easy life and I couldn’t do it anyway. I was done. The heat from outside was somehow penetrating my head and making me feel reluctant to do an effort. I said I couldn’t read it.
‘I can’t. I’m too stupid.’ At first he didn’t say a thing, just looked at me with his piercing eyes. Then he cocked his head a little to the side and said softly.
‘There is no such thing as “can’t”, unless I say so. Do you understand that? Only when I say so. Then, and only then, something can’t be done. As long as I say it can, it is not impossible. You can, Catherine. You just don’t want to. Don’t hide your human weaknesses behind impossibility. Your childish behaviour is your only enemy. Nothing is impossible for those whose will is strong enough.’
I bent my head and looked back at the book. The undecipherable sentence still stared at me from the page of the book, as if it was mocking me. And that thought… that thought did the trick. I didn’t want to be weak. I wouldn’t be mocked ever again. I straightened my back and read, and while I read it became clear to me, like a revelation. The grammar, the syntax, suddenly it made sense. The moment I finished, I felt a warm feeling overwhelm me. When I looked at him, I saw he had a soft smile on his face. He touched my hand, a soft touch as a token of his approval. I don’t think… I don’t think I knew happiness before that moment. Instead of simply continuing the lesson, he took me outside of the library, into the blistering heat. The bright sunlight surprised me and I pinched my eyes.
‘Open your eyes, Catherine.’ He sounded strict and I obeyed. The light burnt in my eyes, it made them tear, but… it was beautiful. Soon the pain was less and I could see again, and the world around me was so bright and full of colours, like I had never seen before. It was wondrous, and most of all I wondered why I had never looked at all that. Nothing had changed, and yet… yet everything had changed, all of a sudden.
‘The world is a beautiful place. You just need the strength to look at it.’ I have no idea how long we’ve stood there, on the backside of the library, looking up and around in wonder. It was all so beautiful that I suddenly had the irrational thought I never wanted to close my eyes again. I was happy.