I overheard my boyfriend in the lounge room of the small apartment we’re renting in Amsterdam, the one with the lone bright yellow wall.
“Siri, what’s the weather like today?”
I don’t hear the answer.
Later he tells me she said “some rain” which incidentally does not describe the “code red” storm that was coming for us. It was not the day to be meandering aimlessly through the canal-lined streets. But that’s what we were doing when the gusts of wind and sleets of rain smashed us around like fragile figurines.
The day started innocuously enough. We stumbled into the first cute café we saw and devoured coffee, oven-toasted croissants filled with ham and cheese and Greek yoghurt with honey and a random assortment of fruits like apricots, banana and apples.
We continued to wander until we found the main city centre. Despite the rain, we thought we could keep going, keep checking in to cafes for coffee with a side of free wifi, and figure out our next move. The city was uncharacteristically quiet for a Saturday. Shops were randomly shut.
Half of my mouth was lined with giant ulcers that had grown in Greece and refused to heal. We searched for a chemist. Most were shut. Eventually we found a health food shop who joked that they were a kind of chemist. I did not know what this meant. The guy wore a crazy assortment of coloured pants and an entirely mismatched coloured jumper. He along with another store worker and a customer, attempted to diagnose my problem in Dutch and help me track down the right place for my mouth.
We eventually found some antiseptic mouthwash. The chemist told us the reason for the quiet was that a code red storm was coming. Kyle said that maybe in Dutch code red isn’t all that bad. That maybe “code clog” was the one you wanted to watch out for. I laughed hysterically. Code clog became our new way of identifying when something was really beyond the pale.
She recommended we go into a café to gargle. I pointed to the one across the road and she nodded. The café was called Jimmy’s coffee shop. It was not a café with coffee. It was a tiny marijuana joint. I wondered about the chemist’s sanity.
“Oh no!” I cried. “This is not the time for this, people!” before rushing out again. Kyle laughed and said that we looked like prudes who disapproved of freely available marijuana. I did not disapprove of it. I was considering it for medicinal purposes. But the café did not have anywhere I could gargle.
My mouth was on fire.
The sleets of rain hammered down harder than ever, blinding us, and the many crazy people still riding their bicycles through the rain. A crazed looking man walked past and announced to the tourists beside us that the trams were no longer running. I did not believe him. A local woman nearby confirmed this fact and I was sorry for not believing the crazed loner. She informed us that our only options were to find a taxi (which was expensive) or to walk. She shrugged. She was walking.
I was not wearing adequate shoes or clothing. We were already so soaked. The wind was throwing me around. We sought shelter in a nearby Starbux. Kyle offered to wait outside to hail a taxi but quickly ran inside when a giant tree fell a few doors down from us, and then we watched as another giant tree fell directly opposite us. I ran around the Starbux trying to ascertain the place least likely to expose us to falling trees. The staff tried to help us but couldn’t direct us anywhere that was safe and the roads were cut off and the taxis weren’t answering their phones.
“Look, you did say on this trip that as long as we’re together, everything will be okay,” Kyle reminded me.
“That was before a giant tree fell over right in front of us!”
Falling trees changed everything.
We ordered two “regular” coffees that were literally bigger than my head.
It was either flee or spend out our last days in this Starbux. Eventually we decided to make a run for it.
This is madness.
“Let’s walk” I declared. Kyle continued trying to hail a taxi to no avail. I waited in the doorway of someone’s home. I passed time by helping a woman carry a pram up some stairs, “don’t worry there is no baby” she said. Great, I’m not even saving Dutch babies with golden tufts. Nothing made sense. There were no free taxis in the entire city.
So we walked. Google maps helped us walk 1.7km in the maddening rain, wind and cold. I saw millions of bikes piled up along the streets.
“I think the time has come for us to finally steal a bike.” I announced.
“Cut to Sheree summoning the strength to break open a steely lock” Kyle laughed.
But I wasn’t kidding and I continued to look for the unlocked bikes. Frankly those scantily clad unlocked bikes were asking for it. Oh my god I am victim blaming the bikes.
We discovered a part of Amsterdam we might not have otherwise with quaint houses, quiet streets, less wind, subsiding rain. It felt better in this area.
I was growing restless. Kyle was unabashedly positive. He always is. I wanted to get mad at him for it. I wanted to tell him this wasn’t the time and that his jokes and cheeriness irritated me and he wasn’t helping and I felt moody and uncomfortable. But then I remembered how he held me at the metro stop, partially covering me with his perfect Swedish raincoat in an effort to keep me warm and sheltered, whispering “I’ll keep you safe, I won’t let anything happen to you”.
Remembered how he kept offering to wait in the rain to find us a way home. How he held my feet in his lap, covered in a cardigan to keep me warm. How he shared his tea and soup with me. How he navigated for us and took charge. I watched him in front of me and saw that he looked like a little boy in the rain, sweetly trying to find his way home, not for himself but for me, his only priority. I couldn’t cry but the rain made it feel like I was anyway.
I felt a sadness run so deep inside of me.
“I wanted to get mad at you for being so positive” I wailed at him. “But I can’t! You’re my everything!”
I ran to catch up with him and he made some more jokes. I put my face up to the dark clouds and laughed at the rain. Between the rain and me, I knew I was still the bigger person, maybe the only person, for rain is not a person, but precipitation. Rain is water.
“Do you know how much water we have in our bodies?” Rebecca said to me, while wading in the corner of the pool in our hotel in Patmos, Greece.
“80%?” I offered up, thinking I knew where this was going, feeling helpless all the same.
“Our bodies are 70% water. I want you to get in the pool if you can and I want you to imagine that your body is water and there is no barrier between you and the water. That only your skin and bones feel the pain of this experience of an awful man trying to hurt you, but the skins and bones don’t exist in here. In here you are only water. Nothing can hurt you”
So I did. I got up from my paralysis of fear and I waded in, fully submerged, feeling the salt water run through me. The tarot card that I picked out that same day from the Cuban goddess Mayra was the one for “tranquility” and it told me to submerge myself in salt water. So I did.
The rain still beat down on us as we trudged along the Amsterdam alleyways, only now we were invincible. Smashed apricots, apples, peaches and oranges littered the street as the wind blew the cart over. The fruits were so beautifully massacred and sacrificed on the road, a kaleidoscope of colours. Somebody would miss the fruit in their lives. We dodged each one. We were almost home.
I love these stairs, I cried out as we climbed the narrow steps up to the second floor of our borrowed home.
I saw him, the love of my life, still somehow miraculously and boundlessly positive, as he shook off the wet clothes.
“That could not have gone worse,” he declared with a huge grin on his face.
It was not the stairs that I loved, or the sanctuary of a room and a roof, or the unknown thrill of travel and its tribulations, although I loved all these things. I loved the warm body that held me under the falling water, promising to keep me safe.