Meet Me by the River

Dragonflies drifted lazily, carried by the river’s breeze. They would rest on the rocks, until any movement startled them, and the dragonflies would then return to drifting. Marcellin hardly acknowledged them. He lied on his back by that riverbank, dozing in and out of a half-hearted nap. Sometimes the wind shook the tree branches overhead. Shade and light shifted; Marcellin found himself lazily tilting his head to avoid the light.


From above the riverbank came a girl’s calling. Marcellin opened a single eye in time to see a dragonfly hovering mere centimetres above his face. He sat up with a jolt, and the frightened insect flew off before Marcellin could swipe at it.

“Marcellin! Lunch is ready!”

He made his way towards her through the thin vegetation. The girl grinned her typical, girlish grin, and in the midday sunlight the silver rims of her glasses sparkled.
“Jacques has been looking for you all morning.”
“Huh? And was it for something important?”
“What were you doing down there anyway, Marcellin?”
“Sleeping,” she looked up at him and breathed a single chuckle, “anyway did he say it was important?”
The girl began walking and signalled him to follow with a gesture of the hand.
“How would I know? Come on, let’s get going before it goes cold.”

Amongst all the towns Marcellin had wandered into, that one hardly stood out. Tired stone streets with narrow alleyways, tiny balconies peeking out of white buildings, and the same stories, circulated by the same old women, had all lost any form of lasting appeal. Not even the river gave that town any character. Yet Marcellin had no complaints. He found the lethargic pace idyllic, and the people pleasant.

The two of them stopped before a small Italian cottage.
“Aren’t you eating with us?”
She shook her head.
“No, I’ve got afternoon classes.”
“Shame.” Marcellin gave a sympathetic smile. “I’ll see you tomorrow then, right?”
He waved and begun pushing open the gate. Overcome by a newfound energy, she stopped him.
“Actually, wait! There’s something I need to tell you.”
The girl’s cheeks took on a rosy shade, and the absence of shadows gave her an almost childlike glow. Marcellin raised a curious eyebrow. Before he could speak, she cut him off.
“Um, no, I think I maybe now isn’t- well, meet me by the river at dusk. Okay?”
“Sure.” He placed his hand back on the gate. “I’ll see you this evening then.”
A nod, and she walked off. Marcellin’s eyes followed her figure briefly, as it grew smaller over that half-paved country road.

Everyone here is an idiot, had assured him Jacques between drags of a cigarette, you wouldn’t stand out at all. Marcellin realized how wrong Jacques had been in less than two days. The town by the river found itself instantly fascinated by that young man, with his rose-tinted lenses, rusty bicycle, and the unmistakable Greylakan accent. He presented himself as a house painter and that became his affectionate nickname. After putting out his cigarette, Jacques had resumed talking. You can stay with this couple. Friendly folks, they take in just about anyone. The old couple, with a sizeable piece of land transferred through countless generations, offered him a roof over his head and three meals a day in exchange for painting the exterior of their cottage. Only the occasional calls from Jacques, followed by deliveries of small, white envelopes to nearby towns, reminded him of a different life.

That girl too lived with the old couple. A war orphan with no blood ties to them, but who considered them as grandparents regardless, and they likewise considered her a granddaughter. She spent her days studying for university entrance exams and aspired to become a veterinarian. She woke up at dawn and left birdseed for the ducks in the river; she insisted on holding Marcellin’s hand whenever they walked together, her eyes focused on him whenever he spoke. And Marcellin, despite his initial, automatic disinclination towards proximity, allowed her to. He thought about her in the relaxed early afternoon sun, as he pedalled towards Jacques’ apartment.

“Been looking for you all day.”
Jacques turned down the radio and poured himself a glass of wine. Without offering any.
“Sorry I was… Working.”
“You weren’t at the house… Whatever, I don’t care.”
The man would sometimes look sideways into the deserted street, through the partially shut blinds.
“Police are on us. You’re leaving today.”
Marcellin eyed the collection of white envelopes on the table, sided by remnants of white powder.
“I’ve got an acquaintance in… If you go down to… It’s only three hours … She’ll meet you at that station with some job…”

The girl stood by the riverbank. The dragonflies found the evening breeze too strong for drifting, and instead opted for resting on the rocks. The setting sun cast horizontal rays over the town by the river and, for mere seconds, irradiated everything red. The girl sat down. Occasionally she would look around. In the street above the riverbank, the first streetlights begun illuminating the newfound darkness. Marcellin watched her from the other side of the river. Through the darkness he could hardly make out her face, until she stood up again, facing the opposite bank.


He placed his foot back on the bicycle’s pedal and resumed cycling.


The rest of the town’s streetlights turned on and reflected on the river’s shimmering surface. Before midnight he would reach the city. None would ask questions as he boarded the last bus. He would stop at the terminal and, in the dead of the night, find Jacques’ acquaintance. By morning all signs that Marcellin had ever passed through the town by the river would have vanished. And, in time, the town would vanish from his mind like so many before it.