He couldn’t meet O, but he could ask other women. Like a student from his adult classes. Linda.

John dropped down on the burgundy colored couch in The Next Apache. A bar run by a Canadian who had mistaken ‘nech sa paci’ – meaning ‘please’ or ‘here you are’ in Slovak – as Next Apache when he was new in this country.

The sound system was playing ‘Again’, by Lenny Kravitz. Lately John had the impression that whereever he went someone found it necessary to provide the scene with a fitting soundtrack. But he guessed that was a symptom of being in love. Seeing signs everywhere.

He was surrounded by books now and the sight and the smell of them always comforted him. It surprised John what a good selection the bar had. He spotted ‘Everybody loves our town’, a book about the Seattle grunge scene, in one corner, and a book on General Ulysses S. Grant in the other. They were overpriced according to John’s standards. 12 euro for the book on the history of grunge music. He was used to buying books for 3 euro and 1 cent through Amazon, and that included shipping from the US or the UK all the way to Bratislava, Slovakia. How they made any kind of profit like that was a mystery to him.

Of course, his friend Abram, Slovakia connoisseur sans competition, would tell him to support the alternative bar and buy some books, but Abram was in Rotterdam and couldn’t influence John with the charismatic flair of the bohémien.

He would have to email him about his latest inner turnmoil and coping mechanisms.

John ordered green tea and waited for Linda to arrive. He whipped his mini I-pad out of his backpack and tried to focus on the last pages of a book by Marni. A woman who ran a YouTube channel where she presented herself as a ‘wing girl’ to help guys chase women. Her book had the unfortunate title ‘Get inside her’. The subtitle was more reassuring, ‘the female perspective’. Contrary to what the title seemed to suggest, it wasn’t some sleazy pick-up manual that adviced guys to score sex with some lame pick-up lines or any kind of manipulative strategies rooted in insecurity.

The book cover was even worse. A barbie dollish girl who had one of those big black ‘censored’ rectangles over her mouth, suggesting fellatio more than any censorship. Unfortunate book publishing choices, but the information was decent. The advice was all about leading, being a man, being clear about your intentions, asking for what you wanted, making a woman relax and creating a safe harbor in which she could allow herself to feel at her most feminine.

A nervous guy will cause a woman to be nervous, and nobody enjoys being nervous. The more manly your behaviour the more feminine the woman could feel in the presence of the guy, and this is the best feeling a woman can have.

John felt he was getting close to understanding the theory behind the man-woman dynamic, but he struggled to put it into practice. What exactly was manly behavior? Images of macho behavior started running through his mind. Should he be sitting with his legs wide open, lean back and stare into a void as if he didn’t give a fuck about anything in the world? That couldn’t be it.

Linda arrived and dropped down in a chair next to the couch, her movements were always a bit energetic. This left about 20 centimeters or less between their knees. John was always aware of these kind of details and took mental notes of them. He realized noting all this stuff was only making him more nervous. He told himself to stop seeing every interaction as a game of chess. He was an ENTJ, a personality type that tended to do just that.

This little fact was running through his mind, because Linda had said the following as she was letting her long fingers slide over the worn and torn menu card:

‘I took that test you suggested the other day. This 16 personalities thing. Guess what I am.’

‘You’re not an adventurer’, he said. She was much too serious for that.

‘Nope.’

‘You’re not an entertainer either.’

‘Nope.’

‘You’re not a consul.’

‘Nope. I think my husband could be a consul.’

Without an overview of the personalities in front of him he couldn’t continue guesssing by elimination.

‘So what are you?’, he asked sipping his tea, trying to have nonchalant movements. Inside his heart was speeding up, and he didn’t understand why. The odd thing was that O didn’t make him this nervous when it was just the two of them, neither had Z. He wondered why not.

‘I’m a debater’, she said.

‘That fits’, he said.

‘It does, doesn’t it? What are you? You don’t seem to match with any of those 16 types.’

‘I’m a commander’, he said.

‘I would never have imagined that!’, she almost gasped.

‘I know, but still, I am. Look at Bernie Sanders, he’s one too, and he doesn’t look like one either.’

‘Hmm’, she said, still looking at the menu.

He felt a bit like her study object, but that was fine. You don’t meet many people who’ll try and dissect you.

He looked at her and made eye contact. She looked like a blonde Disney princess who had just jumped out of cartoon. She had some of the biggest eyes he’d ever seen. Z had said they were even too big. Of course, Z had been annoyed when she had said that. John and Z had been out with his Dutch students, four women, and Z thought he’d had given way too much attention to Linda.

As if she could feel he was looking at her hair, she said:

‘You know what makes a big difference in the way men react to me? Dying my hair blonde. I’m convinced I would still be jobless if I wasn’t for my blonde hair.’

‘You’re not a natural blonde?’

‘No, my natural color is a light kind of brown. You have very thick hair, just like my husband.’

‘Have you ever had it dyed black?’, he asked, thinking of O’s hair.

‘Yes, sort of the same color as yours.’

‘And the effect?’

‘Nothing like blonde’, she sighed, ‘I think it makes us look more feminine, more sensitive, submissive, approachable.’

John enjoyed looking at Linda. She was slender and looked tall. Especially when she was wearing her long black boots like today. She measured only 163 centimers but looked much taller. He told her so.

‘That’s because of the high heels and because I’m so thin. That makes me look taller.’

‘I wasn’t always this thin you know. I’m very capable of truly stuffing myself. Not that long ago I weighed 68 kilo.’

‘That’s not that bad’, he said. ‘I measure 174 centimers and I weigh something like 75 kilo right now.’

‘Yeah, but guys usually weigh a bit more than women. 68 is a lot. I looked fat! My BMI was in the obese range already!’

He said his BMI was around 25 now, which was right at the border of being slightly overweight. At 17 he’d been underweight, almost anorexic, with a BMI of 18.

‘You look nervous again’, she said. She was an Aries. According to John Aries people were confrontational or so straightfoward they were oblivious to the fact that their words might be hurtful.

‘I’m always a little nervous,’ he said.

‘What should I order?’, she asked.

‘Their fresh ginger tea is good’.

‘Ginger tea gives me stomach aches’.

She also went for green tea.

‘I think it’s because you’re not that tall. Shorter guys are more nervous in my experience’, she said.

He thought that might be true, but didn’t want to agree with her. She had an open body position, no crossed arms or legs, and her body was facing him. He looked down her blouse a bit and saw her skin was rosy. Her blouse was a very light salmon color. He wouldn’t mind seeing her bare legs some time.

‘It’s true that taller guys are more often found in leadership positions. And in Poland they discovered that all adult guys above a height of 180 or 185 centimeters, can’t remember exactly, had at least been married once.’

‘Well, it makes an impression on a girl, a guy that’s a lot taller.’

‘That’s not why I’m nervous’, he said. ‘It’s because my father sort of humiliated me as a child. He meant it as jokes, never in a mean way, and my mother stopped him by the time I was six, but still, the damage was done. He was a very sweet guy besides that, just damaged.’

He didn’t want to throw stuff like this into a conversation, but somehow it had escaped him again. To his surprise she said:

‘My mother did the same to me. She got a child to have a pet or a toy, and when the child turned out to have a will of its own, she couldn’t handle it and turned against it. If it weren’t for my husband I would be in a psychiatric hospital by now.’

Linda was married. To Milan. From what he’d gathered John thought he must be a calm guy, not overly ambitious.

Tall, so nothing to compensate for?

‘He’s the stabilizing factor?’

‘Yes’, she said, ‘the way I am now I couldn’t be supportive of a partner who has his own issues to work out.’

He tried to picture what a relationship with her would look like. Hot sex maybe. For a while. Lots of energy. Lots of debates if they were lucky.

‘I hurled my shoes at him last week’.

John smiled. ‘Really?’

She knodded and looked at him with her big eyes.

John was glad to be in the company of a confident woman. Even if she did make him a tad nervous.

He tried to find out what the fuel for the flying shoes had been, but she beated round the bush.

When he switched the conversation back to her mother, she said:

‘My mother is dead.’

It hit him that she’d mentioned that before, when they were walking home after their previous cup of coffee at Mondieu Laboratoire, a French looking place right smack dab in the city centre. He felt stupid for forgetting.

‘What happened?’

‘Cancer.’

‘When?’

‘Two years ago. It was hard. I can’t remember how many times I stormed out of her hospital room crying.’

He could feel it wasn’t too much of an issue, though two years is a short time for dealing with the death of a parent. She seemed to acknowledge the pain in a serene way, so she was dealing with it.

‘Only child?’

‘Yes, but my father has children. We’re not close. He’s the most nervous guy I’ve ever met. My mother described him as a nervous guy, but it’s even worse than I imagined. I can’t be around him for longer than five minutes.’

John nodded.

‘Sometimes your face can look so unhappy’, she said.

‘I’m fine’, he protested. ‘I feel calm and peaceful.’

He imagined he wasn’t sounding very convincing.

‘So what about O?’, she asked.

‘I keep imagining a child with her. Isn’t that weird?’

‘It’s not’, she said. ‘It’s not weird at all. You think it’s weird, but it’s not. Can I see her picture?’

John fished his I-pad from under his leather jacket on the couch.

He selected a picture where she was surrounded by some of her students. An electric volt rushed through his chest as he handed her the tablet.

‘She looks like a fairy’.

‘She’s beautiful’, said John.

Linda handed back the I-pad.

She excused herself and went to the toilet. John jumped at the opportunity to go and pay for the drinks. He disliked the awkward moment when the bill arrived and usually made a point of paying, certainly in the first stages of an acquaintance with a woman, no matter what his intentions were.

When she got back she insisted to pay half, but couldn’t find any coins.

‘You’re lucky this time’, she said.

It was raining outside, they walked in the same direction for a while. She under her umbrella, John with his hands in his pockets, but with his thumbs sticking out, he felt restless. They parted at a crossing for pedestrians. Traffic was busy as usual. Take care they said simultaneously, both making a point of making eye contact as they said their goodbyes.