‘How could you ever leave this city?, she asks. 

They are strolling along the Graslei. Little groups of students are spread out everywhere. Sitting on the cobblestones in front of terraces packed with tourists. 

They’re eating waffles of Brussels with strawberries and whipped cream. 

Earlier she has tried a ‘nose of Ghent’ for the first time. Also known as cuberdon. 

‘Luckily you are making me walk a lot’, she says. 

Tonight they will dine in a restaurant full of candles with very traditional dishes. It’s called the Old Monastery and it’s right round the corner from where they are now. 

First they will visit the castle. Het Gravensteen. They will go and take a lot at Dulle Griet (wild Griet), a gigantic cannon that may have fired and may not have fired. Close to it is a pub that has hundreds of different beers on offer. They are both not big fans of hoppy brews, so they will only take a look. More up their alley is the chocolate bar, but that’s for tomorrow. 

This morning they had breakfast in a carless street right in the center of town. It’s a cosy place with furniture and decoration that probably haven’t changed in 80 years. 

He had hearty Breton pancakes, she had sweet ones, yoghurt, dried fruit and plant based milk. 

It’s Thursday night. They will go out in the Overpoort. It’s street with nothing but cafés and clubs all next to each other. They will also pay a visit to the famous Charlatan club at the Vlasmarkt. It’s a nice walk through the shopping streets and over the clean, peaceful carless squares from the Overpoort to the Charlatan. They may even, just for fun, take a look around at Casa Rosa, the headquarters of the LGBT community of Ghent. Not far from the legendary café, Pink Flamingos. 

‘Seriously, how could you leave this place? It’s heaven for cyclists, there is an artisanal bakery at the corner of every street, little cute stores for foodies everywhere, merry students everywhere you look, everyone makes eye contact, people are chatty and open. There are second hand book shops and alternative clothes shops. People drop down where they please with guitars and bottles of wine. There are canals running through the whole city. It could be Venice but with the smell of pastry and French fries and the smell of wild, unpredictable nights full of unexpected encounters.’ 

‘All true’, he said. 

‘So why did you leave?’ 

‘To go and find you.’ 

‘Blippi: Stoooop, with the romance for two seconds.’ 

‘Zuzefine: ça, c’etait ‘du fromage’ même pour moi’ 

‘Exactement. So?’ 

‘There is a line in the book One Day: after a while she felt like she was the last person left at a party after all her friends had already left.’ 

‘You still have friends here, so that can’t be it. Tell me or watering our roses or painting my face or saddling any horses.’ 

‘I will tell you, but first let me kiss a big blop of whipped cream from your upper lip.’ 

He can’t answer her question, because she hates negativity and he only ever wants to see her smile.

So he doesn’t say the truth: I wanted to live in a shitty country. Perhaps because I hated myself so much and had such little self-esteem I moved to a third rate backwater country. That’s how insecure I was. And being used to romantic ugliness I wanted to.. smell the flowers of evil. And now I regret it. I regret it so much.

He is is too scared to tell her those things. Out of fear she will never understand, out of fear she’ll judge him to be a loser and run far, far away. And he knows what that means. She will run away eventually. Cause the events we fear we ourselves set into motion.