We met in the prison of a drug lord, in a cell covered with long hairy moss and pooled water in the bottom. She was thrown in and fractured her hip, so the first thing I heard from her was a loud shrill scream. Then she fainted.
We talked a lot while she convalesced. We didn't talk about our crimes but she mentioned that she was studying for her doctorate in anthropology. I didn't tell her what I did. She went on a lot about linguistics and lost languages and I didn't really know most of the terms she used but she was really excited about the work. We talked about our homes and our countries and laughed a lot about the cultural differences. Nothing physical happened between us, it was not the right place and not the right time, but I think there was love between us. Mutual.
Our food was lowered in a basket everyday and I offered some of my portion to her because she was healing and she usually refused. She ate delicately, always sure not to chew with her mouth open, which made me practice my own manners. We both lost a lot of weight, and we were occasionally pulled out to have information extracted. I think I wouldn't have survived my time in the cell without her, without anyone there to talk to. Finally our ransoms were paid and we released. It was bittersweet and we left on different planes for different countries out of an airport with weeds growing out-of-control on the runway.
She told me her email address before we parted, and I sent a message to it, but it bounced. I tried find her on the internet but with no success, and then I went through her embassy and they turned me away, saying they couldn't divulge any information about her.
I saved up and flew to her city. I sat in a small hotel room for most of the first day, looking out the window at grimy housing and trams on wires. How did she come from a place like this? She was so different. She didn't match. I wandered the streets, avoiding traffic and beggars and getting lost. I didn't know where to look for her--I sort of sought her out by intuition. Where would such a person be? I tried the one park, which had dead trees and brown grass, even with all the rain. I looked around at all the houses that fronted it, but could find none that matched her personality--a sentimental long shot.
There was a library with grates on the doors and it was guarded over by ancient librarians who shuffled across marble floors that hadn't been polished in decades. I asked to see the city's phone books, and was brought to a room with layers of dusty, pulpy books. Hours passed as I searched through the years, going backwards. Then I found her name, in 1985. She wouldn't have been born yet. I wondered if it was a relative. There was an address.
The house was on a gloomy street and matched all its neighbors. It was sided in nothing but tarpaper. I knocked on the door. An old woman opened it a crack.
"I'm looking for Anouska," I said.
The woman's eyes went wide.
"She doesn't live here anymore," she said in a heavy accent.
"Do you know where she lives now?"
"She is dead."
She started to close the door but I stuck my hand in. She paused and looked at me angrily.
"She was my friend," I said, my chest heavy. "When did she die?"
"Nineteen-eighty-five. Thirty years ago. She was my daughter."
I removed my hand. The old woman's gaze softened. She reached her hand out to my face and stroked my cheek.
"You are not the first to come here," she said. "You are not the first of her friends. Yet she never comes to us." The woman looked at her hands for a long moment. "Whatever it is you've done, she does not see it as bad. I know that much."
The old woman nodded.
"Please don't come back. Don't bother us."
She closed the door and I stood on the stoop, then walked slowly back down the street and back to the hotel where I pulled the blinds shut for three days. Then I left for home and tried not to think of her.