I hadn’t seen Ana in two years, but she met me at the airport dressed as Vivian Ward from Pretty Woman, with a sign for Kit De Luca in her hands.
And for the first time, for a little while, for an amount of time neither of us had decided on, our days would be the same.
Everything was bigger in Berlin. I brushed my teeth over a sink nearly as big as my kitchen table. The water splattered on my stomach, refreshing skin exasperated by the flight over.
Ana lived here. With huge windows in the flat, high up in the block, that were left open at all hours, those things didn't matter.
We rode bikes everywhere with just one lock between us. You could lock one bike to another as the lock, and that was okay. In the middle of the street even, it didn't matter.
“It's not London, is it?” Ana used to ask me. She hadn’t lived in London for a long time, but she assumed.
We cycled one night to a club lined with foil. We left our bikes on the street and ran inside. We smoked and stood near the fans to cool down. We didn't have to buy any drinks. The DJ came and danced with us in front of his decks between songs. It was that kind of place.
My bike didn't have any breaks or gears, it was a contra bike. Ana found it in the building’s communal basement, and, after years of navigating Oxford Circus at rush hour, I was the only person that could ride it. It was pink and the front wheel got looser as I rode it more. I spent a lot of 3 and 4 am rides through Neukölln praying to the Gods of the cobbled pavements that the axle would not collapse or snap, that it would get me back to Ana's bed just one more time.
Because there was another reason for going to Berlin (and not crashing a bike in Berlin) beneath spending wonderful, lost hours with Ana as if we were fifteen again and had nowhere else to go.
Because Robert lived in Berlin.
After a few days, I came an inch back to myself and remembered there was another person I knew here.
As if my feet had led me, knowing in a few days I’d resurface and want to flirt with someone.
As if my brain knew, filed right at the back beneath those god awful letters from lawyers and remembering to talk about Nige in the past tense now, that Robert would be a good bet.
I didn’t know Robert well. He was a friend of my sister’s I’d met a few times in Glasgow. He’d moved to Berlin a few months ago.
Back in Glasgow, we’d gotten talking at a house party my sister held. She’d lived in a tenement block and the rooms felt cavernous enough that monopolising one person for a two hour conversation seemed reasonable. Rob lived a few doors down the street and left early in the morning after we’d stayed up all night taking the piss out of everyone else at the party.
The next day I found him on Instagram and realised the sum total of fiercely dark brown hair cut back super short and a job (he loathed) running a pub: it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to message him.
And obviously he was tall, but you knew that anyway.
My sister rolled her eyes when I told her as if fancying Robert was the most passe thing anyone could do in 2019.
“Oh everyone has that phase babe.”
And to be honest, he was that kind of low-key hot that everyone would. But in Berlin, he barely knew anyone: different rules applied.
It turned out that Robert lived on the same street as Ana which I took as A Sign.
They'd never met, but I felt like somewhere, this coincidence, something would happen from it.
He told me to meet him at our local Ubahn. What a strange reality where we now shared a train stop.
Ana had to draw me a map as I didn't have a clue where I was. I was careful not to make too much effort as I got ready to go while she watched old episodes of Gossip Girl. I realised I had gone in for a second layer of mascara, and Anna pretended not to notice as she kissed my cheek on her front door mat. I hoped she wouldn't also recognise the smell of my expensive perfume.
Rob was three minutes late to the station and when I looked up from my phone I barely recognised him. He had glasses on now, and looked so different. My legs were covered in bruises, from that damn bike. I suddenly realised I probably did not look at all great.
We talked and talked and talked. Just like we had the first time we met. Anna asked me later if we ever ran out of conversation, but we never did. I loved talking to him.
We took the Ubahn to a restaurant in the west of the city that was full, then walked to an empty American themed bar in the centre of the tourist area where they served lurid blue frozen margaritas.
There were only two topics that were considered out of bounds, and that was what I thought about him, and what he thought about me. Perhaps it was in some referential nod to me being his friend’s little sister. We talked about everything else, people we couldn't stand, people we loved, people we admired. I tried to spot if Berlin had changed him.
And I realised, catching his eye as he waited for me by the restaurant doors to leave, and seeing how his face changed when I did, that in another parallel universe with duplicates of us walking around, this would be the start. It would begin right here.
After dinner we got a beer and then we went to find Ana. I thought he would leave at the schbete but he bought a bottle of beer and came with us, came and sat with Ana's Berlin friends and drank a Tyskie, smoked a roll up, sang happy birthday.
He said he wasn't used to being out so late or with so many people. I guessed it was weird for him to have to chaperone me through his new city only to then find a pocket of it down by a canal that I was totally familiar with, strung up with bunting, sparklers, cava, and my new friends.
The morning after seeing Robert I lay with Ana on her bed. She went to make more coffee and find an ashtray while I switched on her laptop. I re-read a draft message to Robert I had written on my phone after getting home the night before. I typed it on to the laptop carefully. It said how nice it was to see him. It was long for Facebook, a whole paragraph. I knew Anna would make me delete it if she saw it so I sent it, wincing with both eyes shut as I did.