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“You know, sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t quit my job. The pregnancy came as a surprise, and I wanted to keep her, but I shouldn’t have quit”. Pause. She is smoking, staring at the lake. The beer is getting warm on the table, birds are singing in the background, the sun reflects on the lake. I am sitting next to her, I am staring at her profile, at her eyes that are restlessly moving, barely ever meeting mine. Our shoulders meet, it’s the first time our bodies touch for so long; she did not move, I did not either. The very first time I feel her warmth.

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We met at a fair in Zurich. She was standing below the huge wheel, wrapped in a red coat and a long woollen scarf, smoking, her eyes fixed on one of the cabins, her daughter waiving and smiling at her. Vanessa. Patrick. I was unemployed for six months, walking around the city in the mornings, sending applications in the evenings. “I am a professional mum”, she said, bitterness ringing in her voice, paired with regret.

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Next time I saw her, she was sitting on a bench at a park. Holding a cheap free press, boring gossip, dating adds, bad cartoons. Smoking, of course, the red coat still on. Her girl was swinging alone some meters away. I picked up some flowers from a garden nearby and approached her, realising how ridiculous I looked.

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“Hey, still unemployed?” she teased me. “Turned to a professional flower-picker with a potential for evolving into a stalker?” But she took the flowers, saying I would end up being arrested. A good story to tell while serving jail time: what are you in for? murder, you? flower-picking. A reputation of a romantic soul never harmed a convict. The next hours passed with talk and laughter, the little girl coming and leaving to her lonely playtime. Sophia was her name, she was 4.

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She grew up in the Romandie. Bilingual, mother was Swiss, francophone bien-sûr, father was Dutch. They lived in a beautiful house in the suburbs, rainy Sunday mornings, magnolia petals scattered at the path, colourless skies, colourful shutters, sometimes matching the garden’s flowers.

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The gothic skies of March, the darkness of the grey, mad water, the Alps in the horizon, glowing like a promise. The lonely boats in the middle of the lake, drawn by the wind. Waves imitating the sound of the sea, but not its smell.

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The narrow yellow alleys, the old houses smelling mold and old times. The whispers coming from the inside, the long glances hidden behind lacy curtains.

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Here she felt free she said. Walking in Zurich, a stranger among strangers, no one knowing her name, her daughter, her unemployment, her boredom, her divorce. “No one apart from you”, she smiled and reached for my hand, as we were strolling at Bellevue.

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