Matteo was bored. David wasn’t around, he was at Laura’s for something, and Matteo didn’t know what to do with himself. That wasn’t quite true, he was capable of functioning by himself, he just felt a bit aimless. He didn’t need David there all the time. But he needed something to do, otherwise he’d just end up staring into space for hours. It was easy to get lost sometimes.
So that’s why he was in the kitchen cooking up enough pasta to feed an army. Or at least him and David for a few days. He had his headphones on and almost didn’t hear the door buzz, it was only because of the gap in between songs that he did. He turned down the hob and padded over to the intercom.
“It’s Amira let me up.”
He buzzed her in, and unhooked the door, heading back to the kitchen to check on the tomato sauce. He heard Amira walk into the flat and close the door behind her.
“Rude, it’s polite to wait at the door,” she said, walking into the kitchen.
“I’m cooking,” he argued, pointing at the various pots and pans, pasta and vegetables spread around the kitchen.
“Ok I’ll allow it,” she said, hopping up onto the stool.
She swung round to face him, watching him cook. He felt a little self conscious but carried on regardless.
“So what’s up coach?” he asked, adding the mushrooms and garlic to the sauce. “Mia isn’t here,” he added.
“Am I not allowed to visit my favourite dumbass?” she asked.
Matteo rolled his eyes, turned down the heat, covered the pot and joined her at the table.
“You don’t usually,” he said.
“So?” she asked, raising an eyebrow, staring him down.
Matteo wasn’t fazed.
“So you’ve never visited me before,” he said.
“I have,” she argued.
Matteo laughed and leant forward onto the table.
“To study though,” he said.
“Yeah,” she agreed.
“Yeah, just… I’m leaving on Monday,” she reminded him.
Matteo got back up from the table, he didn’t want to talk about that. He went back to the stove and took the pasta off the hob, carrying the pot over to the sink and draining it before adding it to the sauce. He placed it on the table. Then grabbed a serving spoon, a couple of bowls, and cutlery, glasses and a jug of water from the fridge.
“What is it?” Amira asked.
“Just pasta and vegetables,” Matteo told her, dishing up.
“What brand is the sauce?” she asked.
Matteo placed a hand on his chest dramatically. “Brand? What do you take me for? It’s just tomatoes, I made it myself,” he said.
She just rolled her eyes and took the bowl he offered.
“Anyway I just wanted to say, you can contact me and stuff, I don’t mind. If you need help or advice or just to chat you can,” she told him.
“Won’t you be busy?” Matteo asked, shovelling pasta into his mouth.
She scowled at his table manners.
“Yeah I mean, I’ll be working some of the time, and obviously there’s a lot I want to see and do, but if you can’t get through I will get back to you,” she said, tucking into her own pasta far more delicately.
“Awww are you gonna miss me?”
He was teasing her but he was relieved at the offer, he was happy for Amira of course, but at the same time he didn’t want her to go. He didn’t like change and he didn’t like the idea of not having her nearby.
“Shut up, I’m doing this for you, you’re going to miss me!” she insisted.
“I am,” he said.
Unlike Amira he had no problem admitting it.
“Dammit you are so annoying… I might miss you a little,” she admitted.
“I know,” he said.
“Just a little,” she said, holding up her fingers and pinching them together.
“Keep telling yourself that,” he said.
“What are you going to do Matteo?” she asked, leaning forward.
“Next? What are you going to do?”
Matteo shrugged, he hated this question. Everybody wanted to know. Hanna, Jonas, his papa, Hans. Even David although he asked a lot more gently, subtle hints and nudges here or there.
“David is starting school,” she said.
“So?” he asked, scowling.
“So what are you going to do everyday?” she asked.
Matteo rolled his eyes. Why did everyone think he was going to fall apart without David here? David had been at Laura’s all day, and he’d been fine. Well that was a lie, he’d lost three hours to youtube, but he was up now wasn’t he?
“I can do things without David,” he insisted.
“I just… I think if you’re just hanging around in the flat.... I just don’t think it’s a good idea,” she said.
“You think I need structure in my life,” he said.
“Yes,” she said.
“David has already told me this,” he told her.
“He’s right though,” she said.
“I know. Ugh I suppose I need to get a job,” he said.
He knew this, had known for a while, but it wasn’t that simple.
“Any ideas?” Amira asked.
“But?” she pushed.
“I think I'll wait for a bit,” he told her.
“Wait for what?”
“I er.. I’m going to see a therapist next Wednesday,” he admitted.
He hadn’t told anybody but David, and he wasn’t even sure if he would be able to go. There was still plenty of time to talk himself out of it. Telling Amira made it seem a bit more real.
“Oh Matteo,” she said gently.
She put her bowl down on the table and leant forward, giving him her full attention.
“So maybe I should figure out whats wrong with my head, before trying to convince someone to employ a fuck up like me,” he said, looking down at his hands.
Amira snapped her fingers in front of his face, making him jump and look up at her.
“You’re not a fuck up. Things are just harder for you and employers can’t discriminate if you have a mental illness,” she insisted.
“I probably have depression,” he admitted.
“They can’t refuse to employ you because of that. But… I’ve been thinking about something,” she said carefully.
“I know school was hard, and I know you’re probably glad to be done with it but don’t write off going to uni,” she said.
“Ha ha,” Matteo said, rolling his eyes.
“Not joking Matteo. You’re smart enough and capable enough-”
“Says me,” she said.
“School was awful and university isn’t everything, like there are other options, Carlos is doing an apprenticeship,” he said.
“That’s true, and if you want, I can help you find something that fits with that. But I know you can do it. You’re forgetting Matteo I knew you in first year, before you started to lose track, ok you weren’t student of the year but you were doing well. You even helped as a tutor. So I think maybe take this year, work, have fun too, take some time to deal with your health, and next year we’ll see where you’re at. I’ll be applying, so if you want to, we can work something out,” she said.
“I don’t know,” Matteo said.
It was nice that she had faith in him, but he’d only end up disappointing everyone.
“And they can make allowances for you, you can do part time so you don’t get so overwhelmed, you can get extensions and time off when you’re struggling,” she insisted.
He didn’t really get why she cared so much.
“Why do you want me to go so bad?” he asked.
“Keep me company,” she said simply.
She shook her head.
“For real, I like studying with you,” she said.
“You do?” he asked.
That didn’t make any sense.
“Yes Matteo,” she insisted.
“So think about it,” she said.
“I will,” he said.
And he was telling the truth. It might not work out but he would consider it, he would love to be study partners with Amira again.
He got up from the table and took the bowls to the sink. He put the pan on the counter, he would box it up for him and David later. He gestured toward the living room, Amira got up and followed him through. He flopped down on the sofa, and Amira sat down beside him more gracefully.
“And if you want to talk to me, about how therapy’s going or job hunting, or anything, you can, I might not be able to reply straight away but I will,” she said.
“And maybe we could facetime sometimes,” he suggested.
“Of course,” she said, smiling.
He was going to miss Amira so much.
“Do you think you could cope if David were to go away for a year?” she asked suddenly.
“No,” he said.
And it was the truth, it would probably destroy him.
“But I would, if it’s what he wanted, I wouldn’t make him stay,” he said.
“It’s just a whole year,” she said.
Matteo saw where this was going, he looked up and smiled at her.
“Away from Mohammed?” he asked gently.
He didn’t want her to clam up and refuse to answer.
“Yeah,” she said.
“You’re going to miss him?”
“I shouldn’t right? This is so new,” she argued.
“So doesn’t make it less real,” Matteo countered.
She sighed and sat back, curling her feet up under her.
“Mia and Alex broke up,” she tried.
“They wanted different things,” he said.
“Well Mohammed isn’t religious,” she told him, essentially countering his argument.
Mia had mentioned this, so it wasn’t new information but he thought Amira and Mohammed had resolved that. It seemed more like Amira was doubting that she could handle long distance, and was making excuses.
“Ok,” he said.
He didn’t really have much to add, she was obviously here to talk things through, and sound things out, he would listen and offer what he could.
“So maybe we want different things? Like Mia and Alex? What if we’re too different? Maybe he’ll wait a whole year for me and then I’ll come back and it won’t work out anyway,” she explained.
“Maybe,” he said.
“Thanks,” she said, punching his arm.
“Maybe not,” he said.
“You’re not being very helpful,” she said, flopping back on the sofa.
“Do you actually want help from me? I thought you just wanted to talk it out,” he said.
Surely she would talk to the girls if she wanted advice?
“Well, I’d like to hear your opinion,” she said.
“My valuable opinion?”
She made to get up.
“Right I’m going home,” she said.
Matteo grabbed her arm and she settled back.
“Ok, so Mohammed isn’t religious? But you’ve talked about that right?”
“Mmm, but it is something he’s working on, there’s a lot to it. I don’t know how it will turn out, like we’ve discussed this, and I am sorry for dismissing him, but I’m still worried, I can’t help it.”
“No that’s fair too. So you’re afraid that the distance will make your differences more obvious?”
“I guess that’s part of it, and it’s like we’re going to wait for each other. For a whole year, and then what if I come back and it doesn’t work out?”
“Because of the religion thing or?”
“Yes, no, it’s important to me Matteo,” she insisted.
“I know, I’m not arguing,” he said.
He didn’t really know why she was talking to him of all people. When did he become a relationship expert, in fact when did he become the person people came to for advice. On a good day he usually said about fifty words.
“No but what do you think?”
“I think you can work it out right? Like if Mohammed’s not religious but he’s not a horrible person, and he’s working through some stuff, maybe he’ll find god again, maybe he won’t, but he’s not a bad person,” he said, “and you don’t have to have everything figured out right now.”
“He’s a really good guy,” Amira agreed.
“Exactly, and you can get really horrible religious people too, look at my dad he calls himself catholic and then cheats on my mum a bunch of times before fucking off and leaving us behind. Sorry. That was... irrelevant… I just have my own issues with religion,” he said.
“I… I didn’t know that, about your dad,” she said gently.
“Ancient history now. What I’m trying to say is that religion isn't important, what matters is how hot Mohammed is,” he said.
“I’m going to kill you,” Amira said through gritted teeth.
“Did I ever tell you I was a choir boy?” he asked.
Her face lit up in delight, she sat up again leaning toward him.
“Oh my god, pics please,” she insisted.
“Nope never,” he said, shaking his head.
“Matteo I have to see this. Did you wear the special dress thing?” she asked.
“They’re called robes, and yes,” he said.
“Oh. My. God. You must have been so cute. What went wrong?” she asked.
What did go wrong? Matteo remembered early Sundays, him and his parents every week. Then papa stopped coming, but he didn’t care. And mama had been so proud of him when he sang, and she would practice with him all day at home. Even when papa shouted at them to shut up. But then mama started wanting to go more than Sundays, she wanted to go every morning and in the evenings too, but he had school work and he was always so tired, and he wanted to play with Jonas sometimes. It stopped being fun. It started to be scary.
“Matteo?” Amira asked gently.
“My mama, she… she’s not well? Like me, I guess, but worse… she… gets very fixated on religion and sin and I just… I was just trying to take care of her and she just kept hurting herself and saying she was doing it for god and she just always wanted to go to church, like sometimes even in the middle of the night. She could never pray enough and I just can’t… I… it’s all just traumatic for me I guess…”
“Wow, that’s… I’m sorry Matteo,” she said gently.
It felt really good to tell Amira all that, he usually didn’t like talking about it, but if he could tell Amira, maybe he would be able to speak to the therapist.
“Do you miss it?” she asked
“Yeah actually, I used to love going to church on Sundays, I used to dress up so smartly, and I was a really good singer, and I really did believe it all,” he said.
It was good to talk about this with her, he’d explained this to David before but he didn’t really get it. Why he would miss something so obviously traumatic for him. But it wasn’t that simple. It had been a huge part of his life, and was still so important to his mother. And she was important to him.
“Mohammed misses it, I think,” she said.
“Then I hope he can find it again,” he said.
“What about you?”
“I’ve been going to church with mama again. Not like every week, it’s not… it doesn’t make me as panicky as it used to. But I don’t think I’ll get there anytime soon,” he explained.
“You should join the choir,” she suggested.
“Can you still sing?” she asked.
“Can I still sing? Of course I can! I just… I need time I think,” he said.
“Baby steps,” she agreed.
“Well I never thought I’d have this conversation with you, not after the last time we tried. I’m sorry, by the way, I know I upset you,” he said.
His head had been such a mess back then he didn’t even remember what he’d said, but he knew he’d upset her.
“Thank you,” Amira said.
“Ok stop stalling, let's get to the actual issue,” he said.
“I’m not stalling,” she argued.
“The actual issue Amira. You literally just opened up a whole discussion on religion to stall, because the heart of the matter here is that you don’t like the idea of Mohammed waiting for you? Or that you think he won’t? And you don't want to admit that. Do you think something is going to happen in that year while you’re away, that will make him what? Change his mind?”
“Exactly, what if he meets someone else or gets fed up of waiting, like I said, we’ve only known each other a short time. It’s so stupid,” she said.
This Matteo knew. He didn’t know how she could go about negotiating her relationship with Mohammed, and deal with both their differences and the distance. But he did know insecurity, and he knew it well.
So he grabbed his phone and opened up instagram. He looked up Mohammed’s profile and nodded.
“Yeah I see,” he said.
“He is very attractive,” Matteo said
She scowled at him.
“Yes and? What's your point?” she demanded.
“He is going to have a hard year fending off all the hot ladies, while you’re not around,” he said.
“Shut up!” Amira said, throwing a pillow in his face.
“So maybe we could get him a t-shirt with your face on it, so everyone knows he’s taken,” he suggested.
“I am going to strangle you,” she threatened.
“So violent! But for real, it's not a waste of a year like you seem to think. You can still talk to each other right? You will still be dating, it’s just long distance. Yes it’s harder, but at the same time it’s also kinda great. You have all this time to get to know each other, learn all about each other. Honestly by the time you come back you’ll probably be ready to be married,” he said, only part joking.
“Stop it! Man I can’t believe im getting relationship advice from you of all people,” she said.
“You met David and became such a sap,” she said, flicking his knee.
“Nope,” he argued
“I was always like this it was just hidden away by depression and hiding in the closet and all that. All I’ve ever wanted, for as long as I can remember is someone who understands me, who gets me, and I've found that and it’s wonderful. Can’t I want the same for you?” he asked.
“I am going to smother you,” she said, covering her face to hide the soft expression there.
“I love you too. You’ll be fine by the way, you and Mohammed, I know it, I know these things, you know, because I’m a romantic,” he said wisely.
“I… I came to see you because you’re the most negative person I know,” she told him.
“No that’s not… you’re my friend, but you’re also realistic like me. The girls would have told me not to worry, that it would be fine,” she explained.
“Well what did I say that was different?” Matteo asked.
“Nothing really, I just believe you more I suppose,” she said.
“Because I’m your best friend?”
“Absolutely not,” she said.
“And yet you came to me,” he said
“You are so annoying,” she said.
“You’re going to miss me, you said it yourself,” he argued.
She grabbed a pillow and threw it at him. Then another, Matteo screeched and slid onto the floor.
She just looked down at him and laughed. But she looked relieved after their conversation, smiling fondly at him. Matteo grinned back at her. She would be absolutely fine.