She hadn’t planned on remaining in the middle of the university’s courtyard as long as she eventually did, and yet somehow Charlotte was unable to move as the sky grew darker above her and the air started to lose some of its summery warmth. Had she spared a moment to think about where she was or what she was doing, Egg might have started to wonder why nobody had told her to leave the premises as night fell steadily over Vienna. It spread its dark fingers, flexing and stretching until everything seemed to be swallowed by an uneven darkness, sprinkled with the first stars of the night and an army of lightened windows. And still Egg sat, surrounded by darkness-coated trees and stony arcades, listening to the steps of students hurrying home after a long day spent between lecture halls and libraries and mulling Emma’s story over in her head for the umpteenth time. Parts of it had burned themselves into her mind, playing and replaying the woman’s words like an eerie audiobook. Even after hours had passed, these parts of the story would continuously make her breath catch in the back of her throat, rendering her unable to swallow or think clearly. Every time it reminded her of how she had felt in Naschmarkt as she had first caught a glimpse of her father’s old booth and yet, simultaneously, it felt completely new. Never before had she been confronted with a part of her father so strange and unknown to her; never before had she had any reason to doubt everything she had previously known about him. Again and again she wondered how a part of his past could catch her by surprise as much as it did, only to remind herself harshly that – naturally – he had lived a life long before she had been born; before he had even known her papa. It was normal for children not to know everything about their parents and for the parents, in turn, to tuck their past safely away as soon as their children entered their lives, bringing with them a wholly new phase of life. And if she was completely honest, Egg had to admit that she had rather not known some of the things Emma had told her. For, what exactly was she supposed to do with the information now? How was she supposed to keep it from turning her relationship to her late father inside out, tainting the memories she held so dearly? And so, instead of torturing her mind with the endless riddles the tale had brought up, Egg decided to stay on the safe side, to offer her concentration to the parts of Emma’s story that felt easier to digest or that rang a bell within her own past.
He had studied at this very university, had left England behind to see something new, while also graduating with a master’s degree in a subject Egg could no longer remember. It had not seemed important, as even back then he had started working on the city’s market, forging his way towards a future of delicacies and high-quality food products. As such his university program had fallen victim to some of the more pressing or simply more intriguing parts of Emma’s story. Charlotte had learned, for example that her father had lived not very far from the apartment they had all lived in once he had guided his little family back to Vienna, albeit not ever mentioning he had been there before. In fact, both flats lay on the same street, a mere meters from each other. Back in the eighties he had lived in an all-boys flat together with a group of other students, out of which one’s name had made Charlotte gasp in recognition: Barley Willems had been a good friend of her father’s and had once invited the entire family to his house at the foot of Table Mountain in Cape Town. Egg herself had still been very young, caring mostly about the many animals her fathers had promised her during the three-week adventure through South Africa. As such, it was impossible for her to remember if Barley and her father had shared any glimpse into how they had met or why they had become friends, save of studying together at university. Looking back at it now, the whole trip had Charlotte wondering whether her papa had had more of an insight into her father’s past or if he had just calmly played along, content with whatever information he had been able to gather about his husband. Louis Eggleton had always been the softer out of the pair – though this sentiment all but vanishes every time he steps into the kitchen of his restaurants – and Egg could very well imagine him gladly accepting the parts of his husband’s past that made her skin crawl with uncertainty. And while she was nowhere near ready to share her new discoveries with her papa, much less to ask him if he had known about some of the revelations, she knew that she would have to confront him at some point. For now, however, feeling a sudden need to move, she finally got up from her spot in the courtyard and made her way towards the hotel she had booked in advance. The streets were still buzzing with activity and Egg was glad for a chance to hide in an anonymous group of people, out of which no one knew the battles she was fighting in and with herself. Hiding herself away in this specific brand of invisibility and listening only to the sounds of a city getting ready for night time and the soothing click-clack her shoes were making on the concrete floor below, she allowed herself to indulge in the memories of the South Africa trip and of a time, when her little family had been whole, happy and healthy; when their lives had still had the possibility of growing like petals on a flower or leaves on the branches of a tree. All of this, she noted as she closed and looked the hotel room door behind her, belonged to another time, another girl completely now.