They sat and talked for what felt like an eternity. Minutes and hours went by unnoticed, customers came and went, wondering why the glass door remained tightly shut in the middle of a weekday. And even when Charlotte finally got up and hugged the woman goodbye – for nothing possessed quite the magic of stories when it comes to reinstating trust and friendship where it had once been – she was still so engrossed in the tale that it took her two tries to unlock the shop door, only to run straight into a young man on Naschmarkt’s crowded alleys.
“Pardon”, it was the first word that had come to her mind, even though she had not used her French in the last couple of days, had been speaking English and had thrown in the occasional German word, for theoretically she had learnt to speak the language – including a some-what convincing Viennese accent – years ago. Now, however, so caught up in her own head it was the French that had come to her mind almost instantly, marking her as the innately French girl she had always regarded herself as, despite her multinational heritage.
“No worries”, the young man replied, yanking her out of her thoughts using nothing more than his voice. She had only heard it’s slightly accented, deep rumble once before and yet she didn’t need more than to hear the voice in order to recognize the boy. Looking up at a smiling face, blue eyes and a head of unruly blond curls, she thought about the coincident of meeting him here, in the middle of a city that housed two million inhabitants and whose streets where populated by thousands of tourists on top of it. How was it possible for her to find him again, after she had already noticed him at the airport in Paris, flying to the Austrian capital? What were the chances of them being at the same place at the same time twice in a row? Charlotte was so captivated by the thought, she almost forgot about the story she had just heard, almost forgot that she was blatantly starring at this guy. Yet, if he was as enthralled by their second meeting, if he had even noticed and now recognized her from the airport, he didn’t betray any sort of feeling or recognition. Instead, he just smiled at her once more and moved on with his walk through the market, leaving Charlotte confused and inexplicably sad.
It took another hour for Egg to extract herself from the market’s buzzing atmosphere and to move on to other parts of the city she had yearned to see again for so long. Without a clear path in mind, she set one foot in front of the other, starting at the beautiful golden dome of the Secession and making her way up west towards Vienna’s so-called museum’s quarter. Charlotte had nowhere to be and nothing specific she wanted to see, so walking aimlessly through the city seemed like a good idea to her. Years ago, she had lived not far from here, in the 7th of 23 districts and yet it had been so long since she had last walked along the streets, it was almost as if she had only ever seen them in movies and pictures. Her feet knew where to go, though, confidently leading her from one landmark to the next, past theatres and coffee houses, past parks and hotels until she found herself on the Ringstrasse, where one impressive house chased the next. She walked past the parliament and magnificent city hall until she finally came to a stop in front of the gates of Vienna’s university building. She looked up towards the many white arcs and pillars, marvelled at the sign saying that this university had existed since 1365 and imagined what it must feel like to study at such a prestigious looking place. With this thought in mind she opened one of the swinging doors and walked into an entrance hall clad in marble and stone. Directly in front of her she could see a beautiful green courtyard through the windows. It was surrounded by arcades and populated by a little army of lawn chairs pushed onto the grass and students lounging on them. To the left and her right, she could see stunning staircases winding upwards. It all seemed to belong to a fairy-tale much more than to anyone’s actual life and yet she had only just discovered that this place even belonged to her own past, as her father had apparently studied here many years ago. This revelation had been the beginning of Emma’s story, which from there has winded itself through the city, like an ink drop in water, growing in every direction until it had become one with the environment around it; like her father had started to belong to this city and had still decided to go. Twice. It still made her head spin to think about the parts of her father’s past she had discovered through Emma’s words and would continue to discover for her pre-planned journey had changed; had gained purpose as well as new destinations. For now, however, she let herself get wrapped up in the atmosphere of a thousand studying students, of the cold stone walls and the slight dusty air of academia. She wanted to go sit besides the many pupils concentrating on their books and essays underneath the light of a hundred green-tinted desk lamps in a library that seemed to belong in a fantasy book rather than an Austrian institution; wanted to stroll along the many statue-adorned corridors and sit in some of the lecture halls that combined the old building with white modernity and technology. In the end, Charlotte settled on sitting down on one of the longing chairs in the courtyard, dwelling on her own thoughts and drowning once again in the story Emma had just told her. Funnily enough, she had had no doubt about the validity of what the older woman had told her, even though it had taken some time for her to regain her memories of their time spent together. By the time the story had started, Charlotte had been ready to believe everything her old acquaintance had told her, even if the story itself had sounded fantastical at best …