They had made a habit of waiting for each other after getting their stamp, and after a few days it was as if it had always been this way: the control stamps, the looking for work, the cups of coffee at Stefan’s home and the hand-rolled cigarettes they shared.
Four weeks had gone by but that was just time, and Stefan didn’t think much about how easily the days and weeks had passed. That night was no different from so many other nights. They had strolled through the neighbourhood before it was time for Adri to go home. It didn’t mean anything that Stefan dropped his keys when he wanted to open the front door. It was only logical that they reached out at the same time to retrieve the fallen object and, when their hands touched, it was fully by accident. And yet, for a few seconds that must have lasted an eternity, they were frozen in the shock of recognition – until Stefan quickly grabbed the keys and stood upright again.
“It’s me, girl,” he called upstairs to Marije, because that was what he always did. He knew he was supposed to double-lock the door for the night but somehow he had forgotten even this simple routine. The touch of Adri’s fingers had burned a sign into his hand. Not until there was a knock on the door was he able to move again, and before he could say anything the other man was inside with him. In the dark, cramped entry to his home, where his wife was waiting upstairs for him to kiss his children goodnight, he was being kissed by a man.
“Oh God … oh God … What did I do …?” Adri sounded as shocked as Stefan felt.
“I don’t want to scare my wife and children, so I’ll keep my voice down and I won’t hit you, but I never want to see you at my door again.” Stefan pushed the door open. “Get out.”
That night Marije told him she had missed her time of the month.
He felt like himself again when he caught Adri’s gaze, waiting in line for another job neither of them would get, and turned away. It was easy as anything. A man kissing another man? Why would any normal, healthy bloke want to do such a sickening thing? He remembered how he had walked through the park last summer, with Marije, during one of those rare moments the kids were all at grandma’s for a few hours in the afternoon. It was almost like it had been when they were engaged and had a bit of money and so much free time on a Sunday they didn’t know what to do with it. There had been this man, if you could call it that, dressed just a bit too colourfully and moving in a way that would only look attractive on a young woman. The creature had looked Stefan straight in the eye, and winked at him.
“Doesn’t it make you sick to the stomach?” he had hissed.
Marije had pulled at his jacket. “Don’t say a thing like that. That man surely doesn’t mean to hurt us. Perhaps he can’t help being that way.”
“Why should I have to even see dirt like that in our park? Or are you saying it’s normal, for men to be like that?”
“Perhaps not normal, no …” she had admitted, after some hesitation.
“So you’re agreeing with me.”
“But that’s no reason to judge that poor man so harshly. I can’t imagine anyone choosing to be that way, to be without a loving family, with no respect from anyone.”
“Please, Stefan, opoe Doffer didn’t offer to look after the little ones so that we could have a fight. When was the last time it was just the two of us? Let’s enjoy it, yes?”
He left the memories for what they were, when he saw Adri walk away without looking over his shoulder even once. He didn’t dare move until the other man had turned a corner, too afraid he would run after him, too afraid he would be spineless and weak.
No one should misinterpret his situation. He worked hard on the days he had a job, and stood for hours in line to hear, “sorry, man, nothing today”, only to do the exact same thing the next day and the next. He never neglected any of the tasks at home that a man shouldn’t leave to his wife, mother or daughter, and he paid more attention to Selle and Wilfred because Marije was too sick to run after two lively boys. He felt his urges night after night, but he didn’t press her to allow him the use of her body. And, when she nodded her consent, he was extra careful with her because of the new child growing inside her – but also for a reason he hardly dared to face.