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Happy 42! Today, our protagonist Lucas is taken on a night out with consequences nobody could have predicted.
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The first thing to say is: I couldn’t see a damn thing.
Jeroen took me there telling me it was the best night in Amsterdam, and of course, I trusted him. I still trust him. Last time I was in town, he took me for the best food, and we were only together for a few hours. Tonight, though, he’s taken it to a different level. The only way to describe it is that it’s a nightclub (though that makes it sound more professional than my current surroundings imply) and that it’s in a school.
An abandoned school.
It’s true. There are classrooms, and old school projects hung on the walls, and desks piled up in the corner with etchings all over them: one girl declaring their love for a boy; some symbol or other; a passionate statement in support of Ajax FC. There are school lockers in the corridors you can use to put your things in; a dark, empty field out back with whittled away nets clinging to decaying goal posts. There’s even signs hanging from the walls with the name of the school on. It’s the weirdest thing. As though everyone just woke up one day and decided it didn’t exist:
‘Hey, I don’t wanna go here anymore, I’m going to that other school!’
Why did no one clear it up? Could none of these things be donated to other schools, or charities or something?
Anyway, I wasn’t here to ask questions. It was nearly 4am, and Jeroen grabbed me by the shoulder and said: ‘I’m going to the bathroom. Ketamine and coke. Are you coming?’
‘Na, you’re good.’
‘OK. I’ll find you.’
He waved a hand at me as he walked, like he couldn’t get to the bathroom quicker. I’ve only known him for two months. I took a new job in Paris, and he works remotely from Amsterdam. I came here on work, and he offered to take me out. Said we didn’t do it properly last time. Before that, I’d only ever seen his face on a screen, smiling and sharing creative ideas for how to boost sales in the next quarter. Never had him down as the ket-and-coke-in-the-toilets kind of guy. But hey, who am I to judge?
While he was off pumping horse tranquiliser into his body, I went and explored. I admit, this language makes it sound like I’m more sober than I am. Really, it’s a stumbling, don’t-get-into-a-fight sort of effort. Each room, each classroom, had its own genre of music: techno, psytrance... Each one came with its own language of dancing. The sweaty faces, the bodies, the neon paint. I would love to take a picture of this and send it back home. I’ve got some friends who wouldn’t believe it, but the doormen put stickers on everyone’s phones, covering the cameras. No record. No trace. As though the night never happened.
In one room, towards the back, indescribable things were happening. Things no one should ever really see in public places. It was in the corner, and rather than its own room, there were these half-built walls with square internal windows. I poked my head through in a comedic way, the way I’d only have the balls to do after a few drinks. There were people treating other people like animals… and so much flesh.
I left and went back to one of the many other rooms.
Someone with chains around their neck and a leather jacket said something to me I couldn’t hear and I replied: ‘Yes, exactly’. I nodded as though I knew exactly what they’d said. The music thumped and I slipped between bodies and away from whoever that was.
And then there it was on the wall.
I looked up to see a collage of photos: a boy playing football. A group of kids taking an exam. A play being enacted: King Lear or something.
And I swear to you, I’m telling the truth. In those pictures, the boy is me.
It’s my whole school life mapped out in photographs. In my little blue uniform, and Mrs Moreau, my teacher, holding my hand on a school trip. There was Jorg, the German boy I knew, and Michel, Tomas and Manon. Kids I haven’t seen since school. Kids I hadn’t even thought a moment about since, well, since the day I left. And I thought, how much time has even passed? 10 years? 15 years? I think it’s nearly 20 now. And what if they were all here? Back in this school, back in this nightclub? What if I turned around and they’re all there, and someone said to me: ‘Lucas, what’s happened to you? What are you doing here? What are you doing with your life?’ And then, what if - before I even have time to blink - another 10, 15, 20 years passes? And we’re older, some of us are grey, some of us might have died too young, some of us might have chronic diseases, or become addicted to hard drugs, or become insomniacs and turned into dull-eyed nobodies. What if we were overweight parents with all the creativity, all the thirst for life zapped out of us? Just inane nothingness - emptiness - with nothing to say other than how nice or not nice the weather is.
And all this overwhelmed me. I couldn’t hear the music anymore. I couldn’t see anyone around me.
I felt alone in an empty classroom, with the early morning sun peeling in and the clock reading ten minutes to nine, telling me I was early for class.
And then tears started to peel down my cheeks and I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.