I first met Gaja in Rome, where myself and my friend had shared a hostel room with her and her two friends. They were on holiday from Slovenia. I was very taken with her. When it was time for us to leave, she gave us her email address and told us to get in touch with them when we were in Ljubljana (the capital of Slovenia, which we were planning to pass through on our way to Croatia).
On the way up to Slovenia, I emailed her asking if she'd like to go out while I was in her hometown. She did.
For the next few days I talked to her friend Urška over facebook, trying to get the right angle on this thing but knowing that, inevitably, some of the conversation would trickle through to Gaja. Urška was very much caught up in the high-school intrigue of it all, I think, giving me advice on not being too shy and how girls like to play hard-to-get, as though I’d never so much as glimpsed at after-school teen television. I was just grateful for what little I could glean about what Gaja actually wanted from all this.
So we rolled into Ljubljana and I emailed Gaja. I asked her out for a drink, having been informed by Urška that she would hate a romantic dinner. She said yes.
The next day, the nerves came and went, as they always do before a date. My friend and I did the walking tour and walked up to the castle, but for me we were just filling in time until I got to see her again.
Finally, I was waiting out the front of our hostel. I knew more or less what to expect. I knew she was devoutly Catholic, so the prospect of sex was highly unrealistic. But that was okay.
She arrived at exactly 5:30, and she was just as beautiful as I remembered. Different; memory seems to warp faces until they fade into obscurity, but then you see them again and the image is refreshed.
Short brown hair, pale skin, perfect curves, long legs (I was remembering that more from Rome, where she frequently wore shorts; here she was wearing jeans for the colder weather). Her eyes were brown, and her voice was flavoured with a sexy-as-hell eastern Europe accent (although she would claim it was “central Europe”).
We walked to a bar together, while I tried to impress her with the few words of Slovene, mispronounced, that I had taught myself. The bar was on the bank of the Ljublenski River. I ordered a beer and she some tea, for her cold, which didn’t seem to be having any effect on her appearance. We talked about politics, sociology, alcohol, religion, marijuana and a little science. We talked about how Heisenburg’s work proved freedom of choice, or as I said provided evidence of it, which conformed with her Catholic theology. She seemed quite happy about that. When we talked about religion, she didn't seem to mind that I didn't share her beliefs, which was nice. I told her that I thought religion does a lot of good in the world; it gives those who believe in it a great deal of comfort and motivates them to do good things. She saw right through my condescending bullshit, though. "You mean we delude ourselves into doing good things?" she said, laughing it off. I was embarrassed, but she wasn't offended.
Of course, she knew about everything Urška and I had talked about. Girls always seem to do that. She certainly knew that I was interested in her, and I was getting more certain that she was interested in me.
After quite some time I suggested we go for a walk. She agreed and added that we should walk up to the castle.
Gaja insisted on paying, which I protested against but, as a backpacker, was privately thankful for. She recounted a time when her date had refused to let her pay her share, and the waiter had ignored her and listened only to the male. (That was in no danger of happening here as she was the only one who spoke Slovene.) She was growing on me more and more.
As we walked the steep path to the castle, Gaja told me about her Scout troup and a scavenger hunt in which the kids had run at full pace up and down the gravel walkway.
At the castle, we climbed the wall and looked down at the city. It was more of a large town, really, but a very friendly one. There I held her hand for the first time. I kept insisting that I thought Ljubljana was lovely. She suggested that I may have had other reasons for thinking so. She was probably right, but it was lovely either way.
We found a bench in the courtyard. I put my arm around her. She smiled and she said that I was having the European romance I’d hoped for, and she was having the Roman one she’d hoped for. If not in quite the way we had imagined.
I kissed her. She kissed me back. I still couldn’t believe my luck. She was definitely one of the most attractive people I've ever kissed.
We broke apart, and she told me she hoped it wasn’t too bad, since it was her first. I said I was sorry that she had to waste it on me. She said that it wasn’t a waste.
She had been worried that it would never happen, her first kiss, since she had turned down so many other guys who were interested. I could believe that, but I wasn’t sure that I believed she had chosen me.
We kissed again, and we sat there until I started to shiver. She berated me for not bringing a sweater. I admitted, somewhat embarrassed, that I didn’t wear mine because it looked silly. She told me, quite rightly, that that was a stupid reason. After another long kiss, we locked hands and started walking to warm up. Back down the precarious path into the city. We found another park bench. Once again the two of us sat, made out, held hands. She laid her head on my shoulder. I knew the night was coming to an end.
Too soon, Gaja said that she had to go home. I didn’t want to say good night. I just wanted to keep kissing those beautiful lips, over and over. I told her, completely honestly, that I would stay out all night with her if I could. But she was due back. I asked her if she would stay in touch. She said that she probably wouldn't, that staying in touch doesn't make much sense if you're never going to see each other again. She felt like it was a false type of relationship. I could see her point, but i was disappointed. We walked a little further together, then that was it. It was kind of the virgin equivalent of a one-night stand.
The rest of the way back to the hostel, I couldn’t seem to decide whether to cry or to grin. When I got there I sat down in the bar for a while. I could feel the tears building in my eyes and my chest, but I managed to hold most of them in. Some escaped.
I wrote an email to her while I was there. Later, I wrote down what I wanted to say:
“Hi, Gaja. I know how you feel about "staying in touch", but I think I need to get this off my chest.
I really like you and I genuinely wish I could spend a lot more time with you. You're intelligent, articulate, pretty, sexy, principled, truthful, sensitive, perceptive, everything I'm attracted to. I'm very happy that I met you and that we got to be alone together. There's no way I would take that back. But I'll never see you again, and I'm truly sad about that.
Good luck with your studies. I hope you have an incredible life and that one day you meet the perfect man for you.
I didn’t write any of that to her, though. I just said “thank you.”