I met River at the skating rink.
It was just another day of the weekend and I was still in school that year.
I was going to the skating rink for the first time. I had never been to a
skating rink before - ever. I could hardly recall a distant memory of putting on
some white ice skates when I had been about five, but it was very blurry, lost in
time and irrelevant… and I wasn’t even sure I could keep my balance on ice, let
alone skate confidently. However, trying something new was definitely
attractive and thrilling. So I decided to do it.
That’s why I was really enthusiastic about the idea of going to the skating
rink. As we headed towards it, in the warm spring air, while the sun was gently
softening its afternoon rays, I was wondering how I would learn the new skill,
but I had no idea what to expect – of myself or the activity.
When I got there with my colleagues, I was very eager to get on with it.
Even if I knew the other boys in the group might laugh at me for being awkward,
I didn’t mind. I was focused on the novelty of the action… waiting for my turn
to get the skates at the reception desk, oblivious of the noise and chaotic chit-
chat going on around me, from happy kids that couldn’t wait any longer to rush
to the rink, I grabbed my pair of skates like some valuable acquisition. They
were a bit heavy and blue – intensely blue, which was somehow a reassuring
color. Something like a guarantee of getting it done right. The sharp blades and
rich nuance breathed achievement. I was more than glad to see they were so
right on my feet; they seemed to have been meant especially for me.
Getting up with the heavy blue skates on was practically an easy task.
Getting in the rink was a bit tricky though. I leaned on the wooden ledge and
stepped ahead. The air was chilly and I could almost smell the ice. There
weren’t many kids on the ring. I watched the area for a moment. The scratched
surface of artificial ice made the few kids that were sliding in chaotic directions
seem bold experts. I decided to try my luck and I let go, dashing ahead. I felt
instantly taller – and I’m not very tall compared to other boys, which makes me
lack advantage, when it comes to girls who choose other taller guys most of the
time. But at that moment, as I was amazingly sliding on the ice, I felt taller,
braver, stronger and definitely better than I had ever been. It was a great
feeling… such a smooth movement. As heavy as the ice skates were on my feet,
it was equally easier to advance in the ring. It was definitely way easier than
walking. It was like riding a kite… like flying over the ground. I felt powerful
and confident. I started to enjoy crossing the length of the oval skating zone,
adjusting the direction to turn… as I got more and more confident, I increased
my speed… and then, I saw her, very closely, glancing at me with a smile –
something about that smile was instantly appealing. There was a certain trust
and admiration in her eyes that made me feel appreciated even if I didn’t know
why… and it made me want to show off a little, to prove that I was worth it.
As her image went by me in a flash, that second was enough for my
thoughts to get caught in the moment: I turned and suddenly, something
unexpected occurred: I didn’t notice that the front rim of the skates was shaped
like a saw, probably to help with artistic ballet schemes, when necessary. But it
worked like an abrupt brake. Making a quick move to speed up, the tip of the
skate got stuck in the ice, so I tripped over and rolled down in less than a flash
of a second. Everything seemed upside down. The ice became the ceiling and
the noise around disappeared. I rolled back over and recovered my view of the
entire zone. At that moment, I felt a bit dizzy and cold. And then I noticed her
again: standing there, next to me.
“Are you okay? Do you need any help?” she asked.
She seemed slightly concerned and serious, as she was glancing at me.
Brown dark eyes, like silent lakes, deep oceans were staring beyond the
carefully arranged locks of long hair. I could feel the cold frozen ice beneath my
jeans and the first image that came to my mind was a cup of hot chocolate. Then
I realized a girl was looking at me as I was down on the skating rink surface.
How embarrassing, I thought and I frowned a little.
„Thanks. I’m fine”, I mumbled and got up shaking off the snowy dust I had
gathered on my clothes while tumbling down.
„I’m also new at this, but if you want to keep your balance you have to
avoid gaining too much speed. Just take it one step at a time. No complicated
And she went ahead, sliding gently on the ice, her arms stretched like wings
to the sides, following an invisible line. I went after her, quickly adjusting my
speed to catch up with her. She reached the end of the skating rink and hit the
wooden ledge, leaning on it joyfully.
„I can do this, but I’m not going to make any risky moves”, she said a bit
„So I noticed”.
I smiled. Her style of skating was calm and steady, unlike mine… I wanted
speed and adrenaline. I wanted to prove myself… to myself. And yet, leaning on
the wooden ledge, next to her, I was beginning to forget the reason why I
wanted to get good at skating. It suddenly seemed more important to stand by
her side and simply enjoy the company of that unexpected girl. I noticed she was
a bit taller than me but I didn’t let that ruin my mood. Great, I thought. Another
teen girl that won’t give me the time of day. But I cast the thought aside. It didn’t
seem to matter anymore, in the ring, who was what. And not even the noisy kids,
falling one on top of the other in laughter, didn’t get my attention anymore. I felt
good just being there. She was looking around, her cheeks rosy with enthusiasm.
We were getting warmer from the fast motion. Something seemed just right for
me, being there with her.
”What’s your name anyway?” I asked her.
”I’m River. My name is River Flow.”
”No way! Really? Like a river flow?”… I said amazed, in disbelief.
„Don’t make fun of me.”
“I won’t… you have a really nice name. What shall I call you? River or
“Whatever you prefer. What about you?” she turned to look at me
For some reason, her eyes had a deep intensity, like a determination that
went beyond my power to resist her.
„My name is Will.”
„Ok Will. Let’s see if we can get this skating thing right.”
„I’ll race you!” I challenged her and we started toward the other end of the
I was careful not to fall down anymore. For some reason, even if I wasn’t
an expert at skating, I could get more speed than she would, with her calm,
cautious sliding… so I got ahead of her.
„I win!” I said joyfully, when I hit the wooden ledge that was the finish line.
„Not fair! You skate too fast…” she protested, but she smiled, breathing
deeply. „Do you want to get to the other side?”
When she said the other side, I thought it meant the end of the skating rink.
„Yeah, sure”, I said.
„Let’s go together”.
I was bewildered when I saw her extending a hand to me. The palm was
covered in a woolen, fingerless glove. I took her hand and my head went blank
for a few seconds, while my heart was racing with unexpected emotion. We
started skating together. I could feel the soft woolen texture of the glove on my
skin, but also the firm grip of her fingers, holding my hand in a delicate yet
steady touch. I realized she was the first girl I was skating with… and holding
hands. We had met for only a few minutes, and yet she had already given me so
much more than my recent unsuccessful attempts of girlfriends at school.
Without many words and without any doubts, she had taken in a minute the
courage to be more than the long list of virtual acquaintances, brief encounters
in the hallways, pointless conversations and refused connections that I had
experienced before. She was real… and she was holding my hand… and we
were skating together. I couldn’t believe it.
After a while, she let go of my hand as we arrived on the other side. I felt
an unexplained shade of sorrow, letting her go. Looking around, the skating rink
was suddenly a different landscape. It was flooded by a translucent light in many
colors and the ice seemed grey and sandy, like the surface of the moon. The
edges of the skating rink were disappearing in thin clouds of swirling mist.
„What is this? The twilight zone?” I asked her.
There wasn’t anyone on the skating rink anymore: just us. And I could see
the sunlight appearing from the melting ceiling, the top of a mountain, green
branches, birds flying over our heads, the clear blue sky… I looked at my feet
and saw grass: patches of fluffy grass.
„Is this an illusion?” I asked her again, because she was silent.
She didn’t appear surprised by anything that was around us.
„It’s not an illusion. It’s a skating rink”.
And she smiled. I looked at her, forgetting about the meaning of what she
had said. The pure innocence of her smile was making me surrender my mind to
a state of amazed contemplation. It was as if I was beginning to notice how
beautiful she was – not a blinding sparkling beauty, but a deeper, a more
overwhelming irresistible kind that glowed from inside out. Like a rising tidal
wave, an undeniable truth.
„Is this what you were hoping for?” she asked, watching me with observant
„What do you mean?”
„I mean when you came here this afternoon. Did you think you would find
so much on this skating rink?”
„I was really hoping to get good at skating. I certainly didn’t expect to find
you… or this…”
“Well, you should be careful what you hope for.”
Her mysterious words intrigued me.
“Because you might get it”, she smiled.
And she started sliding towards the other end, where I could see sunlight
and blossomed trees and birds… She was sliding on ice, through fluffy patches
of green grass… I watched her go, swaying smoothly and calmly like a
determined ship, knowing and keeping direction. She seemed not in the least
worried or surprised by the mirage around us. She might have witnessed it
before. I was still wondering if it was a projection of the skating rink, like a
hologram or something. I started to wonder if she was a part of it. But she felt
very real. I could still remember the touch of her hand. It had been very real to
me. I started to skate after her, moving quickly to catch up. If anything, she was
the miracle… I didn’t care if it was real or not. I could have been just as unreal
myself… who knew and what did it matter? We were there together. And that
was the only thing that meant anything to me, at that moment.
While we were going round and round the skating rink, the elusive images
started to dissipate. The skating area returned to its usual aspect. I saw the noisy
kids again, swarming around and showing off, falling on piles, one after the
other. The people behind the glass screen stopped the music and asked everyone
to leave because it was closing time.
I left with River Flow. My colleagues had already gone home, before I
It was a warm day and the sunset colors filled the streets with random
traffic. The light had a nostalgic feeling to it, or maybe it was our own wish for
the day to never end. I could sense that she was just as happy and just as lost in
thoughts as I was. I knew, only by looking in her eyes: they were glistening with
joy and a bit of regret because it was evening and the day was coming to an end.
We stopped for a few seconds, waiting for traffic lights to change. As we
glanced around, she sighed:
“It was a great day! I really enjoyed the skating rink!”
“Me too! We’ve got to come again soon.”
She looked at me. I wondered what she was thinking. The radiating smile
on her face was hinting to a state of mind when you’re feeling very much alive
and you’re ready for anything… to explore the world, to do something crazy…
that kind of exhilarating mood when you feel you’re invincible and
immeasurably happy about the wonderful unpredictability of life.
“Look”, she said.
I stared at the parking space where I saw many motorbikes.
“I want one of those someday”, she said.
“No! Really?? Me too!”
I couldn’t believe we liked the same things. It was one of my dreams, to get
a motorbike one day and run away to the end of the world. Across the black
metal fence of the parking lot we could see the bay and the light spreading like
orange shiny tin on water. I could almost ask if the ocean had always been there.
It felt as if I was looking at it for the first time.
“Let’s get one and run away”, she said.
I knew she was just daydreaming about it, but I joined her game. I knew we
weren’t going to do that right then and there, but just the thought of it seemed as
if the real thing was about to happen. It was more than enough – it seemed it was
everything that would ever matter at that moment. Pretending we would do that
for real made us believe we were seriously going to. I liked the idea of running
away together. It implied total complicity in sharing our lives, our dream,
getting lost in the adventure of a promising tomorrow. I could instantly see
myself driving, while she would have her arms around me, holding me… like a
perfect vacation picture. A total adventure…
I looked at the parked bikes. We were free to think about it… absolutely
free to dream it could be real. Life was at our feet...
“Ok… which one should it be? Do we pick the black one? The black one,
or the black and white?”
“The black and white. That’s better.”
“Agreed. And where shall we go?”
“We’ll go to Africa first.”
“Our parents won’t know where to look for us.”
“We’ll send them postcards”.
She leaned on the street light and stared dreamily down the alley. That was
how I liked to remember her, in the years to come: hopefully staring ahead,
towards some adventurous, free and unpredictable future where we would go
round the world together, forever… It was something so enticing, like a never-
ending story, like the light across the bay, swaying in the horizon… a
perspective of infinite opportunities, an idea of an open road, a certainty that
anything was possible as long as we were together… and it captured my soul
I wondered if I was already and possibly irreversibly in love with her. But I
didn’t ask myself too many questions: enjoying the evening was like the
immensity of the universe before us… a moment like that when you only want
to live, to feel, and not worry about anything… not even about another
We crossed the street.
The peaceful spring night was already falling around us.
“Will I see you again?” I asked her when we separated.
“Yes, Will… you will”.
And I could feel her smiling through the darkness, her eyes glistening with
sweetness, depth and something intense that was fixed on me, almost
intimidating in its determination…
“Am I going to see you at the skating rink next time?”
“For sure”, she answered.
“Well then… good night.”
And she disappeared.
I returned home beginning to feel anxious, worried and alone. I had to tell
myself I would find her again the next day, just to discard the shroud of doubt
that was clouding my mind.
However, I didn’t find her the next day. And not the day after that either…
Ten years passed by and I didn’t get to see her again. Not even once.
I couldn’t forget about her. I kept going to the skating rink, weekend after
weekend, year after year, but no sign of her anywhere… Nothing unusual like
that happened again either: the surreal landscape, with fluffy grass on ice and a
clear blue sky ceiling, sunshine and birds... it seemed to have been more like a
dream. But I still believed it had been true. It must have been real. Nothing
could erase the memory of the touch of her hand with woolen glove, holding
mine as we were skating together. Sometimes, I remembered our plan to go
around the world on a motorbike… I was so determined to meet her again, that I
kept visiting the skating rink very often. So often, it became an addiction.
In time, I became a skating trainer… a trainer for kids, but still a good
trainer. And the skating rink became my playing field: my territory. The
memory of River Flow became a flashing brief moment from another life.
Sometimes I wondered where she was in the world. Sometimes, I wondered if
she actually was in the world. Sometimes I wondered if she was only in my
mind – and I had invented her. She had been too good to be true, I often thought
to myself. I must have created her - made her up from thoughts and wishes of
my mind. Dreamed about her existence… Otherwise, how would I understand or
justify her inexplicable absence?...
I got used to the idea that life did not give us more than a glimpse of what
And then, one day, it happened. The moment I had been waiting for, along
the course of ten years in a row – that sometimes felt like ten centuries – had
As I was helping some kids tie the laces of their skates, I noticed someone
standing next to me.
“Can you give me a hand with my skates too?” she asked me.
I looked up… and there she was. Just like that, out of nowhere. I didn’t
have any problem recognizing her because she looked just the same. She was the
same teenager from ten years ago. She hadn’t changed a bit. She even had the
woolen fingerless gloves on.
“River?...” I asked in disbelief, while I almost couldn’t breathe from the
shock of recognizing her appearance. “Is it really you?”
“Yes, it’s me…”
“But how is it possible? Where have you been for so many years?”
She looked down, as if feeling a bit guilty.
“Well, I know it’s been a long time to you… But time is not the same for
me. And it was for the better, you’ll understand. Look at you now: a real skate
“Don’t change the subject. Why did you leave? Why did you disappear?”
The feeling of bewilderment was replaced by anger. I could feel the years
of frustration going to my head. I wanted to ask her, to shout at her: how could
you leave me alone for so long?? But I swallowed my words. I was breathing
fast, too angry to even speak.
“I can see that you’re upset”, she continued diplomatically. “Come on, I’ll
She skated ahead, crossing the rink. Looking at her as she was gaining
distance, I wondered how we would deal with the difference between us. To me,
ten years had gone by. To her, time seemed to just begin.
“I’m not a teenager anymore”, I said, and she replied, without turning
“That’s where you’re wrong”.
She paused at the end of the rink. I followed her to the glass window where
the people who supervised the skating area stood watching.
“Look”, she said.
I glanced beyond the glass window. Instead of people, I saw a bed, in a
room. It looked like a white hospital room. Someone was in there, tied to a
breathing machine, unconscious. I froze, recognizing my own image from ten
“What is that? Another illusion?”
“Don’t let it scare you. And it’s not an illusion… it’s you. It’s the real you.”
I stared at her, not willing to understand. I felt very real as I was. But what
she was trying to say was scaring me, even if I didn’t know the meaning of it. I
had a feeling I didn’t want to know the meaning of it anyway. Something from
her deep reassuring eyes gave me confidence. Something gentle and sweet, like
a total acceptance, made me feel better. I took a breath.
“Tell me”, I said. “Tell me the truth.”
I was ready to hear it. At least it would come from her. It couldn’t be that
bad: she had been my focus for ten years. She had been my long time invisible
companion. I trusted her.
“The truth is that you are over there… and you are right here too.”
“What, like in a parallel world?”
“Maybe. You can see it that way if you want. In that room, you’re still a
teenager. You’re not a trainer and you’re not ten years older. Do you remember
your first day here? Only a few weeks have actually passed since your first visit
to the skating rink. When you tripped, you hit your head and went into a coma.
You’ve been in that state ever since.”
“But my life… it means I haven’t actually lived these last ten years? How
can that be? Was I just unconscious? I remember it like a movie: ten years of my
life, becoming a trainer… do you mean it was just a dream?”
“You can take it both ways: it could be only a dream and it could be that
you actually stepped into a parallel universe and became a trainer. But you are
timeless, somehow. And so am I.”
I looked at her. She seemed seriously and deeply thoughtful.
“What about you? Who are you, River Flow? How do you appear and
disappear – and then appear again?”
Her intense eyes glistened with a smile.
“I am like the flow of life, the endless river that runs free. You can come
along with me, or you can remain in that room forever. It’s your choice. But
Will – you must find the will to decide… soon, before the breathing machine
“Is the machine going to do that? Is it going to shut down?”
“If you don’t wake up very soon, it will.”
“Do I have a choice between waking up and remaining here? Is that what
I didn’t want to choose. I wanted to be with her.
“Will I find you in the other world if I wake up?”
She stared deeply into my eyes, as if she didn’t want to reveal the answer.
There was a veil of mystery in her glance.
“I can’t guarantee you that I’ll meet you in the other time – or the other
world, as you wish to consider it. But I can promise you I’ll never abandon
“Are you some sort of an angel?”
She shrugged and looked away.
”People believe what they want to believe…”
I continued guessing:
“Are you a metaphor? Are you going to tell me that life is a skating rink
and we mustn’t go too fast?”
“Life is like a skating rink, that’s true. You go round and round… but you
never go back. You must take the moment as you find it – and live it as it comes.
Because it never returns.”
“Are you the energy of life?’
“You shouldn’t wait any longer.”