I’m used to it. I’m used to people looking at me. They want to ask “What do you have on your face?”. But they don’t dare. Face is difficult. The body can be covered: long sleeves, long skirts, shawls. But not face. I used to put lots of make up but I developed acne. You must put lots of cover to make the redness vanish. Actually, it didn’t quite work – I looked like in a mask and people still watched me. “You can live with it”, the doctor said. Sure. You can live even when you are paralysed. I can’t complain. “It developed because of allergy. You will have to avoid certain kinds of food”. “Like what?”, I asked. “Bread. Milk. Chocolate. Red wine…” “I guess with wine it won’t be difficult”, I retorted. Being sarcastic helps. So I feed on chicken with rice. ­Apples. I am slim, but who cares? I would look great in a swimming costume if only I could wear it. It’s better in winter, but I won’t go swimming when it snows. There is pollen in the air. I should avoid going out. I should stay at home and play with my cat. Paradoxically I’m not allergic to animals.

He looks at me and smiles. What is he doing here? He looks perfectly healthy. OK, it’s my turn. The doctor prescribes me some steroids. Nothing new. I can only shrug. When I leave the clinic, the boy is still sitting on the chair and smiling, smiling at me. I feel I am red, I shouldn’t get nervous, then the whole body becomes itchy, I can’t help scraching. Finally I am at home, hugging my cat. My parents are not here, which is better – I don’t have to pretend I am happy, I don’t have to show I understand my situation is not that bad, is it? It’s only I have never had a boyfriend. It’s only the boys look at me with disgust. “The she-snake. Her skin falls apart. She will break into pieces”, it seems they are hissing, laughing secretly. Once there was somebody. He tolerated my red face, he said it didn’t matter. Endless conversations, walking on the pier in Sopot, white benches full of our laughter. Then tears. He got closer. “Aren’t you hot in this scarf?”, he asked. Took it off delicately. Saw my neck and it was a moment, a moment before he managed to hide. Disgust. Like a cloud on the clear sky. Now I simply don’t believe, it is easier. Perhaps I should try an Internet relationship.

I’m invited to a party, my best friend’s birthday. Fortunately I have a best friend, well, I’m lucky. What should I wear? It’s hot, it’s too hot. Fortunately in the evening the sky becomes darker and the grayness brings wind and colder air. I put on my favourite dress. It’s made of silk, perfect for my itchy body. A present from my father, I think it must have cost a fortune. A big, blue scarf, it seems it cools me down. But the party is a big mistake, there are only couples! Nice food, my friend cooks like an angel, but I’m so sad I simply return home. I climb the stairs and see a shadow at the top. Somebody’s waiting. The darkness reveals the figure I seem to know. It’s the boy from the clinic!

“What are you doing here?”, I ask. “Let me explain”, he says. “I… I don’t know, I saw you in the clinic and I decided I simply have to know you better”. “How did you get my address?” “I stole it”, he laughs. “I stole it in the clinic”. His eyes are warm almonds. I am tempted to shout “Go away!” I am tempted to tell him, to show him my red arms, to disillusion him as quickly as I can, to prevent me from dreaming. But I resist. It is like itching, but I don’t. I can dream, at least for a moment, I haven’t done it for a long time.

It is him who finally says, after we’ve been going out together for some time. “I know what you’re hiding. I don’t mind. My sister has the same condition. I went to the doctor for a prescription for her. I know – some red spots on your skin. But it’s not the end of the world – is it? I am used to it, I really don’t mind”. But I can’t, I can’t show it, I’m so ashamed. When he gets closer, I try to regain the distance. “It’s better as it is”. I tell him.

It is as it is for half a year. And he wants to spend New Year’s Eve with me. I’ve got a real boyfriend! I want to shout and cry and jump! For Christmas he gives me a small package, something thin and light wrapped in red paper full of angels. I unwrap the paper and inside there is a page, printed out. I unfold it and – no – two plane tickets to Lisbon! I can’t believe it! I had always dreamt about going to Portugal. No, but I can’t, I can’t take them. “No, I can’t”, I say. “It’s too much… and my parents…” “I’ve talked to your parents”, he says. “They agreed. They liked this idea”. So I have no choice.

We are in Lisbon and the dreams have become true. The only things is that I can’t think about us as being a real couple. We behave like friends. We don’t even hold hands. Oskar is very delicate, he doesn’t press me. I’m afraid of any physical contact. Touching is opening wounds. We are sitting in a cafe, the view of Lisbon is astonishing. One of the romantic evenings I’ve had so many now. But this time it is different. He gets closer and, yes, he says it. “I love you”. It’s not trivial. I’ve heard it so many times in movies, read in books. I thought it’s trivial. But it’s not. It’s the most beautiful moment in my life. But then I panic and simply run away. Running in Lisbon: narrow streets, constant up and down, up and down, getting lost, making circles. It gets dark and I return to the hotel. The room is empty, there is only a message on the table. “You aren’t allergic to pollen: you are allergic to love. Don’t look for me”. I fold the paper and run again – I take a taxi and rush to the airport. I can see the light board and “Warsaw” on it in red letters. Oh, no, it’s only five minutes! I rush to the gates and try to get in, but I don’t have a ticket or a boarding card – so nobody lets me in. Finally I jump over a gate and run to the plane, people running after me, and I shout “Maaa – cieek!” No, it’s too late. It has taken off. I turn back – and I see him, smiling. “Hey, and I thought you have no passion”, he says and opens his arms. And I think it’s magic – I find myself in his arms – and we are kissing! Circled by guards. “I couldn’t leave you alone”, he says. After all, it was supposed to be the most romantic New Year’s Eve in your life. And it is going to be.

Improve your vocabulary!

acne – trądzik
shawl – szal
regain – odzyskiwać
pier – molohold – trzymać
astonishing – zdumiewający
unwrap – rozwinąć