Kozłowski and Louka
They met without ‘preconceived ideas’ about their world. They meant the world they would make for one another. When apart, they were often ‘in pain’. This was their truest ‘commonality’. They used such words. The source of pain mattered little. Hers tended to be political, developments in the public domain that affected the lives of many. His tended to be personal, a perceived lack of development in his own life. They imagined both sources of pain were interchangeable—a matter of aesthetics: of how their senses guided them to the same outcome, which they apprehended in terms of an enclosure. They were enclosed. They felt built inside a substance. A wall. Yet each of them moved freely within their respective wall-substance, which took great effort. He had tried to kill himself twice. She had never tried, which also required considerable effort. There was nothing melodramatic in either approach. His was defined by failure, hers by success. Whatever, they thought. Failure and success amounted to the same thing: living. Their oddest feature (a commonality of lesser importance, if you asked them) was that they called each other by their last names. In Prague, he had told her: ‘I want us to go further next time, Louka’. She had not answered. When he returned his fingers to her breasts, she felt well prepared to take things as they came. She relished the feeling and whispered: ‘Kozłowski’.
The Prague meeting was their third. They’d both hoped to see the city, having heard how beautiful it was, but had limited time and so prioritised staying in the hostel room, which was blue. It was her favourite colour. He had no favourite colour and found the idea ridiculous, thinking it a First-World notion, a privilege he was not entitled to. Kozłowski was born in 1986 in the north of Poland. By the time he met Louka, his mother was a registered carer in London. She took care of a woman the same age as her. The woman was bedridden and Kozłowski knew that his mother justified her position in the world by thinking how lucky she was to be in good health. Kozłowski thought often about his mother’s position: forced to be the servant of someone merely born into more than her, while also having to accept this as proof that she had more than her master. It was a complicated position on inequality, Kozłowski told Louka, as he pushed her knees backwards, though there is no way of knowing if this was true. Most information here comes from furious written exchanges during painful periods apart. Interlocutors writing while in pain are not to be trusted.
Nonetheless, there is evidence that the one and only time they went out in Prague, Kozłowski talked of inequality, and that he approved of the disobedient look on Louka’s face. They were in a pub, originally to get a meal, but mostly drank, as they did not like the food. To be precise, Louka did not like it, and she reminisced about exquisite meals in Athens, ‘no matter the shit going on, you know’. Kozłowski felt hurt. He took the rejection of the Czech pub’s food as a general rejection of Central-Eastern European cuisine. But he liked her eyes (as always), so he carried on talking. Louka seemed extremely interested in Poland, which she clearly regarded as more of a situation, or even a condition, than a country. You could tell, because she thought Kozłowski was talking to her about Poland even when he was talking to her about London. The emails suggest that Louka felt tenderness for his continuous references to Poland as, ostensibly, a situation he despised but secretly, and submissively, loved. There’s reason to believe that she wished to be another Poland for him.
He kept ordering for her. She complained that this was patronising, macho, old-fashioned, and he laughed.
‘Do you know anything about Czech beers?’ he asked. Louka shrugged. It was a ‘no’. ‘There you go,’ Kozłowski said, as if the mystery of his disappointing behaviour had been solved.
Yet she didn’t want another beer. He ordered her something stronger and stranger in a language that she kept calling ‘East European’.
She placed her hand on his arm. ‘All I can think about is your cock in my mouth,’ she said (in English, of course) and two men on a nearby table turned and looked at her with pleasant surprise. Kozłowski had gone red instantly. Louka often accused him of being a Catholic, which eventually made him join Razem. She liked telling him that she grew up free from religion, and also of nationalism, in an average Athenian neighbourhood. The second time they met, which was in London, she told him that she’d had sex for the first time on the day that he was born.
‘Really? What time did you have sex then?’ Kozłowski said, ironically.
‘Eight in the morning.’
‘Are you sure? It’s kind of unusual to have sex for the first time at eight in the morning.’
‘Not on a Greek island in August.’
‘So?’ She pressed on, bringing her arms around his neck: ‘Were you born at eight clock in the morning on the seventeenth of August 1986 when my tight, teenage pussy was being stretched by some Italian whose name I can’t remember?’
A third party observing them back then would have found their story rife with stereotypes. But there was no third party. Anyone who’d dared to interfere would have been eliminated. No one had. Kozłowski had few friends he was prepared to talk about this stuff with, while Louka’s many friends regarded as trivial the news of her infatuation with yet another foreigner.
Louka worked for a conservative Greek paper she held in absolute contempt. That’s how they met. She was in Brussels covering the war. It felt like a war. Her side was losing. She was put up in a two-star hotel, which the paper could barely afford. Things were going to hell, and she mused, again, that she’d been right not to have a child. She ate little but drank a lot (ordering for herself, in French). She thought she looked good, but maintained this would be useless when she lost her job. It was February 2015. She found Kozłowski on her way back to the hotel. He was sitting on a park bench, breathing heavily, convinced he was having a heart attack. It was almost midnight. He asked her for help. She was at a loss because she did not know how to call for an ambulance. But the third passer-by she stopped was a doctor, who told Kozłowski that he was not having a heart attack. He was having a panic attack. The circumstances of their meeting gave Louka the upper hand from the outset: Kozłowski felt embarrassed. He felt like this for several hours. The feeling dissipated only near dawn, in her hotel room, as he fell asleep in her arms, over the covers, while politely trying to watch a subtitled Greek film called Morning Patrol.
It was a film about the end of the world (the real world) and its few survivors. He found it predictable. Perhaps it had to do with his falling asleep while watching it, but in his mind the face of the female star was conflated with Louka’s, even though the protagonist’s eyes were brown while Louka’s were grey, like the sky of Brussels. Over breakfast (which she insisted on paying for), she told him the actress was Swiss. But to him she had appeared more Greek than Louka, who seemed Greek enough, although he had no Greek friends and had never slept with a Greek woman. Technically, he had not slept with Louka, but he was certain that he would. These were his thoughts at breakfast, as recorded on email, and they made him laugh a strong, hearty laugh, which misrepresented him to Louka. She formed the opinion that he was congenitally melancholy, yet capable of happiness. Kozłowski had been awarded his doctorate in philosophy two days before they met, and he confessed to Louka that he’d celebrated with some anarchist friends by smashing the windscreens of posh Brussels cars in a fit of aggression that was uncharacteristic of him. ‘No shit,’ Louka had commented, when in reality she craved the story to be true and him to be on her side in the war and she was impressed and proud. She relaxed and took a bite of her croissant, fighting a surge of intimacy, recognition, affection, transgression, awe, and whatever else one might want to throw into the mix called desire.
The fourth time, they met in Athens. Four days of superlative weather. The fifth, in Warsaw. Three nights of rolling on a mattress on the floor before two in a hastily booked Airbnb after she insisted that they deserved and could afford better. That’s when they found out each other’s salary. Curiously, the matter had not arisen. Perhaps it had been avoided. In London, they had stayed in the spare room of Louka’s Greek friends who were on their Greek holiday. They did not meet Kozłowski’s mother. They went only as far as they could walk; public transport was out of the question. They did not feel deprived, because their journey of discovery was focused on each other’s bodies and the psychological reactions generated by their interaction.
In Athens, apart from fucking, they had gatecrashed a Marxist conference conducted mostly in English (but had not stayed long, because ultimately they preferred to talk theory to each other). As expected, they lived in her apartment, which was small, with bad plumbing, yet tastefully decorated, and made them feel adequate and normal. But in Warsaw neither of them felt adequate or normal. This, Kozłowski admitted, was his fault. His salary, paid in złoty was 900 euros. Conservative Poland was investing in young researchers and he had the best post-doc in the sector. So what on earth was he doing living in that dump? Her salary was 1,200 euros, far above average in her country. She had a lot of questions for him. But he only had one.
‘How long do you think we can keep this up, the travel and all?’
It was a revenge question, Louka understood that. Not knowing how to handle it, she replied that she would never ask him to move to Athens and become a construction worker, especially since nothing was being constructed.
In subsequent emails, it became clear that he thought she was looking down on him. He started referring to her ‘western proclivities’, which had driven her to move them to that ‘horrible place, designed for Arabs and their escorts’. He meant the Airbnb, with its open-plan kitchen, its white, faux-leather sofas, its porter, to whom he’d pretended to be Greek (he was relatively dark and thought he could pass), unable to utter a word in Polish. Then again, in the king-size bed of that apartment he had felt, several times, Louka’s mouth going cold, which (he wrote to her) was what happened in the seconds before she came. Louka was moved because none of her past lovers had noted it. She had been unaware herself, and she had finally met a man who etc, etc, etc.
As the months rolled on, in the ongoing war, their desperation grew as their finances deteriorated. Louka lied—first to a friend, then to her parents—and borrowed money for plane tickets to her source of joy. Kozłowski fucked her ‘like there was no tomorrow’ and made her cucumber soup. They were in Warsaw again. He had no one to borrow money from. Inappropriately, he joked that she was trying ‘to live beyond her means’. The quip did not go down well. They made the trip to the faraway airport, the airport for the poor, in silence. Yet holding hands.
The emails that followed included vows. Not vows of commitment, but of the will to not oppress each other, whatever that meant. Kozłowski started seeing a therapist. He was fortunate to find one of the same age and appearance as Louka, explaining that this was greatly motivating for attending the sessions, despite the piles of work on his desk.
‘Are you hoping for transference?’ Louka wrote, pissed off.
‘Ha ha ha,’ he replied, cryptically.Their meetings resumed, mostly limited to Warsaw and Athens, each now feeling like a black comedy. Once, they spent an evening discussing phrases they’d like to see written on their graves. ‘As if’ was Louka’s final choice. Kozłowski’s was ‘Zeitgeist’. They became overly familiar with each other’s urban milieu. Athens reminded Kozłowski of Ukraine. Warsaw reminded Louka of nothing. Despite their mutual aversion to national histories, they started reading each other’s in secret. They drew conclusions that went unsaid but informed the ways they touched. She would cup his balls and choke on his cock until he’d drag her up and kiss her deeply, after which he’d fuck her in a frenzy of need that made him lick her face, and not pull out of her after he came, but stay until he became hard again, which miraculously did (mostly) happen.
Once, they stood in front of the full-length mirror in her bedroom. He behind her, rising like a dark tower. Rather than scrutinise their flawed bodies, they stared at each other’s faces, which carried flawlessly coordinated expressions. Eventually, Kozłowski brought his right hand to the front of her neck and pressed, as Louka had expected him to. The scene was re-visited later, in writing. She wished she could have offered him the same comfort, but admitted she did not know how. He was so much stronger that pretending she could strangle him would have been ludicrous.
The emails after that were animated by implausible escape plans. For example, they considered moving to Iceland, which they knew was impossible because it wasn’t in the European Union. They contemplated quitting their jobs and volunteering with an NGO to help refugees in Greece. Louka started making enquiries until she realised that Kozłowski was too scared to leave his post-doc. He had grown up in near destitution and had once told her that he had no photographs from his childhood because his family had been too poor to own a camera. She had flinched and never forgotten it, because his childhood was in the early 1990s, which she remembered (with guilt, because of the wars shaking neighbouring Yugoslavia) as a time of effortless well-being. The prospect of moving to Poland, jobless and without speaking the language, was null. As much as they liked Amsterdam, their brief visit there told them they’d be pariahs, constantly having to explain their predicament. Immigration had to be avoided at all costs. So there were no prospects, as far as they could see. They’d have to live where each of them had what Louka started calling ‘right of land’. And yet, they refused to succumb, to give up, in the mad hope that the disarticulation of the continent would generate options they were as yet incapable of imagining.
Despite all this, the most likely explanation of what happened was that it was an accident. When I met them, they seemed weary but capable, if I can put it this way, of responding to their surroundings. Kozłowski had agreed to a Mediterranean holiday on the promise that they’d camp out on some beach. He hated the daytime heat but was affable after sunset. My guess is that he was not a strong swimmer and he panicked in the current. Louka must have tried to help by embracing him, in an effort to remind him that she was his singular possible destination (she couldn’t have been in a gravity-led world, there was always down). Louka wasn’t a good swimmer either and preferred to stroll on the beach, end to end, several times a day, as if it were calming to look out to the horizon, which hid more islands and no surprises. Yet she wanted to make Kozłowski ‘feel the place’, as I had heard her say, and swimming was part of it, as was her obsession with cooking local dishes and fucking outdoors, that is, not in or even near the tent. As far as she was concerned, the tent was a cabinet where one could keep unnatural yet potentially useful objects, such as flashlights, clothes, and machines.
To this day, I get palpitations when I recall what I did: taking Louka’s laptop during the catastrophe. They were already extremely far from the shore and nothing could be done, but still I had to act quickly. Perhaps in different circumstances I would have left a note explaining that I did not steal the machine for what it was, but for what I (correctly) suspected it contained. The content held use value for two people up to the point where their lungs had filled with water. After that, it only held exchange value for someone like me. As for you, you are the only hope for restoring the content’s use value. You can use these lessons (or platitudes, if you will) to judge your own life or that of someone close to you. Because a real friend saves from oblivion and preserves for others the humanity, essence, resilience, and even banality of those perished, for ultimately a life has been lived the way it is remembered. I therefore never plan on giving up camping in solitude and leaving things to serendipity, nor on the wonderful sensation of rescuing what is worth rescuing and providing evidence that inconspicuous miracles, such as Kozłowski & Louka, are never absent, even during the most pathetic of times, such as ours.
Kozłowski and Louka is taken from Somesuch Stories 3, which is currently on sale in select book shops in the UK, EU and USA, and is also available for purchase online worldwide.
Photograph by Suze Olbrich