They arrive on high-speed trains and budget flights. They travel light. They pass through security scanners and station forecourts, flat-share websites and admin offices. They come for work or love or direction; they leave for the same reasons. The city embraces them, but its arms are cast so wide that they cannot feel its pull. They must choose, over and over again. (The Meantime -prologue)

Two weeks ago I attended an event at Waterstones bookstore. The occasion was the presentation of a collection of short stories written by 9 writers from Brussels. They gave a very interesting presentation complete with readings acted out by the writers which only reinforced my earlier decision to buy the book. I am not quite sure where I first heard about this collection, but the idea of it intrigued me from the start. 9 young writers from different countries, all writing a story taking place in Brussels. Personally I have always found it difficult to write about Brussels, preferring Finland as the location for my stories, and I was intrigued to find out what the collection would be like.

The 9 stories all have their own style, but also have aspects in common. They are all about people in their late 20’s or early 30’s who live in Brussels and are confronted with a choice. This is an age where one has to make a decision about the direction of one’s life. To stay with one’s partner or break up? to stay in Brussels or to leave? to follow one’s dream or settle for the stable income? While some of the stories take place in the Brussels familiar to me, filled with expats and EU institution offices, there are also stories about the Brussels underworld.

I liked the dreamlike atmosphere  in The lovely streets by Olivier Gbezera and From Brussels South to Ottignies by Monica Westerén. I also enjoyed the subtle humour in stories such as the Bear Dance by Edina Docí and The Commissioner and the Pig by Nick Jacobs. There are also several other stories worth reading in this collection, which is particularly interesting for us Brussels expats who cannot seem to decide what kind of place it is we have ended up in.

Here are a couple of samples from the collection to give you an idea of the varying styles and themes.

The lovely streets
Olivier Gbezera

Under the dark moon the lonely streets all look the same. Too many details follow you, look at you, silently ask you what you are doing out at such an ungodly hour, when everyone else is sound asleep. The silent disapproval is not lost on you, as you walk a little bit faster, think of short cuts, avoid dark alleys.

Bear Dance
Edina Dóci

I like to hear about people with mental problems. I also like to talk to them. If something has broken in the machine you can try to fix it. Simon is always fine, unfailingly stable, like a swiss watch. It’s difficult to get into long conversations with a swiss watch. ‘How are you?’ ‘I’m fine, thanks.’ Do you want to talk about it? ‘Tick tock. Tick tock.’ Sometimes I wish he had collapsed, I wish his mother had died or he had been fired from his job, I wish he had been molested by his father when he was a child. I’m good at solving problems, comforting people.

From Brussels South to Ottignies
Monica Westerén

Sleep and dreams are my escape; an off-piste route at work. Dormire, sova, dormir, to sleep, slapen, nukkua – in which langiage will the passengers sleep today? When work is about travelling from A to B, day after day, the same scenery chugging by, you need a cave to retreat to. Sleeping is not quite a remedy, but dreams are a strong palliative for the aches and pains of adjusting to a life that isn’t yours. When I sleep, I dream, and when I dream I am alive.

Alternative Businesses
Enrique Medarde
Eight hours later, I was running like a madman down Rue Haute.
I had spent the night in Parc Royal – something I usually don’t do, but I was feeling regal – and got up refreshed and ready for a new day. Suddenly, as I was making instant coffee on my camping stove I heard somebody sneaking up behind me. When you’ve lived on the streets for a while, you know better than to turn and greet the stranger, so I picked up the wooden box and started to run. I heard a man cursing behind me, and a couple of gunshots that fortunately missed me. I looked back and saw a bald man brandishing a baseball bat. The other guy with the gun reminded me of a b-movie action hero; he was wearing round sunglasses and a ponytail.

For more information about The Meantime and the writers please see the website and the Facebook page.