Sous Chef – In Memory of Nicolas Leslie

by Abhinav Kukreja

Through one of the many tainted windows of a deserted night club in Berlin, I can see dawn breaking in. We’ve been here two hours, and I can’t remember most of it. In the background, a Swedish DJ plays unfamiliar techno music, that frankly feels a little out of place. I feel like I’m in a constant battle between urging all the muscles in my body to feel the alcohol, and not caring at all.

My watch tells me it’s a little too late to still be up, and considering the fact that it took us two hours to get in, this experience really doesn’t seem worthwhile. I look around, and clearly, everyone disagrees with me. I feel like a clown at a children’s party, wearing a happy mask. I’ve always wondered how clowns feel behind the mask. Are they really happy or sad? Or is it no emotion at all? Tonight, I’m trying to figure that out for myself.

Funny part is, I’m okay when I’m completely sober. I’m also okay when I’m a little tipsy. The problem arises when I try to have some fun. It’s hard not to think of Nick when I’m trying to have fun. In his own twisted way, Nick managed to associate himself with everything that was fun about our trip. So every time I find myself at a bar in Nice, or a disco in Amsterdam, or a night club in Berlin, all I’m doing is seeing, through my groggy eyes and foggy mind – him. And no, I haven’t lost my sanity. I’m not hallucinating. I know he’s not there. I don’t feel his presence. On the contrary, actually. I feel the lack of his presence. And I don’t know which one is more depressing.

In economics, they teach us about opportunity cost. For me, having fun, or ‘letting myself go’, has a really high opportunity cost. I have to be someone who I’m not, and while it’s always a delightful experience, its often too much work. In economic terms, the marginal benefit of me having fun far exceeds the marginal cost. Well, with Nick, the opportunity cost of having fun was practically nothing.

I fade in.

I’m still at the night club. I look for a comfortable place to sit. I look around, but I cannot see my friends or the girls we entered with. The Swedish DJ is still playing unfamiliar techno music. Giving up, I find a place to sit inside a small booth a few feet away. I’m sharing it with two girls, who’re smoking. Usually, tobacco would give me a headache, but that’s the least of my worries. Funny how death can make every other problem seem so puerile.

I fade out.

I’m sitting across from Nick at fancy restaurant in the french riviera. The waiter is standing behind my shoulder, and talking to Nick in broken Italian, while Nick tries to talk to him in broken French. I’m trying to read the french menu. I get the chicken. He gets the menu. He always gets the menu. The food arrives. It tastes great, but I have to pretend not to like it, because that’s what Nick is doing too. ‘Ah, it’s good Salmon but I can do it better. How did they screw this sauce?’ I don’t believe him.

My thought process is broken by an abrupt ‘What’s up’.

I fade in.

It’s the girls sitting next to me.

‘Oh nothing, really. I’m just kinda tired’ I lie to them. I’m not tired at all. Not physically, at least.

‘Whats that accent?’ One of them asks me, in her very British voice.

‘I’m from India, but I got to school in California’

They tell me their names. I forget instantly. They offer me a smoke. I tell them I spotted my friends and walk away.

The alcohol is still not kicking in. I check my watch. It’s five minutes to six.

I fade out again.

We’re up to our shoulders in water in the mediterranean sea, on a small island right off the french coastline called Corsica. A football races the wind as it zips towards me in supersonic fashion. I try to head it away, but I miss the ball and fall face first in the water. I come out, almost cursing. ‘Dude, what the fuck. I wasn’t looking’. Nick doesn’t care. He would do it again, if he got the chance.

‘Admit it, you just suck at soccer’. He laughs. I make excuses again.

I fade in.

‘What’s up with you man? Why aren’t you having fun?’ I hear a familiar voice. It’s one of my friends.

‘Meh, I’ve had a long day, man. Plus this isn’t really my scene’ I lie to him. This is totally my scene. Just not without Nick. Reality sets in. I’m in a night club in Berlin, living with complete strangers. I’ve also been a victim to a recent terrorist attack. I shake off the thoughts. I go to the bar again. I get a shot of tequila.’

I fade out again.

I’m in the fan-zone, in Nice. Italy is playing Germany, and the match goes to penalty shootout. Nick, me, and two Italians hustle around, praying that Italy win. I don’t even like Italy, but Nick promised he’d go to Marseille with me for the actual game if Italy qualified. I’m really praying Italy win. Fourteen kicks later, I see a tear rush down Nick’s face, as the german fans around us cheer in unison. It’s over. I’m shocked. Football’s always been more than a religion to me. Now I know why.I buy him a few rounds of shots at his favorite bar to cheer him up. We end up at a nightclub a couple hours later. Very classic Nick.

I fade in again.

I try to think about the first day I met him. I cannot. I try to think about the last time I saw him. ‘Return my polo, you asshole’. He said. Very classic Nick. The last word he said to me was ‘asshole’. I still have his polo. I’m going to keep it. To kill time, I decide to go check out the restrooms. They’re classic Berlin. Drunk Germans peeing on graffiti. I try to picture him getting hit by that bus. I really cannot.

I fade out again.

I wake up to heavy knocks on my door. I’m in Nice. I open the door, shirtless. ‘What’s up guys, I’m a little sick. Trying to sleep it off.’‘Dude!’ It’s Max Park. ‘There’s been an attack. We thought you were missing. We can’t find Nick.’

I don’t remember the next few minutes, but I’m in the lobby with a hundred or so students, holding on to each other, hurdled in small groups. It’s chaos. Over the next few hours, every single person who was missing comes back, except three kids. Nick is one of the three. We make jokes about how he’s partying in Monaco. I almost believe it. It’s hard to imagine him dead.

I fade in.

My thoughts are interrupted by a change in DJ. I can hear it upstairs. The music is a little familiar so I go back to the dance floor. I run into the girls from the booth again. They chuckle to see me alone again. I smile back. I find my friends. The music is still disappointingly unfamiliar. No vocals, just techno beats. It feels like everyone but me is on Molly. I look around, and everyone’s dancing like a zombie. I go to the bar again. I’m out of cash.

I fade out again.

It’s just flashes of incoherence this time. Nick’s father, Conrad, calls me to tell me Nick didn’t make it. I’m almost breaking down at the airport. Next, I’m choking while giving a speech during Nick’s vigil. Then, I’m going on a pub crawl with his parents to celebrate his life.

I fade in.

I want to leave. I decide to walk and get some fresh air. Its seven in the morning, and the night club, even though I’m standing right outside, feels like a distant memory- a whole new universe really. I check my phone. I walk towards the east, hoping to make sense of the unfamiliar german streets.

I fade out again.

It’s Nice. It’s five in the morning, and Nick and I, after a typical night, are getting kebabs next to the beach. ‘We keep spending so much on these meals that you don’t even like. Why can’t we just have kebabs all the time?’

‘Because we only like these when we’re drunk’ he smartly points out. ‘It’s good that you always hang out man. Half the kids in this program can’t even rally’ We’ve been getting drinks, kebabs and going out clubbing for two weeks straight.

‘Of course, man. They’re soft’ I joke. I didn’t use that word to describe people before I met him. He’s contagious.

‘You’re like my sous chef’ he jokes. I hate the fact that I agree.

We walk towards the residence. It’s a two mile walk, and it’s going to take a while. But we’re invincible.

I fade in.

I’m in Berlin again. The walk is just as long, but I’m alone this time. But that’s not the worst part.  The worst part is that he made me feel invincible and then showed me in the cruelest way how I fragile I really am. I don’t think I can make it.

I fade out.

                                                                         *** *** ***

A special thank you to my EIA family, specially, John Philip Josi, Noelle Forougi Paige Basconcillo Romy Attias Raychel Justice Anjali Banerjee Ken Singer Max Park , Kevin Park, Monika Tarvydytė, Gabrielė Kriaučionytė and Sasha Gawronska, I really hope none of us have to go through this again, but I’m glad I went through this with you guys. I wouldn’t have been able to cope any other way.
I might have lost a friend, but I’m so extremely fortunate to have gained a wonderful family. Thank you for taking me out to Nick’s favorite bars and restaurants, and sharing that experience with me. You guys are really an inspiration Conrad Leslie, Paola Bottoni Leslie and Fabio Bottoni.