France France France

There is snow today on Canigou, the highest peak in the whole Catalonia, which is also the legendary mountain in Catalan minds. I don’t know how much time it has been there, the snow. These days it has been quite cold, especially for a person coming from a tropical country like me. I was excited, because it was the first time I have ever seen snow in my life.

Despite of the weather, sometimes I managed to open the window, to inhale the cold crispy wind as I used to do when I was small, in the high mountains in the far north of Vietnam where it could be as cold as it is here during the winter, to watch squirrels running and playing on the trees in the sport park nearby, thinking about how France fails me, how inefficient its banking system is, how racist some French people I met are, how the empire betrayed the soldiers who had fought for it in the Algerian War, or maybe many others who fought for it in many other wars “the great country” was involved.

Yesterday it was also cold, I went out for some fresh air because I could not stay in my room all day but it was not so long before I had to come back. I texted Aziz to tell him that I was sorry because I didn’t talk to him properly before when I was near the laundry house when he came by to greet me while I was talking to a Vietnamese girl. He made some remarks, that I was enjoying some air, and that it sounds beautiful to him, the Vietnamese language I was speaking. I told him to come over to have some hot chocolate. He accepted, but he wanted to make me some tea instead, North African tea. He came at first in the kitchen on my floor. But it was cold and I suggested that we go to my room where it was warmer and it would be faster to boil water for the tea.

When we were waiting for the tea, he asked me about the European map I put on my table, in which every country’s name is written in its respective language, on which I put small dots and names of the cities where I am going to study for the two-year masters, with which I told him that I would spend just a semester here in France, then I would go to Scotland and finally Spain. He said it would be very nice to travel, and to study in many universities. And I could tell from his eyes that he was sad about that fact, about what I said that I was trying to improve my French here but I thought there was not enough time to do that, just staying in the country for a few months. Pas assez de temps. Is it that I don’t have enough time to know him better?

We sipped the tea, smoking and talking. He is handsome and desirable, even more so when you stand so close to him. He is French on papers and Algerian by blood. He has beautiful sad eyes which, I imagine, hold in them a repertoire of stories that I would love to know more, spending nights with him talking. He told me he loved the view from my window, the fact that many of my classmates would agree, though in this side of the building it could be very windy, and with the wind comes in dust. About people in the sport park, I don’t care (je m’en fous), I told him.

I am confused by what you tell me. He said, three times in French and once in English, after I told him that I am gay, the fact that he had to ask me again and again, three times in French and twice in English. And he was telling me that he is not gay.

Does he know that I like him?

Almost two months ago, when I first arrived in France for a few days, I was sitting alone on a bench in the sport park when he came and gave out his hand to greet me. “Ça va?” he broke the ice, which I misheard as “savoir” by his strange accent. He asked where I come from, and we talked for a while before his friends asked us to join them for a game in which we threw the metal balls as closely as possible to a designated point. They are really nice, the North African guys, those handsome guys with beautiful eyes, those who, a week later, at the Journée Internationale, even asked me to take photos with them even though we rarely talked, partly due to my rusty French, partly because when I tried to speak, they replied me half in French half in Moroccan or Algerian, which I don’t understand.

I didn’t see Aziz weeks after that. And then one day he showed up, as if out of nowhere, in spite of the fact that we live in the same building. From then on I see him almost every day, numerous times during the day and at night, in the campus, near the library, near the laundry house, on the way downhill to the campus… but we hardly talked properly except for some simple greetings, for he was always with his friends and I was with mine. He would, most of the time, first comment on the weather or the sky, like “It’s really nice today” or “The moon is beautiful”… Then one day I bumped into him when he was walking near the library, we talked, and I told him that the other day when I didn’t have cigarettes, I came to knock on his door but it turned out that a girl is living there. He told me that he changed his room. And the other day we talked about literature, which was interesting. It was always he who talked something that I am interested in. I know he is studying geography, but I don’t know what to talk about geography, except for maps, for which I have a love.

We sipped the tea. And he told me that I should not tell everyone that I am gay. I asked why, and whether it would be dangerous, in the sense that I can face hateful comments or harassment because of that. No, but still, I think you should not tell everyone, just because you don’t know who can be your friends and who cannot, he said.

And he told me about his childhood, about his grandmother who used to live in Rivesaltes concentration camp, about his early years growing up in an immigrant’s neighbourhood, about racism in France, about how hard it is for immigrants’ children like him. I also told him about Robin, the cook I met in the city centre, to whom I was attracted physically, yet whose thoughts I hate, who is fascist and racist though he denied it, who told me how he hates this part of France because there are too many black and Gitan people here, because the city is so poor, so on and on.

During the colonial times, French people went to Africa and Asia and elsewhere and looted almost everything they could from those countries to bring back to France, leaving a mess behind. And they hate people of different races from their former colonies coming to France, those people who have very few chances to go up in the rigid ladders of social classes, those who have limited access to education, those who are likely to end up in the streets stealing, robbing or selling drugs, among other things, because of which, the French French people, in their turn, hate them. A vicious circle it is. Aziz said. I wanted to kiss him without asking, but in the end I managed to hold myself back.

 

Today I think about how France fails me. It has been two months since I first arrived in France but I still don’t have a French bank card. I had to go to the bank numerous times and made requests, again and again. They told me they sent me the cards, but the secret codes always come while the card doesn’t. I made complaints, and suggested that they can give me the card in person, right at the counter. They told me they are not able to do that because it would be against the rules, that it was not their fault that the card was lost, and suggested that I should go to ask the central office of the university residence if there was something wrong. I went to the office and they told me it was not their fault and that I should go to the post to ask for it. I went to the post and they said they could not track letters and it was not their fault. So, is it my fault not having the card sent to my address? I was mad at them and told them that after the vacation if the card doesn’t come, I will close my account there and transfer all my money to a British bank account I managed to open.

I think about the day I went with Diana to Rivesaltes Memorial. It was a sunny day, the sky was blue and the wind was playing my hair. I didn’t know before that there was a concentration camp in this far south of France where they kept and treated people like animals for many years, first the Spanish immigrants who ran from Franco regime during Spanish Civil War, then Jewish people during the Second World War before they were deported on trains to gas chambers in Germany, and then the harkas from Algeria, those soldiers who were hired by French colonial administration to fight for France during Algerian War, who could not have chances to survive in the country after the war, who had to go to France just to be kept in a camp by the very government that used to hire them. They were outright betrayed. It was distressing to see and hear their stories.

And I come to wonder why there are no black French politicians, why there is only one black professor in the whole faculty of letters and humanities in University of Perpignan (and maybe there are not too many such professors in the whole France), and why there is no single author from former colonies in our syllabus while we study a lot of white European philosophers whose ideas, in my class about race, I first knew that were racist. I come to conclude how hypocritical France is when it is always bragging about its motto, which appears everywhere, that reads: liberté – égalité – fraternité while it is too far to be the land of such ideals. Or are they the ideals that we, as human beings, cannot find anywhere on Earth?

 

On se verra. We said when we bid farewell at night. Bonne nuit. I told Aziz yesterday, and in silence the nights I think about him before going to sleep.

Un habitació amb vista en centre del enlloc

I am about to go to sleep, I watch again my room… a map on the table with the lute playing… the wind is howling outside… the night is lonely, moribund…

I have been in France for almost two months but sometimes I wake up, in the morning, or in the middle of the day from short naps, which I have many, it is still unthinkable that I am here, in the south of the country I had been dreaming to come when I was studying French a few years ago. I took my first really long flight, seventeen hours, to Barcelona, the city I would love to discover more. I spoke those first Spanish words in Spain for the first time when I landed early that morning. I took my first TGV from Barcelona to Perpignan, Catalan country bathed in the sun passing by my eyes. I was tired from the journey but excited, to start a journey even longer for the next two years.

Today it was raining, like it had been raining for five days on end two weeks ago. I miss the heat of Saigon, though I don’t miss Vietnamese cuisine, without which I can survive. I rarely have rice, and on very rare occasions that I have it, it is either my Vietnamese friend in the university residence or my classmates, Polish and Colombian, who prepare it for me. I miss the permanent summer there in Saigon, I miss the rains that come and go, without notice, the smell of the soil after the rain. Do I miss Patrick? Un poco, si. I miss the way it always rained when we went out. I miss his body. I miss his perfume, though my bad memory only leaves those very faint traces… For stopping the clock is impossible, in the same vein that it is impossible to freeze the induction days, when I had no class but just champagne, wine and laughter. I thought, the other day, that I already miss France when I am still in the country.

Can I stay with you tonight? I would love to ask G., if he is here, or Aziz, or Sho, even though with the two latter I didn’t talk much

I miss the time when I was in Cambodia, when I had nothing to complain, I had many romantic affairs, Patrick was waiting for me everytime I came back to Saigon, when I just let my mind wander, watching the rain and the sun and the moon, walking around, thinking and writing letters…

Is it destiny? That Crossways is the first programme I looked for when I decided that I want to study for a masters but had to close it down because I was not eligible back then when I was studying for an A2 in French and they required a C1 in the language. That three years ago they lowered the requirements to B2 but I missed the deadline. That the year after that they didn’t offer a full-funding. That I had to be rejected all other programmes I applied for. That in the end I will meet G, be obsessed about him to the extent that I consume everything that comes from his country and excited to see one in supermarkets. That sometimes I still think it was André Malraux, or his spirit that helped me to get the acceptance.

The other night I dreamed about a map of Africa where there was an oasis from which I flew, floating high and seeing all from above.

Malraux was very young when he came to Cambodia with his wife, with the intention to steal some artifacts from Angkor Wat to pay for the debt the couple owed due to their bad investments in Europe, just to be kept in house arrest by the French colonial administration in the same place that nearly one century later I would live in.

 

 

I wonder how many unrecorded moments have passed by in one’s life and in the history of human beings. The moment when, for example, one is sitting on a wagon on a rocky dusty path, his or her locks of hair flying in the wind and in the plumes of dust behind.

 

It’s the last night with Patrick. If no one dies… I will try to go to Europe… he told me

It’s just a break up for a while, he told me

It was seven weeks ago.

 

I am happy to find solitude again in his absence. I thought.

 

These days I have had recurrent nightmares, in which I was beheaded or had my hands cut off, or I was falling down a trap, or running from wars. During the waking time, I imagine myself in Scotland, in Colombia, in Vietnam, in Argentina, in Africa

 

I am here, sitting in a room in a house in a strange country, thinking in languages that are not my mother tongue. I thought, about Cambodia, when I was still in Vietnam, about to go to France.

Salvador Dali had illusions at the train station of Perpignan from which he drew many, from the story the name of the station was born, centre del món. I have a room here, with a view, from which it seems the centre of nowhere.

 

Tash of Awvisible world

I ask those who think about society, who love life, whose blood has reached a temperature that makes them indignant about [these] injustices, to become a bit more zealous… Because if no one budges at all, then the authorities will be in no hurry to do anything, and every time it must respond, the government will once again respond in the way that it always responds to us: ‘The Annamese people still lack the capacity.’ wrote Vu Trong Phung at the end of Lục xì (Dispensary), one of his most well-known reportages, in which he explores the industry of prostitution in early 20th century Hanoi with questions about colonial patriarchal society and the course of its development.

*

I accidentally bumped into The gift of rain, which was lying dusted on the bookshelf when I first arrived at the apartment in P. almost nine months ago. Its author, Tan Twan Eng, one of the most well-known contemporary Malaysian writers, was longlisted and shortlisted for Man Booker and went on to win Man Asia Literary Prize, which made him known to me though I don’t usually read a book just because it is awarded some prize. I started to read, and was captivated right from the first sentence although, contrary to common expectations, it took me nearly two weeks to finish. (I’m a really slow reader, much to the extent that sometimes I think I have dyslexia).

Tan Twan Eng led me to another well-known Malaysian writer, Tash Aw. Both spent their childhood in their native Malaysia, Tan in Penang and Aw in Kuala Lumpur; were educated at prestigious institutions in Britain: Tan at University of London, Aw at Cambridge, Warwick and East Anglia and whose works were recognised with Man Booker’s tags more or less. I was also curious about Aw after watching his hour-long interview with Edouard Louis about the latter’s book En finir avec Eddy Bellegeule (English: The End of Eddy), about which I was also curious but it was until much recently did I finish, at London Review bookshop, so much so that I read all interviews with Aw available online and also enjoyed his essay Look East, look to the future in Granta.

It was six weeks left before I leave Saigon when I (accidentally) saw Aw’s books in the bookshop that I frequented, those that I bought without second thoughts although I was trying not to buy more books because I already couldn’t manage to bring all of them with me, or to sell them off, or to give them away. I read Map of Invisible World, which is beautifully written with a clear plotline, a product of the MFA in Creative Writing at East Anglia I think, as it is the case with John Boyne’s writings. (The famous school even gets more attention and eye-rolling after its alumnus Kazuo Ishiguro was awarded the Nobel Prize). What the novel lacks is the chemistry between characters for it seems to me a pre-destined fairy tale which the author tried to weave to no avail. The knots are unfastened way too easily and quickly towards the end of the story.

To make it worse, all the characters are one-sided in the sense that all Asians are superficial, irrational, too sentimental and can’t even think for themselves while almost (not all at least, sweet Jesus) Westerners are good-willed, rational, beautiful in their own way, educated at Ivy school, interested and knowledgable in arts, well-travelled and seem to be the only ones who know what they are doing, flawless and impeccable. I was really distressed and annoyed when the nurse who worked at the hospital where Margaret came to ask about Karl was mentioned again and again as “the nurse called Cantik”. Why did he not just call her Cantik or the nurse? Why “the nurse called Cantik”? Moreover, while Z (Zubiddah) spoke English without an accent, the fact was treated with sarcasm, Margaret spoke Javanese before the audience who stood in awe of her non-accented speech? I wonder why. And it was the Asians who would do everything crazy and wait for the rational Westerners come to succour them.

Adam is busy finding his adoptive Dutch father, Karl, and sometimes thinks about his brother, who is playing around in Malaysia, withdrawn from his wealthy adoptive family and sometimes thinks about the former with the guilt of leaving him behind and the memories of their orphanage where they spent their childhood. In the intervals are the love story between Karl and Margaret, an American who was raised in the farthest possible island of Indonesia and her visits to this and that influential person to ask about Karl amid the flare of students’ protests in Jakarta. Adam is caught into a plot to assassinate the then president of the newly born Indonesia but helped to get out of it by a girl he met before who happens to be there at the incident and who happens to be the daughter of a very influential man who happens to be the president’s friend and supporter who, in the end, helps to find Karl and brings him back to Adam before all of them are helped by Margaret’s influential friends to flee the country before a crisis breaks out.

Sadly, beautiful writing and (disguided) homoeroticism (which I am uncannily drawn to) are no substitute for skepticism and racism that are not to be ignored.

And I prefer The gift of rain because, among many other things, it has better balance in the portrayal of Asian characters. It has to be noted that both books have settings in Malaysia and Indonesia sometime before and after Second World War and both have to resort to deus machina as a way to end the stories (in The gift of rain it’s the incarnation and the self-sacrifice of Philip’s father). In Tan’s novel, Philip Hutton, the protagonist, is half English half Chinese young man who has around him a lot of other impressive Asian casts including his best friend Kon, Kon’s father and Philip’s maternal grandfather whose story about his tenure as a private tutor for a Qing prince is arresting.

*

I was reading Map of Invisible World while the Internet was all crazy about Crazy Rich Asians in its debut week. It is true that the class of le nouveau riche in Asia (but not all) has much arrogance, flamboyance and cliches with them but it cannot be true if it seems as though the West were never rich, or the West is destined to be rich, so much so that it cannot be deemed crazy at all. And among very rare negative opinions about the film, I found this eloquent and unapologetic.

As a Singaporean and as someone who loves this city, Crazy Rich Asians is a painful revelation for me of how hungry we are for external validation. Pooja Nansi said.

 

It is more than half a century since most Asian countries gained independence from Western colonist empires, it is more timely than ever to ask why many, Asians themselves, still consider Asian race as inferior to its counterpart in the West.

Do Asians still lack the capacity? I wonder, nearly eighty years since the death of Vu Trong Phung.

An unfinished love song

[Spoilers alert]

 

The story has it that around 200-odds BCE Thuc Phan founded a nation called Au Lac on what had been Van Lang, the first nation-state in Vietnamese history and tried to build a citadel in the north of today Hanoi, initially without success. One night, a turtle came in the king’s dream and told him that the citadel had been being built on its shell and suggested him to move it to another place nearby. The king followed the turtle’s words and the citadel was built, named Co Loa. The turtle then showed up and gave the king one of its claws, with which he could use as a trigger on his crossbow, and which turned to be an imppeccable weapon against any enemies who came to invade the country.

In the meantime, another nation called Nanyue was founded in the north of Au Lac in the present-day Canton whose king attempted to annex Thuc Phan’s country numerous times, to no avail. The Nanyue king then decided to marry his own son to Thuc Phan’s daughter and the young prince would work as a spy in the masterplan to invade his bride’s land. During his time in Co Loa, the prince discovered the secret of the nation’s military power lay in the turtle’s claw and he stole and brought it back to his homeland. His father king, after getting the claw, soon waged a war to annex his southern neighbour and defeated the latter’s army easily. Thuc Phan and his daughter had to flee the citadel. And on their way, the princess left geese’s feathers from her robe so that her husband could finally find her. They came to the seashore when there was no way before their eyes. The turtle came from the sea and told the king that it was his own daughter who had betrayed him for the sake of love. The king was shocked; he killed her with his sword before committing suicide. Upon arrival at the site, the prince was devastated by his wife’s death and brought her body back to the citadel to bury. But he could never recover from the dismay of the incident and from the guilty feelings that he contributed to her death, and in the end he fell down a well in the palace where he and the princess used to have a happy life together. Legend has it that the princess’ blood ran into the sea and those clams fed on it would bear magnificent pearls, which would shine more brightly when they came into contact with water from the well where the prince took his own life.

The story has been widely taught in Vietnamese schools as an allegory of betrayal and of caution to enemies but it is also a tragic love story, excerpts of which were rendered beautifully as a Cai Luong performance in the newly launched film Song Lang on the centenary anniversary of the art of theatre and served as a backdrop for another love story between two young men in late 1980s in Saigon. It is also the story about redemption and self-rediscovery.

Though many criticised it as boring and without many actions or climax, I really love it and even watched it twice, once with my college friends and the second time with Daniel. It was the first, and perhaps the only, time I went out with Daniel though more than two years ago I had a huge crush on him and even wrote my debut in French about him and had invited him to go out many times since. I have no feelings for him now but I thought it’s worth a try hanging out with him at least once before I leave the city. At the end of the screening, Daniel told me that he didn’t like it.

But I believe it’s easier to tell beautifully an eventful story than that with very few events and almost no climax. After all, most of us live uneventful lives, don’t we? It’s not easy to capture the beauty and spirit in the minutiae of everyday life in which ones live, eat, work, and love, often without dramas. Yet contrary to Daniel’s and many others’ opinion, the film is not uneventful by any means, it has fightings, arguments, deaths (many, it doesn’t shy away from children’s deaths though deaths are told in characters’ words other than being portrayed directly on the screen).

Drawing the analogy with the mythical story more than two thousand years ago, the film has an unconventional approach to love, I wouldn’t like to address it as a film about gay love because labelling it as such will somehow downplay it, in the way that the two men love platonically (much to disappointment of many viewers while today film industry is somewhat obssessed with sex and replete with such) and naturally that they don’t stop for a second to question their feelings and sexuality. It also lacks flamboyant sissies or ones’ inner struggles with their sexual identities as portrayed in many contemporary Vietnamese films about the subject of love between men, as still deemed “non-traditional” and “debauched” by many. The scene in which Phung (played by Isaac, a well-known young Vietnamese singer) gasped outside Dung’s apartment in aslantwise sunlight before leaving the place is among many breathtaking moments archived in my mind.

Perhaps it is true that fictional works, films, books and other forms of arts only bring out what is already inside the audience’s mind and the latter consumes them through the filter of their own experience. How many times…? I wonder. Perhaps…

 

*

Last week I met Steven and we talked for four hours on end, on almost everything. We share our love for P., the city where I lived for four months and where I met R. and about which Steven wrote a book (it is now in second printing if I remember right. I love the book so much that as soon as I finished it I even thought about the possibility of translating it into English. I have a long list now waiting for me but I procrastinate all the time and am overloaded by now). He told me that he is doing a bachelor degree in Burmese in Myanmar. “What can I do with my life now?, I asked myself” he told me, and that because he loves the country and its culture so much that he would like to learn the language, which is, for him, poetic whenever people speak it out loud. Steven is among the very few former colleagues that I admire and whose philosophy and expertise in editing I could learn a lot from. “Every Burmese is a born poet,” he also told me. We share our love for Buddhism, too.

I told him about R., and he asked “Are you…?” “Yes, I am.” I replied.

And I am deeply impressed by his insatiable thirst to learn and discover new things. It is all the more so when he is already well in his forties. “I’m not young any more, but not too old,” he said. And he managed to go through all the hurdles of being the first and only one ever that would like to do a BA in Burmese just for the sake of love for the language and culture, others are sent by their employers to study it because it is needed for their work, which includes, but not limited to, all the bureaucracy with the country’s ministries of foreign affairs and education and Vietnamese embassy in Myanmar and the high cost of return airfares to and from the country. “If you need any help as regards the contacts of Vietnamese authors, please do not hesitate to reach out for me, I’m more than willing to help,” said Steven, at which I’m much grateful.

At times, I have thought that I would fall in love with him, that it was he that I would like to live with when I come back to Saigon, that he is my soulmate and that Patrick would dwarf in comparison with Steven. But…

“I don’t bring a helmet with me. It’d better I call a Grab driver.” I told him when the rain let up and it was time for us to go. “No, please don’t. I’ll take you home. Don’t worry. There is no transport police on our way to your place.” said Steven. And I sat behind his back, on his motorbicycle, with my childish elation while he was driving me home.

 

*

Patrick came over. He has been quite taciturn these days. I don’t know if it is that I will leave the city soon, or that his father is dying, or that we have had not many things to discuss, or all of these. We kissed, long passionate sweet kisses. And… in silence.

Patrick left, always with a whiff of his perfume on my bed, and of nostalgia and melancholy. I was overwhelmed by the memories of his warmth and tenderness, and of the first time we made love. It was the first time we talked properly though before that we had seen each other every weekday, passed by each other and wondered about each other. It is a strange story even for me now how two different people like us can date and fall in (unrequited) love, about which I think about with a gentle smile. The story starts on the island… in stormy days amid the monsoon season.

I was listening to a song and thinking it could be what I would tell him. But somehow I was certain that I would never do. One day I would indulge in an armchair deep in a jungle in Colombia or in the verranda among vineyards in Argentina or in a coffee plantation in Africa, watching a snail running on a leaf, thinking about a chapter I would write about Patrick. What would he think then? I wonder.

Sólo quédate en silencio, cinco minutos

Acaríciame un momento, ven junto a mí

Te daré el ultimo beso

El más profundo

Guardaré mis sentimientos

Y me iré lejos de ti

 

It started to rain outside when he just came, and along with it the memories of our love story may be washed, as Dung’s blood was washed by the torrential rain in the film’s final scene, this time no pearls were born. And it would be another unfinished love song as Song Lang itself.

fragments of summer

Dear friends,

With great sorrow I announce the passing of the one whom I hold dearest, Patrick. It will be shocking for many to hear that he passed away, and it will be all the more so for those who know both of us. It has been nearly unbelievable to think two of us could date. My close friends often said about the polarities between us, that we were not meant to each other, by any means. Many others, who didn’t know about our (open, complicated) relationship, loathed him and often shared with me their views about him, which I heard with considerable confusion that I had to try so much to hide.

It was a long story that I would, one day when I am much better and calmer, love to write down. But now my loss is unfathomable, almost unspeakable. At times I think it was my fault that the tragic accident happened. Now my memories of Patrick come back, as clear and beautiful as a movie, right before my eyes and serve as reminders of how much I have loved him for the last one year, before he was not here any more.

Now I would like to praise his life and bid him a farewell.

Ce vedremo lassù, angelo.

 

About three months ago, it was the eulogy for Patrick I “wrote” in my head when I was standing in the balcony at my workplace, smoking, watching him walking out of the office to go to the airport for his working trip to D. And the last sentence in Italian is also the last in Holding the man by Timothy Conigrave, which and whose film version I enjoy a great deal.

I always imagine how people around me would die. Sometimes, I even make up an apocalypse for the world to die. As if by doing that, I would not be so shocked when people really die. It has yet to happen. And Patrick has come back. We have met and made love a lot of times while his father, suffering from two cancers, is the one who is dying, second by second, right next to him.

On my 28th birthday, we met and did what we usually do whenever we meet, and then we went out for dinner. And by a strange coincidence (in the sense) that almost one year ago we talked and had sex for the first time, I felt nothing, as if everything has reached its time limit. My urge and passion for him, once strong and obsessive, fade away.

 

My competences of languages, even my mother tongue, are falling, like grains of sand slipping from one’s palms as if it was inevitable, unavoidable. Much has happened during these months when I could hardly write anything worth being written. I have made many new friends, I have travelled, and done this and that. I saw my name appear in new publications elsewhere, here and there but the euphoria is ephemereal and the name becomes strange to my own self, as if it belonged to another person, not me.

I don’t go to work now though I still have a lot to do, nearly to the extent of being overloaded or it is perhaps what I think. At some moment, it would be inexplicable for me not to go to work, in that very office despite of the fact that I would never ever trade off what I have now to come back, even if/as if I could! I drink less, and eat even less than drink, only a meal a day, for many days. And I am becoming more and more trivial and phony, over a very short time.

 

*

 

The deserted road was bathed in sunlight. The backdrop of cicadas shrilling was intermittently broken by roosters’ crowings. A woman, soaked in sweat, rode by on her bicycle, her little deep-tan-skinned daughter on the backseat looking back at me. At that scene, I recalled twenty-odds years ago, it might have been my mother, soaked in sweat, with me on her bicycle’s backseat. Occasionally, a motorbicycle passed by. I still sat in silence, and at intervals, drank a little liquor.

I told him that I wished we had had a small house here, among the high mountains where we could raise chickens and pigs and keep a garden for our own use. On the backseat of his motor, I wished that the road would keep on and never reach its end so that I could be there forever.

We came to a hill from which we had a panorama view over a huge swath of the province, mountains running high and low around us, the wind playing on our hair and skin. He dug up and removed a rose myrtle from the ground. “To bring it home and plant it,” he said. “To commemorate the day we go out together, maybe for the last time,” he continued, “before… I get married.”

On the way back home, I hugged him from behind and tried to inhale as much of his warmth as possible. It was good sometimes not to be able to drive. I felt I had left a part of mine there among the high mountains. “I love you,” I whispered, in my head.

 

*
The landscape… the river… the port that was once busy now surrounded by bushes… under the bridge where I and T. used to play and look for snails…

I tried to wake up that day, to watch the sunrise on the bridge where we, I and my peers in the village used to play and do exercises in the morning, which, when the construction was completed, had become a playground for those children who did not have many things to do to kill time, and to find again my childish joviality of dipping my body parts in the first beams of the warm sun of summer and of having a great view of the far away mountains, which for my younger self was the image of Mount Fuji. But much to my disappointment, it is not beautiful as it used to be… perhaps it was beautiful because it was in my beautiful past, perhaps not that beautiful but serene. “..the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and [that] thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past” Garcia Marquez once put it.

The sun rose when I was back home, to find out that in the past I could see far east from my porch, now I cannot because high houses are all around, blocking the view.
Sitting in the front yard trying to capture every second passing by and every shade of sunlight, it dawns on me that soon after I leave the house will be destroyed and a new one will be built over it. When I am on the verge of death, may this moment come back? May I remember the house where I was born and grew up? Where love came and went and tears shed. Cicadas keep shrilling around. And where there were once many gum trees.
And with that, also were buried boxes where my childhood memories are held.

 

*

I always have an uncanny drive to break into a stranger’s room to see what books he reads, to smell his sweat and to see how he makes love or jerks off. Perhaps these thoughts are despicable by standards of many people. Perhaps…
The sunshine aslantwise in the afternoon, moribund. J’aime la couleur du ciel: impressionante, profonde.

I remember, when I was a child, I usually kept a mirror in my hand or put it down on my lap while sitting on a high chair, the ceiling above would then be a cliff and I would dangle my feet around the limited space beneath me, supposing that I would fall down in seconds.

I hate small talk

I hate small talk. I thought when I was alone in the dark while all my flatmates were deep in their sleep. Drops of water were falling on the roof outside. I wondered how I was always arrested by the sound of drops on the roof at night, no matter where it was in the house I lived with my parents, at the Grand Manolis, in the residence hall where I stayed during my four years in college, or at every apartment and studio I used to live in. Is it perhaps because it is the only sound you can hear at night?

I would love to talk to ALMOST everybody I know, to listen to their childhood, their love stories and share with them mine, their struggles and their thoughts. Is there anyone out there still awake at this hour like me? What are in their minds? I would love to hug them, to kiss them, men and women, and spend a night (with or without sex) with them, to know what human touch means and to what extent people can share their experiences and memories. I would love to spend hours on end with my mother in our garden back home, to tell her my romantic affairs and to listen to hers, to stare together at the sky above while millions of stars are shining on us. I would love to hug her and fall asleep as if I was a child, to feel her heartbeats and breaths.

I thought about how much I have changed since I left home at the age of fifteen.

On a night like this, before Patrick’s father was diagnosed with cancer, he would come and we would spend the night together. And so many times I thought, when we were making love, I would tell him I love him. But I held back. Even until I hugged him from behind and kissed his neck could I not tell him I love him.

I thought about the letter I would love to write to Thomas, but I would be unlikely to write because I was afraid that it would disturb him. How many letters are there that ones love to write but cannot? How many loves and sleepless nights have been flying high and fading away with time while ones age and die?

I thought about our time together. And in the end, he supposed that I did not love him but I was sorry for his love for me.

Can ones ever be known? Their deepest thoughts and desires? What in their minds when they are making love? Their self-hate and self-deceit? Can ones ever know what is in each other’s head and heart? Even their closest?

He will sing me happy birthday

Il n’a pas encore écrit”, Ludisia thought while she was watching a snail trailing on the grass, her nails filthy; the sky hung low, des nuages comme des vagues. They granted her enough freedom to go around. After all, she was too old to run away, and she had nowhere to go.

It fell down, and she stayed there in the garden. Outside the fence, some children were playing in the rain, splashing. She remembered the wool jacket that she knitted for him. Though it was not as beautiful as those that other mothers in the neighbourhood made for their children because she was not good at knitting, nor at other household tasks that women of her time were supposed to be good at, he loved it and he wore it with inexplicable euphoria, and he treasured it.

She came to wonder why she was also not good at keeping and raising livestock and poultry. When she kept pigs, they refused her efforts to feed them, and they lost their weight. The rabbits refused to milk their kittens while the chickens caught avian flu and ended up dying in myriad and the dogs died out of some mysterious diseases. The only exceptions were ducks, mulards and cats; the former two he would joyfully look for earthworms to feed, the latter she had many and managed to keep despite her husband’s aversion for the animals, and the first of which she brought home when he was twelve years old, which he loved dearly, much to the extent that he slept with the cat every night, and kissed him every time he went home after school, whose death he mourned with bouts of tears. She had to sell the cat for someone whom she believed a butcher upon pressure from her neighbours and her husband because the animal killed a great deal of chicks for food. She tried to have him neutered, without success.

“The poor boy,” she thought.

She was not good at cooking too: she boiled everything, and she argued that oil and fire were not healthy. And she remembered how, durante los variosos años, she would hold his hands while he was sleeping, a summer came to her mind, and fan him during the night. The boy would wake up and stand motionless to watch the sunlight coming aslantwise into the house, reflected in the mirror. “What had he thought,” she wondered.

And she remembered her feelings, years later, when she ran her fingers along words that he wrote in his notebooks, those that she couldn’t understand but for her, they were like his soft skin when he was just an infant pulled out of her womb. She touched those lines with great maternal pride, and with a strike of nostalgia, tears appeared in her eyes, droplets. She tried to imagine how it was in Argentina, the land she knew nothing about.

And she remembered the time when she led her children to the field where she worked. He would play with his sister, throwing their hats, which they called boomerangs or UFOs. And they would drum on an old empty shell to make false alarms. “Planes coming,” they shouted. And she smiled at the memories of those times when she brought them to public screenings of Russian films which both she and the children did not understand but which served as some rare intervals away from the idyll of monotonous life in the mountains.

She had not come back to her hometown for five years since his birth when she brought him there. She almost lost the way. And memories came flooding back to her when she stepped into the house, around which she had run frantically when she came home with her hair cut short, much to her father’s shock and anger. “I used to be rebellious,” she thought. It was perhaps in the same rebellious, stubborn, and sometimes mischievous way that he dressed up in role plays, sometimes as a handsome prince, sometimes as a glamorous princess, to a great degree of comfort, defying definitions of gender, that he deceived his peers in the neighbourhood into eating poultry food and plant roots, that he tried to grow his hair long during his time in schools when boys of his age were discouraged to do so, that he refused to attend tutorial classes for university entrance exams, that he chose a career path against her husband’s wills, that he loved boys instead of girls.

She trembled with cold. She almost lost him when he was six, suffering from a grave diarrhea. What if he did not make it, she asked herself hundreds of times.

“Oh, my poor naughty boy,” she sighed.

 

The rain let up, and she was alone in the garden. The children were not there on the other side of the fence.

“I need to make a cake. I already have all ingredients. Today is my birthday”, she mumbled, almost to herself. Then she would make a cake out of mud, and bake it in a fire she made with small dry logs she managed to find.

The snail was still trailing, now on a plant’s branch.

“He will sing me happy birthday,” Ludisia thought.