Em ơi, đi đâu?

‘Are you afraid that your mother might be worried or that our neighbours may gossip about us?’

‘They are already gossiping about us.’ said he.

My mother has an ear illness. And I don’t want our neighbours look down on me, which can make my mother’s health worsen.’ he continued.

‘Do you speak Vietnamese?’ asked he.

‘Of course I do. It is my mother tongue.’

Perhaps he has noticed that I always speak English.

 

And he told me that he once used to have a boyfriend, seven years ago, before he was married and had a son, and that it was because it was tradition that he would get married. I tried to imagine how his boyfriend was, how they loved when he had been at my age when I was still in college. I would love to talk to him in his language, of which my command was confined to basic conversational phrases.

 

And I and he, we were talking in our sign language when we were making love in silence.

 

Em ơi, đi đâu?’ asked he. It was one of the very few sentences he can speak, in mine. And with that he cracked a wide, beaming, childish smile. And I would teach him how to say Happy New Year in my language, adding that I am speaking with northern accent, which has more tones than its southern counterpart, and which is more difficult to a foreign ear, in my opinion.

 

‘I do hope that one day you will have such freedom as I have now.’ said I, though I am not sure how much freedom I have at the moment.

 

And in the morning, I will wake up, deep in my melancholy, standing by the window, looking towards the opposite building, to wait for him to appear right in the frame of his window, to see him smile, half naked, whose the lower part of the body I already know quite well, thinking that we had only brief moments together while birds are jumping on the very tole roof where every noon those s’va would play their game.

 

Sohm mawng pak ch’muy keo. I told him when I called. I would tell him that he is sang-ha, and he would tell me that I am s’aat. Khnyom sro laeng naah. I would tell him, after which he would repeat the sentence. And with him, I have learned the word p’teak vinh, “home” in English it is. He told me his birthday, which was September 9th 1987 when I showed him my passport with my photo taken five years ago and my own birthday.

 

I felt a sudden pang in my heart when the thought that one day, when he is old, he will say to himself, in a hot afternoon like this, thinking about me, came to my mind. Will I think about him then? Or will I be alive then to think after all? Where will I be then?

 

I woke up this morning, with the hangover which I did not know of alcohol or of love, waiting for him at my window, thick grey clouds hung in the sky, signalling a hard rain, which did not come. The day before yesterday I took a photo of his window when he was not there, and pictured him in the middle of it, my imagination served me well, and then he told me that he rented the house, and gave me his address in the countryside, which is about more than 70 kilometres from here and that I could find him there, which I thought was more improbable than the scenario that Patrick would meet me here.

 

We hugged when we said lia-hao-ih and riet th’ray sua s’dei at two in the morning when he had to leave for his house, just metres away from me across the narrow street.

 

I will try to remember when we kissed, and when he loved to play with our mixed semen, with childish joviality.

 

One day, will he think about me and say ‘Em ơi, đi đâu?

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Heureux ici. Pourquoi partir?

This morning I woke up early and sat at the table outside my bedroom, overlooking the garden, of which trees were rustling in the wind from the river, the red sun rising, birds singing and insects chirping, and at times a rooster would cluck… It was about ten kilometres away from the city’s centre. A few days before, I had anticipated all this, and that on that table, I would write about him.
I believe that in my last moments, when it is said that all memories in one’s life will pass by in a minute, I will remember him, a traditional dancer three years older than me, once married then divorced with a son, and I will remember his smell, his lithe body and his radiant smiles. He will always be thirty, in corners of my mind, standing by that window with blue shutters, half naked, the building where he is staying is painted yellow, corrugated by time. I would stand by my window, drinking and smoking, and watching him, giving him my welcoming smiles, fixing my gaze at him until he disappeared from the vista. And we would talk in a sign language only we know.
Love does not need words. I thought.

I’m scared, my family is here, he said.
Don’t be scared. I am three years younger than you and I am not scared. Why are you? There is nothing to be scared of. We are young and we need to live the lives we want. If not now, then when? I said. (It has become somehow a motto.) And I started undressing him, and bathing his body with my kisses. We silently made love.

I will come back there, sitting in the warmth of the sun, watching him. I made a promise, almost to myself.
I will remember all this, when I die.

Pero, je pense que… Anyway, kom barom. I must have said, mixing the languages after shots of whisky, Irish.
We danced and kissed. And when the lyrics read ‘el corazon’, I made a heart shape with my fingers and pointed to my chest where the heart is.

It is a pity that we can only meet briefly, he said.
Please go with me.
I cannot afford it. But when you have time, please come back to see me.

We kissed goodbye when it was time for him to come home, one hour and a half later than the normal 10 o’clock. Riet threy sua s’dei.
I came to bed, whispering Recuerdame myself to sleep.
Many years from now, if I have chance to come back, and stand by my window, will I see him?
‘… one afternoon at four o’clock we separated
for a week only…. and then-
that week became forever.’ Cavafy
Will a week, or a month become forever?

At one point, I would imagine when I grow so old, I would open my files and look for a picture of him that I took, he, deeply suntanned, standing by the window, half naked, would once again give me his winning smiles, yet reluctant at first when I gave him signals to come over and have a drink, who, in our second encounter, as if sensed how brief it was (or was it his nature), was wild in love, though still that wildness was enveloped in his shyness, where my words failed me, and at that very moment I would probably think:
‘That’s the very same body I once enjoyed.
‘I see those beloved, naked limbs again.’ Cavafy again.

With our first sua s’dei are already harbingers of departure.
On the wall on the way downstairs from the living room, I caught sight of a plate that reads Heureux ici. Pourquoi partir? Perhaps some time I will ask myself the same question.

bubbles in the rain

P has had two days of torrential rain. I was awoken today by the cold, like yesterday, my breath smelled of vodka, Latvian.

I stood by the window, watching the rain, thinking that Patrick might have hugged me from behind. And I watched the window of the oposite building, where, on Friday, a young neighbour would stand looking at me. We exchanged looks, and smiles, those easy and radiant smiles he had. He is young, his body lithe and deeply suntanned. And we waved at each other, at dusk. The night came, and he stood at the window, with no shirt on, and gave me his winning smiles while I gave him signals that he should come over to have a drink, upon which he shook his head in refusal. And we talked, I by my window and he by his, with our fingers. I asked him his phone number, which, after he returned to his room, he wrote on a piece of paper, which I told him that I could not see. I was about to give him mine, with my fingers, when another neighbour came to the window next to his, talking on his phone and smoking. He returned to his room, and I stood there whispering my wish that he would come by again, only once would suffice. After all, the annoying neighbour disappeared, leaving the vista for my muse, who smiled and signalled that his much younger sister would come downstairs and give me the note in which was written his number. And I hurriedly scratched a piece from my notebook, wrote down my number and dashed off downstairs to give the girl.

So I had his number. I texted him to tell him my name, and where I came from. And it was not until a moment passed that I called him. And much to my dismay, he talked in the local language, and all I could get from it was that he does not speak English.

Late at night, he came by the window, waving me goodbye and, his hands clapped together and put under his tilted head, telling me that he was going to bed soon. And with the closing window, he was off the scene.

And today morning, I stood by the window and imagined that he was standing by his, smiling at me. And a sudden feeling awakened in me that I missed my ex lovers less and less, in the rain, and even that I was less certain about Patrick. They all now stood behind a veil that I could not reach out for. And I stared down at puddles on the street, and thought that my memories were flowing like bubbles in the rain. And I recalled those times of rain when I was a child, I would play in the puddles and make boats out of my notebooks and exam papers, and let them float away along the stream. The neighbourhood was deserted, because of the hard rain.

And I stood in the garden while the moon was rising, bathing the river with its golden light. I was enveloped in the silence, disturbed only occasional boats passing by. And it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. 

That was what I thought when I sat in the garden at Helen’s. And one morning in February or March, I will wake up in one of the rooms there, and I will watch the sunrise and think that much later I will miss these days when I thought about the young men with a title in my mind “Boys in the country of endless summers.”

Like bubbles in the rain, my memories flow…

… so was gone Grandma

‘Where are you?’ asked my uncle.

‘I’m working.’ I replied

It’s always the way I detour when I cannot, or do not want to, answer the question directly. It’s the way I will give the other with a snippet of information which is not by all means relevant, but which will quench their curiosity and prevent them from asking further.

‘So you has yet to know. Your maternal grandmother passed away. I thought that you were coming back home.’

‘No, I don’t know. And I don’t come back.’

And that’s how I get the news.

 

I called my mother. And after I pulled up, my limbs were shaking in their numbness in my memories of her, Grandma, which were just fragments. All memories are fragments. And I imagined her, a young woman coming there to a new economic zone, from her lowlands, fearless and ambititous to find something new, to make her own life far from the village where she was born. And she met her would-be husband, who died eleven years ago, whom she survived with dignity and deeply concealed sorrow, from then onwards her health worsened, as did her memories. And she had five children, my mother was her first.

 

It was not until I was four or five years old did I come to visit her for the first time. My mother had not come home for such a long time then that she lost her way in the city. And we, I and my older sister, visited Grandma’s almost every summer, until I went to highschool, far from my parents.

She was a stern woman, who quickly gained her notoriety as the most cantankerous one in the neighbourhood, of whom we, I and my cousins, would be very afraid when we were playing around with our mischievious games and pranks.

All came flooding back, her house, its enigmatic smell, which I usually fondly refer to as ‘the smell of Grandma’s’, her orchard, where I would bath near a well always full of fresh water, her tea hills, where we would come to harvest green tea leaves, as did her way when she looked after my youngest aunt and Grandpa when they fell ill, always stern, with her own love, which was hardly describable.

She was my last surviving grandparents, and of whom I had most memories. She was also the only one among my grandparents well enough to come to visit us when I was a child.

 

And I missed her dry bamboo fence, and the strange plants in her garden, which I would bring home, with bliss, to grow among my patches of peanuts. And I missed the way she would scowl at us when we did something wrong. And I tried to imagine what she did when my mother came home from her school, cutting her hair short, by which Grandpa was enraged and chased after her in the garden.

 

When I visited her last September, she hardly remembered a thing, nor even her first child, my mother, but she somehow managed to call my name, at which I did not give a response, as reckless and unapologetic as I have always been. And it was the last time she could ever properly call a name.

 

‘We never prepare for the last time.’ Patrick once told me. Yes, we never prepare, nor will ever do.

 

The house that Grandpa and Grandma had built, in which we enjoyed playing, was abandoned for good. The grand old longan tree was gone, chopped down. A star must fall, somewhere in the universe. And so was gone Grandma.

so a new year comes: year-end notes

20 December

After some beer, I decided that I must go out, that I could not stand being here any more, that I needed to see le monde. I walked, along the river, and stopped only when I passed the royal palace, where I managed to find a place on the quay. And as soon as I sat down and lit a cigarette I saw a boy, likely an orphan. His skin dark, his hair short, and he wore a white coat. He took a coconut from the dustbin nearby, shook it to check if there was any juice left, then he licked the top, and after a moment he took a straw also from the bin, and drank, his face motionless. I thought our lives converged in that very moment. And in minutes, he left. I looked around but could not find his trace, only the dried coconut left.

Some day I will miss my life here, sitting on the balcony, drinking and wandering my eyes from the trees, the bougainvilea bush to the post office, to the sky. I wondered why I was always at ease every time I was by a riverside. A monk came and sat right where the boy had left, talking on his phone. Across the river stood, perhaps, the most luxurious hotel in town. The boat floated away, on its numerous well-off passengers, mostly foreigners. Above my head, the flag of Portugal was flying in the wind. Years from now, memories of these days might have been well broken like discrete mosaics of a never-finished picture of my past.

How many times have I imagined Patrick would be dead on his way to meet me.

Spots of light were playing on the cloudy sky, against Sufjan Stevens’ Mystery of Love.

 

24 December

The young tourist guy stood with, let’s say maybe his boyfriend, and a local tour guide, who was pointing at the post office, talking something that could well be his story about the place, everything of his reminded me of Daniel, his bag, his legs, his figure, his shadow under the scorching sun, his reluctance.

I kept staring at the red wall of the opposite building, birds jumping on branches of the tree outside. I thought about those who had lived here before me and those who would live after I left. Dans la grande melancholie, I watched the dusk falling.

 

25 December

In high school, with no mobile phones and almost no Internet, we would come to a phone booth with a prepaid card to call home and we would write letters, heaps of letters. I would lie on my berth in the dorm room, and I would wait for winter nights to pass me by.

… At the beach nearly a year ago, I would have been singing A la claire fontaine, as I was doing now, in the grand house.

 

26 December

I had dinner at Armand’s near the Old Market in my neighbourhood, which I enjoyed with happiness. Maybe partly because my heart had long yearned for happiness. I rained hard when I reached home… I thought about all the men with whom I had affairs, both in long-term relationships and flings, what they said to me now I could only recall in my own voice. The rain reminded me of my childhood summers, when it would be raining hard like this, and of those times I went out with Patrick. It finally abated, as every rain, and as every love, and the night was silent, disturbed only by occasional motorbicycles passing by.

Everything was ephemeral like the the smoke I poured out. The sound of water pattering on the roof of the opposite building was ringing out in my mind.

One more drink and I would go to sleep.

 

28 December

When I washed away the dry semen on my belly from the masturbation the night before and my sweat and all the tiny dust from this city on my body at night, my memories of him were fading, so was my burning desire for him. I have come to embrace my loneliness which gave me tranquility though I have been still thinking about him and speculating about all that could have happened. Scattered white cloud scudded against the velvet of the dark blue sky, then gone. Stars and the moon lit brightly.

When I finished my last cigarette or my first one of a new day,  breezes moved up the trash on the street.

 

Early in the morning, I woke up to find a butterfly had landed on the floor, immobile, his wings so delicate, as a thin paper. I took some pictures of him, and it was not a few days later did I knew that he died on the same spot, perhaps out of tiredness, of his life, that I wondered.

 

30 December

I thought, in retrospect, that one year before, at this time, I could not imagine that my three-year relationship with Thomas would end, and that, even in my wildest dreams, that I have come so close to Patrick, not to mention that I slept with him, through the long rainy nights. I had not given him a thought, though we saw each other every day. At the end of the day, we could anticipate nothing. Rien du tout.

 

31 December

On the morning of the last day of the year, Patrick texted me to tell me that he had had a dengue fever that confined him in bed for ten days, and that he had yet to check his postal box, and so he had not seen my postcard. And we spent the first half of the day talking, about Call me by your name the movie he had recently watched, and almost everything about him during the time I was not in S. I resorted to all my willpower not to tell him where I was, that in the letter I had sent him three weeks before I had invited him to come to visit me during the festive days, which by the time had certainly become disillusion.

On New Year Eve, right at midnight, when two hands of the clock on the façade of the post office seen from my window reached twelve both, a fifteen minute fireworks display began, which, as I was engrossed in reading, had mistaken as a terrorist bomb exploded, because it was so loud that it shook my apartment. It was the first time I have been so close to fireworks that I could even smell the gunpowder in the air. All the previous years in my life, I would always be disheartened by the claustrophobic scenario of jostling around in a crowd to watch such a show that I would prefer staying at my home, and watching whatever I could. Now I know what it meant to have the best balcony in town, in the extent that you could enjoy the show alone, which brought me both excitement and serenity. Children kept playing with their firecrackers until very late at night. And I lay in my bed, and recalled my childhood, in which we had enjoyed firecrackers too before it was banned by the authorities. And the memory took me back as far as we would shout with unconcealed excitement every time a plane flew by…

Earlier in the day, I had thought I would write down these notes and publish them on my blog before the new year came, because I had always set time at Greenwich, which was seven hours after my own, so I always procrastinated, superstitiously and mean-spiritedly thinking that I would have more seven hours, though not too much, before a day ended. And when I sat before my computer and started typing, it must well be the new year, even in Buenos Aires or Santiago de Chile, probably the westernmost cities I dreamed I would live in one day, or even in the far away islands in the Pacific Ocean. I have seven hours behind my back, I had thought.

 

And so a new year comes.

the best balcony

The streetlamps outside the post office are shining their pale golden light onto the pavements.
Against the velvet of the sky outside my window… the only star… is it a planet or a star which died out billions of years ago and whose light now reaches me…
After a while, from my broken basic knowledge of astronomy, I can tell it is a planet… how far is it from here, I wonder.

Oh stars stars please forward my words of love to him, hundreds of kilometres away from me… 

He sat on his bed, staring out of the window, at the guy standing in the opposite building, whom he supposed was staring back, who, after a moment, could not stand his gaze and turned back. He thought it might be a picture, with frames would be those of his window, of which the centre was a man sitting alone, his room and all the secrets, thoughts and desires in it invisible to the watcher’s eyes.

He went around in the room, finished two slices of bread, poured himself more wine, which was sour and watery to his taste.

It was cold, all colder in this part of the earth. It was much like the autumn in his home, Thomas would mock him, years ago, though he was never in his home.
He came to touch, and reorder a few books he brought along from S, Willa Cather, Colm Toibin, Jaime O’Neill, Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, L P Hartley, Radcliffe Hall… many among which, if not all, he had bought when he went out with Thomas to their favourite bookshops.

He had just finished a novel by a Malaysian author about a complicated love-hate relationship between a half English half Chinese young man with his Japanese sensei this morning, which moved him to tears when he read the letter the father of the former sent him before his execution, which was the first time a book was ever able to have such effects on him. He thought of his own father. It was perhaps too melodramatic. And he let his sentiments flow.

He thought less of his sex partner in S. Maybe he has grown used to being on his own, to his loneliness. He desired him less.

He was a third on his way to finish a Japanese novel about a man who tried to hide his homosexuality to come to terms with the social presumptions of gender roles and norms, and started an Irish one, about love between two young soldiers amid the atrocities in American Civil War.

He started to learn some local language too, which he would speak with inexplicable bliss with people in the market near his apartment. And he was excited when he found out that the language and his mother tongue had the same word for noodle, though his had so many, and that they had similar words for day, one, three and four, cheers and fried though at the end of the day, he could not really know why linguists put them in the same language family because the two were too different, and that his was tonal and the local one was not.

He put on a light coat, went out to the balcony, drinking and smoking. This time last week he must have been writing letters, and it would take two weeks to reach their receivers in S, and three weeks to the Netherlands. He had wanted so much to hug Carmen and Albert before he left for P. Yet somehow he managed to quench the urge.

You have the best balcony in town. Lorrain once remarked as they had dinner together the other day.

When he tried to put the phone number of his partner on the envelope, much to his dismay, he accidentally wiped out all their conversation history, as he had done a few months ago. And last Saturday, coming back home after heavy drinking of a mixture of wine, gin, whisky and beer at the bar where he came waiting for the guy he had met more than a month ago, whose face he hardly remembered now, and who never showed up, and where he had whispered to himself it was my mistake not giving you my name and phone number in the first place, he texted his partner and asked whether he could call him. He was refused. Everything, he thought, in retrospect, never went out the way he had expected. He had intended not to reach for his partner after he was in P. Yet another ego of his had wanted his partner could be there with him, they would be holding hands in public, without fear or risks. And then we quietly fucked and then we slept, he thought, quoting a piece from the Irish novel.

He turned on almost all the lights in the apartment, though he did not need them.
He poured another drink, and sat there on the balcony, thinking nothing more, alone.
His glasses must be somewhere on his bedside table, or on his stack of books, everything blurry in his eyes, his perception of the world.

1:30

It is half past one in the morning, and in a few hours I will be leaving for P.

“As if I could put you in my luggage and just carry you along.” said I.

“If I could, I would have been going with you.” replied Patrick.

We made love, in which he was more active and fierce than ever. We both knew that our time was running out… He even let me take photos of him, that he would say against if it was months ago…

“When you come back, we can be together again, and everything will be the same, if it is the destiny.” he said, when I hugged him while I was thinking that nothing would ever be the same, and that we could never know whether we could be together or not.

I think about the noise that Daniel’s flip-flops make on the floor at my office will be still there, without my notice.

 

Yesterday, when the sun was high in the sky, I came back home after going out to buy ground coffee, I was thinking about the time when I was at home a few months ago and I thought about us getting married, which would never be realised. And the warm sunny afternoon when I was thinking about us getting married will be lost, forever.

 

Yesterday evening, I went to the airport to see my Mexican teacher off. And when she is transitting in Dubai, I must be well on my way to P. And later today, I will sit, alone in my apartment, thinking that I have made a long journey, though in fact it is not too long.